All posts in Parenting Tips & How To

Top 10 ways to use it or lose it!

Mental Muscle — that is, and by the way, how’s yours? Feeling a little flabby? Looking for ways to beef it up? Here are the top 10 ways, parenting expert, Vicki Hoefle suggests working out your mental muscle, so when your kids need you – you are strong enough to parent from your best.

1. Stop worrying about how your children express themselves in terms of their personal style (this includes their wardrobe, accessories, hair and makeup). Learn to notice character traits that define your child as a unique human being.

2. Ignore strangers in the grocery store who give you the hairy eye-ball when your child throws a temper tantrum. Learn to wait quietly as your child finds his/her own solution for dealing with disappointment or frustration (or just being too tired to shop).

3. Don’t interfere if your child decides to go to school in jammies, wear sandals in the snow, or watch tv instead of doing homework. Nature is the best teacher. Celebrate your child’s courage to make a choice and listen as he/she shares the experience without judgment or criticism.

4. Ignore mistakes, big and small, and remember that mistakes are opportunities to learn.

5. Resist the urge to say “I told you so”, “What were you thinking?” , and “If you had listened to me in the first place, you could have avoided the whole mess.” Imagine yourself in your child’s shoes and then respond accordingly.

6. Leave the mess. When your child is 35 how do you want her to remember you? As the best damn, nagging housekeeper in the neighborhood or as her ally, champion and teacher?

7. Never ever, ever, ever, ask your neighbor how she parents. You wouldn’t take your car to an accountant for an oil change would you? Consider yourself the expert in your child’s life.

8. When you don’t know what to do – do nothing.

9. Challenge every belief you have about what “good” parents do and don’t do and replace it with accurate, factual information that will help you parent from your best.

10. Don’t make the mistake of believing that your children ARE their mischief making. Mischief making is your clue that you are living with a discouraged child. The only solution is to encourage and encourage again.

At Parenting On Track™we are constantly supporting parents to help their kids develop mental muscle. We all know it can take a lot of mental muscle to thrive as an adult. Remember you cannot give to your kids, what you do not have yourself. So work this week, this month, this year on building up and staying strong, so you can parent from your best!

From Frog Collecting to Number Crunching

Along with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. There are all kinds of systems families can use, and Parenting On Track is about progress, change, and the long-term goal of encouraging independence and self-reliance in our children.

Here is my “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike. With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Time to Pause

I have been teaching this program for over 20 years and still, still when I receive a story like the one I am sharing with you below, it drops me to my knees and I know I truly have the best job on the planet. The mom in this story took one of the first parenting classes I offered in the state of Vermont. The 5 year old daughter she refers to is now a Freshman in College.

Enjoy and be inspired!


I am a bit of a skeptic. Somewhere along the way I learned to be a conscious observer, one who would not allow the word SUCKER to be pasted across her forehead. Whether it was a long stretch of being an unhealthy pleaser or that foolish pyramid scheme I paid into in my early twenties…as an adult, I decided not to just buy into everything I heard and read. So when my friend and neighbor asked me to join her for a parenting class, I thought “probably not…I’m too busy….it’s hard to get out at night…blah blah blah”. I had a perfect out because I couldn’t make the first one anyway. After attending the first class without me, my persistent friend was totally on board and she would not take no from me for an answer. I joined her.

My head was spinning with new thoughts. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Praise is different from encouragement. Punishment doesn’t really work. Lecturing doesn’t really work. Really? I don’t know. I’m skeptical. I don’t believe that I could (lovingly) walk out of the grocery store, leaving behind an almost full cart and do without groceries for a week to help instill a sense of respect and responsibility in my child(ren), not after the effort it took to get the four of them and myself that far in the store! Oh, my thoughts were spinning. I didn’t quite buy it.

It was time to pick my kids up from school…three boys and a girl. They all rounded the corner full of energy, papers flying, backpacks bouncing. In they piled, the boys rolling over each other, grunting, laughing, pushing, vying for position in the van. The noise level escalating…my daughter, age 5, was screeching, bossing, witching, fretting. I was about to reel around and get in her face when the most miraculous thing happened. A truly new and momentous thing happened. I paused. That was it. I paused. Oh my god, I didn’t react. I thought “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child”. That pause gave me a moment to consider…maybe she’s had a bad day…maybe… who knows? Instead of reeling around, yelling in her face and shaking my finger at her, I simply reached around and held her hand.

She stopped her noise. She whimpered. And she settled down. Something washed over her…and me. It was grace. I blinked away the tears. I knew this was it. I felt in love with her. A minute ago I was ready to “take her down a peg”. I felt a release of anger. Instead there was tenderness, kindness, empathy….and a quiet astonishment. Imagine…I could discipline with encouragement. In every moment – I could choose to offer a respectful stance. I could throw a lifeline rather than hold the kid under to comply. I realize now that what happened in that moment was that she felt connected, she knew she counted. She didn’t have to rail against the three boys to find her spot.

That wave that washed over me changed my life. I understood encouragement all in one moment. Things would never be the same in my life. Really, all I needed to do was to pause.

