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Top 10 Parenting Complaints We Address Consistently in our Parenting Programs

What interests and inspires me is how much we parents have in common with each other. Even the complaints.

I’m a mom who has raised 5 highly independent and self-sufficient kids. I’m also a parent educator of 20 years who has talked with thousands of parents about life with their kids. So, I feel qualified to point out the obvious places we are struggling as parents. These are the complaints I hear in my classes, coaching sessions and online. These are the issues that parents bitch about on the sidelines, over wine, and in punch drunk social media rants after the kids *finally* go to bed. Let’s face it – parents have been struggling with the same issues for YEARS. Everyone wants a solution.

If you stick around to read more posts, you’ll see how our solutions address the issues at large – not just the symptom. (Note – these complaints are actually symptoms of something much bigger.) But for now, we’re talking about the irritating behaviors that lead us to seek out help. That’s why you’re here! So, first, let’s see where you identify yourself.

Parent: “I CAN’T STAND…(fill in the blank)…”

    10. Kids who push, hit, throw, kick and bite.

      What the heck? Don’t they know what “use your words” means?

    9. Kids who say things like, “Stupid, Shut up, Idiot, Dummy, Butt-Head”.

      Oh, they sound like jerks! Why don’t they think before they talk?

    8. Kids who can not, will not, and do not cooperate.

      I do everything for them. Is it too much to expect some cooperation and smiles once in awhile?

    7. Kids who ignore their parents.

      How dare those little munchkins completely ignore, walk away from, cover their ears or start to sing when we have something really, really, REALLY important to tell them?

    6. Kids who noodle, stall, get distracted and act like they don’t have to be somewhere important.

      Don’t they get that we’re on a schedule here? And it’s THEIR activity we’re late for!

    5. Kids who think they no longer need naps.

      Can someone PLEASE explain to me why little kids are NEVER tired and teenagers are ALWAYS tired?

    4. Kids who want to stay in the PJ’s all day or wear the ballet costume to school for a week or refuse to wash their favorite superman shirt – ever.

      They’re going to think he’s a runaway! I don’t work this hard to have Johhny look like an unloved child. Our family is pulled together and he should be no different.

    3. Kids who refuse to go along with your plans and try and keep you trapped at home all day long.

      Come on already. Look how damn nice it is outside. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

    2. Kids who yell, manhandle, annoy, bother or wake up the new baby.

      Sure, NOW she wants to play with the baby, but all morning she said she was annoying. Doesn’t she get what will happen if the babe doesn’t get her N-A-P?

    1. Kids who refuse to eat what we put in front of them, sleep when we want them to sleep or potty train when we are ready for them to be done with the diapering.

      I know what’s best. That’s why I’m the parent. It’s my JOB to help them get good at these things. It would be so much easier for both of us if they’d just listen.

Oooooof… how’d I do? Anything strike a nerve? Be honest.

It’s important that you know, you are not alone. We’ve all been there and some of us still are from time to time. It doesn’t matter how old the kids are or your style of parenting sometimes we get lost. Parenting is HARD WORK.

I don’t claim to offer instant fixes to these scenarios. But I can shed plenty of light on why they happen and how YOU affect them. I offer remedies for getting through the issue, observing the whole child (not just in that moment), and considerations on how small shifts in your actions can offer HUGE results in finding more peace and balance in your family’s life.

Here’s the easiest tip I will give you:

Just for fun, for the next 24 hours, when you are considering taking one of these annoyances and turning it into a serious problem that requires yelling, bribing, lecturing, and on and on, instead – take a BREATH, look into the eyes of your beloved child and ask yourself – is it really such a big challenge? And if the answer is no, then let it go.

Just this once, let it go. You’re not slacking. You’re not ignoring. You’re not being disrespected. You’re taking a breath and shaking up the normal cycle of events. You’re making an intentional shift. You might not have the answer right now. But you know what you’ve been doing isn’t working – so why not…. just breathe?

