All posts in Birth 0 – Age 9

Noticing Strengths

Meet my friend Millie. Millie is a mom I met several months ago after she read Duct Tape Parenting, found herself slightly perplexed, & decided to contact us to get some clarity around my “less is more” approach to parenting.

Millie is open, honest, aware and truly committed to gathering new information, letting go of some old parenting habits, creating some new ones and investing in the relationships she has with her kids.

We’ve had many conversations since the first one (and are in the process of recording some to publish as podcasts.) Millie even decided to start a blog  and here is one of her posts. She touches my heart daily and my hope is she will inspire someone else out there to be the parent they dreamed of being. Take it away Millie.

I adore my daughter.

pink-umbrellaI do. And so many of the things I adore about her are the things that also drive me bonkers.

I adore that she is so incredibly certain of herself and what she wants. As an adult who struggles with indecision and immediate buyers’ remorse, I marvel at her ability to make decisions and stick with them even in the face of intense pushback (often from me).

I adore that she is an early riser and is always eagerly ready to greet the day, usually with a song.

I adore that conventional songs cannot adequately express her thoughts and emotions, so she finds it necessary to make up her own, sometimes very lengthy songs. She also relies on made up words to convey her (very strong) ideas. I adore her made up words so much that many of them are now my passwords for my most secure sign-on information. Although they are random combinations of sounds that mean nothing to anyone else, they mean a lot to me.

I adore her tenacity. I despise her tenacity. I adore her tenacity. I have to tenaciously cling to my adoration for this quality because it often makes my life very difficult. She has no problem deflecting my (sometimes brilliant) efforts at redirection and distraction. When Olive sets her mind to something – She. Will. Have. It. At the same time that I’m wishing for a more compliant child, I’m also kind of pleased to think that she might have gotten a little of that tenacity from my side of the gene pool. My husband and I both have been known to sacrifice a great deal to achieve some goal we want to accomplish.

I adore her ravenous appetite for life. I could do without her ravenous appetite for cheese and ice cream and I often worry that she inherited my own garbage disposal approach to eating. But, Olive eats life up. It seems like she can’t get enough. Can’t get enough songs, shows, days at school, pink pairs of pants, playdates, ice cream . . .

I adore her never ending efforts to always skew the situation in her favor. She is “always closing.” (In sales, so my husband tells me, one of the mottos is: ABC: Always Be Closing. Olive would be great at sales.) This is a quality she certainly did not get from me and one I definitely have to work not to take personally. Closely related to her tenacity, this inborn instinct means that she literally never takes no for an answer. Her motto could be, “It never hurts to ask at least three times.”

One of the things that scares me the most about parenting is the fear that all Olive will see from me is my frustration and irritation because that is what shows up on my face most often. When she grows up and looks back on her childhood, I want her to remember my face as open and loving and adoring. I don’t want her to remember my frustrated, angry face. Of course, for that to happen, I need to spend a lot more time showing her my adoration, not just feeling it after she goes to bed and writing about it on my blog.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to adore my daughter.

We’ll be featuring Millie’s blog posts from time to time. To read more of Millie’s work, visit

Stuck in a Parenting Rut? Don’t move the Deck Chairs

Over coffee this morning with a friend who recently had her second child, the conversation turned to parenting ruts.

 Parenting Rut“It’s funny, when we had our first child we talked about how we would co-parent and distribute the jobs of child-rearing equitably. We committed to supporting each others’ unique ways of bonding with our child and we thought we really had our s… together.  But fast forward six years and the birth of our second child and it is crystal clear to both of us that we are in some deep parenting ruts that are not healthy. Not for our kids, not for us personally, not for us as a couple and not for us as a family.  I don’t know how the hell this happened but what is scarier is that I have no idea what to do about it.”

 I knew what she was talking about, as I recognized after the birth of my second child that I was living in some pretty nasty parenting ruts myself.  But I wanted to know more about her experience.

 “What has you concerned most?” I asked.

 She thought for a while and said, “I want to change those ruts, but when I think of all the areas I need to make the changes, it seems completely overwhelming.  We both work, we are raising two kids with a six year age gap and I just don’t have any idea where to start.”

 I sat quietly and waited.

 “I have this feeling in my gut, or maybe in my heart, that I am going about this wrong, but I can’t tell you why I feel that way.”

 I asked, “Is it a little bit like you are trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic but you already know the Titanic is going down?”  Her eyes lit up.

 Bingo. The sweet spot of “knowing” on some deep intuitive level that this is exactly what is going on and knowing that the solution is to change the course of the Titanic not rearrange the deck chairs.

 “Okay, smarty” she said, “I know what the deck chairs represent – the ruts we are in – but what does the Titanic represent?”

