The Tattletale Elf: Tips for Inspiring Good Behavior without the Help of Magical Elves

Friday, December 18, 2015 No comments

It’s taken over Pinterest. It’s all over Facebook. It’s all the rage. It’s the Elf on a Shelf. Supposedly this little magic elf comes to watch your children’s behavior and report back to Santa whether they’ve been naughty or nice. It also seems to get involved in all sorts of shenanigans while it’s running around magically alive while the children sleep.

It’s all in good fun, right? Well, maybe. I love these little elves and think they’re a blast. We have one too, although he’s a little different. Their silly antics can cause lots of laughter, and laughter is good for families. Laughter connects us. What disconnects us is using it as a tattletale elf.

From the Cambridge Dictionary: tattletale (noun) a person, especially a child, who secretly tells someone in authority, especially a teacher, that someone else has done something bad, often in order to cause trouble.

So, yes, the Elf on the Shelf is a big ole tattletale, running to tattle to Santa when the children misbehave so that they’ll be punished with a lump of coal.

Let’s try a short exercise.
Imagine for a moment that you’re dog tired and not in a very chipper mood. I know, it’s so hard to imagine, isn’t it? So, here you are, not feeling (or acting) your best. The kids are wired, the place is a mess, you have a to-do list a mile long, and bedtime can’t come fast enough.

Now imagine if your spouse had someone watching your every move and reporting back to, let’s say, your mother-in-law. Feeling resentful yet? You may be yelling less, but I’d bet you’re feeling disconnected from your spouse. And your mother-in-law. That’s because threats and tricks don’t change hearts. They don’t help us be better people.

At best, they force us to pretend to be better people as long as we are under a threat, but this only builds feelings of anger, resentment, and for some kids, shame. These feelings cause people to behave worse, not better.

To really thwart negative behavior and inspire positive behavior from your children, you have to have their hearts. You cannot change a heart that you can’t reach. The big secret to easier parenting is that your relationship matters most, so anything that disconnects and harms the relationship is moving in the wrong direction.

If you want better behavior from your children this holiday season, here are 5 ways to bring it out in them.

1. Fall back in love.
The love we feel for our children never goes away, but children don’t always feel our love, especially when we’ve been feeling like we don’t like them very much. Negative cycles can be tough to shake out of, but it’s really important that your child feels unconditionally loved, accepted, and valued by you. Re-frame any negative perceptions you’ve formed. For example, “stubborn” could be re-framed into “perseverant.” There’s always a positive side if you look hard enough. The way we feel about our children and their intentions affects the way we treat them.

2. Get your relationship right.
If your relationship has been strained and you’re feeling disconnected, your child is probably disconnected too. Re-connect through playing, being present without distractions, active listening, and finding ways to laugh together every day.

3. Be a team.
If you have an “us versus them” mentality, they’ll adopt it, too. This sets you up for years of power struggles. Let your child know you’re on her side. Getting out of the dictator or manager mindset and into a mentor or leader mindset will help you come alongside your children as the example and coach that they need through childhood.

4. Use consequences that teach.
If a consequence is necessary, aim for consequences that teach rather than just punish. I’ve written a full article explaining this in detail which you can find here.

5. Build them up.
Children who feel good about themselves will behave well. We should always be looking for the light in our children and reflecting it back to them. We want to see the good in them and help them see it, too.

Use encouraging phrases like these:
*That was so helpful. Thank you.
*You are so kind to do that.
*I’m proud of you for ___.
*I believe in you.
*I like spending time with you.
*You’re so much fun to be around!

Here are some alternative uses for your elves:

Kindness Elves by The Imagination Tree are a popular alternative.

Conscious Discipline suggests using heart-shaped glasses for your elf to see the good behaviors you want to inspire rather than the bad ones. Here’s a post on their Facebook page about it.

Happy Hooligans has 7 cute alternatives here.

Of course, you could always keep your current tradition, just ditching the tattletale part.

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. For more of my positive parenting articles at Creative Child, click here.

Potty Training Tips that Really Help

Potty training is a funny thing. It almost becomes a competition between parents to see whose kids get trained the quickest. There’s real pressure on us to “perform” our parenting duties well, and one of the ways we prove what good parents we are is by having our children out of diapers ASAP. At least, that’s how I felt. So, when my first child, at the age of 2, trained in literally one day, never looking back, I was as proud as a peacock. Nailed it.

I had a terrific game plan and I executed it perfectly. I bought him cool new underwear and we made a big celebration of saying goodbye to diapers, with balloons and everything! I set up a colorful reward chart and promised him an awesome toy if he’d fill up the chart with stars. The morning started a little sketchy, but by mid-day, he was a pro! We clapped and danced, I gave him his stars, and by the end of the day, I was feeling pretty good about my skills. He never woke up wet again. He never asked for diapers again. It was done. Easy as pie. Slam dunk. I will accept my ribbon now, please.

Then, child number two happened. I pulled out my same bag of tricks and expected the same success. Nope. He not only was uninterested, he flat out resisted. Age two passed. Then three. The more I begged and pleaded with him to go in the potty, the more he dug in his heels. He was still in diapers at age 4, and I think it’s safe to say that I had to give back the ribbon and accept that I was, indeed, a failure. No amount of bribing would sway him, and by this time, I was well in my positive parenting journey and didn’t even believe in bribes. Desperate times call for desperate measures though, and these felt like desperate times.

Exasperated and defeated, I finally said, “You know what, son. How about you just let me know when you’re ready to use the potty. It’s your body, and I’m going to start trusting you with it, okay?” And then I stopped asking, bribing, pleading, and even talking about the toilet. I had lost the fight, and I limped away whimpering. You win, kid.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t long after when he decided he was ready. Once he felt like it was his idea, he was all for learning to use the toilet. When I looked back on our whole potty learning journey, I realized there was really no point in stressing over it so much.

So, as a mom who both “succeeded” and “failed” at potty training my kids, I offer you these toilet training tips.