And yes, we know it’s not easy for most of us to give up the yelling, hairy eyeball-staring, pointing, lecturing, bribing, and whatever else you’ve been doing to try to get them to do what you want. But the breath is the FIRST STEP.

Then what? Obviously the breath isn’t the magic bullet that brings you and your little cherub into harmonic bliss. The best advice I can give you is to keep reading. Pour through blog posts and sign up for emails from me (you can subscribe in the upper right hand corner of this page.) You’re in the right place if you’re ready to rethink these 10 common parenting challenges.

Back to School Honeymoon is Over

Three Steps to a Smooth Morning Routine

As we move deeper into the school year, it’s likely that the honeymoon period that had us whistling Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s off to school we go!, is slowly being replaced with Let’s go, let’s go, I won’t be late no-mo! The truth is, navigating the school year successfully takes a bit of planning, a flexible attitude, and a willingness to make course corrections when necessary.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

    A) You’ve gone from making the kids favorite breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, helping them find the perfect outfit, and ensuring their backpacks were organized and well stocked to:

      Throwing a cold bagel on a napkin while you insist they put on more suitable clothing as you yell “it’s not MY backpack, where did you put it last?”, as you walk out the door shaking your head and wondering how everything deteriorated so quickly.
    B) You’ve gone from providing a yummy post-school snack, with plenty of time to talk about the day and go through the backpack together, read all the notes from school, sign all the necessary forms and provide a quiet place for homework to:

      Throw pre-cut carrots in a bowl, tossing papers straight into the bin, and arguing about whether homework will get done now or after dinner.
    C) And maybe, you’ve switched from calm baths with time to connect, a few books to end the evening, a warm hug, lights out and the kids all dreaming of sugar plum fairies by 8:00 pm to:

      Kids fighting about everything from who gets to pet the dog to whose turn it is to use the iPod next, refusal to bathe and wash teeth, increased nagging to get the kids upstairs so you can start the bedtime routine to shouts of THERE WILL BE NO BOOKS AT ALL TONIGHT, to a few rushed kisses, lights off and half way down the stairs you here MAMA… MAMA… MAMA!!!!

Yup, that’s what it was like in my house all those years ago. And, here is what I learned:

Making one change and sticking with it for 3 weeks will create some positive momentum.

Then slowly and surely you can begin to attack other areas that have you pulling your hair out and wishing you had dropped the kids off at college instead of the local elementary school.

I suggest the best place to start is with Morning Routines.

In my experience, a strong, organized morning routine will help set the tone for the rest of the day. Plus, you can use the strategies for morning routines to deal with homework hassles and bedtime bedlam. You know me, I want to work smarter, not harder, and that means finding strategies that work in multiple ways.

Now, new parents, before you get out the pen and paper scribing exactly how you want the morning to go thinking this is the time to “tell em how this is going to work”, it’s time to think about the areas of the morning that are tripping up the kids. Maybe they’re not trained with how to get themselves ready, make breakfast, set an alarm, pack the bag. Maybe they haven’t been asked what THEY want to wear, when & how they want to wake, and what the perfect morning looks like to them.

Your Homework

Step 1. Take a few mornings to NOTICE where the kids are tripped up. When you find yourself getting ready to remind, nag, bribe, and do it for them, PAUSE. Write it down. You want to pack the bag? Pause. Johnny needs training on how to pack a bag. Uh oh, you start in on the reminders of what time it is? Pause. Might be time to talk about keeping time. You get it… (For those of you who’ve been with us a while – this is a mild form of Do Nothing, Say Nothing for the mornings.)

Step 2. Make a date to talk with your kids about what they’d like to see in a perfect morning. This doesn’t happen when you’re rushing out the door. Maybe it’s at dinner, or over a snack or during the weekend. Choose a time when you can be as encouraging and non-judgemental as possible. Ask questions about what they believe needs to happen in the AM, in which order, and when? Be ready to oblige. Be ready to let them choose. Feel like too much? Just agree to try one or two of their ideas. And let them roll with it.