 “Your thinking.” I said, “When people, parents, give themselves time to pause, to rest, to contemplate, to examine without rushing to “do” anything, they create a space that supports a change in thinking. This change in thinking is usually dramatic, dynamic, and directional.  As our thinking changes so do our actions. As our actions change to support the new thinking, our thinking becomes more aligned with our true goals. With this new clarity our confidence builds, we commit more deeply to this new thinking and change continues. It can be several months before a parent notices for the first time that the changes taking place in her life, the ruts are being replaced with paved roads of clarity and direction and it is happening with no struggle, no push, no exertion of energy. This is often described as a graceful process which happens naturally and effortlessly.”

 We talked for a while longer, she rolling the possibilities through her mind and me holding the space of that earlier “aha” moment. As I drove home, I was reminded that we are a culture that believes that when we feel stuck, changing our circumstances, our location or our relationships will bring about a feeling of wholeness, of completion, but because our thinking hasn’t changed, it isn’t long before the aching returns, new ruts emerge and we are once again rearranging the deckchairs of our life.

Working it Out

NEWQuestion: When parents are working to create a parenting plan that work for both of them is it okay to “work things through” in front of the kids

For instance, this came up w/ our six-year-old and teeth-brushing; I was saying she could do it herself, but my daughter kept insisting she needed help and melting down.  Her dad was saying he had been helping her because he thought she needed it. We started to work it out in front her and things went from bad to worse.


Answer: I recommend to every parent I work with that before they make any changes in their parenting style or introduce a new strategy, that they spend time with their spouse talking about the following:


  • What is our goal for making this change?

  • What are our expectations for ourselves and for our kids?

  • What is likely to trip us up and send us back to our old ways?

  • What resources can we use to get us through tough moments?

  • How will we know things are slowly changing and we are making progress?


If you start with this easy set of questions, you will find it easier to start out prepared and not be tempted to work out the kinks in front of your kids.  And don’t worry if you need to remove yourself for a few minutes and caucus in the other room until you both get back on the same page.  Modeling for kids how you and your spouse work together is a valuable lesson. If you can stay calm and respectful, work out your differences in front of the kids.  How else will they learn about healthy, cooperative relationships?


QUESTION: Do you and your spouse take the time to create a plan that will support the changes you are making within your family? Or do you end up winging it most of the time?

Encourage instead of Save


Question: My 5 year old son has recently started having great difficulty handling things that don’t go his way with his peers that he feels really passionately about. For example, he’s really into soccer right now and if he is playing with others and they decide to stop playing, he immediately melts down, crying and looking to me to change the situation. I try to explain that sometimes this happens and I try to encourage him to play what they want for a while and maybe try again later, but he really struggles with this. What can I do to help him not feel so threatened and hurt when this happens? He is definitely an attention seeking kind of kid (and an only) and makes me feel as if the more attention I give him the more he seems to need.

Answer: It’s tough for little folks to be excited about a new sport or hobby or interest or vacation or toy and not have everyone on the planet just as excited, but that’s life.  Maybe these will help in the future:

  1. Show empathy and compassion without getting sucked into the drama.

  2. Understand that this will happen a million times in his life and as much as you want your wisdom to float from your head to his, it isn’t going to happen.  He is going to have to EXPERIENCE this in order to learn to deal with it in a healthy way.

  3. Resist the urge to make things better.  You can’t.  Only the person who is feeling the frustration or discomfort can make things better.  You can stay close at hand, but in the end, he will have to decide to move along.

  4. It can be hard for only children to connect with their classmates.  They think their peers will treat them the same way their mom and dad do.  So from time to time, try being too busy to listen and be less then completely enthusiastic about whatever it is he is passionate about.  This will help him develop skills that will assist him with his friends.

How To Follow Through with Discipline

how to follow through with disciplineParenting Q & A with Vicki Hoefle

Question: How can I improve and follow through with discipline?

Scenario: I am fine about calling off a play date, cancelling a family dinner date, walking out of a restaurant, etc., if the situation calls for it. I don’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious about saying, “Sorry, our daughter wasn’t ready when I said we needed to leave.”

However, if we have made a plan where it means standing someone up, or have guests that have made special plans or traveled to be with us, or the table needs to be set because we have company coming for dinner, I have a problem with calling off a gathering or waiting around for our daughter to do her table-setting contribution.

It just doesn’t seem fair to them, and it seems like it’s putting an awful lot of power in a small child’s hands. What to do about following through?


I agree with you- it is unfair to guests and there is no need to base your follow through on these fewer, far between exceptions. Here’s how to follow through with discipline (realistically) and how to adapt when circumstances get rushed or plans come first.

Essentially, it’s important to start training (remember discipline is teaching, not punishment!) and following through when nobody is scheduled to come over. You’ll have plenty of time to practice expectations and outcomes by working on the process regularly. Honestly, if you start training your child (ie, to set the table) and train until you begin to see steady progress, you won’t have to worry about these situations in the first place!

However, let’s be realistic- if it’s one of those moments and you decide to throw everything you are trying to implement temporarily out the window- it’s not the end of the world.  Sometimes it’s ok to do what is necessary in the situation. Now, of course I don’t advocate doing this on a regular basis, but let’s face it folks, sometimes children act like children because they are children. Tossing consistency for smooth sailing every once and awhile will NOT undo the progress you’ve made if you get right back to training and improving on your follow through with this as well as other tasks.

