Blog Entries

What Great Parents Do – Another Giveaway!

75Once in a while, a book comes along, written so well, that you wish you had been the one to write it. Such is the case with “What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive.” by Erica Reischer, PhD. This new book offers you a way to improve your skills over time, it engages you in a way that a slick, try it, it will work strategy can’t. If you have ever worked with me or attended one of my presentations, you know that all change happens, over time when we focus our attention on one thing until we have mastered it.

Okay, here is a short list of what makes this book great.

  • You can start anywhere and improve your parenting.
  • It’s not really about changing your kids, but more about improving your skill set when it comes to parenting.
  • She includes research, common sense and years in the field to compile a thoughtful, well organized and relevant guide any parent can use if they want to improve their parenting skills and the relationship they have with their children.
  • You could take each chapter and work on refining your parenting skills or approach over the course of a week or a month.
  • Instead of jumping around trying to address bedtimes, sass, technology and so on, she offers parents insights into their mindsets, their responses and how making small changes can bring about big results.
  • The book helps parents understand children in new and clearer ways and breaks down old myths concerning kids and their behavior.
  • She uses science to back up her assertions so that parents don’t have to do all the heavy leg work themselves and can instead access what’s available and put it to good use immediately.
  • It is uplifting, realistic, full of possibility and inspiring.

Here’s the thing. I am a firm believer that we are all doing the best we can with the information we have. Sometimes we just need new information. I believe that we really all can be great parents and it doesn’t mean – we have to be turned into someone else. It just means we have a choice. Do we apply the new information or not?

This is a must for every new parent and for anyone already in the trenches with kids. So we are offering another giveaway. Comment below by midnight on Friday 8/26 and we’ll add your name in a drawing for a free book. Enjoy the end of your summer!

Book Recommendation and Giveaway

danish3As we find ourselves in the height of the summer, I wanted to recommend a parenting book that is being released this week, The Danish Way of Parenting, What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl.

If you’ve read and enjoyed my books, you’ll find this book is a goldmine filled with practical, insightful, relevant information that will support any parent looking to deepen their parenting skill set.

A few highlights include:

  • Each chapter invites the reader to examine an aspect of child-rearing. The information provided by the author impacts our ability to parent from a position of leadership, empathy, kindness, respect and open-mindedness. In doing so, small shifts can be made that influence the child and the family as a whole.
  • Tips at the end of each chapter that help anchor the information and allow you to find a nugget that resonates with you to initiate your journey.
  • Two of the most powerful chapters are on Empathy and No Ultimatums. These can be tricky areas for any parent and yet when I finished reading each chapter I felt I had gained a deeper understanding of the subject matter along with some subtle shifts I could make in my own parenting.

To create a little summer excitement, we were able to obtain a copy from the publisher for a free giveaway. Please enter in the comments why you would like to receive a free copy by the end of the day on Friday 8/5 and we’ll select a winner by random on Saturday 8/6.

If you don’t win the free copy, order the book as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Hope. Gratitude. Giving Back.

Treating Human BeingsWhen I entered the office I was greeted as always by a polite and friendly receptionist. “Are you teaching any parenting classes” she asked. quietly. “Yes I am as a matter of fact. I’m teaching at the college on Mondays and in a nearby town on Tuesdays.” She was quiet. So I asked. “Is there something I can do for you”. She hesitated for only a moment and then said, ”I have a daughter with some special physical needs and she is struggling with her 4 year old. I thought maybe one of your classes might help her.” I nodded in agreement. “Is it possible for her to make one of the classes?” She nodded her head no and replied, “she is too far away”. I filled out the paperwork and before I passed it to her I said, “here is my phone number and my email address. I would be happy to drive to her, sit with her and chat and see if I can lend some help. Parenting is hard and we need all the support and encouragement we can get.” She teared up, said thank you and took the small piece of paper with my information in it.

The woman next to her, half our age looked up and said, “you are the woman who wrote the book Duct Tape Parenting.” I nodded yes. She said “a friend of mine gave it to me a year ago. At first I was insulted, but then I understood. I had been complaining about my two kids for months. She offered suggestions and I kept ignoring her. Finally, she just gave me the book and said, “read it if you ever want to talk to me about your kids again. So I did, and within the first few pages I knew what she was talking about. Thank you.” I nodded my head and smiled and went to sit and wait for my appointment.

Over the years I have taught a parenting class to everyone in this office. The doctors, their nurses and their administrative staff. Each time I go in for a checkup, it feels like I am visiting with old friends. We give each other updates about our kids, we share a giggle about the exploits of one of our college bounds kids, we roll our eyes at some nonsense one of them pulled and then we get back to the task at hand. It is a lovely feeling being so connected to all these wonderful people.

When the doctor came to get me, he paused and said, “can I tell you something personal?” I said “sure.” “One of my nurses had been coming into work and complaining about her kids for a few months. My wife and I shared some of our experiences with her, but she was having none of it. You know how that goes, right. They ask, you offer and then they tell you, before they have even tried anything that it won’t work.” I nodded, I certainly did. He continued, “She was going on vacation and as a going away gift, we gave her our edition of your book. Notes and all, and I can tell you it wasn’t an easy thing to do.” I giggled a bit imagining how insulted this woman might have been when she opened her gift. He said he didn’t have any hopes that she would read the book, but that she would understand that her stories about her children were disrupting and upsetting the rest of the staff and at the very least she might stop talking about her kids in such disparaging ways. He continued, “I got a call from her three days later on her vacation in sunny Florida. She opened the book on the plane, read the first few pages intending to put the book down and finished it by the time she closed her eyes on the 2nd night. She told me how grateful she was that I had reached out and taken a chance. That I wasn’t afraid of offending her and had shared a book that had meant so much to me and my wife.”

My eyes teared up. It is these moments that make me so grateful to be doing what I love. We finished the exam and before I left his wife came in to say a quick hello. We hugged and caught up bit. She said, “I’ve been meaning to send you an email for several months.” “Oh,” I said “About?” “Well, as you know, our oldest daughter is in her second year volunteering abroad and that never would have happened had we not taken a parenting class from you when she was a mere seven-years-old.” I rolled my eyes as I often do and said, “I had nothing to do with that, you raised that remarkable young woman.” “No its not true,” she said. “Because of you we were able to support her desire to travel half way around the world when what my instincts told me was to keep her close by, to limit her options, to keep her safe. But I heard your voice over and over and it helped me find the courage to support this young woman, my daughter, as she followed her dreams. Now our youngest is pushing me to let her grow more, to stretch more as she talks about traveling to Turkey for a semester abroad. I feel a pit in the center of my stomach and everything in me wants to keep her home where she will be safe, but I know I can’t do that, because it is much more likely that I will lose her if I try and stop her than I would lose her to Turkey.”

We shared a quiet moment, both of us understanding what it’s like to live with courageous, fearless, adventurous, engaged children and then hugged goodbye. I walked to the car and sat for a moment. My heart full. Full of hope and full of gratitude. For so many things.

Raising Kids who will Break the Cycle of Violence

light.loveIn light of the recent tragedies, the number of coaching inquiries has spiked. I am honored to help more families, but from a humanitarian perspective this is heart breaking. Parents are reaching out to those they trust for guidance on how to ensure their children remain the loving, open, accepting, nonjudgmental people they are today.

I wish there was a way to guarantee our children’s continued innocence, but there is not. As they mature, as they become more involved in the world around them, as they are exposed to influences that are not always designed to bring out the best in them, they will have to choose who they want to be. As parents, what we can do is saturate our children’s lives with love, with acceptance, with tolerance, with forgiveness, with humanity. We can talk with our children about what it takes to be a kind, patient, loving, generous person in the face of circumstances that might bring out the worst in us. We can remind our children of their worth and the worth of every other child and person sharing our planet. Like everyone else, I am saddened each time I hear about another violent act, but I also accept that in this time and place, this is a part of our reality.

Until we see each other as true brothers and sisters and fight to keep ourselves and each other safe from harm, physical, emotional or spiritual, there are simple things you can do in your home with your children to cultivate a feeling of love, safety, and acceptance.

I have generated a list of ideas for you, in response to the Stanford case (which unbelievably has been replaced by another devastating tragedy in the headlines) that I hope will help you turn your rage into action. Here are some things you can do to support your children as they grow.

1. Teach girls that strength and honesty are more important than being nice. Nice is overrated. Strength and a sense of personal power and the honesty to claim yourself for yourself is what is required. Let them be rude, let them be sassy, let them be tough. Enough nice. Enough polite.

2. Do not foster romantic relationships in young children. You warp their entire idea of what a healthy, adult relationship is. Five-year-olds do not have boyfriends and girlfriends, so knock it off with this language. It’s a lie and it damages both our boys and our girls. Why are we trying to hook little children up? Check your own self-esteem here, it most likely has something to do with the fact that you want your kindergartner to have a love interest.

