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Behavior Issues

Many children experience a wide variety of behavior issues as their brains develop. Often, they are not symptomatic of larger issues, and most parents just need some additional tools to learn how to cope and work with these behavior issues. Below a list of articles concerning the more common behavior issues; click on any of the topics to learn more.


  "My child seems so angry all the time. She hits her sister, argues with me, kicks and throws her toys around, and is generally in a bad mood. Even her teacher complains about her attitude. What can you do with an angry child?"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

There is a difference between experiencing a feeling and displaying emotions, such as a temper tantrum. Anger usually follows the belief that we can't get what we want, or that we are powerless in a situation. It can also be a cover-up for hurt feelings. Children who seem angry may be frustrated with their parents, other children, themselves, life, or other people who are angry with them. Children usually have good reasons for feeling angry, even if they don't know what those reasons are. When children are bossed and controlled and have no choices, they will probably feel angry. Children who are overprotected often feel angry. If adults abuse children either physically or verbally, children will feel angry. Parents often respond to anger with more control and intimidation, making the situation worse. If you or your child feels angry, there may be a power struggle going on, and it is important to disengage from the power contest and work for cooperation.


1. Say to your child, "You're really angry. It's okay to feel angry, but can you tell me in words instead of actions who or what you are angry with?" Wait for the child's response and listen with interest instead of saying, "You shouldn't be angry."

2. Sometimes children can't identify their feelings when they are upset. Let your child know it is okay to wait awhile, and to talk with you as soon as he is ready.

3. You can help you child defuse her anger by finding out (perhaps through guessing) what she wants and helping her obtain it, such as, "You're angry because your sister gets to stay up later and you wish you could, too. When you are her age, you'll be able to stay up as late as she does."

4. Don't choose sides when your children fight. Tell them, "Kids, I see you are having a hard time working this out. You can take some time to cool off and try again later, or you can both finish this fight somewhere else, or you can work it out here, but I'm not taking sides."

5. If you have children who argue, try letting them have the last word or hugging them instead of arguing back. Ask your children for their opinions instead of telling them what to do. When you recognize a power struggle, stop and say, "I don't want to control you, but I would appreciate your help. Let's see what we can work out after we calm down."

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Set up family meetings so your children know there is a place and time each week where they can talk about the things that bother them, be listened to, and solve problems if needed.

2. Use limited choices with younger children instead of telling them what to do.

3. Set up a routine, so that the routine is the boss and not you. Children respond better to "It's time for dinner" than "I want you to come to the table now." Children feel even more empowered when you ask them, "What is next on our dinnertime (bedtime, morning) routine chart?"

4. When your child is in a good mood, mention that you notice she is often angry and ask for her help to think of a way she could show her anger that won't hurt anyone. Suggest a pillow she can punch, or listening to a tape of her favorite music, or finding a special cooling-off place. For older children, suggest they write down what they are angry about or draw a picture of their anger.

5. If you are a single parent, avoid any derogatory comments about your children's other parent. Do not expect your children to take the place of another adult.

6. Don't be afraid of your own anger. Anger is an important feeling that warns you of possible abuse--physical and emotional. Learn to say, "I'm angry." You provide a good model for your children when you express those feelings in words, instead of with displays of temper.

7. Model respectful ways for dealing with your own anger. Use emotional honesty: "I feel ____ about _____ because _____ and I would like ______." Model taking time out until you can calm down and handle your anger in respectful ways.

8. Model using your anger as a motivator to solve a problem in respectful ways.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that what they feel is different from what they do--that it is okay to feel angry, but it is not okay to hurt others or to act disrespectfully. Children can learn that they can have power and control over themselves and their lives. No one enjoys feeling powerless, and children prefer to know how they can contribute and succeed without having to fight for their needs.

Parenting Pointers

1. Anger may be a sign that your children see themselves as powerless and out of control. They may think you are trying to run their lives instead of empowering them to be capable and successful. Instead of trying to stop children from expressing their anger, talk with them about ways they are feeling frustrated and how they might respond differently.

2. Look for places you may be inviting anger. Are you sticking your nose in your children's business, such as lecturing about schoolwork, friends, clothing, and so on? Do you nag your children instead of setting up routines and using follow-through?

Booster Thoughts

Often, we are unaware of how we are upsetting our children and are treating them disrespectfully. They get angry when that happens. Usually, if we ask our children what they are angry about, and are willing to listen, they'll tell us. A young man of fifteen came to a counseling appointment with his mother. She was concerned about his anger problem. He would soon be driving, and his mother was afraid that if he didn't get some help, he might take it out on other drivers once behind the wheel. The counselor asked him what he was angry about. He said that when he agrees to do a job for his mother, she takes it back and does it herself. His mother explained that she does this because it doesn't look like he is going to do it.

Her son exploded, pounding his fists on the table and screaming, "You never trust me! I told you I would do the job! Why can't you believe me?" His mother was amazed at the intensity of her son's rage over what to her was an insignificant problem. When she realized how upset he was, she asked, "How can we work this out so we both feel good? I'm not willing to let the job go undone, and you don't want me to nag." The counselor suggested they have a nonverbal signal between them if the mother was wondering if the son was going to remember his chore. The son said it would be okay if his mother asked him if he was still planning to do what he agreed to--just not to do the chore for him.


Bedtime Hassles 

  "Our kids drive us crazy every night. They know it's time for bed, but they want another drink of water, one more story, the light on, the shades down, then the shades up. They keep us busy for an hour making extra trips to the bathroom and then scream like crazy when we finally refuse to come to their room one more time. The last straw happened the other night when our eight-year-old cried because he couldn't stay up as late as our ten-year-old."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

There isn't a kid who doesn't try to extend bedtime at least once in a while. Wanting to belong and be part of the action is a human need. Serious bedtime problems, however, are most often created by parents. The more families establish routines, the more they experience organization and order. Kids function best when they have a routine and a sense of order. It's important for them to have input, but not to run the family. Parents who let kids work them like trained circus animals at night are clearly letting the kids call the shots.


1. Be available during the bedtime routine (see "Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems" item 1 below) instead of trying to do ten other things. One reason children seek more attention is that they haven't received a good dose of your full attention.

2. Once you have given your undivided attention for at least 20 to 30 minutes of bedtime routine, stick to the allotted time for the routine to end with confidence. Your children know when you say what you mean and when you mean what you say. They know when there is room for argument and when there is not.

3. After your child is in bed, refuse to play the game. If she leaves her room, gently take her by the hand and kindly and firmly return her to her room. Use no words. Actions speak louder than words, and don't leave room for argument. You may need to repeat this action several times before children learn that you mean what you say and will follow through with kind and firm action. If they come to your bed in the middle of the night, take them gently and quietly back to their bed, give them a kiss and walk back to your room. Do this as many times as you need to until your child knows that your bed is for you (see "Parenting Pointers" item 3).

4. If your children have developed the habit of manipulation, it may take three to five nights of kindness and firmness (returning them to their beds, without words) before they learn they can trust you to mean what you say. Children feel more secure with parents who are kind and firm than with parents who can be manipulated.

5. Sit down with your children and admit your mistake. Tell them that you have allowed them to form some bedtime habits that aren't good for them or for you. This is a good time to start teaching them that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, so now you can learn together how to solve the problem.

6. Some parents put locks on the outside of their children's doors to keep them in their rooms. This is dangerous and disrespectful. Keep taking your child back to her room. If you remain kind and firm, it probably won't require more than 10 to 20 trips the first night. Remember that weaning has never been easy for the "weaner" nor the "weanee," but is necessary for both to reach interdependence.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Set up the bedtime routine during the day. Let the kids help you make a list of all the things that need to be done before they go to bed (pajamas on, teeth brushed, items picked up off the floor, bathroom cleaned, homework done, clothes chosen for the next day). Working backward from bedtime, figure out how much time is needed and what time the kids need to start to complete all tasks on time. Help them make charts of the things to be done. Small kids enjoy finding pictures in magazines to represent the things they need to do. The charts can be posted on the doors of their rooms.

2. When it is time to begin the routine, tell the kids, "It's time for bed" instead of "You have to go to bed." Encourage involvement by asking questions that involve the children such as, "What is the first thing we need to do to get ready for bed?" Or offer limited choices such as, "Do you want to choose a story or do you want me to?"

3. Some kids find it helpful to play "Beat the Clock" at bedtime. Set a timer for the agreed-upon time, and let the kids scamper around getting everything done before the timer goes off.

