Viewing entries tagged
frustration with kids

Negotiating the Nap

Does it seem like you’re spending an hour each afternoon just to get your toddler or preschooler to sleep for thirty minutes? Does approaching naptime produce a daily throwdown of the wills? Do you find your inner Ugly Parent emerging at this time, resulting in a nuclear naptime?

If you want to restore your afternoon oasis, here are a few suggestions—and a new way to think about the ever-elusive toddler nap.

Acknowledge the Audacity

Asking your child to go to sleep in the middle of her day is pretty presumptuous. Would you ask a falcon to pull out of a dive? LeBron James to sit out the third quarter?

An instinctual developmental drive pushes your toddler or preschooler to play, be silly, explore her world—all of which require being awake and on the move. No wonder repeating “Go to sleep” and “Be still” over and over doesn’t work. It runs counter to everything inside of your child.

Use a Gentle Approach

Remember that threats are often counterproductive. Saying things like, “If you don’t settle down, Mommy will leave,” actually arouses your child’s nervous system further and aggravates his anxiety. I know because I tried it more times than I care to admit.  And then it takes even longer for them to settle and relax into sleep.

And yelling? Have you ever tried drifting off to a relaxed, sweet sleep when a loved one is mad or yelling at you? I’ve never had the actual experience of trying to fall asleep when someone was yelling “GO TO SLEEP!” at me, but I imagine it’s pretty difficult. 

Be Mindful of Your Child’s Stage

Not only is the nap an unwelcome interruption in the busy day of your young mover ’n shaker, it also represents a significant separation. We often don’t think about sleep as a separation, but it certainly is.  Developmentally, your child regularly achieves new milestones toward independence. But almost as frequently, there are periods of regression when she is even needier, and when she has a hard time tolerating being alone. Try to stay attuned to such instances, extending more—and longer—handholding and cuddles as she needs them.

Don’t Articulate . . .

You want your toddler to sleep; he knows you want him to sleep. From the time he swallows his last bite of lunch, he’s steeling himself against sleep. So, when you tell him he has to go to sleep, you’re just asking him to fight back.

Lean Into the Need for Play

Instead, employ some naptime nuances, nudging your child toward a more relaxed, ready-to-sleep state through quiet play.  This moves him closer to relaxing, while still allowing the drive for curiosity and exploration to be indulged. Gently roll a large exercise ball up and down his body, from shoulders to feet. Take turns. Encourage him to rock his favorite stuffed animal to sleep. Even some reverse psychology might work:  “Don’t go to sleep, but let’s see if we can get your lion to fall asleep.” Lead him through some breathing exercises, like pretending you are both blowing out birthday candles really slowly.

Of course, reading a story or singing a few gentle songs can work wonders. In fact, if your toddler falls asleep readily at night, play music at bedtime with which he will make a positive sleep association—then play it for him at naptime.

Offer an Option

If all else fails, it can be effective to say, “You don’t have to go to sleep, but you do need to close your eyes and be still.” This worked like a charm for a couple of years with each of my kids. But, at this stage it might be time to . . .

Nip the Nap?

If they are getting close to age 3, you might want to pull the nap.  If they take a long time to fall asleep at naptime and then stay up really late at night, it might be time to experiment with removing the nap.  When I pulled the plug on my sons’ naps, I had to be out of the house in the afternoon at the park or somewhere doing something fun or they would fall asleep—or fall apart.  Then, they’d fall asleep easily and early, resting better at night.  I found that they actually were getting more hours of sleep when I took the nap away, and then my husband and I had our evening together. However, some kids need the nap through age 5 or 6.

Reset Reality

Give up the push toward independence. Just think about the next three months or so and how things can best work for your family. Your children’s schedules and needs will be different in just three months. Think about how best to get them some sleep and use the break instead of worrying about promoting independence or other kinds of things. Just focus on this and that independence will come later naturally.

Embrace the Challenge—and the Change

Remember that naptime battles are normal, and that getting frustrated is normal. Yes, you may occasionally model poor frustration-management strategies, but you also employ smart ones lots of times. You will be frustrated with your child a lot and that’s totally normal. But what they are doing at times can drive you crazy, so it would be weird if you weren’t frustrated. This is a phase, and no strategies are going to work perfectly. In fact, what works for you this week probably won’t next week. But it’s all normal—and it will all be different again in some other wonderful and difficult ways in three more months.


