All posts in Behavior & Discipline

Rude & Disrespectful Behavior? How Does Your Child Say Hello?

misbehavingQuestion: I have a nine-year-old who is so rude to people when they come over that they are completely taken aback. I, of course am embarrassed and angry that after 9 years this child still refuses to say hello when we have guests and goes out of her way to spew as much snark as she can. We have talked about this over and over again and she doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong. Even people who ignore the snarky attitude and try to be polite, or ask her questions about school or show an interest in her are shot down. What is going on with her?

Answer: Adler’s teaching suggest that you meet a child’s kick with a kick and a smile with a smile, since that is how the child is saying, hello. Initially, it was difficult for me to “meet the child” where he was, but after many failed attempts at winning children over who were so clearly uninterested in me, I gave up and tried his approach. Here is a story to illustrate.

Recently I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was visiting and we were so excited to spend time together. Her children are 13, 9 and 4. When I arrived I was greeted at the door by her 9 year old.

“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Vicki. I am a friend of your moms. She is expecting me. May I come in?”

She looked at me and said “No, wait here and I will see if you really are a friend and if my mom wants to see you.”

Alrighty then. So there I stood till my friend opened the door and started apologizing. I gave her a hug and told her to relax. Everything would be fine. Nine-year-olds don’t scare me. She cautioned me that it would be like this for our entire visit and I assured her it would not.

Here is the thing, when a child says hello by kicking you, the only respectful thing to do is to meet her where she is and kick back (metaphorically speaking of course, not literally.) Not hard, but enough for the child to know you understand the rules of the game and you are willing to play.

The bantering began. Back and forth we went with snarky comments that just missed being downright rude and qualifying as disrespectful behavior. I didn’t try and win her over. I didn’t show any real interest in making conversation. I answered her questions with disinterested shortness and waited.

Here is what I know about kids, if you give them what they think they want, they will generally change their minds and in changing their minds will change the way they interact with you.

At one point she looked at me and said, “you are sort of mean.” I said, “I am not the least bit mean, you started the game so I am playing along. If you don’t like it, then change the game.”
She looked at me. I said it again. “Listen, this is how you like to get to know people and that’s fine with me. But it’s not my game, it’s yours. If you want to play a new game, start a new one.” She thought about this for quite some time and then asked me, from the other room, if I wanted to come in and look at her….whatever it was. Contact. A new connection. Start the game over.

I said, “sure, I’d love to. I’ll be there as soon as I finish this conversation with your mom. About five minutes. Can you wait that long?” She said, “sure.”

And so, we said hello again.

As parents, we tend to jump on our kids if they say “hello” in anything other than Emily Post politeness. I have lived by the following motto for the last 25 years and it has served me well. Try it and see if making contact with kids of any age doesn’t become more interesting and rewarding.

I do not care if a child says hello to me upon meeting me. I care that when I leave they consider me a friend and give me a hug goodbye. It is not the child’s job to reach out and make contact. It is my job to ensure in the child’s mind that it is safe to connect to me and that I might just be a fun person to hang out with. The job is mine. Not the child’s.

Podcast: Contributions

In this conversation with Vicki Hoefle, we talk about contributions. Learning how to contribute to the household helps children develop self-esteem and resiliency, qualities that will support them for life. This episode explains how to encourage our children to contribute, including very young children.

Listen below and learn how to invite your kids to participate in the operations of the home. Would you like to quit your job as the maid?

Control – Who has it? Who wants it?

Control_postIf I ask 100 people about their thoughts on control, 99.5 will whisper “I am a control freak”, as if this is a bad thing. Personally, I embrace and celebrate my “control freakish” nature. Why? Because the truth is, being a control freak is not the problem. The problem comes from trying to control the external world instead of developing  control of your internal world, which really means – demonstrating consistent Self-Control.

Of those same 100 people, 99.5 of them will readily admit that they spend the majority of their time trying to control everything outside of themselves. Why? Because it’s easier to try and control someone else or something else (ha) then it is to control your own thoughts, words and actions and to a certain extent, I agree. I agree that it’s easier to “try” and control other people and situations than it is to develop the discipline necessary to control yourself. But the truth is, and we all know it, is that we can’t control ANYTHING beyond our own thoughts, words and actions.

Now when we think about the many ways, we well meaning parents try and control our kids, it’s important that we also look at the consequences of our decision to try and control them.

1. Subtle Control – Subtle control can best be described as a friendly dictate from a well-meaning parent. You know, a parent who has their child’s best interest in mind. A parent who only wants their kids to experience the brighter side of life. A parent who KNOWS that if the child would just do what they say, the way they say to do, the child will most certainly turn out to be a happy, well adjusted, never sent to the principal’s office kind of kid. But alas, the child who is subjected to subtle control soon loses her voice and as the voice goes, so does the mental muscle to navigate her way through the world with any sense of confidence and enthusiasm. In other words, we create kids who will follow along with little resistance, but who in essence are sitting on the sidelines of their lives, while their parents make decisions for them.

