Framing Criticism

How often has what we considered a simple direction or instruction to a child escalated into a power struggle of mammoth proportions?

Denise Savidge, Academic Dean

Denise Savidge, CCBS Academic Dean

We want our child to do well in school, be fairly neat in their home environment and abide by simple rules, and when they fail to do so, it becomes a battlefield.

In a wonderful Psychology Today article (March/April 2013), writer Mary Loftus talks of the importance of giving constructive criticism in a way children can hear it. She writes, “Criticism is the single most significant factor in a child’s perception of the parental relationship. It’s important to criticize without demeaning or humiliating.” Often when we think we are giving direction, we are really beginning by condemning them, which can damage the parent/child relationship.

For poor grades or a failed experiment in something new, she suggests asking your child to evaluate his performance and ask what he got out of the experience. Then she says to turn the conversation to how they might do things differently the next time to achieve their desired result. Framing it as a lesson learned and giving options to do better the next time gives children power to overcome a failure.

How often do we come home and say, “This place is a mess. You have until so-and-so to get this cleaned up or there will be no (insert activity here.)” which is usually followed by a big argument, talking back, or worse. The problem, Loftus explains, is that we go right to the grilling and the incorrect behavior without first going on a “fact-finding  discussion.”

Instead of saying, “This playroom is a mess, you’re not having any friends over until it’s clean,”  she suggests explaining first and skip complaining, by stating “I’d love to see your playroom cleaned up by this weekend so you and your friends can have fun this weekend.”

I thought while reading the article that it sounded a little wishy-washy, so I tried it out on the messy playroom in my own basement. My daughter was having a big skating and slumber party for six girls and I had no time to straighten before racing around town to borrow a vehicle big enough to transport them all to the festivities. So I used the phrase above, word for word. Her answer: “Ok. I’ll go do that now.” I almost fell off my chair. By acknowledging that her party was important to her and phrasing the request in a positive manner, she was willing to jump right on it. Everyone was happy.

Science LabAround campus, the phrase, “How could you have done that differently resulting in a more positive result?”) is common.  (Sometimes we abbreviate to boy lingo, like, “How’d that work out for you?”)  Either way, the boys reflect and take ownership of mistakes while giving thought to what they will do better next time. There is no blame or judgment in these simple phrases and there is always another chance to do better. Often, the positive redirection with an additional chance to try again will get them to where they need to be.

Denise Savidge serves as Academic Dean at Cherokee Creek Boys School in Westminster, SC., and also teaches Language Arts and Social Studies.

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Lessons for Living

“The key to living a truly satisfying life is nurturing your relationships…” I was startled by the tagline of the article in

Jake borrows Denise's jacket for a goofy pic. Just another good relationship at CCBS.

Jake borrows Denise's jacket for a goofy pic. Just another good relationship at CCBS.

October’s issue of Psychology Today. There was the R word again, RELATIONSHIPS, front and center, demanding my attention with a “How are yours going these days?” insinuation. And the teacher in me has to give an honest C+. I’m struggling. Or maybe closer to the truth: I’m juggling, and a few balls are getting dropped, especially in the relationships department

I’ve got a lot on my plate right now – Academic Dean, teacher, Soccer mom, choir member, Clemson University doctoral student, chef, maid, laundress, taxi, and tutor. Oh, and single motherhood, which is a full time job in itself. At our August Family Seminar, we were asked to introduce ourselves and reveal our secret superpower wish.  I rather flippantly answered, “Are you kidding? I’m a single mother. I HAVE all the superpowers I need.” You may notice there are a lot of jobs I have, but no mention of relationships in here. In other words, a lot of “whats” but not a lot of “whos.”

To make things worse, we create a life of busy and then throw in an unspoken infallibility factor upon ourselves. The “if you’re going to do it all, you better do it well without complaint” self-challenge. That’s a perfect setup for failure, shame, and doubt when something doesn’t go right. Keeping busy prevents us from reflecting upon how well we’re doing in the really important thing in life: Relationships. That’s a strange little paradigm, isn’t it? We stay occupied pretending to be too busy for platonic and romantic relationships that we might fail at, but become so busy we end up chastising ourselves for not doing a good job at things that may not be that important in the first place.