This article originally appeared at

Help! I'm Not Enjoying My Child

Do you ever feel like things aren’t quite right between you and your child?  Before you had kids of your own, you may have assumed that when you became a mother you’d feel wonderful about them all the time.  You knew, of course, that there would be occasional conflict; you didn’t expect them to be happy when you disciplined them, for example.  But still, you knew how much you’d love your kids, and you thought that that love would help you avoid most relational conflict with them.

Now, though, as your kids have grown past the baby stage and developed personalities and desires of their own, things aren’t always as happy as you imagined they’d be.  If you’re like a lot of mothers, you may feel guilty that things aren’t better more often.  You might feel bad that sometimes you feel like you don’t even like your children or your role as a mom.  You might feel like you’re the only one struggling with your kids.  You might wonder what’s wrong with you.

The truth, though, is that relationships ebb and flow.  We know that’s true, and we expect rough patches in long-term relationships.  

Guess what?  What you have with your kids is a relationship, too.  And you’ll go through rough patches in that relationship, too. 

Sometimes, you just aren’t in a good place to connect.  Maybe you’re not taking care of yourself and your patience is chronically low.  That’s not a good match for a child who is simultaneously pushing your buttons or who is struggling with patience herself.

Or maybe your child isn’t in a good place to connect.  She may be going through a phase where she’s experimenting with being a little more independent, and it means you’re not hearing much about what’s going on with her, and this is happening at a time when you’re craving more connection.  Sometimes needs of individuals in the family are in conflict, and we struggle. 

Rough patches just happen sometimes.  Here are four suggestions to help you get some perspective on the whole situation:


Take the long view.

Realize that it’s normal for relationships to have upswings and downswings, and if you’re not hitting your stride with your child at the moment, it will likely come back around.  Today may be tough, but tomorrow will be better.  Or this week may be tough, and next week better.  As children develop, it’s normal for them to disconnect from their parents in various ways at various stages.  Stay consistent and loving in your interactions with your child, and have faith that things will come back around.


Evaluate your child’s needs.

Ask yourself whether there’s something your child needs right now that he’s not getting.  More time with you?  More affection?  More attention?  Less conversation and more independence?  More responsibility?  Often, a child acts out because he’s needing something and doesn’t know how to ask.  So do your best to listen to his actions and see what’s going on.


Evaluate your own needs.

What do you need right now that you’re not getting?  Time by yourself?  Time with your spouse or friends?  More sleep?  More exercise?  You know that old saying:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  So take care of yourself.


Keep investing yourself in the relationship.

Time, effort, and intention go a long way.  Just as in your adult relationships, you’ll see your relationship with your child grow and deepen as you put in the time and remain a consistent, steady, loving presence in his life.  As the relationship ebbs and flows, be the rock your child knows she can count on when she needs you. 


See the original of this article at

How to Talk to Your Tween Girl: Keep the connection even after she's done with the kid stuff

I've recently written two articles for about communicating with tweens.  Here's the one about talking with your pre-teen daughter.




She’s not a teenager yet. But she’s sure not a child anymore, at least in the way she used to be. Just last week her school notebook contained pictures of cute puppies. Now she actually talks about cute boys.

One foot in childhood, one in adolescence. Sometimes sweet and playful, sometimes moody and sensitive. She’s a tween.

How do you talk to her? Here are some suggestions.


Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read my article about communicating with pre-teen boys.

8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Here's a new post on  It begins like this: ---------------

Grateful?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking: "File this one under 'You can’t be serious.'”

But I am serious.

Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.

For example . . .


Click here to check out the whole piece.

How Much Am I Screwing Up My Kids When I Don’t Handle Myself Well?

How well do you handle yourself when you’re upset with your kids?

Me?  Sometimes I respond extremely well, making myself proud of how loving and understanding and patient I remained.  At other times, I lower myself to my kids’ level and resort to the childishness that upset me in the first place.

My message to you today is that when you respond to your kids from a less-than-optimal place, take heart:  most likely, you’re still providing them with all kinds of valuable experiences.

For example, have you ever found yourself so frustrated with your kids that you call out, a good bit louder than you need to, “That’s it!  The next one who complains about where they’re sitting in the car, has to sit in that same seat for the rest of the year!”

