Here is an excerpt from an interview
with Joy about why she became an author and how her books help millions of
children live responsible lives:
you to become an author of books that teach living skills to children?
My commitment was sparked by my own parents
who, like many parents at the time, defined a child's success in terms of
conformity rather than creativity. I loved and respected my parents but as I
grew up, I began to identify different goals for myself and that's when my ideas
about how children should be raised began to solidify. I wanted to teach kids
how to think rather than what to think. And I wanted to teach kids about being
responsible for themselves.
I went on to become an elementary school teacher and
taught second-through-fifth grades in the public school system. My concern was
that the educational system wasn't teaching children life lessons in addition to
academic subjects. I started a preschool and day-care center that became highly
regarded in the education community and among parents. Several years later, I
began a second preschool and day-care center that grew into one of the top three
infant-through-early-elementary private schools in Southern California. I
created a curriculum that incorporated living-skills education and, since
nothing like it was being taught in the school system at the time, I began to
develop self-help materials to support my program.
Was there any one situation that was your "aha" moment in
understanding what children needed to become responsible?
Yes, there was a life-changing moment. A ten-year-old
star of a recreation program I ran was a puzzle to me and a problem to his
parents. Guy had failed two grades in school and was facing expulsion when his
exasperated mother called me for help. I visited the family at home and saw in
the backyard a three-story tree house in the boughs of several avocado trees.
The structure had running water, electricity, a small refrigerator, a
rope-and-pulley elevator, a thatched roof, and windows with glass in them. Guy
had masterminded the whole thing. I was amazed at his ingenuity.
This young entrepreneur had convinced the neighborhood
children to earn their membership in his tree-house club by selling avocados
from the backyard trees. Guy had organized fundraisers and other ways to benefit
Here was a boy who was considered a failure in school yet
who had, at ten years of age, achieved a level of success that most people don't
reach in their lifetime. Where was the gap? What was school not giving him that
he had acquired on his own? The answer hit me: living skills. Guy had figured
out on his own how to make his way in the real world. That was my "aha" moment.
Then and there I ditched any conventional perceptions about children that I had
left. I wanted to educate kids in a new way.
With Guy's participation I organized and taught a
supplementary program designed to teach children living skills that would truly
give them the control needed in order to lead responsible and productive lives.
Soon after, I began to convert the materials into a line of self-help books for
kids from 1-14.
How are living skills taught?
Living skills are taught and learned in the same
methodical way one teaches any subject to a child. Living skills are taught
internally, through firsthand experience, and externally, via self-help
materials. Here's an example of internal learning: Touching a hot stove (a
firsthand experience) results in an immediate insight (a hot stove can burn me),
which results in the automatic modification of behavior (therefore I will not
touch a hot stove again).
Another example of teaching living skills through life
experience is something I call "Go Go Nights." In Zimbabwe, the eldest
grandmother is called "Go Go." Because the mother of my two granddaughters is
Zimbabwean, and because I am my granddaughters' elder grandmother, I am called
Go Go Nights are special sleepovers at my house during
which my two granddaughters are allowed to indulge in myriad childhood
pleasures. A plethora of goodies are made available during these special events
and the girls are told that they need to monitor their own intake of the treats.
The first time the girls were given carte blanche, they made themselves sick. As
a result, an effective lesson on the importance of moderation was learned. Since
that time, both girls have acted responsibly regarding the sweets that are
available to them during Go Go nights and seldom, if ever, do they overindulge.
The second way that children learn about living skills is
through self-help books and other materials.
You write self-help books for children of all ages. Can
you give us an overview of what is taught at each level?
for Toddlers, Ages 1-3: Teach Me About (TMA)
The purpose of the TMA products is to
help parents begin the process of shifting the responsibility for a child's
behavior through the premise that children can control their behavior and,
therefore, can choose whether to engage in positive or negative behavior.
for 4-5 Year Olds: Let's Talk About (LTA)
The LTA products are based on the premise that
emotions are neither good nor bad. Instead, the way in which one handles an
emotion is good or bad. Rather than characterizing emotions as good or bad, the
LTA products refer to emotions as comfortable or uncomfortable.
for 5-7 Year Olds: Help Me Be Good (HMBG)
The purpose of the HMBG products is to help
break the cycle of negative action and reaction. This is accomplished by helping
children replace misbehavior with acceptable behavior.
for 7-10 Year Olds: A Fun and Easy Way (FEW)
The purpose of the FEW products is to teach
children the information and skills they need to live intelligently and
responsibly. This is accomplished by teaching children the personal skills they
need to take care of themselves, the social skills they need to develop and
maintain positive relationships and the coping skills they need to relate to
things in positive rather than negative ways.
for 11-12 Year Olds: Winning Skills (WS)
The purpose of WS products is to help
preadolescents live lives in which misbehavior has no place. This is
accomplished by giving preadolescents the information, skills, and motivation to
replace negative attitudes and behavior with positive ones.
for 6-12: Good Answers to Tough Questions
No matter how hard you try to protect
your child; he or she will at some point encounter traumatic experiences. The
GOOD ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS books teach that trauma itself is not positive
or negative. Instead, it is how one handles trauma that is positive or negative.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for parents?
Yes. Though it is ultimately a child's responsibility
to make himself or herself happy, parents can provide their children with
enjoyable surroundings and experiences. Few things bring more satisfaction to
life than accomplishing what needs to be done—even when the task may not be
pleasurable. "Just do it!" is a profound statement that can be applied to many
aspects of life, such as dealing with problems, mistakes, and traumas. When
parents accept and deal with these things, they achieve balance, and it is this
balance that creates true happiness and contentment.
My books and other media provide the information and
motivation children need to become responsible for themselves, responsible in
their relationships with others, and responsible in the way they handle the
things in their environment. And they provide a way for children to find true
happiness and contentment so that they can lead balanced, responsible lives.
With over 85 million copies of her books sold, Joy Berry's
message has helped children around the world lead more responsible lives.
More information about Joy and her books
for children, please visit