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“I’ve taken away everything my teen cares about” (part one of the “Discipline doesn’t have to hurt” series)

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extremely-bad-parentingUsed to be, parents could do whatever they needed to do to make their children mind. Then Child Protective Services (CPS) came along and parents were told that they could not hit their kids…including spanking. Parents lost their major tool for making kids mind–without being given any replacement options. The main suggestion that is offered is to “take away the things they care about.” Unfortunately this rarely seems to work.

These are the kind of things I commonly hear:

  • “We have taken everything from her. She has a mattress on the floor, a sleeping bag, a pillow, limited clothing, and…no door on her bedroom. She still doesn’t mind. Nothing seems to matter. She just doesn’t care about ANYthing.”
  • “I have to take away his books and his Kindle–the things he loves–in order to get his attention.”
  • “I have to keep her things long enough so that she will follow the rules/do what I say.”
  • “He has to earn the right to have his things back.”images (32)
  • “She doesn’t get to go play outside. It has to hurt enough that she knows I’m serious.”
  • “He is grounded for the next month. No friends, no electronics, no nothing. He just needs to think about what he has done wrong.”

Any of that sound familiar? Either as a strategy you’ve tried or as what you grew up with? Did it work? Do you remember when you were a teen? And what worked or didn’t work with you?

images (37)Okay. So…You can’t “hit” your kid. Taking things and privileges doesn’t work. What can you do?

First, let’s look at the difference between punishment and discipline.

The goal of punishment is to make sure that it hurts enough that kids won’t forget and won’t misbehave again. It is an external motivation for attempting to control our kids. What most kids “learn” from punishment is how to do a better job of lying or how to be sneakier and not get caught.

The root of the word discipline is “disciple” which means, “to teach”. When we discipline our children we want them to learn something; we are helping them learn. We are creating internal motivation.

These are the elements that separate discipline from punishment. We all learn best when things make sense. It is easier to learn when the atmosphere is friendly. So stay calm (or wait until you are). Focus on “What do I want my kid to learn? How can I help him learn?” rather than, “How can I make sure this hurts enough that my kid won’t forget?” Don’t invite your children to defy you; invite them to learn.

Discipline doesn’t have to hurt to be effective…in fact, it is usually more effective if it doesn’t daughter smile

(This is part one of the series “Discipline Doesn’t Have To Hurt.”)

Want more tips and hints? Check out “Upcoming Workshops” or “Problems with Teens”.

When Good Kids Say Mean Things…How to Not Take it Personally

One of the things I frequently hear when working with parents is, “If I had talked to my parents the way my kid talks to me, I’d have been grounded for the rest of my life.” Sound familiar? Kids these days are gutsy and say things that most of us would never have dared to say to our parents.

Parents ask, “Why is that? Why do they talk like that? How do they get away with it?”  If we realize that any control we have over our child is an illusion, I think it is of more value to ask, “How can we do things differently and get better results?”

When the relationship is contentious, I always recommend that, emotionally, parents step back far enough to not get battered by the things their kids say to and about them. The trick is to find the balance so that you don’t step back so far that you lose connection. So how do you do that?

  • Take your sail out of their wind ~Allow them to blow themselves out while you avoid getting battered by their wind. Walk away. Let them know you will be back when things are calmer. Do NOT say, “When YOU are calm.” This just escalates their feelings. No good will come from that.
  • Do NOT engage with them if they are being mean or dis-respectful. YOU need to set the precedent. Re-engage as soon as the attitude changes. Do not hold a grudge. Focus on the behavior you want.
  • Do not take them places, do things for them, or buy them things when they are being/have been rude and disrespectful. It is important, when you talk to them about what you are not doing, you tell them in a way that is firm but kind. If you threaten them  or are mean when you state your limits and boundaries,  they just see you as being mean and they get mean back.
  • Underneath any misbehavior is an unmet need…usually that need is for connection and relationship. Consider spending one-on-one time with your teen.