Step 3. Avoid the urge to slip into your old habits. Just see how it goes. No need to point out anything that’s not perfect… they’re trying something new! And you signed up to let them. Hey, what’s the worst thing that can happen? They realize it wasn’t a good idea, that you trusted them to try something new, and you were available to help them later when they needed to try again. You’re raising an adult after all. Trust them. Trust yourself.

Establishing a child-led morning routine is one way to implement a more democratic approach to parenting. It takes time, but if you want it badly enough, step back and observe the tripping points, carve out time to consider your kids’ ideas, and practice patience as you let them make choices, mistakes – and celebrate the successes!

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Say Yes to the Back to School Routine

okeedokeeBack to school is a great time to offer children more ownership in their daily lives. When children “get” invested in a system like the morning routine, clothing choices, food selections, homework sessions and so forth, they discover what works for them and in turn, they enjoy the process!
But how do we “get” our kids invested? We ask!

We find out what their ideas are, what they want to try, when they want to try them and for how long they want to practice. It is important to say yes, so they can practice and discover what works and what doesn’t work on specifically for them.Try using some of these simple back to school questions:

  • Where do you want to hang your backpack everyday after school? I’ll let you hang the hook. (There? Next to the fridge? Okeedokee, there it is.)
  • Are you going to pack lunches at night or in the morning? (Even if you think, sheesh there’s no way you’ll have time before school! ALLLRIGHTYTHEN- 6am it is.)
  • What would you like in your lunch? Let’s go shopping together so you can pack your lunch. (Yogurt + yogurt raisins + yogurt smoothie? Okeedokee I guess you like yogurt).
  • When would you like to get your homework done? After school? After dinner? In the morning? (Okeedokee… homework might not happen because you like playing outside after school).
  • What time do you think you should get ready for bed? What time do you think is good for lights out? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…you think you’ll be able to get ready in 4 minutes, try it.)
  • When are you going to take a bath? Oh, you want to shower? Ok…when? (Even if you’re thinking really? At night? Okeedokee…bedhead.
  • How do you want to wear your hair? Or what kind of pants do you want to wear? (Really, no jeans? Ever? Track pants and shorts for 180 days? Okeedokee, try it.)
  • What time should we be IN the car if we want to be at school on time? How will we remember this time? (You’ll set an alarm to go off in the kitchen one minute prior? Okeedokee – let’s see how it works.)
  • Do you have clean socks or would you like to do your laundry this weekend? (Okeedokee you think those four socks will last you seven days? Alrightythen*.)
  • When would you like to have family meetings during the school year? Seriously? Saturday mornings at 7:30? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…no sleeping in…that is until one day THEY realize I’ll be at the sleepover at 7:15…and that’s not gonna work.)

The point is this; ask and keep asking and then ask some more and make sure to include plenty of time to practice. Don’t rule something out just because it sounds wonky or you know it won’t work. Let them try, make a mistake, and learn how to correct their course. Have fun and tell us some of your favorite routines designed by your kids.

Talking to Teachers: Homework

worth it

Raise thinking children!

Like any other parent, I was nervous going in and talking to teachers about homework, parent/teacher conferences and parent/teacher alliances.

However, with my oldest child I knew had to dig deep, grab hold of my confidence and the fact that I had thought about my views on all these subjects, had talked to experts in the field and felt sure that if I followed my inner compass, I could support all my children through their academic experience.

I made an appointment with the teacher early on in the year. I took the time to show appreciation for the teacher at the first meeting. I told her how much confidence I had in her as a teacher and was looking forward to the year ahead. I asked if she had any questions for me and of course, she did not. I think she thought that was an unusual request.

I shared with her my views on the following subjects:

  • I let her know that it was my intention to raise a thinking child and in my short experience with children, I knew that a thinking child is often a messy child. I told her that since she was in the teaching professional I was guessing that she was trying to raise a thinking student. This was my first step in creating an alliance.

