Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Praising kids should have a point.

I have to tell you the truth.            
Sitting down to write a post about praising kids is making my skin crawl.

I'm worried about what you, the reader and parent, must be thinking.  I'm imagining that you've already stopped reading and have left the page thinking of me as "one of those people" --the kind of person who thinks we should let kids believe that the sun rises and sets on their behinds.

Good.  You're still reading. Please hear me out and stick with me on this.  I am NOT one of those people!  I promise!

I just happen to think that if I am going to stand behind the idea that kids should be called out on their poor behavior and be held accountable to rules and expectations with consistency, that they also deserve to hear praise and recognition when they get it right.

There.  Now that wasn't so bad or painful to hear, was it?  Turns out, it was pretty easy for me to say, too.

Think about it for a second.  How many times in a day do you think kids are given directions?  How many times a day do you think the average kid might get redirected or asked to do something differently?

What if those times were the only times a kid's behavior was paid attention to?  Care to guess what might happen?

You've got it.

You'd have one heck of a pain in the neck kid on your hands.  If kids can't get your attention positively, they will try to get it negatively.

Teaching kids how to get positive attention starts with praising them and catching them being good.

No, that doesn't mean they should hear a parade of "good jobs" or "nice work" all day long. Statements like that just blow smoke up their said behinds.  You check it off your list but there is no meaning to it.  You aren't mindfully noticing the kid.  Soon, your child will think that you aren't really paying attention or that you are just parroting what "parents are supposed to say".

Want to make praising your kids count for something?  Interested in using good behavior as a teachable moment instead of their bad behavior?

Make the praise statement specific, measurable, and observable.  Simply saying "Good job" doesn't work because it isn't specific enough.  It doesn't teach the child which behavior or skill you'd like to see again. Instead, try "You did such a good job cleaning your room today.  I didn't see any clothes on the floor and was happy not to find any hidden messes in your closets."

Praising kids with specificity shows them that you're really paying attention and that you see them. Here, the child will know that a clean room means all clothes are put away and nothing is shoved out of view.

Next, be sure to tell kids WHY their behavior is good or pleases you. I know what you doubters are thinking.  "Duh! Of course kids know it's good to clean their rooms and listen to their parents".  I disagree.  Yes.  Kids should clean their rooms and yes, they should follow their parents directions but do you really want your kids to listen simply "because (you) said so"?

I don't.      

The idea here is that we give directions and expectations to kids so they learn things.  We are preparing them for the real world.  We want them to learn to clean their rooms so they:

  • Learn to respect their space and their belongings
  • Learn the tasks involved in organizing
  • Learn to respect the space and belongings of others
  • Can feel organized.  Kids perform better in clean, organized environments.  Chaotic and messy environments can lead to chaotic and messy behavior.
When we tell kids to clean their rooms, they think we're doing it for us...because we want our houses clean, because their messes make us crazy.  Yes, both points may be indeed be true but that isn't why we want them to clean their rooms so we have to tell them so.

Next time, try saying "I love that you cleaned your room so well.  Everything is put away.  You're going to get your homework done faster with your desk so neat.  You'll be playing that video game in no time."

It is A LOT.
It annoys me sometimes and I am as verbose as they get.
Just deal with it.  Teaching takes time, patience, and sometimes, lots of words.

Providing kids with the reason why their behavior is good increases the likelihood that they will repeat the behavior.  Developmentally, kids learn empathy in stages.  However, they learn the idea of "what's in it for them" rather quickly.  Teaching kids why being good, working hard, or showing effort helps them out is key to helping kids learn to be internally motivated.

When we praise kids regularly and with specificity, for things they actually showed effort with or took a risk for, they learn to become internally motivated.  They start to make good choices for themselves because they want to benefit themselves.  They start to internalize good decision making. 

Without specificity, without teaching why a kid's choice is a good one, the kid only learns to please adults or to avoid trouble and the actual skill being taught is wholly missed.

I've thrown a lot at you here and I hope I have challenged your thinking at least a little bit.  I know this stuff isn't easy and that is why I am here to help.  If you're struggling with the balance between praising and limit setting, I can help you tow the line.  If you're stuck in analysis paralysis, you can work with me to get untangled.  Kids are tricky. Teaching them is trickier.

Find me at Fresh Start Parenting and let me help.  We can begin today. Starting the new year off feeling more in control of your kids and of your parenting vision sounds really good to me.  How about you?

Until next time,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Parenting Through Your Fear and Sadness

There are a few parenting moments that can hit you like a sucker punch.        

One of the most air-sucking ones is when you hear your child say "I hate you". It usually comes right after you have told your child a consequence for not following a rule or a direction. The two of you are "in it" and your child has used heavy artillery with those three words.

Another moment might come when your child questions a death in the family, a divorce, or other tough time for your family.  You'll see your child hurting or struggling to adjust.

These moments are just awful..  They're heartbreaking. In these moments, your child forgets you only want what's best.  They are only thinking about privileges lost and being forced to deal with changes they didn't want and never asked for.

It's is crucial to push through and Be The Parent.

Hear me on the this. Yes, there are going to be times in parenting when you hear "I hate you". It will sting but you cannot let the moment hold you hostage. Yes, your family may go through something at some point and you will be tempted to "go easy" on your child because "things have been so hard". I get the thinking but it's not what your child really needs.

Kids really do need limits to feel safe. Rules, limits, and a consistent schedule tell your child that an adult is in charge and that you've got this. When their daily structure changes or rules are bent for them, kids sense this and it doesn't build security.  It increases anxiety and worry. 

For them, if things are changing, things must be really bad.  If they see a parent become easily disabled with a momentary outburst, they may initially feel victorious because it's what they think they want.  However, after, when things are calm, they start to wonder: "Who's really in charge here?"

I've written about this before and know I will again. Without limits, kids falter, either emotionally or behaviorally.

It's so important that you not fear your child's rebellion, aggression, or upset.  It feels overwhelming in the moment but it doesn't last.  If you tow the line and hold the boundary, you are giving your child room to settle and gain perspective.  Without that wall, without that limit, kids gets anxious and they start to become unraveled.  There's no way for a child to calm and gain perspective in that anxious state.  Instead, your child will up the ante and increase the acting out behavior until you are forced to respond. 

Setting limits won't compromise your relationship with your child but not setting them could cost you your child's respect.

Remind yourself that this bad mood, this "I hate you" moment is temporary.  It won't last.  Set the limit.  Enforce the rule.  Show your child who's in charge and then he or she can get back to the business of being a kid.

When families go through periods of change, everyone needs time to adjust.  When a grandparent dies, parents divorce or separate, or when there's a financial hardship, the family is forced out of the comfort of regular, everyday schedules.  Make room for this sadness.  Talk about it out loud.  Share your feelings and encourage everyone else to do the same.

You may schedule less things.  You might plan fewer social outings.  All of that is normal, expected, and encouraged.  However, this is NOT the time to back off of rules or expectations.  Homework still needs to get done.  Bedtimes still happen. Rules around TV and other electronics still need to exist.


Because when your world is falling apart and everything is changing, everyone--including us grown-up kids--will feel more comfortable in a predictable environment.  If you give your kids a pass on homework or let disrespectful language pass without acknowledgment, your child has no grounding--no foundation to rely on.  

"Getting back to normal" feels safe for kids.  It builds security and promotes healing.  If the schedule is changing and they don't know what's expected of them, kids will become anxious and as I said above, there is no healing in those moments--only worry.  In order for your kids to heal and find peace amidst the change, they need as much as possible to stay the same. They will crave what is familiar.  It's their grounding and where they will find comfort.