By the time kids leave home, most parents I know have some regrets; some “I wish I woulda…when I had the chance.” In the moment, it is hard to know what things will stay with us as the years go by. Two common regrets are:

1.  “I always wish that I had spent more time with my kids when they were at home…now I have to travel to be with them.”  I’ve never met a parent who has said, “Gosh. I really regret that I spent so much time with my kids when they were younger.”

2. “I wish I would have learned not to take things personally.” Hurt feelings and big emotions really get in the way of communication and relationship.

Ask REALLY GOOD questions (so your teen will talk to you)

When you ask your teenager questions, do you get the standard responses of: “Yeah.” “No.” “Fine.” “Nothing.” “I don’t know.”

If you are the parent of a teen, you probably know exactly what questions elicit those responses. One parent told me, “Any of those responses would be an upgrade from what we get…all we get is a grunt.”

Have you tried everything you can think of to get an actual answer from your teen? Are you wondering, “What does it take to ask questions that elicit a response?” It’s not that easy to just start asking good questions. It takes practice.

When my kids were teenagers and I was thinking about this I realized that if my kids talked
to me, I would have an opportunity to know what was going on in their lives. And if they listened to me I would have an opportunity to be an influence.

I realized that if my kids were going to talk to me they would have to feel safe. They would have to trust me to be able to:

  •         really hear what they were saying, without putting my own spin on it
  •         respect their opinion
  •         not use that information to become suspicious of them
We WANT to hear the good stuff. We NEED to be able to hear the hard stuff.
To that end, I promised my kids that they could talk to me about anything…and that I would always do my best not to let them see how freaked out I was by the things they were telling me. We were able to laugh about that. Then they began to test the water, starting with the easy things before, eventually, trusting me to hear the hard things.

So how do you ask the kinds of questions that actually begin a conversation with your teenager? These are the kinds of questions that elicit a response rather than shut down the conversation. 

  • First of all, your kids need to know that it is safe to talk to you and that they can trust you.
  • Tone of voice is one of the most important things. You can change curiosity into scorn or shame just with your tone of voice even if you use the very same words. Be VERY careful with your tone of voice.
  • You can ask them to share (“Tell me about that”) how they came to their beliefs — as long as you aren’t trying to change those beliefs…only to understand them.
  • When you are able to listen respectfully (without interrupting, interpreting, or intervening) your kids have an opportunity to listen to themselves. As they listen to themselves, they have an opportunity to think about (and question) their own beliefs. Give them time and encouragement to do that.
  • Before you tell them what you think, ask them if they would like some feedback? If you can offer some input? If they say “no”, accept it. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.” (Think about this: How many of the things you tell your teen are things that you have already told them? Many times?)
  • Remember that  judgment, criticism, embarrassment, or shame will end the conversation.
  • Ask yourself… “How would I feel if someone was talking to me the way I am talking to my kid?” If the answer is, “I wouldn’t like it,” chances are your kids don’t like it either. Now is your opportunity to upgrade how you communicate so you can say, “Yes. I would feel respected if I was talked to like this.”

(Next week we will explore what happens when there is a break in communication…and how to repair it.)

Want more tips and hints? Check out “Upcoming Workshops” or “Problems with Teens”.

The More You Talk The Less They Listen

Do you notice that when you begin to talk, your teenager’s eyes glaze over?

And do you keep on talking?

It’s just soooo hard not to, right?

We just know that what we have to say is SO important. They need to hear it. And maybe…if we just say it one more time…or in a different way…they’ll get it/understand/change what they are doing. And yet…the more we talk, the less they seem to listen.

Think about it...By the time your kids are teenagers, how many things do you say to them that they have not heard from you…like a bazillion times already?

What is your goal when you talk to (lecture???) your teenager? Is it to get them to think or do what YOU want them to think or do?

OR do you want them to learn to think for themselves?

Sometimes we need to find out what kids already know, what they think, and how they came to those conclusions. The way to do that is to learn to ask questions…good questions. These are the kind of questions that come from “I’m curious about what you know and what you think. I don’t already know, but I’d like to.”

