All posts tagged encouragement

Education Speech: Obama

schoolkidsRecently, President Obama addressed our children in a speech to students on their first day of school. While this speech was the focus of much discussion and debate preceding it, the speech itself felt more like coming home. It was not political or controversial. It was personal. It sounded very much like what he would say to his own children. It sounded very much like what Parenting On Track™ has been saying to parents and children for years.

“Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is… I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals … and to do everything you can to meet them.”

Set goals, and create a Roadmap. In order to move forward – as a student, a parent, an individual – it is important to identify where you are today and then decide: What do you want? What is important? Where do you want to go? How will you get there? If we want to parent from our best, and if we want our children to become their best selves, we will all need a map with a clearly defined starting place, carefully laid out goals, and a final destination worth fighting for.

What happens when you stumble and mess up? Because you will …

“(Y)ou can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.”

It is when faced with failure that our children need Encouragement the most. Rather than trying to save them from the failure or putting a label on it – talk to them about it. Let them tell you what went wrong, what they wish they had done, or what they are going to do next time. It was their mistake, let it be their solution.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Talk to your children about everything. Talk, ask, connect with and encourage them all the time, about everything. You will find that they, too, will become good talkers and will ask questions and will connect with others.

“I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do.”

Expect nothing but the best EFFORT from yourself and from your children. This does not mean perfection. This means having the courage to act, make mistakes, build on your strengths and find new insights along the way.

Many thanks to President Obama for his inspiring words of hope, courage and hard work to the young minds that will eventually shape our world. Click here for the full text of President Obama’s speech.

Working and Having Fun

  • Have doubts about what kids can REALLY do?
  • Wonder if a 3 year old is capable of doing anything other then making messes?
  • Cautious about asking your kids to help out on a regular basis?

Well check out this video of my favorite 3 and 4 year old and see for yourself what young kids who have been encouraged to help because their mother took me seriously when I said “If they can walk, they can work” can do for themselves.

Doesn’t training look fun?

So no more stories about how kids: Won’t Work – Can’t Work – Don’t Work

Take a page from K’s book and invite your kids into the process of helping around the house. You could send one of these video’s to all your friends or better yet, have children who have had so much time to practice life, that they enter into adolescence with confidence and enthusiasm!

New Thoughts on Habits

fresh-perspectiveSunny mornings on the deck, lazy afternoons by the pool, fresh veggies from the garden … does it get any better than summer? There are a few weeks left before we all have to get back to reality and start our lives of school, activities and all that comes with having busy lives and busy children.

I have spent this summer enjoying a full house with all five of my children here. It has been, at times, chaotic and busy but mostly it has been a wonderful summer full of laughter, fun and memorable times spent together. The house was full of friends and music and the smell of great food on the grill. I don’t know when I will ever have all my children under one roof for an entire summer, so I am savoring every last minute of it.

It’s now, before the summer ends and the school year begins, that I take a few hours and reflect back on where is it we’ve been as individuals and as a family and where it is we may be going in the coming year. It is a chance for me to revisit the milestones we set for ourselves and acknowledge the progress and improvement we have made in the areas we identified for ourselves as “challenging”. I wonder what new goals we will set for ourselves when we gather for what we have dubbed the “The Dinner of the Roadmap”. It is a site to behold. Food everywhere, poster board, paints, markers, magazines, glue and scissors, pens and pencils. Mostly though, there is conversation. Deep, rich, questioning, encouraging, challenging, loving conversation. We are a passionate bunch and the gathering is no exception. Fears are shared, dreams are ignited, plans are made and as a result each of us feel a deep connection that defines who we are as a family.

What started out as a Parenting Roadmap quickly changed to not only a Family Roadmap, but Kid Roadmaps as well. Iain and I have been encouraging our kids for many years now, to approach their Roadmaps with a fresh perspective. to dream big, to hold themselves accountable and to go for it – what ever “it” is.

Throughout the years I found it helpful for me and for other parents to talk with each other about the triumphs and tribulations that we have had recently to keep us focused on what goals and milestones were attainable or realistic. I’d love to hear from all of you in the Comments section about how your summers were, the moments that became memories. Your experiences help all of us see that we are not alone in parenting struggles and we can all congratulate each other on our parenting successes.