1. Get a little potty seat long before you expect they’ll want to learn.
Introducing it all at once and asking them to go in there can be a little too much for some children. Let it be just a normal little seat where your child can sit to listen to you read or watch a show. When they become curious about using it as a toilet, move it to the bathroom. They can sit there while they observe how you use the big toilet.

Children learn best simply from our modeling. You can then begin asking if they’d like to sit on it naked or to pee or poop in it. If the answer is no, just respect their answer and be patient.

Learning to use the toilet is a natural thing, so trust that it will happen. 

...continue reading tips 2 and 3 at Creative Child 

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. For more of my positive parenting articles at Creative Child, click here.

Conscious Parents: Cultivating Self-Compassion

The one thing all conscious parents must have, I’ve learned, is self-compassion. As we become increasingly aware of the deep impact of our words and actions upon our children, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of guilt and shame each time we miss the mark. We can put so much pressure on ourselves to be ever-present, aware, attuned, emotionally regulated, and self-controlled that anything less than perfection can feel like complete failure.
On her website,, Dr. Kristin Neff defines compassion as having 3 parts:
  1.  A notice of suffering
  2.  A feeling moved to respond with warmth, caring, and a desire to help the suffering person, offering understanding and kindness rather than judging harshly, and
  3. A realizing that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of being human.
Therefore, self-compassion is acting the same way toward yourself when you fail or are imperfect. She says, “Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.”
Brene Brown, world-renowned researcher and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, says that self-compassion and forgiveness is one of the 10 guideposts of engaged parenting that emerged from her parenting research. She admits something that I can identify with very much, which is this: “I always thought that teaching [my children] self-love was mandatory and figuring it out in my own life was optimal but optional. This research has forced me to let go of that idea.”

I’ll be honest. I hate to let that idea go. I’ve already had to do so much inner work to be a conscious parent, and now I’m having to take on this, too. My inner critic is ruthless. She berates me on the smallest of things. Nothing ramps up feeling the need to be a perfect parent like being a parenting book author!

Even though my heart knows this journey is about progress, not perfection, my mind has a difficult time accepting that I’ll never get it 100% right. Yet there is one truth I know, and that Brene has reinforced, which is if I want my children to live it, I must show them how, not tell them how. With that in mind, I’ve turned back to Dr. Kristin Neff and her self-compassion exercises.

Exercise #1: Exploring Self-Compassion through Writing
In this exercise, Neff asks which imperfections make you feel inadequate – something what causes shame or makes you feel like you’re not “good enough.”
She advises to write about the issue that makes you feel inadequate and notice what emotions come up when you think about this aspect of yourself. Next, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend. What would this friend say to you? In your letter, convey acceptance, understanding, and kindness.

The third part of this exercise is to then walk away from the letter for a while after you’ve written it, coming back later to read it again while letting the words sink in. Allow the compassion to pour in, comforting you.

Exercise #2: Self-Compassion Break
Think of a situation in your life that is causing you stress. Bring it to your awareness and actually feel the emotional discomfort. Say to yourself “this hurts” or “this is a moment of suffering.” This is being mindful of your situation. Next, put your hands over your heart and just acknowledge that you are not alone, and that we all struggle at times.

Then, practice repeating whichever phrase feels the most soothing to you. Examples are “may I be kind to myself,” “may I forgive myself,” and “may I be strong.”

Exercise #3: Changing Your Critical Self-Talk
Repeat these steps over a period of several weeks to transform how you treat yourself.
  1. Notice when you are being self-critical. Note your inner speech. What is the tone of your voice? Does this voice remind you of anyone in your past? Get to know your inner-critic well.
  2. Soften the self-critical voice with compassion. You might say, “I know you feel worried about me, but you are hurting me.” Then allow your compassionate self to speak.
  3. Reframe the observations made by your inner critic in a friendly, positive way. That might sound like this: “I’m feeling exhausted and need to rest. I snapped at my child because she got out of bed again and now I feel bad. I will go and apologize to her, give her a warm hug, and then I’ll set aside my to-do list and take 30 minutes to read my book. I deserve to be taken care of, too.”
It’s true that parenting is hard work, but it isn’t growing the children that is so difficult. It’s growing ourselves. If you and I put in the work now to silence the inner critic and cultivate self-compassion, not only will we benefit, but our children will to.

Wouldn’t it be nice for them to grow up and not have to work so hard at loving themselves?

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. For more of my positive parenting articles at Creative Child, click here.

The Ultimate Guide to Positive Discipline

This is the third post in my series of ultimate guides. First was The Ultimate Guide to Tantrums and the second was The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Child to Listen. I’ve written before here about my three steps to positive discipline.

I thought it’d be helpful to share with your some scenarios which show what positive discipline looks like in action. These scenarios come from the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide for Putting Positive Parenting Principles into Practice, by Laura Ling and myself.

Scenario #1 - Danger:
Your 2-1/2 year old son doesn't like to hold hands when walking through parking lots or in large crowds. Every time you try to hold his hand, he pulls it away and tries to run, or he fusses at you and claims "I can do it myself!"

Behind the behavior: Independence
It’s a toddler’s job to start developing his autonomy and that means doing things on his own. Because he’s just starting to develop empathy (being able to see things from another's point of view) he doesn’t realize that the drivers may not see him or be able to stop in time. He just knows that he wants to walk the way he wants to walk and that running is fun, too.

Safety is non-negotiable. I wouldn't say to him, "Well OK, but please stay close" and risk him darting in front of a car or losing him in a crowd. Remember, positive parenting is not permissive parenting. While it’s important to foster independence and competency, it’s more important to keep him safe.

1. Before getting out of the car, explain to your toddler what is going to happen.

2. If you can offer him a choice, do so. "Would you like to ride in the stroller or hold my hand?" If the stroller/cart is not an option, explain in simple terms that you must keep him safe, and to do that, he needs to hold your hand.