And then really listen to their answer.

The next question you ask should be to follow what they have said, not to try to lead them to a conclusion you want them to come to. This is a way that kids have an opportunity to explore their beliefs with you.

The main “rules” for asking questions are:

  1. If you know the answer, don’t ask the question. Don’t set kids up to lie to you by “giving them the opportunity to tell the truth.”  Most kids won’t, if they think they can get away with it. (This does not mean that you ignore something that they have done, just that you address the issue without asking if they did it.) “We agreed that you would come straight home after school today and you went to the mall instead. These are the consequences…” Rather than asking, “What did you do after school today?”
  2. Stay curious. Don’t assume you know their answer. Don’t have an answer that you want them to give you. The point of asking questions is to get information– NOT to quiz them to see if they have listened to you and can remember something that you have told them.
Asking questions is so that you can learn how your teenager perceives the world. You can give them the gift of learning how to think…not just what to think.

So take the time to find out what your kids think, or know…or think they know. If you do this well, I guarantee it will be interesting.

(Next week we will talk about how to ask those REALLY GOOD questions so that your kids will talk to you.)

Want more tips and ideas? Check out “Upcoming Workshops” or “Problems with your teen?”

Implement Those New Parenting Skills

I spend a lot of time working with parents to help them learn new skills. I share the skill, the application, the benefit (what your child learns–how this skill applies to life lessons). I give them a handout detailing use and steps and then coach them about how they might use and incorporate this skill. They are excited and inspired!!!

When we meet the following week and I ask how it went, they say they “Didn’t have a chance to use it” or they lost their temper and just “Did what I always do” or “The dog ate my handout.”

Incorporating news skills is challenging. And “If nothing changes, nothing changes” right?

One day I was having coffee with my friend Kirstan Eventyr (who is an amazing person and wonderful resource. Check her out at: and she was sharing stories about parenting her young children. She told me about something that she calls a “Do Over”. Whenever she dealt with her kids in a way she wished she hadn’t, she would go to them and tell them she needed to have a Do Over.

I loved the idea of having an opportunity to try again. I thought of how many times I had walked away from my kids shaking my head and thinking, “I can’t believe I did/said/reacted like that…again.” I realized that we all need a Do Over from time to time.

I began to share Kirstan’s “Do Over” with my clients and realized what an powerful learning tool this could be.

Now I share the Do Over concept as a way to help parents move from theory to practice. Here’s what makes it challenging to change. You walk away from an encounter with your kid and think, “Oh yeah. I was going to try that new thing. Well…next time I’ll do that.” But “next time” never happens because the next time the situation arises, we do the same thing again and think (again), “Next time.”

Now’s your chance to change things this time!

Here is how the Do Over helps change theory to practice:

  • Take a break and get calm.
  • Decide/remember/review what new skill you wanted to practice using.
  • Apologize if necessary, but keep it light and friendly.  For example, “I’m sorry. That really wasn’t the way I wanted to handle that situation.”
  • Tell them you want a “Do Over” (Or maybe, “I’d like to try that again.”)
  • Practice your new skill.
  • Afterwards evaluate, “What worked? What didn’t? How do I want to do it next time?”
  • (You can use it to clean up any situation–with or without new skills practice.)
Here are the benefits:
  • With practice you get to actually learn those new skills (not just think about them.)
  • You have the opportunity to create positive interactions with your teen and begin to build a different way of relating to each other.
  • You show your teen “I’m not perfect” and “It’s okay to make mistakes”…especially if we learn from them/clean them up. (Don’t worry about admitting the “not perfect” part. They already know it.)
  • You teach your teen how to take responsibility and make amends. (“Here’s how to clean up the mistake I made.”)
So give it a try! Practice it!  Have fun with it! Have fun with your kids!

READ to your kids!!! it will inspire them to fall in love with books!

I just finished reading “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult literature). I couldn’t put it down. I love (LOVE ) a good book.

I don’t remember a time when books have not been a part of my life.

