All posts tagged choices and decision-making

10 Tips for Back to School Routines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting The Kids Involved

Getting the Kids Involved Means Letting them Participate 

work is worthIt sounds super obvious to most parents that if you want kids to follow a daily routine, they have to help create it and then feel supported as they practice mastering the routine on their own. Well, that’s not always how things play out. We often “let” the kids participate when it’s convenient for us or when they are doing things “right” but as soon as they fall behind, or don’t do things exactly the way we want them, we step in and muddle everything up. Creating, executing and mastering routines takes time and while the kids are practicing, life happens. But if we can shift our thinking, if we can let the routine lead the day, we’ll find that children can take on more responsibility, become less dependent on us for everything and we can all enjoy that time between activities vs. rushing and hurrying things along.

What does this mean? It means, if your child is supposed to pack a backpack for school, you wont jump in and do it as the clock starts ticking louder and louder. And so, yes, you’ll be late. Yes, your kid will wear PJ’s to school. Yes, they won’t have a lunch if they don’t feel like making one. Once you learn to let go, the child will know you trust they can do it and that’s when the magic happens. Obviously, allowing a kid to go to school hungry because they forgot their lunch or left their homework behind, is a hard lesson to learn! Most parents think they just can’t let that happen. But they soon find out they can and it only happens once or twice.

IMG_6573Over time, once your children realize you’re going about the routine and that you trust them to manage on their own, they begin to master tasks that lead to confidence and capability. After the peaceful, relaxed and orderly routine is established, you’ll never look back!

Are you ready for a routine?

Kids CAN Do So Much! With a solid routine and less interference, kids of all ages CAN and WILL:

  • get dressed
  • make lunches
  • bring a backpack
  • get ready for bed quickly
  • wake up for school on time
  • finish homework
  • brush their teeth
  • feed the pets
  • and so much more!

Head’s Up! It’ll be bumpy for just a short while. Once you master the routine, it’ll get smoother and sweeter. In the beginning, you’ll have to focus on these few things:

kid workPatience. Don’t step in, even if you’re late.

Correcting. If a kid packs three granola bars for his lunch, hey it’s a start. It’ll get better- don’t get caught up in the little stuff.

Let go. You’ll just have to sacrifice a few events (like bball practice or dinner out) in order to learn the routine.

Once it’s in place, it’ll be just fine.
Trust the kids. Just trust them. They will find a way if you’re not there doing everything for them.

Tweens, Technology and…..Sexting

Sexting. Some parents have difficulty just saying the word, never mind admitting that their child might – just might – be participating in it.  Our sweet, innocent 3rd and 4th graders have suddenly become tweens and teens and they are growing up in a world very different than the one most of us grew up in – a world surrounded by technology. Many children will not remember a time when they didn’t have instant access to a friend living half way around the world or the ability to see their grandparents each week via skype. These kiddos can receive an immediate and accurate answer to a question about pre-historic dinosaurs and link classrooms and share poems with students in Ghana and Kansas. This invaluable technology has also introduced our children to texting, social media, youtube, cyberbullying and yes, even sexting.  With the awesome comes the not so awesome.

As parents we can stay in denial and try to convince ourselves that we have the ability to protect and shield our kids from internet dangers like sexting, or we can get educated, grab our courage and meet our kids where they already are – cell phone in hand deciding in a split second whether or not to send a racy picture or post a decidedly inappropriate picture on social media. Contrary to popular belief, technology is NOT the problem. 

The problem is our lack of preparation around this issue, it’s the lack of intelligent conversation we have with our kids that is the problem and it is our fear of the unknown that is the biggest roadblock. Remember our job as parents is to teach, prepare and work along side our kids as they learn to navigate the world of technology filled with all the pluses and minuses.

Parents come to me confused on how to handle the issues surrounding their tween/teen and technology. This subject often either leads to power struggles between parents and their kids that negatively impact the relationship and the entire topic of responsible technology use gets lost in the mix of fighting and battling or it leads to a “if you can’t beat them, give up and let them” attitude with no structure, conversation or boundaries in place. It’s not unusual for me to ask a room full of concerned parents this question as a jumping off point: “What do you know about your child to ensure that you have set up a structure that will work for her?” Silence. “Uh, structure?” Often the story is, “My son turned 13 and all he wanted was a phone. All of his friends have them and he was dying for his own so he could text and stay connected.  Now, just a few months later, it’s a mess. The phone bill is sky high, he’s on the screen all the time, he’s neglecting homework and family. It’s a nightmare.”

Okay. Let’s back this bus up a bit and see if an analogy will make it clear where we get tripped up.

Before handing someone the keys to a car, that person has

  1. Reached a certain age.
  2. Passed drivers education.
  3. Practiced driving for hours with an experienced driver.
  4. Proven they can handle the responsibility of paying for a car or gas.

