Tag Archives: blame

Sept ’19 Q&A – What to Do About Lying

Q. My 9 yo son recently stole some money, told me he didn’t, and that his friends must have. Then he planted the money in his sister’s room to frame her before telling me to, “search my room”. I’ve no idea what to say or do. I asked him repeatedly. I left a pot out for the money to be put back anonymously, and then he hides it in his sister’s room.

A. This is a tough situation for all of you. I’m sure there are deeper issues besides the coverup of the money that have led to this situation and need to be addressed. I suspect that underneath the behavior (lying), which is always a signal to a deeper need, there are trust issues. Namely that your son doesn’t trust you because he has learned that you don’t trust him, and therefore he is doing what he can to get away with what he wants. Nothing wrong with a child trying to get what he wants. But when he becomes devious to do it, then there is a problem. The deviousness comes out of a fear that he can’t get what he wants otherwise. There is not trust.

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Opening up Communication so Sadness and Stress Doesn’t Turn to Depression


Q. I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason.  He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet and therefore doesn’t make friends. Being stuck at home doesn’t help. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. How can I help him open up?

A. Everything you have described is life events that have been out of your or your son’s control. Very hard but this is life happening. These are situations that people have to deal with. Depression has all to do with how those events are perceived and dealt with. If your son’s emotions are swept under the carpet, ignored or criticized, then he will be left feeling unheard, alone, misunderstood, etc. – fertile ground for depression. But if his feelings are acknowledged, even if your son doesn’t do much talking, then he is left with the sadness, grief, or anger about the situations, but everything is out in the open and feelings usually do not fester to cause depression.

We want and often expect our kids to be open with us emotionally – mothers especially. But not all kids, especially boys, are open with their thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean they feel unheard. How we communicate with them has all to do with how they feel about themselves.

When you have a non-talker, you want to make sure you don’t use the excuse that he doesn’t open up or share to ignore the situation and not talk about it. You can use what I call connective communication (best communication with anyone actually), which does not ask questions. When you ask questions – What’s wrong? How do you feel about…? Why don’t you…? – you put him on the spot, and he feels forced to come up with something. He may lie, tell you what he thinks you want to hear or what he knows you don’t want to hear to get you off his back. Rarely do questions, unless and until you have a very open connective relationship, get you the information you want.

Making statements goes a lot further:

Moving as many times as we have done lately must be quite discombobulating for you. I know how difficult change can be, and we’ve forced you into a lot of it. Changing schools is tough. I’m actually amazed at how well you have taken it. But I imagine that it has taken its toll on you. It’s really hard, right now. Period.

I wonder sometimes about how you are with not having many friends. I’m curious to know if that’s hard on you or if that is your choice. Sometimes kids your age can be tough to be around. Period.

Sometimes I think about how hard it must have been for you when Dad and I were grieving the loss of your little brother. We weren’t there for you as much as I would have liked. I feel so sad about that time – for all of us. Period.

That must have been hard to hear. I bet if I were you, I would have felt angry and confused. Period.

It’s so hard not to ask questions when you are hoping to find out answers. When there are no questions, the other person feels more inclined to listen, doesn’t feel obligated to talk, and connection gets better. Ironically, talking is more likely – but don’t expect it.

Here is an article of mine explaining this further  –
Communication 101: How to get your child to listen

What your son needs is to know he can talk with you WHEN and IF he wants to. Especially kids on the spectrum have a harder time organizing their thoughts and making sense of them enough to formulate a conversation. Talking about emotions is hard for most people, males especially, and for an ADD kid on the spectrum, it’s especially tough.

Also, boys tend to talk more when they are active, which may be why he talks to your husband more. Shoot hoops, take a bike ride or a walk. In the car, at bedtime if you are around him then (maybe not at 15), and perhaps mealtimes may be times to share yourself and how you are feeling. Your job is to model for him what it looks like to talk about emotions and values and what you think about people and events. Don’t expect it from him. If you don’t talk to him because there’s not much coming back, you are not being honest with yourself; you’re actually fearful of him.

But the important thing to know is that traumatic life events only negatively affect us long-term when they are shoved down inside and not dealt with. His ability to talk about things will come from your openness and freedom to share how you feel and think. And just naming what happened in his life to cause upset is validating for him. Eventually he will be able to talk about it himself but maybe not with you.