  • I told her that I would be a very hands off parent. For several reasons. The first was that if I was overly involved in “helping” my child at home, in other words, doing more teaching, that she, the real teacher wouldn’t get a proper understanding of my child. I indicated that she would have a much clearer sense of how my child was doing academically if I stayed out of the way. And because I had confidence in her ability as an educator, I wasn’t worried that my child might have difficulty in reading, or math. If my child had difficulty in a particular subject, I was sure the teacher would want to know that so that she could find the proper teaching method for my child. My second reason for staying out of the way was because I would be focusing on the other areas of my child’s education – social skills, relationship development, conflict resolution, becoming independent and responsible. These were my primary jobs I explained and I would be focused on them while my child was with me.

  • I indicated, that if my child asked for my help with an assignment or a project or with reading, I would be available to them. But I was also clear that I would in no way be involved with daily homework and that if my child waited until the 11th hour to inform me he needed glue sticks for the project due tomorrow, I would not be driving out to find a Ben Franklin that was open.

  • I indicated that I would not be signing homework logs or reading logs and that I would be giving my child permission to sign my name. And then I told the teacher why. And I was clear about this. I went back to my original statement – I am raising a thinking child and I have no intention of interfering with their thinking by lecturing, nagging, reminding, scolding, bribing or saving them from their first chance at investing in their own educational success. Homework I stated was between the teacher and my child and if there were consequences for not turning in homework I expected the teacher to dole them out to my child. I would support the teacher unless humiliation was involved in the consequence.

  • I shared my thoughts on the double education that is happening for kids – there are math facts and there are organization skills, there are spelling tests to study for and time management skills being developed. The more I stayed out of the way, the quicker and easier a time my child would have at learning both sets of skills.

And then I wrapped it up. I thanked the teacher again, looked forward to an inspiring year and ended by saying – I encourage my children to get sent to the principals office or to time out or where ever it is you send children when they make mistakes – at least once a year. I told her that I encouraged my children to do this for 2 reasons: The first is so they would know the principal, and would not be afraid of making mistakes and second, so they would develop empathy and compassion for the children who found themselves in trouble more often then not.

And then I left. By the time my oldest was in the 3rd grade, word spread about my role in my child’s academic experience. I had very little difficulty getting along with all my children’s teachers, coaches or anyone else who dealt with my kids. I set my posture. I was respectful, I was committed and I was serious. Everyone knew it. And, as a result, my kids had a fairly stress free educational experience. – Vicki

Talking to teachers about homework can be intimidating. To learn how you can build resiliency, be sure to read Duct Tape Parenting and check out this handy dandy SCRIPT to keep you on track.




10 Tips for Back to School Routines

back-to-schoolAlong with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. I have developed a “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike.

With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

1. Ask yourself, “What will it take for my children to manage their schedules independently?” Make a list of everything that needs to happen in order for your kids to be ready for the school day. Assess what they can do already, where they need some training, and what they need to learn from scratch. Set aside time each week to practice these life skills, and be sure to acknowledge growth and progress.

2. Allow your kids to establish a routine that works for them, even if they flounder for a week or two. This means not reminding them to pack their homework or asking if they remembered their soccer gear. Having to sit out a game or miss recess is a far more effective way for youngsters to learn to be responsible than parents constantly reminding.

3. Have faith that your children can handle the natural consequences of their decisions. If your daughter refuses to do her homework, let her work it out with the teacher, even if her grades suffer. Whereas the grades will come and go over the years, the self-reliance and sense of accountability that she’ll learn by solving her own problems will serve her well for the rest of her life.

4. Show empathy and help your children work through any problems that arise, but don’t be their knight in shining armor. School offers a perfect testing ground for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and acquire the skills they’ll need in the “real world” after graduation.