Right? And even if parents are scared to death that their son or daughter will get behind the wheel of a car and be in a serious accident, we can’t stop them.  We know this and so we accept it. We prepare our kids and we prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We don’t fight against it – we work with it.  And that is what makes the difference.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when it comes to preparing our kids to handle technology. In many cases, parents skip those steps and go right to the “car” – then realize that their child may not have the necessary skills to adequately navigate the tricky terrain of internet use.  When parents can reframe the idea of technology and create a plan for preparing themselves and their kids for its inevitable arrival, everyone wins.

With a specific concern like sexting, the situation becomes a bit more serious and as a result, a parent’s fear factor increases. The idea of talking openly and frequently with kids about sex is tough enough, now we are forced to combine sex and technology in the same conversation. No wonder parents are sidelining these conversations until they can no longer avoid them.  Here’s the thing, no matter what you do to prevent it, there is a strong likelihood that your child will either sext someone or receive a sext from someone. The goal is to come to terms with this and do what you need to do as a parent to prepare yourself so you can discuss the situation openly and honestly with your child and prevention, danger, recovery, restitution and healing from a humiliating experience.

Include technology in the conversations you have with your children about healthy and unhealthy relationships – sexual and not sexual. If you aren’t comfortable talking about the topic, how do you expect your child to open up and talk to you about it?  Our kids need to know we have the confidence to tackle any difficult conversation with love, respect and understanding.

Here are a few tips to make the process easier.

  1. First, do what it takes to find the courage, to talk with your tween/teen about the various scenarios that might come up and how she/he might handle them.
  2. Ask questions. Find out about your teen’s cyber IQ. How tech savvy is she? Does she realize once something gets out there in cyberspace you cannot get it back? Or does she really think that once the image disappears from Snapchat it is gone for good?
  3. Work in other areas of life with your child to ensure that he has the tools to navigate tricky subjects. Does he accept responsibility? Does he value himself and others? Does he practice empathy and respect? Does he crave attention and long to fit in?
  4. Come to fair and reasonable guidelines with your child around technology use and include sexting in the conversation. Have a plan and stick to it. Remember your kids need to know they can trust you. Following through on an agreement demonstrates this. They may be mad at first, but the bigger message is – you do what you say, which means you can be trusted.
  5. Respect your child’s privacy. Have faith in your child’s ability to keep the agreements. This doesn’t mean turn a blind eye to what is going on, but it does mean that you don’t have an app that sends all your children’s texts to your phone, too. Finding out what is on your teen’s cell phone is about trust and respect. If you focus on those aspects of the relationship, your teen will invite you in – on her terms.
  6. Demonstrate your understanding that being a teen is hard enough; Let your child know that you understand and that the added element of technology, social media and sexting is one that you didn’t have to figure out when you were 12, 14, and 17-years-old. It’s more than just saying that you’re there if they need you. If your child does get in trouble, it is what you do next that matters most.

Does your tween/teen have the courage make their own choices and not succumb to peer pressure when it comes to sexting? What can you as the parent do to support your child’s independence in this area?


Here is Why your Parenting Style Matters

There is loads of talk today about parenting styles and parenting techniques and parenting preferences. All the way from Velcro and Helicopter parenting to CTFD parenting. Truthfully, I agree there is a whole lot of focus and advice smathering cyberspace and I can completely understand why many parents are becoming deaf to any type of talk about this subject.

In most cases I agree – I have two sayings 1. Just because you can write a blog about parenting does not mean you should, and 2. we are all doing the best we can with the information we have. My job is to offer quality information for parents to sift through and decide if they would like to make changes in the way they parent and the relationship they are fostering with their children.

When I discuss parenting styles, I discuss three types.

Authoritarian parenting style which categorizes  parents with clearly defined rules that they expect their children to follow without question or even discussion. Often known as the really strict parents, authoritarian parents hold high expectations for their children and believe that parents are, and should be, in complete control.  These parents “shape, control and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of the child in accordance with a set of standards of conduct, usually an absolute standard[which] values obedience as a virtue and favors punitive, forceful measures to curb self-will” (p. 890).

Permissive parenting style refers to parents who place few, if any demands on their children, allowing children “complete freedom to make life decisions without referring to parents for advice . . .” (Hickman, Bartholomae, & McKenry, 2000, p. 42). Permissive parents allow the “child to regulate his own activities as much as possible, avoid the exercise of control” (Baumrind, 1966, p. 889)  Often these parents view themselves as their children’s friends or peers more than providing the boundaries of the parent-child relationship.

Democratic parenting style is an integration of the other two parenting styles, where parents set clear rules and expectations but also encourage discussion and give-and-take,  especially as their children get older and are able to take more responsibility for themselves. These parents “remain receptive to the child’s views but take responsibility for firmly guiding the child’s actions, emphasizing reasoning, communication, and rational discussion in interactions that are friendly as well as tutorial and disciplinary” (Baumrind, 1996, p. 410).