I would hesitate to identify him as depressed. Once you feel connection through making statements, then you can ask questions. Then you might ask, “Do you think you’re depressed?” If he responds with a yes, then ask, “Don’t you think getting help would be a good thing? Once you have made connection, he may feel differently about getting help because you can freely talk about it and help him see that this is not about him being a problem. If he still doesn’t want to, don’t force it. Hopefully he will come to it on his own.

But then again, maybe he’s not depressed! Maybe he just looks it from your point of view. It is so easy for us to project our way of seeing things onto our kids. We have to consciously be aware that what is a problem for me might not be for my child.

Quietness can easily be interpreted as depression – unfairly. Introverts are looked on with concern or pity in our society – completely the opposite in other societies. Nothing wrong with being quiet and introverted. He is likely a deeply perceptive person who works things out internally long before he expresses himself. Extraverts are the opposite. They have to talk it through to know what they think!

Often deep thinkers are not drawn to the more popular high school kids. They have nothing in common with them. It often takes years before many kids find their tribe — others who share their interests and values.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

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Mar. ’19 Q&A – Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent, Angry Behavior and When the Coach is a Bully

Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent

Q. I do welcome your advice and think you speak a lot of sense, but I am not sure about your advice to be your child’s friend in one of your articles. What is wrong with being a mum? I am the only person who can officially be regarded as mum in my daughter’s life and I feel very proud to be so. I am not sure being a friend is possible as the friendship is automatically unbalanced. I have a number of very good friends, some long term and we have quite balanced relationships, involving give and take. I do not regard my relationship with my daughter as balanced, and she does not seem to understand give and take. I would also say she is a very high maintenance friend, and therefore I would go out of my way not to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter. I don’t think she is like that with her peers though – I think their relationship is balanced. When choosing activities, we try to pick nice things to do and see, and we get a lot of resistance from her until we get her there and then she loves it. We also get resistance around food and most things at the moment – she is quite selfish and does not seem to understand the notion of helping out, and she wants things from shops all the time, which is wearing.

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Hugs Reduce Stress

Toxic stress in early childhood can harm children for life, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Don’t think your children have experienced toxic stress? All children do to differing degrees. Whoever said childhood is bliss didn’t know what he was talking about. Children experience stress just by being a child. From nightmares, worry about transitions, being afraid of the dark or thunder storms, social fears, children have a hard lot. And that doesn’t cover huge emotions and dysregulation that they cannot possibly understand when asked, “What’s wrong?” Then being punished, criticized, or threatened for behavior they can’t control…. You name it, a day rarely goes by when a child doesn’t experience stress.

Stress arises for a child when sensing a threat with no one to protect him from that threat. Children who experience this kind of stress in the early years, even prenatally through mother’s hormones, “…are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments…also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.”

A now more than two decade long scientific study by the Academy and the CDC shows the long term, harmful effects on society when we turn a blind eye on the problems faced by young children. From the stress children experience when their parents abuse alcohol or drugs, emotional or physical abuse or neglect, emotional or physical treatment between parents, mental illness, separation or divorce, to a child crying out and not being comforted and feeling unloved — stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, originally conducted from 1995-1997, is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. We now have research showing the connection between disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, risky behaviors, disease, disability and even early death to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let’s look at what we can do about it.

The Academy has issued a policy statement that includes, “Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health.”


Prevention Strategies

The study outlines extensive strategies to turn the horrendous statistics around — strengthening economic supports to families, changing social norms to promote positive parenting, quality care and education, better parenting skills training, and intervention methods.

We can’t always control the environment for our children. Death and loss, natural disasters, accidents, an ex-spouse’s choices, disciplinary measures at school, hurtful remarks and bullying are all beyond our control. Nor should we hover and protect our children from growing up and experiencing the world we live in. Many circumstances children find themselves in can be toxic and traumatic, but when they have a protective factor to turn to safely, namely a parent or caring adult who understands, listens, accepts, and connects, a child can deal with and learn to make sense of most experiences. Ignoring, sweeping problems or sensitive issues under the carpet, screaming at and punishing big emotions that parents don’t want or know how to deal with undermine the protection you can provide.

Your connection to your children is the protective factor they need most. But connection is harder than we think, as most parents know. It often requires a mindset shift away from traditional parenting methods.


