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.