3. Stop calling little girls “flirts” and then telling them that they will “get into trouble when they get older”. Instead, explain the power and the responsibility that goes along when we try and illicit the attention of other people. Remember that our kids are being bombarded with sexual messages from the media. You have to work hard to undue those harmful and limiting messages so work hard. Work harder than the advertisers.

4. Stop telling girls that boys must like them when they are cruel, rude, and disrespectful to them. Teach them to stand up to these boys and be straight with them. “Hey, if you want to play at recess with me, then be nice to me, otherwise – get lost.” Why is that so tough to teach our kids? It would go a long way in helping our sons break out of the stereotyping we heap on their small, tender shoulders.

5. Teach your boys that girls, females enjoy the company of boys, men, who are kind, sensitive, funny, interesting, smart, creative, and 100 other things, but certainly NOT boys who are mean, cruel, tease, hit, pinch, kick, or anything else cruel. Cultivate their humanness and not just their maleness. They are more than that. Let them be all of what is there for them to be.

6. Encourage your sons to share their feelings when they are small and as they grow. Teach them to share often and make a safe place for this sharing, to help them become confident. Introduce them to other men who share openly and freely. Let them practice when they are young and validate that this is what real men are like. Everything else is fake. The toughness, the “I don’t care” attitudes, the “I’m tougher than you,” attitudes are crap. Be gentle and be kind, with your young sons so they grow up to be gentle and kind to themselves and to those around them.

7. Do not, under any conditions make your kids talk to people they don’t want to talk to, sit on the lap of someone they don’t want to get close to, cuddle with someone who makes them uneasy, kiss someone who sets off alarm bells in their heads. Each time you do, you teach your kids not to listen to that internal voice that is warning them of danger. This voice, if cultivated and honored will keep them safe when they are older. Over time, we want them to l learn to trust this voice allowing them to move among others with more confidence. This is their natural safety alarm. Teach them to use it.

Please feel free to send in any questions or contact us if you would like to discuss anything in more detail. I am miles away, but I am with you all as we navigate and do our best in this journey called life.

Q&A: Parenting on the Same Page

I have about a million questions for you these days as I feel we are entering into uncharted territory as my oldest daughter is now nine-years-old. I recently saw that you posted something on facebook about reaching out with questions, so here you go!

The Moralist - right and wrongI would say one of the biggest problems in our relationship is parenting. My older daughter is definitely tuned in and I think she enjoys adding fuel to the fire occasionally. Family dinner is a big issue. I eat most of the meals with the kids and my husband joins us maybe 1-3 times a week. If he’s at all grumpy from work, he can’t handle them being anything but perfect at the table. I can’t tell you how many times we have said, ‘use your fork’ or ‘no feet on the table’, and it goes on and on. The good news is that when we eat out or at other people’s houses, they know the rules and are well behaved. I get to a point where I say to myself that it’s more about the relationship and to stop nagging, because really what’s the big deal? My husband comes from a stricter household and to him, it really is a big deal. I’m more laid back, and he’s very much into manners, even at home, SO what ends up happening is he basically ruins dinner by being so uptight and not just learning to let stuff go, and the kids watch it all go down. What is the solution? It’s causing a real rift between us because we aren’t on the same page and I just am not sure what to do.

Wow. You might be surprised at how often this exact situation comes up in families. It is definitely a problem between the parents and has nothing to do with the kids.

It’s reasonable that you foster table manners at home even if the kids know what the rules are outside of the home. You are laying the groundwork here and it will go a long way in determining if you really want older kids who conduct themselves in the same manner they are exhibiting now. Highly doubtful.

You both have clear ideas about what is important. And, they are both valid. There is no right or wrong way. But, as you said, the kids are watching and your continued fighting about this issue is teaching them all kinds of things that they will later use in their own parenting and in the relationship they have with their spouse. So ask yourself, what are you modeling for the kids and do you want them to model what you are doing? If the answer is no, then it’s time to work on a solution, and the solution is about you and your husband getting on the same page.

So here is what I suggest.

1. Sit down and find out WHY you are more relaxed about meal time. Think about your own childhood experience and dive into it. What was meal time like for you? What memories do you have? If they are good ones, elaborate on why they are good memories. Did you feel loved, accepted, relaxed, fun? Is this what you are trying to duplicate with your own kids? If so, then it’s possible that you could create those same feelings using a different strategy. If you didn’t exercise good table manners, when did they kick in?

2. Likewise, have your husband talk about his own childhood experience around mealtime. What are his recollections? What did meal time mean to him and his family? Did he feel relaxed, connected, and happy during mealtimes? If he did, then he associates those feelings with the way meals were conducted and is trying to duplicate that feeling. Perhaps he remembers being criticized for not sitting up straight or for having bad manners and dinners were a stressful time. Maybe he is trying to avoid all of those feelings and thinks the only way to do that is for the kids to do what they are supposed to and then everyone can relax. Perhaps he would be open to a different way of doing things if he wants the kids to have positive memories of meal time.

This doesn’t mean either of you will change overnight, but it gives you something to work on together.

3. It doesn’t matter that YOU think it’s no big deal and that he should just chill out. Your spouse thinks it’s a big deal and your job is to uncover why and then work with him to come up with a strategy that supports what you both want. You are going to have tougher parenting issues to get through and if you aren’t working together on these daily challenges, it’s going to be tough to work together on more sensitive issues.

Focus on the relationship you have with your parenting partner and make that your priority for a few days, weeks or months. At least until you can come together, support each other, respect each other’s childhood experiences and then decide what it is you want for your family.

Have fun

Be Patient. Your Child is Remarkable.

This is a personal story and for those of you who know or have been following me, you know that I don’t share much outside of the classroom, and can appreciate that this is a rare occurrence. However, I think sometimes those of us with older kids, can share a bit of our experience to help younger parents along the parenting path. I know how much I cherished hearing about the ups and downs from the parents I respected who had older kids.

So Here Goes

Brady SlidingOur youngest son has always marched to his own drum. He is a maverick of sorts. He does not care in the least if people are mad at him, he isn’t easily influenced by the normal social pressures. He trusts himself more than anyone else, he never complains, blames, or makes excuses. He owns his mistakes and his successes. He is nearly impossible to read, but has a gentle and giving heart that is easily broken by injustice. I was one of those parents who thought it would be super cool to have a kid like Brady, until I actually got one and then I was like “what the hell do I do now?’ because none of the rules, none of the guidelines, none of the strategies work to influence this kid.  So, I did what I always do – I put all my eggs in two baskets. The first was on maintaining and cultivating a healthy, respectful relationship with him and the second was to foster his independence in any way I could and that meant backing off – which (if you know me, you know) isn’t easy for me.

Determined Resolve

Before I get to the punch line, here is a little background. School came easily to Brady. He figured out by the 5th or 6th grade that he could just listen in class, or read the assignment without ever doing the homework and pull an A on his tests. He determined early on that if he could understand the material and prove that by acing the tests and contributing to class discussion, it didn’t make sense for him to do the homework, so he didn’t. Of course this caused chaos at school. We were told that he HAD to do the homework, that his grades were based on the completion of homework. We argued, but in the end, we lost that battle. We tried to convince Brady to play the game as it wouldn’t take him long to knock off the homework, but he wouldn’t budge. In the end we backed him up and told his teachers they would have to find a way to work with Brady. They could ether find a way to motivate him, punish him for his decision or decide that understanding the material was more important than passing in homework.

We had hoped that by early high school he would change his attitude and decide that it was worth doing the homework if it meant getting in to a reputable college and qualifying for some serious scholarship money. In fact, in some of our dreams we imagined him going on to get his Masters and then a PhD and then perhaps teaching at a prestigious college. By the end of his sophomore year, we were living firmly in reality and in senior year he announced that he was done with his formal education and would be leaving school. GULP. He talked and we listened and we knew that his decision was made. We were not going to fight with him and so we agreed that if he was willing to get his GED and take the SATs on the off chance that one day he might want to go to college, he would have our support. And so he did and at 17-years-old he left for a four-month trek in Nepal. (Read more about this experience – here.)

Nepal to California

He relished his time in Nepal and on returning he promptly packed a suitcase and announced that he was moving from our small town in Vermont to Berkley, CA to live with his older brother. Wow. We were shocked, and a bit disheartened that he hadn’t changed his mind about college and yet, just a wee bit hopeful that when he got to Berkley and was surrounded by all those intellectuals, that his passion for learning would kick in and he would announce that he was applying to a University. Nope. He wasn’t interested in anything other than working and playing, but mostly working – in kitchens. Any kitchen. He started off at Subway because that is all he could get and he wasn’t even 18-years-old. He moved from there to a little diner that served mediocre diner food. He picked up a second job and began working between 60 and 80 hours a week. He didn’t have a car so he hoofed it, rode a bike, got a taxi or took the BART. No college, but industrious as hell. Other than getting mugged a few times he didn’t ask us for anything. He managed his finances, his friends, his family, his leisure time, his hours and his work schedule.