I find it as no surprise that there are big differences in the ways we approach parenting. Our culture, our situations and even the way our parents raised us influences how we decide what constitutes the right way or wrong way to parent.

What is surprising is the consistent findings about how these different styles of parenting impact our children’s development. The way you parent can influence how your children do in school, relate to others, and whether or not they develop the personal strengths which help them to thrive and how to best deal with life’s stresses.

Having spent years studying parenting and resiliency, research shows that children raised by Democratic parents have higher self-esteem, do better in school, relate better to their peers in large part because they had greater self-confidence and self control.

On the other hand, families with Authoritarian or Permissive parenting tend to have children who can struggle in school, have lower self-efficacy, less self-control, and lower self-esteem, placing these children more at risk when dealing with life’s adversities.

Here are 3 tips to support a Democratic Parenting Style

1.  Include children in the decision making process.  This begins by giving toddlers choices between two things.  Over time, they become skilled decision makers.  Increase their participating by inviting them to help create family policies around bedtime, homework, extra-curricular activities.

2.  Practice being Firm and Kind in both your words, actions and attitudes.  Firm shows the respect you have for yourself and Kind shows the respect you have for the child.  As an example:

Situation:  You have asked your child a number of times to choose which shoes to wear to the store but he refuses and he decides instead to run around.      

Firm: Showing respect for yourself means that you will refuse to fight with the child, manhandle the child or give in to the child.  You understand that when your child refuses to choose, he is abdicating his position in the conversation.  In other words, the child is choosing to have you make the choice.

Kind:  Make the choice for the child in a calm, respectful and friendly manner.  You can maintain a healthy connection with the child and still be in a position of authority.  It might mean that you carry the sneakers to the car to be put on later and his socks get wet as a result or that you leave him home with dad while you run the errands, or you cancel the trip to the hobby shop and go another day.  

Because the situation did not deteriorate into a power struggle, the child is free to learn that by not choosing, he is indeed making a choice.  You have modeled behavior you wish your child to model as he grows and matures and you can continue with your day with little interruption and without feeling resentful.

3.  Create rhythms that support everyone in the home.  Some children like a limited time in the morning to get ready for school while others prefer to wake up with time to spare.  The same is true for bedtime and homework routines and and other routines typically found in busy families.  If you take the time to identify the natural rhythms in your children, you can support them and avoid unnecessary power struggles.  This support is in line with a democratic model which allows everyone in the family to design rhythms that best support who they are without forcing anyone to conform to one persons routines or giving in to the demands of a child.  

The Democratic Parenting Style has benefits for everyone in the family.  

For more information on parenting visit

How to Stop Screaming and Start Engaging

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As parents, most of us will ask our kids to get dressed, or brush their teeth, or go get their homework so we can get in the car. As kids, they typically will ignore that first request. We then follow with a few more requests using a really nice calm voice. The kids continue to ignore us. And it’s at that point that we change from nice to screeching, yelling, demanding, and threatening. And it seems to us as parents that’s the only time our children get engaged, when we escalate into the screaming, which is not really what we want to be doing. Most parents I speak with say they would love to be able to stop screaming.

It’s important for parents to understand that first of all most kids are parents deaf. It’s a little bit like the Charlie Brown scenario. What they hear through those first requests is [wah-wah, wah-wah]. All of these requests and reminders train the kids that they don’t really have to move until we escalate. So one of the ways to break that pattern is to start out by giving our kids choices, because they have to answer you.

When you speak to your kids change from a direction to a request or a choice. “John, would you like to brush your teeth now or after this commercial? Mary, would you like to get your homework now or after we finish dinner. Jamie, do you want to brush your teeth now or after we finish reading the book?”

The child is required to then respond in some way. Once you receive a response, you can move the conversation forward. Even if the child replies by saying, “neither”, you have the beginning of a conversation started and you can answer, “I see. When would you be willing to…?” Try it and see if this helps you to stop screaming.

If you think I am a competent young adult, stop treating me like an immature child

Growing into competent young adultsSitting in the doctor’s office last week, I overheard a mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter chatting. How do I know she was sixteen-years-old? Because she was talking about the rules that go along with being a new driver, mainly, that she is not allowed to drive anyone under 22-years-old for 6 months. Totally lame in her words.

The topic of their conversation suddenly shifted and before I knew what was happening, their exchange went from casual disdain, to blatant hostility, to full on, clenched teeth verbal warfare about whether or not mom would be going into the exam room with the same sixteen-year-old young woman who was just moments before talking about driving a vehicle.

Question: What might this mom believe about the relationship she has with her daughter that makes it possible for her to see her as a competent adult ready to get behind the wheel of a car, but not mature enough to go into the exam room on her own?

Question: Is this a common phenomenon? Accepting our kids are growing up and becoming competent young adults in some ways – dating, cars, college – and yet refusing to accept that they are growing up in other ways – exam rooms, using manners, choosing friends.