4. Let the kids know that you will be available for story time ten minutes before bedtime. If they have completed their tasks, there will be time for a story; if they haven't, there is time for a tickle and a kiss, but the story has to wait until the next day.

5. For kids who think it's unfair that an older sibling stays up later, let them know it's okay to be upset, but it's not okay to stay up later.

6. As the kids get a little older, involve them in discussing bedtime and give them a limited choice, such as, "You can decide if you would like to go to bed at 7:15 or 7:30."

7. As they get even older, let them pick any bedtime they like as long as the adults have "quiet, no-kid time" from 9 P.M. on. Offer kids a chance to stay up a little later on Fridays and Saturdays.

8. Let kids know that bedtime means time to go to their rooms, not necessarily time to go to sleep. Kids are different, and some may like to play or read before they fall asleep. If they aren't bothering anyone else, let them fall asleep when they're ready. Usually if kids can fall asleep when they like, they won't fight parents as much about what time they go to bed.

9. Many parents struggle over bedtime because they are afraid their children will be tired and crabby the next day if they don't get enough sleep. Treat bedtime as a separate issue. If your children are tired and crabby, you can ask them to be tired and crabby in their rooms. They may even take a nap. Earlier bedtimes are not the solution to irritable kids, unless they decide that would help. You might ask, "What do you think would solve the problem when you get tired and crabby?"

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn self-reliance instead of manipulation skills or dependence on someone else to help them perform a natural bodily function. They learn to respect their parents' need for time alone or time together without children around. They learn that their parents will treat them with respect but will not become involved in their manipulation efforts. Children can learn that they don't always get what they want, that it is okay to feel upset about it, and that they can still survive.

Parenting Pointers

1. It is better to teach children to listen to their inner voices about when they are tired than to insist that you know when they are ready to go to sleep. It is also respectful to yourself to insist on a time the kids go to their rooms even if they don't go to sleep so you can have some time to yourself.

2. Some parents believe they are doing the loving thing by capitulating to the unreasonable demands of children. They are not thinking about the long-range effects of what this teaches children. None of us always gets what we want. Adults complain. Babies and toddlers cry. We all learn that we can still survive and even be happy. It is not respectful to children to give them the impression that they can always have what they want. Since you are giving your children lots of love during the bedtime routine, and at other times during the day, they will not be traumatized by learning that they can go to sleep by themselves. The opposite is true: they will learn the skills of capability and self-reliance. 

3. It's fun to let your children snuggle in bed with you on weekend mornings, and we would encourage having a special time each week that your kids can hop in your bed for wholesome family fun time.

Many parents allow their children to sleep in bed with them as a regular occurrence. There are some organizations that support the "family bed." Others believe this is disrespectful to children because it may convey the message that children are the center of the universe and that they are not capable of falling asleep on their own. Instead of teaching self-reliance, it may teach children manipulation skills and dependency.

Extensive research by Richard Ferber, M.D.1 concluded that children need a place of their own to sleep, whether it is their own bed or a room that is separate from the parents. In this way, the child learns self-soothing and other valuable lessons: I can handle being in my own space and I am not the center of the universe. I am an important member of my family, but my parents are also important and need time for rest and rejuvenation. Parents need courage and skills to follow a plan of their choice instead of feeling manipulated by children into a predicament that is not their choice.

Booster Thoughts

One parent relates: "Our three-year-old continually came out of her room. We walked her back, and she kicked and screamed for an hour the first night until she fell asleep exhausted in her doorway. The second night she cried for half an hour. The next three nights this routine lasted ten minutes. After that, bedtime became a fun time for us all with a pleasant routine filled with hugs, tickles, stories, and cooperation."

Another father found bedtime hassles ceased when he asked two questions while tucking his children in bed at night: "What is the saddest thing that happened today?" "What is the happiest thing that happened today?" After each question, he would listen carefully and then would share his own saddest and happiest moments of the day. This seldom took longer than two or three minutes with each child, although sometimes more time would be required. He said, "I was amazed at how much my children told me when I took the time to ask and to listen. The closeness we felt during these times seemed to help them settle down and be ready for sleep."

1 Richard Ferber, M.D., Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (New York: Simon and Schuster 1986).


  "My eight-year-old boy still wets the bed. I've heard of all kinds of remedies from waking him up several times a night to getting a sheet that sounds an alarm. They all sound like a hassle for me or a frightening and intimidating experience for him. Any suggestions?"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

There are many reasons for bed-wetting. Bed-wetting can be the result of a developmental issue, a physical condition, a sign the child is being sexually or physically abused, or it can be a mistaken goal. A child may unconsciously choose a mistaken goal when she experiences some kind of stress, such as a new baby in the house or moving to a new location. The first thing to do is have a medical checkup to see if the problem is physical or developmental.


1. Take a look at what you might be doing to create the need for undue attention, power struggles, revenge cycles, or helplessness. Many parents of bed-wetters create this problem by nagging, reminding, coaxing, and trying to control the child's bladder. Stop! Instead spend special time with your child. Get him involved in family meetings to solve problems, share feelings, and deal with hurt feelings. Give him meaningful jobs to enhance his sense of belonging and contribution.

2. If your family is going through a change that might create stress, such as the birth of a baby, moving, or a new job, spend extra time with your child to increase her sense of belonging and significance. The bed-wetting will stop when she feels secure.

3. Decide what you will do instead of trying to control what your child does. You might want to cover the mattress with a plastic sheet. You might want to make sleeping bags out of old sheets that are easy to throw in the washing machine. You may choose to stay out of his room because you can't stand the smell. Whatever you do, do it with dignity and respect.

4. Instead of compounding the problem by using humiliation, get into the child's world. Ask the child how she feels about the problem, and how it is for her to have this happening. Ask if your child needs help or can handle it by herself. Listen respectfully to what she says.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Do not attempt toilet training too early. This invites behavior problems. We suggest waiting until the summer after your child reaches two and one-half before you even start. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some children start the toilet training process on their own. Our point is don't get uptight about it too early.

2. To avoid behavior problems, take time for toilet training and then stay out of the way. Teach your child how to use the washing machine. Even a three-year-old can handle this job. Also you could teach him how to change his clothes and sheets in the middle of the night if he is uncomfortable. Once you have taken time for training, keep your nose out of his business and let him take care of himself however he chooses. He may choose to sleep in wet and smelly sheets and experience ridicule from his friends.

3. Share respectful stories about bed-wetters so your children know it can be a common problem. Michael Landon wrote a television movie about bed-wetting based on his childhood experience. We have a friend who said that in the U.S. Marines there was a special tent for bed-wetters. The sergeant in charge woke the residents up every two hours.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that their parents respectfully and lovingly help them learn to deal with problems that are physical or developmental. Both parents and children can learn effective ways to interact with each other.

Parenting Pointers

1. One clue that the problem is developmental is if your child has difficulty with bladder control during the day. (See Booster Thoughts.)

2. Another clue that bed-wetting is developmental, in addition to difficulty with bladder control during the day, is if the child is a heavy sleeper and has difficulty waking up in the night. Don't wake the child up, try to monitor his fluid intake before bed, or ask him if he has gone to the bathroom before bedtime. Instead, let him know that some people take longer to develop bladder control, and that you are sure he will be able to handle it on his own schedule.

Booster Thoughts 

Here's the experience of one family: "We became familiar with our children's bladder control capabilities on family camping trips. If Josh announced that he needed to go to the bathroom, we knew we had about twenty minutes to find a suitable stopping place. If Katey said she needed to go, we knew we had about ten minutes. If Brian announced a need, we pulled over to the side of the road immediately.

"Brian was also a bed-wetter into his early teen years. We knew it was developmental and very embarrassing for him. At the age of fourteen, he was invited to an overnight camp-out with his friends. He stayed up all night because he was afraid he would wet the bed and be ridiculed. We were grateful that we knew his problem was developmental so we didn't add to his problems by hassling him. We simply gave him empathetic understanding and worked with him on many possible solutions. The funniest was our agreement that he would tie a string around his toe. Since I have to get up several times in the night to go to the bathroom, he asked me if I would pull on the string around his toe to wake him up.

"Eventually we became so unconcerned about the problem, and Brian became so good about taking care of his own sheets, that we don't know for sure when he stopped wetting the bed. I think he stopped. I'll ask his wife."


Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

We hope it helps you to know that biting is a temporary behavior in some children from the time of teething until around three. Even though biting is embarrassing for parents of the biter and upsetting to the parents of the child who gets bitten, biting is not a misbehavior in most cases, but due to a lack of skills. Children who bite often do so when they become frustrated in social situations and do not know how to express themselves in acceptable ways. Some toddlers may bite because that is their way of exploring, "I wonder what Suzie will taste like or feel like." Children also may bite their parents and think it's a game. It is important to deal with biting in ways that do not leave residual problems, such as children feeling they are bad or deciding it is okay to hurt others smaller than they are because adults punish by hurting them.


1. Do not bite the child back or wash the child's mouth out with soap. Hurting a child does not help her learn to stop hurting others.

2. When your child has a history of biting, supervise closely. Intervene quickly when disputes begin (see Fighting, Friends).

3. Watch the child closely for a few days during play with other children. Every time she looks like she is ready to bite, cup your hand over her mouth and say, "It is not okay to bite people. Tell the other child what you want." If the child is pre-verbal, after cupping your hand over her mouth and saying it is not okay to bite, offer a distracting choice: "Do you want to play on the swings or with the blocks?"

4. When your child bites before you are able to intervene, quickly remove the child, give her a hug, and say, "It is not okay to bite people." You may need to do this several times while you are teaching the child other skills or waiting for her to outgrow biting.

5. Comfort the child who has been bitten and apologize to the parent. Be honest with your feelings. "I feel very embarrassed about this, and I will do everything I can to help my child stop biting. However, I do not believe punishment solves anything." Comforting the child who has been bitten, after hugging the biter, models loving ways to deal with people.

6. If you are dealing with another parent who thinks you should punish your child, stand your ground. "I can see we have different philosophies and that it would not be respectful for either of us to try to change the other." Then walk away with dignity and respect for yourself and the other person. Your child is more important than what others think of you.

7. If your child is at the teething stage and continues to want to bite, offer her a stuffed animal or cloth to bite. Help her find relief for sore gums by offering a frozen juice bar

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Play "Let's Pretend" with your child. Pretend the two of you are fighting over a toy and that you are going to bite him. Stop and ask, "How would you feel if I bit you? What would you like me to do instead?" Then pretend you are fighting over a toy and let your child try whatever he suggested to do instead of biting.

2. Brainstorm other ways to handle problems. If your child doesn't have any ideas of what to do instead of biting, teach him to use words. You can make suggestions, such as suggesting that he tell the other child, "I'm mad at you" or "Let me have a turn" or "I'll go get another toy and we'll trade" or that he ask an adult to help settle the problem. Then play "Let's Pretend" so he can practice these ideas.

3. Use emotional honesty: "I feel bad when you bite other people because I don't like to see people get hurt. I wish you would find something else to do besides bite people."

4. If you child is pre-verbal, it is important to accept the fact that he needs close supervision and kind and firm distraction until he learns socially acceptable ways to handle frustration. Take comfort in knowing that he will not be biting by the time he goes to kindergarten-if not much sooner.

5. When you are supervising closely, you will be able to understand what your child is trying to accomplish. Verbalize his intention before showing him another way: "I can see that you want the ball. It is not okay to bite to get the ball. Let's find another ball."

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is not acceptable to hurt other people. They can learn that their parents love them no matter what they do, and adults will help them find acceptable ways to solve problems. Children can learn they are capable of solving problems in ways that don't hurt other people, and that their parents will remain lovingly kind and firm while they learn.

Parenting Pointers

1. Some people think hugging a child who has just bitten another child is rewarding the misbehavior. It is not. Hugging gives the child reassurance of your love while not accepting the child's behavior. Hugging helps the child feel belonging and helps reduce the need to misbehave. It also shows the child an acceptable way to behave--to love the other person and tell him or her what you don't like.

2. Some parents believe you should bite a child back to teach them how it feels. By biting them back, you could accidentally be teaching them that biting is an acceptable way to behave-even if it hurts.

Booster Thoughts

If you really pay attention, you can tell when your child is about to bite you. She gets a little gleam in her eye, throws her head back, and charges with an open mouth. So that your child knows this is not a game you wish to play, hold her away from you and say, "It is not okay to bite people. If you want to bite, Mom will get you a rubber toy to bite." If you say this and mean it, your child may stop biting in a few days.

Chores, Age Appropriate 

  "When are my children old enough to help with chores?"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

It's never too early or too late. Kids need to know they are important, useful, contributing members of your family. If they don't find satisfaction in positive ways, often they find not-so-positive ways to feel important.1 Working builds skills, makes them feel useful, and teaches appreciation for the work that needs to be done and for those who do it. It may be tempting for parents to do everything themselves, thinking it is easier and will get done "properly." When parents take that attitude, they deprive their kids of opportunities to learn cooperation and responsibility.


1. Get the kids involved in brainstorming a list of jobs that need to be done to help the family.

2. Take time for training and work with your children until they learn how to do the job. When they feel ready to do the job alone, let them know you are available if they need help. Step back and don't jump in unless asked. If there are problems, work them out at a family meeting instead of criticizing at the moment.

3. Provide kid-sized equipment, such as a small broom, a feather duster, or small gardening tools.

4. Create a chore time when everyone works together, rather than handing out lists of chores for kids to do.

5. Notice the contribution instead of the quality of work done. If your very young child loses interest halfway through emptying the silverware in the dishwasher, thank her for the half she did instead of insisting she finish every last piece.

6. Don't feel sorry for kids and do their jobs for them because they have a lot of homework or play in a sport. Help them organize their time to continue helping the family.

7. Make sure the jobs are appropriate for the age as suggested in the following list.

Two- to Three-Year-Olds

  • Pick up toys and put in the proper place
  • Place napkins, plates, and silverware on the table (perhaps not correctly at first)
  • Clear their own place at the table and put the dishes on the counter after cleaning the leftovers off the plate
  • Wipe up their own accidents
  • Unload utensils from the dishwasher
  • Fold washcloths and socks


  • Set the table--with good dishes, too
  • Follow a schedule for feeding pets
  • Help make the beds and vacuum
  • Help wash the dishes or fill the dishwasher
  • Dust the furniture
  • Prepare cold cereal
  • Hold the hand mixer to whip potatoes or mix up a cake
  • Get the mail


  • Help with the meal planning and grocery shopping
  • Make their own sandwich or simple breakfast, then clean up
  • Pour their own drinks
  • Tear up lettuce for the salad
  • Make the bed and clean their room
  • Scrub the sink, toilet, and bathtub
  • Separate clothes (white, color) for washing
  • Answer the telephone and begin to dial it
  • Take out the garbage

Six- to Eight-Year-Olds

  • Shake rugs
  • Water plants and flowers
  • Peel vegetables
  • Cook simple foods (hot dog, boiled egg, toast)
  • Prepare their school lunches
  • Gather wood for the fireplace
  • Take a pet for a walk
  • Clean out the inside of the car

Nine- to Ten-Year-Olds

  • Change sheets on the bed and put dirty sheets in the hamper
  • Operate the washer and dryer, measuring detergent and bleach
  • Buy groceries, using a list and doing comparative shopping
  • Keep their own appointments (dentist, doctor, school) if within biking distance
  • Prepare a family meal
  • Do neighborhood chores
  • Wash the family car

Ten- to Eleven-Year-Olds

  • Earn their own money (baby-sit, do neighborhood yard work)
  • Pack their own suitcases
  • Be responsible for a pet (caring for a hamster or lizard)

Eleven- to Twelve-Year-Olds

  • Run their own errands
  • Mow the lawn
  • Help a parent build things
  • Clean the oven and stove
  • Be responsible for a paper route
  • Help with family errands

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Refrain from nagging and reminding. If a job is forgotten, ask the kids to look at the chore list to check if everything is done.

2. If the kids forget to do a chore, use a sense of humor. One mother brought a pot of soup to the table and pretended to ladle the soup into imaginary bowls. The table setter for the evening suddenly realized he had forgotten his job and ran quickly to bring the bowls before the soup hit the table.

3. Use mutually agreed-upon nonverbal reminders if a chore is forgotten. Many kids like the signal of an upside-down plate at the table. When the plate is upside down, it reminds the kids that part of the routine needs to be completed before sitting down to eat

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that they are part of the family and people need their help. They're capable and skilled and can be useful, for themselves and others.

Parenting Pointers

1. Children aren't born with the competency to do jobs efficiently and quickly. As a matter of fact, it's usually more work to have them help. If, however, you send them out to play so you can zip through the housework, you teach children they're not really needed. Later you may complain that you have to do it all.