At about 20-years-old he hit the wall. He was tired, discouraged and well, confused. We talked and he pitched the idea of going to culinary school. Why YES, yes indeed, what a great idea. And so we jumped through hoops, he enrolled and just when it was time to send in the tuition check, he let us know that he wasn’t going. He let us know that he had pulled himself out of his funk and had found a new job he was excited about and that would be his culinary education, in the trenches like so many other chefs before him. We were deflated but not defeated. This kid is resilient. No, he is more than that, he is everything a person can be who can get up off the floor, battered and bruised and move himself into a new and exciting adventure with not a single look back. Remarkable to behold.

My Parenting Goal

I have said for years, that when I was parenting I had one goal in mind. That goal was to ensure I did everything I could to enhance the relationship I had with my kids so that when they were adults, and they had the choice to call and share big news with me, they would call because they wanted to, not because they felt obliged to.

Brady is now 22-years-old and a few days ago he called with big news. He had just left an interview for a sous-chef position with a four-star restaurant in the Bay area and he wanted to share his excitement with me. He was on the BART traveling home and so we texted back and forth. Me with my questions and he with his excitement at the possibility of working in a stellar restaurant with a more than decent salary and the potential to become a head chef by the time he was 25-years-old. I cried as I typed. I thanked every force out in the Universe that helped me stay true to parenting Brady in the only way that made sense for him. I thanked all those parents with older kids who kept encouraging me to trust him, to let him pave the way and for me to follow quietly behind. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, he challenged me in a way none of my other kids did. I am surely a better parent and person because of him.

Be their Champion

So here’s the punch – you, parent out there, reading this crazy blog, you are living with children, who are remarkable. Right now, just as they are. Whether they are making you crazy or pushing you to your limits and making you shake your head because you cannot figure them out. Trust me when I say, your kids know what they are doing. It may not look like it to you and me, but these kids know and if we can stand behind them and be their champion, they will surely share this adventure with us and it will make all the uncertainty and confusion and chaos worth it.

Take a look at the munchkins living in your home and ask yourself, what are you willing to do today to ensure you get the phone call with the big news? Because if you don’t start preparing for that day today, you will surely miss it.

Q&A: Sibling Fights

sibling rivalryQuestion:

Thank you for your books. After reading Duct Tape Parenting, the only thing I am still struggling with is allowing them to work out their arguments because my little one is still quite young (2 in July) so I worry about her being bullied or hurt, but I have let go quite a bit compared to before.


In terms of the fighting, they are young and they do not have the skills to respectfully work things out.  Put your effort into helping them learn how to negotiate life with a sibling.  Here are a few quick and easy steps.

1.  Acknowledge when someone is mad or hurt or angry or doesn’t want to share.  This immediately quiets and centers kids and lets them know they are heard and their feelings validated.  It also reestablished a connection with us.
2.  Take a big deep breath while you look at one or both of them and ask them to do the same.  Doesn’t matter if they do it, you are creating a habit.  This will help you keep a calm voice and attitude and will teach them that they can move pass a tense moment using their own body for help.
3.  Ask them if they have any ideas for how to solve the problem.  There is no need to point out that hitting, biting, yelling or calling someone stupid won’t work.  Focus on finding a solution even if the solution is to climb up in your lap for a bit of love.

Make sure kids know that it is find if they chose to take some time alone.  Often times we just need a break to regroup before we are ready to come back and begin playing with a sibling.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if they understand.  What you are doing is modeling for them that you understand, to take a breath and then to find a solution.  You don’t have to talk about being nice, or kind or not hitting, just help them learn these 3 steps and it will go a long way in helping them deal with all the times they experience a negative emotion, and there will be plenty.

Before long they will be able to say to you – I am mad because [insert whatever it is.] I am going to take a deep breath and then pick up my dolls and go play in my bedroom.  I promise with practice, it really does happen this way.

Kids Coming Home from School?

Five Tips for a Seamless Summer

School is almost out and for many parents that means rearranging schedules and daycare options or babysitters, shifting work schedules, signing up for summer camps and whether or not to keep all the routines and systems for continuity and sanity sake or toss them out for a few months. Much has been written on the subject in an attempt to help parents make the most of summer vacations – for themselves and for their kids. Read more

But what about parents who have college students headed their way? Students that are home for the summer before they return to campus life and those who are recently graduated and find themselves in that “tweener” spot of not really having that big job with the great advancement opportunities in one of the most dynamic cities in the world with their closest and most trusted friends as roommates. What about them and more importantly what about their parents?

TeensAs a mother who saw my own five college kids come and go, I knew that in order for all of us to survive a short summer stay (or as some of my friends were experiencing, a longer transition of sorts) it was in order to establish and then follow some basic guidelines. The guidelines ensure that everyone is treated with respect and that everyone takes responsibility for what is theirs. That includes words, attitude and actions, not just “stuff”. Clear boundaries limit opportunities for misunderstanding or power struggles.

The truth is I spent years cultivating a strong, healthy relationship with my kids and I didn’t want that demolished because an 18 or 22-year-old landed on my doorstep with very different ideas about life at home than the ones they grew up with, while living under my roof. So here are my five, tried and true tips on how to maintain a healthy, respectful and fun summer with your newly young adult kids.

  • Set the Tone with Appreciations: As soon as your beloved children arrive home, call the family together and dole out rich, deep and meaningful appreciations*. If you start by saying something like “I appreciate, that coming home for the summer or during this transition, isn’t the perfect situation for you and yet, you are willing to be flexible and mature enough to know that for now, it’s the wisest choice.” Or, “I appreciate how difficult it was to turn down that summer job in the city and come home so you could 1) concentrate on earning enough money to live off campus next year; 2) take a summer class so you can graduate on time; 3) help out the family …..By the time you finish delivering these appreciations, your kids will be ready to share an appreciation for you. Imagine how this is going to set the tone for the rest of your time together. Continue sharing appreciations formally at least once a week and I recommend putting up a large sheet of paper with the word APPRECIATIONS at the top and using it every day so that you all remember what is most important. Your relationship.
  • Get their ideas first: It’s easy to jump into parent mode with the kids, but I have found that life is much smoother when I took the time to ask them what their vision of our summer together would look like before I shared my vision. Each time I learned something new about my kids, how they had changed, what their expectations were and more importantly, what they were worried about. Because the truth is, our kids are as worried as we are when they step back into mom and dad’s domain. Keep asking gentle questions and get as much detail as you can. Then, show appreciation for how much thought they have put into their current situation.
  • Find something to agree on: After you have heard their ideas, identify one that coincides with one of your ideas and begin to build your shared vision from there. Work with your kids as if they are colleagues and not snarky 13-year-olds. They will appreciate the respect you are showing them and will return it in kind. We started with “clean up”. My kids initially agreed that if they made a mess, they would clean it up. I knew they meant well, but I also knew that they would get busy and forget and that there would be times when they just didn’t want to clean up. In order to be clear we talked about what “clean up” meant to all of us, how we would handle a messy kitchen without yelling or scolding, and so on. Just flushing these things out before they become issues saves everyone time, energy and misunderstandings. And a word of caution here, if you don’t want to do their laundry every week, don’t do it even once. Set a healthy precedent from the get-go and you will save yourself oodles of frustration later.
  • Keep it simple: The more “rules” you have, the more trouble you are likely to get into. Decide what your two or three non-negotiables are and make an agreement with the kids about those. Explain your position and ask them to explain theirs so that you both understand the other person. The kids have had a taste of independence and they have had to work with a roommate so they know how to compromise and cooperate. It will be up to you to allow that side of them to emerge. That is possible only when you control your parenting default setting and remember that this is not the same moody 13-year-old you once had to strong arm to help out, but a budding adult who needs support and patience.
  • Remain firm and flexible. Stay firm on the non-negotiables and be prepared to follow through with whatever you agreed to. That might mean that they find someplace else to live if they insist on staying out all night without calling by the agreed upon time to let you know. Only then will you be treating them like adults and if you do, they will most certainly rise to the occasion. If you don’t, you will likely return to nagging, reminding and then lecturing them on how selfish, rude and disrespectful they are which will only cause things to deteriorate quickly. Stay flexible with things like picking up the kitchen (unless that is your non-negotiable) and continue to talk with the kids about how to make life work for everyone concerned.

It is important that you remember, as hard as that may be at times, to treat the kids like colleagues or trusted friends. They might not be as mature as we hoped they would by 18, 19 or 22-years-old, but they deserve our respect and a chance to rise to their highest selves. That can only happen when we provide the space for them to do it.