Here at school, we focus on teaching the boys that relationship is first and foremost, yet I’m not fully modeling the behavior. I may be driving my son to soccer, but I could do better just engaging him in discussion on the way to the game. I am singing on the Worship Team, but when we’re just talking and not practicing harmonies, my thoughts stray to what I have to do next. I’ve got the schedule down pat, but I’m not allowing my guard down to show vulnerability in the moment.

Vulnerability is a key concept in relationships. It popped up in an amazing TED talk last night in my college class. The segment featured Brene’ Brown, who is a research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She seeks to answer the question, “how do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?” I know I have to give myself permission to be less busy and more vulnerable to engage in relationships that have – as we say at CCBS – heart  and meaning. And to accept no shame if I do it imperfectly.  The discovery of what is “real and true about ourselves and the world around us” means to render ourselves vulnerable and fully embrace the ride!

Invest 20 very worthwhile minutes to enjoy Brene’ Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” at this website address:

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Choosing Good Technology

Tommy, Gerhardt, Michael and Perry start a game of Heroclix

Tommy, Gerhardt, Michael and Perry start a game of Heroclix

Here in the woods of Westminster, SC, sits our little therapeutic boys’ school campus. The driveway is dirt and rock. The buildings are made of logs and mortar.  Three streams converge at the southern side and the trees are too thick to number. It’s peaceful and serene … we like to think its soil is healing … but it is rarely quiet. That’s because at any given free time, there are rousing games of Capture the Flag, Knock Out, pickup basketball, Yu-Gi-Oh, Heroclix, or Sorry going on. There is frequently piano music or guitar strumming. Sometimes, someone is singing out loud. And there is conversation – always conversation.

What’s missing here at CCBS is noise from the various media. The television rarely gets turned on, there are few computers, and cell phones don’t work unless the clouds part magically and the wind blows right. Our boys are learning healthy new skills for working with people through their teenage years, and our staff is stable and strong.

So in response to the Newsweek article of July 15th, “Tweets, Texts, Email, Posts … Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy?” we have to chime in our collective response: “We don’t know We are – dare we say it? – not the least bit crazy.” High tech just isn’t our thing, and therefore we’d be pretty poor test subjects.

This isn’t to say our phones don’t ring – they do, all day long. It’s not to say we don’t have piles of emails awaiting us at the end of the day. The pace is just slower – thanks to satellite-only internet capabilities – yet the work gets done. It gives us more time to reflect before replying to the pile, which is sometimes a good thing.

It was our founders’ belief that school moves just a bit too quickly for some middle school boys to handle. So at CCBS, we make good choices in technology usage and focus on relationship-building. Recent studies cited in the Newsweek article [and discussed in the “Powering Down” blog on the CCBS website] are pointing to a relationship between our connectivity and depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, attention-deficit disorders, and outright psychosis. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due out next year will include Internet Addiction Disorder in its appendix, tagging it for “further study.” Already, China, Taiwan and Korea accept the diagnosis and are treating it as a national health crisis, according to the article. Says MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, “Technology can make us forget important things we know about life.”

We like to think the important things in life are building relationships with peers, communicating with parents and friends, and paying attention to what has heart and meaning.

Technology evolution has been a wonderful thing to watch occur in my lifetime. And it makes me proud to be the age where I can refer to a “broken record” and get the blank stares in return. Having these kinds of conversations is both satisfying and educational – because they usually occur out on the front porch, playing or watching a board game with the boys.

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In 2012 I Resolve…

A photo from our annual December retreat last week

A photo from our annual December staff retreat last week

Very often it is the wisdom of others that is the most inspiring. My list of resolutions for the New Year sound like an echo from last year..”lose a few pounds, get organized, exercise more.” I genuinely aspire to these life improvement challenges, but they are personal commitments and not terribly inspiring.

When my good friend Jack Levine – founder of the 4Generations Institute ( ) and a professional advocate for children and families – shared his  “real and true” resolutions I said, “Wow, now that’s inspiring!” His pledges, if kept, would make the world a better place. A much grander plan!

With his permission, I share them with you. I hope you have had wonderful holidays and that these resolutions inspire you to begin the New Year with hope and optimism for the blessings to be discovered in 2012!

As we prepare to launch into the New Year, please reflect with me for a few minutes on who we are and where we hope to go in the 12-months ahead.