The Rubber Band Effect

I have been using the “Rubber Band” analogy for years to explain the “letting go” process AND the idea of teenage rebellion. It seems fitting to wrap this whole “letting go” conversation up with this.

Imagine if you will, a rubber band that exists between you and your child. When they are infants, the rubber band is tight. They move to far away and in you “swoop” to pick them up and move them safely back to you.

In other words, they are never more than arm distance away. As it should be. We all know how quickly babies can encounter danger. It’s a lot of hard work and at times it’s downright exhausting. We ask ourselves, will there ever come a day when I can just sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying about the stairs, the stove, the dogs, the…whatever.

And then it happens. The “Grace Years”. It’s usually between 1st and 5th grade. The years when you can sit down and read a book, or start a conversation with a friend, because you know the kids will be alright on their own for a while. The constant worry is behind you. You can relax. They made it through infancy and toddler-hood.

The best part of the “Grace Years” is these same kids still snuggle with you and say they love you and ask for your advice and you, me, we are lulled into thinking it will always be like this. And because you are secure in your position in their life, you extend them a little leeway. You treat them a bit more like an adult than a baby. You afford them a few extra privileges and you loosen the reigns on them. You start asking for their opinions and inviting them into some of the decision making. They are easy and fun and they share stuff with you and you come to believe that all is well. To use the rubber band analogy, you have provided them with LOTS of slack. You are comfy and they are comfy. All is right with the world.

But not so fast – Just as everyone is getting comfy with the extended rubber band, your child is suddenly ready to step into adulthood through the doors of adolescence and at that moment every fear you ever feared becomes real and you YANK that kid right back in and SLAM, you are suddenly nose to nose with a kid who is looking at you like – “Hey – What do you think you are doing?”

And your brilliant response might sound something like “Hey – Don’t think you are going anywhere young lady or young man. I’m not ready for all this. Stay close so I can keep you safe. There are dangers, real dangers out there in the big wide world. Stay right here where I can keep my eye on you.” HMMM, where have we heard THAT before. Oh, right, the last time you uttered those words, your child was 8 months old and crawling.”

No wonder kids rebel. If they didn’t have the “rubberband” snapped back at them, maybe they wouldn’t have to pull so hard against it.

As the mother of 5 teens, I know, yes I KNOW just how scary the world can be for kids who are UNPREPARED for it. But our kids ARE prepared. As a parent, you can ensure that YOUR kids are ready to cope with real life situations. When you take the time to do that, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that they will navigate their way with clear heads and a strong connection to you. Keep the rubber band loose. Show your faith in their abilities. Yes, they will continue to make mistakes, but not nearly as many as you think they might and not all of them will end badly.

Keeping your kids close, too close, is a sure way to drive them away. Try extending the rubber band just a bit every day and before you yank them back, take a second and remember, you prepared them.

If you would like more information on how to prepare your children for adolescence, check out the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

Holiday Traditions

Cookies, presents, gingerbread houses, decorations, more cookies, cards, candles, traditional food, more cookies . . . and the list goes on. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa—or a combination of these—there will be lots and lots of traditional things that you can or might do over the next month. Most of us look forward to the traditions of the holidays. They create a sense of community, familiarity, and the warm feeling of home that we can re-visit each year.

But sometimes, too much of a good thing is, well . . . too much. As December rolls along, it often begins to seem like time is running out, we get stressed, and those wonderful traditions start to feel like they are turning into a part-time job. And then there is the pressure to be like the other families you know, the ones who seem to be able to do it all and do it with a smile. I find myself saying, “You made cookies, again?”; or “Wow, you make your gingerbread house from scratch—and it’s two stories high?”; or “Your children make special cards for each grandparent, aunt, uncle and cousin?”

Needless to say, it can be hard to do it all and enjoy every moment of it too. That’s why, this year, we suggest something different. Instead of trying to do every tradition you can think of, pick one or two that you can do year after year. Find a tradition that isn’t too time-consuming, expensive or difficult to pull off but that is meaningful—one that your kids will remember and love as much as you do.

For example, our family tradition each year is to go over to the rural property we own in a neighboring state to get our Christmas tree. We take the whole day to do this, together as a family. We eat lunch on the road, cut down the tree and then stop for hot chocolate on the way home. We now look forward to this trip all year, and it has become as meaningful for the kids as it is for my husband and me.

We encourage you to find a tradition that your family enjoys, and make the most of it. Once you have accomplished your personal traditional event, everything you do can feel like icing on the cake (or cookie). To get help with ideas for creating a new tradition with your family, here are some links:

See for examples of holiday traditions from around the world. The site is organized by country.

Check out for an alternative to traditional gift-giving. Your children or family can sign up for a specific gift, send a notice to friends and family who can contribute toward the gift, and any extra money received goes to the charity of your choice. Inlu takes care of everything, from the notification to the distribution of money AND the thank-you notes! It’s a great idea worth checking out.

To discover ways that children around the world celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, check out

Never Underestimate a 2 YO!