2. The extra effort it takes to involve and train children to help the family is worth it because they learn skills such as keeping commitments, planning ahead, following through, organizing their time, and juggling several tasks at a time.

Booster Thoughts

Three-year-old Kristin asked if she could help clean the house in preparation for company coming to dinner. Her mom asked if she would like to do the bathroom, and she said yes. Kristin took a can of cleanser and a cloth into the bathroom. When Kristin was finished, she said to her mom, "The bathroom is all cleaned up! I like helping you clean." Her mom got busy and forgot to check Kristin's work.

The guests used the bathroom several times during the evening without comment. After they left, Kristin's mom went into the bathroom. To her shock, she saw that Kristin had used an entire can of cleanser. There was white powder everywhere. Kristin's mom laughed to herself as she thought about what her guests might have been thinking when they took their turn in the bathroom. She realized Kristin needed more time for training in the use of cleanser.

1 For more information on motivating family members of all ages to help with chores, see Lynn Lott and Riki Intner, Chores Without Wars (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998.)



Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

You and your child are in a power struggle that can easily turn to revenge. The more you try to force your will with your child, the more she will defy you and the more deeply discouraged you will both become. Defiant children are a gift sent to parents who need to practice inviting cooperation instead of practicing power over others.


1. The first thing to do is to look at your own behavior. Defiance is usually a direct response to parents who are excessively controlling or overly protective.

2. If your child is an arguer, she may have someone nearby who gives her arguing practice. If it is you, practice letting your child have the last word. (This is harder than you think. Try it.)

3. Get into your child's world and make some guesses to learn what is behind the defiance.  For example: Could it be that you are angry because you think I boss you around too much? Could it be that you feel hurt because the baby gets so much attention? You can usually guess what is going on in your child's life that may be provoking defiance. Your child will feel validated and understood when you guess correctly. If you guess incorrectly, try again.

4. Let your child take the lead whenever possible by offering limited choices. For instance, ask your child, "Do you think you are ready to cross the street by yourself, or would you like me to hold your hand?" "Would you like me to hold onto the back of your bike and help you practice, or can you ride it by yourself?" "Would you like to set the table or carry the dishes to the table so I can set it?"

5. Some children will push and push until they get a spanking. Then they settle down. They have been trained not to settle down until they are spanked. Instead of spanking, hold the defiant child firmly on your lap. No matter how much she struggles, do not let go until she settles down. With an older child say, "I'm not going to spank you or use any form of physical abuse with you. I am sorry I have used those methods in the past and wish to change our relationship." "I'm not happy with what you are doing, but I love you and would like your help so we can stop fighting with each other and work things out together."

6. Instead of telling your child what to do, try asking her what needs to be done. "What do you need to do before you cross the street?" This often invites a child to think and use his/her power to solve the problem instead of defying your direct orders.

7. Let your child know that you need her help and say, "I would appreciate anything you could do to help." This often invites cooperation instead of defiance.

8. Emotional honesty is another help. Remember to use the "I feel _____ because _____" and "I wish _____" formula.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

This is an opportunity for you to learn how to invite cooperation. Pay attention to how much talking you are doing. Are you barking orders, nagging, and scolding? Your child may be parent deaf because you talk more than you act. Talk less and act more if this is the case.

1. Don't say anything unless you mean it, and if you mean it, give the matter your full attention. Say what you mean kindly and firmly; then follow through on what you say.

2. For a child who has a pattern of defiance, create time for training. (This includes training for yourself in kindness as firmness.) Take your child someplace such as the park. The moment he starts defiant behavior, take him by the hand and take him home, saying, "We will try again tomorrow." If you are with other people and don't want to spoil their fun, take the defiant child to the car. Have a book handy so you will have something to do while you wait for him to say, "I'm ready to try again." Let your child know in advance that this is what will happen.

3. Give limited choices and ask questions instead of giving lectures. Ask for your child's opinion and input. Really listen to what he tells you.

4. Get your children involved in the planning of events and in problem-solving during family meetings. Children are seldom defiant when they have been respectfully included in the decision-making process.

5. Watch out for the "No" monster. Are you saying "No" without thinking every time your child asks you a question or makes a request? Do you say "No" every time your toddler touches a forbidden object? When children are very young, use distraction to show them what they can do instead of teaching them to say "No" through your example. When they are older, find a way to say "No." For example, when your child says, "I don't want to do what you say", reply with "Yes, I can understand that. How about putting the item on the agenda for the family meeting or telling me your idea of what you think would work better so I can think it over?"

6. Often preschool-age children will say "No" to everything. If you don't find this cute and adorable, stop asking them questions that can be answered by a "Yes" or "No."

7. Choose your battles and let things go that aren't that important. Ask yourself if you will remember or care a week or month or year from now about the issue that seems so important to you in the moment. It takes a lot of energy to plan ahead and follow through to make real changes, so don't waste your energy on issues that aren't that important.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that cooperation works better than arguing when everyone is treated respectfully. They can learn that parents mean what they say, but also allow and respect appropriate choices

Parenting Pointers

Children prefer to cooperate and do what's in their own best interest, but if you treat them disrespectfully, they are willing to suffer great personal pain to show you that you can't boss them around. If you wait and watch before jumping in and controlling, kids will usually do the right thing. If they make a mistake, it's okay to help them correct it or ask how they might do it differently next time. Often it's enough to ask, "Would you like to try again?" instead of becoming controlling or punitive.

Children who defy see punishment as an excuse to defy more. Natural consequences work best whenever possible.

Booster Thoughts

Thirteen-year-old Billy was often called a defiant child by people who spent time with him. He did act like a know-it-all, refusing to listen to anyone. The more others yelled at him, the more he tuned them out and did the opposite. (He did listen long enough to hear what they wanted, so he could do the opposite!) Billy, his family, and friends went skiing. The ten people in the group spent a lot of time looking for Billy, who took off ahead of everyone.

Everyone was angry with Billy and alternated barking orders at him, threatening him, or whispering behind his back how difficult he was. No one was having any fun. His older cousin rode up the lift with him and said, "Billy, there's something I want you to think about as you ride up the lift. I'd like your opinion about an idea I have, but I don't want you to tell me what you think until we get to the top of the hill. I was thinking that it might work best, since we're such a large group, to suggest that everyone wait at the top of the hill for the entire group before starting down. I'm not sure if this is a good idea, so please give it some thought and let me know your ideas at the top of the lift."

The two boys continued up the long lift talking about baseball, school, and friends. Billy never said a word at the top of the lift, but the rest of the day he waited patiently for the group to assemble before skiing. He stopped more frequently to look back and wait for stragglers. He had a big smile on this face. His cousin invited cooperation, and Billy felt important because his cousin asked for his opinion instead of telling him what to do or scolding him one more time. Inviting cooperation works wonders.


  "My child is often disrespectful to me. She talks back in a sassy manner, yells at me, and sometimes calls me names. The more I punish her, the worse it gets."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Children learn from the examples they see. Too many parents expect their children to be respectful when they are not respectful to their children. Punishment is not respectful.


1. In a calm, respectful voice, tell your child, "If I have ever spoken to you that way, I apologize. I don't want to hurt you or be hurt by you. Can we start over?"

2. "You are obviously very upset right now. I know it upsets me when you talk that way. Let's both take some time out to calm down. We can talk later when we feel better."

3. Another possibility is to say what you will do. "When you talk disrespectfully to me, I will leave the room. I love you and want to listen to you when you are ready to talk respectfully. I love myself enough to walk away from verbal abuse." Calmly leave the room without saying a word. If your child follows, go for a walk or get into the shower. After a cooling-off period, ask, "Are you ready to talk with me now?" If you are not too upset, try hugging your child. Sometimes children are not ready to accept a hug at this time. Other times a hug changes the atmosphere for both of you to one of love and respect.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Be willing to take a look at how you might be teaching the very thing you abhor in your child by being disrespectful to her. Many parents have been shocked when they overheard their children talking to their dolls because their children were very good at mimicking how they were talked to.

2. If this is a recurring problem, put it on the family meeting agenda for discussion. Sometimes a discussion is enough to help the individuals involved cooperate to stop the problem.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is not okay for them to be disrespectful to others or to tolerate others being disrespectful to them.

Parenting Pointers

This is a good time to act instead of react. It is very tempting to get revenge by punishing when your children hurt your feelings. This models disrespect while trying to teach respect.