2. Overt Control – Overt control can best be described as the bossy, dictatorial, “because I-said-so” kind of control. These parents don’t care to disguise their decision to control their kids and their kids’ lives. And surprisingly enough, their motivation to control is much like the subtle parents reasons, to ensure the kids make few or no mistakes, cruise through life with ease, and make their parents lives as easy as possible. There are some inherent problems in this kind of parenting, not the least of which is, that the kids begin to “push back” under all this heavy handed controlling. They quickly learn that controlling other people is a primary goal in life. After all, they are learning about controlling others from the most important and influential people in their life. Is it any wonder that eventually, these kids begin to assert their own kind of control over their parents? But the other problem, and one far more concerning to me as a parent, is the fracture it creates between parent and child. In an overtly controlling dynamic, constant jockeying for position replaces other, healthier ways of connecting.

If you wish to model for your children the benefit of developing and maintaining self-control, start with these simple exercises:

1. Start paying attention to what you are thinking. Seriously. So often, a parent’s mouth will start moving before pausing long enough to “THINK” about what it is she is going to say next and if it will enhance or interfere with the relationship with her child. Teach yourself to pause and to change what you are thinking. Learn to spin the thought on it’s axis until you have sniffed out any desire you might have to control the wee little one in front of you. As you begin to develop mental muscle, your ability to actually decide what thoughts best support a healthy relationship with your child will become easier and easier. And if we are to believe that what comes out of our mouths is based on what we are thinking, then controlling the words we use will be infinitely easier. The words we choose will be in line with our thinking and our thinking is to demonstrate self-control and enhance the relationship with our child. Fabulous.

2. Imagine actions that are kind, patient, intentional, supportive, forgiving, loving, kind and understanding. As your thinking and speaking shifts from random, off the cuff comments to thoughtful, intentional responses, your actions will follow. Remember, your body works for your thoughts.  Picture yourself influencing your child’s life from this perspective and you can quickly see the distinct advantages of practicing self-control rather than wasting time and energy trying to control the external world.

Have fun.

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.

Whining & Willpower

Q&A with Vicki Hoefle

weedWhat can I about all this whining!?

Scenario: I’m trying to deal with a whining 2.5 year old. I’ve tried ignoring her, but it only gets stronger and my daughter will keep at it for up to 30 minutes. I believe you suggest not giving prompts like “Use big girls words”.   So the battle just continues. She is stronger than me at times. Yowza the willpower.

Answer:  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your 3 year old has more willpower then you do now, you are in for a hell of time when she hits 13.  I don’t believe a parent can throw their hands in the air and claim a small child can out maneuver them in life.  There is more going on here so lets examine a few things that might be contributing to your dilemma.

  1. I would be interested to hear how this interaction ends.  Do you give in at the end of the 30 minutes because you are worn out?  If so, then you have taught her tenacity and she is using that tenacity to wear you down.  If she finally stops on her own, then you would see an improvement in the whining.

  2. I am going to guess that you don’t want to be the bad guy, that you may want your daughter to like you, which is reasonable.  But in wanting her to like you or not be upset with you or call you a mean mommy, you are giving in and creating a whining monster that other people will not find so endearing.  So you will have to decide at some point, that other people liking her is more important then her liking you – at least initially.

  3. You aren’t comfortable showing respect for yourself so it’s hard when a 3 year old challenges an already shaky area for you.

  4. You haven’t really committed to tackling the problem and you give up and give in when you run out of steam.  The only solution for this is to fully commit to your strategy.  Your energy will convey to her that you are serious and when she sees it in your eyes, hears it in your voice, she will know it’s time for a change.

QUESTION: Is whining a problem in your house? How is ignoring and/ or another strategy working out?


Tween Behavior During Divorce

normal tween behaviors during divorceQ&A with Vicki Hoefle

Question: Is my tween showing “normal”  behavior during divorce?

Scenario: I am in the beginning stages of a divorce and I have noticed my 12 year old seems to be lashing out and becoming somewhat defiant and uncooperative.  My question is two-part:  Is this normal tween behavior during divorce and how can I support her through the process and get my daughter back.

Answer:  Divorce is never easy – on anyone.  As a mom who experienced divorce herself and as a parent coach who has worked with many divorced couples, here are a few things I have learned to support tweens during divorce.

  1. Everyone deals with divorce in a very unique way.  There is no formula so it’s impossible to know from one day to the next how someone, especially a tween is internalizing their experience.  One day they could be sullen, the next joyful, the next angry, the next confused and the next melancholy.  I taught myself to observe each of my kids every morning and look for clues as to how they were dealing with the situation on that particular day.  I fully expected that later that day or certainly by the next day, they could be experiencing a whole new set of feelings. This helped me stay “fluid” through the process and before long I started to notice more consistent, “normal” behavior.  By plugging into THEM, I felt more centered and calm myself, which influenced the entire family dynamic.