This is usually her 6-year-old brother’s job, so I set the silverware basket on the counter for him to do when he got home from school. She pointed at it, said her name, pulled a chair over to the counter, and started putting things away. My iPhone was right there, so I was able to catch her in the act. Since it was the very first time, we had not worked out the kinks, like how she could reach all the compartments – but that’s all figured out now.

You’ll see her putting the utensils in the correct compartments, separating out the plasticware, which we keep in another drawer, and handing me the pieces that didn’t go in those compartments. At one point I tried to help her when she hadn’t asked for it, she said “No!” – and then when she couldn’t reach, she did ask for and accept help. You will also get to see her coughing on the silverware.

I was very impressed with her ability to do so much of this job, only having learned from watching, and totally on her own initiative. We are big into training around here lately – and questioning assumptions about what our kids can and can’t yet do. Getting ready for a talk with my son’s teacher about what she might see as he takes on more and more independence. Love watching MomTV – you really ramped it up this week!

Anyone else have kids on video that you would like to share?? Please send them to us, so we can celebrate with you!!

See Hazel Put Away Dishes!

How To: Encourage Self-Motivation

how to - boring stuffHave you ever considered encouragement to motivate your kids to do their contributions at home or even in the classroom? Yes?

Great! Encouragement is one more way to rid you and your family or your classroom of sticker charts, bribing, and reminding forever.

This article from The Greater Good Magazine offers GREAT points for using encouragement to increase our children’s self-motivation, specifically when it comes to tasks they are reluctant to perform. (AKA the boring stuff).

  • Show empathy—before you even ask your children to do something you know they don’t want to do. And if, after you have empathized with their feelings, they continue to resist, then ask “what?” Sometimes the answer to the “what” is simple and can be the key to cooperation. For example, instead of constantly reminding, bribing and nagging your children to fold their laundry, empathize with them and their desire to do more fun things, and then ask what makes it so hard to get the job done. You might find out that they just don’t want to go down to the basement laundry room alone—it’s scary. Or you might find out they would happily do it if they were listening to music or watching TV at the same time.
  • Offer a real rationale for motivation—Don’t just say, “Because I told you to.” Instead explain to them why brushing their teeth, or keeping the bathroom clean, or vacuuming the floor will keep them, and the whole family, healthy; give them examples of the things you are free to do now that they are helping take over their portion of the family work. Tell them that you are giving them responsibilities now because they will need to know how to do all of these things, and more, when they are 18 and on their own.
  • Let your kids know that they have a choice, rather than trying to control them—bossiness does not lead to cooperation, period. Your children are much less likely to help out, and will definitely not help out happily, when you use bossy, controlling language. Instead, let your children know that they have a choice in their contribution. Maybe the choice is when; for example, “Would you like to fold your laundry now or after dinner?” Or maybe the choice is whether they will help at all; for example, “Would you be willing to …”. If your children say no, then find out what they would be willing to do, or go back to # 1 and ask what is stopping them from contributing.
  • There are always going to be tasks that our children really don’t want to do (gee, there are tasks I don’t want to do). The key to developing cooperation is how we respond to their unwillingness. Do we try to squash it with controlling language, do we bribe them with rewards and stickers, OR—do we use our power to encourage by empathizing with their feelings, finding out more about the situation by asking questions, giving them real reasons for doing the task, and allowing them some choice in how or when the task is going to be completed?

For more information, see the article, “How to Get Kids to Do Boring (but Necessary) Tasks”, Half-Full: Science For Raising Happy Kids, Christine Carter Ph.D., April 29, 2009,

Dusting Out the Nest

nestHere we are again—graduation time. Some of you have kids graduating from high school or college, and some from pre-school. This can be a time of joy, sadness, anticipation, regret, satisfaction, relief and oh, about a hundred other adjectives. And you’re not the only one with emotions flying. Your children are feeling all those feelings as well, as they enter into a new phase of life. And you, and yes, me, as the parents, are one-part thrilled, one-part terrified, and one-part melancholy to see them move on.

This summer I have all five of my chickadees back in the house with me. In all likelihood, this won’t happen again for another 10 years, so I am going to relish every single moment of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Mostly, though, I am feeling beyond blessed and eternally grateful that I get to spend time with five of my favorite people. In fact, as I write, the emotions are welling up, and writing is becoming more difficult.

So, I hope you will indulge me a bit. Instead of rehashing all the stuff everybody else is writing about on their blog concerning graduations, I am going to share what is happening here at the HofEnway House (That’s Hoefle and Hemenway combined).

Hannah, my oldest, will return in the Fall to her third year at NAU. Come January, she will fly to Australia, where she will complete her Junior Year. I have no idea whether she will ever leave Australia once she gets there. She has dreamed of Australia since she was 10. Ten years later, she is on her way. I have friends who lost their daughter to the down-under, so I am preparing myself for the possible phone call that says she found a “darling flat” and is staying for a few years to explore. Sigh. I have always wanted to visit the down-under.

MY FEELINGS: Confident and, if the truth be told, proud. Yes, I know. I used the P word, but heck, I haven’t used it since she was two, so I think I get a pass on this one.