3. As you take his hand, try to engage him in something that takes his mind off the hand-holding. "Let's look for red cars" or "let's skip to the door."

4. If he cries or protests, empathize with his upset. Get down on his level. "I know you want to walk by yourself, but my job is to keep you safe. I don't want you to get lost! Now let's look for red cars! There's one! Do you see another?"

5. If he still struggles to free himself, carry him. You may have to endure a few unpleasant ventures.

6. Acknowledge his need and empathize with his upset, but stick to your limit. He'll soon learn it's a non-negotiable.

Scenario #2 - Aggression:
Your 19-month-old is a biter. He has just bitten another child at a play date.

Behind the behavior:
It depends on what was happening at the play date. It could be frustration, anger, hurt feelings, or fear. Toddlers, even very verbal ones, can’t always articulate what they’re feeling or thinking. When something triggers a primal emotion, they will have access to even fewer words. Because the mouth is central to learning at this age, biting is a common expression of discomfort.

1. Remove your child to safety, make sure the child bitten is OK, and then set or reinforce your limit. "I won’t let you bite."

2. Validate his feelings; empathize with his upset. "You got mad because he took your truck. I see you're mad, but it’s not OK to bite. Biting hurts."

3. Let your child express his emotion safely, and problem-solve later.

The reason I suggest not talking about appropriate alternatives during the time it happens is because children do not take information in well when they are in "fight or flight" mode or are upset. They are much more likely to learn and retain information when they are calm.

4. Build his empathy muscles by asking him to look at the child he bit and name what that child is feeling. “Look at his face. He looks really upset. How can you make this better?”

5. Encourage him to repair the relationship either with a verbal apology (his choice, not forced) or a hug or drawing. Let him decide how to make the repair as you encourage him to empathize with the other child.

6. If you feel a consequence is necessary, you could choose to leave the play date or tell him if it happens again, he will have to go home.

Key Note: Don't bite him to show him how it feels.
You'd be surprised at how many parents would advise you to do this. Remember, you are the model for appropriate behavior!

Scenario #3 - Sibling Rivalry:
Sally (5) is playing with her teddy bear. Her sister, Emma (3), grabs the teddy bear from Sally. Sally tries to grab it back and they end up in a tug of war, both yelling at each other to “stop it!”

Behind the behavior: Competition
Both children want the same thing, but they don’t know how to negotiate. Many toys become desirable just because someone else has it. Some kids also use snatching as a way to initiate play.

1. State what you see happening. “You both want to play with the teddy bear. How can we solve this?”

2. Wait for their suggestions at this point, if they come. If not, throw some out there. “One of you could pick a different toy to play with, or you can take turns with the teddy bear. Which sounds best to you?” Realize this is not likely to go smoothly at first, but you’re teaching a valuable lesson here.

3. Validate each child’s feelings. If Sally says, “Mom! I was playing with it and she stole it!” then you might say, “I understand that you’re frustrated she took your toy. I will talk to her about snatching.” Emma chimes in “Not yours! It’s mine!” so you say, “You think it’s your bear and didn’t want Sally to have it.”

Often feeling heard and validated dissipates the anger.

4. Once you help them reach a solution, show them how to carry it through. If they decided to take turns with it, they may need your help if they don’t understand the concept that well yet.

5. Later, when Emma is calm, talk to her about the importance of being respectful to her sister, and how snatching is not respectful but instead she should use her words to ask for the teddy bear, then practice doing that with her.

6. If a peaceful agreement cannot be reached between the children, you will need to choose for them and ensure it’s carried out.

In addition to these scenarios, I’ve gathered great posts from positive parenting experts and educators to include in this ultimate resource.

These are worth saving, pinning, or otherwise bookmarking for easy reference along your parenting journey.

Discipline that Works by Dr. Laura Markham

Positive Discipline 101 by A Fine Parent

From Control to Connection by Alison Smith

Twelve Positive Discipline Parenting Strategies that Work by Andrea Nair

Don’t Waste another Consequence: Discipline Tips that Work by Nicole Schwarz

Tips for Parents to Connect Versus Correct by Chelsea Lee Smith

Better Understanding Boundaries and Consequences by Sandra Fazio

Are You a Conscious Parent? By Alison Smith

10 Tools for More Intentional Parenting by Lemon Lime Adventures

Practice Positive Discipline by Attachment Parenting International

And, if you’re having trouble explaining your discipline philosophy to your child’s caregivers, this handy hand-out from Drs. Tina Payne-Bryson and Daniel Siegel, authors of No-Drama Discipline, explains it clearly.

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. For more of my positive parenting articles at Creative Child, click here.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Child to Listen

Life would be so much smoother if our children would just cooperate, wouldn’t it? If they’d just listen to us about bedtime, mealtime, chores, etc., and happily comply with our requests, we’d all get along just fine. After all, how hard can it be to eat your vegetables, pick up your toys, brush your teeth, and go to bed? Right?

Unfortunately, the common ways in which we try to force cooperation, such as punishment (or the threat of punishment), nagging, and yelling, actually drive our kids further from wanting to cooperate. Which is why it seems like the more we yell and nag, the more we have to yell and nag.
And while nothing is going to guarantee 100% compliance, there are some things you can do that will greatly increase the likelihood that your child will listen more and want to cooperate with you.
I call these the 3 C’s of cooperation:

1. Connection:
Our relationship with our children is the secret to cooperation. It’s what gives them a desire to please us. Children who feel securely attached are more likely to cooperate simply because they feel close to us. They respect us, look up to us, and want to please us out of that genuine love and respect they feel. I write a lot about connection as I believe it is the single most important key to parenting. If you want to raise cooperation levels, raise your connection levels!

More of my articles on connection:
10 Ways to Connect with Your Child
Connection-Based Discipline
Creating Connection Through Correction
50 Ways to Love a Child

2. Consistency:
There is a calm but firm way to enforce your limits and follow through with your requests. This is not the same as threatening, but rather it is simply taking leadership action. Here are 3 positive follow through options to try:

Positive Follow Through Option 1:
For very young children, I recommend you gently guide them to the toys and point to the mess and then to the bins. This simple directive is easy for young tots to understand.
Stay close and ensure the task is complete, and then thank them! Say phrases like “I appreciate you putting your toys away." or "That was so helpful. Thank you!”