  2. It is quite normal for anyone experiencing a stressful event, to have shifts in behavior that might seem random, unexplainable and downright aggravating.  Remembering that the behavior is what is informing you about her internal feelings will make it easier or at least help to not take it personally, or to worry too much about it.  Instead of talking to her about her behavior, talk about all the ways that she is dealing with the situation in a mature, kind and supportive way.

  3. None of you will be the same after this experience.  So allow everyone affected by the event to change accordingly.  Look for the best, celebrate the future and let go of the past.  There is nothing to be gained by going back and wishing things were different.  They are what they are.

Question:  Do you have a strategy or a resource that helped you through a difficult transition?

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? 


6 Tips: How to Navigate the Holiday Season with Grace

holiday season with graceWhether we’re ready or not–the holiday season has officially arrived. Aisles are decorated, treats are piled high, and parents are beginning to brace for an inevitable increase in stress, excitement, fatigue and anxiety (for themselves and their children) during the upcoming months.

Let’s face it, “difficult” if not downright “horrid” moments are going to arise. As we get ready for the festivities, we must remember it is unrealistic to expect our children to perform perfectly during the holiday season, when everyone, especially our kids, are more stressed than usual and their coping skills become maxxed out with the  shopping, traveling and visiting associated with our traditions. What matters most is not that our children behave perfectly, but that we dedicate the time necessary to prepare (and practice) for the holidays, as well as, establish a plan for how we will respond when things don’t go as planned.

Here are 6 Sure Fired Tips to Navigate the Holiday Season with Grace:

1. Identify your Starting Point

If you are under the impression that your little munchkins will magically turn into darlings because you bring them out in public, do everyone a favor and evaluate your situation without the rose colored glasses. If you indulge your children at home by giving in to their demands, they will expect the same treatment when you travel with them—and more. If you control them by yelling and using threats, they are smart enough, even at three, to figure out that you can’t and you won’t control them using those same strategies while you are in public, so this is their chance to exact revenge on you.

2. Plan Ahead and Practice (Based on your starting point, plan accordingly) 

Here is an example: If your kids have less than stellar dinner manners, (they leave the table multiple times, they play with their food, they complain about what is served, they yell at their siblings) start a new routine before you arrive at Aunt Gertrude’s for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Have a conversation with the kids about what they think proper table manners are.

Choose one area to reform – “From now on, if you leave the table, it means that you are done eating and your plate will be removed.  You will have another chance to eat at our next meal.”  Follow through is crucial. Likewise, if children begin playing with food or yelling at their siblings, it indicates they are done nourishing their bodies and they may leave the table. Acknowledge the children when they begin incorporating these new skills into daily life – “I really look forward to dinner with you and catching up on your day.”

By working together now, creating new habits when the stress level is low and allowing the kids time to practice you increase the odds that your family will be working together all through the holiday season.

3. Model and Acknowledge

Model kindness and gratitude each day and show appreciation when your kids demonstrate kindness and gratitude.  I call this “shining a spotlight” on the moments our children are revealing their best selves.

4. Keep Expectations Realistic

It’s likely your kids will misbehave at some point and it’s just as likely that you will handle it in a less than stellar way.  It’s okay.  This year, give yourself and your children the GIFT of being mere mortals, who from time to time act more like three-year-olds than their chronological age suggests.  Trust me, a year from now it will either be a funny story or completely forgotten.

5. Take Cues from the Kids

Are they tired? Then leave the party early. Are they bored? Then find out how they would like to spend the hour layover in the airport.  It is unrealistic to expect that kids can demonstrate self control and restraint for hours at a time, so be flexible, keep an open mind and support them by listening to them.

6. Identify Teachable Moments and Take the Time to Teach

When you find yourself in one of those “moments,” confronted with a child who is acting in a way other than you would like, try distraction. Do whatever it takes to move him away from the moment or the thing he is melting down about and worry about what caused it later. (The moment of chaos is not the time to teach your child.) This isn’t the same as giving in. This is about capturing the moment, recognizing that your child doesn’t have the skills or the maturity to deal with the situation calmly and understanding that when January arrives, you have a new area to work on with your child.  After all, isn’t this what parenting is all about, anyway.

If you invite your children into the process and ask them to participate in identifying the expectations and offer them time to practice, you will find that those tough moments become fewer and farther between. And when you are in the moment, do your best to relax and do whatever it takes to move through that tough time with distraction and re-direction, so that you can enjoy yourself and leave the 2013 holiday season with good memories and good information.

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?


Key Parent / Educator Questions

Rick Ackerly QuoteIf we, as parents and educators, believe that every child is driven by an internal “genius” – an energy that naturally, without adult steering, will lead toward the discovery of the true “self” – then it is essential to keep asking ourselves, with every activity, lesson or during the daily grind:

  • What is the goal of teaching?
  • What is the goal of parenting?
  • Is the goal to “GET” good behavior?
  • Or is the goal to “foster the unfolding”of the self?

At the End of the Day

If the goal is simply to achieve “good behavior” then it truly doesn’t matter which support systems (internal or external) we choose to implement in our homes and/ or classrooms.