Look, I get it. Rules and limits don't sound warm and fuzzy.  They don't seem as nurturing as a free pass might.  Telling a child who is grieving a loss or missing a parent who lives somewhere else to go to bed might sound heartless.

 Limits can be nurturing and you can add nurturance to limits. 

You can stay in your child's room until he or she falls asleep. You can pass a loving note under the door of a child who is shut away in a bedroom and giving you the silent treatment.  Letting your child know that an adult is in charge makes it easier to go to sleep at night and to school in the morning.  Creating normalcy, or your new normal, will decrease anxiety and worry.  Your child will build resiliency and begin to thrive during a changing time.

Guess what?  As you've heard me say before, we're all just grown-up kids here and what's true for kids is true for us, too.  Schedules and structures help us feel safe, too.  Creating predictability during an unpredictable time will help you, too.

By helping your child heal, you are helping yourself.

This is how you get your parenting win amidst the hardest and most challenging of times.

Until next time,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Just Listen" by Anonymous

Recently, I posted my blog entry on what to do when your child comes home crying.  The most important point that I wanted to stress was the importance of listening to your child without giving immediate advice.

In just a few days, I have heard from several parents just how hard it is to do. I never said it would be easy!  Yet, my conversations with parents have reminded me of one of my favorite poems called "Just Listen".  I have never been able to find out who wrote it.  The most popular mention is that it was written by an anonymous homeless person.

In any case, I share this with you...not to make sitting in the sadness easier to do but perhaps to make it easier to understand.

Just Listen
When I ask you to listen to me                                           
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something
to solve my problem,
you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen.
Don’t talk or do – just hear me.
Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get
you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham
in the same newspaper.
And I can do for myself; I am not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and
But when you accept as a simple fact
that I feel what I feel,
no matter how irrational,
then I can stop trying to convince
you and get about this business
of understanding what’s behind
this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are
obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when
we understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes,
for some people – because God is mute,
and he doesn’t give advice or try
to fix things.
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
for your turn – and I will listen to you.
Author Unknown

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Child Comes Home Crying

Nothing can bring out your inner Mamma or Pappa Bear faster than when your child comes home crying.

You know what I am talking about--the time when your daughter is upset that no one wanted to play with her at recess or the time your son is upset because friends of his made plans without him.

It's hard for any kid to escape childhood without hearing "I don't want to be your friend anymore" or "Other kids will stop talking to me if I stay friends with you". You know the hurt your child is feeling. 

You've felt it. 

For the moment, your child's heart is broken and yours is, too.  

It's scary sitting in that moment.  You feel pressure to "say the right thing" or "have the right answer".  You're thinking to yourself "I've got one shot at this.  Don't let me screw it up".

You want your child's hurt to evaporate quickly and you want to be the one to make the hurt go away.

Of course you do.  You're the parent and that's exactly how you're supposed to feel! Your child is going through what one of my college professors used to call "a little trial of childhood".  Kids need these life lessons to understand relationships, to develop resiliency, and to learn how to cope when life doesn't go their way.

In these instances, I am not talking about bullying, abuse, or a pattern of your child being mistreated. Those situations require a different type of parent involvement.  I am talking about the kid hurts that come with every day living.

Let's face it.  As adults, we usually stink at "breaking up" with our friends.  If we don't want to hang out with a certain neighbor or go to coffee with the town gossip, we become masters at artful dodging and convenient excuses.

Kids don't have that level of "sophistication".  They haven't learned how to avoid conflict.  They call it like they see it and as a result, other kids often get hurt.  Sometimes, the hurt kid will be yours.

The challenge here is to not have an exaggerated reaction.  If your child is coming to you with hurt feelings, you are already doing something right.  You are already the safe place for your child to seek comfort so take comfort in that and try to avoid having a huge, emotional reaction.

Any large reaction on your part may inhibit your child from expressing him/herself

Kids don't want you to worry . They fear that you'll fly off the handle and do something crazy that will make the situation worse for them.  They are also measuring your response as a barometer for how they should be responding.  They'll decide if they are being "too sensitive" by how you react.

Stay calm.  Steady.  Use a calm voice and say something like "Aw, kids can be so mean sometimes.  I used to hate when I got my feelings hurt at school. I'd have to hold it in all day until I came home.  Tell me about it.  What happened?" 

Just listen and hear your child's story.  Don't problem solve. Ask questions and learn how your child is experiencing this.  As I said in a tip recently, it is best not to problem solve, especially in the moment. Just be there to comfort and soothe.  Validate.

Once your child has calmed down a bit, ask if they'd like some help figuring out what to do next. They may say no and that's ok.  What's important is that they know they can talk to you.  Try not to rush in and talk to other adults on behalf of your child.  This is your child's hurt and he/she needs the time and space to figure out how to deal. 

It shouldn't surprise you that kids are very much like us grown up kids.  They will want to avoid, brush the hurt under the table, and pretend it never happened.  I think that's ok.  Your child needs to find his/her own way. 

You can offer an alternative for consideration, though.  You can tell you child that you respect his choice while also suggesting something else that is more consistent with your point of view.  You can explain that it is really brave to confront people or situations that hurt our feelings.  Offer different ways you might have your child's back while still allowing him/her to determine the response.

This is also a good time for your child to learn about natural consequences.
Hang on.  I am not talking about consequencing your child. I am talking about creating a teachable moment out of the situation.  You can walk your child through how it might go if they just ignore the problem.  Likewise, you can play out how it might go if he/she were to confront it.  You might need to become the master of "Plan B". If your child has plans to attend a party with the person who was hurtful, going to that party presents new challenges and your child will need your ideas for how to approach it or may need your support in not going. 

Of course no parent wants their child to miss a party because some other kid was mean.  However, this may be your child's turn to learn a natural consequence.  By not facing the conflict head on, he/she has to miss a party.  A tough life lesson for any parent to witness but an important one for your child to have.

Hurts like these are so hard to navigate.  If you stay calm, validate, and offer possible solutions without forcing your answer, you will open the dialogue.  Your child will learn new ways of moving through hurt and your parent/child relationship will strengthen.

I get it.  Life is rarely this cut and dried.  If you are struggling with navigating this maze, let me help.

I can give you the tools necessary to help your child.

Until next time,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why You Yell At Your Kids and Ways to Stop

No one wants to yell at their kids. No one wakes up in the morning and says "Great!  Another day, another opportunity to yell".      

Yelling at kids is about a release of tension...your tension.  You are having thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are causing frustration, self doubt, and maybe even anger.  These are normal feelings that come with regular, everyday parenting.  It is normal to feel frustrated when you have asked nicely three times and the little person you are talking to ignores you.  It makes sense that you are angry when you are watching one of your children hit the other.  Of course you are going to doubt yourself when you watch your child do the very thing you said not to.   

Those feelings matter. They count.

However, if you read anything about parenting these days, everything is so kid-centric.  It's like they forgot about the parents in the parenting discussions.  You rarely read that it's ok to be angry.  Instead you hear reminders about being grateful.  No one ever really gives you permission to dislike your kids every once in a while.  Instead, you are quickly reminded that you "dislike their behavior".  Instead of screaming, you are encouraged to be mindful.