Each time I dropped the kids off at college or off into the adventure we call adult life, I was gifted with a huge hug, a heartfelt thank you and tears which indicated to me that the time we spent together was as meaningful and special to them as it was to me. Don’t waste an entire summer bickering with a child who will soon enough be out on their own and will have the choice whether to call you or not, whether to come and visit or not and whether to share the most intimate and important parts of their life with you or not. These are crucial moments in our kid’s lives. Let’s be on our best behavior for each one of them.

Vicki Hoefle has been teaching parent education classes for over 25 years. Hoefle is the mother of five adult children and the author of Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, & Resilient Kids and The Straight Talk on Parenting, A No-nonsense Guide on How to Grow a Grownup. She is an in demand national speaker and parent coach and is available to speak at your school or organization on numerous parenting topics or work individually with your family. Please contact us for additional information.

*Learn more about Appreciations and Family Meetings and enroll in our online course today!

End of the Praise-Junkie

praise v encourage

What’s a Praise-Junkie?
A Praise Junkie is a child who depends on his/her parents to give constant feedback on what a “Great job she is doing” and “How proud they are of him?” It’s the child who asks “Do you like it?”, “Did I do a good job?”, “Are you proud of me?”, “Did I do it right?” kinds of questions.

A Praise Junkie is a child who looks to the outside world for approval instead of looking inside and using an internal compass to answer the question – do I approve of what I am doing and who I am becoming.

A Praise Junkie is a child who is so use to being judged on the end result, that the joy, the mystery and the excitement of being completely immersed in the Process has lost it’s meaning.

A Praise-Junkie is a child who is at risk of being manipulated by someone – out there – who will gladly give the approval and the applause that this child has become addicted to at the hands of well meaning parents.

When I first started studying Adlerian Psychology and began reading about the dangers of Praise, I, like most people I know, felt completely shocked by what I was learning.

“Praise – the feel good strategy of choice, not good for our kids? How could that be?”
I spent years talking with professionals, reading about the effects of Praise, observing how my own children responded to Encouragement instead of Praise and was soon convinced that Adler presented a good argument for closing the door on Praise and keeping it closed.

Read one Mom’s account of her daughter’s experience when her sister said, “I’m so proud of you!” You will see that when kids are raised with Encouragement from their parents instead of Praise, when someone says to them, “I’m proud of you,” it feels awful. It feels as if you weren’t able to do whatever it was that the parent was proud of, the parent would be disappointed. As parents you may think you are helping your child to feel good, but it has the opposite long-term effect.

So if I was going to give one piece of advice to parents it would be this, “Stop praising and telling your children you are proud of them.”

Even today, with all the research available to parents, I still hear – “How can that be? How can saying, ‘Good job’ or ‘I’m proud of you’ be bad? It makes my child happy, it makes me feel good and it’s easy!”

I admit, it can be a hard habit to break and the fact that it “feels good” (to us) only increases our resistance to giving it up.

So what is my alternative to praising? Encouragement of course.

Encouragement is an observation that can be given at any time, to anyone, in any situation. It is an observation, an acknowledgment, a statement that focuses on effort, improvement or choice, and it helps to promote self-esteem and a sense of self-worth in our children. Encouragement implies faith in and respect for the child as he/she is.

Encouragement is when you look at a drawing your child made and instead of just merely saying, “Good job!” you say, “You chose yellow. What about yellow do you like? Why that shade? What were you thinking about when you drew this? Would you do anything different next time?”

If you use encouragement on a regular basis with your children, it will teach your children to:

  1. Create an internal framework for themselves in which to self-assess their own lives, their preferences, and their progress:
  2. Figure out what is important to them;
  3. Spend less time asking the outside world what they think of who they are as people.

More than any other tool, strategy, concept or skill I use, encouragement has been and continues to be my strategy of choice. In fact, I consider encouragement “a way of being” more than a strategy I use. I believe that if parents developed and mastered the art of encouragement, they would experience dramatic and lasting changes in both their children’s behavior and the quality of the parent/child relationship.

If you’d like to learn more about Encouragement, I discuss the strategy in detail in my books Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids and The Straight Talk on Parenting, A No Nonsense Guide to Growing a Grownup.

If They Can Walk, They Can Work!


Old enough to walk, old enough to work!

A) You’re not alone

B) Now’s the time to do something about changing roles, and

C) Believe it or not, both you AND the kids will be glad you did now, and for years to come.

I realized at an early stage in my pregnancy with my first child that I could either be the maid or be emotionally available to my children, but I could not do both. Since there’s a far greater payoff to being emotionally available, I decided to train my children early on to help with the household chores.

Now, if you’re at all put off by the word train, here are a few other verbs straight out of my thesaurus: teach, coach, educate, instruct, guide, prepare, tutor… and you’ve got to love this one… school.

I use the word train because that’s what it is. And let’s face it, training is useful – it makes us all better at what we do. And knowing how to learn from our training is a skill in and of itself. A skill, I might add, that will serve your children well as they go off to school, into the workplace… but that’s another topic for another day. Back to making everyone’s life easier and more pleasant by taking off that maid’s outfit and giving your children a chance to be part of the family fun.

Is there an optimal time for training?

The quick answer is YES! Over the years I developed a very simple answer for parents when they would ask me how young they could start training their children to help around the house. My answer is, “If they can walk, they can work.” That’s right moms and dads, it’s never too early.

There are two good reasons to start training your children in what is essentially the fine art of cooperation and contribution, as soon as possible.

1. The first reason is that, if children have been invited to participate in family chores from a young age, contributions will be a normal and routine part of their daily lives by the time they hit the pre-adolescent, “I am not interested” age. So, it’s actually less painful for both you and your kids if you start ‘em young.

Consider this. When our children are very small, they come to us asking to help and we are quick to reply with, “No, too hot; too heavy; too dangerous; too sharp; too fast; you are too little; too slow; too short.” And then we send them out of the kitchen and into the other room to play with the plastic kitchens and plastic food and say, “Now go play and have fun.”

We continue to do this, over and over, for years, until one day, about the time that same child turns 10, WE decide it’s time for them to be responsible for their stuff and we start in with, “Hey, pick up your back pack; unpack your backpack; put your dishes away; clear the table; pick up your room; do your laundry…” Sorry ladies and gents, but by then, it’s too late! We have missed the most opportune time for training.

You see, when children are very, very interested in just about everything around them – including mimicking mom and dad, you, as a responsible, pro-active parent, can use that natural curiosity to everybody’s advantage and get everyone involved in doing their part around the house.

2. The second reason to start training your children early to contribute to the household chores is a very practical one – kids need years of practice to become good at doing “stuff” around the house.

Just take a second and look around your home. I’m sure you’d agree that tasks which truly contribute to running even the simplest of households require some pretty complex skills, and developing any skill takes practice, more practice, and even more practice. The sooner you start practicing a skill, the sooner that skill develops.

So, just how should I go about training my toddler to contribute to the household chores?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An immaculate house is NOT the primary goal. If you want it clean to your standards, wait until the kids are in bed and clean it yourself – but for goodness sakes, don’t get caught!
  • Set reasonable expectations based on the child’s age.
  • Notice what your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Train in small time increments.
  • Start with something relatively easy, like putting back toys, then move on to more advanced tasks like picking up trash and helping with the dishes.

The following checklists should help you get started with your first attempt:

Planning Basics

  • What two jobs can my toddler attempt successfully?
  • When am I going to train him or her? (Pick a time in the day that works for you and your child.)
  • What are my expectations?

When Your Child Says, “No”

  • Smile and walk away.
  • Go do something more interesting like read your book, listen to music, paint…

It’s also good to keep in mind that training in the art of cooperation and contribution doesn’t have to be explicitly planned during the early stages of training. As long as you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself, you can instill this spirit at a moment’s notice.

When Your Little One Tugs On Your Pant Leg to Play

  • Say “Yes, I would LOVE to play with you, as soon as we use bubbles to wash the dishes!”
  • Ask another question like “Would you like to learn how to squeeze the dish soap or turn on the dishwasher?”

Above all, DON’T GIVE UP — the ability to cooperate and contribute is a life skill that takes practice. And, whether you know it or not, your little ones will notice that you never give up on them, and that means the world.

If you have stories about how life has changed, now that you have handed in your feather duster and started training your kids, please share your comments below!

For more information on HOW to stay patient, set reasonable expectations, teach in small increments, and encourage your child (& yourself) along the way, purchase our Home Program and join the forum — Today!

How To End Tantrums (in 4 Words)


These FOUR words end tantrums.

No Joke

  • No, you are not going to “give in” to them!
  • No, you are not going to “naughty chair” them. No, you are not going to “talk about it”.
  • What you ARE going to do, is add three of the most POWERFUL words on the planet to the word YES and turn temper tantrum -ing toddlers (or teens for that matter) into patient, cooperative thoughtful family members.