However, if the true goal is to raise thinking children who can, and will show up, discover themselves, solve problems and learn through experience, feedback, mistakes and natural consequences, then we can give ourselves permission let go of beliefs that do not support this goal.

Instead of focusing on external structures like punishments and rewards or rules and authority, we can choose to step back and support the “genius” by trusting the child to learn and grow, even though mistakes and messes are sure to happen.

We can do this because we believe children are driven to find the right path, want to engage with the world and will discover a sense of self without our interference.

At the end of the day, we, as parents and educators, can never stop asking ourselves – what is the goal?

“Focusing children’s attention on a discipline system is a waste of human resources, because all children start off loving to love, create and learn.” – Rick Ackerly

Internal Motivation Infographic

infographic, internal motivation

Click to see the INFOGRAPHIC

Children naturally enjoy doing valuable work and are not afraid to make mistakes- they learn to discover success through feedback from peers, teachers, materials and so forth (not just because they follow rules or get a sticker).

When nurtured, respected and trusted, internal, or intrinsic, motivation leads to the same desired outcome: positive or “good” behavior.

Beyond that, the child has a more enriching experience as he or she discovers the world, vs. discovering how the adult sees the child’s role in this world.

What are your thoughts?

Where have you seen intrinsic motivation in action?


Allowance: 15 Ways Kids Can Rock…

a Healthy Relationship with Money

kids and allowance: 15 ways to build a relationship with moneyOver the last few posts, we covered reasons and helpful basics on giving kids allowance and money. In our final post on this topic (for awhile anyway!), we wanted to give a few helpful tips to make the process smooth and steady so that you can stay consistent, organized and help your kids grow ever more confident and comfortable with managing their funds. Some of these recap what we’ve already mentioned, while others are logistical “tips” to stay on track!

Giving Kids an Allowance: Relation$hip Builders

  1. Give them an allowance ($1 per year)
  2. When they ask you for something simply reply, “Yes, did you bring your money?”
  3. Open up a bank account when they are old enough
  4. Give your tween / teen a bank / debit card and teach them online banking.
  5. Have your children help you balance your checkbook.
  6. Discuss purchases and ask questions about do you think it’s worth this amount? Get them thinking!
  7. Stay calm and collected if your child wants to buy an outrageous item.
  8. Encourage vs. lecturing or steering. For example, “Hey, in just a few weeks you’ll have enough if you decide you want it.” (vs. You don’t have enough money- remember you bought that toy and spent it all?).
  9. Talk to your children about what charities you give to or help them give to charity.
  10. Encourage selling their old toys or working “jobs” if they want to put more money in their wallet. Once they realize how much an extra $10 will help them, they get creative.
  11. Hold family meetings at the same time each week- be consistent!
  12. In order to stay on schedule, get 100 $1 bills, keep them in a family meeting box for “more convenient” handing out.
  13. Plan for trip ups- ask the kids to list things that might happen to derail family meetings/ $hand out (soccer games, parties, etc) and have a plan b – let them develop it!
  14. Let the kids choose where to keep their money “safe” – some might discover that trash bag was a bad idea- it’s ok.
  15. Don’t worry about it once it’s in their hands. Trust the learning

Got Kids and Money PICS? Show us on our Facebook wall!


11 Benefits of Giving Allowance

allowanceThere’s little argument at this point that handling money as a child will prepare you for handling money as a young adult and eventually, as an adult. Great. But what exactly- as in literally- do the benefits of giving allowance look like? Why is it such a valuable commitment?
Well, imagine for a moment, that you have been giving your children money each week from the time they were four years old and each week they were encouraged to make decisions about the money. Imagine if you handed over the gift buying power, the junk food buying power, the cheap “crap” purchasing power, and so forth. Imagine if you allowed your child to experience the frustration when she didn’t have enough money to go out with friends, buy the perfect jeans or pay for her car payments. If you can imagine these lessons during childhood, you can imagine her respect for money heading into the real world.

The Benefits of Giving Allowance (Why it’s worth the inconvenience of getting cash and handing it out!)

  1. Kids, at an early age learn the true value of money. As in, what can I buy for one dollar? $100?
  2. They discover what money can and can not do (happiness is not in the box you waited all month to buy, only to forget about a week later).
  3. They learn the “real” way how hard it is to save money and how easy it is to spend money.
  4. Kids develop a keen ability to assess what purchases are really important to them and which they can do without. (They’ll eventually say things like, NO. NOT WORTH IT… and walk away).
  5. Kids discover things about themselves- Am I a saver? Am I a spender? When will that benefit me? When will it not?
  6. Kids who buy their own things, DO NOT expect the adults around them to buy them stuff. In fact, they stop asking.
  7. Kids learn to negotiate, barter and work together. (i.e. If one kid only has 15 bucks and his brother pitches in five, you bet they come up with creative reimbursement plans!).
  8. Kids who carry their cash grow independent. There is no need to ask mom or wonder what she’ll say or how to sweet talk her (note: no fits because the answer is yes if the child has money). The child simply walks over, and decides if he wants to purchase or not.
  9. Kids who make mistakes with their money have learned the good old fashioned hard way money has value, it can go away and with time, you can earn it back– financial resiliency is valuable.
  10. Kids who spend enough time practicing also have time to understand- and make a judgement that sometimes, it’s ok to say– it’s only money– and there are things more important than a wad full of ones.
  11. And finally, as a result of their experience with money, kids develop a strong work ethic and an appreciation for everything you provide.