Bottom line: Do what you can to make the situation pleasant for everyone and then deal with what happened at a later date when everyone is calm and collected. Get right back into it (don’t dwell on the setback) and practice following through in other contexts.

Question for you: What is your biggest challenge when it comes to following through? 


Whose Routine? NOT YOURS!

trustIt’s routine time again- structured days that require alarm clocks, showers (more than the occasional dip in the pool) and clean clothing are upon us. This is the time of year when everyone (well, ok, mom and dad) scramble to bring order and organization and system to the unscheduled days of summer.

Here’s the deal:

If you’re chomping at the bit to implement a fresh, genius system of order, organization and routine so that you can reel it in and cruise into the new school year with your crafty ideas leading the way- don’t bother.

Wait. What?

Let’s be real- your system (albeit clever) has nothing to do with your children getting geared up for school. It’s about you trying to bring control back into your homes so that you can get out the door nice and easy and at bedtime…shut the lights off on time, quietly.

It’s not a bad thing to want a clear system or to design one for yourself but just know it won’t work on your children and you’ll find yourself frustrated and exhausted when it doesn’t gel together like magic.

However, if you’re willing to:

  1. Challenge your own thinking (I must implement a system) and
  2. Invite the children to participate (the children can decide for themselves and I trust them)



Because you understand that in the long run, your child’s ability to create routines that support their individual rhythms will help them in EVERY aspect of their life.

Because you are eager and enthusiastic to teach and support your kids as they create systems that work for them – even if you are convinced they wont’ work all that well – which sends the message that you trust them and are behind them. This dramatically improves the relationship you have with those creative geniuses you are raising. Besides, what better way for your kids to learn what DOESN’T work when the stakes are low then to try, try and then try again.


Be prepared by having some duct tape near by to squash any attempts at correcting, saving or tinkering with the great ideas your children come up with. They will be late. They will be hungry. And more importantly, they will surprise you with their ingenuity, resourcefulness and resiliency. And aren’t those character traits we want ever child to embody.


Routines are about more then just systems for getting out of the house on time. They help kids build the kinds of character traits that will help them create meaningful, satisfying and joyful lives.

What systems have your children discovered work for them?

11 Reasons Why: Kids + Wallets

11 reasonsThis summer is a great time to encourage financial practice! Having a wallet in your pocket (with your own cash IN it) puts a swagger in your step and instills confidence that you can decide to spend or save. It gives you a feeling that you know you are the master of your financial fate.

Here are 11 reasons why every kid should rock a wallet:

  1. So they can lose it and experience a financial loss. (OUCH, right?)
  2. So they can run to the ice cream truck and decide on their own if $3 is a reasonable price for a popsicle.
  3. So they can purchase an entire box at the store AFTER they learn (by going broke) that $3 is far too much to pay for a single popsicle.
  4. So they can walk confidently into the store and make a decision on which plastic toy they want, need or can live without (one that could take an agonizing three hours, showing you just how much practice kids need at making choices.)
  5. So they can play around with cash on hand- do they carry all of it? Some of it? Lend it out? Cover the cost for a friend? Put some in the bank? Eventually, they’ll develop real habits (especially after #1 happens!).
  6. So they can have something better to do than ask, bribe, barter, negotiate, whine while you navigate the store – something that proves quite difficult at first- something like keeping track of a brightly colored wallet for the entire adventure.
  7. So they have a reminder as to why homemade gifts and thrift store purchases are not a bad idea.
  8. So they know of a perfect gift for their friends – a wallet! (Likely, from the thrift store- why pay full price?)
  9. So they can misplace it (which is different than losing it altogether!) only to find it months later and discover the $30 they had in there, automatically owning all of the following real life experiences without a word from mom or dad: what a horrible day, I’m frustrated, what a wonderful day, what will I do differently next time, what did I learn?
  10. So you have someone to ask to borrow money from (likely with interest) when you make a mistake like forget your wallet or lose your $20 bill. Thanks Kids!
  11. So your child can decide to say, “I love you too much to loan you money” because he discovered you aren’t great at paying him back OR make the judgment that it’s really important and say with confidence “no problem, mom.”

All this starts with a wallet. And some consistency, trust and encouragement from mom & dad. So go ahead, nod to those paying jobs and keep in mind all the reasons it will benefit your child to stay on the allowance track this summer!

3 Secrets…

pediatricianYour pediatrician NEVER told you.

There’s no instruction manual so take these to mind when you’re navigating life with little ones:

  1. Children are done baking at 5.
  2. Children don’t grow out of, they grow into.
  3. Children always do what works, parents consistently do what doesn’t.

The Takeaways:

1. Start as early as you can! Kids will be far more cooperative if they get a jump start in the art of cooperation, feeling empowered through contributions, and supported by parents who know that the journey is for the kids – not mom and dad.