Booster Thoughts

From a note sent by a grateful parent: "I'm all choked up right now because my fifteen-year-old daughter just came in and said, 'Mom, are you planning to do some washing today so that I can include my jeans, or should I put a load in before school?' It was such a respectful departure from 'Mom, have my jeans washed when I get home from school!'

Thank God for family meetings and calm dialogue instead of yelling, reacting, and the angry feelings we have known."


  "My child has nightmares and complains about monsters in his room. He seems so fragile compared to other children his age. He's afraid to leave my side. This doesn't seem normal to me."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

A bruised knee can mend, but bruised courage lasts a lifetime. [Rudolf Dreikurs and Vicki Soltz. Children: The Challenge (New York: Hawthorn/Dutton, 1964), 36.]

Sometimes children have fears because we don't help them deal with the unknown by showing them how to do things in small steps. Most of us have some fears, but they become bigger when others make fun of us, call us babies, or tell us that it's not okay to be scared or to cry.

Fear is usually about the unknown, although children have good reason to be afraid at other times. It's not our job to protect children from every discomfort in life. If we do, they don't develop the confidence that they can handle some discomfort. If they have been abused, molested, or hurt in some way, their fears are healthy and justified. Then it is our job to do what we can to eliminate the scary situation from their lives.


1. Don't laugh at, minimize, judge, or discount your children's fears.

2. Listen when your children tell you what they are afraid of. Verify their feelings, such as saying, "You're afraid of dogs because they might bite you, and you wish the dog would go away and leave you alone." Sometimes, just having their feelings validated is enough to lessen the fear.

3. Help your children find ways to handle situations when they are afraid. Help them explore several possibilities so your children feel they have some choices. You might ask, "What would help you the most right now? A flashlight, a teddy bear, a nightlight?" Telling them not to be afraid isn't helpful; looking for solutions is.

4. Don't be manipulated by your children's fears. Offer comfort, but don't give them special service or try to fix their feelings for them. It is important for children to learn that they can handle their fears, even though it is uncomfortable. Help them problem solve (as above) so they learn they can handle their fears themselves. Letting children sleep with you when they are afraid is a subtle way of saying, "You can't handle this. Let me fix it for you."

5. Encourage your child to deal with difficult situations in small steps. If he is afraid of the dark, put in a night light. If he doesn't think he can sleep in his own room, fill his hand with your kisses and tell him every time he misses you to open his hand and take out a kiss. If he thinks there are monsters in the closet or under the bed, do a search with him before bedtime and let him sleep with a flashlight.

6. Listen carefully. Are your children trying to tell you that someone is hurting them or that you are doing something that is frightening them? Take what they say seriously.

7. Sometimes children's fears are irrational and they can't explain them. They may need your support and reassurance until the fear goes away. This may be time consuming on your part, and that is what parenting is about. (See the second booster thought below.)

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. There are many wonderful children's books dealing with fears that you can read with your children so they can see they aren't alone.

2.If there is a scary show on television or a scary movie, discuss ahead of time with your child whether it is a good idea for him to see it. If you both agree he is ready to watch, discuss how you can be supportive. (See Booster Thought)

3. Don't lay your fears on your children. If your children decide they are ready to try something, work with them in small steps to make it safe and then let go instead of stopping them from doing things you are afraid of yourself. It's okay to share your fears, but don't expect your children to have the same ones you do. Telling your children about a fear that you conquered may be comforting to them. It will assure them that fears are normal.

4. Ask your children if they would be willing to try out scary things two to three times before deciding against them.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it's okay to feel fear, but they don't have to be immobilized by it. There is someone who will take them seriously and help them deal with their fears so they aren't so overwhelming. They can handle difficult situations and go to their parents for comfort.

Parenting Pointers

If your children are afraid to leave your side, spend time with them, but also create situations where they can be away from you for short times. Many a preschool teacher has had to pull clinging, screaming children off their parents' legs. Minutes later, with the parents gone, the children have settled in and are happily playing with the other children.

Don't force your children into situations that are overwhelming to them just so they will be brave. Some children learn by jumping into the pool, and others watch from the sidelines for a summer before they put their faces in the water. Respect their differences and have faith.

Booster Thoughts

No. 1

Ten-year-old Lisa decided she wanted to watch Halloween III, an extremely scary movie. Her parents said they thought the movie was too scary, but she insisted on watching it. No one in her family wanted to watch the movie with her, so Lisa decided she would watch it by herself. Her parents said they would be in the next room, and if she got scared, she could come in for reassurance. Lisa's mother made her a bowl of popcorn, and her father helped her carry in her stuffed animals and special quilt. He turned on all the lights at Lisa's request and left the room as the movie began.

About ten minutes later, Lisa came into the living room and said, "I'm really not in the mood to watch that movie tonight. Maybe I'll watch it another time." Some children do what they really don't want to do so they can win the power struggle with their parents. Lisa's parents supported her to learn for herself how much she could handle.

No. 2

Six-year-old Jane became fearful in her first grade class. She developed the irrational fear that the doors and windows would lock and she wouldn't be able to get out. Periodically she would look at the windows and the door and start to cry. The teacher couldn't understand why she was crying and would get exasperated. The teacher tried sitting her on her lap and called her a baby. Jane cried louder. The teacher put her out in the hall. Jane cried for awhile and then left the building. The principal saw her and told her she had to go back into class. Jane started crying and refused. The principal picked her up and carried her (kicking and screaming) back into the class. Jane cried so loudly that the principal had to come get her and take her to his office until it was time to go home.

The next day Jane's mother helped her pick a rose from their garden to take to the teacher. Then Mom went to school with her and sat in the classroom all day. Jane felt comforted that her mother was there and didn't experience any fear. She enjoyed her day in school. From then on she went to school and didn't experience any more fear about being locked in.


  "I have tried everything I can think of to get my child to stop hitting her little brother. Sometimes she hits me. This really makes me angry. Punishment doesn't seem to work. I have spanked her and made her say she is sorry, but the next day she is hitting again."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

How are we ever going to teach our children it is not okay to hurt others when we keep hurting them? We are reminded of a cartoon depicting a mother spanking her child while saying, "I'll teach you not to hit someone smaller than you." When a child is hitting, usually his or her feelings are hurt. Your child needs help from you but may feel frustrated because he or she isn't getting the help needed. You probably feel frustrated, too, because you want your child to treat others respectfully and may even worry that your child's behavior is a reflection on you as a parent. Perhaps you are overreacting and treating your child disrespectfully out of shame and embarrassment, trying to prove to the other adults around that you won't let your child get away with this behavior.


1. Take the child by the hand and say, "It is not okay to hit people. I'm sorry you are feeling hurt and upset. You can talk about it or you can hit this pillow, but people aren't for hitting."

2. Help the child deal with the anger.

3. Ask, "Would it help you to go to your time-out spot now?" Time out is not helpful unless the child has helped create a positive time-out spot in advance (see "Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems," item 3). Also, time-out is not helpful if the child does not see the benefit and chooses it. If you make your child go to time-out, your child is likely to see it as punishment and may rebel.

4. After the child has calmed down, ask "what" and "how" questions. "What is upsetting you? How are you feeling?" See if you can get to the bottom of what is really bothering your child and then help the child discover what other things she could do besides hitting to deal with the problem. Lectures are ineffective at any age because they make children feel inadequate.

5. With children under four, try giving them a hug before removing them from the situation. This models a loving method while showing them that hitting is not okay. Hugging does not reinforce the misbehavior.

6. Even though toddlers don't fully comprehend language, you can still use words (while you are removing the child from the situation) such as, "Hitting hurts people. Let's find something else you can do."

7. When babies hit you, put them down and leave the room immediately for a minute or two without saying a word. At this age, they will understand actions better than words.

8. When your preschooler hits you, decide what you will do instead of trying to control your child. Let her know that every time she hits you, you will leave the room until she is ready to treat you respectfully. After you have told her this once, follow through without any words. Leave immediately.

9. Later you might tell your child, "That really hurts" or "That hurts my feelings. When you are ready, an apology would help me feel better." Do not demand or force an apology. The main purpose of this suggestion is to give a model of sharing what you feel and asking for what you would like. People don't always give us what we would like, but we show respect for ourselves by sharing our feelings and wishes in nondemanding ways.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Teach children that feelings are different from actions. Feelings are never bad. They are just feelings. What we feel is always okay. What we do is not always okay.

2. Remind your children that it is okay to tell people what they don't like. They can also leave the scene if they are being treated disrespectfully.