Also, it’s Good to Note

Kids learn to keep their money safe, lend it to those they trust and how to make interest in inventive ways. (As in, hey, I’ll buy you a donut if you pay me back – plus extra).


Zip it. For the Kids’ Sake

mom-and-dad2Ahoy parents! The tides are changing. Parents, educators, experts and obviously, the kids, have finally come to accept that the entire “over-parenting” approach to raising kids, just isn’t working out. All that structured time? All those heroic homework rescues? All that frenzied energy spent mapping the perfect childhood? Well, it’s all a waste of valuable time and energy. As a mom of five, who didn’t have the luxury to waste time or energy, I was committed to finding an approach to parenting that made more sense for myself and for the kids I was responsible for raising.

Madeline Levine and Faulty Logic

Among experts who are beginning to challenge the over-parenting, over involved approach is expert, Madeline Levine. Levine uses the term faulty logic and states, over-parenting isnt doing what we think it’s doing” and I couldn’t agree more. The question then becomes, so why the heck are so many parents STILL hovering, over protecting, micro-managing, controlling and over stepping their boundaries as parents? And even more curious and relevant than that question is, What the heck can a parent do instead?

Lenore Skenazy on WHY Are Parents Still Hovering

As Lenore Skenazy shares with her readers week after week, fear is being pushed at parents from all sides.

  • Let them play outside? Social services.
  • Let them draw with chalk? Fined.
  • Let them ride their bikes? Jail.

This fear-based thinking which leads to over-protection and micro-managing is easy to adopt (often unintentionally), when parents find they are floating in a current that sweeps them into a sea of worst case scenarios.

The other fear that plays into this hovering approach weighs on parents who are afraid that if they let go, just a little, the family and their kids will fall apart. These parents worry that they’ll look like “bad parents” or they’ll get the hairy eyeball from strangers for the decision to step back a bit and give the kids some breathing room.

In spite of these fears, and many others, parents are re-thinking their approach to parenting and finding ways to show more trust in their kids’ abilities to navigate their lives and rebound from disappointments, frustrations and failures completing a very valuable learning process. For helicopter types though, admitting and working through their own fears takes courage. Those ”what-ifs” and worst cases can pile high and push even the most committed parent back to safer ground.

Like any change, stepping back and taking a less is more approach to parenting takes time, patience and support, so offer a hand and a bit of encouragement when you see someone ready to abandon the hyper-parenting ship for a more satisfying approach to raising great kids!

What Can Mom and Dad Do Instead of Hovering?

If you’re still tempted to hover and you’re looking for a replacement response, you can, for your kids’ sake do one thing: train yourself to refrain. 

Literally, do less. Say less. Interfere less. Thats it!

Stepping back and giving your kids some breathing room isn’t the same as not caring about their safety.  It is a matter of balancing your concern with the reality that in most cases, your kids will be fine.  Instead of worrying about the worst case outcomes, take some time , and give your children the chance to show up and practice (and fail) at their own lives. I used Duct Tape (hence the name of my book!) to keep my mouth shut and my bossy, dictating ways at bay.

  • You may be a saver, so next time, sit.
  • You may be a comforter, so next time, stay.
  • You might be a nagger, so next time, zip it.

It’s not always a valiant course toward independence, but kids learn their own lessons every time we allow natural consequences to do the teaching for us and we refrain from saying “I told you so”.

Remember, our kids don’t need us nearly as much as we think they do (or want them to) and we don’t need to teach every lesson. Our job is to guide without control and to respond to them as the world would. Remember, bribing, begging and giving-in won’t train kids to become resilient adults. Keep this in mind and your decision to sit, stay & zip it will be much easier (even if it comes with the occasional hairy eyeball!)

Same Drama, Different Day?

dramaThe Solution is…Train the kids or fix the relationship. That’s it.

Raise your hand if you’ve had at least one of these thoughts run through your mind (hand raised): this isn’t working or this is exhausting or why won’t he just listen? If your hand is up, you’ve probably been through the ringer at least once (or perhaps a gentle slide into in a rabbit hole) with some pesky behavior, attitude or habit that left you scratching your head and thinking, what can I do? I’ve tried everything.