This is all good advice but it exists without a context.  The underlying message that parents often receive, or hear, is that they shouldn't be frustrated.  They just need to understand their kids better.  They are told that being grateful can replace anger.  You are cajoled into thinking that sleep deprivation is the reason why you might be more impatient.

All of that is very kumbaya.  It's also incredibly unrealistic.

As parents, as people, as grown up kids, you feel things.  You think things.  Sometimes those thoughts and feelings aren't about light and gratitude.  Sometimes they are dark, scary, and vulnerable.  You have to give yourself permission to have and express those thoughts.  It's in the squashing them--in denying and ignoring them--that we create the perfect storm.  We deny angry, upset, and resentful feelings. We tell ourselves we shouldn't feel that way. After all, "they are just kids" or "this is what kids are supposed to do".  We pretend those thoughts and feelings aren't there.  We shove them down and out to the side.  They build and they build and they build.

Then, WHAM!  One child makes one mistake, doesn't listen, or just gets on your last nerve and suddenly you are yelling.  For you, it may feel like it has come out of nowhere but in reality, it has come from the storage chest of dark feelings.
The key to not yelling at your kids is to give yourself permission to matter.

Give your feelings time, space, and attention.  Release your thoughts and feelings from the storage chest at neutral times so that you are not ready to explode at the drop of the hat.  Whatever helps you counts...exercise, talking to friends, therapy,  hobbies, etc.  Making time for you to release those feelings in a planful way will quickly reduce the number of times you yell.  They will serve as tension reducers and you will have more patience because you will have made room for patience to enter the picture.    

Yelling at anyone is often about regaining control. We feel out of control of a situation and we yell as a misguided attempt to regain control.  What this means is that you haven't lost control when you're yelling.  You have a feeling of losing control that leads to yelling.  That is your window to do something different....to catch yourself feeling the loss of control and again, allowing yourself to do something about it.    

If you are in a moment of frustration with your child and you are distracted by thoughts of what others are going to think of you, worries about being a "bad parent", or fears that are fatalistic in nature, you are thinking about the wrong things. These thoughts fuel the control monster that tells you that you have to win this argument, get your child to follow directions, etc. 

When it becomes more about your control than the child's behavior, you have already lost the battle. 

Yelling is what comes next as you impulsively seek to reduce your tension. Yelling is your fear talking.  Yelling is your worry about losing or compromising your influence in your child's life.  Yelling is about a "now or never" mentality where you irrationally see every moment as more crucial than it actually is.

The key here is to take it down a notch.  If it is literally life or death, yell first and ask questions later.

For everything else, allow yourself a second to think things through, to regroup.  Pace a few steps.  Take a few deep breaths.  Challenge yourself to slow down. Yes, cleaning the playroom is important and your child must learn to follow that direction. In the big picture, that room does not have to be cleaned right now, in this moment.  You can let it go for a second while you calm down and get yourself in a place to get back to it.

The sense of urgency--the need for it to be now--the fear of losing control. Those are thinking errors and those beliefs are why you are yelling more than you'd like.

If you give yourself the two seconds necessary to challenge that thinking and to make a plan for when you'll reduce that tension, you won't feel the need for yelling.

So much about coping better is planning better. 

Kids are 24 hour need machines. It's easy to scoff at the idea of taking time for yourself "to deal with your feelings" when you are surrounded by demanding needs and competing schedules.  However, if you do take the time to plan, to cope and deal, you will find that you do everything better.  You'll be more mindful. Gratefulness will find its way to you.  You'll have an easier time finding your breath and you won't feel driven to impulsively lose it by yelling.

See, parents, you need to parent. The only way you can do that without yelling is to take care of yourself. 
Taking care of the parent takes care of the kid.

Look, this stuff isn't easy and yes, it can be so much easier said than done but it is possible.  I have a lot of tools and tricks in my tool bag to help.  Getting help and fighting the notion that the "perfect parent would just know what to do" is a great way to take care of yourself and a great way to become a better parent. 

Give me a call or send me an email and let's get started.

Until next time,

Monday, October 28, 2013

When Your Child Has Oppostional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

If your child has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), you are all too familiar with the chaos and daily struggle this issue can bring to your family and home life.

Children with ODD struggle with frequent, angry outbursts, persistent difficulty following rules or directions, and can be downright mean and spiteful on a repetitive basis.

Every child tantrums or melts down now and then.  For a child living with ODD, tantrums and meltdowns are a daily-and sometimes hourly-occurrence.  The acting out behavior disrupts the household and interrupts the parent-child relationship.

In really dark times, parents will identify that as much as they love their kids, it can be really hard to like them. As a result, these parents become more and more isolated as they avoid public outings that could put their child's behavior and their parenting on display.

ODD is about control.  The child feels out of control of their environment and uses conflict and struggle as a way of gaining control.  Parents will often be deceived.  They think their child wants to win the argument.  In actuality, the child just wants the argument!! It's not about winning for the kid.  It's about getting a reaction out of others around him/her.

So, how do you deal? By controlling your reactions.  If you know your child is looking to instigate or antagonize you, your best recourse is to not visibly react.  Stay calm and be matter of fact.  Deliver the direction and consequence without yelling, cajoling, bargaining, or exaggerated body language. 

It may be mystifying given your child's behavior but he/she is looking to engage with you when acting like that.  You want to teach your child that he/she needs to seek positive attention in order to engage with you. When your child is behaving, listening, being nice, and following directions, you engage with emotion and praise.  When your child isn't seeking your attention positively, you disengage emotionally and focus on correcting the behavior.

Given that it is often the conflict that an ODD child is seeking, you want to work on eliminating and reducing control battles.  This does not mean that you don't have rules.  On the contrary, your child should know the family rules and should be held accountable each time a rule isn't followed.

However, tacking on time to a time out or extending the punishment further with each subsequent offense is pointless.  Focus on the first direction and follow through of that consequence. Make room for face saving or antagonistic behaviors following a consequence.  It'll annoy the heck out of you, but you're just going to have to ignore them.

Again, your child is using your reaction as a way of getting a connection.  Multiple consequences in a single, acting out incident signifies a loss of parental control for the child. You can't pick every battle. When you do, the ODD is winning and neither you nor your child are in control.

I know from the parents I work with how isolating it can be to have a child with ODD.  You sigh and feel a pit in your stomach just thinking about a trip to the grocery store or to a restaurant with your child.  Be careful not to give the ODD that much control in your lives. 

You can and should live publically.  You just need to have a plan.  Your child needs to know the rules before leaving the house and you need to know what you'll do and how you'll respond if your child acts out.

It won't be comfortable and may be embarrassing but you are the parent.  You are at the top of this family and your child needs to know and learn that consistently.  Mastering ODD is about maintaining a structure, being consistent, and controlling your reactions. 

This is by no means easy or simple.  It is exhausting and frustrating but I know relief can be found.  If you are struggling with this issue in your family, it is hard to manage on your own without professional support.  I may like blogging but no blog is so good that it can offer all of the necessary support, tools, and tips needed to get a handle on this maddening condition.

Is this you?  Your child?  Your family life?  If so, I am sorry for that.  I know you are scared and overwhelmed. I also know that there are tools and skills that can help each of you in this

At Fresh Start Parenting, I offer straightforward parent coaching services.  I will provide you with clear answers to your parenting dilemmas so you can regain control over your family and restore your relationship with your child.
Call today.

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Talking With Kids Tip: Don't Problem Solve

When your child or teen comes to you upset and overwhelmed, it will often be with something us grown-up kids would be tempted to minimize and quickly problem solve.