Colin is graduating from High School. He is an amazing young man. He is my thoroughbred. My part in his life has always been to hold the bit, just right, so he can chew up big portions of his life without falling flat on his nose and tumbling hard into a muddy mess. He was accepted to his number one school, but has decided to defer for a year. In his words—“He has some ‘x-plorin’ to do before he settles back down into school.” Where does he plan on doing this “x-plorin”? Why Chile, of course. Yes, Chile, South America. Another long, deep sigh, and then I remember that I have been to Chile, and I LOVE it.

MY FEELINGS: A mix of confidence, terror, and “I can’t wait to hear the stories this kid is gonna tell” kinda feeling.

Zoe will be a senior. I thought she was my safe bet. I should have known better. She has recently informed us that she would like to spend five weeks in Ecuador, working at an Orphanage and Pre-School. This is a story in and of itself; if anyone is interested, let me know in your comments, and I will tell you all about it. I can’t really believe it myself, but I should. My daughter is consistent in her love of children, the disenfranchised, and South America. As soon as she arrives home from Ecuador, assuming she even comes home, we head to California for a seven-day whirlwind of college visits. Zoe, as many of you know, decided on Cal Poly when she was seven. She hasn’t changed her mind in 10 years. We did encourage her to look at a few other colleges in the area, and she graciously indulged us.

MY FEELINGS: Meloncholy. Excitement. Restless. Most of all, though—AWE.

Kiera will be a Junior. Wanna guess where she is going? Spain. True Story. She will be spending six months abroad, just like her older siblings did their junior year only THIS kid informs me from the get-go that if she has a “rockin” host family, she is staying the year. She is “helping” me, her mother, get used to the idea by bringing it up every 20 minutes. Gotta love her. Good news: new continent, new place to visit over December break.

MY FEELINGS: Anxious. Scared. Over-Protective and Over-Joyed.

Brady, my youngest is returning from a year at boarding school in PA. If you have been to one of my classes, then you know that school comes easy to Brady. Too easy, I am afraid, and he hasn’t quite mustered up the discipline to put his brains to work FOR him. They oftentimes work AGAINST him. But he is making progress. He is sorely disappointed that he will not be returning next year, but he has also been incredibly understanding, gracious and mature. The truth is, his maturity level, when it comes to this kind of thing, is way beyond mine. I kid you not.

MY FEELINGS: Nervous. Anticipation. Excitement.

The minute our children arrive, they are in the process of leaving. I knew this. I have been preparing myself for this day—these days—since they were infants. I wanted to enjoy the journey and this moment of departure. I did not want to be the parent gnashing her teeth, crying about how I would miss them, and wondering what I would do with my life as they began theirs. And let me tell you something—the training came in handy, because the truth is, I can find myself in a puddle crying just THINKING about all of them graduated and gone. But then I remember, I was there—at the beginning; I was there—and I have the stories to prove it.

So enjoy! Graduation from anything is a beautiful thing.

Communication 101

coupletSo much of what we do here at Parenting On Track™ is focused on enhancing the relationship we have with our children. Once we become parents, we tend to focus on our kids, and sometimes this concentration can come at the expense of the relationship we have with our spouse. Even though this may be the “norm”—it doesn’t have to be!

It’s so easy to forget that the relationship we have with our spouse is the BEST model we can give our kids for how to love, care for, and, most importantly, communicate with other people. We all know, but it’s easy to forget, that our children are watching us—all the time. They see how we react to, or interact with, each other: are we kind, aloof or somewhere in between? Do we laugh together, or do we laugh more easily and frequently with our friends? Do we thank each other for the small things—or does it take a momentous event to get a nod of acknowledgment?

You may have to take some time to think about the answers to those questions, but it’s guaranteed your children wouldn’t. They know how you and your spouse communicate and, chances are, when they find themselves in their first relationship, they will act similarly to the way you do now.

So, now you may be wondering what you can do NOW that would make an impact in this area? What can you do that would open up the lines of communication with your spouse and show your children how people in a healthy, loving relationship communicate with each other (without saying, “Hey Honey, we need to be nicer to each other… now. Oh yeah, and in front of the kids, ok?”).

The first answer I come to is Appreciations. Appreciations is the part of the Family Meeting where each family member appreciates every other family member for something that they did during the past week. It is the time that we get to tell each other how our individual traits and contributions positively impact the family as a whole. This is a great time to single out our spouses, in front of the kids, and give them an appreciation for something special about them that maybe we take for granted; or appreciate something that they do every day that makes our life easier; or perhaps just appreciate them for who they are.

Start now and use the Appreciations section of the Family Meeting to jumpstart your communication with your spouse. If it helps you to say the things that often go unsaid, or to give voice to those feelings that you never mention—isn’t it worth it?

Turn No! Into Yes…


  • No, you may NOT watch another TV show…
  • No, you may not touch that; you are too young…
  • No, you may not go to Johnnie’s house…
  • No, because I just don’t want you to…
  • No, you may not have something to eat 30 minutes before dinner…
  • No, no, no (can you picture the finger wagging here?)…

Do you ever feel like all you do all day is say “No” to your children? Did you ever wonder what all of that negative “No you can’t do it” does to your children’s sense of self and self-worth? The short answer is, more than you may think.