Don’t believe me? Well here is a true story that demonstrates just how effective these 4 words are, when used correctly.

I was walking with my good friend and her two children ages 1 and 2, whom I absolutely adore, and the family dogs. The goal was to get some exercise and reconnect with each other while getting the kids out of the house for some much needed fresh air and sunshine. Unfortunately, once we started walking, the kids started in with some classic demands and, well, here is what happened…

It started out with a “Waaaa” from the one-year-old and several whiny “I waaaant toooo waaaalk” from the two-year-old. Like most parents, my friend eventually gave in and let the two-year-old walk, and, as you know, if you let one out, you have to let the other one out, right?

I was immediately impressed with my friend’s circus-like talent. She started by holding the one-year-old in her arms, trying all the while to push the stroller while keeping the other child on the sidewalk. Soon enough, she was juggling two kids, a stroller, and the dogs in beautiful, chaotic synchronization. Amazed… if not utterly stunned by what she had taken on, I remained quiet and observed. And yes, of course, I eventually offered to help.

No doubt some of you recognize this story and are smiling, nodding, or even shaking your head with that blank, shell-shocked look on your face. Well, keep reading because there IS relief to this timeless riddle.

Alas, the girls did not want to walk OR be held OR do anything else for very long. And, it soon became clear that changing their position up, down, over, around and through, wasn’t even their GOAL. What they really wanted was to keep their mommy busy with them, at the expense of everything else – including visiting with me.

Very quickly, neither my friend nor I were having any fun. I had lost interest in the endless circus act, and we were not able to talk and connect with these two ruckus munchkins demanding all of the attention. So, we soon retreated home and the walk was officially over.

The next day when my friend and I had a quiet moment, we discussed the events that had unfolded the day before. We talked about how quickly the walk had degenerated from a time for two adult friends to connect, into a circus routine with the children in the center ring, running the show.

As you probably know, this is a situation parents find themselves in quite often. If you’re just now expecting your first child, or are thinking about having children, all you have to do is look around the next time you are in the grocery store. You’ll see moms carrying the baby, cajoling the toddler, or bouncing the baby while trying to make it through at least putting the essentials in the cart.

And then there are fathers, gallantly trying to avoid a public tantrum by giving in to their little one’s pleading cries for gum, candy or treats. And, as in my dear friend’s case, there are constant accommodations in response to pleas for freedom from or return to the stroller. This is called The Slippery Slope – that place where parents find themselves when they know at any minute things could go from good to bad, or from bad to really bad!

So, what’s a well-meaning, law-abiding parent to do?

It’s all about training. We can either train our kids to believe that life is all about them, and that it is their job to keep us busy with them, OR we can train our kids in the fine arts of patience, respect, flexibility, cooperation, and manners – arts that are also valuable life skills that will pay dividends faster than you can say “play date!”

OK, I get it. But just HOW does one do teach these fine arts?

Start small by creating opportunities from everyday life, and for those moments that catch you off guard try this simple strategy I call, “Yes, As soon as…” Quick, easy, and highly adaptable, using this strategy results in simple, but effective exchanges like this:

Child: “Can I walk?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as we get to our road.”
Child: “Can I watch TV?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you finish your homework.”
Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you eat something healthy.”

The tantrums and the whining usually begin when we tell our children, “No.” And, it ends when we either give in or get mad. Neither one breaks the cycle or teaches our children anything useful. So, say “Yes,” instead, AND… make sure that “Yes” is part of an agreement between you and your child. You agree to let your child do something or have something they want, when they prove to you that they can handle the privilege.

If you have trouble getting started, remember this.

It may not work the first time, and is not intended to stand alone, so you should also:

  • Have faith in your kids – they can handle both the disappointments and privileges.
  • Have your kids help you find solutions to problems if you are stuck.
  • And always, always, take the time to make a plan.

Now, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine what it will be like if, after 6 months, your family was tantrum-free. It’s all worth considering isn’t it?

Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Heather-Shumaker-author-portraitWhen I first connected with Heather a few years ago I fell to my knees in gratitude. Finally, a book I could recommend to parents that would address some of the most baffling, confusing and perplexing parenting issues in a straight forward, common sense way that parents with kids of almost any age could embrace. It is with great pleasure that I share this post by Heather as she introduces us to her second book, It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. Her new book is filled with wisdom, humor and smashes through old myths that influence our approach to parenting.

Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Vicki and I crossed paths when our first books were being released and discovered we were kindred spirits. Now it’s exciting to share second books – Vicki’s Straight Talk on Parenting and my new title It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, coming out today.

rule31_final PlaygroundA reader summed up my first book by saying: “If you like respectful parenting, but are baffled by your child’s intense emotions and behavior when she hits the preschool years, It’s OK Not to Share, is the answer.” Now we’re moving into an area of life that’s tricky for most families: the time when children hit elementary school and encounter a whole gamut of new rules – some of which go against your family parenting philosophy. What to do? How can we stand up for our kids and our families when there are so many other partners involved?
It’s easy to fall into habits, and sometimes you’ll find yourself in other people’s habits. Here are some common ways we limit kids’ growth without knowing it.

1. Signing Homework Papers

It might be the spelling list, reading chart or math worksheet. More and more, parents are asked to verify that a child has done an assignment by signing or initialing on the line. Requiring a parent signature steals trust and responsibility from a child. School assignments are a child’s job. It’s one thing to share with the family, it’s another thing to make the parent the Homework Monitor. Restore partnerships of trust and if you must have a signature – let the child sign her own name. (And, as you’ll see below, wait until middle school before welcoming homework.)

2. Giving Homework At All

What’s more galling than signatures is this: comprehensive analysis of 180 peer-reviewed research studies found that homework has no evidence of academic benefit in elementary school. Extraordinary. All those nightly battles between overtired children and anguished parents are for naught. What research shows is that academic benefits are highly age-dependent. It helps for high schoolers (but only if limited to 2 hours or less per night) and shows a very small gain for middle schoolers, but for elementary kids? Nothing. The time young children spend doing homework can be freed up to focus on other vital activities – running around outside, following their own play ideas, helping with family life and getting good, long sleep.

3. Thinking ‘Safety First’

One of the chapters in my book is called “Safety Second.” That’s because our Safety First culture really has forgotten that safety is not the goal of life. Life is about change and growth. We can’t live a worthwhile life – and neither can our kids – if safety is always top priority. Healthy risk is an essential part of natural development. We limit our children’s access to healthy risk in so many ways, whether it’s physical risk (running fast, cutting with a knife), emotional risk (possibly feeling bad) or social risk (possibly being rejected). Even if safety is king, some of our age-old safety lessons, ex: Don’t Talk to Strangers, are actually wrong.

4. Using Recess as a Disciplinary Tool

Get in trouble and you miss recess. Don’t complete your math assignment and you miss recess. Every day, millions of school children live under the threat of recess being taken away. It’s time to stop using recess as a tool against kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that recess should never be taken away as a punishment – either for behavior or academic reasons. This makes sense when you consider why recess is there in the first place: to meet kids’ needs so they can learn. When we deprive a child of recess, and face it, it’s usually the most squirmy, restless ones who get it taken away, we are stunting their learning. Kids learn academics best when their brains are fresh. We all need breaks, and research shows that the more recess the better when it comes to memory, focus, problem-solving and behavior, too.

5. Being Scared of “I’m bored”

Families offer so much to their children, but they are not meant to function as entertainment centers. Young children can play on their own. We do not have to stack blocks for hours to be a good parent, or feel we need to fix something when a child announces, “I’m bored.” Have confidence in kids. Their brains are naturally wired to play, and if they can’t find something to settle on immediately, have faith they will soon. If your kids struggle with free time, it could be a sign they are overscheduled, overentertained and not getting enough free time to be themselves.

If any of these topics sound interesting, you’ll find more in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. There’s help for making sure elementary school is child and family friendly, including sample scripts and ideas for approaching teachers about homework, plus chapters for two-ten-year-olds on technology, princess play, mistakes, “that’s not fair!” sad stories, teasing, group calendar time, what to do about kindergarten, and why it’s good to talk to strangers.

Special offer this week: if you buy It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week, you’ll get free gifts (special one-hour podcast taking you behind the scenes in the book, plus a set of designed quotes for your fridge).

  • 1) buy the book from any bookstore before March 13, 2016 and
  • 2) send an email to telling me where you bought it.

About Heather

Heather Shumaker is a national speaker on early childhood topics and the author of two books, It’s OK Not to Share and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, both published by Tarcher/ Penguin. Learn more about Heather, her podcasts, books, blog and infamous “why we ban homework” blog post at

Bicycles and Helmets – Arming your Kids for Success

Young Children With Bikes And Scooters In ParkThe Setting and Scene:
Six families are headed out for a bike ride with the kids. Their kids range from three to twelve-years-old. They arrive at the destination ready to begin their adventure. People start preparing and then a child of eight squeals “OH NO! I forgot my helmet!” The action stops. There is awkward silence and families begin to busy themselves getting ready for the ride and waiting to hear how this will be resolved.