3. Get your child involved in creating a positive time-out area (see Part 1). Teach her that sometimes we need time to calm down until we feel better before doing anything else. Let her know that she can use the time-out area any time she thinks it will help her feel better.

4. Find ways to encourage your children with unconditional love and by teaching skills that help them feel capable and confident.

5. Show that hitting is unacceptable by never hitting your child. If you make a mistake and hit your child, use the Three Rs of Recovery to apologize so your child knows hitting is not acceptable for you either (see Part 1).

6. Take time for training with your toddler. Help her practice touching family members or animals softly. This does not eliminate the need for supervision until she is old enough to understand.

7. Look around and see if there are ways you are hurting your child without realizing it. Are you sending your child to his or her room frequently, scolding and criticizing regularly, singling out the child when a problem occurs? If so your child may be feeling really hurt and upset and the hitting is a way to strike back at the world. Be more encouraging and positive and stop the hurtful behaviors, then see if there is a change in the hitting behavior.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is not okay to hurt others. Their feelings are not bad and they are not bad, but they need to find actions that are respectful to themselves and to others.

Parenting Pointers

1. Be aware of the discouraged belief behind the misbehavior. A child who hits usually is operating from the mistaken goal of revenge with the belief that "I don't feel like I belong and am important, and that hurts, so I want to hurt back." Children will feel encouraged when we respect their feelings and help them act appropriately.

2. Many people use the biblical admonition "spare the rod and spoil the child" as an excuse for spanking. Biblical scholars tell us the rod was never used to hit the sheep. The rod was a symbol of authority or leadership, and the staff or crook was used to gently prod and guide. Our children definitely need gentle guidance and prodding, but they do not need to be beaten, struck, or humiliated.

3. Toddlers are short on both language and social skills, and when they play together they can easily become frustrated. When they lack the ability to express what's wrong in words, hitting and other types of aggression sometimes result. It is developmentally normal for toddlers to hit. It is the parent's job to supervise and handle toddlers kindly and firmly until they are ready to learn more effective ways to communicate.

Booster Thoughts

He: "There are times when it is necessary to spank my children to teach them important lessons. For example, I spank my two-year-old to teach her not to run into the street."

She: "After you have spanked your two-year-old to teach her not to run into the street, will you let her play unsupervised by a busy street?"

He: "Well, no."

She: "Why not? If the spanking teaches her not to run into the street, why can't she play unsupervised by the street? How many times would you need to spank her before you would feel she has learned the lesson well enough?"

He: "Well, I wouldn't let her play unsupervised near a busy street until she was six or seven years old."

She: "I rest my case. Parents have the responsibility to supervise young children in dangerous situations. All the spanking in the world won't teach a child until he or she is developmentally ready. Meanwhile, we can gently teach. When we take our children to the park, we invite them to look up the street and down the street to see if cars are coming and tell us when it is safe to cross the street. Still, we don't let them go to the park alone until they are much older." Studies show that approximately 85 percent of all parents of children under twelve years of age resort to spanking when frustrated, yet only 8 to 10 percent believe that it is dignified or effective. Sixty-five percent say that they would prefer to teach through consequences and encouraging improved behavior, but they don't know how. How often we resort to the familiar instead of learning a better way. 1

1 From H. Stephen Glenn, Developing Healthy Self-Esteem "Orem, UT: Empowering People Books, Tapes, and Videos., 1989), videocassette.

Listing, refusing 

  "My 2-year-old doesn't listen to me. I know she understands the word no, but she defies me anyway. When I tell her, 'Wait, please!' she laughs and runs away from me. I don't want to spank her, but I don't know what else to do."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Younger children don't understand, "no," or "wait, please!" in the way you think they do. This is an abstract concept that is in direct opposition to their need to explore their world and to develop their sense of autonomy. As children get older, many parents unintentionally teach them to be "parent-deaf." This disease strikes many of our children early in life-especially when parents scream, yell, or lecture. Don't worry, it's not terminal. Hope is in sight if you learn to act more and talk less. If your child doesn't hear anything you say or if you find yourself repeating things over and over, she may already have tuned you out. Instead of looking for the causes of this problem or deciding it's just a stage, it is more effective to look at your behavior for what you may unconsciously be doing to create the problem.


1. The best way to help your child listen is to say what you mean and then act instead of talk. The fewer words the better. So if your little nine-month-old is climbing the stairs, and it is not okay with you, put a barrier in front of the stairs instead of saying, "No, no, no!" If it is okay with you, but you are concerned about her safety, sit on the stairs close enough to catch her if she falls.

2. If you are screaming, yelling, spanking, or lecturing, stop. All punitive methods are disrespectful and encourage doubt, shame, and guilt-in the future.

3. Instead of telling your child what to do, find ways to involve him in the decision so he gets a sense of personal power and autonomy: "What are we supposed to do next?" For preverbal children say, "Next, we _____," while kindly and firmly showing them instead of telling them.

4. Give her some warning. "We need to leave in a minute. What is the last thing you want to do on the jungle gym?" When a minute is up, leave, even if you have to pick up your child and walk away with a screaming kid.

5. Carry a small timer around with you. Let her help you set it to one or two minutes. Then let her put the timer in her pocket so she can be ready to go when the timer goes off.

6. Give him a choice that requires his help. "It will be time to go when I count to 20. Do you want to carry my purse to the car, or do you want to carry the keys and help me start the car?" "What is the first thing we should do when we get home, put the groceries away, or read a story?"

7. Preverbal children might need plain ol' supervision, distraction, and redirection. In other words, as Theodore Dreikurs used to say, "Shut your mouth, and act." Quietly take your child by the hand and lead her to where she needs to go. Show her what she can do instead of what she can't do.

8. Use your sense of humor: Here comes the tickle monster to get children who don't listen.

9. Be empathetic when your child cries (or has a temper tantrum) out of frustration with his lack of abilities. Empathy does not mean rescuing. It does mean understanding. Give your child a hug and say, "You're really upset right now. I know you want to stay, but it's time to leave. Then hold your child and let him cry and have his feelings before you move on to the next activity.

10. Try using one word to communicate what needs to be done for better listening: "Lawn." "Dishes." "Bathroom." "Laundry." Be sure you have eye contact and a firm and loving expression on your face. Or use ten words or less. "It's time to learn to do your own laundry."

11. Use nonverbal signals: point at what needs to be done. Smile, but don't say a word.

12. Writing a note for a child who can read may get his attention better than talking.

13. Children listen carefully when you whisper (they have to really listen to hear you). Try it.

14. Ask older children to tell you what they just heard you say. Then wait while they paraphrase.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Your job is to think of yourself as a coach and help your child succeed and learn how to do things. You're also an observer, working on learning who your child is as a unique human being. Never underestimate the ability of a young child, but on the other hand, watch carefully as you introduce new opportunities and activities and see what your child is interested in, what your child can do, and what your child needs help learning from you.

2. Safety is a big issue, and your job is to keep your child safe without letting your fears discourage him or her. For this reason, supervision is an important parenting tool, along with kindness and firmness while redirecting your child.

3. Children know when you mean it and when you don't. Don't say anything unless you mean it and can say it respectfully. Do not use baby talk with young children. Speak to them with the same voice you would use if talking to a friend. Then follow through (see Part 1) with dignity and respect-and usually without words.

4. Create routines (see Part 1) for every event that happens over and over: morning, bedtime, dinner, shopping, and so on. The books Chores Without Wars and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers are excellent resources for learning to create routines for any child. Then ask your child, "What do we need to do next on our routine chart?" For children who are younger, say, "Now it's time for us to _____."

5. Be respectful when you make requests. Don't expect children to do something "right now" when you are interrupting something they are doing. Ask, "Will it work for you to do this in five minutes or in ten minutes?" Even if you don't think a younger child understands completely what you are saying, you are training yourself to be respectful to the child by giving choices instead of commands.

6. You may need to teach your child many things over and over before she understands. Be patient. Minimize your words and maximize your actions. Don't take your child's behavior personally and think your child is mad at you or bad or defiant. Remain the adult in the situation and do what needs to be done without guilt and shame.

7. Ask your children if they are willing to listen before you give them information. "I have some important information about that. Would you like to hear it?" They feel respected because they have a choice. If they agree to listen, they usually will. If they don't agree and you lecture anyway, you might as well be talking to the wall.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that they will be treated kindly and firmly through their age-appropriate, developmental stages. They can learn to stay within respectful limits through the respectful model they experience from their parents.

Parenting Pointers

1. When you understand that children don't really understand "no" the way you think they should, it makes more sense to use distraction, redirection, or any of the respectful Positive Discipline methods.