5. Set parameters about acceptable dress for school that you and your kids can agree on, and then bite your tongue. Many schools have rules about attire (such as no midriffs or undergarments showing) that can help you frame this discussion. You may not love the outfits that your children choose to wear, but showing them that you respect their choices and believe in their ability to select their own clothing is far more important in the long run.

6. Establish a framework for discussing the ups and downs that your kids are sure to encounter as the school year progresses. You want your children to know that you’re on their side, no matter what. If your son brings home an “A” or scores the lead role in the school play, encourage him by asking questions about the experience. How did he prepare? What did that accomplishment feel like? Did he need to work hard to reach his goal, or did it come easily to him? Likewise, if your daughter comes home with a “D” or doesn’t make the hockey team, you can ask her about that experience. How did she prepare for that moment? How does she feel about her grade? Was this important to her? What could she do differently next time?

7. Create a roadmap with your children to help them set goals for the year and begin thinking about what it will take to achieve those goals. Your kids will feel a sense of empowerment as they define and take ownership over their plans for the coming year.

8. Set up a time every week to connect as a family. This could be a dinner, a family outing, or a scheduled family meeting. The gathering does not have to take place at the same time every week, but be sure that it’s on everyone’s calendar so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

9. Figure out what you, as a parent, can let go of to encourage your children’s independence. Deciding not to “remind” or “do for” your kids may be hard at first, but in doing so, you are demonstrating to your children that you have faith in their abilities.

10. Go slow. Encourage progress and recognize growth, and remember that you are the best parent for your child.

Parenting Partnership

Have you ever noticed that once school starts and issues like morning routines, homework, bedtimes and whose driving kids to and from social and sporting engagements, seem to create a bit of discord between parents? If so, check out my parenting partnership tip sheet and ensure that you and your parenting partner are both on the same page.

Parenting Partnership Tip Sheet – Make the School Year Work. Download here.

Tips for Back to School Transition

All over the country, kids of every age are leaving home and venturing out into the world and for most of those kids, the world is the school yard or college campus. And some of us are sending our wee ones off for the first time, whether to daycare, pre-school, kindergarten or somewhere else that constitutes their first time on their own, outside of our home for even just a few hours. I’ll never forget the first day of school for each one of my children – the memories are as bittersweet as the longer-term goodbyes are today.

I was reminded of those first, short-term goodbyes last week by one of my good friends, who said goodbye to her oldest child at pre-school. She called me with a choked-up voice and told me how seamless it went. “Seamless?” I said, “Then why are you crying?” I asked. “Because… because I needed the goodbye hug more than she did.”

Many of us have had these seamless transitions from home to school with children who are confident and excited for the next phase in their life. But many of us have had the opposite. The child who doesn’t want to let go and cries a lot the first few weeks of school. If you live with a child who is having a hard time transitioning into pre-school or kindergarten, the only thing I can say is, “hang in there.” As hard as it may seem at this moment, your child will get through it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Have faith in your kids and their ability to rebound. Make sure that you have a strong connection with the child before you say goodbye, but then say goodbye with faith that they will be okay.
  • Have faith in yourself and the fact that you made the decision to send your young one off after serious thought. You can feel good about that. You will be required to do much tougher stuff than this as they grow and spend more time away from home.
  • When you see each other again, be sure to spend a few minutes just connecting before you start asking dozens of questions. Whether they are sobbing in your arms or they have a smile that extends from one ear to the next – connect.
  • Let the child set the pace for answering your questions. Some kids want to share every aspect of their day and other children are ready to move on and leave the day in the past. Take your cues from the kids, not from your own curiosity or fear.

The truth is, all of our children will experience change and transition into new experiences many times throughout the course of their lives. Some of those transitions will be seamless and others, not so much. All we can do, as parents, is support them, listen to them, encourage them and hope that we need the goodbye hug more than they do.

5 Myths About School and Kids

educationAs the back to school energy (fueled by crisp notebook paper and the scent of freshly sharpened pencils) starts to drop off into a more wrinkled routine, there are 5 Back to School Myths that can really mess things up for our kids.