Hope your summer was a good one, and I look forward to hearing from you.

For more information on the Roadmap, see Ch. 5 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program or our blog, “Parenting Is a Journey? I Think I Need Directions!” May 13, 2009

In the Moment

memoriesThere are all kinds of moments with kids. Sometimes these moments include the incessant mantra of “I want …” all day long from a toddler; or the refusal to do . . . well, anything you want your young power child to do (does every request seem unreasonable to a power child?); and how about the constant demand for attention by the child who cries over every little bump and misstep? One mom I know told me she got so fed up with the crying one day that she instituted a rule of “No crying unless there is blood.” I don’t think that rule lasted long.

Then there are the moments with our teens—a grouchy 15-year-old who was up until 2:00 a.m., the whine of “I’m bored”, or the constant request for “computer time” on a perfect, sunny day. These are the moments many parents, myself included, try to wish away.

But beware—these easy-to-wish-away moments are often interspersed with the moments you want to hang on to forever. Like the unexpected moment you and your power child share when you discover a praying mantis in the garden; the goofy joke shared by a seven-year-old and the belly laughs to follow by the entire family; or the sight of your young teenage son holding and gazing in awe at a friend’s newborn baby, during a backyard barbeque party.

So if you find yourself wishing away some of the more tiresome moments with your little ones, or big ones, don’t worry—we’ve all been there. But take some time this week to be “in the moment” with your children, whether they are two, ten, or seventeen; because your moments are also their moments, and a knowing smile and a click from your mental camera will turn a moment into a memory—for you and for your children.

For more information on focusing on strengths and making memories, view our program at

Money Management

moneyWe talk a lot about money. We dream about it, we sing about and, yes, we fight about it. But do we talk to our kids enough about money? That is a question that bloggers and magazines from The New York Times to Better Homes and Gardens have been raising lately, and we think the topic deserves some further discussion.

So here is the question: Is there a “best” way to talk to our kids about money?

At Parenting On Track™, we like the saying, “Don’t listen to the mouth, watch the feet.” When it comes to money, don’t waste your time talking or lecturing your kids about it; let them learn about money themselves by giving them some of their own. This is an opportunity for your kids to develop their own relationship with money, outside of anyone’s influence, and for us, as their parents, to support the growing independence of our children.

Here are a few simple guidelines for “how”:

  • At the youngest age possible, give them an allowance, and let them spend it any way they want. No discussion needed!
  • Since they get allowance, you no longer have to buy them anything beyond their basic needs. So when you go into a store and they beg for that great little something they have always wanted, you get to say, “YES! Did you bring your money?”
  • When they are old enough to be interested in a bank account, open one for them. Give them practice depositing and withdrawing money. Let them have a debit card, so they learn that the money coming out of an ATM isn’t free.
  • Have them help you pay bills and balance the household account, so that they can get a sense of how much “life” really costs.
  • Talk to your kids about giving money away. Tell them what charities you give to, how much you give, and why.

No child is too young to begin to form a healthy relationship with money. One Parenting On Track™ mom told me a story about her three-year-old son who went into a store with his friend and his friend’s mom. The young friend, upon seeing some shiny “gotta have” object, began to whine and beg her mother for it, at which point the Parenting On Track™ mom’s son looked at his friend and said, “but you didn’t bring any money.” End of story.

Money will be a part of our children’s lives every day; we have an opportunity, as parents, to introduce them to money and help them create a healthy relationship with it, so that when they are on their own, they will have the confidence and the experience to manage their money well, to put it to good use, and to avoid the difficulties that so many families face today in this country.

For more information on your kids and money, go to the Parenting On Track™ MP3 on Money Management.

Thanks to Timothy Evans, Ph.D., for “Don’t listen to the mouth, watch the feet.”