Positive Follow Through Option 2:
Add a bit of fun to the routine by playing music, making up a song, or asking your child to beat the timer. The more play you can add in your day, the more cooperative your child will become because play is a great way to help them feel connected.

Again, when it’s done, let them know you appreciate their work.

Positive Follow Through Option 3:
My children are getting older now, so when I find toys laying around, I drop them into a marked bin. My bin reads “Put this away please!” There’s no ransom to pay to get it back.
I did say this to my kids: “Whatever I find laying around, I will put in this box for you. Before bed, I need you to please empty the box and put everything where it goes.”

That was it, and they have cleaned out the bin every night.
I’ve also noticed that each day, I’m having to put less and less in the bin. My expectations grow as they do, so when they’re a little older, they’ll be responsible for putting things away quicker, but I’m decades older and still don’t put all my things away as soon as I’m finished. So until I master it, I won’t expect them to. Tidy, not perfect, is my mantra!

However you choose to handle it, be consistent. Don’t ask multiple times. Get up and take a positive leadership action every time after asking once or twice, and it won’t take long for them to get the point.

3. Capability:
Make sure what you’re expecting of your child is something he or she is developmentally capable of doing.

Expecting a 14-month-old toddler to sit through a 30-minute meal and clean her plate is unreasonable. Wanting a 2-year-old to keep his toys cleared away, his room tidy, and the pets fed may be asking a bit much. I’ve seen the chore charts for toddlers on Pinterest! I know some of you are wishing your kids would happily check off their lists, too, but I’m betting the cute and colorful chart doesn’t really inspire any tot.

I once read an article from a mother whose children completed an impressive list of chores each day and I admit it left me feeling envious.

Don’t compare to compete; it’s a trap! Know what your child’s capabilities are and expect no more or less than that.

Once again, I’ve gathered the best posts from my parenting expert and educator friends to help you encourage cooperation from your child, just in case my advice isn’t helpful for your situation or you didn’t find specifically what you were looking for above.

General Cooperation:
What to Do When a Child Won’t Listen by Andrea Nair

35 Phrases for Encouraging Cooperation Between Child and Parent by Ariadne Brill

Why Threats and Bribes Don’t Lead to Cooperation and What to Try Instead by Ariadne Brill

The Secret Art of Playfulness by Andy Smithson

How to Stop Sounding Like an Owl and Create a Blame-Free Home by Prana Boost

Mealtime Cooperation:
15 Transformative Phrases to Use with Your Fussy Eaters by Sarah Remmer

Getting Kids to Eat What the Family Eats Without Battles or Tantrums by Amy McCready

End the Mealtime Battles Once and For All by Nicole Schwarz

Bedtime Cooperation:
This Simple Chart Will Make Your Kid Sleep Through the Night by Kelly Holmes

Head Back to School and Make Bedtime Smarter by Alanna McGinn

Overcoming Bedtime Hassles by Positive Discipline

Cleaning Up Cooperation:
One Tip to Get Your Kids Helping Around the House by Nicole Schwarz

Children, Chores, and Drudgery by Hand in Hand Parenting

Still feeling like an overwhelmed parent? Read this article to chase away the parenting blues!

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. For more of my positive parenting articles at Creative Child, click here.

The Ultimate Guide to Tantrums

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 No comments
Photo credit: Creative Child Magazine

Tantrums. They’re one of the most talked about behaviors in the parenting world. They’re even one of the top behaviors that cause parents to lose their cool with their kids. No doubt, tantrums give parents a hard time. The truth is, though, that during a tantrum, your child is having a hard time. Tantrums aren’t always a matter of defiance, especially in young children. There’s a logical, scientific, brain-based reason why your child is throwing a fit, and armed with this knowledge, you can handle tantrums more effectively.

As parents, we are usually given these 2 pieces of advice about tantrums.
  1. Ignore the child.
  2. NEVER give in.
We are told that if we engage with a child in any way during a tantrum, we are basically reinforcing the bad behavior. We believe if we ignore it, the behavior will stop, and because we are led to believe that a tantruming child is a manipulative child, we know we must never, at any cost, give in to their demands.

Unfortunately, this advice has us only looking at the behavior, not at the often-hurting child behind it. It drives us to push away our children rather than bringing them closer and offering comfort in times of need. Tantrums are a strong emotional reaction to a stimulus. When the information coming in trips an alarm and gets sent to our more primitive limbic system rather than our cortex (the higher brain which houses logic and reasoning), a tantrum can result. It actually takes a lot of maturity and self-control to not tantrum, because when that alarm gets tripped, our bodies get flooded with hormones that make us want to fight or run.

Yes, sometimes kids have a tantrum just to get their way. Tina Bryson, PhD calls this an upstairs tantrum. The child is in control (not acting from the lower brain), and pitching a fit to try and get her way. This is embarrassingly similar to our parental tantrums, isn't it? "My kid won't do anything I say until I start screaming!" So, we pitch a fit to get our kid to act. Then, we get really mad when our kid pitches a fit to get us to act.

But the truth is that doesn't mean that you are manipulative or mean or bad. It doesn't mean your kid is either. It simply means that, at that particular moment, both of you are out of resources. You have no idea how to get your need met in that moment other than to tantrum.

In either case, ignoring a child isn’t going to be effective. If it even appears to work, it’s likely she’s just learned to stuff her feelings down and not show them to you, which has no place in a healthy relationship.

The advice to never give in also isn’t helpful. It’s a blanket statement that doesn’t take into account the many different scenarios and personalities in play. If the child wants the blue cup and you bristle, refusing to give the blue cup just so you “don’t give in,” ask yourself if giving the blue cup is really going to ruin your kid. I don’t like the term “pick your battles” but there isn’t much point in making mountains out of molehills. There are enough mountains to climb as is.