Instead, make a promise to yourself that you will do anything but problem solve.

Listen.  Validate. Support.  Encourage.  Praise.                       

Your child will feel heard and connected to you. 

Then, later, try saying something like "You know, I was thinking about that problem you had. I had an idea.  Would you like to hear it?"

Your kids will buy in more to your idea because they will feel connected to you around the problem instead of feeling like you are just telling them what to do.

We're talking about talking to kids this week.  Join me on Facebook to continue to the conversation.

If you have a question about this or other parenting topic, let me know and your question may appear with my answer in an upcoming blog.

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Raising Respectful Kids

I saw this quote on my Facebook page.  Pithy and witty, isn't it? Facebook does that well.  It's the quotes like these that get lots of likes, shares, and comments. 

Truth: I almost thought about sharing it myself.

It's so easy to get on the bandwagon of criticizing someone else's parenting. To preach and point fingers. It makes a lot of people feel pretty darned good about themselves, I imagine.

Only one problem.  It sure as heck isn't all that helpful, is it? Quotes like this only tell people what they already know. 

Honestly, do we really think a parent saw this and thought to him/herself "Gee, what a great idea.  I hadn't thought about teaching my kids respect.  I should get right on that."?

Of course not.  What people really need to know is how.  How do I teach my kids respect?

This is where it gets tricky and the Facebook newsfeeds become eerily quiet on the subject.

Funny how that is, huh?

The key to raising respectful kids is easy in theory and challenging in execution.

After all, respect has many different parts. It's certainly not something that can be brushed over easily with some flippant little meme.

Depending on your definition of respect, it can involve:
  • Word tone
  • Word choice
  • Body language
  • Not teasing or making fun of others
  • Being nice when you don't feel like it
  • Managing hurt and disappointed feelings without taking it out on someone
  • Allowing others their privacy
  • Manners
  • Taking care of someone else's belongings.
  • Talking to people in authority
Not so easy now, is it?

Raising respectful kids starts with modeling and is cemented with accountability.

There.  Let that sit and marinate for a second.

Still with me?

Kids will start to learn respectful ways of moving through the world before they can even talk.  They will do so by watching and learning from you. How you talk to family, friends, and others in the community will impact how your child does.

Unfortunately, lessons like these aren't selective.  They don't just learn ways of moving through the world when parents are on their best behavior. They are watching: how you manage frustration and difficult feelings, how you talk to sales and service people, how you manage conflicts.  The times in life when we are tested are the very times kids are perking up and tuning in to what we do and how we handle things.

Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not just about mimicking.  You don't put a child in front of you while you walk through life and hope they learn what they need to.

If you want your kids to model after you, you have to explain yourself.

After interactions with others, share with kids why you did what you did and what prompted your choices.

Example: If after waiting in line for a while, you say to the cashier, "Seems like you've been busy.  Thanks for working so hard", don't just hope your child sees your thoughtfulness.  Explain it.  Tell your child "You know, I was so frustrated waiting in that line.  It took a long time to put our order in and I was hungry.  I could see that cashier was trying her best, though.  That's why I made sure to say something nice".

Teaching by example means turning kids toward the direction of what you want them to learn.

After, try asking them if they have questions about you did.  Maybe ask what they might have said to a cashier who was clearly having a long day. Questions like that promote thoughtfulness.

Let kids learn from your mistakes. An especially powerful time to teach respect is after you've been disrespectful.  Walk kids through what you did, why you did it, and what you wish you had done instead.  If your disrespectful moment was directed at your kids, apologize.  Model for them respectful ways of making an apology.

Doing this turns what could be a guilt-ridden parenting fail into a teachable moment.

Another strategy, teach respect with practice. If you and your child are about to do or try something new, talk about it beforehand and include your expectations for respectful ways of acting.  Have kids practice how they might be.  It sets them up for success.

Modeling, prompts, directions, and teaching are all important components of teaching respect. Unfortunately, they hold little value if not backed up with accountability.

I think this is where a lot of parents struggle.  How do we teach kids that using a polite tone is important by grounding them?  Is there any value from having them re-do a scenario over showing more respect?  How do you manage situations where you are hearing about your child's behavior second-hand?

It's these questions, big and small, that trip parents up and have them talking in circles with their kids.  Sometimes, there is a lot of conversation with very little action.

Think about it for a second. As adults, the biggest consequence we face when we choose to be disrespectful is usually to the relationship in question.  If we snap at a spouse, that creates a divide.  If we use sarcasm in public, we aren't treated warmly and few want to go out of their way to help us. 

Disrespect causes rifts, distance, and conflicts.  When we choose disrespect, our needs will often go unmet.

These are all natural consequences to disrespectful behavior and what you should be focusing on at times when your child chooses to be disrespectful.

Pay attention to the behavior your child chose.  Which relationships did it impact and how?

Tune into that and then deliver a relevant consequence to your child.

Example: If you ask your kids to do a favor for you and you are met with a sigh of resistance, teeth sucking, and a sarcastic comment, your first instinct may be to raise your voice, reprimand, and scold.

Not a bad option but here's a better one: "Bobby, all I asked was that you pick up your room before bedtime.  I am not sure why that request was worthy of all of this complaining and procrastinating. I wish you had simply said yes and done it.  However, I get it.  Favors for me that you don't care about can suck sometimes.  That's fine.  However, I am not going to be able to bring you to the hobby shop like we talked about.  I don't want to go out of my way for you given the way you just spoke to me".

It's in the teaching of the effect that disrespectful behavior has on kids that will teach the lesson.

Sure, we all wish kids could be altruistic and pleasant about chores simply because we've asked.  That isn't always a reasonable expectation for kids.  Many times, they are motivated by what is best for them and what meets their needs.

Consistently holding privileges and favors from kids when they choose to move through the world disrespectfully teaches them interdependence....they learn that their actions and inactions impact others and if they want their needs met, they have to respect that relationship.

Modeling with explanation.  Practice.  Accountability. 

Master these three things CONSISTENTLY and you'll get closer to raising a more respectful child.

Feeling stuck in the weeds on this?  Confused by the myriad shades of grey?

I've been helping parents like you raise respectful kids and know I can help you.

Give me a call and we can start today.

Until next time,

Monday, September 30, 2013

In Support of Dads: Joining the Parenting Equality Conversation

In May, when Fresh Start Parenting was in its infancy, I wrote a well-intentioned blog encouraging dads to "lean in" to their parenting roles and to play a part in the parenting discussions. I wanted dads to be involved in any parenting discussion I held and wanted them to feel welcome. I'd just been inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's book called "Lean In" and made an overzealous attempt to link her conversation to the issues currently facing dads.

In hindsight, that entry kind of sucked.  I indirectly reinforced one of the biggest myths in the parenting discussions today--the idea that dads have to be pushed into the conversations because they wouldn't want to be there, otherwise.

While that is certainly true for some dads, I am not sure they are my target audience.  I'd rather reach, support, and encourage the dads who are already trying to join the conversation but are having a hard time getting a seat at the table.

If you read today's blogs or parenting magazines, they are largely directed at mothers and are mostly written by mothers.  Until recently, the "Parenting" section of the Huffington Post was even located in a sub-section of the women's column.  In an unfriendly climate like this, it can be hard for a dad to get a word in edge-wise.

In ways large and small, we as a society minimize the role of dads in parenting.  Many courts do it in divorce settlements by limiting visitation to Wednesdays and every other weekend for dads.  We see this in popular culture, social media, and anywhere we look, if we are willing to be uncomfortable for the time it takes to do so.