“No” is one of the quickest ways to stifle your child’s budding sense of independence and self-fortitude. I know that none of you wants to do that, so here’s an easy way to change the negative into a positive and say “Yes…”, without giving complete control of the house over to the kids.

Your job as a parent is to say “Yes” as often as you can and to as many things as you can. Do I mean say “yes” to everything and turn your children into pampered, indulged children? Of course not! While it is your job to say yes, it is your child’s job to convince you, by showing you, that you can say yes to his/her request. This balance is what helps set up a healthy, mutually respectful relationship, where children are given an opportunity to prove that they are “growing into” responsible adults. It will also help parents navigate the balance between giving too much, too soon or withholding too much for too long.

It looks like this: The child would like a “privilege” and you as the parent help them decide what responsibilities they must prove they can handle BEFORE they are allowed to have the privilege.

Here’s an example:

Privilege: Eating Out (at a restaurant, or a friend’s house, etc …)

  • Remember table manners
  • Eat what you order
  • Sit still in your seat
  • Engage in conversation
  • Make eye contact
  • Use “please” and “thank you”
  • Maintain a respectful tone of voice

I recommend that when you have identified what the privilege is, you sit down with your children and together make up the list of responsibilities. They will be more inclined to go along with it. Now you might be wondering how long they are required to maintain these newfound skills in order to gain this new privilege—once, for a week, for a year? Really, it’s up to you, but here’s what I suggest: One week for children five and under; 15 to 20 days for children ages five through fifteen; one month for children over age 15. This time frame will provide a way for your children to turn those responsibilities into habits.

The Privileges and Responsibilities strategy is one my favorites, as I have used it over and over with all of my children, from the time that they were very young to the time that the privilege was driving the car. I also like it because it is an easy way to get away from saying “No” all of the time, and instead say, “Yes… show me.”

For more information on Privileges and Responsibilities, see Ch. 8 of the Parenting On Track™ Program.

Parenting is a Journey? I Think I Need Directions!

journeyHave you ever felt more like a firefighter than a parent? You don’t seem to have time to put any real thought into caring for your children because you are too busy putting out small fires all day long, hoping that you aren’t faced with a wildfire that consumes the family before you make it out the door to school.

Or maybe you feel like a referee, putting one child in the penalty box while the other one gloats on the sideline? And I’m sure you have all, at one point in time, felt like the maid: too busy picking up toys and doing laundry to enjoy the small moments of fun with your children. None of these images is all that positive when associated with the job of caring for our small children, so I am going to ask you to remove all of those negative images in order to leave room for a new, “improved” positive vision of what your life as a parent could look like.

Parenting is a journey. The journey begins when you bring your first-born child home and continues until your youngest reaches 18 and moves into his/her second phase of life. And every journey requires a ROADMAP. The journey of parenting is no different because, without a roadmap, it is impossible to parent from your best.

A Parenting Roadmap can look like any map you would use to plot a course from Point A to Point B. I like to imagine myself up on a hill with a birds-eye view, visualizing the road below as it winds its way through mountains and valleys and through my child’s life from 0 to 18. Maybe your map looks like a board game, or an ordinary roadmap.

No matter what image or map you decide to use, remember that each one has three things in common:

  1. The starting point
  2. The final destination
  3. The distance in between

As a parent, designing your Roadmap, you want to make sure you:

  • Identify your starting point (where are you today?)
  • Identify your final destination (where do you want to go?)
  • Plan for the distance in between (what will it take to get there?)

I’m pretty sure that when you began your parenting journey (or thought about beginning it!) your images did not include feeling frustrated, stressed, confused or discouraged. I’m asking you to put aside those negative feelings and attitudes and focus on answering a few simple but powerful questions:

  • How do you want to spend your time with your kids? (The choice is yours.)
  • What are your values and how can you better live into them?
  • How can you enjoy the experience of your children’s childhood with them? (This includes more than playing with playdough and make–believe.)

Those may seem like tough questions to answer, but creating a Parenting Roadmap will help you focus on the outcome, evaluate and track your progress, and enjoy more and worry less. The choice is yours.

For more information on creating a Parenting Roadmap, see Ch. 5 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

“How To” Slow Parent

slow-parenting-post“Slow Parenting” – I like that phrase.

Slow Parenting a phrase that has grown out of author, Carl Honoré’s, books, “The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfillment Beyond the Cult of Speed,” and more recently, “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting.” Slow parenting “implies quality over quantity… being present and in the moment… and allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be.” (See Belkin article below). For those of you familiar with Parenting on Track™, this must sound very familiar.

Honoré’s theories behind how today’s parents often find themselves off track by bending over backwards to give their kids the best of everything, while all they really need is love, attention and space to figure out the world on their own terms are what lie at the heart of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program. I have met too many parents that have lost confidence in themselves as parents. Why? Good question.