These myths do not reflect who you are or how good a parent you are. Incidentally, these are not true for others, just in case you want to raise an eyebrow at someone else’s messy little munchkin. 🙂

Myth # 1 – Kids will pack Twix bars and Twizzlers EVERY. SINGLE. DAY if left to their own decision-making.
Truth # 1 – Not true. In fact, if allowed to participate in the choosing, the storing and the packing of their food, along with a few guidelines, the kids will naturally put together satisfying and healthy snacks and lunches.

Myth # 2 – It’s completely reasonable for you to be the human alarm clock, the maid and the unpaid chauffeur, and that you never hear a “thanks mom, thanks pop” from your kids.
Truth # 2 – First, your kids WANT to be involved in their own life (if only someone would invite them into the process) and would relish you taking a step back and allowing them more opportunities to participate, and when that happens you will hear all forms of thank you’s and appreciations.

Myth # 3 – Socks must match. Shirts must go on right side out. Shoes must be on the right feet. Kids need styling assistance.
Truth # 3 – Personally, I think kids have amazing style and if we worried less about what others are saying about us as the parents of these style icons, we could support them in their desire to express themselves in personal and unique ways.

Myth # 4 – The backpack is yours to stuff, unstuff, pack, unpack, hang up, repeat and if you DIDN’T do it, it would never get done. You say you want to teach your kids to be responsible human beings?
Truth # 4 – You say you want to raise responsible kids but if that were really true, you would allow them to take responsibility for their stuff from the earliest possible age. Ownership builds all kinds of wonderful character traits.

Myth # 5 – Homework police exist, and you’re the sheriff.
Truth # 5 – If you want your kids to take ownership of their education, learn time management, prioritize, follow through and learn from mistakes, you would most certainly allow them to police themselves when it came to homework. More importantly, you would be showing your kids that you believe in them and have faith in their abilities.

As you read through the last 5 myths, identify any faulty beliefs you have that could be tripping you up and write your own version of a more factual truth. If you take action and make small changes this coming school year, I promise, you and the kids will look back in June and marvel at what an easy, enjoyable and successful year you have had together.

Ten Tips for a Stress-free Shopping Trip

The stores are jam packed full of school supplies and school clothes. If you haven’t already dragged your kids from one store to the next, take a moment and consider the extraordinary opportunity this offers you.

Here are my top 10 tips to keep it real and make it fun.

1. Never take a tired, hungry, over stimulated child to any store and expect that things will go well. They won’t.

2. Not a peep about the behavior you expect in the store or that you are only willing to spend so much money. Instead, start the adventure with an appreciation and set a goal together so you start the day feeling you are a team and you are in it together.

3. Start the fun in the car. Create a check list of “stuff” you gotta-get-done and who is in charge of what. Ask the kids how much they think is a reasonable amount to spend. You can always negotiate, but find out what they are thinking before you tell them what the budget is.

4. Bring your equipment: lists, pen, purse, wallets, calculator, bags, or anything else that makes shopping fun.

5. Start the trip with a goodie. Whether that is a special coffee, a donut, or something else that you wouldn’t usually indulge in. It sets the tone and says that this is going to be a great, fun day. Take a page out of Erma Bombeck’s life and focus on what’s really important – making memories with your children.

6. Put the kids to work. Busy hands make for happy kids and you get done quicker. Up and down aisles. Top to bottom. Around the corner. Let them touch everything. After all, they are the ones that have to use or wear all this gear. Anything that keeps them engaged and excited will go along way in creating a fun and enjoyable afternoon of school shopping.

7. Throw up your hands every once-in-awhile and look perplexed. Let the kids assist YOU in getting over a bit of frustration. You can’t imagine how powerful this simple little strategy is. I have avoided 100’s of meltdown just by acting like I was having one first. My kids rallied and we were out of the store in record time.