Parenting Equality is done with intention and discussion.                    
Moms have to contribute to the parenting equality conversation.  If dads are the only ones doing the talking in a conversation where women dominate, they'll never be heard.  If moms start spreading the message by including dads and talking about issues facing dads, the playing field almost immediately becomes more level than it was yesterday.

If moms see something, they should say something.  When dismissive comments are being made about dads and their importance to kids and families, that ignorance should be confronted rather than shared as witty Facebook commentary.

Likewise, we're not doing dads any favors when we highlight their parenting as ''newsworthy". Last week, I saw a YouTube video of a dad singing a lullaby to his baby.  The caption was something like "awesome dad". Really?  Would a mom get an "awesome mom" caption if caught on video singing a lullaby? We cannot capture dads parenting as the exception or something out of the ordinary. When we do, we contribute to the ignorance that causes parenting inequality.

Ask a dad what he thinks.  Have a kid question?  Stuck about something?  Consider how things could change if you called a dad and asked him what he thought before calling another mother.  Whenever possible, use your behavior to challenge perceptions.  Asking a dad for advice does exactly that.

Stop using phrases like "Man Up".  It's disrespectful and shuts down any worthwhile conversation before it even begins.  Looking for a partner and teammate in parenting?  Be a partner.  Be a team player. Ask nicely.  Give feedback as you'd want to hear it.  Resent the idea of having to ask?  How does it feel when your tasks and chores are just assumed? Parenting equality means talking about tasks and dividing them up.  Conversation.  Dialogue.  Respect.

Be prepared to lose control.  Men and women do things differently.  Dads are going to have different ways of accomplishing things.  There are different ways to get to the same destination.  If you're clear on shared values and intentions, learn to let go.  Trust dads to make good choices and trust them to consult with you when things go awry.

Remember when you were the new kid on the playground. See a dad out with his kid?  Invite them to join you in whatever activity you might be doing with your own child.  Make introductions.  No one wants to jump into a situation where they might be or feel unwelcome.  Include dads in activities rather than assuming they would rather opt out or be by themselves.

Support dads in their efforts to be seen, heard, and respected.  Follow, like, and share blogs written by dads. Read their blogs. Find them on Facebook.  Join their conversations.  Get to know them, what they think, and their ideas.  They have some good ones.  Some dad bloggers I have really been enjoying lately:
The conversation will continue here at Fresh Start Parenting and I look forward to you joining me.

Until next time,

Friday, September 27, 2013

Today's Tip: Limit setting feels safe for kids

Ever wonder what it would be like to drive on a road with no speed limit?

Admittedly, it sounds pretty fun.  Speeding around windy roads, top down, radio blaring.     

Until a car whizzes by you at breakneck speed and the one in front of you is suddenly doing 20.

Then, quickly, fun becomes scary. You don't know the rules and freeze.

That's what it's like for kids and limit setting.

At first it's great being the kid whose parents are so cool.
The first feelings of freedom are exhilarating.
Their smiles convince parents that they are happy.
Parents mistake happiness for the close relationship with their kids that they always wanted.

Then, in a moment, in a heartbeat, it all changes.
The child finds himself in a place unanticipated, where the rules are unclear and the temptations are plenty.

The child becomes scared and starts pressing boundaries.
They're looking for the limit. They don't know it but they are desperate for it.  They need the enough is enough button.  They feel out of control and that scares kids.

Limits feel safe for kids.  Limits, rules, and consequences show kids that it's ok to go out and explore that big and scary world because a parent in in charge, watching, keeping an eye out.

Sure, a kid feeling safe doesn't always look like jubilation.  Sometimes it looks sad, disappointed, or angry. You might doubt yourself and start to worry that you're a bad parent.

That's ok. Ride it out.

You're still doing good.
In fact, you're doing great,

Kids develop real and lasting closeness with the adults that make them feel safe.  Parents avoid or get nervous around setting limits, boundaries, and rules for any number of reasons. Everyone avoids it from time to time.  It's not easy!  Sometimes it's because they are tired and worn out.  Other times, they just want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, they get caught in fear of losing the relationship.

If this is you today, relax.

Just hit the rewind button, find your do-over, and set the limits you know to be necessary.

If you see yourself here and relate but are stuck in the how, that's ok.

Give me a call.  In just one phone session or office visit, you can make a change that makes all the difference.

Until next time,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Overwhelmed? Over Your Head? Me, too.


Hi, Parents.

I had quite the morning.

At the gym today, my instructor wanted me to do this.                     
Nope. Not me. Not today.

Yes.  Me. Seriously.

I wasn't just over my head literally.  Trying something like this put me over my head emotionally.  I got all caught up in the idea that I was about to be embarrassed.  That the kids around me who were 15 years younger were about to watch the old one wipe out. 

I tried.  One leg got maybe 65 percent up with the other one maybe 50.

I tried again.  I was supposed to hold the damned position for 20 seconds.  Then, I was supposed to do it again for Eight. More. Times.

I know. Crazy. 

Last week, in the same gym, I left feeling like a badass.  I was doing the thing I didn't think I could do.

Today wasn't last week.

I could feel tears prickling at the back of my eyes.  My inner critic was telling me I bit off more than I could chew.  Another voice inside mocked me for ever wanting to challenge myself in the first place.

It was easier when I cared less.  When I wasn't trying.  Then, my instructor, at least ten years younger than me, is standing near me. I know that in actuality, he was having my back. He was keeping an eye on me.  He really is a good guy and he really does believe in me.  I know this. 

All I felt was fear.

I didn't want to play anymore. I didn't want to be the badass today.

I was going to embarrass myself in front of him. He must be asking himself  "What is she even doing here?"

Because my head was literally facing the ground, I couldn't see any of the young whipper snappers doing their thing.  In my head, they were all perfectly erect.  I was the poor sucker with legs flailing all about and who gravity was deeply betraying.

I wanted to leave.  To run away home to the safe, predictable treadmill. 

I kept trying though.

I hated every. single. second.

Bet ya thought I was about to get all kumbaya on you, didn't you?


That was only 15 minutes into class and I had 45 more to go. I was in the weeds.  I was miserable.  Self-conscious.  Doubting.  Embarrassed.  Just overwhelmed and wanting to get the hell out of Dodge. 

Where is Dodge, anyway?  I might need directions for next time.

So, class finally ended and I got to the safety of my car and gave a few tears their release.  Called my sister.  She got me into this whole fitness thing, anyway, and she's been taking risks and trying new things, too.

I started to feel better emotionally but my body was hurting.  Feelings and body were both feeling pretty tender, actually.

Yep.  Rough morning. Not my finest.

You've had them, too, right?  That's my story of why you parents come here. 

Because sometimes it is so overwhelming.  You have your values.  You know what's important to you.  You know why you are trying so hard to communicate better.  You're working to get that consistent limit setting thing down. 

You also want a clean house.  To have the luxury of pee-ing in private.  Maybe even get a shower in at least once a day.

Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.  You put in all of the effort and have the best of intentions but you experience an epic fail in execution.

I get it.  Those days just suck.  They hurt.  They make you cry.  They make you go to this crazy blogosphere for information because you have convinced yourself you don't know anything at all.

I hope those days don't happen for you very often.  If they do, I hope you'll consider finding support here or on my Facebook page.

In the meantime, remember this: Own it.  Believe it.