My mom read to us when we were kids. As we got older she read longer and more sophisticated books to us…a couple of chapters every night. I loved having all of us crammed together on the couch or on the bed, listening as stories unfolded.

I carried on the same tradition with my own kids and loved it even more. Now that they are grown, all of my kids are avid readers and we exchange books and recommendations with each other. I LOVE a good book!

These days there are huge concerns about “educating” our kids (starting when kids are younger and younger) and about “literacy”. I wonder how much illiteracy is due to parents not finding the time to read to their kids? And to continue to read to their kids, even when their kids are able to read to themselves. I think the reason that I fell in love with books is because my mom continued to read to us…and I continued reading to my kids. I loved sharing the adventure of the story with them. The closeness, the conversations and human interaction that we had with each other. There is nothing I have found that can replace this experience as a family.

I watch as parents focus on teaching their 2 year old to identify colors, shapes and letters. The pride they have in “how smart” their child is. And then…not read to their kids, or if they do, they stumble over (or don’t recognize) the simple words in their kids picture books. Soon the kids get bored and want to watch TV instead. How does this happen? If you want your child to WANT to learn to read, help them fall in love with books! This is a gift that can last their entire lives.

If you have young kids:

  • Take them to the library on a regular basis (weekly/every other week).
  • Let them check out the books they want to.
  • READ their books aloud to them. Read WELL to them–with expression and interest. (If you are not a good reader, practice. Read aloud to yourself until you get comfortable with it and good at it). Engage them in the story.
  • Keep reading to them.
  • Model reading–let them see that you read too.
  • Have books available for them to read.
  • Limit TV time, or at least watch TV with them.
If your children are older, and are “reluctant” readers, help them find an author or genre they like. There are a wealth of books, stories, authors and information available. There is something for everyone! Here is a Young Adult list with ideas to get you started:
And another link:
For more tips and ideas visit Upcoming Workshops page.

Get your school year off to a great start!

The beginning of the school year is just around the corner. This is the time that most parents begin thinking about how to have the school year go well. For the last few weeks I have been working with a lot of parents with their kids to make agreements about getting ready for the school year.

When making agreements it works best to have it be a collaborative effort rather telling your kids “how it will be”…and giving them something to rebel against. (Mediation has a high success rate because most people tend to “self-comply” when they are involved in making the agreement.)

Tips for success:

  • Choose a time to talk when your relationship is calm and the atmosphere is friendly.
  • Let your kids know, ahead of time, what your expectations are.   “We need to talk about what happens when school starts and  make some agreements about how we will deal with things.”
  • Avoid lecturing about all of the things they’ve done wrong in the past. A simple, “We’ve had problems in the past with you finishing your homework, let’s see what we can agree on to make that better this year” is all you need to say.
  • Remember that you are working together. If there is a big difference between what you want and what your kid wants and you can’t agree, consider allowing them to have an opportunity to show you that they can handle the responsibility of taking on something new.
  •  Make sure you have consequences in place.
  •  Never say, “I told you so.” (You know how much you hate it when someone says that to you, right?)
  • Make sure to address all aspects of the agreement. Get very specific.
  • Have consequences be as logical as possible.
Some common agreements:
  1. Bedtime. Decide together on bedtimes for during the week and on weekends. (“Do you want me to remind you about your bedtime?”)
  2. Get clear about what “being in bed” means to each of you? ( Getting ready for bed? Being in bed with the lights off? Being in your room for the night?)
  3. Getting up in the morning. (What do you need to do in the morning? How long does it take? What time do you need to leave?)
  4. Will you wake up by yourself? Do you want me to wake you up? What happens if you don’t get out of bed?
  5. Homework/grades~getting it done/parent involvement/grade expectations.
Some common consequences:
  1. If kids can’t be “in bed” when they have agreed to be, they need to start getting ready for bed earlier.
  2. If kids can’t get up in the morning, bedtime gets moved to an earlier time.
  3. Homework is done before they get to “go play”. (Hang out with friends/video games/TV/computer time.)
  4. If homework is not getting done or grades begin to fall, they lose privileges (“play”) until past homework is caught up and grades come up.
Have fun with this! Kids can be creative and enjoyable when they feel respected by you and know that they have a voice in the process for agreement.
For more tips and information visit “Upcoming Workshops” page.

