How to teach children character traits

51vkrH+D5uL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Public school in America does a good job at teaching the basics: reading, writing, math, science, and other subjects.

Public schools are known to be a place where kids go to “socialize” with their friends.

However, public school typically don’t offer a course on friendship and interpersonal skills.

Kids with pro social character traits are generally more likeable. The kids poor social character traits are federally less likeable and more often rejected. They suffer more mental health problems too.

My book, Building Character with Sam and Izzy aims to bring social skills and character development to the classroom. The book has a mission to help kids to make more friends and to feel happier (most of the time). Being happy 100% of the time isn’t realistic.


My sister’s wild animals.

The book uses pictures of dogs (and some cats) to teach children how to make friends by improving their character traits. The book started when my sister’s two dogs Izzy (a Chihuahua) and Sam (an English Bulldog) became friends. What an unlikely friendship. I figured if these two (very different dogs) can be friends then any two kids could become friends too.

In fact, even the dog (and cat) can be friends. See the picture of my sister’s dog Sugar and the cat. I can’t recall that cat’s name.

My book isn’t therapy, but it uses a lot of recreational therapy interventions.

  • Bibliotherapy is a type of therapy based on reading books. My book could be used in recreational therapy.
  • Animal therapy is uses animals in the facilitation of needs. My book uses pictures of friendly animals
  • Activities are part of recreational therapy. My book includes access to download an instructor’s workbook with activity ideas: like making a compromise to select a game, volunteering and helping; being a team-member; and a good sport.

Here is the summary of the book:

Danny Pettry is a Recreational Therapist who specializes in working with children (ages 7 to 12) who have mental and behavioral health needs.
Now he has put together an astonishing children’s book to help ALL children have better social health and wellness.
Danny Pettry’s book teaches character lessons to children using colorful pictures of animals. This book is a valuable tool for teachers, group leaders, therapists and parents alike.
This book covers social skills and character values like:
Accepting others
Having good sportsmanship
Being respectful, generous, helpful, empathetic, and more.
This book helps children learn how to make friends and get along with others.
You’d like for your child or a child you know to develop and improve these skills, wouldn’t you?
You like pictures of cute animals don’t you?
All right then.
Just read the book to your child.


I’ve been featured in the media a few times with this book.

  • I did an interview for National Public Radio (but they’ve taken down the recording – I guess because it has been so many years).
  • Parenting Magazine featured the book
  • Several newspapers


Seal of Approval Winner by The National Parenting Center
Testers were delighted to discover this storybook that teaches children important lessons about tolerance, empathy, sharing, compassion and much more. Pettry uses adorable dogs and puppies to illustrate these good character traits. Parents noted how well the book was written. The style easily connected with children and was fun for parents to read. What many parents told us was that this book sparked conversations about various behaviors including how humans and dogs share many similarities when it comes to caring for each other.

5-Star Rating from Reader’s Favorites

5-Star Rating from Reviewers on Amazon!

Get the book here:


Personal Experiencecanstockphoto26598298

I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class. I didn’t have a 4.0 in public school or undergraduate school. I did finally get a 4.0 in graduate school. I had an A in almost every course. I did get a B in Ethics. I know – that doesn’t sound good, does it?

However, I did win the class of 1992 Good Citizenship Award at my Elementary School.

I’d argue that a child’s social health (interpersonal skills) and ability to deal with emotions (affect regulation skills) might be more of an indicate of success in life compared to just having high grade point average.

Bleisure trip


Word of the day: Bleisure trip:

This is when people take a business trip (and they include leisure time).

Used in a sentence, by Danny Pettry:

I imagine many recreational therapists who are heading out to Orlando, FL for the next American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) conference are taking a bleisure trip.

Based on my personal experiences, all of my ATRA experiences had been bleisure trips.

I enjoy learning. It is something I do for a hobby, so conferences are very rewarding (as well as tiring).

There has been something FUN to do in each town ATRA holds their conferences based on my experiences.

Some people go golfing. I can recall many people going golfing at a conference in Greenville, South Carolina. (I believe it was a Southeastern Symposium conference). I don’t golf (unless it has a windmill and a waterfall and something entertaining).