Question: Is needing to be needed as a parent making it difficult to identify these “markers” in our teens’ lives and if so, does that explain the “pushback” we feel as they become more competent young adults?

Question: Does a sixteen-year-old who is old enough to drive and probably date, have the right to decide whether her mother joins her in the exam room?

Question: Do we, as parents who changed diapers, wiped tears away, giggled under covers get confused because our kids will always remain MY child, but not always be A child?

This is just one example of how as parents, in our desire to stay connected to our kids, inadvertently enter into power struggles that push our children further from us. Take a moment and consider all the ways your pre-teen may be showing you that she is ready to be treated more like a competent young adult, than a school-aged-child.

Consider that by letting go just a bit more each day, you are sending the message to your child that you trust her and have faith in her ability to handle her life. Kids who know their parents have faith in their ability to handle the ups and downs of life along with making the daily decisions that go along with being an adult, feel more connected to them. While kids who have hovering parents who continue to hound them with questions, offering opinions and advice, want to run as far away from their parents as possible.

Let’s keep our kids close, by giving them space and supporting their march towards independence.

Kids Developing Worrisome Habits? Stop Blaming the Neighbors.

If we want our children to change their behavior, we must first change ours.Earlier this week, we shared this article on our facebook page. Don’t Text While Parenting — It Will Make You Cranky

For many this proved as a wake up call.  As this article so plainly points out, it is parents, adults, who model unhealthy and addictive behavior when it comes to technology but instead of taking responsibility for our actions and instead of having the courage to admit that our kids are modeling exactly what they see mom and dad doing, we spend hours talking about the neighbors, the kids on the bus, and the negative influence this dangerous technology has on our children.

Whenever parents talk to me about “pesky” behavior or worrisome habits, I remind them that kids are modeling EXACTLY what they are exposed to – by their parents.  It is me, it is you, it is every parent and adult, we must accept that we are role models. If we want our children to change their behavior, we must first change ours.

 Here is an example from my own life:

I am talking to my daughter, Zoe, on Skype. (Yes, that is the two of us many years ago in the picture above.) She has taken a break from her studies and has called to chat about something important that she is discussing in one of her child development classes.  We are deep into a conversation we both care about, sharing ideas, thoughts, concerns, and solutions. I get a facebook message – POP – and Zoe is in mid-sentence. I ignore this distraction for a moment but then I open up the message and think to myself, I will just respond real quick.  Now, I already know that the brain can not multi-task.  (I too, read that scientific study that confirmed what we already know.)  The brain can not successfully focus on two things at the same time. One of the activities or thoughts takes a back seat – it is deemed, “not as important”.  This is what happened to Zoe’s sentence, it got relegated to the “not as important” pile. Suddenly, as I am clicking away to answer this message I notice that Zoe has stopped talking.  I stop typing.

She says “Let me know when you are done and then I will continue with what I was saying.”  No malice in her voice.  “Either talk to me or talk to the other person, but be present for at least one of us.”  Message received loud and clear.

I stopped nagging my kids about their technology the first time Zoe busted me like this.  I used her strategy instead to invite re-engagement with my children and I made damn sure I wasn’t trying to multi-task as they were talking to me.  Even if we were 3000 miles away and I could mute myself so they couldn’t hear me typing to someone else.

The next time you are tempted to complain about the impact of technology in your child’s life, examine your own practices and I think you will find that like everything else, the remedy to this national crisis is looking back at you from the mirror.

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

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

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

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

 “What has you concerned most?” I asked.

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

 I sat quietly and waited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you Interfere with or Enhance your Relationships?

interfering with or enhancing the relationshipSometimes we forget WHY we had children in the first place. Our lives get busy, our resources get tapped, the parenting techniques passed down from our own parents and learned from all the expert books we’ve read aren’t working and we find ourselves screaming at – or giving in to our children, just so we can get through the moment and onto the next thing.

  • Long gone are the promises we made to be patience and understanding – no matter what.
  • Long gone are the dreams of smooth mornings and calm nights
  • Long gone are the visions of siblings who played together peacefully and with nothing but joy on their faces.
  • Long gone is the belief that our child would love school and relish homework.

These dreams and promises have been replaced with reality and that reality includes tired, grouchy children who throw endless temper tantrums or make unreasonable demands and fight with their siblings until everyone is in tears and the reality of parenting, the truth of what it means to live with children day in and day out, brings us to our knees in frustration and exhaustion.  We resort to bribing, begging, screaming and finally punishing or giving up.  And the reasons we first decided to have children slip further from our minds.

It Doesn’t Have to be Like that

Okay, so maybe that was a bit melodramatic.  In truth, only occasionally, do most of us feel completely defeated in our role as parents. The rest of the time we find a way to put on our big girl panties and do the best we can. At times a genuine smile from a child whose arms are wrapped tightly around our neck is enough to restore our passion and enthusiasm for parenting.

One thing about this parenting journey that is true and I believe is worth remembering is this

“In every moment we are either interfering with or enhancing the relationship we have with our kids.”

