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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.

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!

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.

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”.

End the “Food Fight” with your kids (part two)

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There are a few “Old Fashioned Values” that I ascribe to. One of them is eating dinner together at the table. Food is life sustenance and should be celebrated with our family. It is an opportunity to connect with one another at the end of the day, to share the events of our lives, and to enjoy and “get to know each other”. It is also an opportunity to “teach” our children table manners and food etiquette. If you can’t get your family to the table every night, select a few nights each week to designate as “family meal nights”. Your children may resist this at first but will probably learn to love it and make it a priority to show up if you make mealtime pleasant.

Dinnertime conversation is the basis of a pleasant meal. Have you noticed that kids tend to get monosyllabic as they get older? All of your questions are met with answers like, “Nothing” or “Fine”. Here’s how to get some conversation started:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. “What was the best thing that happened in your day today?” If this doesn’t elicit more than a one word response, share the best thing from your day. Share a story about anything that happened that might be of interest. Share a joke. When the focus is OFF of them, they begin to think of things that they would like to share with you.
  2. Don’t take it personally if your kid seems uninterested in what you are saying. Don’t try too hard. Keep it casual and friendly.
  3. Inspire laughter.
  4. Be patient. Most kids will join in eventually. (They really do want connection with you.) When they do talk to you, listen to them. Be interested in what they have to say. Ask the kind of questions that show them that you are listening and that you care.

The practicalities of manners and etiquette:

  1. Model good manners. If you use good manners they (eventually) will too.
  2. State what you want (“It is polite to say/do…”) rather than what you don’t want (“It is rude to say/do…”).
  3. Take the time to teach. Always “teach” in a way that is non-shaming. (No one learns well if they feel they are being shamed.) My parents taught us “public manners”. We were allowed to be more lax at home as long as we knew what would be expected if we were eating at a restaurant or at a friend’s house. So that we (and they) would not be embarrassed.

Remember ~ Laughter aids digestion. Food is the way we nourish our bodies. Relationships are how we nourish our soul. Keep mealtime conversation and interactions as pleasant as possible. Enjoy the food. Focus on the relationship.

Want more practical tips and techniques? My next workshop starts May 24, 2011. Get the details and register on my Upcoming Workshops page.