Encourage Yourself

encouragementThis month, the Parenting On Track™ blog has focused on “The Art of Encouragement” as a relationship strategy. We’ve talked about the difference between praise and encouragement (“Put an End to the Praise-Junkie”), how to use encouragement to motivate kids (“Encourage That Self-Motivation!”) and how to use your skills as a talent scout to encourage your kids toward success (“Parent as Talent Scout”). By now, you can consider yourselves well-versed in the benefits of using encouragement every day to enhance the relationship you have with your kids.

You probably, after all of this watching and observing, know a little bit more about your children than you did a month ago. Are you surprised, delighted, and maybe even a little bit emotional over the wonderful things you have uncovered about your child? Do you want to find a way to hold on to these feelings of wonder, awe and love that you have right now, in this moment, so that you can continue to encourage your children and yourself, even during the rough times?

Here’s how I would do it.

  • I would sit down and write my child a letter, and in it, would tell them where I started from this month—trying to focus on encouraging them through life’s ups and downs.
  • Then I would tell them all of the wonderful things I learned. For example, I used encouraging messages like “I’m glad you are here” and saw the smile in their eyes; I asked encouraging questions and found out that they draw sunsets because it reminds them of our trip to the lake last summer; I had empathy while they did a task they didn’t like and found out exactly what it is about the task that they don’t like; I watched and marveled at the way they kept the beat while listening to their favorite song on the radio…maybe it’s time for music lessons.
  • Then I would tell them that I love them, unconditionally.
  • I might share this letter with my child. Or I might keep it for myself, to read first thing every morning or maybe just when I need a little pick-me-up.

Encourage yourself by taking the time to look at and write down what you have observed about your wonderful, growing children; how your relationship has changed since you started using strategies like encouragement; and how you can see that you are now on the right path towards a healthy, strong relationship with the people you love.

For more information on Encouragement, see Ch. 7 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program

Play Date Gone Awry

“How do you tell a mother that her kid is more than a handful and that you’d rather HALT all future play dates?!” (NYC Moms Blog).

playdate-gone-awryIt’s part of the parenting landscape, a dilemma most moms and dads face at some point in their parenting life. Play dates that turn into a nightmare. Sometimes that nightmare is the result of your child’s behavior, often times it’s the other child’s behavior, either way it ends badly. Parents feel stressed and frustrated. What’s worse is that sometimes a perfectly good friendship ends because – (HMMM, so why does a perfectly good friendship end?)

First of all, who ever heard of kids under the age of five knowing the first thing about play dates, the purpose of play dates, the rules of play dates, the expectations of play dates or anything else having to do with play dates. I have talked to enough parents after the fact to know that what most moms and dads wanted, was either

  • Time with another adult so that they kept their vocabulary at a 12th grade level (they are still paying off college loans that paid for that impressive vocabulary and no 2 year old is gonna steal it)
  • Time away from their kids so they can… name it. Life with small children is exhausting – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. It’s smart to make time for yourself if you plan to go the distance from 0 to 18.

Now, it would be easy to blame the demise of a perfectly good friendship on the standard – “the kids just didn’t mesh”, but we all know there is more to it than that. What we do tend to do is start looking for advice AFTER the play-date for answers to, “Should I talk to my friend about their child?” or “How many times can I apologize before they stop inviting my child over to play?” or “What discipline strategy should I use to solve the problem the next time the child comes over?”

It seems to me, that this whole mess could be avoided if parents took the time to implement a few simple, proactive steps BEFORE the play date was even arranged.
For instance:

  • Identify the GOAL of the play date:

    Is it for adult company, or that much needed break?

    Or Is it to help teach kids how to interact socially and to adequately represent to the kids what they can expect from the outside world when they choose to hit, bite, scratch, pout, cry, scream, etc?

    Or is it to establish that play dates can be a great training ground for the next generation of community members and leaders?

  • Set clear expectations for reaching that GOAL.
  • Identify how you “discipline” each other’s kids and still respect each other’s different parenting styles.
  • Identify what you will you do to solve a problem between the children once it happens.
  • Identify what you will do if either of you decides that play dates just aren’t working

By having a conversation, creating a clear set of goals, and then coming to an agreement about how to handle potential landmines, you and your friend(s) are much more likely to avoid disaster all together. Instead, you will quickly create a community of support, acceptance and you can watch as your children navigate the often treterious slopes of social interaction.