8. If they have money of their own, let them spend it. Don’t be a grinch. This is exciting for your kids, so let them indulge a bit and buy that useless piece of whatever it is, if it brings a smile to their face. Not a peep. Not a look. Not a comment from you. If they have to look at the rack for 5 minutes, or pick the same thing up a dozen times – then wait for them. Lord knows they wait for you dozens of times a day.

9. Know when things have gone south and get out fast. No need for a lecture. Someone is discouraged and a hug, a refocus and a start over again on another day is all that’s in order. Come on, you KNOW nothing horrible will happen if you haven’t checked every last supply off of your list.

10. Remember, shopping with the kids isn’t just about shopping, so take advantage of the opportunity and have some fun. Before long, you’ll be walking up and down the aisle missing those little mischievous imps of yours (whether they are four or 18-years-old).

Tips for a Smooth Summer Transition

We’ve said ‘adieu’ to the lazy days of July, a month that marks the middle of summer. Barbecues, days at the beach, road trips, summer camps, late nights and even later mornings.

During these months many of us let routines and schedules slip away as we allow for a more spontaneous, “go with the flow” groove to emerge and define the early days of our children’s summer vacation. But as we welcome August, a month that traditionally gets our engines revving as we consciously or unconsciously begin to prepare for school, a summer of mindful memories can be lost with this small shift in focus.

This time of year also brings a rise of inquires from parents wondering how to maintain the gentle summer flow with kids through August and avoid the stress that’s already permeating their minds. Unlike our children who have the ability to remain in the moment, right up until the first ring of the alarm clock marking the first day of school, we are entering the planning phase of summer and with that comes additional, but unnecessary stress.

When my own children were young, I made it a practice to surround myself with friends who had older kids. Why? So I could leverage their wisdom, common sense and advice. Now that my children are out on their own, I want to share a few tips for keeping the energy high and the stress low as we dive into August and the upcoming school year

First, make a list of what “fuels” you.

For instance:

  • Slow, mindful breakfast with the kids
  • Sleepy babies cuddling on my lap in the morning light
  • Baby, toddler, school age or teenage morning breath
  • Giggles over chocolate chip pancakes and milk mustaches
  • Fresh berries picked the day before
  • Birds at the window
  • A new flower budding in the garden
  • The sound of the lake just beyond view
  • The smell of the ocean

Obviously, the list is endless. These are just a few I thought of that take place before teeth are even brushed. In August, it’s easy to lose site of what “fuels” us and keeps us grounded in the here and now, something our children are experts in, as our minds drift toward the upcoming school year. Continue making a list for yourself and tack it onto your fridge or make a large poster (with the help of the kids of course) to anchor you in the here and now and get the most out of every remaining day.

What’s equally helpful is to write a list of what “depletes” you.

I doubt you need any suggestions from me and I don’t want to give this list any energy, but if you take just a few minutes and write down three, four or even five things that could potentially interfere with your ability to enjoy the last remaining, gloriously abundant, days of summer, do it now.

Ask yourself if you can let some of these go. Really challenge yourself and listen to your internal dialogue, which might be trying to convince you that it’s time to jump into gear and be proactive. If it feels right, rip the list up and toss it. Or keep it as a reminder of the things that take you away from what you want most from the summer – time to connect with kids and the memories that will make up the fabric of your lives together.

I can tell you that even if you wait until seven days before the first school bell rings, all the major retailers will still have plenty of shoes, backpacks, notebooks, pens and anything else you think necessary for your child’s upcoming school year.

Look for more in the following weeks to help you transition easily into the new school year and keep your kids in the forefront of the process.

Here’s to another jump in the pool, round of backgammon on the deck, or walk in the woods.


Introducing Multiplication Nation

I am honored to introduce to you This is an online learning tool that supports kids as they learn their multiplication tables and yes, it was developed by my dear friend, Alex.