How you can provide that protective factor:

Stop threatening and punishing — the #1 tactic used by parents to coerce children’s behavior. In order to be the grounding force your children feel safe to come to no matter what, they must trust that you will never pose a threat to them. If they have nowhere to turn for an understanding ear, they will turn exactly where you fear most. This usually means

When we remain stuck in the mindset that punishments and consequences for inappropriate behavior are the way to get appropriate behavior, we forfeit our child’s trust. Mostly what the child learns is “you don’t understand me”, because behavior is provoked by emotions that parents typically pay no attention to. It is the emotional state that needs connection. When that is ignored and parents focus on behavior, the primary link to the protective factors parents provide is broken.

Habitual tactics are easy to fall back on when a child’s behavior gets tough. It is so tempting to pull computer time and cell phones, put kids in time out or send them to their rooms. These tactics miss the mark and only make kids mad. And if they “work”, it is only to get that cell phone back. Sneaky, conniving strategies result, and that all-important connection is risked.


What to do instead – Problem Solving promotes connection:

  • Do nothing in the heat of the moment. When emotions are calm and the prefrontal cortex is back online, work on the situation. This is where parents stumble. We want to forget about it and move on.
  • Resist the temptation to blame. Own and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Look to your child’s need or emotions that provoked the behavior and connect with that need. “You must have been furious with your sister to hit her. Tell me what got you so angry.”
  • Discuss the problem without blame. Own what part of it is yours, “I’m really concerned that you don’t consider my feelings. It is not okay with me when you call me names.”
  • Acknowledge that your child was having a problem that provoked the behavior. It was a mistake, not a crime. Trust your child’s desire to be successful. We all say and do things we don’t mean.
  • Engage your child to come up with a solution that all can agree on.
  • Don’t expect the agreement to work. It’s a process. Keep refining until the behavior stops.
  • Do focus on acceptance, listening, predictability, playtime.
  • Take your focus off behavior and onto what could be going on with your child to get back to compassion. All connection requires compassion.
  • Hug a lot.
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    What the #MeToo Movement Can Teach Parents

    I doubt if there is a parent alive who is okay with a daughter being sexually compromised, unable to stop unwanted advances, or getting less pay than her male counterpart — or a son becoming a bully or sexual predator who objectifies women for his pleasure and who expects higher pay than his female counterpart. Surely, we want our children to grow strong in their voices and opinions, while respectful of all those they are in relationship with.

    So how do you do it? How do you raise a strongly opinionated woman who can stop any unwanted influence if you get angry and impatient with her demands at age three, seven, ten, fourteen? What does she learn about herself when the grownups in her life shut down her strong emotions, even when they get physical, with put downs, blame, shame, and punishment?

    What about your boys who may not be into sports but would rather keep close to home, or who cry and have meltdowns beyond the point at which you think they should? What do they learn when they witness their fathers making demands on their mothers or when their fathers are physically or emotionally abusive to them or expect them to “act like men” when they are still children?

    We hold expectations of our children to be the people we want them to become even when they are children, even when we don’t model that behavior. Do you have knee-jerk reactions to your kids when they make you mad and then expect them to treat you and others with respect? Do you believe that if you yell at, threaten or punish behavior you don’t like that the unwanted behavior will disappear?

    Why do we think we have the right to talk to our children differently from how we want them to talk to us?

    I grew up pretty close to invisible. My father believed children should be seen and not heard. I was approved of when I pleased him and disapproved of when I spoke my mind, which I only remember doing once. My father paid little attention to my life and didn’t even know my best friend’s name. That translated to me as “I’m not important.” My opinions were never solicited so I don’t remember having any.

    Years of therapy and personal growth workshops helped me find my voice and speak it loudly. But when my daughter expressed hers naturally and with determination, I initially tried to put it down. It pushed my buttons. Fortunately, I learned to listen to that voice. It taught me a lot.

    What the #MeToo movement has brought up for me is not memories of assault or rape, but memories of letting sexual advances be okay — not speaking up, unwillingness to say I don’t want this — the not having a voice piece. That was the shame in it for me.

    If you want to raise strong, respectful, responsible citizens, start young.