2011 was a year of changes, challenges and new responsibilities.  Life is about transitions, and as an incurable optimist, I believe the year ahead will open new doors and present valuable opportunities for all of us. I hope you agree…..

In 2012 I resolve….

— To appreciate my family, friends, and colleagues for who they are, what they mean to me and others, and to gracefully overlook some things they do (or don’t do!).  None of us is perfect and accepting that reality helps relationships flourish.

— To act upon wrongs that need righting, crass statements that require correction, and offenses that demand just responses.  We set a positive example by not accepting negativity in others.

— To be a valuable teammate and to trust others to do their best.  Each of us should know what position we play, and regularly practice our skills to be our personal best.

— To actively listen to the voices of children and elders. Accepting the wisdom of innocence and experience is both free and priceless.

— To accept that I don’t know everything. By collaborating with others who know much more, together we can create a great brain trust and blend expertise.

— To pleasantly surprise someone every day with a genuine smile and unexpected kindness in word and deed.  Life’s subtle gifts of compassion and concern are cherished.

— To respect and celebrate the diversity of faiths, feelings, and fashions. Differences are natural and honoring each others’ perspectives creates mutual admiration.

— To exercise artistic expression for its intrinsic value. The vitality of the instrumental, literary, dance, visual or vocal arts fuels the soul and expands the mind to new possibilities.

— To invest a thoughtful minute before I speak or act.  Regret is often preventable. Reversing harm is one of life’s most vexing challenges.

— To honor those who courageously sacrifice for us at home and abroad, care for our health, educate, protect us and perform the healing and helping arts so that our quality of life is improved.

— To share even if I think I don’t have enough. Setting an example by giving to others in need is one of the best lessons for children to observe.

— To protect, defend and advocate for people who rely on me. Give special attention to the needs of others of every stage of life who may not know how to find their own voice.

— To preserve natural environments for their beauty and bounty. Natural settings are home to plant-life and species which are too often victims of our wants, not our needs.

— To never give up on a person or a cause, despite the challenges we face. Perseverance is an attitude that exemplifies leadership, attracts allies, and creates meaningful change.

— To speak truth to power, but to be both polite and persistent. There’s a fine line between persistence and pestilence. Resist aggressiveness, but advocate with assertion, confidence and commitment to the cause.  Advocating for prevention policies and programs that keep bad things from happening is the most important of all investments.

Happy New Year!

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When Snow Was Fun

Dylan (left) charges forward, while Jon provides coverage

Dylan (left) charges forward, while Jon provides coverage

Sunday night, my husband and I toured the online blizzard of weather related warnings, watches and apocalyptic premonitions. After a few minutes he turned to me and asked, “Remember when snow was fun?”

Granted, we did receive a ton of snow. Much more than is normal for Upstate South Carolina and most of the warnings were very much warranted. But on Monday morning as I arrived on campus after a long and difficult drive, my shoulders relaxed and a single thought came forward – “Snow Day!”

I made my way from room to room reminding the boys to dress in layers, wear boots, hats and rain gear. In their minds, I knew, were visions of snow play, snowmen, snow angels and, best of all, a snow ball fight.

Middle schoolers so often sway between gleeful childhood and the beginnings of more solemn adult-like maturity. It is what makes them the most fun and interesting age group to work with. Often, our CCBS students arrive having forgotten…or somehow deficient in…the art of real childhood play. We provide dozens of opportunities for boys to be playful, learn new games, and remember old ones – in short, we provide a place where boys can be boys!

The Healer reminds us of the power of fun, play and joy! And there is nothing more joyful than a giant snowfall followed by a snowball fight…nothing…except maybe the hot chocolate afterward!


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Cabin Connections

Students and families get together for S'mores during last week's Family Trek

Students and families get together for S'mores during last week's Family Trek

I grew up visiting state parks throughout Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. They were my family’s escape from Florida summers to cooler temperatures and actual seasons. As a result, my brothers and sister and I cannot reflect on our childhood without recalling our park experiences. We were a “yours, mine and ours” family and those trips made us whole. Without them, I believe we might have retained more awareness of our differences instead of coming together as one family.

At Cherokee Creek Boys School, the families we serve need opportunities to become whole again. What better place than a state park…on a Cherokee Creek Family Trek…or a family vacation? With its particular orientation to family friendliness and its rich history with the Civilian Conservation Corps, Oconee State Park is special.