If you are looking for a way to empower your kids and engage them in the learning process (without sitting down and forcing them to practice their flashcards and nagging and fighting and…because we know that doesn’t work and also fractures your relationship,) I suggest you check this out!

Don’t just take my word for it. Alex was kind enough to write a bit about his inspiration for creating this tool (see below) and if you go to the website, you can see his credentials! WOW!

Or if you’ve heard enough and you are ready to get started –
Visit, and use coupon code VICKI30 to receive a 30% discount today!

Rethinking My Thinking,
What happens when one of the country’s top teachers fails as a parent

Guest post by Alex Kajitani

I’d been a successful, award-winning math teacher for 10 years—lauded for my innovative approach, I’d even been featured on the national news. So when it came time for our daughter to learn her times tables, all I could think was: I got this.

My daughter was going to be the one who could recite any math fact on demand. No way my daughter would be the kid struggling in class, or sitting in the back avoiding being called on.

We sat down at the kitchen table. I gave her my best “here’s what-made-me-the-Teacher-of-the-Year and has worked for so many kids before you” lecture. Ten minutes in, I looked up from my own brilliance and saw my daughter. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. Then she yelled, “I don’t understand this!” and stormed out of the room.

And there I sat. In silence. With all my fancy teaching awards and clever math knowledge—and an empty chair beside me. My wife, who had observed from the other room, just gave me that look. What a disaster.

It turns out that what makes you a Teacher of the Year at school doesn’t even earn you “Parent of the Afternoon” at the kitchen table. I knew, in that moment, that this was testing my parenting skills along with my teaching abilities.

As Vicki Hoefle teaches us in her book Duct Tape Parenting, “If you’re not willing to rethink your thinking, then it won’t matter how many strategies you employ.”

It was clearly time to rethink my thinking. Instead of envisioning my daughter as an ideal student who would absorb information on demand, I needed to see her as the complex human being she is. Smart, clever and open to learning, yet vulnerable and intimidated, especially when it comes to new skills.

I forced myself to come up with creative ways to explain the times tables to her, to help her memorize and retain them. Drawing on her ability to learn through music, movement, a few bad jokes and, yes, rote memorization at times, I worked with her just a little bit each evening. Her tears were eventually replaced with smiles (and only a few eye rolls). She mastered her times tables in an engaging way, at a pace she felt comfortable with. Whew.

The biggest epiphany I had from this experience was this: If I, an experienced math teacher, was struggling with helping my own child master her times tables, then this was something parents were struggling with at kitchen tables everywhere.

My mission became clear. I wanted to create something that would help EVERY kid master their times tables, and help EVERY parent avoid the tear-stained disaster I’d experienced. I knew the methods that I used to help my daughter should be accessible for any parent, anywhere.

Mastering the times tables in math is like learning to read in language arts—it’s the foundational skill that makes all the difference. Kids who know their times tables have a much greater chance of succeeding in math going forward; kids who don’t know them, continue to struggle. I’d seen this in my own students, and I decided it was my new job to help as many students as possible gain this crucial skill—without the stress.

So, I created, the first-of-its-kind, interactive, online times table teaching program. I searched far and wide for the best technology platform available to allow me to teach other kids their times tables just as I taught my daughter, from any device, anywhere, and actually have fun doing it.

I’ve watched my daughter become more confident in math now that she knows her times tables, and I see that confidence transferring to other parts of her life as well. I’m now committed to partnering with other parents and teachers, through, to help all kids gain confidence in math, and in life. (And I really do mean all kids—for every ten memberships purchased, we donate one to a student in need.)

As parents, we never know what situation will leave us, or our children, in tears. But I do know that sometimes we all need a little help. And, as Vicki says, sometimes we just need to be willing to rethink our thinking.

To help your child master their times tables, visit, and use coupon code VICKI30 to receive a 30% discount.

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, Top-4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and a nationally renowned speaker, and author. He is still striving to be named “Parent of the Afternoon.”

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.