Or maybe, when your eight-year-old pouts and complains all the way to school because you made her practice her piano, you say, with your parting words as she departs the mini-van, “I hope you have a great day, now that you’ve ruined the whole morning.”

Obviously, these aren’t examples of perfect parenting.  And if you’re like me, you beat yourself up for the times when you don’t handle things like you wish you had.

So here’s hope:  Those not-so-great parenting moments are not necessarily such bad things for our kids to have to go through.  In fact, they’re actually incredibly valuable.

Why?  Because these less-than-perfect parental responses give kids opportunities to deal with difficult situations and therefore develop new skills.  Here are some of the ways these moments, while not optimal, can still be valuable:

  • The kids have to learn to control themselves even though their parent isn’t doing such a great job of controlling herself.
  • They get to see you model how to apologize and make things right.
  • They experience that when there is conflict and argument, there can be repair, and things become good again.  This helps them feel safe and not so afraid in relationships.  They learn to trust, and even expect, that calm and connection will follow conflict.
  • They see that you’re not perfect, so they won’t expect themselves to be, either.
  • They learn that their actions affect other people’s emotions and behavior.
  • If we were perfect with them, the first time a friend or teacher was reactive to them, it could be shocking and terrifying to them.

Abuse, of course, is different.  Or if you’re significantly harming the relationship or scaring your child, then the experience is no longer valuable for either of you.  In fact, that’s going to damage you both, and you should seek the help of a professional in order to make whatever changes are necessary so that your children feel safe.

But as long as you maintain the relationship and repair with your child afterwards, then you can cut yourself some slack and know that even though you might wish you’d done things differently, that’s still a valuable experience for your child, even if it means he has to control himself simply because Mom is mad at the moment.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim for the extreme good when we respond to our kids in a high-stress situation (or any other time).  The more loving and nurturing we can be, the better.  I’m just saying that we can give ourselves a break when we’re not perfect, because even those situations provide moments of value as well.  They give our kids opportunities to learn important lessons that will prepare them for future conflict and relationships, and even teach them how to love.


When a Parenting Expert Loses It: How NOT to Discipline a Preschooler

Here are some things parents say to me about their discipline frustrations:

--I feel like I just put my daughter in time out all the time and don’t know what else to do when she’s misbehaving.

--I don’t feel like I have an overall theory of discipline.  It’s more that I just do whatever comes out at the time.  Sometimes my reaction or instinct is really good, and other times I’m being just as immature or reactive as my toddler.  I just feel like I need to give more thought to it and have a plan.

--I feel disempowered.  I think I’ve been told a list of things that I should NOT do –spank, yell, etc. – but I don’t know what I CAN do, other than just take a toy away.  So I find myself making empty or meaningless threats ("Do that again and you’re going to be in BIG trouble!") and then I’m just so frustrated.  I don’t know what to do in the moment.

Do these parents’ comments resonate with you?  I can certainly identify.  I remember how clueless I felt as a new parent, and even though the stories often end up being funny in retrospect, I’m embarrassed at how I responded at times when my kids acted out.


The Parenting Expert Gets Taken Down by Her Own Reactive Brain

One day my three-year-old got mad and hit me.  I guided him to his time-out spot at the bottom of our stairway, sat next to him, and smiled.  I lovingly (and naively) said, “Hands are for helping and loving, not for hurting.”

While I was uttering this truism, he hit me again.

So I tried the empathy approach:  “Ouch!  That hurts mommy.  You don’t want to hurt me, do you?”

At which point he hit me again.

I then tried the firm approach: “Hitting is not OK.  Don’t hit any more.  If you’re mad you need to use your words.”

Yup, you guessed it.  He hit me again.

I was lost.  I felt I needed to up the ante.  In my most powerful voice I said, “Now you’re in time out at the top of the stairs.”

I marched him up to the top of our stairs.  He was probably thinking, “Cool!  We’ve never done this before. . . I wonder what will happen next if I keep hitting her?”

At the top of the stairs, I bent over at the waist, my pointer finger wagging, and said, “NO MORE HITTING!”

He didn’t hit me again.

He kicked me in the shin.

(As he points out these days when we re-tell the story, he was technically obeying my no-hitting instructions.)

At this moment virtually all of my self-control was gone.  I grabbed his arm and pulled him into my room at the top of the stairs, yelling, “Now you’re in time out in Mommy and Daddy’s room!”