Everything we do, every parenting decision we make is either interfering with or enhancing the relationship we have with our children, but we rarely take the time to evaluate which of these we are doing – interfering or enhancing.

It’s clear that most of us want to spend the majority of our time enhancing the relationship we have with our kids.  After all, it’s when we start interfering on a regular basis that things get really ugly and we find ourselves wondering why we thought having kids was a good idea in the first place.

Here are three of my tried and true tips for enhancing the relationship with our kids.

  • Superimpose the face of your best friend on your child.  Now, talk to your best friend and if you wouldn’t say it to her, don’t say it to your child. ( I am not suggesting you be your child’s best friend, this is a great test to keep the way you treat your children in check.)
  • Imagine you overhear your child describing you to his or her best friend.  What word would best capture you? Is it the word you hope your child will use to describe you?  If not, change what you are doing and act accordingly.
  • Decide that being right is overrated and you would rather be wrong if it means that you and your child maintain a healthy, happy and satisfying relationship for years to come.

And finally, as the infamous Mr. Rogers said:

“I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behavior on our children…certainly not by threat, guilt or punishment.  But I do believe that they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together.  Such relationships are, I believe, built on trust, example, talk and caring.”

Podcast: Offering Children Choices

challengeyourIn this conversation with Vicki Hoefle, we talk about offering our children choices.

Children require years of practice in making choices. Giving them the opportunity to practice early can lead to happier, more resilient and independent children.

Listen below and learn more. Let us know something new you learned about giving your children choices! We’d love to hear from you.

Podcast: Natural Consequences

natural consequencesIn this conversation with Vicki Hoefle, we talk about natural consequences.

The purpose of using natural consequences is to encourage children to make responsible decisions, not to force their submission. When a child makes a poor decision and the parents stay out of it, the child learns from the consequence, gains new information, and is in a position to choose differently the next time.

Listen in and let us know how natural consequences have been your child’s best teacher.

Holiday Parties and Picky Eaters

holidays with picky eatersThe Holidays can wreak nutritional havoc on any child’s eating habits- and picky eaters can contribute much undue stress and conflict if we choose to let their preferences take center spotlight.  You may be at a family feast or friendly festivity when you’ll hear those words you’ve been dreading, like: “I don’t like chicken cordon bleu; I only eat chicken nuggets!” or “I don’t want those vegetables—I see cookies!”

When you  hear words like this, you’ll probably feel flush and yes, it can be challenging, to say the least, to feel good about the food our children choose to eat—or not eat—at parties. But how we respond determines how long this will drag out, how upset everyone will end up or how much time energy will get sucked into a fight over food. Because so much relies on our reactions, it’s helpful to keep these in mind:

  • Feed her first, then let it go. If you are really worried about it, make sure your child has a healthy snack or meal before going to the party.
  • Participate in the potluck! Offer to bring something, and then bring a healthy meal or side dish that you know your children like and will eat.
  • Be proactive vs. reactive as sugar mania sets in. Talk with your children ahead of time about all the goodies they’ll see and make an agreement on how many sweets they should have, over the course of the party. Just don’t get too distressed if the temptations override the commitment. Afterall, it’s not everyday you have 8 pies and 35 cookie trays to choose from!
  • Let it go.  The bottom line is —one day of bad eating will not ruin your child’s health, and most likely they will remember the party as a whole lot of fun!

The most important thing we can do is help our children develop healthy eating habits during the rest of the year, so that eating well becomes part of who they are. When this happens, children will be more likely to find the balance between eating good and bad items—even at a party. Besides, if you’ve every had too much of a good thing, then well, you know there are lessons to be learned that you’ll only discover for yourself via indulgence.

Happy Holidays!

Share your photos of kids and cookies, HERE.

11 Ways to Foster Independence

Developing Skills, Grit and Resiliency Through Trial, Trust and Failure.

Foster independenceThis post is inspired by the famous Free-Ranger, Lenore Skenazy, a “Simple School Project” that is basically genius and the notion that kids perhaps, aren’t feral enough.

After reading and agreeing with popular, recent articles explaining how losing is good for kids, that grit is essential for success and that a 4th R – resiliency– has been added to child-rearing, it seemed like the next logical, large scale conversation might be:

  • How do we allow failures to occur naturally in our child’s life?
  • What will it look like to foster independence?
  • Can my child handle what comes along?
  • What can I do to encourage and show trust in my child?

Well, folks, here’s something that Lenore, Joanna Dustin (the teacher implementing the project) and@georgemonbiot -and of course all of you Duct Tape Parents- are onto:

Failures occur naturally when we allow our children to take a more active role in their own lives by providing them with ample opportunities to choose.  Young children, with not much life experience are bound to choose to play with a favorite toy instead of getting their snack or lunch ready for school resulting in a hungry belly at snack time.  The result is a learning experience that provides good information for the following day and a chance to develop resiliency as they experience a minor failure.