  •   Model the qualities you want to see in your children. Heal yourself and take responsibility for your reactions. Own your problems and don’t dump them on your kids.
  •   See the best aspects of your child. It’s easy to focus on behaviors you disapprove of. You highlight them each time you blame or threaten your child. Instead focus less on negative behavior and more on the behaviors you want to grow in your child.
  •   Admire your child. Even if she is being annoying with her arguments or demands, let her know that you admire her determination, her persistence, her courage to fight her fight. Whatever she is good at, tell her you admire her ability.
  •   Empathize. Your child will have many obstacles to hurdle and detours to maneuver while growing up. Be his sounding board, be the person he feels safe to come to for advice and opinions, or for an understanding shoulder.
  •   Be respectful in all interactions with your children as well as others. You can be firm, hold strong boundaries, and set limits with nothing but respect. You do not ever “need” to blame, punish, take away privileges, or control your child to insure she will become a good person.
  •   Maintain a balance of power. If you feel entitled to dominance or autocratic authority because of age and size, you set the model for bullying.
  •   Learn about, understand and respect your child’s temperament. Set your expectations for the child you have, not the one you want.
  •   Hear your child’s arguments, demands, desires. Listen. Do not tell her to shut up because you are too tired to listen.
  •   Give them as many opportunities as possible to make decisions about their agendas, their lives. Give them ownership of their bodies. Don’t tell them when they should be hungry or full. Engage them in decisions you make about them.
  •   Give young children choices to help empower them.
  •   When they make decisions, they are bound to make some bad ones. Regret is a teacher. Allow them to experience it without smoothing their way. Let them know you’ve been there.
  •   Obviously children have to do many things they don’t want. Acknowledging their wishes doesn’t mean giving in to them. It means they feel heard.
  •   When your children ask for your approval or opinion it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one of her own. Try first, “What do you think?”
  •   Never insist that your children think like you do. Share your opinions and encourage them to have their own. Never ram a value judgment down their throats.
  •   Don’t say, That didn’t hurt. There’s nothing to cry about. That’s just silly. You must be stupid to think that. You do so like her. He’s your brother, you must love him. Always honor their feelings first. Then talk about behavior.
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    Aug. ’18 Q&A – Does your child fit with his school, Disrespect and Test Anxiety

    Does your child fit with his school?

    Q. Our feisty 5 yo is not settling into school too well, and we have to attend meetings with the teacher due to his misbehaving ways. When asked why he acts out, ie: drawing on walls, running away from the class, ignoring instructions etc, he says, “because I felt like it”. This is quite concerning as he attends a Catholic School and is raised by a practising Catholic mother with very loving and devoted parents. He does not seem to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s position. We are at a loss after trying to talk to him and discuss alternative ways of behaving with no positive results. Another concern is his lack of concentration as he has approx. 4 mins. of attentiveness before he loses interest and proceeds to do what he wants to do, sometimes ignoring instructions and/or consequences. I have been doing some research and strongly believe he may need some assistance with self-regulating. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help our strong willed, stubborn child who is loved very much. We very much want him to enjoy school rather than say he hates school and doesn’t want to go?

    A. Keep in mind that your son is only five and should not be expected to consider another’s position for several more years. This sounds like a misfit of child and environment. Our job as parents is to provide environments that meet our children’s needs, not the other way around. Your son sounds like a perfectly normal, active, distractible boy. His “misbehavior” shown as running off, not listening, drawing on walls indicates that he is being asked to do what he cannot do at this point. Teachers well versed in child development will know how to engage kids like this – he is by far not the only 5 year old who is not ready to settle down in a structured environment.

    The structure of this school may be too restrictive for his needs. If his teacher has unrealistic expectations for him, he will not be able to meet them. They are calling it “misbehaving”, which tells me they must make him change. He will naturally act out in reaction to that. His response, “Because I felt like it” is quite logical. A 5 year old who feels pushed to do what he can’t will naturally find a way to do what he wants — until that aspect of him is punished enough that makes it not safe for him to do what he wants.

    What you can be sure of is that he has a hard time sitting still and listening, so he uses his imagination to amuse himself. The problem comes when that doesn’t work in his environment. But isn’t that what we want for our children — to think creatively and imaginatively to solve problems. Of course he can’t do whatever he wants but imagine if his teacher put paper on the wall for him to draw on, other children as well, instead of getting yelled at, criticized, blamed, given consequences, all of which causes him to feel bad about himself, which exacerbates his behavior. When he learns he is bad, he will continue to behave badly. When appropriate expectations are held for him — that he can’t sit still yet like some of the other kids, he needs something to keep his body moving, etc. — then he will respond more cooperatively because he will feel heard and understood. If he cannot hold his attention longer than 4 min., put him in a school environment where that is okay, not one that forces him to be attentive longer than he can be. If his needs are met now, he will be able to regulate himself and follow rules as he gets older. You will have more success if you put him in an environment that accepts who he is rather than who you or the school wants him to be.