We’ve all been here. We’ve made it clear to our kids that if they forget their lunch, they will have to figure out how to get enough food to tide them over till they get home. If they forget the mouth guard, they will have to sit out the game, in this case, if you forget the helmet, you stay behind while the others enjoy the ride.

But what usually happens is this; the parent, feeling the pressure, begins to lecture their child on his irresponsible behavior that led to his forgetting the helmet. The parent exclaims, “Now someone will have to stay behind and “babysit” you.” The shame the parent feels for inconveniencing the group is now passed to the child. They both feel shame. The child says, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “It’s YOUR fault I don’t have my helmet. You always pack it for me or remind me to bring it.”

Shifting the Perspective
This is a golden ‘aha” moment. If the parent were open and willing to see this as an opportunity and a blessing rather than a catastrophe, he would have recognized his error, apologized to the child and figured out how to move forward in a respectful and dignified way. As it was, he felt embarrassed that his child was “being disrespectful and sassy” and the power struggle escalated.

As a way to resolve the situation quickly and respectfully, I offered to stay back with the child and find something else to do, but the parents decided that they would allow the child to ride WITHOUT the helmet as long as he agreed to….and they proceeded to list off at least a dozen things the child could and could not do on the ride.

Time to Reflect
Later that day, the parent and I had a chance to ride together and he asked me what I would have done in this situation. Being a mother who raised five kids to adulthood, I was in his situation more than once. I explained, “You have to decide what is most important to you. Teaching responsibility and allowing your child to develop it over time or ensuring your child is happy today and doesn’t feel that they have missed out on a once in a lifetime experience.” (I said this last bit as a way to inject a bit of levity in the situation rather than taking a rigid and judgmental stand. We both knew that this bike ride would be one of thousands this child took in his life.)

How many of us as parents and teachers, say that what we want are children who become responsible adults and how many of us ignore the very opportunities that would allow this to happen naturally? What we really want is to raise responsible kids without doing the grueling work it takes to ensure this outcome. What we want are kids who learn responsibility without ever giving them any. This is impossible. Experience is the best and only teacher.

Consider the Message
Several weeks later I was with this group again. The parent of the eight-year-old loudly proclaims to all as he holds up his son’s helmet, “He brought his helmet today. I made sure he was looking at me when I told him to bring the helmet or he really would be sitting on the sidelines this time.”

This loving and kind dad thought this was a success, but for the rest of us, the message was clear. Unfortunately, this delightful child is learning that it is his parents’ responsibility to ensure he has what he needs, so that he can enjoy his life.

Foundational Choices
As parents, we tend to look at these situation in isolation rather than looking at them as the foundational experiences that inform our children. Each choice we make, points the child in a certain direction. As tough as parenting is, it doesn’t necessarily get easier the older our children get. We have the opportunity to lay the foundation for our kids when they are young, when the stakes are low, when they rebound quickly and when they are most open to learning in a gentle and consistent environment. This ensures we are preparing our children for adulthood in a slow and thoughtful way.

The next time you find yourself in one of these situation, ask yourself, Is the choice I am making in this moment pointing my child in a direction that will ensure he becomes a responsible or cooperative, or empathetic, or open-minded, or flexible, or forgiving adult? If not, hit the pause button and reconsider your choice.

Spit, Soup, & Love

HannahVickiLast week I posted this picture and described the week I had with my daughter, celebrating our time together and the woman she is. A reader wondered whether or not this declaration would offend or isolate any of my other children. As I was contemplating her question and forming my reply, I received a text from Hannah’s sister remembering and acknowledging the unconditional love we all have for each other. That’s it. That was the answer. I had created a purposeful and intentional plan as a parent to cultivate a climate of unconditional love rather than “special love” with very different children (some biological, some adopted) and so the answer was no, the celebration of one did not take away from the other. Since this is not a condition that lives in all families, I was inspired to share my strategies.

Spit in their Soup
The first tool (that I continue to use in all aspects of my life) is Adler’s famous “spit in their soup” technique. Gross isn’t it? Well, that is exactly why it is such a powerful tool for exposing all kinds of mischief when it comes to kids and wanting the “special” love from a parent. In this case, it was the “you love him more than me” song and dance. Instead of trying to convince this child that I did indeed love him (and not his brother more than him) and naming all the ways I attempt to show him and all the reasons I love him, I avoided the trap all together by agreeing that I did indeed love his brother more. I said it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I said it seriously with just a hint of mischief behind my eyes. The child was stunned, and then he was forced to tell me the truth, “noooooo you don’t.” And I agreed, “No, I don’t.”

Favorite in the Moment
Vicki with ZoeThe second technique was applied whenever I was connecting with one of my munchkins. I would look into their eyes and say, “You are my most favorite child and I love you more than all the others — in this moment.” What I didn’t have to say was, and when your sibling walks in and I am talking directly to him, he will be my most favorite child and I will love him more than all the others, in that moment. Over the course of many years my children came to understand that they each owned a part of my heart that could never be compromised or diminished and that in-fact love is limitless.

Having a limited amount of love is an idea that springs from the idea of “special love”, or different love for different people. I don’t happen to subscribe to that notion, quite frankly it is too complicated and cumbersome. The goal for me is to love. Just love. I can’t be bothered with different kinds of love. There is love and there is not love.

Love is
Now, don’t confuse this with the different kinds of relationships I have with my kids, my spouse or my friends. Those are different, but love – love is. My kids heard these words from me from the time they were infants, and they knew that my love is endless and unconditional. It is not based on their behavior, my mood, which child was most like me and which one the most mysterious. Love is a fact. Because of this environment, each child developed a deep sense of self-worth and “lovability.”

dave-amy-2This deep sense of self-worth provides the people I had the pleasure of parenting, an enormous capacity to love. They are not stingy with their love. They are not jealous of love. They do not fear that there is only so much love to go around.

I encourage parents to avoid the “you love him more than me trap” by stepping right into it and spitting, rather than trying to explain to a young child with limited reasoning skills all the nuances of love. They are clever these kids and they will make lifelong decisions based on your ideas about love.

No doubt someone will challenge that my kids worried I DIDN’T love them if they weren’t right in front of me, but that is an adult fear, not a child’s. A child quickly figures out that the love is there, always, at 100 percent whether they are in front of you or not, and that was my goal.

What’s your goal when it comes to teaching your kids about love?

I Am Because We Are

trustAs I sit on the beaches of Fiji, I experience seven children between the ages of five and nine playing on the beach. The tide is going out. One of the youngest children reaches down, picks up a heaping handful of sand, looks around for an unsuspecting target and pitches the sand at an older child standing just a few feet away. Boom. Direct hit. Dirt covers the boy’s shoulders and back. The action stops. Not one parent moves. Instead, they wait. And as they do, an extraordinary thing happens, play resumes. The older child takes a small handful of sand and throws it back at the younger child. The action stops – again. No movement from the sidelines and then – giggles and as the giggles get louder you see sand being thrown by all of the kids at each other. One child finally picks up a stick and begins chasing one of the older kids who deftly runs into the water and dives away from danger. He comes up laughing and taunting the stick wielder. Soon several other kids pick up what can only be described as primitive weapons as they chase each other in and out of the water and throw heaping piles of sand at passing targets. The laughter continues until one child takes it a bit to far and screams in frustration. The action stops. No one moves and then the older kids circle around their frustrated younger friend, check to be sure he is okay, give him hugs until he is laughing again and the play resumes.

This went on for over an hour. Each time a child reached their emotional or physical threshold, the entire group would attend to the child until all was well. Not once was it necessary for a parent to step in and help the children learn to play nicely with each other. They already knew how to do that. What is more impressive is that within minutes they had established the “rules of engagement” and whether anyone else could see what was happening, those amazing and clever kids came to an understanding about how they would play together. Somewhere deep down inside of them were the skills necessary to play together successfully without any outside assistance.

Now pan down the beach about 200 yards and there you will find 15 kids (boys and girls) between the ages of 12 and 20 who are doing exactly the same things as their younger counter parts – only they have added a rugby ball to legitimize their horsing around. The rules of engagement seem to mimic exactly the younger kids rules and once again I see the same deep understanding they all have on how to play, interact, co-exist, call it what you want, without any outside assistance.

What is most remarkable about this scene to me is that I saw it played out over and over again during my time in Fiji. I pondered what it would be like on playgrounds in my own town, if parents trusted more, if kids were given a chance to work things out and establish a common understanding of what playing together meant.