As children grow and mature, parents can foster independence by allowing children to  make choices, learn from them, make necessary course corrections, experience failure and success and develop the resiliency they require to tackle any of life’s challenges and obstacles.  As the Buddhist Quote says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Here are 11 Ways to Put Trying, Failing and Recovery into the Everyday

1. Send the kids outside.

Often, we send the kids outside when we’ve decided we’ve had enough.  Enough screen time, enough rough-housing, or enough whining because they are “bored.”  Instead of using outside time as a reaction to enough of something, get creative and spin it. Show the children how you used to make teeter-totters out of scrap wood. Or better yet, leave a pile of wood, nails and a hammer and see what happens. If your child is younger, allow for time to play in a puddle, pile of leaves or muddy zone. There are countless ideas out there.

2. Ask the kids.

As Lenore mentioned, the middle-schoolers are ASKED to identify one thing they have never done, then they are encouraged and enabled to try. The end result is not the goal. The process is! As parents, we can take this “simple school project” and bring it into our homes by asking our kids, What is one thing you have never done but would like to try? Ok, TRY IT!

Then plan how and when, and simply be there without commentary, as they give it a go.

3. Start small.

After we ask, we have to allow our kids to make toast, knowing it will lead to making eggs and pancakes one day. We have to slow down and say, try it. Even if as Lenore says, “Maybe they seem small, even silly, but in a culture that has created mountains of fear around every childhood experience, these kids (who are encouraged to try) have started their climb. Pretty soon, they’ll be ready to fly.”

4. Share stories.

When we look to other people, to our own childhood stories and success stories from other children, it becomes easier to put it all in perspective. For example, Ringo Starr, a surviving Beatle, was chronically ill as a child and never finished school, in fact he spent many years in the hospital. It keeps things in perspective to think one of the most famous, beloved drummers in history discovered his own talent while tapping sticks to pass the time in his hospital stay. This certainly wasn’t a picture perfect- mom-and-dad-will-make-it-happen-route and he turned out pretty successful on his own, don’t you think?

5. Encourage other parents.

Parents talk. Parents want what is best for their children. Avoid showing off what your child can do, but rather encourage other parents to discover for themselves that their children CAN handle more than they think.

6. Identify your fears.

After your child has chosen a task, it’s helpful to write down the fears you have. Once you do this, you can plan for how you will respond if your worst fears actually come true.  (Example: If I let my child pack her bag, she will forget her boots. I am afraid the school with think I am a bad parent. Plan: I will send a note saying I am encouraging my child and if she forgets her boots, we will work on ways to remember them at home).

7. Get the facts.

After writing down your fears, get the facts. If you’re afraid of the bigger, “what- ifs” like abduction, find out the real stats and then plan accordingly. See Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. Bottom line: instead of putting the axe on an idea altogether, find another way to create the same experience through alternative planning and enabling.

8. Let go.

Here’s where we, as moms and dads, have some work to do on ourselves as we develop the habit of letting go. We can try to control the outcomes and direction of our children while they are young, but as our children get closer and closer to leaving the nest, it is imperative that they learn and practice staying afloat and recovering in the wake of mistakes and mishaps.  If we impede their progress neither you or the child will be prepared for what the real world will deliver from 18-80.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

In order for kids to experience and garner meaning and develop resiliency from the lumps and bumps, the ups and downs, the oopsies and flops that go hand in hand with all learning, kids will need oodles of practice time.  And as parents, we have our own job to practice stepping out of the way and trusting our children.  No parent I know is likely to wake up one day saying, “Alrighty kiddo- this time you’re on your own.” Likewise most kids won’t wake up one day saying, “No problem, I didn’t make the team or I forgot my lunch, I’ve got this,” without some practice. Baby steps and practice it’s good for everyone in the family.

10. Keep track.

When parents keep track of the efforts and outcomes, it becomes very clear that over time, these “simple” tasks add up. They also keep motivation high and evidence in hand that yes, children do benefit from us backing off and staying quiet (grab the duct tape) and showing our kids that we have faith in their abilities to tackle new things and overcome failures.

11. Celebrate!

If your second grader made eggs for the first time (after 4 failed attempts with shells in the scramble), he’s a rockstar because he’s taking on more responsibility and he did it. He made it through the failures, as minimal or as grand, as they may seem to us. This is progress! Have a big breakfast and make it a celebration.

About The Simple School Project

“Every year, Joanna Drusin, an English teacher at a magnet school in Manhattan, has her students, age 11, do a “Free-Range Kids” project. That is, they can pick one thing that they think they are ready to do (that’s legal!) that, for some reason, they haven’t done till now. Once they get their parents’ permission — and some kids can’t, which is why this project is extra credit and not a requirement — off they go to do the kinds of activities that might sound simple or scary, depending on how much local news you watch. Some walk the dog — alone. Some walk to school — alone. One made toast — alone..