So, what’s a parent to do when a child has a tantrum? I’ve asked my parenting expert and educator friends to send me their best tantrum resources, and I’ve compiled them for you in one place, the Ultimate Guide to Tantrums.

For Brain Science:
Upstairs and Downstairs Tantrums by Tina Payne-Bryson, PhD
Why We Should NOT Ignore a Tantrum by Tina Payne-Bryson, PhD
Why Kids Have Temper Tantrums by Dirt & Boogers
The End of All Tantrums by Nathan McTague

Preventing Tantrums:
4 Surefire Ways to Prevent Tantrums by Dirt & Boogers
How to Stop Tantrums Now and Prevent Them Later by TRU Parenting
5 Keys to Setting Limits that Minimize Tantrums and Meltdowns by Parenting Beyond Punishment

Tips for Handling Tantrums:
Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My! By L.R. Knost
How to Manage Toddler Tantrums by Nicole Schwarz
A Brain-Based Way to Stop Your Child’s Tantrum by Nicole Schwarz
Getting Rid of Car Seat Tantrums by Creative with Kids
Tantrums: Emotional Regulation or Pure Manipulation? by Not Just Cute
How to Turn a Temper Tantrum into a Teachable Moment by The (Reformed) Idealist Mom
Stop Tantrums: 33 Phrases to Use with Toddlers by Andrea Nair
Tantrum Tamers: 32 Phrases to Use with 3 and 4 Year Olds by Andrea Nair

There’s an App for That!
Who can remember all of that great information in the moment every single time? Now there’s an incredible app! The Taming Tantrums app was developed a positive parenting expert and is helpful for more than just tantrums. It’s available for iPhone and Android.

My Tantrum Tips:

I know you don’t have time to read all of those at once, so here are my tips for dealing with tantrums:

1. Never withdraw your love and attention.
You don't have to necessarily give the child more attention, but don't ignore his very existence. That hurts. Acknowledge his distress and empathize with it, even if you have to do it from a distance. Some children want held, some want left alone, all want to feel loved and understood.

2. Teach her to recognize and label emotions.
There are a lot of ways to do this besides just naming them as they happen. There are free printables online, books, and other resources to teach emotional intelligence. Also, help them see and acknowledge what triggers them. "You get really upset when it's time to leave Grandma's. Let's work on ways to help you feel better about that."

3. Teach specific ways to deal with emotions.
My son used to love to pop a balloon when he was angry. He was two years old at the time. All kids (and adults) have different ways of calming themselves. Some like music. Others reading. Still others need to do something physical like clap their hands or rip paper. If they have an appropriate outlet for releasing their frustration, over time they'll learn to seek that outlet first.

4. Don’t punish. Teach.
Talk about whatever caused the tantrum after it's over and talk about ways to improve or handle the situation better. Teaching skills is always more effective than punishment. Just be sure to wait until the tantrum is over because when they’re operating from that lower brain, they aren’t going to take in the lesson.

5. Control yourself.
Tantrums can trigger our own strong emotional reaction. Put your own oxygen mask on first. We can’t teach kids how to do better if we can’t do better ourselves.

6. Give a little grace.
We are all human beings here. That doesn't excuse poor behavior, but if you've ever lost it on your kid, you can empathize with that strong feeling that makes us all behave poorly from time to time. Learn better. Teach them better. Give a little grace when it's needed.

There are loads of articles on the web about tantrums, all with contradicting advice, and many of them will tell you it’s best to ignore the child. It can be difficult to know what you should really do.

A good guiding question: How would you want to be treated?

I encourage you to tune in and listen to what your own heart tells you to do.

**This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

8 Actions to Chase Away the Mama Blues

Photo Credit: Creative Child Magazine

Motherhood is beautiful and joyful. It’s also exhausting and monotonous. Taking care of the ever-present needs of little ones often leaves little time for taking care of our own which can leave us feeling drained, dreary, and down in the dumps. If you’re feeling a little blue, try these tips to turn that frown upside down.

1. Check your focus.
My boys are all about Star Wars lately, and when I heard Qui-Gon Jinn say, “Your focus determines your reality,” I wrote it down. This is not just Jedi wisdom. Mamas need to understand that whatever we direct our thoughts and energy toward will determine what we live each day.
Are you focusing on your child’s flaws or her strengths? Are you paying more attention to his negative behavior or are you seeing his heart? Are you thinking more about the drudgery of every day, or are you looking for miracle moments? A simple shift in focus can pull you out of that dump.

2. Start off on the right foot.
If you can rise and shine before the kids get up, good for you! That’s certainly helpful, but it isn’t necessary for a positive start to the day. Whenever and however you wake up, remember L.E.A.P. This stands for lights, exercise, air, and protein. First thing, turn on a lot of lights or open the blinds. Next, get a bit of exercise. Stretch and move around to get your blood pumping and oxygen flowing through.

Also try to get some fresh air. Step outside, look up at the sky, and take a few deep breaths. Hello world! Finally, grab a bit of protein. Your body is ready to convert that into energy for your day, so don’t skip breakfast.

3. Reframe the negatives into positives.
Give thanks for the things that irritate you! “I’m grateful for these dishes. My children have eaten.” “I’m thankful for a hectic morning. We are alive and able to move around.” “I’m grateful for this huge, ginormous Lego pile scattered all across the living room floor, one of which I just stepped on because it means childhood is happening here.”

4. Pump up the jam.
Play upbeat music first thing in the morning while you make breakfast or get dressed. Studies show music actually improves your mood and has a lot of other benefits, likes lowering stress and anxiety. For added benefit, shake your booty. One study showed that dancing improves mental health.

