Little Details: Sock drawer wisdom

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper


The index card is yellowed and slightly tattered. It sits in the top drawer of my oak bureau, tucked in among stockings and socks. The ink has faded yet I can still read my cursive script from 15 years ago.
When my daughter was 3 and just entering preschool, my sister loaned me a book about the 40 Developmental Assets. This common sense, research–based framework, released by the Search Institute in 1990, identified a catalogue of skills, experiences, relationships and behaviors that support young people in becoming successful, productive members of society. The ideas resonated with me as the parent of a toddler. I put pen to paper, writing each of the 40 Assets on the note card reasoning that, if it was in my sock drawer, I’d see it most every day as I rummaged through in search of a pair to wear.
I am skeptical of fads and expensive “solutions” to the very important job of parenting. Research–based meant that the Assets approach was studied, tested and demonstrated to be an effective strategy for raising children more likely to make positive choices.
My older sisters and I would joke that sometimes it’s time for “1–800 Call Chris.” When our children’s behavior perplexed and befuddled, we’d call our younger sister for advice. She became a school psychologist after teaching special education for a decade in public and private schools. Positive behavioral intervention is her stock and trade. So, when my little sis recommended a book about the 40 Developmental Assets, I read it. Actually, I embraced it.
All children face challenges. The Assets approach supports the notion that, although we can’t protect children from all adversity, we can expose them to people and experiences that promote resilience and positive behavior.
Think of the person—most likely a friend—who offers your child their first can of beer or joint or something else. What of the boyfriend or girlfriend who practices manipulation and/or intimidation? Will your child be strong enough to stand his or her ground or walk away? What of protracted or sudden loss and grieving? Will your child have the resilience to “bounce back” and move forward?
The 40 Developmental Assets approach cites 20 “external” assets looking at support, empowerment, boundaries and constructive use of time. Having positive, caring adults in your life—in addition to (or in lieu of) your parents is beneficial. Choosing peers who model positive choices and involvement in constructive recreational activities further enhances resiliency.
“Internal assets” consider level of commitment to learning, embracing positive values, social competencies and positive identity. Striving to achieve academically, resisting illicit substances and delaying sexual activity have borne out in research as beneficial.
There is no magic formula for raising thoughtful, level–headed children. Those of us who are parents can use all the help and, frankly, wisdom we can get. Striving to bring positive people into children’s lives while encouraging them to engage in structured activities that feed their passions seems a good route for families to take.
I still reach out to my sister via “1–800 Call Chris.” That said, I’m heartened by that slip of paper in my sock drawer reminding me, “What asset do I hope to strengthen today?”
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Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at or