The choice is up to you – take your chances, or be pro-active and ensure a better play date for you and your kids.

For more information on The Parenting On Track™ program and Proactive Parenting.

Parent as the Talent Scout

talent-scoutKids can be scatterbrained at times, would you agree? They tend to jump from one activity to the next; one day they like one thing and the next they dislike it and are on to something new. It can feel like running a marathon just to keep up with their constantly changing curiosities. While this is healthy and normal, kids can sometimes become discouraged along the way, when they find they aren’t as good at something as they want to be. This is often where parents fall into the trap of using praise to make their kids feel better about themselves.

Rather than being that praise parent, instead try to encourage your kids through your ability to be a talent scout. You, as an encourager, must have the “vision” to see talent in its raw or undefined stages, visualize it as it’s developing, and express the value of that talent so that your child also sees the possibilities.

The best way to be a talent scout is to REALLY know your children. In my opinion, parents are the best ones equipped for this job, and all you really need to do is spend some extra time observing your children. Listen carefully to what they say, what kinds of things interest them and what types of questions they ask. All of these will lead you towards what kinds of things they will excel at.

Once you have watched and learned from your child, all you have to do is point them in the right direction. Give them an opportunity to explore their interests and what they are good at, and then make sure they know that you value the same things that they value. Believe it or not, your children just want your approval, and if they think you approve of how they spend their time, they will spend more time doing those things. As your children begin to experience and develop their talents, you will find it easier and easier to use encouragement to guide them towards pursuing their interests and staying true to themselves.

“The spirited horse, which will try to win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged.” —Ovid (43 BC-18 A.D.), Roman poet.

For more information on Encouragement, see Chapter 7 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

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,

Pay It Forward

payforwardWe’ve spent some time this month talking about strengthening the relationships we have with our families—our spouses and our children. One relationship that isn’t talked about as often is the relationship we have with our community. In many ways, this relationship needs just as much attention as the one we continue to grow and foster with our families. Why? Because it defines who we are in the world.

Alfred Adler said, “Every human being strives for significance, but people always make mistakes if they do not recognize that their significance lies in their contribution to the lives of others.” Adler realized that it was all too easy for folks to get wrapped up in their own lives, their own day-to-day, only to find themselves feeling lost or without a purpose.

I know that we all have days when we wake up and say to ourselves, “What am I doing here, really?” One way to answer that question, on a small scale, is to find something that you believe in and support it. Maybe you want to help your local community and you do that through volunteering at a food shelf or soup kitchen. Maybe you are really crafty, so you make hats and mittens for the homeless. Or maybe you are more globally centered, so you donate money for mosquito nets in Africa, or you raise money to help build schools for girls in the Middle East.

Whatever your passion is, there is a need somewhere in the world for you. And most of you will find that in filling that need, you also fill yourself (and your children) with a sense of purpose and significance. A friend of mine recently helped her five-year-old daughter raise money for a charity that the family believed in. When they were done and my friend asked her daughter how she felt about what she had done, the little girl replied, “I feel like the whole world is giving me a big thumbs-up.” I can’t imagine feeling much better than that.

All of us at Parenting On Track™ want to know what you do to make a difference in your community. Please use the comment section here at the blog to inspire us, and our readers, with some examples of the things you and your family are involved in.

Quote from “What Life Could Mean To You” by Alfred Adler, pg. 5.

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.

Relax? Yes, Please!

relax-postI wanted to round out this month of Wellness tips with an article on relaxation. I know that I definitely feel like I can parent from my best when I feel relaxed, so I figured you probably would too.

While looking for ideas on this subject, I Googled “Relaxation and Family”, and you know what I found? 17 million ideas on just about everything under the sun. It seems that relaxation means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean anything from going on a fun vacation or a fishing adventure to therapy and meditation. And it is almost guaranteed that at least one, but probably not all, of those things sound relaxing to you.