5. Get curious.
Curiosity is a stepping stone to mindfulness, and mindfulness improves mental health. Ask yourself questions like “what am I noticing about my feelings today?” or “I wonder what is going on inside my child to cause her to behave that way?” or “what small step can I take toward that goal?”
By being curious rather than judgmental, notice how the energy shifts. Approach life with a child-like sense of wonder. See things in a new perspective, notice things you haven’t noticed before, and ask a lot of questions.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

20 Gratitude Activities for Kids

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 No comments

In November, many people share something they’re thankful for each day on social media in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday. Practicing gratitude makes us feel happier and more alive. The benefits of gratitude are many, and if we teach our children the art of gratitude while they’re young, they’re more likely to reap the benefits well into adulthood.

These gratitude activities will help you cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” in your little ones.

1. Create a family gratitude book. Each family member should add photos, notes, drawings, and mementos - anything they feel grateful for. It’s a good idea to keep it visible and add to it regularly, like once a month at a family meeting.

2. I found a wreath I can actually make! This thankful turkey wreath is easy and festive. Just write what your kids are grateful for on the feathers.

3. Keep a gratitude jar on the kitchen table. Let the kids decorate it with fall stickers or leaves. Each day, tell everyone to write down one thing they’re thankful for and put it in the jar.

4. I love this gratitude tree from the Kids’ Activities Blog. Cut out leaves, have the kids write what they’re thankful for on them, and hang them on a branch.

5. Add the gratitude circle into your bedtime routine. Have the family sit in a circle and each person name something they’re grateful for.

6. Say grace before meals. A simple yet often overlooked gratitude practice, saying grace before we eat is a small way to teach kids to be thankful. If you’re not religious, here are some secular examples to give thanks.

7. Get the little ones active with the Gratitude Garden activity from All Done Monkey. If you have an energetic kid, this is a great activity.

8. Take a gratitude walk. Go on an evening stroll and look for things to be grateful for, like the beautiful leaves, the smell of rain, and the friendly neighbors.

9. Make a gratitude paper chain. Each day leading up to Thanksgiving, add one strip per family member to the chain. You should have a nice, long chain to decorate with on Thanksgiving Day.

10. For a multisensory approach to gratitude, check out this gratitude sensory bin from Learning Through Playing.

11. Have the kids write letters of gratitude to community workers and hand-deliver them. Ideas are
police, fire department, school, bank, and hospital.

12. Buy a jar and dig a hole! It’s time to make a Thanksgiving time capsule.
Just write what everyone is thankful for on strips of paper, roll them up and place them in the jar. Bury it in the back yard. Dig it up next Thanksgiving and read what everyone was grateful for last year, and then add new ones to the jar and bury it again.

13. These gratitude stones by Fireflies and Mudpies are a simple and cute way to cultivate gratitude in your little ones.

14. Read books about gratitude together. Check out this list from The Best Children's Books and this list from Montclair Library in California.

15. The Joy of Boys made gratitude pumpkins with strips of orange construction paper.

...continue reading the list at Creative Child

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

30 Days of Play in November!

Last month, I began a new series, giving you simple and inexpensive play ideas for every day of the month. You asked for me to keep these posts coming every month, and so here are 30 fresh new play ideas for the month of November! Plus, since the season of Thanksgiving is upon us, check out these Thanksgiving traditions.

1. Play balloon tennis. Tape a paper plate to a paint stick for the tennis racket, and use a balloon as the tennis ball.

2. Build a town out of cardboard boxes. Cut holes for doors and windows, decorate the “buildings” with construction paper, crayons, glitter, or whatever else you have on hand, and use small toys and figures to occupy your town.

3. Pretend play detectives. Create clues for the kids to follow and see if they can solve the mystery!

4. Play traditional birthday party games even if it’s nobody’s birthday. Try these ideas.

5. Watch a Thanksgiving movie together after the big dinner. Here is a list to choose from.

6. Act out a children’s book, like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

7. Do karaoke.

8. Set up a science lab with beakers, test tubes, water, color tablets, and measuring spoons.

9. Visit a pumpkin patch.

10. Make a pumpkin pie together with the pumpkin you picked at the patch.

11. Do a Diet Coke and Mentos explosion for some fun outdoor science.

12. Paint each other’s faces with face paint.

13. Make a homemade corn pit. Fill a small baby pool with two 50-pound bags of corn from the local feed store. Add shovels and buckets.

14. Visit a local planetarium or science center.

15. Grab binoculars and go bird watching.

16. Play video games together.

17. Make a Thanksgiving craft. Here are plenty to choose from.

18. Blow up balloons with glow sticks inside and hang them from the bedroom ceiling for delightful nightlights.

19. Make homemade ice cream together. Here’s how.

20. Play I Spy.

21. Peel the paper off broken crayons and melt them in flexible shaped trays, like this.

22. Freeze small toys in a muffin tin and throw the iced toys in the bath. The kids will enjoy watching them melt to reveal the toy.

23. Work a puzzle together.

24. Go on a hayride.

25. Make pet rocks, rock people, and even a whole rock village.

26. Make a treasure map and go on a treasure hunt.

27. Visit a local corn maze.

28. Gather all the stuffed animals and set up a pretend veterinarian’s office, or for educational fun, sort them by habitat.

29. Make a beanbag toss game:
  • Cut out squares of felt.
  • Hot glue 2 squares together on 3 edges, leaving a pocket opening.
  • Fill with beans, and hot glue the last side shut.
  • Cut out a hole in sturdy cardboard for the target, or just toss them into a basket or bowl.
30. Play The Floor is Lava! Game:
  • Pull the couch cushions on the floor.
  • All players must jump from cushion to cushion.
  • Be careful not to step on the floor. It’s hot!
This post was originally published at Creative Child.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

Enforcing Limits While Remaining Connected

Enforcing Limits While Remaining Close with Our Kids

For the past 6 years, I’ve centered my work around one message: Connection is everything. It’s the key to parenting. It’s the best-kept secret. It’s our ticket to enjoying the journey more, but how can we set boundaries and correct our children without losing that connection? If we confuse “staying connected” with “never upsetting our children,” things begin to get very hazy.