    He may be loved very much but is he accepted? Do you and his school accept that he is a very busy, distractible, imaginative, 5 year old who cannot yet sit still and keep his attention focused for longer than 4 minutes? Or are you trying to get him to change and be calm, quiet, and attentive? I know you don’t want him to change, so find an environment that understands his perfectly normal, albeit hard to manage, temperament.


    Disrespect at School

    Q. My 9 year old son is smart, creative and very stubborn. He hates school, refuses to even try, disrespects the teachers and acts out in anger if they try to make him do his work. He is more than capable of getting As on tests but usually gets Ds because he just stares out the window instead of doing his test. He doesn’t do any of his school work during classtime so we have to spend a few hours with him every night catching up on his homework. He is well behaved and lovable when he’s doing something he enjoys but seems to think that if he’s bored, he doesn’t have to try. My husband and I have tried everything to help him realize that, even if he doesn’t enjoy school, he needs to still do his best. We praise him when he does well and try to acknowledge everything he is good at. We have also withheld privileges when he behaves inappropriately at school. Nothing works. He is now meeting weekly with a school social worker. Hopefully he will develop some coping skills. My problem is this – even though we are working very hard to help him be successful, I feel really judged by his teachers. They know he is meeting with the social worker (at their request) but they still phone me to complain about how difficult he is. I just want to burst into tears when I get those calls because I feel totally powerless. Can you give me any tips for how I can handle this?

    A. I completely empathize with how powerless you feel when teachers call to complain. I imagine they feel powerless too since your son is not compliant with their wishes. Easy for me to say, but I think everyone needs to listen to what your son is trying to say. It sounds like he’s saying that this school is not the right place for him. Do you have any other options. (see the Q&A above about school fit.) Unfortunately many parents do not have options.

    The problem with our mainstream parenting/teaching culture sees his resistance, defiant behavior as him being bad, doing it wrong. So we try behavioral techniques to change the behavior rather than looking to the inner emotional state that is causing the behavior. My guess is that he is responding disrespectfully to his teachers because he feels disrespected (unheard, unimportant) by them. If you feel judged by them, imagine how he feels.

    He is smart and he is bored, and his nature will not comply with what offends him — he’s what I call an Integrity Child. But even when bored, children will work for someone who respects and believes in them. He is not happy nor engaged, and is being told that is not okay. When you withdraw privileges you are telling him “Don’t be yourself” and that your acceptance of him is conditional on doing something that his integrity cannot stomach. He will not respond well to that.

    What he needs is to know that you hear him and that you want to work together to find a way for him to deal with this school that you know is not meeting his needs. When you tell him that “even though…he still needs to do his best”, you are not listening. You need to start where he is. “You hate your school experience and that must truly suck.” There is no “but” about it. He’s a smart kid and sees through your attempts to tell him what he needs to do. He hears you saying, You have to do it our way. True empathy is seeing his experience through his eyes.

    Share your frustration that you feel judged as well. When you show compassion for his problem, and acknowledge the disrespect he feels at school for who he is without trying to change him, then you can talk about the importance of showing respect even for people we don’t like. A different school or home schooling has the potential of making the difference for all three of you—not always an option. Let him know that you find yourself in a predicament with the school that does not feel helpful or supportive and that you have been trying to get him to be compliant to help you with that predicament, and you see that is not helping him.

    Then give it time for him to trust that you care more about him than the school. In the meantime, let his teachers know how judged you feel and that you are switching your focus to understand him better rather than pushing for compliance.


    Test Anxiety

    Q. Do you have suggestions for my 10-year old daughter who has panic attacks during tests/exams? She is generally a happy, outgoing person but tends to flounder faced with adversity and has self-esteem issues. She specifically has panic attacks during assessments at school, which obviously affect her performance. Although she is very able and should in principle do well, during tests she freezes when she cannot immediately answer a question, gets stressed when others are faster than her, and stops functioning altogether. Can you suggest coping techniques she could practice?

     A.Wow this sounds like me! Many children do well in school and panic when it comes to testing. Your daughter will only have self-esteem issues if she believes she is wrong or dumb for being the way she is. The best you can do for her is to assure her she’s perfectly normal. I’m not saying you do this, but DO NOT try to reassure her that “everything will be fine, and she will do well if she just relaxes”. That sends the message that you don’t get it, and she is alone in her worry, which exacerbates the panic.