Again, I had no strategy, no plan or approach.  And as a result, my young son was simply enjoying wielding his power as his increasingly red-faced mother yanked him from location to location in the house.

By this point I was alternately cajoling and scolding and commanding and reasoning (waaaay too much talking): “You may not hurt mommy.  Hitting and kicking is not how we do things in our family. . . Blah blah blah. . . .”

And that’s when he made his big mistake.  He stuck out his tongue at me.

In response, the rational, empathetic, responsible, problem-solving part of my brain was hijacked by my primitive, reactive brain, and I yelled, “IF YOU STICK THAT TONGUE OUT ONE MORE TIME, I’M GOING TO RIP IT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!”

In case you're wondering, I don’t recommend in any circumstance threatening to remove any of your child’s body parts.  This was not good parenting.

And it wasn’t effective discipline, either.  My son dropped to the ground, crying.  I’d scared him, and he kept saying, “You’re a mean mommy!”  He wasn’t thinking about his own behavior at all—he was solely focused on my misbehavior.

What I did next was probably the only thing I did right in the whole interaction, and it’s essential each time we have these types of ruptures in our relationship with our children:  I repaired with him.  I immediately realized how awful I’d been in that reactive, angry moment.  If anyone else had treated my child as I just had, I would’ve come unglued.  I held my young son close and told him how sorry I was and allowed him to talk about how much he didn’t like what had just happened.  We retold the story to make sense of it for him and I comforted him.


How Would I Handle This Situation Now?

I usually get big laughs when I tell this story because parents so identify with this type of a moment, and I think they enjoy hearing that a parenting expert has these moments, too.  Virtually every time I tell the story, someone raises a hand and asks, “What would you do now?  How would you handle this situation differently?”

For several reasons, I’m not a fan of time-outs anymore, especially for a child this young.  Instead, once my son had hit me the first time, I would have used a simple, four-step approach.

  1. Address the feelings behind the behavior:  “Wow, I can see that you’re feeling really frustrated.  Do you feel mad?”
  2. Address the behavior: “Hitting hurts.  No hitting.”
  3. Give him alternatives.  Tell him what he can do instead:  “Be gentle with mommy’s body.  It’s OK to be mad, but when you are, you can tell me about it, or even hit the pillow, like this.”
  4. Move on:  “Hey!  Let’s go outside and see if there are any worms on the sidewalk.”

Some people may wonder about consequences for my son’s actions.  For an older child, you might choose to make consequences a part of the discipline process.  But as I always say, the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to give consequences.  If consequences help teach, then it might be appropriate to use them.  But I believe that for a child this age, the most effective approach is to address his feelings and the behavior, tell him about a more appropriate response, then move on to other things.

I’m guessing you’d agree that this four-step approach might be even more effective and loving than threatening to remove a body part.


Give Your Toddler or Preschooler a Little Power (revised)

Toddlers and preschoolers see their grown-ups and older siblings doing everything so easily.  It can be frustrating and discouraging for these little ones to try and try, and not be able to do what they see everyone else doing. Knowing that self-esteem can come from being competent at something, there are several ways we can empower our toddlers and preschoolers and give them opportunities to feel capable and competent:


Let them do things for themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard for a parent not to step in and quickly do something a child is trying to do.  Especially if the child is taking a long time to, say, figure out how all of the chalk pieces will go back into the box.  (Sometimes I want to pull my hair out when I’m watching my own four-year-old meticulously try to fix the Velcro fastener on the back of his hat so that it’s “not too tight and not too loosed.”)  But our kids need these experiences, and by letting them complete tasks by themselves, we not only give them chances to learn the lessons associated with that task, but to find out how much they can do on their own.  And that’s power.


Let them struggle.

As parents, we love seeing our kids succeed, and it’s often difficult to watch them struggle.  But resist the temptation to rescue your child when she’s having a hard time with a task.  Give her opportunities to face problems and solve them themselves.  Think about the kind of lesson a child learns when she keeps working on a challenge and figures it out!  She learns that she doesn’t have to give up, and that tolerating a bit of frustration allows her to reach a goal.  Of course we don’t want our children to have so much frustration that it’s overwhelming to them, but a little bit of it builds resilience.  Then, when you see that it’s necessary to step in and help out, try to do so without taking over.  Just give a little nudge – “Looks like that piece might go in this area of the puzzle” – rather than solving the problem for them.  When kids are NOT given opportunities to struggle and then succeed, they’ll feel powerless when difficult situations arise.