YOUR Simple Home Challenge

Parents, let’s extend this into a “simple home project” challenge -and see if you can provide one opportunity to trust your child to do something he or she has never done!

Film it, snapshot it and share it!  You can showoff here– we’d love to see what YOUR kids are doing in their own lives and together, we can inspire other parents! #challengeaccepted

Thinking Kids > Zombie Kids

thinking kids can do for themselvesWe’ve all encountered a zombie kid—you know, that do-as-you’re-told fellow with textbook manners, neat clothing, exquisite restraint, sticky sweet personality with entirely nothing to say for himself.

Sure, he’s compliant, he’ll follow orders, never talk back but he’s definitely not learning to challenge the world around him. Of course, it’s not his fault, he’s been trained to be a “great” kid (and yes, we all want great kids) but there’s something missing in this child’s life:

the ability to think, to choose and to do for himself.

Bottom line? A zombie kid will do as he’s told. At first thought, that seems great! Why encourage your child to think for himself (we already know how messy thinking kids can be) when you already know what’s best?

Here’s why: Because, eventually, that little zombie will have to either make his own choice, or go along with the crowd and although this may not be concerning when you’re living with a 2, 5, or 7 year old, it can be damn alarming when you’re living with a 13 year old.

Raising a thinking child takes effort and when you consider the alternative, it’s worth doing whatever it takes to ensure your child is navigating their own life according to their values, their preferences and their interests.

In other words a kid who practices making choices when they are little, will be strong enough to make smart, thoughtful, and skillful choices later. They will also know how to take responsibility for those choices, good, bad, or indifferent. And when amends are in order they’ll be willing to make them.

So, the next time your child is willing to make a choice around clothing, shoes, food, baseball, piano lessons, ballet, or anything else for that matter, stop and ask yourself, “Is this a chance for me to let my child choose?” Maybe. Maybe not. But it sure is worth a moment of reflection.

Kiddo, Pack Your Own Darn Lunch!

darn lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Values?

It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” –Unknown

The new year is a chance for parents to reflect on the successes and failures of the previous year, gather information that will help in making thoughtful and intentional change in the coming year and it can be a time of inspiration and excitement when we envision what we will do differently and the benefit to everyone in the family

Instead of worrying about slipping up and preparing to simply face each parenting dilemma as it comes why not keep your fresh mindset by setting yourself up for success. Here is what I do each January when it’s time for a serious inventory of where I’ve been, where I want to be and what it will take to get there in terms of my life as a mom (although I use this exercise in every aspect of my life).

  • Find 30 minutes of quiet
  • Bring a journal and pen
  • Instead of wasting time judging, criticizing or feeling guilty about your parenting slip-ups, identify the value you were stepping on when you treated your children in a way that left you feeling crappy inside and a bit ashamed of your behavior
  • Write down that value and think about how you go about living it in your daily life. Identify the roots of this value how it brings meaning to your life and helps you determine your decisions, actions and attitudes.
  • Now write down all the ways you may be inadvertently stomping on them and what the cost is to you, your kids and your family at large. Be really honest here. It can help you live your value with more integrity and thought which will have an impact on your every day living.

Here is an example: My number one value is Radical Faith. When one of my kids calls me with a situation that I think has the potential of ending badly I am at choice as to how I will respond. If I live into my value, then I may just listen, ask question, and be ready when the phone next rings with a story of how badly things turned out. If, on the other hand, I lose site of my value, it’s reasonable that I will lecture, coax, guide, micromanage, bully my kids into taking the “appropriate” action ensuring that the situation ends as I think it should.

Now here is the really crazy thing – when I stomp on my value and interfere, it isn’t long before I feel like a louse of a mom and feel the need to apologize to my kids by picking up the phone, sending them a text or a message through Skype and apologizing for my behavior. I remind them that I believe in them and trust that whatever they decide to do is preferable to anything I might have suggested (or forced on them). I am back to my value through the back door only after causing all of us some unneeded angst.

It takes time and training and a commitment to make living your value a part of daily life – and cleaning up your mess when you stomp on it – but the rewards are numerous.

Take some time this week, before everything is in full swing and it’s suddenly summer break and get a clear picture of what your top 3 or 4 values are, how they influence your life, how you might better live them, and how they might help you create a more peaceful, respectful and rewarding life with your kids.

No Good or Bad Choices

    As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. -Buddy Hackett

Do we really trust our kids with the choices they make? I guess the answer is often sure, if I think it’s the “right choice” for my kid.

Kid’s Choice: I don’t like dinner so I’m not going to eat it.
Parent: Bad Choice – I’ll make you something else or I will nag you and bribe you till you eat. Okay.

Kid’s Choice: I don’t want to bring my lunch today.
Parent: Bad Choice – You’ll get hungry and then you can’t learn so I will pack it for you and stuff it in your backpack.

Kids Choice: I hate soccer and I don’t want to play any longer.
Parent: Bad Choice – You promised your coach and you will let the team down (2nd grader here). You will play this year even if you hate it and next year we can discuss it.