    Point out to her that FEELINGS of anxiety stem from her THOUGHTS. When she thinks, Here it comes, I’m going to fail on this test, she will naturally panic and then clutch. Help her identify the thoughts she has at the time panic hits and how she has control over her thoughts. For instance, “I’m going to fail this test” could change to “I’m feeling really nervous right now.” “Everybody’s going to beat me” could reframe to “I tend to be slower than some of the others. That’s okay.” She must keep it truthful and factual – something she can believe, rather than “I’m going to do just fine.”

    The goal is to take the edge off, not to be completely confident going into an exam. Panic can change to nervous. And everybody feels nervous. She could write some reframed thoughts down and read them at the time. You can make suggestions but don’t tell her what she should do and don’t expect her worry to disappear.

    Your job is to understand her, not make it go away. Don’t take her pain personally. It’s important for you to know that this is her problem, not yours. If you are upset about it, your upset makes her problem worse. Then she has your upset to deal with too. Your job is to understand her dilemma and to give her support — a non-judgmental, non-advice-giving shoulder to cry on, a compassionate sounding board to unload on. Every time she gets through it, she builds resilience. You must trust that for her.

    You might also point out that the reason she gets panicky is because of the high expectations she holds for herself. She cares very much about how she does. Point out the obvious positives — she will never settle for mediocre, she will always strive to be better — and then add the downside — she will be very hard on herself — something she can work on over time.

    Mindfulness meditation practices can help. The two of you could practice together a few minutes a day.

    Of interest – 12 Ways to Encourage School Motivation


    Getting your kids out the door in the morning is enough to ruin your day. Remember these 8 points:

  • Get yourself up in enough time to be relaxed and mostly focused on the kids.
  • If you wake your kids, allow time for hugs and an easy transition from sleep to awake.
  • Do not expect your child to WANT to leave home. Many children have difficulty with transitions. Fine after they get there. Difficult getting there.
  • Talk with your child about all the things she needs to get done in the morning. i.e. brushing teeth, playing, eat breakfast, etc. Make a list out of order. Let her put them in the order she chooses. You can object but let her take the lead. Then list them on a dry erase board with a check box next to each that she can check off as accomplished.
  • Do as much the night before as possible — set out clothes, gather everything for the backpack, put sports equipment by the door, make lunches.
  • Do the best you can to not RUSH. Kids hate to be rushed.
  • When they dawdle, resist temptation to criticize and nag. Getting out the door on time is your agenda, rarely their’s (altho some are hyper-sensitive to being on time – if so, you don’t have a problem here!). They need motivation to help you out with YOUR agenda.
  • For kids who have an especially hard time leaving, about 5 min. before hand, ask your child, “What is one more thing you’d like to do before we have to leave?” “Is there something you’d like to get to take with you today?” Giving them a choice gives a bit of control to a child who feels powerless to do what he wants.
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    June ’18 Q&A – Refusing the Toilet, Unrealistic Expectations and Huge Feelings

    Refusing the Toilet

    Q. My 3 yr old daughter goes to a small home daycare and uses the toilet there without accidents but refuses to use the toilet at home. I understand that it’s more of a control issue than a potty training issue. I have been letting her wear pull ups at home as long as she puts them on herself. She still refuses to try the toilet. There hasn’t been any event that I can think of that would have scared her. She is very verbal and will tell me that she just doesn’t like to use our potty. She won’t poop at daycare either. She holds it until she gets home and gets a pull up on and then she goes.

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    When Do I Draw the Line?

    Parents who want to leave the reward and punishment methods behind often have a hard time letting go fully and embracing a truly connective relationship with their children.

    When my child won’t do what has to be done, I have to draw the line, don’t I?
    I try to be empathic and listen, but where do I draw the line?

    What does “Drawing the line” mean? Making your child stop? Not being empathic anymore? Maintaining your authority as a parent? I think it’s worth figuring out what this phrase means as it runs endlessly in the minds of well-intentioned parents trying their best to change old ways.

    “Drawing the line” is one of the last bastions of the reward and punishment mindset. It comes out of the frustrated parent dealing with a defiant or resistant child. But what do you do when you draw the line? Is this line similar to a “line in the sand” beyond which one cannot cross? Does that mean you and your child are separated by a line preventing both of you from getting to each other? Is it a boundary mark that determines the end of your attempt at connection and the beginning of punitive measures?