Sometimes, Parents, It's all in the trying.

You showed up. Took your chance. It didn't work but you tried.  Trying is better than not even showing up.  It's better than not being present.  It's better than returning to a mindless place where you didn't think about or worry about your parenting values.

Every day.  You show up.  You try. That counts. A lot.

Some days, it's everything.

On days like today, you'll feel like me.  Battered. Bruised. Hurting physically and/or emotionally.

You'll need to take a break and have TLC.  Fall TV is back and I get remote control access tonight so I know where I'll be and I'll love every second of it.

Take care of you.  Be proud of yourself.  Take it easy.  And- when you're ready,

Try again.

Know another parent who could benefit from what you've found here?  I encourage you to consider sharing it with your friends and passing the support on.

Until next time,

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fresh Start Moment: Family Dinner Night

Uh Oh.

I may be about to become one of those parenting bloggers that make me roll my eyes. It's nothing you don't already know and it might give you a pang of parenting guilt.  Don't waste time or energy feeling guilty.  Find your "fresh start" here.

Sorry.  That was too easy.  Couldn't help myself.  Plus it has such a nice ring to it.

Here's the deal.

If you're reading the parenting pages, studies, and blogs, you already know this.

Family Dinner Night Strengthens Families.        

Every family member. 
At the same time.
Sharing a meal.
A few times a week.

Kids who regularly eat dinner with their families have:
  • Better Grades
  • Fewer incidents of mental health diagnoses
  • Closer relationships with their parents

You get the picture.

I am not going to try to convince you of this.  You can find your own studies to support it and I am sure find disclaimers to the contrary if you don't have buy-in.

What's my point here, then?

To provide you with TWENTY PROBLEM SOLVING SOLUTIONS to this conundrum.

My story is that you are already sold on the idea of Family Dinner Night.  You should don't know how.

Here goes.  Hopefully one or two of these strategies will work for you and your family:
  1. Be realistic in your goals. Set yourself up for success.  If it's rare for you all to eat together, aim to increase your family dinner nights by one a week for a month.  Once you accomplish that, you can check in with your values and see if you want to add more
  2. It's ok to say no. In fact, you'll have to.  In order to make Family Dinner Night non-negotiable, something is going to have to give and you're going to have to set boundaries over the time.
  3. Make it potluck. I stole this from a parent I know.  She and her friend have kids in the same activity after school.  They gather together afterward for meals and share cooking responsibilities.
  4. Cook in bulk. Things like sauces, casseroles, and soups can easily be cooked in double-batches without doubling the work load.  Freeze one batch for time crunched nights.
  5. Get the kids involved. Is there anything that your kids can do to help that won't pile on more for you?  If so, get them involved.  They are more likely to eat things they have helped make.
  6. It doesn't have to be dinner. Family breakfast counts.
  7. Take the chore out of it. If family dinner becomes hassle for you or the kids, it is just going to become a point of contention.  Create family games and traditions for conversation.
  8. Mark it on the schedule. Your PTA meeting is on the schedule. Soccer practice is on the schedule.  Putting Family Dinner Night on the schedule shows its importance and reinforces the value you've placed on it.
  9. Eating out is ok.  Take-out is, too.  Of course, these things are best in moderation for family health and financial comfort but sometimes you just have to go with convenience and that's ok.
  10. If you miss a week, make a point of rescheduling. Non-negotiable means exactly that. Things can get crazy but when you let something go without rescheduling, it makes it all the more easier to habitually take it off the list when competing responsibilities come up.
  11. Include everyone in the planning. If every family member gets to pick a meal occassionally, everyone will have the opportunity to be the center of attention. This isn't just for kids! Parents, too!
  12. ALL phones and screens are in another room.   I just read that the average dinner time is 16 (?!?!?!) minutes.  Anything can wait 16 minutes.
  13. Avoid tense discussions. Kids and adults alike will value the time if the tone is light, conversational, and fun.  No one wants to get in trouble at dinner.  Don't ask if the homework has been done or if the dry cleaning has been picked up. 
  14. Silence is ok. Sure, we all want and hope for good conversation but let's face it, we run out of things to talk about.  The conversation is only part of the point.  The real point is the family being together with consistency.  It's the consistency that creates the changes not the conversation.
  15. Gather resources. Ask your friends for their strategies. Ask your kids for ideas.  And yes, you can go to the blogosphere for tips. Just make sure you're guilt-proof first!
  16. It's a value.  It's important.  Say so.  Reinforce that this is important to you by talking about it out loud.  Don't keep it a secret and try to sneak family dinner night onto your kids without them noticing. You want them to value this time so say so. Doing so just may make it important to them, too.
  17. Manage inevitable mealtime conflicts calmly and with consistency.  This is a blog entry in itself but the family rules for dinner should be known and followed by kids and adults alike. When they aren't, be clear about the limit and consequence but don't belabor the moment. Unless the behavior is entirely disruptive and can't be ignored, label the direction and consequence and move on.
  18. Don't trip on the obstacles. Sure amidst parent work schedules and kid activities, prioritizing dinner time is a challenge. Don't tell yourself it's impossible or you will start to believe that. Trust your creativity and capability with problem solving.
  19. Create theme nights.  Tired of coming up with ideas?  If you do an international foods night, a breakfast for dinner night, a food color theme, etc, you create a game out of the drudgery.
  20. Keep your eye on the prize.  It's easy to sacrifice family dinner night when soccer and dance practices are at the same time as another parent is working late.  That's ok.  Remind yourself of what you want and why you want it.  Thinking about better grades, better relationships with your kids, etc will make hurdling those obstacles more than worthwhile.

Find the Fresh Start Moment You Need Here

Monday, September 16, 2013

When Your Child or Teen Cuts

The moment you learn your child has been cutting is surely paralyzing. Of course, you are going to rush and call in the troops and get your child some help and counseling.  That's a good idea.

You're also going to want to "do something"More than likely, that call to a therapist won't initially feel like you're doing enough. You're going to want to know what to do, how to respond, and what to say in the moment.

First thing's first. Try not to panic.  I know.  Easier said than done. I worked with teens who cut for ten years and my heart raced all ten of those years when I saw cutting behavior.  Staying calm isn't easy but it is crucial.

Let me back up.                          

Cutting is a behavior that has been seen in kids, teens, and adults.  It is a behavior that people use to harm themselves when they are feeling an incredible amount of emotional pain.  While tough to understand from the outside looking in, people who cut say that it numbs them.  They feel a release of the pain they are holding inside. It can be seen in people who experience chronic or clinical depression but it can also occur as a response to singular, stressful events.

When a child or teen first starts to cut, it is often experimental.  They have heard about it from other kids or from news stories and they try it out to see if it works.  Some kids may try it once and never try it again.  Others will find a fascination, a sense of calm, or a reward from cutting and will continue.

The reason for staying calm is two-fold:
  1. If you find out your child has been cutting, you'll want and need the lines of communication to be open.  They will be more likely to talk to you about their cutting, if you're calm, curious, and open to discussion.  Extreme shock, fear, or anger will shut them down.
  2. Some will dismissively say that kids who cut are looking for attention. I argue that it is much more complicated than that.  If a child has resorted to cutting as a way to engage others, he or she is in a fragile state and deserves a response.  That being said, a grandiose reaction to learning your child has cut will increase the likelihood that he/she sees the behavior as a way to get others to respond.  In psychobabble terms, I call this secondary gain.  In parent terms, it will feel like you're being manipulated.
Using a neutral tone, ask your child about the cuts and if he/she is alright.  If medical attention is necessary, calmly apply first aid.  Try not to be nurturing about it.  You don't want to inadvertently send the message that this behavior will earn nurturance.  Ideally, you'll sit with your child and assist him/her while he/she applies first aid themselves.