2. Don’t feed those weeds. I know, it’s hard but they won’t wake up one day NOT being the “whiner” or the “noodler” they’ve been labeled and catered to! Help them grow INTO confident, competent young adults with TRUST, FAITH and DUCT TAPE to stay out.

3. Remember, children are simply brilliant at doing whatever it takes to make it work for them- even if we don’t like it! If all those bandaids over bullet wounds worked, we’d be out of business. See the cleverness in the chaos and encourage change- but don’t slap quick fixes on temporary issues. Take time for training and stay focused on the relationship- then the kids will choose what works for the entire family.

Watch This or View MORE Parenting On Track Sample Chapters

Fighting: Love Them? Ignore Them.

sibling rivalry, ignore behaviorsAs parents, we often feel we have to “do something” when a war is raging over a video game or a baby doll. We feel we can’t just sit there and let them fight for an hour over the remote. We can feel our blood pressure rise as things get heated and ugly. It feels like something must be done to “stop” the insanity. But what?

If your usual tactics (nagging, lecturing, yelling and punishing) aren’t working, feel free to leave them behind. They never really fix the fighting- they only delay the next blowout event. You could, on the other hand, proactively tune it out and care less about the nonsense happening in front of you.

When you decide to ignore, the game changes because they don’t know how to get you involved!

Of course, at first, a child will escalate the antics, hoping to get the usual response. The child is thinking “Hey! You! Parent! Look at me! Do something! (Don’t fall into it, it’ll eventually go away). When you STILL don’t react, the push back is even harder. Finally, once the child is convinced that mom or dad isn’t going back to useless tactics, they are required to “think” and respond differently.

Through this new dynamic, the fighting has lost its audience, stage and lighting. The show can’t go on.

The secret to ignoring a child is this: ignoring is active NOT passive. You are not ignoring them because you don’t care how they behave.

You are using every ounce of patience and theatrical ability to convince your children that you have something much more interesting to do with your time than get into their spats and tiffs. Once they realize you’ll be happy to do something else with them, the fighting, like a fire, loses its source of oxygen.

This is only the beginning.

How is sibling rivalry affecting your day to day? Have you tried ignoring? How did it go?


Have FUN with the Kiddos

Summer is almost here and it’s time to get the creative juices flowing and ask: HOW can we have some more fun as a family? What do we want to do? What do my family members find interesting these days? What would the kids like to do with downtime? How will you stay on schedules and find time for fun?

1. TALK about it. Sit down with your family, tell them the problem, and talk about it together.

2. BRAINSTORM ideas for what everybody likes to do; when would be a good time to get out and play together; and how can you make playing together a priority, when there are so many other obligations and priorities pulling you in different directions.

3. PLAN times at the family meeting to play together; follow through with those plans, and talk about how it went at the next meeting.

4. ENJOY each other. Whether you end up planning a backpacking vacation in the Grand Canyon or to simply kick a ball around each night after dinner—consciously enjoy the time you spend playing together.

The Benefits:

  1. Physical– Exercising and getting out!
  2. Mental-Exploring the natural world.
  3. Emotional- Having fun and enjoying each other’s company

What will it take for my family to get more play time into our routine?


Sh*t Thinking Kids Can Do

shitThinking kids bring problem solving, skill practice, ingenuity and enthusiasm to the table when it comes to contributions, chores, work, cooperation and preparation. But hey, why tell you when we can show you? (Thank you to all the parents who have sent these in and/or shared them with us! We love sharing them with other families as a source of inspiration). Note: all of these tasks are safe and age appropriate after  the child shown has been trained and proven proper use and handling! You can always show your thinking kid photos on our Facebook wall.

Click to view our Thinking Kids Pinterest Board!

Power Cleaning With Kids

power cleaningRecently, a parent asked:

“I can be pretty flexible when it comes to a spotless house – but every once in a while I REALLY need the kids to step up their game and help me out. How do I do that without becoming the nag?”

Truthfully, I can set completely unrealistic, over the top expectations when I am entertaining. Instead of throwing mutual respect out the window in a mad dash to a spotless house, I would employ this tried and true solution  with my own children.

First and foremost, I didn’t want to compromise the relationship with the kids by ordering them around and making them feel as if I thought they were total slackers who required me to ride them just to get the house what I call “company clean.” At the same time, I really, really, REALLY wanted a top to bottom, white glove clean. Finding the balance was my starting point.

So here’s what I’d do:

I’d rally all the kids together and tell them the truth. “Look – here is the deal. You know that most of the time, the house is great and it works for all of us. AND, you also know that sometimes I can be a bit of a lunatic about the house when so and so is coming over or we are having guests for the weekend. Would you guys be willing to help me give the house a white glove clean? And if you are, here is what I propose:

  1. We do a FLASH MOB Clean.

  2. Crank the best Music we can find on.

  3. Bust our buns for 30 minutes.

When I yell GO, we jump on our assigned tasks, throw some serious elbow grease into the job and crank it out. And just to keep it as fun as possible, every once in a while I will change the music and we will  drop the brooms and mops and dance it out- as hard and as crazy as we can.”