2. Learn all you can about child development and age-appropriate behavior. The books Positive Discipline: The First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers include information on both of these topics and how they relate to parenting. 1

3. Don't give up on your children because you think they are too young to learn something. If you are following Positive Discipline methods, by practicing repetition and patient and watching your child carefully to see what she can do as a unique human, you may be surprised at what can be accomplished.

4. It is especially easy to baby and over-protect the youngest child because this child looks so small compared to her larger siblings. Each child needs your time and energy as a teacher/coach to help her learn. Even though younger children watch and copy older siblings, be sure you spend one-on-one time with each child to help structure his or her learning.

Booster Thoughts

Mrs. Foster was wondering why she ever got into the parenting business. It felt to her that both she and her child were out of control. She did not like it that he would not "mind her," and she did not like it that she was yelling and using punitive methods that didn't work.

She attended a parenting class for parents of preschoolers and learned about age-appropriate behavior. When she changed her expectations about the perfect child who obeyed her every command, she began to enjoy her child's experimentation with autonomy and initiative. Instead of trying to control him, she started guiding him away from inappropriate behavior by showing him what he could do.

She was most amazed at how much her child seemed to calm down when she calmed down. Frustrating episodes occurred less often and were solved more quickly because of her new understanding.

1 Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy, Positive Discipline: TheFirst Three Years (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998) and Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998)


Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

We have searched and searched and can't find a single adult who never told a lie as a child. Actually, we can't find many adults who never lie now. Isn't it interesting how upset parents get when children have not mastered a virtue they have not mastered themselves? We do not make this point to justify lying, but to show that children who lie are not defective or immoral. We need to deal with the reasons children lie before we can help them give up their need to lie. Usually, children lie for the same reasons adults do-they feel trapped, are scared of punishment or rejection, feel threatened, or just think lying will make things easier for everyone. Often lying is a sign of low self-esteem. People think they need to make themselves look better because they don't know they are good enough as they are.


1. Stop asking setup questions that invite lying. A setup question is one to which you already know the answer. Instead of saying, "Did you clean your room?" say, "I notice you didn't clean your room. What is your plan for cleaning it?"

2. A slight variation of saying what you notice is to say what you think. "That sounds like a good story. You have such a good imagination. Tell me more about it."

3. Be honest yourself. Say, "That doesn't sound like the truth to me. Most of us don't tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. Why don't we take some time off from this right now? Later, I'll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you."

4. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame. "What should we do about getting the chores done?" instead of "Did you do your chores?"

5. Deal with the problem. Suppose your child tells you he hasn't eaten when you know he has. Why would he say he hasn't eaten? Is he still hungry? If he is still hungry, what does it matter if he has eaten or not? Work with him on a solution to deal with his hunger. Does he want attention? Deal with his need for attention by working together to find some time you can spend with each other. Does he want to tell a story? Let him tell a story. Identify it for what it is: "That sounds like a good story. Tell me more."

6. Another possibility is to ignore the "lie" and help your child explore cause and effect through "what" and "how" questions. If he says he hasn't eaten all day, ask, "What happened? What caused that to happen? How do you feel about it? What have you learned from this? What ideas do you have to solve the problem?" These questions can be effective only if you are truly curious about the child's point of view. Do not use these questions to "catch" him in a lie. If at any time you think it is a fabrication, go back to suggestion 2 above.

7. Respect your children's privacy when they don't want to share with you. This eliminates their need to lie to protect their privacy.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn so they won't believe they are bad and need to cover up their mistakes.

2. Set an example in telling the truth. Share with your children times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a lecture.

3. Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents.

4. Show appreciation. "Thank you for telling me the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."

5. Stop trying to control children. Many children lie so they can find out who they are and do what they want to do. At the same time, they are trying to please their parents by making them think they are doing what they are supposed to do.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is safe to tell the truth in their family. Even when they forget that, they are reminded with gentleness and love. They can learn that their parents care about their fears and mistaken beliefs and will help them overcome them.

Parenting Pointers

1. Most of us would lie to protect ourselves from punishment or disapproval. Parents who punish or lecture increase the chances that their children will lie as a defense mechanism. All of the above suggestions are designed to create a nonthreatening environment in which children can feel safe to tell the truth.

2. Many children lie to protect themselves from judgment and criticism because they believe it when adults say they are bad. Of course they want to avoid this kind of pain.

3. Remember that who your child is now is not who your child will be forever. If your child tells a lie, don't overreact to the behavior by calling your child a liar.

4. Focus on building closeness and trust in the relationship instead of on the behavior problem. This is usually the quickest way to diminish the behavior that you find objectionable.

Booster Thoughts

In hopes of avoiding the crying fits that usually resulted when Micah's mother questioned his stories, she thought she'd try something new. When the eight-year-old said, "I saw an elephant on my way home from school," his mother said, "Wow, I wonder if it was the same one I saw at the grocery store? What color was the one you saw?"

"Mine was green," Micah said.

"Nope," his mom said, "Mine was blue and pink."

Micah looked suspiciously at his mom and said, "I think I'll go play in my room now. See you later." His mom smiled to herself, and Micah ran to his room.


Mealtime Hassles 

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Mealtime should nourish both the body and the soul. Too many families forget this and turn mealtime into a nightmare of corrections, nagging, threats, fighting, and individual grandstanding. Parental concern for healthy children can become out of proportion around the subject of food, especially since many of us have our own hang-ups about weight, looks, and diet. We try to be good parents by making sure our children eat properly. Quite often, instead of providing healthy choices and trusting our kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are not, we interfere in this natural process. Without knowing it, we can plant the seeds for eating disorders. We are most effective when we encourage children to listen to their bodies' clues and trust themselves to eat appropriately.


1. If kids know it's okay to eat what they eat and leave what they leave, they are less apt to complain. Do not insist on children eating everything on their plates or tasting every food. Avoid potential eating disorders by turning eating over to the child.

2. It is normal for young children to play with their food, spill their milk, and drop food on the floor. Behavior appropriate for their ages is not misbehavior. Clean up spills, let kids finger-paint in their food, and get a dog to eat what drops. If you don't want a dog, put a plastic sheet under a young child's place.

3. Some families allow children to make themselves a sandwich if they don't like the meal. Do not cook special dishes for each child.

4. Let your kids serve themselves and do not discuss what they eat or don't eat. Simply clear their plates at the end of the meal (ten to fifteen minutes is plenty of time).

5. If kids complain about your cooking, tell them it's okay not to eat what they don't like, but it hurts the chef when people complain. With a young child, when he says, "I don't like this," remove his plate and say, "Okay, you don't have to eat it." That usually ends the complaining very quickly.

6. Do not eat in front of the television. Adults should sit down and eat with the kids. Set the table with flowers, candles, or place mats, or eat in the dining room to create a special experience for the family.

7. If you think your children's behavior has become too obnoxious, you might try deciding what you will do instead of trying to control your children. Pick up your plate and go to another room to eat.

8. Another possibility is to ignore the behavior. Many children stop obnoxious behavior when it doesn't get a rise out of their parents.

9. If your child decides to become a vegetarian or wants to try out any other health-conscious new way of eating, ask your child how you can be supportive. Don't make fun of your child or insist he or she eat the way you do or treat the new habit as an eating disorder. Many vegetarians made the decision to change their eating as very young children. If you are a vegetarian and your child insists on eating meat, the same advice applies. Do not force your way of eating on your children.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. One of the best ways to prevent or stop a potentially damaging pattern is to avoid interfering with your children's eating. That includes putting them on diets, nagging, criticizing, or taking them to clinics and doctors without their agreement.

2. Look at your own attitudes about weight, food, and eating patterns and what they may be suggesting to your children. Are you saying things like "Finish everything on your plate" and then later getting upset because your child is overweight? Do you tell your kids they can't eat between meals, which may encourage them to binge at mealtimes? Consider other ways in which you are unconsciously trying to control your child's food intake.

3. When children complain about the food, it may be time to involve them in choosing what they eat, at least one night a week. Let each child cook dinner one night a week. Even small kids can cook hot dogs, open a can of beans, and make a simple salad.

4. Plan with kids what they can do to contribute. Talk about the different jobs that need to be done, such as setting the table, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, and feeding the pets.

5. Stress that mealtime is a time to share stories about the day, visit with each other, and share the good feelings of being together as a family.