There is a story about a years-ago park manager at Oconee who decided to “update” the cabins by adding televisions. As the tale goes, when the park’s regional superintendant heard the news he ordered the televisions to be removed immediately stating that, “The day Oconee’s cabins have television, is the day we have failed to do our job.”

Today, if you stay at an Oconee State Park cabin, you will enjoy a working fire place, a screened in back porch complete with rocking chairs and even central air and heat. You will not have TV, WiFi, or a good cell phone signal. You will have time together for hiking, canoeing and other recreation, to make S’mores over an open fire  and stay up late telling family stories around the fireplace.

Your family may be non-traditional, single-parent, multi-generational, fractured or newly formed… but in that sacred, if sticky, “time together” place you will discover what is real and true about your family.  

PS…the next Family Trek is in May 2011

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina

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Graduation Day

The Cherokee Creek mission is to “challenge boys and their families to discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.”  Graduation is a poignant and powerful moment for everyone at Cherokee Creek… staff, students and parents. It is a time to reflect on the lessons of self-discovery that have been learned by the students and their parents.  It is a time of “honorable closure”…to say goodbye and to send blessings for the next leg of the journey.  

Alumni mom, Susan, read this message to her son, Daniel, at his graduation in August and she is allowing us to share these words with you.  They capture so well the Cherokee Creek Boys School experience from a parent’s perspective. Thank you, Susan, for demonstrating your understanding of courage, truth, love and wisdom through your strong-hearted, hope-filled and loving words to your wonderful son!

Susan reads to Daniel at his graduation

Susan reads to Daniel at his graduation

Daniel, so often in your life you have chosen the most difficult path, often thinking it was the easiest. I’ve seen you work very hard to avoid work, and in your interactions with people or just when by yourself, you often did the opposite of what was really your heart’s desire. All of this culminated in dragging you down into a vortex that was not leading to a very happy, successful ending.

We knew you needed to be removed from your old habits and ways of thinking and set into a new, healthy, healing environment.  We gave you the gift of time, of taking a time-off, to start to find out who is the authentic Daniel that God so masterfully created. We knew if you uncovered your true self and gave yourself grace, that you would start to see your own worth as well as in others, and from there you could find your goals for yourself and start to rebuild your patterns into healthy ones.

Daniel, you have worked very hard and have sacrificed so much. It was very, very hard for us to be separated from you, but at least we had each other. I frequently imagined your fear and pain in the early days at CCBS. It must have been brutal. 

Thanks to your hard work and determination and the encouragement, wisdom, and patience of everyone at CCBS, you have become the new and improved Daniel. You have the warmth, values, humor, and talent, you’ve always had, but now it’s packaged in a more confident, courageous, other-centered person. You came to CCBS as a boy, but you’re leaving as a man.

I am so proud of you and am so full of hope for your future. I see you being happy, successful in school, and sports, and hopefully growing in your relationship with God. Where I once thought of your future with worry, I am now so optimistic. 


Thank you everyone, Mike, Jane, Butch, Nick, James, Will, Yanic, Royce, Sandy, Sharon, David, and everyone else I’m forgetting. Thank you for what you have done for Daniel. You have given us a priceless gift and we will be forever grateful.


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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The Healing Power of Hugs

Beth congratulates recent graduate, Cole, on his graduation day.

Beth congratulates recent graduate, Cole, with a hug.

I always love the Family Seminars at Cherokee Creek Boys School and the sessions on Love and Healer are my favorite. Spending time with bright, caring adults who are, “paying attention to what has heart and meaning,” is uplifting. One of the many lessons we explore together is the Arms of Love: the power of acknowledgment, recognition, validation and gratitude to demonstrate genuine caring.

Living in Florida, I am not on campus often and truly miss the day to day engagement with the boys, staff and families. Hugs are a “touching” way to share my heart-felt love and appreciation…if you’ll excuse the pun!

Hugs seem to be the full manifestation of the Arms of Love. A hug acknowledges, accepts, recognizes, validates and is appreciated by giver and receiver.

I am aware that there is a hugging etiquette. Not everyone is an instant hugger. At CCBS we follow guidelines like those set forth by the Hugs for Health Foundation ( yes, there is a Hugs for Health Foundation!)