Well, I’m glad to say, the kids loved the idea. Together we jammed out the cleaning, felt good about our accomplishments and the best part was that we harbored no resentment or frustration. Not to mention the house sparkled! Balance achieved. This is a lifestyle system we still employ today and the kids use it in their new lives as independent adults. Remember to keep things simple. Identify what’s most important (usually achieving a balance) then think outside the box and go for it.

The takeaway? Have some fun with it and the kids will too. xo -Vicki

Video: Wild Boys Cleaning Session

They don’t have to be big to buy into a rowdy house hose-down. – Jamaica 

Share your cleaning dance party flash mob sessions pics and videos on the Parenting On Track facebook wall!

Go to the Principal’s Office

go to the principal officeThis time of year, parents are always chatting about “how to talk to teachers” and “what to do” about communication between the home, the school and the child.

Having been in the trenches myself with five kids, I understand that moms and dads alike worry about how to make the school year a success for everyone – and that means sometimes focusing on keeping things neat and tidy and ensuring the kids don’t draw too far outside the lines, so to speak. Other times, however, it doesn’t really matter if they stay in the lines or go waaaay off the paper. This is their time to let the colors fly. So…

When parents ask for my advice on this topic, I say:

Here’s what I did…take it or leave it, but it’s not about getting through safe, clean and unruffled.

Are you ready for this?

I told each of the kids that if they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office at least once each year, they weren’t living dangerously enough. I said, go ahead-it’s your life and I trust you’ll figure it out. I gave them the green light to try something that rocked the boat just a little. And then I stepped back. (Yes! I said that.)

Why Would I Do This?

Here is why. I wanted them to take a chance, voice their opinion, stick up for a kid being embarrassed by a teacher, skip a class to help a friend, stay at play practice late in lieu of of completing the science project perfectly. In other words, I wanted them to do something outside the lines and rock the boat just a bit. So my kids weren’t afraid of making mistakes, getting in trouble and they were familiar with the folks in the office and had empathy for the tikes who were sent there on a regular basis.

What Happened?

Big surprise that as we entered the last month of school, not a one (well maybe one) hadn’t seen the inside of the principals office and were feeling a bit panicked about it. Good problem to have, right?

So, What Do YOU Do with This Information?

Whatever you want. You can say, gee…I’m so glad you said this- if Vicki can do it, so can I. Or, if it’s too extreme, you can say well, gee no thanks BUT I’d be willing to tell the teachers a few basic bits to help foster independence, choice and mistakes without encouraging a trip to the principal! *Gasp* …

And the Point?

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you decide, as long as you have a plan that works for your child and the only way you can make a plan is to know who you are as a parent (print the Duct Tape Parent Pledge- hand it to the teacher if it helps!) and what it will take for your child to learn (and by learn, not just “submitting work on time, doing homework and sitting quietly). The truth is, when you set out on school adventures, you don’t really know what it will take for your child to develop a true sense of self so why not let the messes fly (if you keep it too tidy, they’ll miss out on their own problem solving!).

Big Picture Thinking, AKA The 10,000 Foot View

With all the fuss over hover parents and school safety (yes, safety is important but I’m talking excess precaution, like no more cartwheels!? too dangerous?– sheesh) – anyway- with this “panic button” thinking permeating our schools, teachers are up against no discomfort for my kid mentality but if they know where you stand on these issues, and that you are likely to support them (and that in fact, you are encouraging your kids to take a few reasonable risks) you will have created an alliance with the teacher. And, it’s likely that the teacher will begin to see your child with new eyes. Eyes that reflect your goals for your child – independence, curiosity, engagement, social justice, etc.

If you’re clear up front in the first meeting with the teacher, you will all be able to relax a bit more.  It’s a win/win.

8 Thoughts, “Nuggets” or Un-Advice

1. Keep in mind, you are both in this together.

2. Define what you both want for your child at the end of the school year.

3. Pick / encourage things other than academic success as measurement for learning.

4. Talk specifically about some other participation angle like citizenship, or an area your child struggles in like organization. Stay on SOLUTIONS vs. problems.

5. Tell the teacher what your goals are for your child – to raise a thinking, engaged, curious, empathetic, courageous child. Don’t get crazy. Keep it simple.

6. Design a plan for talking with the teacher about the progress and improvement you would want to see during the year and how you will support the child.

7. Get clear about how each of you will deal with the child’s mistakes, forgotten homework etc., so there are no misunderstanding and expectations are clear.

8. Send notes of appreciation to the teacher at least once a month or at the end of a specific “unit”.

Let us know what you think or keep us updated on YOUR teacher-parent communications!

5 Tips: Kids Packing Lunch


As we said before, packing a lunch is a very useful and “real life” habit that will help your child develop responsibility, time management and confidence. It’s also a nice way to send the message that you trust your child with decisions that affect her life.

