When Kids Decide “Who” They Want To Be


One of the great things about the magazine writing I do is that I get built-in opportunities to dig in and apply my faith in new ways.

Right now I’m working on an article for the Couple to Couple League on Theology of the Body parenting, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Gregory Popcak and his wife, Lisa. Most of what they shared with me will be saved for the July-August issue of Family Foundations, but something Lisa talked about, from their book Parenting With Grace, had such an immediate application, I wanted to try it with my kids.

She said once a year, they had their children write a list of who they want to be–not “what,” as in “doctor” or “fireman,” but who. Happy? Brave? Honest? How do they want their friends and family right now to think of them? Then they wrote that down on a knight’s shield, like a coat of arms, and throughout the year the parents referred back to that list to help guide the kids with their behavior.

Being the family who all dressed up as the Avengers a couple years ago, we branched out a bit for our designs. The kids liked this idea and took to it pretty well. I knew this first time out, I had to be pretty specific in order to explain what we were going for, so I had to come up with a list of possible virtues to get them thinking. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to be That Mom who tries to tell them what they should want to be. It was a fine line to walk, and not surprisingly, my thoughtful firstborn was the first to reach for the pencil.

Alex shield

Honest, humble, brave, optimistic, kind, and self-confident.

(That last one caught my heart, first because it was all his own, and secondly because it reveals so much about his character and his self-image.)

Nicholas, my strong-willed child, sat on the couch silently while I turned my attention to Julianna, and I decided to go with it rather than split my attention and push him. That turned out to be the right course of action, because suddenly he popped out with his own list–not nearly so ambitious as Alex’s, but they’re good ones for him. Very good ones.

Nicholas shield

Happy and honest.

Julianna? Not surprisingly, Julianna didn’t get it. She wants to be like Anna. Why? Because Elsa blasted her heart.

Not quite what I was looking for. 😉 The developmentally delayed child clearly required more guidance than the brothers who sandwich her. I asked why she liked Anna, and I gave her options: because Anna believed in her sister, because she loved her sister, or because she was brave?

Julianna went with "brave."

Julianna went with “brave.”

And Michael, as you can see, went with:

Well, my wingdings don't transfer over to Word Press. Sorry.

Well, my wingdings don’t transfer over to Word Press. Sorry.

But that’s okay, because he’s three. He’s not ready for this yet. He just really wanted to participate, and so he did.

We did this exercise on Easter night, and we have already had three occasions to refer to these “shields.” I have hung them in the kitchen, where people are constantly walking by and where they are in plain view from the table. I really love this idea of giving children the chance to think forward in their lives, to be intentional about who they want to be. I love it for their sake, and I love it for mine, because it helps keep me focused on the end game instead of the chaotic minutiae. And I love it especially because the long-term can seem so overwhelming and nebulous, and this cuts through all that and gives us a trajectory to follow.

Popcaks for the win.

2 thoughts on “When Kids Decide “Who” They Want To Be

  1. I love this activity with your kids, Kate and Christian. It is beautiful to see them taking the opportunities to be self-reflective. As you mentioned over the weekend, the question of “who” vs “what” one wants to be is what really matters. And that goes way beyond the place–office or classroom or studio or field–where the work happens.

    • All credit to the Popcaks. 🙂 But I love it, too. It’s changing the way I approach parenting, and although I think it will be a long time before the kids recognize the new trajectory, I hope eventually they will recognize it too.

      On Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 9:50 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote:


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