Deborah Farmer Kris

Deborah Farmer Kris is Associate Director of the LifeCompass Institute for Character and Leadership.

Recent Posts

Pay Attention! 3 Ways to Help Students Strengthen Their Focus Muscles

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Mar 12, 2019 9:52:54 AM

“How many of you have been told to ‘pay attention’ this week?’” I asked the middle school girls on the first day of our Habits of Mind class. Every hand shot up, accompanied by audible groans.

As adults, we want to teach our children how to pay attention because we know that focus is a vital intellectual habit. So how do we do it?

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The Power of Compassionate Self-Talk

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Mar 5, 2019 11:04:04 AM

Recently, I was talking to a former student about some of the struggles she had faced in high school -- painful insecurities, academic pressures, social missteps, and health and family concerns.   She’s nearly 30, and her journey has led her to a career that she loves and that enriches the lives of others.

It’s a familiar story -- who among us hasn’t faced and overcome challenges?  What struck me was the compassion in her voice when she talked about her teenage self. She expressed a longing to go back, give her young self a hug, and say, “I understand things feel tough right now. You will find your way through this.  You are stronger than you realize.” Her whole manner exuded empathy and kindness.

I recently spoke with Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher on the topic of self-compassion, and I have had a chance to share some of what I have learned with several students here at Montrose. It’s a message worth sharing with you, too.

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Does Music Help Students Do Their Homework?

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Feb 6, 2019 1:35:39 PM

"Should I listen to music when I'm studying?"  

That’s one of the first questions middle school students asked me back in September.  Since then, I have given several parent presentations on learning and the brain, and this question has come up in every Q&A.

All of which tells me there are some active parent-child negotiations going on around homework and music!

So does music help us focus or does it distract us from learning? The short answer is this: It depends.

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Too Busy? How to Improve Your Relationship With Time

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Jan 15, 2019 10:21:23 AM

Let’s admit it: most of us have a bad relationship with time.  

That’s what I told the junior class during a recent discussion. We never have enough of it. It moves too fast or too slow. The weekend races by, but that meeting we don’t want to be in creeps along at an agonizing pace.

Changing our relationship with time is key to living the rich, meaningful life. Instead of time constantly driving us, we can take small steps to reclaim the steering wheel. And that means we have to make time for some reflection.

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Why I Want to be a "Good Enough" Parent

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Jan 8, 2019 1:59:07 PM

Over the winter break, illness ran through my house. It really took a toll on my ambitious make-the-holidays-magical-for-the-kids to-do list. No decorating sugar cookies or wrapping up homemade caramels in wax paper squares, no sending out cards or visiting Santa Claus.  

Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a pot of spaghetti that a friend lovingly delivered when she heard of my woes.  Rather than gathering around the piano for caroling, my kids danced around the kitchen to the Chipmunk Christmas Album. In our homebound state, my daughter spent hours making homemade presents while I caught up on laundry.

And it was magically, mercifully good enough.

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Why Your Brain Loves Exercise: A Guide for Parents and Students

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Dec 5, 2018 11:50:54 AM

In Habits of Mind -- a weekly class for all middle school students -- we explore how the brain works and how they can use that knowledge to become stronger students.

There are two foundational health habits that are necessary for optimal brain functioning: sleep and exercise. Without these, we compromise our brain’s ability to focus, attend, memorize, analyze, synthesize, persevere, and make sound decisions.

I recently wrote about the power of sleep for the Washington Post -- you can read it here. This week, we turned our attention to exercise.

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What Teens Need from Parents

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Nov 27, 2018 9:43:03 AM

The teenage years are marked by paradoxes. Even as teens’ cognitive and problem-solving capacities are expanding, many adolescents experience declines in academic performance, coupled with an increase in behavioral and mental health concerns. Research shows that parental involvement helps stave off these negative trends — but it also reveals that parents’ school-related involvement drops during these years as teens seek greater independence. To add to the challenge, parents may find that strategies that worked in elementary school are no longer effective.

Into this mix comes a recent study of middle and high school students that highlights ways that parents can effectively adapt their involvement to meet the changing needs of adolescents. Teens and parents are on a “paired journey,” marked by shifting family dynamics. The key for parents? Engage teens in a way that honors their autonomy while also providing structure and support.

“The good news is that youth still want their parents to be involved,” says Harvard University Professor Nancy Hill, one of the study’s co-authors. 

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Bounce Back: Learning How to Build Resilience

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Sep 26, 2018 9:50:59 AM

Resilience increases our capacity to thrive in any situation; resilient people keep challenges and setbacks in perspective, have strategies for navigating difficult emotions, and have the strength to bounce back and take another step forward. According to research out of Harvard's Center for the Developing Child, "The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult."  Within this context of support, here are a few ways adults can help kids and teens develop resilience. 

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How Families Can Make Time For Reflection

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on May 24, 2018 1:46:17 PM


Modern life is often typified by bursting schedules, meals on the fly, and never-ending alerts, emails, and texts on our phones. Yet if we simply do and do and do without pausing to reflect, we can find ourselves stuck on a hamster wheel. Reflection is essential to self-knowledge, and self-knowledge can propel us toward self-improvement -- toward making choices that align with who we want to be.

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Helping Teens See the Dignity in Others

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on May 4, 2018 9:33:33 AM

What is dignity? Dignity is each person’s inherent worth. Recognizing the dignity of others isn’t always easy, particularly when we feel like another person is not treating us in the same manner. 

But as Victor Frankl writes, our ultimate freedom “is the ability to choose our attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Seeing the dignity in others -- and treating them accordingly -- is a choice we all have to make again and again.

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Welcome to the LifeCompass Blog

Mind * Heart * Character

Screenshot 2018-09-26 10.29.24Practical wisdom for today's parents and educators.


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