Kids Choice: I don’t want to wear pj’s to bed, I want to wear my jeans, so I am ready for school.
Parent: Bad Choice – You will uncomfortable and wrinkly in the morning and it’s just silly.

You get the picture. We say we want our kids to make choices, but as adults, we have decided what the “right” choice is for the child.

Here is the thing though – there are no good choices or bad choices, choices are just that – choices.

A choice will either move you closer to or further away from what it is you want. Parents are constantly commenting on their kid’s choices. Instead of helping the kids learn about the process of choice and the power of choice, we interrupt the learning by judging whether the choice is good or bad. Here is a story to illustrate the power of choices and how they often reveal the true goal of the person making them.

    When one of my kids was 7 she decided (her choice) to play soccer. About half way through the season, I went to a game and watched as she danced and shuffled around the field, never really running toward or going after the ball. After the game I asked her about her overall decision to play soccer (I was getting the sense that she didn’t really like soccer). She looked at me – serious as all get out, and promptly stated, “Oh mom, soccer is the best, and things are going great. I decided that this year, my goal was to keep 6 feet between me and the ball at all times. I don’t want to get hit with that thing. Have you ever been hit by a soccer ball? It hurts.” Enough said.

Choices, as I have said on numerous occasions, are about more than blue boots or red boots, coat or no coat, do it now or do it later. Choices move us forward in our lives and give us a sense that we are in charge of our lives in the most fundamental way.

Anyone, particularly a child, who is WILLING to make a choice, should be congratulated for having the courage to make it. And let’s not forget, that each time our kids make a choice, the better they get at making them, so lets give them lots of practice.

Parenting is not about Parents

After I receive the 5th email asking me what I think about an article or encouraging me to give it a read, I figure a post is in order.

Read the article here.

This refreshing article supports what we here at Parenting On Track™ have been saying and more importantly, what Adler was saying 100 years ago – Kids need to develop their “mental muscle” if they are to live satisfying, engaged, interesting lives when they leave our homes at 18.

In order to do that, parents must take a backseat and allow their children a chance to navigate their lives as often as possible.

The entire Parenting On Track™ programs draws from Adler’s work and his most important and powerful ideas concerning child rearing.

Most noteworthy of these ideas are :

    1. Children must be supported in their desire to become independent and self-sufficient at every turn. An over protective and over involved parent only serves to slow this process down and create children who are dependent on the parent rather than themselves.

    2. It is a parents’ responsibility to show faith and to trust that their children will recover from hurts, disappointments, fears, rejections and failures and need not be saved from them. After all, life gets harder from 18 – 80, not easier and the ability to develop a deep sense of courage and a resilient nature comes from learning that life is an ebb and flow of experiences and that more often than not, we land on our feet.

    3. Parents have an obligation to invite, train, support and encourage children to contribute to all aspects of family life. This ensures that children are prepared and willing to contribute to the success of every group they are a part of.

    4. Children develop the “mental muscle” necessary to deal with life’s complexities and challenges by participating fully, completely and regularly in every aspect of their life without interference from parents.

This is yet another wake up call for parents. It’s time to find the courage to challenge your ideas about what it means to be a responsible parent and to do what’s necessary to ensure that your son or daughter is developing the mental muscle he or she will require to a live deep, satisfying, joyful life.

Parenting isn’t about us, it’s about the kids.

Tips for Offering Choices to Children

Raise Thinking Kids by offering choices to children that are WIN-WIN.

Most parents I work with don’t really give their kids choices. They think they do, but they don’t. Maybe you will recognize yourself in one of these scenarios

You might say: You have 2 choices. You can

  • Eat your dinner or you will not be able to have dessert.
  • Go to bed now or you won’t be able to watch TV for a week.
  • Stop hitting your friend or you will not have another play date until you are 8.
  • Stop fighting or we won’t go to Grammie’s for brownies and milk.

Those are ultimatums, not choices.

Or you offer choices to children you won’t really follow through with.

  • You can eat your dinner or I will take your plate away.
  • Stay in your bed or I will close the door.
  • Are you going to feed the dog or are we taking him to the Humane Society?
  • Behave or we won’t finish grocery shopping.

As a parent you think there are good choices and bad choices.

  • You ask your child if she would like to wear the hat or carry the hat; and she says neither, you say that was not one of the choices.
  • You tell the child he can either follow the rules on the playground or stay in for recess; and he chooses staying in for recess, you say no you need fresh air.
  • You ask your child if he would like to wear his boots or get his feet wet; and he says get my feet wet thank you very much, you say no – that was a bad choice – you can’t have wet feet all day!
  • You say are you going to hang up your coat or put it on the floor? Miraculously, your child decides to hang it up and you say that was a good choice.

In order to raise independent, self confident, thinking children, we have to offer win-win choices and — more importantly — learn to respect whatever choice our child makes.