Ask for their help.

Almost nothing feels better to a two- to four-year-old than being asked for their assistance.  “Can you help mommy put this lid on?  I can’t seem to get it on.”  Or “Would you help me decide about where we should eat?  Outside?  Or at the dinner table?”  Or give them a job that lets them really help:  “Will you put the napkins on the table?”  Simply by making kids feel like they’re contributing to whatever’s going on around them, you can help them see that they are capable of pitching in, helping, and making decisions.


Play the boob.

This phrase belongs to renowned pediatrician Harvey Karp.  He talks about playing the boob with young children, where we are purposefully incompetent so that they can jump in and help.  We might say something like, “I don’t know where this puzzle piece goes.  Hmmm.”  Or, we can let them observe us struggling with something that they can easily accomplish, like stacking blocks.  Stepping in to help rescue a seemingly inept adult can help children feel strong, and show them that they have the power to master tasks set before them.


Not only can young kids handle some responsibility, but it’s great for them.  Try to elicit their help or opinion at least once a day so they feel like they’re a contributing member of the family, and that their abilities are important.  This will reduce their frustration while also building both competence and confidence.

Magic Wand? Yeah, right. (Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do when your child is upset.)

One day my seven-year-old became furious with me because I told him he couldn’t invite a friend over to play.  He stormed off to his room and slammed the door.  About a minute later, I heard the door open, then slam again.  I went up to check on him, and taped to the outside of his door, I saw the picture you see here.  (You can see from the drawing below that he regularly uses his artistic talents to communicate his feelings about his parents.) I went into his room and saw what I knew I’d see:  a big child-sized lump under the covers on his bed. I sat next to the lump and put my hand on what I assumed was a shoulder, and suddenly the lump moved away from me, towards the wall.  From beneath the covers, he cried out, “Get away from me!”

Often at times like this I can become childish and drop down to my child’s level.  I’ve even been known to say things like, “Fine!  If you won’t let me cut that toenail that’s hurting, you can stay in pain all week!”  (Sometimes I'll throw in a "See if I care!" for good measure.)

But this particular day, I maintained control and handled myself pretty well.  I first tried to acknowledge his feelings: “I know that makes you mad that Ryan can’t come over today.”

His response?  “Yes, and I hate you!”

I stayed calm and said, “Sweetie, I know this is frustrating, but there’s just not time to have Ryan over.  We’re meeting your grandparents for dinner in just a little while.”

After that, he returned to the familiar refrain as he curled tighter and moved as far away from me as possible:  “I said get away from me!”

I reminded him of our rule about talking with each other respectfully, then I went through a series of responses, the ones I regularly talk to parents about.  I comforted; I tried to use nonverbal connection like touch and tone of voice before I tried to problem-solve; I empathized; I tried again to explain.  I even offered an incentive to talk:  a playdate the next day.  But at that moment, he refused to calm down or let me help him in any way.

The point of this story is a reality that people rarely talk about:  Sometimes there’s just nothing we can do as a parent to fix it in that moment.  We can work to stay calm and loving, and fully present in the situation, but we may not be able to make things better right away.  Sometimes we have to just let our kids work through the moment themselves.

This doesn’t mean that we’d leave a child crying alone in his or her room for a long time.  And it doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying different strategies when our child needs our help.  In my case, I ended up sending my husband into my son’s room, and the change of dynamics helped him begin to calm some, so that later he and I could come back together and talk about what happened.  But for a few minutes, all I could do was to say, “I’m here if you need me,” then leave him in his room, shut the door with the anti-mom sign on it, and let him ride it out the way he needed to in his own timing and in his own way.

I’m writing about this because I’m someone who’s a parenting expert and a pediatric psychotherapist who works with deeply troubled children.  People come to me for advice on how to handle problems with their kids.  And I want to make it clear that for me, like you, there are times when there just isn’t a magic wand  we can wave to magically transport our kids to peace and happiness.

Sometimes the best we can do is to communicate our love, be available if they do want us close, and then talk about the situation when they’re ready.

And lucky for me, a few days later, it was his dad who got the next note.