This got me thinking that the subject of relaxation is a lot like the Parenting On Track™ Program. It can also mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

The great thing about relaxation is that only you know how best to relax, and the benefits of relaxation are enormous for everyone. The same can be said about the Parenting On Track™ Program. Once you learn the program and the strategies, you can personalize it for your family, because only you know what’s best for your family and, again, the benefits of using the Program are enormous for everyone.

If this is clear as mud, let me give some examples. Suzy has small children and finds that a trip to the spa is very relaxing. Suzy also has the Parenting On Track™ Home Program and wonders how she ever lived without understanding Encouragement.

Now let’s look at Bob. He wouldn’t be caught dead on a massage table, but the thought of a quiet babbling brook and tackle box full of flies instantly lowers his blood pressure. Bob also has the Parenting On Track™ Home Program, but finds that the Roadmap to Success and Privileges and Responsibilities strategies have helped his older children to navigate smoothly through their daily lives.

The bottom line is—I really don’t have any tips on how you can find relaxation in your life. Only you know what is best for you. But I do know that the Parenting On Track™ Program is right for you and your family, because you have the ability to make it your own. The program has strategies that will work with you and your unique family because it is not a quick fix or a “how to” manual, but rather a way of being together as a family of individuals.

So, get out there and find some ways to relax during this month of wellness and taking care of ourselves. But also check out the Parenting On Track™ Home Program and start taking care of your family as well.

Get More Play in Your Day!

play-postThere has been a lot of talk in the media in recent years about the importance of playtime in the academic lives of our children. While we once thought that playtime should be restricted to after-school activities, current research tells us that is no longer the case.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.” (See Parker-Pope article below).

Unless you are a teacher, you are probably thinking, “What has this got to do with me and parenting?” The answer: it can mean as much as you want it to. Most parents I know are looking for ways to help their children succeed academically, and this usually means helping them with their homework or hiring a tutor, etc… So I am excited to tell all of you that it can also mean—go out and PLAY with your kids!

Maybe you already do this, and, if so, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. But maybe playtime is lacking in your routine and you need some help fitting it in. Here are some suggestions on how you can do that.

First, sit down with your family and talk about this very topic. Tell them what you have learned and discuss how you think “playtime” together could become a new value that your family develops. Find out what your children think and what some of their ideas are on the subject.

Second, involve your children in deciding when and how you will “play” together. This can be done during your weekly Family Meeting. Set aside five minutes of the Family Meeting to further discuss ideas on what types of activities everyone would enjoy, and then schedule a time during the following week to do one of those activities together. Make sure you follow up at the next Family Meeting to see how everyone thinks it went and to schedule additional activities.

Investing your time and energy in “playing” with your children will not only benefit them academically, it will benefit you all as a family, emotionally, if you use the playtime to connect with each other.

When your kids are grown and have left your house, they might remember that you helped them with their math homework—but they will definitely remember that you took them fishing on Sundays, hiked the trails to look for bugs, or kicked the ball around in the backyard before dinner.

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Feb 23, 2009.

Picky Eating & Pesky Problems

ignore pesky behaviorWhen parents first start my class, they ask, “How do I GET my kids to …?” And I answer, “I don’t know how to GET your kids to do anything.” Besides, that isn’t the problem. You already know 100s of ways to GET your children to do what you want. The problem is, the problem returns. The next day you are back at it. The only thing this breeds is exhaustion on the parents’ part and frustration on the child’s part.

The parenting philosophy I use isn’t about using some quick-fix to “GET” your children to do something in the short term; rather, it is about making lasting sustainable changes to our parenting so that we can nurture our children into becoming independent, empowered people whom we love spending time with.

With that said, I thought it might be helpful during this month of talking about wellness to touch on the topic of picky eaters. I think the question of, “What do I do with my picky eater?” is at the top of the list for most parents of small children—wouldn’t you agree?

For help on the nutrition end of this topic, I went straight to Porter Hospital Dietitian (and Parenting On Track™ mom), Amy Rice, and together we came up with the following “guidelines” for navigating your children through the murky waters of picky eating.

Concerned parents often ask, “How can I get my child to eat vegetables?”