I always go out to the local restaurants with fellow recreational therapists. So many fun places in every town. I always stop by the mall and shopping center in each town. Those are things I find enjoyable.

Here are some of my experiences that I recall:

  • Kansas City, Missouri: World War I Museum, big former train-station, Hallmark headquarters, Craolya headquarters, Kansas City chiefs (I wanted to go see them play real bad, but didn’t get to for some reason). They have a real nice restaurant that brings your food out on small trains. So cool. Oh yeah – they have a real neat model map of the town. You can push a button (for where you want to go) and a light pops up to show you where that part is at).
  • District of Columbia: a lot of museums. Metro subway was neat.
  • Bloomington, Indiana: Colts! Hoosier state (Indiana University). Real nice mall in downtown Bloomington.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: we took a riverboat down the Mississippi, which was one of the most entertaining and relaxing activities. I also stopped by the Mall of America.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: This is like a really giant version of Charleston, West Virginia (with more to do). I ate with my good friend and mentor Charlie Dixon and his wife at the HardRock Café there. Charlie won the distinguished fellow of the year award by ATRA. A lot of sports: Penguins, Pirates, Steelers.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee: quaint town with a lot of culture in downtown. Spent the day walking around the park with fellow Rec Therapists and we found some real nice restaurant there.
  • Chicago Illinois: wow – that city is just too big for me. I felt a bit scared there. Luckily the conference was slightly outside of Chicago. I went to the local mall with fellow rec therapists. But I didn’t do anything else there. A few RTs told me they ran into some suspicious characters. There were some special events and activities at the conference. Some girls were having a hoola-hooping contest!

Big Book of Therapeutic Activities for Children and Teens

Blog Entry Submitted by: Lindsey Joiner

Hi blog readers,

My name is Lindsey Joiner.  I’m the author of The Big Book of Therapeutic Activities for Children and Teens: Inspiring Arts-Based Activities and Character Education Curricula and The Big Book of Even More Therapeutic Activities for Children and Teens: Inspiring Arts-Based Activities and Character Education Curricula.  I am an LPC in Mississippi as well as a National Certified Counselor and National Certified School Counselor.  I have a wide variety of experience in community mental health, education, and private practice.  I was thrilled when Danny contacted me and asked me to write an article for his fantastic blog.

Although I have a lot of experience now, these books were born out of my desperation as a new counselor conducting day treatment groups.  I had received great training in my graduate programs and thought I had a pretty good handle on counseling theory, but the first day I conducted a day treatment group, I quickly realized I had no idea what to do with a group of 9 children or teens for 2 to 5 hours a day.  I went and ordered all of the therapeutic activity books that I could find to try to find something to do to manage behavior in my groups and fill our time together with meaningful activities.  Almost all of the books I found were either filled with worksheets or scripts to talk through as a group.  While I did manage to get the behavior of the group members under control and fill the time, I noticed that all of the participants were miserable.  They didn’t want to come sit in group for 2 hours after school and do more worksheets.  I started try to find activities and games that they would enjoy that were also therapeutic at the same time.   I began to look at ordinary art activities and games and think about how I could change it or spin it to teach a therapeutic concept.  As I introduced more and more of these activities, I found that participants started wanting to come to group.  Attendance and participation improved and the lessons really seemed to stick with the participants.

Most children and teens (and adults as well) do not learn well through sitting and doing worksheets.  The arts-based activities in my books teach a wide variety of therapeutic skills including anger management, conflict resolution, positive thinking, following directions, and social skills through the use of ordinary and readily available materials.  For example, one of the group activities allows the group to create anger control totem poles.  Each group member takes a short quiz to identify their anger management style (which corresponds to an animal).  The group members then create their animals (using templates providing in the book) while discussing different styles of anger and anger management strategies.  After each group member has created their animal, a totem pole is created.  This is so much more fun and meaningful than sitting and completing a worksheet on anger management.

I want to thank Danny for inviting me to contribute to his blog.  If you are interested in purchasing my books, they are available at as well as many other online retailers.  I am also available for conferences and presentations.  Please contact me at for more information.

Click on the covers below for more information: 

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