My guess is that it has to do with a few things:

  • Parents are constantly bombarded with pressure from the outside world to raise the perfect child that behaves at all times (show me one before you tell me it’s possible).
  • A next door neighbor that acts shocked when they find out YOUR child doesn’t have a tutor.
  • A company marketing products that any “good parent” should already have for their child.

Parents find themselves looking “outside” to society for cues on how they are doing in the parenting arena and trying to keep up with the ever more exhausting demands. I am exhausted just HEARING the stories. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in this climate – or should I call it a race?

What I do know is that this “race” robs parents of their confidence, which in turn diminishes the confidence of their children. Unlike slow parenting, it doesn’t encourage parents to create meaningful dialogue with their children, nor does it allow parent’s the space to reflect on where they are today as a family, where they would like to be in 30 days, 6 months or 18 years, and it certainly doesn’t support parents as they try and navigate the best way for THEIR family to get there.

So what will it take for you, as a parent, to slow down and become more thoughtful in your interactions? What would the impact be on you, your children and your family in general? I think I just heard a collective sigh as parents stepped back from the precipice of “race parenting” and consider the benefits of, “slow parenting”.

The Parenting On Track™ program teaches, in essence, how to create a kind of “slow parenting” style. It really is possible in this fast paced world we live in, to become that intentional, thoughtful, reflective parent that creates an atmosphere of connection, comfort and cooperation in your family.

One parent told Honoré that when he finally found himself in a place that could be described as slow parenting, “I exhaled and it was like I was letting out a breath that I’d been holding for years.” Doesn’t that sound refreshing?

Read the article, “What is Slow Parenting” by Lisa Belkin, Motherlode Blog, New York Times Magazine, April 14, 2009.

How to End Overparenting

overparentingI recently read somewhere that today’s parents are, on the whole, guilty of hovering and acting obsessive, neurotic and all-consuming when it comes to their jobs as parents. I think that about sums it up.

The term used to describe this is “Overparenting,” and I think many parents would agree that they are guilty of this. When did it become popular for parenting to be a constant vigil of scrutinizing every detail of their children’s lives? It’s just crazy, if you ask me. So, what could one do if, say, he or she were guilty of this overparenting thing?

It’s easy: just back away. Ok, I think it’s easy, but I know that when you’ve inadvertently made your job as a parent stressful and demanding, it can be hard to just turn away. So, here is one place and one thing you can do to start the process of turning your children’s lives back over to them: Introduce—Problem Solving.

For those of you familiar with the Parenting On Track™ Program, you know all about Problem Solving and its place at the weekly Family Meeting. For those of you who don’t, here is a quick and dirty lesson (the long version can be found in Ch. 9 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program).

Problem Solving is meant to be a tool for your children to use in learning how to become competent problem solvers, thus removing you (or your spouse) as a participant in their daily quarrels. If used regularly, Problem Solving will encourage your children to look for solutions, instead of fighting, and find the courage to follow through on agreements, instead of tattling or getting mad.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Children have a problem; they write it on the board. (Key here is that they describe the problem in one sentence—no-name, no-blame. That one skill, in and of itself, is worth a six-figure income.)
  2. At the meeting, one problem is picked and discussed, and then a solution agreed upon—by consensus. No majority rule here.
  3. The solution is tried for one week, with a discussion on how it went at the following Family Meeting.

Easy! All that matters is that you are no longer the referee of your children’s fights. The children discuss all aspects of their problem; all the children help come up with solutions, participate in choosing one to try, and then agree to use it during the week. In the end, you will have given your children power over their lives and allowed them to figure out what works best for them.

It’s not too late. Start today by adding Problem Solving to your weekly Family Meeting, and you can let go of some of the stress and control you’ve felt you needed to exercise over your children’s lives. Won’t it feel great to know that as you let go of controlling your children, your children are learning self-control? That sounds like heaven to me!

Appreciations – What’s the Point?

appreciation-postI Appreciate …

  • “I appreciate that you shared your poster with me, so I could have one on my side of the room.” – Child, eight years old.

  • “I appreciate that you included your brother in what you were doing this afternoon when he was bored. You were able to make both of you happy.” – Mom of two, ages five and two.

  • “I appreciate that you stopped doing your own homework to help me with my history project (to sibling). I know you had to stay up a little late to get your own work done.” – Child, 15 years old.

  • “Thank you for playing with me (to a sibling).” – Child, two years old.

  • “I appreciate that you don’t embarrass me in front of my friends (to parents).” – Child, 12 years old.

  • “Dad, I appreciate that you put up the swing set for us, because you had a lot to do to fix up the house.” – Child, four years old.

These are some real life examples of appreciations that have been shared during the Family Meetings of families I know.

Imagine if you and your family shared appreciations each week during your weekly Family Meeting. Is it reasonable to think that these kind words and caring attitudes would eventually spill over into the conversations you have during the rest of the week? And imagine that soon, this kindness and appreciative nature would spill over into your conversations with colleagues at work, and your children’s conversations with friends and teachers at school?