Mom, I Know What I'm Doing

Yesterday my eight-year-old was making a smoothie.   He’s been making one every day for the last week and now takes pride in his “smoothie-making mastery.”  These repeated experiences, along with the delicious products of his efforts, have made him confident in his ability, and the science of neural plasticity confirms his due confidence.  The brain changes – yes, actually physically changes – from repeated experiences, so his memory has now been wired for how to make a good smoothie. And yet, even though I know this, when I hear the blender going longer than what I think is the right amount of time – twenty seconds can be a very long time, by the way – my reaction is to step in and say, “Luke, that’s probably long enough.  Should you turn it off?”

He says, “Mom, I know what I’m doing.  I like it really smooth and creamy, and the trick is to let it blend a little longer so the ice isn’t as chunky.”

Then I have to respond, “You’re right.  I’m sorry to mess with the Smoothie Master.”

We learn best from doing.  But ask yourself:  Do you step in and help when your kids don’t need help?  When they ask for assistance, could still do it themselves?  How often do you request that they do something your way, when the way they’re doing it is fine (just different)?  Do you do things for them that they could do for themselves?  You probably do at times when you don’t even realize it, just like I did yesterday with my smoothie intrusiveness.

Sometimes we need to lend a hand because we’re on a schedule and we need them to finish something so we can get out the door quickly and peacefully.  Sometimes we need to assist because our child is getting too frustrated and they need help.  Sometimes we should step in because they need to learn the right way to do something – like when they need to learn that “flushing doesn’t actually CLEAN the toilet.  You need to use actual cleaning supplies.”

But sometimes we’re stepping in because it makes things easier on us or them.  And of course that’s a good reason at times, but not all the time.  Sometimes we are taking over because we’re being too particular or controlling, or we underestimate them and their ability to do something or handle the struggle and frustration of working through it. Just be thoughtful about why and when to butt in, to rescue, to assist.  They know what they’re doing lots of times.  In those moments, the problem can be that we don’t know what we’re doing.



Do You Discipline on Auto-Pilot? (revised)

Auto-pilot may be a great tool when you’re flying a plane.  Just flip the switch, sit back and relax, and let the computer take you where it’s been pre-programmed to go.  Pretty great. But I’ve found that auto-pilot is not so great when I’m disciplining my children.  It can fly me straight into whatever dark and stormy cloudbank is looming, meaning my kids and I are all in for a bumpy ride.  So instead, I’m always working on DECIDING how I want to interact with my kids when I discipline them.

For example, let’s talk about consequences.  For most parents, when we need to discipline our kids, the first question we ask ourselves is, “What consequence should I give?”  That’s our auto-pilot.  But through my years of parenting, I’ve begun to significantly re-think my use of consequences.

My four-year-old, for instance, hit me the other day.  He was angry because I told him I needed to finish an email before I could play legos with him, and he came up and slapped me on the back.  (I’m always surprised that a person that small can inflict so much pain.)

My immediate, auto-pilot reaction was to want to grab him, probably harder than I needed to, and tell him through clinched teeth, “Hitting is not OK!”  Then I would, of course, give him a consequence.

But how effective would that really have been when it came to teaching my son?  And would it have addressed the issue behind his behavior?  Maybe, but maybe not.

So instead of that consequence-based approach, I’ve shifted to begin my discipline by asking three different questions:

1.     Why did my child act this way? If we look deeper at what’s going on behind misbehavior, we can often understand that our child was trying to express or attempt something that they didn’t handle appropriately.   If we understand this, we can respond more compassionately, proactively, and appropriately.

2.     What’s the lesson I want to teach in this moment? The goal of discipline isn’t to give a consequence.  The goal of discipline is actually to teach, but we forget this easily.

3.     What’s the most effective way to teach this lesson? Answering this question may allow you to be more creative and effective in teaching the lesson, instead of just doing the same thing over and over.  In fact, answering this question may reveal that your current practices aren’t actually teaching the lesson you want to teach in the best way—or, it might affirm what you’re already doing.

When I felt the small-hand-shaped imprint of pain on my back, it took me a moment to calm down and avoid simply reacting.  But when I could ask myself these three questions, I could see more clearly what was going on in my interaction with my son.

#1:  He hit me because he wanted my attention and wasn’t getting it.

#2:  The lesson I want him to learn is not that misbehavior merits a consequence, but that there are better ways of getting my attention than resorting to violence.