Ok, so, maybe you’ve tried “everything”  to “cover up” the problem with yelling, bribing, threatening, etc. or you’ve yielded to to attitudes, demands and “fast getaways” because you felt you didn’t know what to do. Maybe, like many parents, you found yourself disciplining (actually punishing), taking away or growing resentful and angry all while going round and round in a “cul de sac” cycle of behavior-reaction-behavior-reaction-behavior-reaction…and then ultimately, frustration. While it may feel like you’ve tried “everything” you probably haven’t.

The Point?

The point of this post is to deliver a simple message that will help lift ANY fog of parenting “problems”- a solution so clear it will change your brain and support your decision to QUIT Being the Maid (or Feed the Weed- coming next) or any other long term solution that you commit to.

Every pesky behavior– annoying, “bad” or ugly– is a symptom of one of two things:

  •  Lack of Training or
  • a Fractured Relationship

Both are worth fixing.


Is Discipline the new Punishment?

Monday night I was on WCAX for a hot second talking about Discipline, what it is, what it isn’t, how to use it with kids and when it crosses over the line into punishment. And here is what I realized – there is a very simple way to check yourself and ascertain whether you are indeed teaching discipline or punishing for a mistake made.

Here are my thoughts on the subject, just in case you suspect you just might be parenting in the realm of punishment.

    1. Discipline is defined as systematic instruction given to train students in a craft or trade, or any other activity which they are supposed to perform. That means the true definition of discipline is a way for parents to teach children and prepare them for life on their own. The confusion comes in the execution of the training or teaching. Many parents feel discipline means punishment or an enforcement of order and control over the child. Many parents believe a child has to feel bad in order to learn a lesson. This is not discipline this is power over the child and punishment.

    2. In order for the discipline strategy to be effective and respectful, it has to satisfy four criteria,

    • The “discipline” strategy has to work whether the kids are 2, 5, 7, 9, 15 or 25.
    • The “discipline” strategy has to teach kids self discipline self control, self evaluation, how to make skillful choices and how to take responsibility for those choices – not just to “obey” those in authority.
    • The “discipline” strategy can not jeopardize the child’s sense of dignity and self worth.
    • The “discipline” strategy can not fracture the relationship between parent and child.

    These criteria rule out time-outs, counting, punishing, lecturing, taking away privileges, grounding and so on. These tactics rarely teach a lesson, if they did, parents would only have to use Time-Outs twice and the child would get it.

      Here are a few examples:

    • You want to teach your child to hold your hand while crossing the street – would you say to your 3 year old “Darling, I want to ensure you will hold my hand when we cross the parking lot, so I want you to go to timeout and think about this?” Of course not. A parent uses time-out to punish a child for making a mistake and running across the parking lot.
    • Or, how about this one – “Anna, I don’t want you to hit your little brother when he comes into your play space and knocks over your blocks, so I am going to count to three and I want you to calm down and keep your hands to yourself.” Nope. You would start counting once Anna thwacked her sibling and you wanted to punish her for making a mistake – OR for not having mastered the task of staying cool under frustrating circumstances.

    3. The proper time to begin training begins as soon as the child is up and alert. Children are hungry for information. They want to master their surroundings. They needn’t be punished when they make a mistake or punished as a way for a parent to gain control over them. The process of learning, making mistakes, gentle and consistent redirection along with years of practice and teaching will ultimately prepare our kids for their roles as adults. Punishment deals with immediate problems without taking into account the long-term consequences and adverse effects on both the child and the parent child relationship.

    4. The most effective way I have found to guide my decisions as it pertains to disciplining is to reframe the “How Do I Get my child to stop….. “ to “What Will It Take for my child to. …”


    • Instead of, How do I get my child to sit still at the table, you ask yourself, What will it take for my child to LEARN to be part of the meal experience without having to be the center of attention?
    • Instead of, How do I get my child to hold my hand when we cross the parking lot consider instead, What will it take for my child to agree to hold my hand?
    • Instead of, How do I get my child to stop lying ask yourself, What will it take for my child to have the courage to tell the truth?
    • Instead of, How do I get my child to hang up her coat ask yourself, What will it take for my child to take care of her belongings?

    By reframing the question the task of disciplining takes a long-term teaching approach and helps us recognize that our job as parents is to work with the child until she reaches mastery or develops a character trait that will serve her in her adult life.

    Quality Discipline Strategies

      1. Say what you mean, mean what you say and then do it. Kids learn when things happen, not when mouths are moving. And they learn best when they can trust that what their parents say, they mean.

      2. Take time for training. Slow, thoughtful, intentional training will go a long way in creating an encouraging environment that empowers the kids and supports a friendly, relaxed family dynamic.

      3. Remain Firm & Kind. Firm is respectful to you and kind is respectful to the child. Many times discipline is turned into punishment because the parent is overly firm which can sound harsh and authoritarian in nature or overly kind which is more permissive in nature. Learning to balance a firm and kind attitude takes practice, so go slow and forgive often.

      4. Allow children to experience Natural Consequences – NC’s are the best teachers. As a parent, all you have to do is find the courage to stay out of the way and then objectively be there for the child to process the outcome of his choices. Tip: If parents are going to use NCs don’t ruin it by saying, I told you so. That just makes kids feel badly and very little learning actually happens when kids feel bad.