Here are 5 ways to help you make this process smooth and simple so that you can walk out of the kitchen and trust they can handle it.


The kitchen is where we keep all the necessities for packing lunches and making meals. Unfortunately, we often keep the clingwrap, napkins, bread and other essentials up high. Open your cabinets and open the low drawers- can your children use these items for making lunches? Or, is it stuff that can be put up high until it’s needed. You can even bring your dishes, bowls and cups to a lower height to make this easier for meals at home. In order to help your child’s independence, put anything and everything your child might need like straws, napkins, lunchbags, and so on. within easy reach.


Nothing says frustration like searching for containers and lids that don’t match. Stock one drawer, bin or cabinet and make sure that they can find matching lids and containers without needing you to “help” by digging through three buckets of plastic for them—it’s a pain. Set them up for success with matching storage containers / jars, etc. This includes drink bottles and screw tops as well!


If you have to, spend Sunday nights stocking the kitchen so the mornings are smooth and hands off. Stock one bottom drawer in the fridge with a week’s worth of juiceboxes, or other choices they can grab and pack themselves. Fill the other drawer with fruit or “healthy” options like yogurts, cheese, apple slices, premade “pbj” circle sandwiches, or applesauce, and so on. Stock the pantry or lower cabinet/drawer with a variety of snack, they can be crackers, graham crackers, or chips depending on what you’re committed to. Then tell the kids to choose one snack, one fruit and one dairy and they can choose the rest, or whatever your guildelines are. The most important part is to let THEM CHOOSE. If you’ve stocked it, it’s fair game!


Yes, they will want cookies and junk over healthy stuff but you can set the tone for a healthy lunch by offering “treats” you can live with. This will get them excited to pack their lunches – even if you HATE those fruit rolly things they ask for every time—if they agree to pack and eat other healthy options as well, let them have some sort of “exciting” lunch food they’ve been asking for – just choose something you can live with, vs. something that will eventually make you step in and say no. Kids are willing to balance their own lunches if they can have some say in what goes in there! So, again, stock a space and set a limit (there are five days, five roll ups, and if they eat them all by Tuesday, well, then, they’re out and they’ll have to choose something else). But, if they want one everyday, they’ll have to pace themselves. The point is, your kids are practicing real life skills. You can’t expect a 13 year old to make skillful choices if they haven’t been making them for 10 years. So provide opportunities for the kids to learn.


Don’t set out on this change in habit without setting some realistic goals. The first week might go great, but then everyone will fall off. Just know this will happen (it might not, but plan for it). Then, once you’ve gotten an idea of how you’d like to see the mornings go, aim for three days of the five. If you only hit two, well, it’s better than nothing. Keep going until your children trust you’re not even thinking about their lunches anymore! It takes time and it’ll never be perfect. Remember to invite them into the kitchen when you are preparing meals, this will help them feel more comfortable and practice outside of a morning or bedtime routine. Let yourself have a little room to make mistakes and it’ll be much easier to stick with it. [hr]

Kiddo, Pack Your Own Darn Lunch!

darn lunch

There’s something more delicious than a PBJ or bagel with cream cheese in your child’s lunch—something sweeter than a fresh baked cookie or chocolate milk. It’s CONFIDENCE. 100% pure confidence and responsibility…that is, if your daughter packs her own lunch, all by herself without any interference from you.

Maybe your child is already doing this and that’s terrific. But, perhaps she doesn’t – and you’re the one up early every morning, folding and zipping balanced foods into a Spongebob shaped lunchbox. If you are, the good news is you don’t have to do this and you don’t have to feel bad about quitting the job! Here’s the deal: by doing this task everyday for your child, you’re forfeiting a PERFECT opportunity to give your child some choice and real world decision making experience.

It may sound like no big deal, but a kid who packs his lunch is making decisions, testing his judgment (I can’t tell you how many times a kid has over packed or under packed, only to come home and admit they need to adjust the portions). They are practicing time management- everyday, before they leave they have to be sure they have food for the day. If they fall behind or forget, they have to figure something else out (like get the emergency lunch offered at the lunch line). When a child packs her own lunch, she realizes that she’s in charge of her decisions and is more willing to eat what she puts in there.

The biggest benefit to handing off this “chore” is that you’re saying to your kid, sure, I trust you to make a decision and stick to it. I also trust that you can do it.

Again, if packing lunch seems too simple a task to teach this valuable life lesson, I urge you to think about why you are hesitant to even consider the idea. You’ll be late. They’ll make bad choices! You don’t want to deal with the mess, and so forth. All the reasons why you “just take care of it” are the exact reasons, this is an awesome habit that will give your child some real world responsibility.

Yes, this effort will take some time and some planning, but don’t write it off, even if you fail a few days or weeks in. Try again and you’ll see that once you commit to giving it over to your child, your child will commit to taking care of it.

Kids are Like Computers, they Upgrade to New Versions (Of themselves!)