I asked myself what if:

  • parents trusted that they had modeled to their kids respectful “rules of engagement” at home and knew that with just a bit of practice their kids would quickly apply these rules out in their world with their peers.
  • as parents, we trusted that other parents were teaching their kids respectful “rules of engagement”, so that the majority of the kids who spent time in the same classroom and on the same playground, all came with some experience of how to “play” together.
  • And as parents, we trusted our kids to figure out how to adapt the “rules of engagement” when they were with their peers, whether or not those peers were taught similar lessons.

Rooted in Trust
It occurred to me that so much of what I saw was grounded in trust. Trusting yourself as a parent, trusting your kids, and trusting your community.

I promised myself that when I got home, I would do everything I could to Practice Trust First and allow nature, instincts, and the collective wisdom of centuries to lead the way when it comes to kids and play.

Are you inadvertently raising a jerk?

playdate-awryA few years back I asked a parent in one of my classes what his deep desires were for his children. He paused for a moment and then said, “It’s simple. I don’t want to raise ass-holes. That’s all. I don’t want to live with an ass-hole and I don’t want to send one out into the world.”

Voila! One of the most popular topics in my “At Home with Vicki” series was launched and last Wednesday night a parent with a two-month old, parents raising kids deep into their teens and parents of children every age in between sat in my home discussing this very topic.

Many kids begin to display jerky qualities at around 7, 8 and 9-years and over time end up as full-fledged jerks by the time they are teens. And so the conversation commences on how NOT to raise an ass.

Here is the big take-away – Competitive household environments breed jerks.

The big surprise here is that the role-models for these competitive, winner take all, I’m better than you relationships are between the partners raising these children. The dynamics can be subtle or overt, and are present even in loving relationships.

Read through these examples and see if any of them sound familiar.

    Partner 1: “I really struggled in school and decided not to go to college”
    Partner 2: “I’m the one with the education in the family. I have a Masters Degree.”

    Partner 1: “I love to cook and I tried to follow my grandmother’s recipe as I remember it.”
    Partner 2: “ Try is the operative word here.”

    Partner 1: “It was the trip of a lifetime. I think we left in April and stayed nearly 3 weeks.”
    Partner 2: “It wasn’t April, it was May and we stayed 16 days. Hardly 3 weeks.”

    Partner 1: “It’s not her fault that she loses her temper. She had a really tough childhood and some times she can’t control herself.”

    Partner 1: “Daddy didn’t mean it. He just isn’t as patient as I am about these things.”

    Partner 1: “I know it’s REALLY important that I put the vacuum back in just the right way. Luckily, I don’t care about inconsequential things like that.”

Do you hear yourself or your life-partner in any of the phrases above? Have you heard your spouse say something similar and just felt uneasy or the hair bristle on the back of your neck, but not fully understood why? Now before you finish reading this and jump all over your partner for being the jerk, stop and think about your own words, attitudes and actions. It’s far more important that we develop Awareness before we spring into action.

Awareness allows you to facilitate change and to remedy the situation by moving from the competitive one-upmanship-environment and work toward establishing a cooperative environment, in which Adler’s ideas of Social Interest are fostered each and every day.

Social Interest is not the same as social action. Social Interest as defined by Alfred Adler is “a feeling of community as opposed to focusing on one’s private interests or concerns.” It has been said that someone without social interest is concerned only with one’s self.

Here is an exercise to flush out your role in creating a competitive environment.

Write down all the words you would use to describe a jerk. Now compare it to the competitive interaction you might be having with your significant other. Do you embody these words at times? Think about what you could do differently the next time.

Now write down all the words you would use to describe people who made you feel “at ease” when you were in their company. People who make you feel as though you are good enough, and that they were interested in you and your ideas.

Now ask yourself how you demonstrate these qualities with your significant other. Is it possible to move from the “jerk” list to the “at ease” list in each scenario? How could you respond differently?

I know it is shocking. Shocking to think that our daily interactions with our life-partner, the love of our lives influences whether or not our children grow up to be jerks. Think of it as the oxygen your kids are breathing every day. They are watching, listening, and making decisions about themselves, their siblings, and the ways men and women, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters interact. The good news is the solution is right in front of you and available to you every day.

So the next time you are tempted to be jerky to your jerky child, when he is acting like a total ass – STOP – Take responsibility for your part in the competitive nature of the relationship and decide to do something else. Yes, it is that simple and that difficult. Remember that you are the change agent in your home and if you want to raise kids that – dare I say it – make you proud – than be the parent your kids can be proud of.

The Gifts of Grit and Gratitude


As the Holiday Season nears, there are two very special gifts that last, which parents can give their children long after the decorations come down and the parties come to a halt.

These gifts don’t fit under the tree or in a tiny box with a bow. These gifts cannot be exchanged or left in a closet to be forgotten until next year.

These gifts, which will last well into adult-hood, require no money, no hoopla, and no stress.

These gifts are the gifts of grit and gratitude.


The gift of grit is given – not as a tangible item – but as an intentional space in which your child builds resiliency and adaptability, flexibility and independence. Grit manifests itself whenever you, the parent, choose to step outside of the situation and allows your child to make decisions, mistakes, guesses, efforts, messes and reach milestones that you have not interfered with or influenced.

When you choose to let go and allow your children to step into their lives and make the decisions and experience the consequences, realities and sometimes, uncomfortable responses to their actions and behaviors, then you, mom and dad, are giving the quality, long-lasting gift of grit, which they say, is the key to success. The temporary gifts of comfort, luxury, fixing and saving are the cheap gifts that break in ten minutes.

Don’t invest in those short-term solutions. Invest in the long lasting, feel good gift of grit. Why? Because nothing feels better than watching your child overcome a fear, surpass his own expectations or discover he can handle the problems life throws his way.


This is the second gift we can all give our children. It’s a simple gesture that presents itself as a smile when our child walks in the room, an “I appreciate you for…” or an “I’m sorry for acting like…” whenever life gets busy or bustled. It’s a decision we make to notice our children as who they are TODAY instead of pushing them to be someone in the future. It’s the love we have for them when they are at their worst and the quick forgiveness we show because we appreciate them in our lives – warts and all.

Gratitude will bloom and the bouquet will decorate our children’s lives even after they have moved out of the house. They will go on to appreciate those around them and will notice the small things others do for them. In turn, they will continue to bring out smiles and to be there for those who need them. Gratitude says, thank you for being who you are — even when you’re whining. Gratitude is a choice to focus on the good things about your children because you’re glad they are here. Gratitude is the message that says, you bring a lot to this house and you’re a valuable part of this family and I don’t know what I’d do without you and all your brilliance around here.

So, remember these gifts during and after this holiday season, as both are gifts you can bust out EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Have a wonderful season of celebration with your families!

Your Kids WILL See Porn

I receive so many great questions from parents each week and now, with their permission, I will be sharing them with our parenting community along with my thoughts on the subjects. I think it’s important that we leverage our collective experiences and as the Adlerian community would say, you can solve problems one at a time or you can solve the problem one time. Here is to making life simpler for everyone in our community.

trust child

I received an email from a distraught and frightened mom the other day who discovered her 11-year-old son had searched “sex” and “naked girls” on his computer and had ultimately seen pornographic images and videos. This is not the first time I have heard from a parent in this situation, and it won’t be the last. So hold on to your hats, as most of you know, I don’t hold back.

Sex and porn

Two topics I mention many times in classes, blogs, presentations, and my books because this is the
world our kids live in and the world we must parent from. If you have kids ages 11 and older they have most likely seen porn. They might be looking at it right now up in their room on their laptop. Did you hear me? YOUR KID IS LOOKING AT PORN. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that your sweet little 11-year-old son would NEVER, doesn’t even know it exists, and is satisfied with the birds and the bees talk that you had two years ago. He has seen porn. She has seen porn. Yes, this applies to our daughters as well. Children are curious about sex. They are curious about body parts. They hear about oral sex and might even have some friends who have experienced it.

Overcome your fears and release the judgement

This is normal. This is natural. This is the world our kids live in. The question is will you be part of this world or not? It is time to be honest with yourself, muster up the courage to face reality head on, and be involved in this stage of your child’s development. You (and more importantly your child) will be more prepared to face the reality in which we live. Are you going to sit back and hope they don’t come across porn or are you going to assume they will (or already have) seen it and face that reality with a clear head and open heart?

Identify the part that trips you up. Identify the fear that keeps you in denial. Identify the belief that paralyzes you. Identify, embrace and solve that problem, so you can support your child as he/she develops and matures.

Get Educated

Remember, knowledge is power. As a parent, you want knowledge on the subject so you feel confident talking about it with your kids and you want your kids to have knowledge so they can make informed decisions. This applies to every area of life with kids – sex, porn, technology, drugs, cheating, stealing, relationships, and so on.

Specifically when it comes to talking to your kids about porn Amy Lang has a great article, How to Talk to Kids about Pornography on her blog, Birds and Bees and Kids.