How to deal with “lying” and create a larger circle of support for your kids

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Lying is a common problem that comes up for parents. The thing that’s really soooo bad about lying is that it destroys trust. We lose the ability to trust what they tell us. It also undermines the “moral” character that we are trying to instill.

So why do our kids lie to us? Most commonly it is because they are afraid to tell the truth because they are afraid they will get in trouble (and they will get lectured or lose privilege) or that we will freak out…or both.

One of the things that I love about working with groups is that some parents have brilliant and inspired strategies. Before I share their stories, I want to challenge you to examine a few ideas about your relationship with your kids.

1. “Mistakes” and “bad decisions” are some of the greatest opportunities we have to learn.

2. When was the last time you got punished for making a mistake or a bad decision? What did you learn from being punished?

3. What does your child learn from punishment? (Frequently they learn to “get sneakier” or to “lie better”.)

4. Would it be more beneficial for them to learn to deal with the problem they have created?  (I am, in no way, suggesting that they shouldn’t have consequences.)

5. Do you really need to know EVERYTHING that your teenager does?

6. Do you need to be “the one” that your kid talks to OR can you encourage them to have a relationship with another adult ~ hopefully one who will be available to offer them guidance and support?

7. Do you want your child to tell you the truth so that you have information about the guidance and skills they need or so that you can “catch them” doing bad things?

Stories from the front lines:

This courageous woman is a “New mother”. Her first child is a 14 year old girl whom she is adopting. When she was first confronted with lying she told her daughter why she didn’t want her to lie and what she did want: “I want to trust you and believe you.” Then she offered her alternatives: “If you think I can’t handle the truth, tell me so. Say, “I can’t tell you because I think you’ll freak out.” OR “Can I tell you now but not talk about it until you calm down?” OR “I can’t talk to you about this so I talked to my auntie about it instead.” or even, “I can’t tell you the truth because I am afraid to.” After offering alternatives she requested, “Just…don’t lie to me.”

Another mom offered her daughter a six month “statute of limitations”. “If you did something more than six months ago and I didn’t catch you, you can talk to me about it now and not get into trouble for it.” When she did this, her daughter began sharing some of the things that she had done. Mom was able to keep her word and it opened the door to be able to offer her daughter guidance, information, problem solving skills, and support in making better choices in the future.

We WANT to hear the good stuff. We NEED to hear the hard stuff. If we want to trust our children to tell us the truth, they need to be able to trust that we can handle it in a positive way…or hook them up with someone who can.

Looking for more hints and tips on parenting teens? Check out “Upcoming Workshops”.

Eat Your Vegetables!!!

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When my youngest son was about 15 he announced to me, “Jason and I have been talking and I know we’re right because we both agree. The only vegetables that aren’t disgusting are raw carrots…and maybe raw celery.” I thought, “Great. The closed reality of a couple of teenagers.”

Two years later he was a vegetarian. Amazingly, he didn’t starve. Now there are no vegetables (that I know of) that he doesn’t like. Hang in there, their tastes will change as they get older.

And in the meantime, what about their vegetables?

  1. Serve foods they like…most of the time. You might want to cook a bit differently when your kids are young. You can avoid adding “objectionable” foods ~ the ones you know they don’t like ~ mushrooms for example ~ and still have a good meal. (Serve the mushrooms on the side.)
  2. It is important for kids to continue to try new foods so I suggest the “No-thank-you-bite”…which really is a “bite”. It’s not a small spoonful or 5 green beans. It is one bite. You just want them to taste it before they say “No.” Don’t get caught in the power struggle over how big the bite is. If they say “No thank you”…
  3. …Consider allowing kids to prepare their own vegetables if they don’t like the vegetable du jour and have tried their no thank you bite. Remember the goal: you want them to eat SOME veggies…ANY veggies…even if they aren’t the ones you chose.
  4. Get creative. My brothers used to come home and snack on frozen peas…then were exempt from the dinner veggie.
  5. In an unofficial Facebook poll,  people reported liking the following vegetables as kids: cucumber, green beans, tomatoes, peas, and carrots. You might want to try these with your kids. And the following, to avoid, were rated “disgusting”: okra, eggplant, mushrooms, and beets.