Once everything has been medically treated, this is where you calmly talk to your child.  Using a nurturing and non-judgmental tone, calmly ask about the behavior.  Something like "Billy, it's hard seeing your arm cut up like that.  Are you ok? This looks like you did this to yourself. What's going on?"

Be prepared for the "I don't know" or "I don't want to talk about it".  Try saying something like "I don't blame you.  This must be so confusing for you.  I want you to know that I love you.  Your cuts tell me you have been feeling pretty alone these days.  Do I have that right?"

Another response is to offer them the education I just offered you by saying something like "While I don't know much about cutting, I do know that kids who do it are usually feeling pretty bad about something and some kids feel better when they cut.  What's it been like for you?"

You want to express curiosity and get information.  Lots of kids cut for different reasons and you want to know what's going on with your own kid.

Cutting is usually not a suicidal gesture.  More often than not, it is an expression of pain. However, don't take any chances and clearly ask: "I worry that this means you want to die.  Have your been thinking about killing yourself?"

Whew, that is a painful one.  Take a deep breath.  That's a question no parent wants to ever ask but asking creates safety, is preventative, and assures your child that you can handle the tough talks like this one.

If they try to sneak out of the conversation or avoid it, it's ok to give them space and not push the issue.  However, be strong with rules and boundaries until the conversation has been had.

You might say something like "I know this isn't going to be easy for us to talk about.  You can take your time with it.  However, until we do talk about it and I understand what is going on for you, I am going to be keeping a closer eye on you.  Your bedroom door will need to be open and I may ask to see your arms and legs for new cuts".

Kids will tell you they feel punished by such limits.  That's ok.  

Limits tell kids that they are safe and that an adult is in charge. 

Ignore their resistance. 

In most cases, they want your help in stopping.  Think about how you found out about the behavior.  Many kids "get caught". This is their way of asking for help.  Again, you may feel manipulated.  Just remind yourself they are limited in the moment and they will get stronger and more capable over time.

You've heard this from me before and you'll hear it again: Once you have an idea of what's been hurting your child and why the cutting has happened, in no uncertain terms, tell your child what you want him or her to think. You might say something like "I'm really upset to know that you've been hurting yourself.  Life is going to suck and you're going to be in pain again.  I don't want you dealing by cutting yourself. I want you to know you can talk to me.  If not me, another safe adult"

Start to engage your child in a conversation about alternatives to cutting.  Make suggestions and encourage your child to come up with some.

Here are some ideas:
  • Talking to safe adult
  • Getting therapy
  • squeezing ice cubes
  • rubbing ice on places where they normally cut
  • ripping up a phone book (remember those?)
  • punching a pillow
  • screaming
  • taking a shower
  • going for a run
Join my email list if you need more suggestions than this.  Ten years of working with this behavior gave me a long one.

Once you have talked initially about the cutting and alternatives, you're going to hit the "Now What?" moment.

The first goal, almost more than stopping the behavior, is to keep the lines of communication open with your kid.  Literally create a "Now What" plan or something like that, if necessary, where you lay out what happens next. You certainly don't have to get that formulaic but you want an agreement between you and your child that you are working together to find alternatives to cutting and ways of dealing with the original hurt.

It should be clear that the talk doesn't stop here.

In your agreement, include times of touching base, expectations of honesty, and how you're going to be following up.

You might be tempted to take away the sharp objects your child or teen has been using.  If this is consistent with your parenting values, go ahead.  My take, though, is that sharp objects are everywhere and if a kid is hell-bent on cutting, it's going to happen so taking sharp objects away is a pointless control battle and something parents prefer to feel psychologically safe, themselves

A more powerful response is to say something like "You're going to be working hard not to cut.  That's going to mean that you're going to have to sit with those awful feelings cutting has been helping you avoid. I'd like to help you keep yourself safe.  Would you like me to hold on to whatever you've been using until you feel in control enough to have it again?"

Something like this puts you on the same team, gives the kid control, and serves as a sense of safety for kids and parents, alike.

Lastly, I would encourage you to talk to your kids about NOT talking to friends about cutting. 

Sure, we want kids to talk to their friends about their hurts and frustrations.  However, it creates a high-risk situation when other kids talk to their friends about their cutting.  It is an adult issue and friends will experience undue amount of pressure if they are holding information about your child cutting.  It will increase the sense of drama and crisis.  Be clear with your kids on this.  They may not listen but tell them what you want them to think on the issue, regardless.

Don't get complacent after the initial reveal of this.  Keep checking in on your child and checking for new cuts.  Consider getting some coaching for yourself or therapy for your child on this.

This is a tough topic and one that is ineffectively covered in a single blog post.

If you're dealing with this or know someone who is and think I might be able to help, don't hesitate to find me at www.parentingfreshstart.com.  You don't have to feel lost and you don't have to manage it alone.

Until next time,

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rethink the idea of "Bullyproofing"

Time to face the truth, parents. 

There's no such thing as "bullyproofing".                              

We cannot protect kids from ever feeling hurt, embarrassed, or threatened by another kid.  As much as we hate it, this is happening to kids. Adults need to stop spending energy trying to create some utopia of a "bullyproof" enviornment.

That doesn't mean we stop advocacy, programming, or education about this issue and just give up.  Rather, it means recognizing that there is a time for advocacy and there is time for teaching resilience.

Building resilience in kids is the best way we can help them manage times when the world is cruel.


By telling them what we want them to think.  As you talk to your kids about bullying, share with them what you think about it and why some kids do it.  This is where you share your values with kids about what you think about bullying behavior and ways you'd like your child to respond when feeling attacked or bullied.

After you share what you think, invite your child to do the same.  You might decide to say something like: "I think people who bully have a hard time making friends so sometimes, to be popular, they make fun of someone else. Why do you think kids are mean sometimes?  Do you agree that kids become more popular when they put others down?"

Get a sense of what your child thinks.  This is an issue that is being openly discussed in schools and classrooms.  Kids have opinions about this. They even have ideas on how to fix it.  It's important to know your child's opinion.

Listen to what your child thinks and have a dialogue. Ask questions.  Here, you are introducing the idea that this is something that is ok for your child to talk to you about and you are assuring him/her that it's ok if you have differing opinions.

These conversations don't have to wait until your child is in grade school, either.  It can start with the little ones when they are on playgrounds and in pre-school and get their feelings hurt, even accidentally. 

When your child does get his/ her feelings hurt and comes to you, the best thing you can do is stay off the bully bandwagon. 

Yes, you heard that right. 

Don't jump to an assumption that your child is being bullied whenever his/her feelings get hurt. There is a hyper-awareness in our culture right now to this issue but sometimes the social difficulties that are occurring are NOT bullying.  They are just kids trying to find their way in a confusing social scene and sometimes they make the wrong choice.

However, these acts of deliberate or accidental cruelty can really affect a child, even if it just happens once and isn't a chronic problem.

When a child comes to you and talks about an upsetting incident, continue to stay off the bully bandwagon.  I know it's hard but practice.

Instead, get information.  Learn about what happened.  Ask questions about what was going on before the incident and try to get a sense of what led to the incident.

