Making lists always has been Mary O'Donohue's strategy for staying organized. When the busy Westchester mom turned one of those lists into a book, it became a bestseller.
When You Say Thank You, Mean It gives parents fun activities to help their children practice one character-building value, such as gratitude or respect, each month of the year. It turns what children perceive as abstract concepts into concrete lessons that last a lifetime, O'Donohue, 52, says. "I knew that teaching them to have character was more important than any toy or game I could ever give them."
Soon after its October 2010 release, it became the number one bestselling parenting book on Amazon. It sold so quickly that O'Donohue earned the coveted title of Amazon's Number One Mover and Shaker for 2011. That same year, she won a Mom's Choice Award and a Character Building Counts Award.
Surprisingly, O'Donohue is not a psychologist; she has a career in TV production that includes 12 years with the Oprah Winfrey Show.
"I wrote this book from the perspective of a busy working mom," she says. "I was concerned that teaching my kids values was slipping through the cracks of my life, and I thought, I cannot let that happen."
She and her husband Jim, who also works in TV production, devised a list of 12 values they wanted to teach their children. To drive home the message, O'Donohue illustrated each value with kid-friendly activities.
She and Jim have seen the results of teaching character-building skills with their own children, Connor, 15, and Grace, 10, who get along well and know how to handle conflicts when they arise. It's what motivated her to share what worked for their family with the rest of the world.
To continue her book's mission, O'Donohue recently launched a website, which she describes as "a bucket list with a twist."
Whereas a bucket list is about "adventures in living," her website is about "adventures in giving."
Visitors list one or two acts of kindness they intend to do within a certain timeframe, such as volunteering at a food pantry or collecting winter coats for the homeless. By putting it in writing and giving themselves a deadline, they are more likely to do it, O'Donohue says.
Later, they return to the website and share what resulted from their kind act. In doing so, they cause a "ripple effect" by inspiring others to give back.
"A ripple effect is something that can go on even after you're gone," O'Donohue says. "That's how powerful compassion is."