Early on in my transition to respectful, connected parenting, I made the mistake of confusing the two. Fearful of ruining our bond, I struggled with setting and enforcing limits, and the frustration that resulted almost caused me to go back to my traditional punitive ways. Thankfully, I kept reading and learning, and finally I figured out how to be the positive leader my kids needed. So, if you’re struggling with something similar in your parenting journey, I’d like to share with you what helped me learn to stand firm yet gentle in my position as leader.

Here’s something to remember. A good connection isn’t feeble.

It isn’t going to break because you say no. It isn’t going to crumble when you hold a boundary or even allow a consequence. A temporarily upset child (or parent) doesn’t equal a broken bond. When I was tip-toeing around my kids, afraid of breaking our connection by upsetting them, I felt powerless to change their behavior. When I realized our relationship wasn’t that fragile, I was able to set and enforce limits and correct my children’s off-track behavior with confidence.

Think of parenting like a balance scale for a moment.

There should be lots of positive, happy, snuggly, smiling moments and fewer negative (correcting, reprimanding, upsetting, frustrating) moments. The positive should outweigh the negative a good deal. When we focus too much on correcting or reprimanding and don’t give enough positive attention, the scale starts to tip in the wrong direction. When the negative outweighs the positive, connections crumble.

Therefore, to keep your connection secure, make sure your scale is favorable. If you’re going through a particularly challenging phase, up the positive attention!

Ah, but there’s a small caveat. Even though we may have fewer negative moments than positive moments, being harsh or shaming during correction and enforcing of limits is damaging to the relationship. In other words, saying “no, I won’t allow you to do that” isn’t damaging, but “you’re a bad boy, why would you be so mean?” is.

It turns out that shaming is a pretty common thing, and although children are very forgiving when we blow it, harsh words and actions leave their mark. So, learning how to approach negative behavior in a positive way is important for keeping our connections strong, and this requires a shift in mindset and approach.

Changing Your Mindset

Positive parenting requires a shift from a fear-based mindset to a love-based mindset. The fear-based mindset says:
  • I must control my child’s behavior. (authoritarian)
  • My child learns not to repeat bad behavior by being punished. (authoritarian)
  • I’m the dominant figure; my child is “under” me. (authoritarian)
  • My child will hate me if I upset him. (permissive)
Trying to positively parent with a fear-based mindset doesn’t work because the focus is still on who has the control, you or your child.

The love-based mindset says:
  • My role is to teach my child appropriate behavior.
  • My child learns through example and through limits set and enforced respectfully.
  • While I am the leader, my child is a human being with equal rights to be respected and heard.
The real shift occurs when you move away from controlling your child’s behavior toward understanding your child’s behavior. Only when you understand where it’s coming from can you help him learn to do better.

Changing Your Approach

Now that the focus is off control and on connection and understanding, how do you approach correcting her of enforcing your limit while maintaining your connection? ...continue reading at Creative Child

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

50 Ways to Love a Child

Sunday, October 18, 2015 No comments

We have such a deep love for our children. Everything we do, every decision we make from the time they come into our lives, we do because we love them so very much. The question is, though, how much do they feel our love? We may say it a hundred times a day, but are we really speaking their language?

In The 5 Love Languages of Children, authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell outline the 5 different ways children receive love. All children receive love through each language, but for each child, there is one particular that has the loudest voice. This personal love language fills their tank the fastest. This is important because when a child’s tank is full, when they feel loved and connected, they are happier, more cooperative, and they take in what we teach much more readily.
If you aren’t sure what your child’s love language is, you can take the assessment here.
Don’t have time for the assessment? Ask yourself these three simple questions:
  1. How does my child show love to me?
  2. What do they often request?
  3. What makes their eyes light up?
When speaking your child’s love language, attitude is everything. When doing an act of service or giving a gift, for example, it must come from a genuine place of wanting to show love and never be for the purpose of bribing or manipulating a child. It’s important to communicate genuine, unconditional love to fill their tanks with.

Physical Touch – Physical affection is an easy way to show our love. Most children are receptive to this language, and for some, it speaks the loudest.

Here are 10 ways to show love to the child whose love language is physical touch.
  1. Hold hands when you walk side by side or when you tell stories.
  2. Give high fives.
  3. Offer lots of hugs and kisses.
  4. Sit close or invite them on to your lap.
  5. Give back rubs or foot massages.
  6. Touch their shoulder when talking or making a request.
  7. Ask often if they need a hug or cuddle.
  8. Offer hugs and cuddles after correction.
  9. Play Twister, roughhouse, or other physical games.
  10. Make up a special secret handshake between the two of you.
Words of Affirmation – Every child blossoms with words of encouragement and positive guidance. These kind words nurture a child’s sense of worth and feelings of security. For some children, this is how they receive love the best. Be aware that criticism and a harsh tone of voice or negative body language are particularly hard on children whose primary love language is words of affirmation.

Here are 10 ways to show love in this language.
  1. Give the child a sweet nickname.
  2. Leave notes in their lunchbox.
  3. Say “I love you” first and often.
  4. Tell them why you like them.
  5. Verbally affirm their positive actions.
  6. Tell them you’re proud of them.
  7. Offer sincere, heartfelt compliments.
  8. Verbalize your love after correction.
  9. Write notes, cards, or letters.
  10. Find something off of this list of 64 Positive Things to Say to Children to say each day.
Quality Time – Spending time with our children when we are intently focused on them, pushing aside our agendas and distractions, is a beautiful gift. Quality time says “You are important to me. I like spending time with you.”

If Quality Time is your child’s love language, here are 10 ways to fill her tank.
  1. Play with them without distractions.
  2. Read together.
  3. Go on mommy/daddy dates. Here are some ideas.
  4. Let your child choose how to spend the time together.
  5. Cook together or have dinner together regularly.
  6. Tell them stories of your childhood.
  7. Laugh and tell jokes.
  8. Practice active listening.
  9. Create traditions.
  10. Spend quality time together after correction.
Gifts – All children like gifts, but for the child whose love language is gifts, it’s not about just collecting objects. The gift is a symbol of the thought behind it. It says, “I was thinking of you.” The cost is not important.