Unfortunately, they are asking the wrong question. The question they want to be asking is “How can I teach my child good nutrition?” The answer to that question is a lot harder than hiding vegetables in spaghetti sauce. As in other areas of parenting, it is important to give the child structured independence, so that they can develop a healthy relationship with food.

The key to feeding your child is to first understand the division of responsibility. It is the parent’s job to choose the healthy food, and it is the child’s job to decide how much they are going to eat. They may eat it all or not a single bite. It is their choice. You have done your job by providing them with a healthy meal.

  1. Serve one meal for the entire family. Avoid catering. You are not a short-order cook, so don’t make different foods for each person. The whole family is offered the food you make for each meal. Giving in to the picky-eater’s demands only strengthens their pickiness.
  2. Serve at least one healthy food you know your child likes at each meal. Do not worry if your child decides against eating anything for a meal or snack. The routine of meals and snacks lets both you and your child know that another opportunity to eat will come in a few hours, even if it is from dinner until breakfast.
  3. Be Sweden—stay neutral. Regardless of what your child does or does not eat, try not to worry. Keep your reactions and responses as neutral as possible. For example, praising children for cleaning their plates does not teach them to listen to their personal hunger cues about when they are full. It can also create unhealthy emotional connections with food.
  4. Avoid rewarding for healthy eating and bribing to try new foods. When dessert is used as a reward for, say, trying a new vegetable at dinner, the dessert becomes a thing of value. Kids learn that a sweet food is better than a healthy one. Instead of using food as a reward or bribes, ask your child to taste the new food and keep serving it until it becomes familiar.

How do you teach nutrition and foster healthy eating habits?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Turn the TV off for meals and snacks. Not only does watching TV while eating promote mindless overeating, but most food-related commercials draw kids toward unhealthy choices.
  2. Cooking and eating together is the best way to teach kids healthy eating habits. Kids need meal routines, just like they need bedtime routines. Let your child help prepare meals. Eat sitting together at the table. Turn off the TV, put the toys away and talk as a family.
  3. Do what you say—eat your vegetables. Children learn by watching the people around them, and your food choices will influence theirs.
  4. Buy healthy foods at the grocery store. If unhealthy foods aren’t in the house, your child can’t eat them.

Picky eating is like a lot of other “problems” we encounter with our small children. So much of the behavior you view as problematic is about your children wanting control over their own lives, and I think you will find that creating healthy routines and relinquishing some of the control to them will bring you much further toward eliminating the problems than you ever thought possible.

The bottom line with your picky eater is, relax—and let your child have some say in what he or she will and won’t eat. Besides, they have a whole lifetime to get into those brussels sprouts.

For more information on this topic, you can check out “Child of Mine” by Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian and internationally recognized expert on pediatric nutrition.

Many thanks to Amy Rice for her contribution to this article.

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.

The Truth About Lying…

—and Other Nonsense

A very close friend of mine, let’s call her N, called last week in tears.  I thought her treasured Golden Lab had finally passed.  Every time I asked why she was crying, she cried harder.  I was really worried.  Finally, she squeaked out—“I caught Adam lying.”

Silence.  It took me a second.  The sobbing seemed disproportionate to what she had just said.

“Are you telling me that all this sobbing is because Adam, your four-year-old son, lied to you?”

“Yes,” she said, “but be quiet; I don’t want anyone to hear you.”

I couldn’t help myself. I started laughing. The kind of laugh Julia Roberts burst into when Richard Gere SLAPPED the jewelry box closed and surprised her in Pretty Woman.

N is an intelligent, educated, down-to-earth woman.  She navigated her way through a colicky baby and a husband who traveled a lot during the first three years of Adam’s life, and she never got caught up in the whole “breast feeding, sleeping with, weaning from” craziness of our culture.

So, I was completely caught off guard by her response to this infraction from her four-year-old son. I did compose myself quickly, when I realized she really was upset.

We chatted for a while, I ran her through the A-B-C exercise, and she experienced a MAJOR “Aha!” moment. We ended our call with her having a “plan” and me feeling like I had redeemed myself and regained her trust after my ‘insensitive’ outburst of laughter.

Fast-forward three weeks:  I get a phone call from N. She is giggling, happy, and excited as she shares that Adam lied again, but she used the plan, and WOW!—Will I do her a favor?