You’ve probably noticed, that with each new age and stage, your child’s behavior looks freakishly familiar yet, it’s loaded with a shiny new set of operating tools. He’s bigger. She’s smarter. They’re louder. The behavior is beefier. More mature. Less “cute”. (Face it, a tantrum at two is far more tolerable than a full blown hissyfit by an 8 year old).

As your child grows “into” more advanced versions of their discipline issues (whining, excuses, arguing, controlling, sassing, etc), you’re faced with the same problem, different year.

When this happens, tribes of parents head out to find the NEW most age appropriate response, punishment, discipline tactic to fight the aging beast (the behavior, not the kid). Because lo and behold, the strategy for a tantrum at two would never work for a 13 year old, right? I can see it now, the emo hipster wanna be with her head down in the naughty chair. It’s not pretty and it’s clearly not effective. So why do this to a two year old if we know it’s

    a) not going to make the problem go away and
    b) it’s going to resurface at 13?

Probably because it makes us feel in control. It’s a logical response to an undesired behavior. However, if we don’t realize the behaviors we see at two will be the behaviors (only upgraded) at 6, 8, 10 and so forth, then we stand to make it waaay harder on ourselves – and the kids – than it has to be.

The question is, how do we curb behaviors without having to run out and find a new strategy every 1-2 years?

The answer: we focus on the relationship. We study our children. We recognize the problem areas and we let the rest go. We don’t try to steer them through a perfect childhood without pain, failure or real world ups and downs. We train them to take care of themselves and be a meaningful participant within the community. Inviting a child to help at two will work the same as inviting a child to help at thirteen- and it will get more of what you want from them.

Sending a kid to the naughty corner at two and to her room at thirteen will not rid her from flailing and stomping when she doesn’t get her way. And you can bet it’ll come back when she’s in the dorms and doesn’t get the classes she wanted. Or the engagement ring she saw in the magazine. Or the car all the other moms drive. And bam. Will she live with it? Sure. Could she spare to do better without that habit? Definitely.

(Look around, you know any adults who still throws hissy fits? Exactly).

Facing Fear at Any Age

Dr. Heather posted a very useful article on her blog about Preschoolers and Fears.

Read article here.

My only question is based on the idea of using “monster spray” and other totems to repel monsters. In my experience this practice can be counterproductive. Parents tell their kids that monsters aren’t real, but then act like they are by looking under beds, waving magic wands or spraying monster spray in the room. Seems a bit confusing if you ask me.

It would be more helpful to ask your child a couple of questions:

    1. Can you show me where the monster is? Let them explore and show you where it’s hiding (hmmm, can’t seem to find it at the moment, mum). There is power in actually looking for what you think you fear. Opening closet doors, looking under beds, and behind a pile of stuffed animals will reassure a child much more convincingly and quickly than a parent waving wands or spraying twinkle dust in a room.

    2. What is the difference between your imagination and reality? Yes, I know it’s a big question, but you can break it down and help your child learn to distinguish the difference. I have talked with dozens of creative people and they all agree, imagination is stimulated when there is a balance between living in our imagination and being in touch with reality.

So the next time your wee one suggests that there are monsters living anywhere in their world, take a moment to reflect on how you want to address this concern and the fact that a “monster” at 3 could be “anxiety” for a 13 year old.

Kids Have Perfect Solutions

Okay, so here is a perfect example of how smart and quick kids are.

Kathy takes her 3 kids to the kiddie pool during her recent stay in Florida. Zack, a new walker, tries to follow his sisters into the center of the pool.

Unfortunately for Zack, he has only been on his feet for a few short weeks (still wobbly), the bottom of his little shoes are slippery and the kiddie pool has a decidedly deceptive slope “down” to the center.

Zack enters the pool to follow said sisters. His feet come out from under him and SMASH. Down on his ass he goes knocking his head on the bottom of the pool.

Mom walks over to the child on his ass. She didn’t run. She didn’t scream. She didn’t grab him up. Why? Because she knows her kid. The other parents in attendance jumped up to “assist” Zack, but Kathy used non-verbal tools to get all the busy bodies to sit down and mind their own business.

She holds Zack by the hand, lifts him up, puts him on his feet at the edge of the pool and sits back down.

Zack takes a few steps towards the center of the pool and SMACK. Down he goes again.

This happens approximately 6 times. No tears. Frustration to be sure, but Kathy is quickly by his side, Quick hug, quick smooch and off he goes again.

Until suddenly, left on his own to figure this problem out, this smart, clever, creative, determined young 14 month old figures out that he has to sit on his ass and scoot towards the center of the kiddie pool.

For the next 2 weeks, remembering what he learned all on his own, Zack enjoys the pool. In fact, he practiced every time they went to the pool and inevitably, some parent would approach Kathy and comment on how clever Zack was for scooting into the pool and asked her “so how long did it take you to teach him that?” To which she promptly broke out in gut busting laughter.

I asked her why the gut busting laughter – her reply “Can you just see me sitting MY ass down in the pee filled kiddie pool and teaching my kid to scoot down to the center? No way that was gonna happen.”