    “Drawing the line” probably happens when you don’t know what to do next. Perhaps you’re thinking, He’s got to learn; She can’t get away with this; I will not tolerate that kind of talk; He’s becoming a video addict. Your resources are used up, patience is thin, and you fall back on old standards. You take away privileges, you threaten, you yell, you lose control. And the cycle starts all over.

    Of course, you get frustrated and don’t know what to do. No parent alive has ever avoided this state of mind. The problem is you think you should never have to feel this way and should know what to do to make sure your child never pushes you to this point. So if he does, he’s got to learn who’s boss.

    But when he plays by whatever method of drawing the line you use, he’s back into anger: feeling revengeful, misunderstood, powerless, wrong. Then his behavior accelerates, and you get to that line-drawing place more and more often.

    So instead of “drawing a line”, what do you do when that moment hits when your child is behaving unacceptably and you don’t know what to do?


    This is the moment to drop into Being instead of focusing on Doing.

    The state of Being means that you expect to enter that zone of not knowing what to do when your child seems to have the upper hand. The state of Being means that you accept yourself and also accept your child for pushing you to try to get what he wants — after all that is his job.

    But for many parents this unknowing place is unacceptable. You must Do something right now to stop this. It feels as if your child is walking all over you and you are her doormat. That is only true if you remain on the floor.

    When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Of course, if there is hitting, throwing, some kind of violent behavior, that must be stopped. But stopping it means restraint or getting between two angry people. It does not mean lecturing about how many times you have told him blah, blah. It does not mean yelling at your child, which indicates you have lost control and become more of a target for an angry child. It does not mean using coercive tactics to make your child wrong.

    Much of the time, the behavior that pushes you over the edge into not knowing what to do is resistance or refusal to do something you have asked, throwing jabs or punches at you or a sibling, calling names. None of this is okay. But instead of thinking I have to draw the line, think I need to create a boundary.


    A boundary is a psychological protection for both you and your child.

    Holding a strong boundary means that no one is allowed to abuse you in any form and that your wishes are as important as anyone else’s. You take care of you instead of using your power to control your child and prevent him from doing something (although sometimes you need to use restraint to keep yourself from being hit). A boundary means, I take care of myself and insure that I am okay — exactly what you want to teach your child to do.

    A boundary means you can say:

       This is not okay with me.

                I will not allow anyone to hit me (and I hope you never allow anyone to hit you).

                I don’t like it when this happens.

    You work out problems with you child through relationship. In a relationship you do not exert your power over another. Nor do you ever need to do that with your child in order to gain cooperation.

    What do you do if a friend, co-worker or spouse does something unacceptable to you? You probably don’t take away a privilege. Yelling never accomplishes anything worthwhile, and letting it pass sends the message you are okay with it. The relationship is what is at risk. That is what needs tending — if you want to maintain the relationship.

    Most often you are caught off-guard by your child’s offending behavior. Your emotions flood your brain and you go into reactive mode. But reacting in that mode means defensive, retaliatory behavior that only breaks connection and will never lead to cooperation. IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO DO NOTHING.

    Stop, breathe, and wait until your emotions are cooled and your thinking brain comes back online — when you can be rational again.

    Go back to your child, own your part of the situation, name the problem, and work it out.

    “You really hated what I asked you to do. I probably said it with a frustrated tone. I do have a problem here that I need your help with. It is my job as your parent to get you to bed on time. I get very frustrated and impatient especially when I’m tired at the end of the day and want things to go smoothly. And of course you don’t want to go to bed. You want to keep playing. So we have to work this out so we are both okay with it. Is there something you can think of that would help getting to bed easier so we don’t have to fight about it every night?”

    This re-do of the situation is considerate of your child’s agenda, it accepts your child’s natural desires at her stage of development, it shows responsibility by owning your part, and it acknowledges your job and desire. When your child does not feel blamed, she is far more likely to cooperate with you because she doesn’t have to defend herself against your blame. When you own what is yours—in this case it is your desire to get your child to bed—your child feels more understood and is more willing to work it out.

    You do not need to go into this every night, but if you take the time to invest in your relationship, and you can be trusted not to flip back to “drawing a line”, you will rarely have to have this type of conversation with your child. But when new stages of development arise, when your child is thinking differently, when you are particularly needy, going back to the problem-solving drawing board is always the best way to preserve a strong, loving relationship.

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    May ’18 Q&A – Confidence, Empathy and Shopping

    Is it lack of confidence or too much control?

    Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.