Here are 10 meaningful ideas for speaking this language. Finish reading this article at CreativeChild.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

7 Ways to Stop Misbehavior

Children behave the way they do for a reason, and rather than simply looking to punish the behavior, positive parenting is about looking for and addressing the reasons behind it. Below, I’m outlining 7 top reasons children misbehave and to address each one, so as to stop the misbehavior.
Remember, punishing a misbehavior may stop it temporarily, but it doesn’t solve the problem underneath, and often times, that problem will just manifest in other ways until it is addressed and solved.

Reason #1: Attention

It’s a simple fact that children need a lot of attention, yet we tend to get frustrated at them when they display certain behaviors “just to get our attention.” I love what Dr. Gordon Neufeld says about this: “If we see a child who wants attention, why wouldn’t we give it to him? Why wouldn’t we meet this basic need?”

In today’s buzzing and distracted world, we can spend the entire day in the presence of our children and still not give them much attention. It can be difficult to juggle all the balls we have in the air. It comes down to prioritizing. If you give most of your focused attention to your child when she misbehaves, that’s likely what she’ll keep doing. On the other hand, if you give plenty of positive, loving attention, there will be no need to misbehave to get it.

If you suspect attention is the reason behind your child’s misbehavior, try these tips:

1. Practice active listening whenever you can.
If your child is speaking to you, make a point to stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and listen with the intent of understanding. If you cannot do so at that moment, say, “I’d love to hear what you have to say. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll give you my full attention.”

2. When your child is engaged in positive behaviors (is being helpful, kind, or cooperative), offer genuine, descriptive feedback. This is not the same as “good job.”

Descriptive feedback says:
  • “I see you. I’m paying attention!”
  • It means you notice the effort, not just the outcome.
  • It’s “Thank you for being patient while I was on the phone. I see you were wanting to show me your drawing, but you waited. I appreciate that” rather than “good job not interrupting.”
3. If you have more than one child, you already know they can compete for your attention.
Solve this by carving out one-on-one time with each child. It doesn’t have to be a really long amount of time; even a few minutes of focused attention a day can have a positive impact on behavior.

Reason #2: Independence /Control
Your toddler always responds with “NO!” Your preschooler refuses to leave the playground and a tantrum ensues. At some point after our little people realize they are separate beings from us, they start wanting to exert some independence. They want control over which cup they use, what they eat, what they wear.

This can be frazzling for parents who just want their children to drink out of the cup that’s clean without crying about it, or to eat their healthy meal, or to not wear the Batman costume to the grocery store…again!

So how can you stop misbehavior caused by a desire for control? Try these tips:

1. Know when to concede.
Does it matter if she must have the red cup? Will wearing that mismatched outfit cause a problem? Will it hurt to be washed off standing up rather than taking a full bath? Yes, sometimes children must go by our rules. Ultimately, we have the final say, but it’s good to give away control where you don’t really need it. Besides, these small doses of independence now is training ground for making bigger choices later.

2. Be clear about what is non-negotiable.
If you’re giving up control over the small things that don’t matter, your child will be more likely to comply when it does. Be firm during the times when there is no choice by not leaving it up for debate. There is only a power struggle when both people are pulling, so don’t pull. Instead, take action. If you asked your child to pick up his toys and he didn’t, calmly walk him over to the toys and point to them. If he still resists, try a when/then statement. “When these are picked up, then you can go play.”

3. Teach your child to say “no” respectfully.
It is important to retain the ability to say “no.” Your child will need to be comfortable saying “no” all through life, so teach her how to say it respectfully by offering a reason and an alternative. “I would prefer to clear the tablet after dinner than to set the table now because I'm in the middle of this game.” Of course, this takes time to teach, so be consistent and model this when you must say “no” as well.

Reason #3: Copying Others
He repeats a bad word he heard on television. She tries out the name-calling she heard from her BFF. If your child is copying the poor behavior of others, it’s time to be more stringent about what they’re exposed to. Monitor online activity, television shows, and music. Pay attention to their peer relationships.

You can’t have complete control over what they’re exposed to, especially once they’re older and in school. However, it is the parent’s responsibility to both protect them from as many negative influences as possible and teach them how to make good choices when those negative influences are present.

Here’s how to stop copied misbehavior:

1. Realize that some copying is normal.
It’s just part of growing up and learning. Stay consistent about your family rules and expectations.

2. Minimize exposure to the bad influence.
If one particular friend seems to be the bad influence, limit playdates or be the one to host them so you can keep a watchful eye.

3. Banish hurtful words.
If your child picks up negative language, set clear rules about appropriate language and help her express herself in a more appropriate way. “It hurts your brother’s feelings when you call him ‘stupid.’ Hurtful words are not allowed in our family. If you're upset with him, say ‘I’m upset with you right now, please leave me alone’ but don’t call him names.”

Reason #4: Connection
A strong connection is what gives us influence with our children. If that connection is strained, they are more likely to misbehave. Even if your bond has taken a downward turn and your child is acting out, you can stop the bad behavior.

Here are some ways you can stop the misbehavior and strengthen your relationship:

1. Make sure you’re speaking your child’s love language.
Their particular love language is what fills their tanks the fastest. Ensuring that your child feels deeply loved, speaking their language, will help your connection flourish.

2. Make time for play.
Go into their world for a while and let them direct the play. This kind of focused attention builds connection fast.

3. Find reasons to laugh together.
Watch a funny movie, tell jokes, dress up in goofy costumes, or play a silly game. Laughter brings us closer together and helps dissipate any negative feelings we may be carrying.

4. Check out these resources for other ways to connect with your children:
Reason #5: Lack of Skills
...continue reading this article at Creative Child.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.