She asks me to share the A-B-C exercise, because she suspects that other parents, moms in particular, will find this a powerful tool, which they can use immediately to squelch the nasty stories playing in their heads that are making them act like—in her words—ninnies.

Here it is, courtesy of N.

A – Activating Event
In N’s case, a child who lies. If you have ever said, “they know just how to push my buttons,” consider that to be YOUR activating event. It could be anything: manners, hitting, bad grades—anything that sends you into orbit fast.

Question: What is YOUR activating event?

B – Beliefs
In N’s case, children who lie will become full-time liars who will flunk out of school, lose their friends and their jobs, and, eventually, turn into adults whose lives—again in N’s words—SUCK.  What’s worse though, is N’s belief about HERSELF as the mother of this lying child.  What will people think of a mother who is raising a liar? Nothing good, I can assure you.

I could go on here, but you see how this line of thinking could get you into big trouble over a little thing like a four-year-old telling a lie.


  1. What do you believe about children who…
  2. What do you believe about parents who raise kids who…

C – Consequence
This is the emotional consequence that both N and Adam pay for N’s over-the-top response.  In her case, a long lecture, tears, moralizing, more lecturing, phrases like “Do you understand how SERIOUS this is Adam?”  “You cannot—must not—lie to your mother. EVER.”  Poor Adam; can’t you just picture him looking completely bewildered and terrified at his mother’s outrageous outburst? Poor baby.

Question: How do you over-react to your activating event?

D – Disputation
This is the good part. This is where you get to create a brand new story for yourself that sets you free to parent from reality and not some past fantasy. It didn’t take N long to create a more realistic story that allowed her to deal with the situation in a calm, rational, loving manner.

Question: What is your new story? Anything will do. You don’t have to believe it yet; you just have to be willing to try it.

E – Encouragement
Finally, and most importantly, using encouragement to release the past and accept the present helps us stay on course until the shift in thinking is complete. N shared stories of her own childhood in which she had told a lie or two, and then had the courage to admit that even as an adult, she has told a lie from time to time. What she realized was this: she is a high-functioning, loving, productive, fully engaged woman, wife, mother and friend. That is the truth, and that is what set both she and Adam free from her madness.

Question: How will you encourage yourself and your child, as you adopt more useful
parenting strategies that focus on this:

  • What will it take for my child to find the courage to tell the truth?
  • What will it take for me, as the parent, to find the courage to update old, limiting beliefs so that I can parent from my best?

Thanks, N.

Big Love, Vicki

Albert Ellis is responsible for this amazing tool.

Radio Show: Vicki Hoefle

Mark Johnson of Radio Vermont WDEVMark Johnson of Radio Vermont WDEV interviewed me as a guest on his morning call-in show just last week. I had done everything I could to prepare myself for the assault I thought may be coming – I would be talking about parenting on live, call-in radio folks, and this can be dangerous territory! Now I know how my kids feel as they enter new situations in their lives.

Note to Self: More compassion less boot camp.

Imagine my relief when I realized that, not only was my gracious host a truly well-informed professional, he was also a genuinely concerned parent interested in learning how he could parent from his best to build a strong healthy relationship with his daughter. At that moment, I knew that whatever crazy calls might come in, I had someone who understood what was truly important in parenting sitting right across the table from me.

From the start of the program, Mark’s thoughtful questions helped me to settle in and share with the radio audience the “magic” of the Parenting On Track™ program – the shift from seeing what we dislike, to identifying and supporting what is already within our children. And Mark’s audience generously returned the gesture, lighting up the phone lines with all sorts of wonderful questions and perspectives.

I’ve included the radio interview below so you can enjoy the show as much as we did. Please keep in mind that my job is to ask the questions that open the door to a new way of looking at a belief, a situation, a child, a moment. And, when that happens, the mind is illuminated. Everything changes. Confidence and direction return.

9/9/08 WDEV Mark Johnson Interview Part I

9/9/08 WDEV Mark Johnson Interview Part II

Thanks again Mark! Look forward to doing it again soon!