Imagine if we all sent our children out into the world looking for the good in people and then appreciating it. Imagine the impact it would have on everyone concerned. It all starts with one appreciation, once a week, at the Family Meeting.

More information about Parenting On Track™ Family Meetings and Appreciations can be found in Chapter 9 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

A Guide to the “Tweener” Years

Yes, the tweener years can be a bit scary, if not downright terrifying. After all, the shift from skinned knees, broken arms, hurt feelings, the crazy play-date and rude manners to relentless demands for freedom, grunts from under the iPod headphones, endless text messages to friends, staying out past curfew, and the occasional extreme mood-swing can be overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be.

Have you ever read the book by Dr. Seuss, “Are You My Mother?” If so, replace the bird in that story with a tweener. And replace the question “Are You My Mother?” with “Do You Know Who I Am?”

Brings a smile to your face doesn’t it?

Imagine, YOUR tweener asking that very question dozens of times each day. It might seem as if they are asking the world for an answer, but in truth, it is a question they ask themselves over and over again in every situation. They ask it as they explore music, clothing, friends, interests, and left to their own devices, eventually, like the bird in Dr. Seuss’s story, they would find the answer to “who” they are all on their own.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to be “helpful,” parents insert themselves into the story and begin answering the question for their tweener.

“No, that’s not you. You love school, and you are a 4.0 student.”

“No, that’s not you. You love sports, and you are a great athlete.”

“No, that’s not you. You are you kind and patient, and you like your siblings.”

As parents, it is not our job to answer these questions for our kids. When we do, we create friction in the relationship that can make the tweener years all the more difficult for everyone. Our job is to help our children see all the possibilities. Because HOW they answer this question creates a bridge from tweener to adulthood.

So let’s go back to the question, which is really this: “How do I know that I have a place in this world? And let’s look at one way parents can stay in the conversation without taking over the story.

After years in the trenches, and five teens who still like me and, more importantly, like themselves, here are four things I did and continue to do on a regular basis.

Encourage your children to manage their lives by training them when they are young. Why, because confidence develops in kids when they know how to manage their own lives. This confidence spills over into the tweener years, which makes them easier for everyone.

  1. Encourage your kids to make mistakes, take risks and solve problems. Don’t worry about the outcome; their willingness to participate in life will keep them moving forward with confidence and enthusiasm.
  2. Encourage your kids to take responsibility for their choices when the stakes are low, so they are willing to take responsibility when the stakes are high. Confidence comes from not only making choices and decisions, but knowing you can handle the outcome.
  3. Most important, encourage your children’s personal preferences before they ever reach the tweener stage. You can’t imagine how many fights you won’t have to have by letting five-year-olds:
  • Pick their own hair style.
  • Pick their own clothes.
  • Pick their own lunch.
  • Help create menus.
  • Choose what sports they want to play or interests they want to pursue.
  • Listen to their favorite music—get an iPod if you can’t stand their choices.
  • Solve problems in a way that supports who THEY are, not who YOU are.

All in all, the tweeners were some of my favorite years. I saw uncertain, wobbly children turn into confident, happy, excited young adults. And as the first of them leave my home, I am filled with inspiration and hope for my children, for myself and for the world.

More information on encouraging your children and inviting them to participate in their own lives can be found in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

Traveling with Toddlers

Traveling as a Litmus Test

I just returned from Flagstaff, where I visited our oldest child at school. It was a glorious experience, but that’s not what I am writing about today.

Having traveled, coast to coast, numerous times with all five of my children when they were young, I consider myself to be tolerant, patient and accepting of how difficult it can be to travel in a confined area with wiggly toddlers.

But when three out of the four stewardesses suggest that Benadryl might be in order, you know it’s bad.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just one very rowdy, loud three-year-old—it was twins.
I could tell you all about their antics, but you either have a child that has left you breathless, exhausted and at times mortified at his/her behavior or you have witnessed such a performance firsthand, so the details of the story really aren’t what’s important.

What’s important is, if you think for one minute that your little terrors will magically turn into darlings because you brought them out in public, do yourself a favor and

  1. Face the fact that you have been indulging your children at home and they will expect the same when you travel with them—and more.
  2. You have been controlling them and they are smart enough, even at three, to figure out that you can’t and you won’t control them while you are in public, so this is their chance to exact revenge on you.
  3. They will continue to do MORE of what they do at home, with more intensity, perseverance and volume than even you can imagine.

At one point, I looked around and watched a few of the other passengers and realized that most of them were giving the “hairy eyeball” to the boys. If anyone deserves the “hairy eyeball,” it’s the parents.
So, who cares right? Here is my point:

  • Imagine these three-year-old boys as nine-year-olds and you begin to wonder: Will anyone, including their peers, tolerate their selfish, demanding, uncooperative behavior?
  • Parents may get by on these road trips by giving in and bribing, but at the end of the day, it is the kids who really pay the price.
  • Kids don’t grow out of, they grow into—confirmed to me by a 13-year-old on the same plane who was behaving just as badly as these twin three-year-olds.