Ask your child what he/ she did as a response.  Then ask, what they wish they had done.  Sometimes the teaching lies in what the child didn't do.

Ask your child's permission before you jump into problem solving.  They just may want some TLC and for you to listen. After exploring what happened, and your child's experience of it, share what you think.

Recognize your child's choice and share your opinion and value on it and then share how you might have handled it.

Don't rescue.  Unless there is an immediate safety concern, try to avoid taking matters into your own hands and solving the problem quickly.  Include your child in any response and decide together what you will do.  Parents of little ones who can't speak for themselves will have to use discretion as to what is appropriate.

Ask your child if the bad feelings have gone away or if they are still hurting.  Offer some TLC and comfort, if they are still feeling bothered.

Once your child is calm, create a plan with your child for "next time".  This is the best tool for teaching and best way to build resilience.  Practice what your child can do next time something like that happens.  Offer options and maybe walk through the pros and cons of each option.

It's so easy as an adult to just tell a child what to do when they are bullied. The problem with that is that kids are often left with the impression that us adults "just don't get it.   Resiliency is built when a child chooses his/her own plan and tries it out. 

This issue is something that everyone is talking about these days.  Our conversation about it will not end here and I invite you to have a dialogue with me about your thoughts, ideas, or questions. 

This is a tough talk to have with your kids and can be really emotional for parents.  I happen to know a lot about tough talks with kids.

Let me know if I can help.

Until next time,

Monday, September 2, 2013

Need a Parenting Win? Master Transitions.

Any time we ask a kid to move from one activity to the next, it's a transition.

When we change their daily schedule from summer to back to school, it's a major transition!

It's easy to think we are asking for trouble. It doesn't have to be complicated.  Tears, tantrums, or hair-pulling don't have to be the status quo.
Telling kids that a change in schedule is coming up sets them up for success.

Reminding kids periodically eliminates the suddenness of change and give kids a sense of control.

Anytime a child knows what's expected of him or her beforehand, it increases the likelihood that the child will meet expectations.

Not all transitions are created equal.  Changes to schedule and daily life will require earlier reminders and they will need to be more frequent.

Some parents think that managing transitions this way is babying them or enabling them too much.

I disagree. This is how we teach kids time management! It breaks this complicated skill down into manageable steps.

Typically, younger kids need reminders to start a half-hour before an activity change. A second reminder should be added 15 minutes later with the 3rd and final reminder coming in the last 5 minutes.

I don't expect older kids (3rd grade and up) to need as much time. A 15 minute and 5 minute reminder is sufficient unless you have a child with attention difficulties and then you both might benefit from more reminders.

Once you have given the time reminders, be sure to include rules for cleaning up. They should also know what you expect from them in the next activity.

Never replace reminders with accountability! Reminders set your kids up to know what's next.

Sometimes, despite reminders, kids won't listen.  Consider reminders their "warning" and respond with a swift consequence if they don't follow your directions when it's time to move on.

Back to School time is filled with new transitions.  If you're stuck or overwhelmed, I know I can help.


Monday, August 26, 2013

When Your Kid is the One with the Behavior Problem

One of the most stressful and isolating times for parents is when their kid has a behavior problem. Parents of younger kids may deal with tantrums and hitting while parents of older kids may deal with fighting, disrespectful language, or defiant behavior.  It is a maddening and scary time and you are desperate for answers yesterday.

I get it and I am with you in this.

First thing is first.  Take a deep breath. 


The first reaction that parents have when their kid begins to act out is panic. You become increasingly aware of the number of well-intentioned comments you are receiving about your child from friends.  Your child's teacher may have called you or sent an email inquiring about problems at home.  You notice that your child is becoming less popular as invites to playdates decrease. You might even be noticing that invites you are making are getting declined.

After panic, that darned parent guilt sets in and suddenly you are blaming yourself for why your kid is acting out.  You start to blame yourself for working too much, not giving them enough 1:1 time, not being perfect.

Adding your shame to your child's behavior problem is like adding fuel to a fire. Speaking the truth with awareness prevents sparks from turning into flames.

Take a deep breath.  You need to see this clearly. Guilt and panic won't help.

Here's the thing:  If you have a younger kid who struggles with sharing, biting, or hitting, it isn't a secret to anyone.  You see it at home, you see it on playdates, and you see it in public.  If your older one is becoming defiant, disrespectful, or treating his/her friends poorly, word gets out.  You hear about it.

It's not a secret that your kid is struggling so don't let embarrassment further isolate you or cause you to hide.

First, get a sense of what you think is going on with your child.  Why do you think this behavior is happening? What have you tried so far?  What is your intent in correcting the behavior?

Get really in tune to the answers to these questions, even if you don't know.

Newsflash: Include your kid in this process, too!

The nature of my business is that I often talk to parents about behavior problems their kids is having.  I cannot tell you how often, when I ask what the child has to say about everything, I hear "Well, we haven't told her.  We don't want her to feel bad that she isn't getting invitations".


Tell your kids what you want them to think.  Something like "Shelly, I know you like coming to the playground but have you noticed that you get in trouble a lot when you're here?  Why do you think that is?"  Talk to your kids about what you are noticing.  Ask questions.  Get information and come to an understanding.  Then, make a plan for how you're going to respond.  If it's in your nature to include your child in such a plan, go for it.  Otherwise, come up with one, yourself, and talk to your kids about it.

Your child should always know what new skills he or she is working on.  How else can progress be measured if they aren't included in the goal setting?

Next, rather than avoiding or hiding from the criticism you and your child might be receiving, face it head on. 

Tell the people coming to you, be it friends, family, or providers, what the deal is.  Try saying something like "I know Shelly has really been struggling when she is in groups of girls.  She keeps trying to make friends by putting herself in charge and bossing people about.  I know bossing other kids around is making her unpopular.  I assure you.  We're teaching her how to make friends in a more positive way.  We're aware of the problem".

I know.  That's a really vulnerable thing to do.  It's honest, though, and it's the truth.  It's so much more freeing to speak your truth than hide from embarrassment. Tell people coming to you with concerns what you want them to think.  No, you can't help it if they walk away with a different, more judgmental message but there is no shame in having a child who is struggling with something. 

A funny thing happens when you start being honest about a parenting struggle.  Suddenly, everyone is an expert!  You get tons of advice and feedback.  Any time your child does anything, you are likely to hear about it.  It can be overwhelming and add to the stress and strain you are already under.

Here's the good thing.  By "outing" yourself as a parent with a child that is struggling, you then can control how you get information and receive feedback.  You can say to a friend "I appreciate you caring about my daughter but I am trying to learn a lot right now.  While I appreciate your support, reading an article on "helping your kids make friends" just overwhelms me.  The best way you can be a friend to me is just listen to and support my struggle.  I know we've all been there and will be there again".

You can tell teachers and providers the same thing!  It's ok to ask for feedback and reports the way that you will best hear them and at the frequency with which you can manage them.  It sets you up for more productive communication with your providers.

Now, during this time while you are helping your struggling kid, go easy on yourself.

It's ok to keep to playdates with kids and families that are more supportive and understanding. It's ok to avoid kids and families that challenge you or your child more. It's ok, too,  to plan on more home days than going out days while new skills are being learned and tested.

This sets you, and your child, up for success.

You've got this and I am with you all the way.

Want my take on your child's problem behavior?  Consider giving me a call for a consult. I'm happy to help.

Hang in there.  You've got this.

Until next time,