#3:  While giving him a time-out might teach him that lesson, I decided it would be more effective to remind him and give him the words to communicate his needs.  So first, I connected with him by pulling him to me and letting him know he had my full attention.  Then, I acknowledged his feelings and modeled communicating these feelings:  “You really want me to play, and you’re mad that I’m at the computer.  Is that right?”  Finally, once he was more calm and I had his full attention, I could get eye contact and explain that hitting is never all right, and ask him to list some alternatives he could choose the next time he wants my attention.

I’m not saying that there’s never a time to use consequences.  They can be an effective tool you want to consider when it’s time to discipline.  I’m just saying that consequences aren’t the goal of discipline.

So the next time you’re disciplining your child, do your best to avoid switching to auto-pilot, and instead, stay focused on what it is you want to teach and accomplish.  That will benefit not only your child, but the relationship you two share as well.



Sick of Time-Outs?

[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]  

There are far worse discipline tactics than time-outs, but I think that there are some alternatives that can be better in certain situations.  Few children actually use their time-out time to reflect or calm down; in fact, it can even cause them to get more upset, depending on the child.  I prefer some other approaches that require my kids to get more practice using the problem-solving, empathetic, choice-making part of their brains:

  • A “re-do.”  One way I do this is by saying “Stop, please.  Now go out of the room and then come back in and ask me the right way,” or, “I’m going to take that toy, and save it for you when you’re ready to play with it nicely.  Just let me know when you are ready.”  Sometimes I even say, “I know you know how to do this the right way.  I’m going to give you a do-over.”  Not only does this approach address what your child has done wrong, it (more importantly) gives them practice at doing something right.
  • Ask questions about intent.  Sometimes misbehavior occurs when a child is trying to make something happen, and goes about it poorly.  By asking “Is that what you meant to happen?” or “What could you do differently next time?” you can get at motives and intent.  For example, if your child really wants another child to play with them, and the other child is not interested, your child might grab the other child’s shirt to make them play.  This would be a good time to ask these questions and talk with your child.
  • Encourage them to repair the situation:  Ask, “How can you make it right?” or “How can you show your sister that you’re really sorry?” or “How can you help your friend feel better?” This gives them practice at thinking about how their actions affect others, and how to begin to think about how other people feel.
  • Ask them to help you solve the problem:  “I’m not sure that taking the car out of his hand is the best thing to do.  But how we are going to solve this?  You want to play with the car, and your friend wants to play with the car. . . hmmm.  Do you have any ideas?”  This gives them problem-solving practice, as well as giving them a little choice, instead of hearing “Share!”  commanded all the time.
  • For older kids,  earning privileges for good behavior works really well as well (like a family walk, getting to choose what’s for dinner, getting to choose where they sit at the table, getting a game time or longer reading time with a parent, or other things that are important to them).

Clear and consistent boundaries are, of course, very important when it comes to good parenting.  The question is how to most effectively set and communicate those boundaries.  I’m not saying not to use time-outs.  But I do think that lots of time (and possibly even most of the time), we can find more productive and effective ways to respond to our kids’ misbehavior.

[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]

What's REALLY Causing Your Frustration Towards Your Kids?

Do you ever get so upset with your kids that you do something that leaves you (and the rest of the family) asking, "Where did that come from?" At times we’re not really listening to our children because our own internal experiences are being so noisy that it’s all we can hear. We often try to control our children’s feelings and behavior when actually it’s our own internal experience that is triggering our upset feelings about their behavior. An example of this would be when your child is being really clingy, and instead of seeing that she’s communicating that she needs your comfort and attention, you get furious with her. Your fury is not really because of her developmentally appropriate need for you—it’s because you feel smothered because you haven’t done anything for yourself in a long time, or because you had a parent who relied on you to meet her needs, and in this moment, you feel resentment again at being needed.

The Parenting Hall of Shame: Now Accepting Members

We all lose it from time to time. We say mean things, we yell, we may even pull our child’s arm too firmly. Why don't we talk about moments like these with other parents? Is it really such a shocking epiphany that all parents occasionally lose control of their emotions and their better judgment? I am convinced that we pay a price when we choose to keep silent, rather than honestly sharing our own stories about times when we get furious with our kids and throw our own fits. Sharing our worst moments with each other allows us to comfort each other, to laugh about how crazy our kids are and how crazy we are right back, and then to look at our behavior with some insight so we can make better choices the next time.