      5. Make agreements with kids that include realistic expectations and allow for progress and improvement. Make sure to follow through on what was previously agreed upon. This is important and builds an atmosphere of trust. Nobody has to get mad or feel bad, this is the outcome of the choice that was made.

      6. Give win/win choices that move the action forward. Blue boots or red boots, sneakers or boots, homework now or later, run or walk, brush teeth downstairs or upstairs.

      7. Ignore what isn’t morally or physically dangerous until the crisis is over and then return to the first question – What will it take for my child to…

Secret to Understanding Behavior

In the last month, I have been answering more questions than usual via our private Parenting On Track Forum, emails, Skype messages and phone calls that sound something like this:

Parent: “My 5 year old is impossible these days. He is totally out of control, teasing his sister and refusing to do anything I ask him to do. What is going on with him?”

Me: Hmmmm. I have no idea. He sounds discouraged.

Parent: “My 7 year old has begun acting out at school. The teacher is very concerned and when I try and talk to her she covers her ears and runs away. I need to know what’s going on so I can help her but I don’t know how to get her to talk to me. What should I do?”

Me. Hmmmm. She sounds really discouraged.

My 10 year old refuses to get himself up in the morning, even though he can and has for several years. He refuses to do his homework and it doesn’t matter what I try, he turns it into a fight, stomps away, calls me names and then slams the door. I can’t just let him sleep in or not make him do his homework? What should I do?”

Me. Hmmmmm. No idea, but he sounds discouraged to me.

I urge parents to use the formula I teach to gather the information that will allow me to help them create an intentional and encouraging plan to deal with their child’s discouraged behavior and attitude.

So for clarity sake, here it is again.

1. Identify the behavior that you find “troubling” and write it down as if you were a scientist or objective observer. Example: That 3 year old keeps pushing her dish off the table. That 5 year old keeps throwing Lego’s at his brother. That 9 year old is yelling at his mother.

2. Identify how you FEEL about what is happening. Example: I am annoyed when I see the plate fly off of the table. I am hurt when I see my 5 year old throw things at his sibling. I am pissed when my 9 year old yells at me.

3. Identify how you generally REACT to the behavior (it’s being fueled by your feelings). Example: I start nagging and lecturing and trying to get my child to stop throwing the dish on the floor. I try and show my child just how hurtful his behavior is by hurting him in some small way, like throwing all his Lego’s away. I show my 9 year old that I can yell louder by yelling at him not to yell at me.

4. Based on your feelings and confirmed by your actions, you then guess what the Mistaken Behavior is: Attention, Power, Revenge, Avoidance.

This is the formula. If it were being used, the emails I receive would sound more like this.

Parent: My 3 year old keeps throwing her plate off the table. I feel annoyed and frustrated and I start nagging her, which tells me that the Mistaken Goal is Attention. Any thoughts?

Me: You bet. Start by making connections that have nothing to do with the plate that flies off the table. When the plate flies, this indicates she is done with the meal. Remove her from the table by saying with a firm and kind voice and attitude, “I see you are done. I am still eating. I will see you when I have finished”, and continue eating. Show encouragement by not caving when she comes and tries to sit on your lap. Reinforce that she has made a choice and you respect her choices. If need be, take your meal to another room to finish. During other times of the day, find ways to connect and begin inviting her to do more around meal preparation. Make sure she feels a part of dinner conversation, but not the entertainment for the meal.

Parent: My 5 year old throws Lego’s at his younger brother. I feel hurt and disappointed since no one has ever treated him like this, but then I go and hurt him by taking all the Lego’s and threatening to throw them away. I think the mistaken goal is Revenge. Any thoughts?

Me: You bet. First, as tempting as it is to “teach the lesson”, refrain. This child already feels hurt. Take a few days and watch the words you use, the attitude you convey and even the thoughts you carry with you about this child. Are you focused more on his strengths or on all the ways you must correct his behavior. Does he know he matters to you? Do you ask for his help, ask for his opinion and ask for her thoughts on things that concern the entire family? Are your expectations realistic or are you waiting for perfection. Do you notice progress and improvement? Are you showing appreciation for WHO he is, not what he does on a regular basis.

I’m sure you get it by now. It’s a system. If you aren’t yet using this simple, effective, powerful system to understand your child and implement strategies that build strength, awareness, courage and maintain everyone’s dignity and respect, then I encourage you to try it.

Parents continue to ask me “what my secret is?” and I keep telling them that it is no secret at all, it is a system that works to help me identify my child’s mistaken goal of behavior and set about using strategies that encourage her, connect with her and show faith in her so that she might choose another way to interact with me and the rest of the world.

So take some time and see if you can capture what’s really going on. I bet by the time you finish the exercise you won’t need to send me an email and if you do, well, that’s okay. My guess is that YOU are in need of a little encouragement yourself. We all do from time to time and I am here.