Here is what she knows, what I know and what the parents of the Parenting On Track family know:

Kids are their own best teachers and when parents provide opportunities to practice, well, kids find their own perfect solutions.

Way to go Zack!

Prepare for Departure

Last week we had our good friends over for dinner and games. They brought their 3 kids with them. This is the story of Zach, their 11 month old son and how “letting go” when kids are young, pays off in ways that are easy to overlook if you don’t know WHAT you are looking for.

Zach is 11 months old. Because he is the 3rd child and because he spends a good amount of time at our house (he splits his time between me and my teens), his experience of the world is one of constant invitations to “participate”. He isn’t babied, he isn’t indulged, he isn’t spoken to like a pet. He is treated like a contributing member of the group. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we relish this cherub cheeked youngster, but there is a difference between goobering all over a yummy “baby” and clinging to the idea of him staying a baby.

As a result of his parents’ approach and his relationship with my family (and other factors as well), he is a relaxed, confident, interested, engaged, curious child. He is comfortable meeting new people and hanging out with a group (without demanding all the attention). He moves through the house with the speed and agility of a professional skateboarder, not a cautious crawler. He is neither clingy nor distant. Already you can sense the balance in his young life. He is preparing for departure, even at 11 months of age.

I have to give kudo’s to his parents who accepted that their children are leaving the nest and never look back. Like every parent, it gets easier with each child, and this is their 3rd. But still, letting go can be difficult.

What I notice about this remarkable 11 month old is the confidence he feels in himself, the people around him and to a certain extent, the world at large. Because I am continually asked to talk about the “letting go” process, it’s important that I look at it from all angles. It’s easy for me to talk about it now that my own kids are grown, but what parents are looking for is an inside view of what it looks like to “let go” when children are young. They want to know what the benefits are when they embrace both the idea and the process of kids growing up – out and beyond us when they are YOUNG.

Zach is a great case study. He is young. What does it look like to start letting go of a child who so recently arrived? Here are a few things I have observed over the last several weeks that might help parents better understand not only the reality, but the benefits to letting go intentionally.

  • Contain your excitement when your child accomplishes new tasks and skills. Instead, encourage the first few times and then move on to a new task. Keep encouraging and moving forward.
  • Let your children know you are available to help, show them what to do and then leave them alone to try, try, and try again. After several attempts are made, go back in for more training- if necessary.
  • Walk away when they need space to fail – sing a song, look away and start a conversation or be quiet (this one can be painful but worth it). Letting go means allowing children to learn about their thresholds, how to deal with frustration and how to recover all on their own. Empowering.
  • Have Faith. Know in your heart, that they can do ANYTHING they put their minds to, even if they fail the first few 100 times. Keep “seeing” your children successful and soon enough, they will be.

Here are a few words from Kathy herself: “I recommend working on self skills between 1 and 3 years. The trick is “to stay sane while you are doing it. The benefit is that you are working yourself out of a job and working them into self-esteem – something most of wish we had more of. When things get out of balance or the routine has changed remember to look at your children as if they are asking “How do I belong in this family” then if you still can’t move past that call Vicki for a coaching session.”

Letting Go is a natural process. One that can be enjoyed and even savored by loving and committed parents. Letting go doesn’t mean throwing our kids into adulthood, it means providing an environment where they are engaged in all the yummy-ness the world has to offer them.

Thanks for sharing Kathy and Steve. You are truly an inspiration.

Acts of Kindness

Have you ever had someone lend you that coin that you were short of at a check-out counter? Or have you ever had someone stop you on the street because you were about to leave one of your mittens behind you? There are many, small wonderful things that strangers do for each other every day because, well, just because.

Here is one story about a good Samaritan that takes it one step further.

“My parents have been going through some rough times lately. Among those hard times, they’ve been trying to sell their home. They needed to replace a large broken appliance in the process of getting their home ready to be listed. My mom went out one day and made the purchase at a large department store. When she got it to her car, she realized that it wouldn’t fit in her trunk, wouldn’t come anywhere close. She hadn’t even considered how she’d get it home, having so much on her emotional plate. As she was standing in the parking lot almost in tears, having no idea what she’d do, an unfamiliar woman pulled up. She said “I think that’ll fit in my truck; where do you live? I’ll follow you home!” They got it in her truck, she followed my mom home, helped her unload it, and went on her way, not accepting anything for her efforts. Just an angel out of nowhere, who swooped in when we needed it.

I recently came across a very elderly, very shaky man with a walker trying to make it down a flight of stairs, and while I normally would have hurried on to the appointment I was late for, I thought of that angel, and stopped to help him get down the stairs. It made me a few minutes late, but so what – if that angel had been there that day, she would have done it for him, for sure – and I had learned something from her. It won’t be my last time, either – I’ll see to that. Someone who would do something so selfless for a total stranger – that’s someone I want to learn from.”

One person can make a big difference in the life of another. Keep your eyes out for your chance to be that person.

This inspirational story was found at