3 final notes on food.

1. In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “What the Dog Saw” he has a discussion about ketchup and notes that by the age of 2 or 3 children “shrink from new tastes”. They frequently want to use ketchup as a way to make “strange” foods taste familiar. Knowing this may help you understand “why?” when your kid doesn’t like the delicious meal that you have slaved to make for your family….or dumps ketchup all over it. Don’t take it personally. Remember. Their food is their food. And…don’t criticize them for it. Hey. At least they’re eating it, right?

2. Cooking with kids (of any age) is a great way to spend some quality one on one time with them. Many kids are more interested in (and proud of) eating a meal they have helped prepare. It’s also a great opportunity for them to learn a valuable life skill.

3. Let kids cook with you— has a series of recipes on video that are “fast,      tasty, cheap and easy. Most meals can be made in under 12 minutes (prep time) for less than $12. They are fast…but they go beyond the standard Beans and Weenies. (Hence, the name).”

Subscribe to this blog post to get regular updates. Want more hints and tips? Check out upcoming workshops page for times and dates.

Sidestep the Power Struggle

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Power struggles with kids. You see them everywhere. Frustrated parents. Out of control kids. Yikes!the family tug of war

One of the first things I tell parents is, “Any control you have over your child, is an illusion.” Most parents of teenagers know this…but try to control their kids anyway. One of the next things is, “Do not engage in a power struggle with your kids because you will never win”…not that we want to have a win/lose relationship with our kids. The harder you try to control your teen, the more they will resist and the more their behavior will escalate.

What to do?

1. Get really clear about your boundaries. Know when you need to take a stand…and when you can let it go.

2. Remember that the only person that you have control over is you.

3. Stay calm and rational. When you “lose it” you can’t help your kids “find it”.

4. Tell them what they are doing. You do not want to shame or embarrass them. You only want to help them be aware of what they are doing. “Do you realize that you are yelling (swearing, being disrespectful)?”  Have you ever noticed that when YOU get upset you begin to raise your voice…sometimes without even noticing?

5. Tell them what YOU will/won’t do. This is NOT a threat or ultimatum. This is not a power play on your part. This is you letting them know (stating…”just the facts ma’am”) where you stand. The key here is your tone of voice. Let them know, “I will not be in conversation with you when you are yelling (swearing, being disrespectful) at me. This conversation is over for now.”

6. Give them a way back. Always let them know what you want from them and how they can re-gain connection. “We can talk when you are ready to have respectful conversation.”

7. Re-engage ASAP. This means that if they are immediately ready to have respectful conversation, you are too. The more quickly you are willing to re-engage/re-connect with them, the more effective this is. The message is “I love you. What you have to say is important to me. I want respectful interaction with you.” If you get angry, upset, or decide to “teach them a lesson” and make them wait, you turn this into a “punishment” instead of a “discipline” (opportunity to learn.) As a discipline, your kids will learn to self-correct.

respectful conversation

8. Move forward. Don’t go back or ask, “Are you finally going to be respectful?” Never say, “I told you so”, or “Now isn’t that better”, or “If you had been respectful in the first place…” Unless your goal is to elicit eye-rolling.

9. Acknowledge ~ briefly. Always let kids know what you like, but don’t go overboard. Be sincere. “Thanks. I enjoyed our conversation.”

10. Always treat kids with the same respect you want to be treated with.

11. The shortcut. If this is a chronic problem, after the first few times, go straight to step #5 and proceed from there.

For more helpful tips and strategies, check out “Upcoming Workshops”.