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    Getting Your Kids to Listen to You. Could There Be Anything Better?

    When your kids don’t listen, how long does your patience last?

    You think you’ve tried everything. You ask nicely, you keep asking nicely until you explode, you lecture about all you do for them, you give them consequences for not listening, you give them extra privileges if they do — but your kids still won’t listen.

    You can’t seem to get them do what they should: brush their teeth, go to bed, get off the computer, quiet down in the car, eat a healthy meal, pick up their dirty clothes, etc. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?

    What if: They do listen, but they don’t like what they hear? (That’s not okay, is it?)

    Now ask yourself: Are you asking them for cooperation or obedience?

    You must be clear about what you’re expecting. If you expect obedience (I know, you don’t think you are), your kids hear it in your tone. There’s a “if you don’t do what I say, you’re in trouble” attitude that determines your tone and expectation.

    The key to understanding why your children won’t do what you ask lies in understanding if and why you expect them to. Simply put, they are just being kids, doing what kids are supposed to do — get what they want when they want it. They’re probably not being disrespectful or rude. But you expect more. You expect them to do what you say because you’re the parent and kids should do what they’re told, right? After all isn’t that the way you were brought up? That’s expecting obedience. Nothing wrong with that as long as you take responsibility for it and understand that you are likely to get push-back, especially from strong-willed children.

    When you expect obedience and you don’t get it, the natural and logical progression is for you to feel angry, resentful, frustrated, and/or incompetent. Then you naturally react by nagging, blaming, threatening or worse — because you’re taking it personally and not recognizing that it is normal for your child to resist doing what he doesn’t want to do.

    If you consider yourself to be a “progressive” parent, that means you are not willing to hit your children, threaten the switch or belt, lock them in their rooms with no dinner, or ground them for days on end. No, you don’t want to do what was done to you. But that is what is needed if you expect obedience. You can get it if you are willing to use fear as the motivator to do as you say.

    You’re not willing to do that, but you want the same results. When you expect obedience without the same coercive tactics, you will likely start out patient and calm and end up playing one of your parents. You think because you are being “nicer” than your parents, your children should respond accordingly. But you have to adjust your expectations as well as your motivators.

    The answer is simple. Instead, expect them not to want to do what you say.

    Use the Of Course mantra. Of course my child doesn’t want to brush teeth, go to bed, get out the door on time (your time), pick up toys, do homework, go to the dentist, do the dishes, clean the bathroom and feed the dog.

    Understanding that they don’t want to do this doesn’t mean they don’t have to.

    You will get far more cooperation when you adjust the expectation from they should do what they are told when they are told, to kids just want to be kids and that’s ok.

    When you expect this, you know they need motivation to do what you ask, not threatening coercion. When you expect this, your kids feel your consideration. When you expect this, you are asking your kids to help you with your problem.

    When expectations are realistic, emotional reactions are far calmer, problem solving is much easier to come by, and children do not feel powerless, misunderstood and put upon. When your expectations of your children are set for an adult, your children will feel unfairly treated — and much less likely to cooperate. You’re the same way. No reason your children should feel differently.

    When kids don’t listen it’s because you’re telling them to do something that is not their problem. Picking up toys, getting to bed, brushing their teeth, etc. is your problem—they don’t care. You have to make sure those things get done. You have to get them to do a lot of things they don’t want to do. That’s why kids have to spend approximately eighteen years with parents.

    Your authority as a parent is insuring your kids do what they shouldn’t have to want to do. Because they’re kids. That’s why they need you. But things get much messier than they have to be when you expect that should want to, that it is their job, and they shouldn’t make life hard for you. They should just do what you say.

    Here’s an example of using your authority:

    “It’s time to get your room cleaned up. Of course, that’s the last thing you want to do, right? You’d probably be fine with the strange filing system you have mapped out on your floor! I need to make sure that little critters don’t decide to keep house with you. So how do we make it happen? What would be a good time for you in the next week? How long do think you’d need and let’s get it on the calendar. Do you want my help or do you want to handle it yourself?”

    Then when the time comes, stick to the agreement. At this point, it’s the agreement you are holding your child to. You never have to expect her to want to do it. But you do want to teach her that agreements are important, and her word is trusted.

    “I’ll be happy to take you to your friend’s/to practice as soon as your room is cleaned up. Let me know when you’re ready.”

    Rules and limits can be firm without ever needing to yell, blame, threaten, bribe or punish. It all depends on what you expect.


    The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course

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