The bottom line—choose not to be those parents on the plane. Have the courage to find out what your children need to learn in order to travel calmly, agreeably and respectfully towards other passengers. And then, train them.

You can start by taking a two-hour ride on a bus, a train or a plane and find out firsthand how much training you still have to do in order to feel confident, excited and relaxed about traveling longer distances with your children. This “research trip” will give you a starting place on which to base your training.

Once you have a starting place you can:

  • Begin to build a Parenting Roadmap. (Not familiar with this concept? Check out Chapter Five, in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.) This Parenting Roadmap will allow you to clearly
  1. Identify a starting place;
  2. Identify a destination; and
  3. Plan for the distance in between.
  • By following your Parenting Roadmap, you will be able to track your progress, keep things in perspective, and enjoy the process of training (rather than worrying about it.)
  • By taking the time to train (further discussed in Chapter three, in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program), you will be able to recognize and celebrate small victories on your way to your final destination.

Check out these and other strategies, so that you can look forward to having those cute children that everyone smiles at (and continues to smile at) during your travels.

Quiet Car Ride. No Duct Tape Required.

Quiet Car Ride. No Duct Tape Required.My business partner, Jennifer, walked into work the other day looking like ‘Tigger’. You know, big smile, bouncing up and down. I had to ask, “Okay – What gives Tigger?”

Her face lit up as she started to recount her morning drive.“I was driving home from the dentist,” she began, “and Jessie (4) and Elizabeth (7) were in the back seat of the car giggling and laughing and cuddling, as best they could in their car seats.”

Still looking like Pooh Bear’s bouncy buddy, she continued on, “Then, all of a sudden, Elizabeth decided she was bored with the giggling and began teasing Jessie. I had about 30 seconds to grab hold of a strategy that would keep the whole situation from turning into a screaming match with those two.”

When I heard this, I knew exactly where this classic parenting story was coming from… and where it might end up!

Here is what it looks like in most families:

  • The kids start to fight
  • Mom (or Dad) starts yelling at the kids to stop fighting
  • Now the parent and the kids are fighting
  • The kids get dropped off at school feeling miserable (but only until they find their friend on the playground)
  • Mom or Dad cools down and starts to feel – well – guilty about the way the morning drive went and often confused and frustrated about all the fighting
  • Mom or Dad arrives at work upset and looking more like Eyeore then Tigger.

These same parents might spend the next 2 hours calling each other or friends, confessing how awful they feel about the fighting, admit that they don’t know WHY they snapped and promise NEVER TO DO IT AGAIN.

Of course, the real problem is that so many parents out there who experience car rides that include fighting have no idea what the root causes are and are, therefore, clueless on what to do the next time it happens… and we all know, there WILL be a next time!

OK, OK. So What Happened Already?

Jennifer continued, “I know Elizabeth is a power child and often looks for a way to feel capable. And, I remember you explaining that she could either pick a fight with her sister, or I could give her another option to focus on. So, I went back to the Crucial Cs.

The rest of the story between Jennifer and her loveable power child went something like this.

“Hey, Elizabeth… I forgot exactly where we are going. Do you remember?”

“What?” Elizabeth asked with a confused but curious look on her face.

“I know we’re heading home, but did we have to stop somewhere along the way?”

And, so it began. The shift which allowed the very capable child to forget all about teasing her sister, and shift her focus to something useful, which keeps ALL of them out of the Rabbit Hole.

The Crucial Cs Are Powerful, Proactive Tools for Parents

The shift occurred because Jennifer understands the power of one positive, pro-active strategy introduced in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program, —The Crucial C’s.

A fundamental component of this program is that you can discover why your kids do what they do and when that happens, the mystery is solved. When, once you understand why your children do what they do, you are free to create a plan which you can use in a multitude of situations – a plan that helps your children move their focus from a useless behavior to one that is useful today and on into the future.

All Elizabeth wanted was a job – something to do that would keep her from being bored and would allow her to fill her need to exercise her capabilities. Teasing was an option until her equally capable, and increasingly confident mom, provided her with something more interesting and more important to do.

And thus a happy end to Tigger’s tale.

We would like to acknowledge Drs. Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew for developing the Crucial C’s. More information on the Crucial C’s can be found in their book Raising Kids Who Can.

Only Fifteen Minutes for Summer Success

Only Fifteen Minutes for Summer SuccessAre you excited by the possibilities of summer fun and the chance to sleep in?

Eager to reconnect with the kids or finish a long-forgotten project?

Looking forward to short day trips or an extended family vacation?

Or are you nervous about child care or too much downtime for your teenagers?

Consider what your summer might look like if you created a plan – a plan that takes everyone in the family into account, a plan that’s created during a family meeting where everyone, especially your kids, are encouraged to participate in its design.

Family meetings are the perfect time to prepare for summer success. If you’ve taken one of my classes, you already know the importance of family meetings. If you have them every week, you are probably already experiencing the benefits.

The purpose of family meetings is to appreciate each other, delegate household responsibilities, solve problems, and distribute money. And at this time of year, they’re a great tool to set the stage and plan for summer success.