Also check out Laci Green on youtube. She doesn’t hold back and is in touch with the world today and the issues our kids are facing.

Talk to friends and create a support system

If you are still feeling a bit sheepish, reach out to your friends. I usually tell you the opposite- Don’t bother asking friends and neighbors “advice” about your kids because your kids are different than your friends kids and you are a different parent. Two kids could be displaying the same behavior, but for completely different reasons, so what works for Suzy and her kid won’t work for you and yours. However, with a topic like sex/porn, all parents will walk through this in a similar fashion. Most parents are nervous, unsure, terrified, unclear on how to talk to their kids about this and tend to just start lecturing and putting stricter “rules” alongside the technology usage. So in this case, it can be a great thing to talk to your friends. You’ll find you are not alone and you might learn a thing or two, yourself. It’s also important that while you don’t shame your kids during this phase, that you also don’t shame yourself. The mother who reached out to me most recently expressed feelings of shame, failure, embarrassment, and was just defeated. She didn’t talk to anyone about it because she felt like it reflected so badly on her and that her friends would think less of her for being a mom who “let that happen on her watch.” Get over it parents – Be real with eachother. Stop judging others and they will stop judging you. Your kids are their own separate entity – not always a direct reflection of you. And again, the fact of the matter is, your friends kids have probably seen porn too and they just don’t know it. Stick together on this journey. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It IS something to be educated on and prepared to handle with your children.

Jump in and try it

When I tell parents to “talk to your kids about sex/porn,” I don’t mean just once. I mean constantly – like every other day. Talk to them about it so much and so casually, that the topic is just as normal to talk about as what they ate for lunch or how they’re doing on their science project. Ask questions about what he knows. Offer information before she asks for it. I’m not suggesting you drill your kids with questions and accusations. I’m suggesting the opposite. You’re at the counter chopping carrots with your daughter and you might say, “so, who’s having sex in the 7th grade?” Or you’re in the car with your son and you have the chance to say, “Let’s talk oral sex.” He knows that it’s out there and he’s heard about it. Ask him about that. Keep talking and keep asking questions, until your kid is so over the topic that when a friend suggests they look at naked pictures online your kid says, “no thanks, I’m all set with that. My mom talks about it every single day.” And then chat about it some more. It’s not a sit down, eye to eye, serious and scary conversation. It’s just a reality – it’s sex, it’s hormones, it’s puberty, it’s masturbating, it’s porn. It’s also love, and relationships, and intimacy and pleasure and boundaries and body awareness and communication.

Remember, our kids are growing and changing and investigating. If we want to receive an invitation into their lives and stay connected as a trusted ally, so that we can be the source of their sexual education, it takes work. Work on our parts to stay open and non-judgmental, to parent from a place of confidence and poise, create a support system and keep practicing. You won’t get it right the first time (or maybe even the second or third), but keep at it. I trust you would rather be honest with yourself and take steps to connect with your sons and daughters about what their reality is, instead of hiding under your covers pretending that it won’t happen again or didn’t happen at all.


I’d love to hear from more of you. If you have a question or an area that is challenging you, please go to our contact form and send it in. We’ll do our best to answer it via email and we’d love it if you’d give us permission to post on our blog to help others.

Kids in the House: Changing A Child’s Set Role in the Family


Children start to define their role in the family between the ages of zero and five. And it happens very quietly and without us knowing as parents that it’s going on. If you have a child who is very quiet and easy, you start to define that child. “Oh, she’s the quiet one.” And then you have a busy little one who’s wiggling all the time then you start to use words, “Oh, this one can’t sit still” or “this one’s always moving.” And suddenly, the children start to grow into those labels that we’ve created, and problems arise. Pretty soon you have a 3-5-7 year old who’s wiggly who’s now getting up from the table, can’t sit still in school and you can’t bring them to church and there’s all kinds of trouble. And a parent will say “wait-wait-wait, there’s more to this child than that. But how do I let him know that there’s more to him than just being the wiggly disruptive kid?” And it really comes down to finding the language and what I call shining a spotlight on those times when your child is something other than the wiggly disruptive kid. And there are a million times a day when that child is being something other than that. But we’ve focused in on the thing that drives us crazy, and that’s all we’ve noticed. So as parents, when we’ve decided that a role a child has adopted might not be good for them, it’s our job to look deeper and say, “what else do I know about this kid? What other strengths and talents does this kid have that I’ve overlooked because I’ve been focused on something negative?” And through the course of a day, you very quietly start to shine the spotlight on those moments when he’s behaving like a responsible, cooperative, focused, compassionate, understanding, hilarious kid, and suddenly he has a new role in the family.

For more information on parenting visit

Cracking the Sexting Code

Social Media and kids’ virtual connection with each other dropped into my life the day before my 49th birthday when my children were between the ages of 11 and 17. When it arrived, it brought with it harried, unorganized, fear-based conversations with our kids about the dangers lurking in this new uncharted territory we knew nothing about; social media. We did our best to understand this new internet based meeting-ground for people – for our kids, but the truth is, we were fudging our way through it. It was clear that our kids were five steps ahead of us and we were being left in the dust.

As parents, we knew we had two choices,

1. Make the inevitable parenting decisions out of fear and forbid our kids access to social media, restrict their phone use, lay down rigid rules, (that they would most certainly figure a way around) and pretend they wouldn’t set up their own accounts without our knowledge and guidance.

2. Or become educated by asking our kids to help us understand this new medium so we could make the journey together.

Now fast forward a few years and cell phone use and sexting is now of major concern for parents raising kids in the 21st century. If we thought social media was difficult to navigate, sexting is a landmine of misunderstanding, fear, anxiety, consequence, and judgment.

Thankfully this infographic ‘Cracking the sexting code’ arrived in my inbox a month ago from Amy Williams, a freelance journalist and mother of two teenagers, who is part of a parent advocacy group in southern California that helps parents struggling with raising troubled teenagers.

This offers a simple way for parents to learn more about this new phenomenon. The number one nugget of advice I can offer you – parent to parent – is to get educated. Education is what helps people make informed, thoughtful decisions instead of reactive decisions based on fear and worst case scenarios, because I am here to tell you, that all teens who have access to technology have the opportunity to “sext” and not all will. Please don’t decide that you will make sure that your child is not part of these statistics and create an environment of control and shame. As a parent, you will be more effective if you have your wits about you and you know the facts about sexting. Trying to talk to your kids about sexting without all the facts and a large dose of confidence is going to back fire.

In addition to understanding how technology plays a part in your children’s social development, there are other steps you can take to offer supportive guidance through this time of growth and discovery for your kids.

Tip 1: It’s more important that you stay connected to your kids during this time of mystery and confusion than it is for you to lay down some rigid rule about sexting that you will never be able to respectfully enforce and may drive your kids away from you and shut down the lines of communication. Kids who are talking with their parents are less at risk than kids who are so disconnected from their parents that they are forced to navigate this tricky territory on their own or with a friend who knows the same or less than they do about sexting. Kids are being pressured to sext, so watch that your conversations are open and non-judgmental. Listen and you will learn valuable information about how your child is assessing this adolescent transition with a wireless device.

Tip 2: Set up policies and guidelines that respect everyone involved. In other words, you may have to move just right of the center line and your kids might have to move just left of the center line. If you don’t set up guidelines together, it’s a sure bet that you will be excluded from their exploration, their thoughts and their decisions.

Tip 3: Start the conversation when they are young (and I mean really young.) Sexting is a part of the culture and I assure you that whether you want to believe it or not a first grader who has an older brother or sister is going to start hearing about sexting long before they understand the significance of it. By bringing sexting out into the light, making it a family conversation and making it safe for your kids to share long before they are introduced to sexting, you stand a far better chance of empowering your kids with solid, factual information and the confidence that they
can come to you with questions or concerns.

Tip 4: Keep the conversation going. Talking about sexuality, relationships, intimacy and sexting is a conversation best had as routinely as you talk about the weather or what you are eating for dinner. The more often you talk about this sensitive subject, the more confidence you will have talking about it openly and honestly and the more confidence your kids will have asking questions, challenging ideas and sharing. If your child “sexts” and has regret or experiences negative consequences, you want your child to turn to you for support. You don’t want your child to decide he/she knows how you feel and doesn’t want to disappoint you or be shamed for his/her mistake. This leads to lying and living with feelings that can perpetuate a negative self-image.

So, before you listen to your friends, read the science. Well-meaning friends are just that, well-meaning, but they aren’t raising your kids. Do your homework (you want your kids to do theirs right?) and stay updated with the latest research (not the scare tactics of an alarmist parent) and grow with the times. I guarantee that within a year or two, there will be another potentially dangerous application that our kids will be required to navigate and if you have already established yourself as a reliable and reasonable resource, your kids are bound to include you in the conversation and together you can establish guidelines for chartering the stormy waters.