-Always respect another’s space.
-Ask permission before hugging.
-A hug is a compassionate gesture, hug accordingly.
-A hug is a gentle embrace, not the Heimlich maneuver.

There have been scientific studies measuring the benefits of hugging. Sometimes I’m surprised that science needs to validate what seems so obvious.

Hugs are a simple, one size fits all “therapy”. They are good for all ages, environmentally safe and a renewable resource. They are not bound by gender, race, color or creed. Hugs have Heart and Meaning…hugs are Real and True.

Who will you acknowledge, recognize, validate or appreciate with a hug today?

Here is a video hug for you: Free Hugs Campaign video on YouTube

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Growth in Change

Residential Lead, Shawn Ziluck, shares a story about his own journey of self-discovery, paying attention to “what has heart and meaning” and embracing responsibility.

Residential Lead, Shawn Ziluck

Residential Lead, Shawn Ziluck

Like many of our students at Cherokee Creek, I had a very difficult time taking responsibility for my actions in my adolescence. My willingness to trust the criticism and advice the adults in my life gave me was non-existent and often fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until I was preparing to graduate from high school that the words I had tried so hard to ignore came back to haunt me. 

The thought of going to college was exhilarating at first, but quickly faded as I saw my father come home from his second job cringing in pain and barley able to walk. I began to realize the sacrifices he had made, and would be making,  to provide me with the opportunity to go to college. I knew in my heart I was not ready for college and would surely waste the money he had worked so hard for, and more importantly the blood, sweat, and pain he had endured to do so.

It was then that I learned what it meant to be grateful and what it meant to have a strong work ethic. It was the acknowledgement of his efforts and my feelings of gratitude that lead me to take responsibility for my life. I postponed college and joined the Navy, which also taught me integrity, leadership, respect, compassion, courage and committment in addition to responsibility.

Nearly 14 years later I find myself surrounded by the boys at CCBS as they face many different transitions that act as catalysts in their journey of self-discovery. I have found that change and transition force us to look again at the things that occur to us, within us, and around us.  This is how our students grow and gain insight into their own personal truths.

Many of our students embark on a new journey as they see their peers graduate and transition home. Though it is typically a happy and joyous time, the graduates leave the remaining students with a void to fill. The void that is left often sends their groups into disarray. As they struggle with the loss of leadership and friends, many students are thrust into to new and unfamiliar roles within their groups. 

Amongst the changes and challenges they face, an incredible thing begins to happen: followers become leaders, and boys become young men.

When in your life have you embraced responsibility and embarked on a new journey?


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic Boarding School for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Eagle’s Wings

In our study of the Medicine Wheel at Cherokee Creek Boys School, we are exploring the qualities of the Healer, the value of Love and the guiding principle of, “Paying attention to what has heart and meaning.” Therapist Jane Barker shares a touching story of healing and love – an experience filled with heart and meaning for her.

CCBS Therapist Jane Barker

CCBS Therapist Jane Barker, LISW

It was not an ordinary camping trip. I was taking my daughter Casey to the state park where I had experienced treasures of childhood joys. In my early adulthood visits to the park had been harshly interrupted by my father’s chronic illness. I was flooded by memories of my father as I sat rocking gently in the hammock the first day, as he had so often done when I was a child. The park magically came alive with voices of laughter from my past summers. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected, simultaneous emotions of grief and joy. 

Later, during that same trip, I caught sight of a majestic Eagle soaring skillfully through the sky. I sat amazed at the splendor of this grand creature soaring through an orange evening sky glistening over the still blue water. Its mantles of feathers were a spectacular sight and its pallid head projected from the wings like a snow capped mountain. This rare sighting of the Eagle in the wild gave me a splendid observation of the Master of the Skies. 

I know my flashbacks to childhood and my encounter with the majestic Eagle were an alignment with grace, soaring like the Eagle, riding the winds to touching healing. I recognized the beauty beyond the harsh and cruel realities of life and death. 

I believe that when an animal shows up to you in an unusual way it is trying to convey a message. On that day I received a message about my own healing journey from the Eagle. My grief was a majestic encounter upon Eagle’s wings.

What magical and spectacular encounters have you had with animals in nature?  In what ways has the beauty of nature inspired healing in your life?


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic Boarding School for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.


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