Springtime Gardening Tip

As we start thinking forward to sunny days in spring and new growth, it’s a good time to stop and plant a few mental seeds that will lead to a big, lush garden of positive family poppies. It’s one of my all-time favorite sayings and I’m throwing it out there again now as a friendly reminder (feel free to print the little image and stick it on your fridge!)

In order to get what we want (cooperation, respect, independence, manners, and so on) we MUST NOT focus on the pesky, annoying behaviors our kids display from time to time. These behaviors or “weeds” are all the things we find distasteful, aggravating, mysterious and that we want to be rid of once and for all. Remember that they grow bigger and beefier whenever we say, “stop this” “don’t do that” “how many times have I told you to…..”, and so forth. The more we try to kill off the negative stuff, the deeper the roots grow and the hardier it becomes.

The point here is to imagine all those behaviors you admire and want to see more of as roses and poppies and daisies and colorful tulips. Water those, notice them. Tend to them. Encourage them. Every time you start to correct, remind, nag and so forth, you’re tipping the watering can onto the weeds, instead of watering the pretty flowers right in front of you. That is the only way the “weeds” will eventually die. You can pluck all you want, but if the roots are there and you’re spilling sweet water on them, they will return. By watering what you want to flourish, you will change the relationship and watch the “weeds” disappear.

What Trips You Up as a Parent?

As a parent, there are auto-habits that we develop in response to getting through the day. What starts as a firm voice to get the kids to do their homework leads to yelling and suddenly, oh snap, you’re a “yeller.” Or perhaps you controlled a little too much when your child was a toddler and now, oh crap, you’re a control freak. Or maybe you realized, darn it, I’m acting more like a friend than a parent but I just don’t know how to stop this cycle.

No matter who you are, you probably have one or two habits that you’ve thought to yourself, “gee, I’d really like to stop doing that” but every time the kids do X, Y or Z, I resort right back. It’s a hang up – a trip up- a screw up that you’ve seen play out over and over. If you’re ready to back away from the rope that’s strung between two trees, under the brush, just waiting for your foot to snag it and watch you fall on your face, start here. Learn to avoid those situations by following the next series of blog posts!

Today, in order for you to even begin the process, you’ll need to know what trips you up. SO, take a moment think of you when you’re parenting from your best. Write down what makes you feel like you’re on the right track.

It could be anything like:

    • Calm voice
    • Eye contact
    • Mutual respect
    • Humor
    • Affection
    • Listening
    • Back and forth conversation
    • People on task
    • No arguing
    • Minimal interference
    • No resentment etc.

Then, think of you parenting from your worst. Write down the biggest doozies you find yourself resorting to. Here are some ideas to get your mind thinking:

    • Yelling
    • Bribing
    • Perfectionism
    • Sarcasm
    • Getting Angry
    • Shutting off
    • Being inconsistent
    • Being too “nice”
    • Controlling

Great. Now keep your list nearby. The next blog will be helpful in learning what exact tactics you employ when you start to get tripped up. So, keep thinking and stay tuned!

Why Tweens Act Like a PITA

As parents, sometimes we hit a wall. We find ourselves wondering, how did I get here and who is this aggressive child that used to be so sweet and loving? After 20 years in parent education, I can give you three good reasons why your child is no longer willing to cooperate.

1. Your relationship is injured.

Somewhere in your daily dynamics, the child who once respected you or showed you affection, has been exposed to a rip, snag or tear in the fabric of its foundation. There is something far deeper than a power struggle over taking out the trash at play. How to fix and injured relationship is similar to fixing an injured leg – time and patience and relearning how to communicate. You might have to swallow some pride– somewhere along the way, the relationship got stuck– wiggle out delicately or you’ll only injure it further.

2. The Kid is Bored Out of her Gourd

And I don’t mean the kind of bored where he is idle and needs to find something to do. The kid is bored socially because she’s not involved in community, arts or something meaningful. Even if her calendar is penciled in through 2020, she could be completely disconnected to what she’s doing. Think of adults who get stuck in dead end jobs – they go stir crazy because nothing has meaning and they feel as though life is slipping by. Kids sense this as well! Keep trying to connect a child with something that has meaning, including jobs, community service, foreign language, music and more. Now think of the happy adults you know – they’re probably contributing to their community and feel largely connected to the people around them.

3. He Thinks you Don’t Trust him

Perhaps you’re meddling, doing-for, nagging and correcting how he does this, that and everything in between. If a kid is really on you at every interference, try backing off! Maybe, just maybe he wants you to expect more from him. Here’s where contributions and self regulation can help you out. He can do his own laundry and so he should. He can make his lunch, choose his clothes and decide when to get his homework finished. These are the tiny restraints we layer on our children that cause anger and rebellion. Shift away from the back and forth over tiny details and step back to see what happens.

Bottom line? Tweens are testing boundaries and making their place in the world. Their behavior is simply a reflection of how they got here and whether or not they feel confident, secure and capable. If they’re acting out, they’re telling you something loud and clear!