6. Practice good table manners at a time other than mealtime. Kids love to role-play. Pretend you are having a party and invite your children and all their stuffed animals. Set the table with a snack. Ask the kids for their ideas as to what constitutes bad table manners. Give a limited choice of what will happen when bad table manners occur: either the stuffed animal's plate is removed or the animal is removed from the table and can eat again at the next snack party. Demonstrate follow-through with the stuffed animals, so the children can see ahead of time what will happen.

7. Choose one night a week to practice table manners. Make it fun. Invite everyone to exaggerate, saying, "Pleeeeease pass the butter." Make a game of getting points for catching others with their elbows on the table, talking with their mouths full, interrupting others, complaining, or reaching across the table. The one with the most points gets to choose the after-dinner game.

8. Schedule your meals and don't make children wait until they are overly hungry to eat. If you have snacks in the family, limit snacks to certain times of day or keep fresh fruit and vegetables cut up in the fridge for those who like to eat less more often.

9. During a family meeting, get the whole family involved in planning ways to make mealtime enjoyable for everyone.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that they are not going to get in trouble at the table, so they don't have to sidetrack their parents with bad manners. The table is a fun place to be, and there are many positive ways to get attention by joining in and being part of the family.

Parenting Pointers

1. If parents worry less about manners and more about creating a positive experience for family members, kids will quickly learn that meals are times when everyone wants to be together, and table manners will take care of themselves.

2. You can help your child learn to listen to his or her feelings and body wisdom instead of training the child to be an overeater to please you or a picky eater to defeat you. Think of how many overweight adults were members of the "Clean Plate Club" as children and have completely lost touch with the meaning of the word "hungry."

3. If you see mealtime as a time to make kids eat and to lecture about manners, the kids will probably pay you back with bad manners. If your attitude is that meals are one of the special times that families can share together, the kids probably reflect that thinking.

Booster Thoughts

Bonnie married a widower with six children. The oldest was eight years old, and the youngest were two-year-old twins. The mother of these children had died in childbirth when the twins were born. You can imagine how difficult it was to find a babysitter for six children, including baby twins. Even those who were desperate for a job did not stay long, so the children had not had the stability of consistent discipline before Bonnie became their new mother. This was especially evident during mealtime, which was a terrible ordeal because the children would fight, argue, and throw food at each other.

Bonnie had taught Adlerian/Dreikursian principles before she had a chance to practice them. Now she had her chance.

The first thing Bonnie did was hold a family meeting. She did not even discuss their mealtime behavior. She simply asked them to decide how much time they needed to eat their food after it was on the table. They talked it over and decided fifteen minutes was plenty of time. (They forgot to consider how much time it takes to fight, argue, and throw food.) They all willingly agreed to a family rule that dinner would be served at 6:00 p.m. and the table cleared at 6:15.

The next evening Bonnie and her husband ignored the fighting while they ate their food. (I know how difficult this is for parents to do.) At 6:15 Bonnie cleared the table. The children protested that they were still hungry and were not through eating. Bonnie kindly and firmly replied, "I am just following the rule we agreed on. I am sure you can make it until breakfast." She then sat in front of the refrigerator with a novel and earplugs for the rest of the evening.

The next night was a repeat of the previous night as the children tested to see if their new mother was for real. By the third night they knew she was, and they were so busy eating that they did not have time to fight, argue, or throw food.

There is a lovely sequel to this story. Six years later, I had the opportunity to stay with these children while their parents took a weekend vacation. They were so responsible and capable that I did not lift a finger the whole weekend.

The children prepared all the meals and did their chores without any interference from me. They showed me their meal and chore plan. They planned all their menus for a month during the first family meeting of the month. They all had a night to cook, except Mom (who did all the shopping) and the oldest boy (who had football practice).

I asked them if things always ran so smoothly. One of the girls told me that they used to have a rule that whoever cooked did not clean the kitchen. This caused problems because those who had the cleanup chore always complained about the messy cooks. They decided to change the rule so that the cook also cleaned the kitchen. This solved the complaints and gave everyone a longer break before it was their turn again. 1

Morning Hassles 

  "By the time my kids leave for school every morning, my nerves are frazzled and I'm practically in tears from fighting with them to get ready. Then when they're finally out the door, I'm faced with a big mess to clean up and a rush to get myself off to work. Is there an alternative to this situation?"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

The family atmosphere is established by the parents, and the tone for the day is set in the morning. Many children and parents start each day with a struggle because they don't take the time to establish a morning routine that works for everyone. Children need adults to supervise setting up a routine. Once children learn how to plan their time in the morning, they feel better and the day goes more smoothly for everyone.


1. Set a deadline for morning chores. In many families, the deadline is breakfast. You can establish a nonverbal reminder to show that a child still has unfinished work. As a family, agree what this nonverbal signal should be.

2. Spend your time taking care of your chores and do not nag or remind the kids about what they need to do. Let them experience the consequences of forgetting. If a child comes to the table with unfinished duties, turn her plate upside down and let her finish her work before she joins the rest of the family for breakfast. This signal needs to be agreed upon with your child in advance.

3. If it is difficult for you to refrain from nagging, take a long shower while your children get ready for school.

4. Establish an agreement that the television doesn't go on in the morning until the chores are done. If your children are watching television and their work is incomplete, simply turn off the set.

5. Let the morning routine chart (see "Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems," item 1 below) be the boss. Instead of nagging, ask your children, "What is next on our morning routine chart?"

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Create a morning routine chart. Sit down with your children at a time when you feel calm and help them brainstorm a list of things they need to do to be ready for school each day. Help them make a chart to help them remember the things on their list. Kids enjoy cutting out pictures from magazines or drawing pictures to paste next to each task on the chart. The chart should be used as a reminder and not as a way to reward children for doing what needs to be done.

2. Get alarm clocks for the kids as soon as they start school and teach them how to use them.

3. You might want to have all the children include a small job that helps the family as part of their list: setting the table, making toast, pouring juice, scrambling eggs, or starting a load of wash.

4. Let your kids decide how much time they need to accomplish everything on their lists and then figure out the time they need to set on their alarm clocks. Allow them to learn from mistakes.

5. Take time for training and have fun by role-playing how the morning will go from the time the alarm goes off.

6. Avoid rescuing kids who need a little time to learn that they can be responsible. Contact their teachers and explain your plan for helping your kids learn to be responsible for getting themselves up and off to school in the mornings. Ask the teachers if they would be willing to allow the kids to experience the consequences of being late to school. It usually takes one or two tardies to change a person's slow morning habits. They might stay in at recess or after school to make up the work they miss.

7. As part of your children's bedtime routine, include preparation for the morning, such as deciding what they want to wear and putting their homework by the front door. Many morning hassles can be prevented by evening preparation.

8. Don't forget to discuss morning hassles during a family meeting, and ask everyone to brainstorm for ideas to make mornings a positive experience.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn how to plan their time and contribute to the family. They can learn that they have control over their time and can feel as rushed or calm as they choose. They are capable and do not have to be babied to get things done.

Parenting Pointers

1. Never do for children what they can do for themselves. Empower your children through teaching instead of being a slave to them.

2. With a routine firmly in place, morning can be a delightful and special time with your children. They go off to their day feeling happy and so do you.

3. Some parents sleep in while their children get ready. Instead of seeing this as neglectful, we notice that the children are often very responsible. If this plan works for you, be sure to find special times to spend with your children later in the day.

Booster Thoughts

Mrs. Farnsworth had been taking the responsibility to get Dan, her thirteen-year-old son, out of bed on Tuesday mornings for an early-morning class. She would wake him up; he would go back to sleep. This scenario would continue, with increasing anger on both sides, until Mrs. Farnsworth would yank the covers off. Dan would then stumble out of bed, saying, "Get off my back," and finally leave about half an hour late. Mrs. Farnsworth received a letter from the teacher saying that if Dan missed one more time he would fail the class.

One morning after Mrs. Farnsworth decided to "let go," she went into Dan's room and respectfully asked, "Do you want to go to class this morning, or do you want to miss it and fail the class?" Dan was quiet for a few seconds before saying, "I guess I'll go." Then his mother said, "Do you want me to help you get up, or do you want me to leave you alone?" He said, "Leave me alone." She left, and he called out, "Thanks, Mom." (Quite a difference from "get off my back.") Five minutes later, he was in the shower and left on time. Mom guessed he could feel the difference in her manner and tone of voice and sensed that she would not argue with him.

Mrs. Farnsworth told her parent study group, "It may have been better for me to stay out of it completely and let him experience the consequence of failing the class, but I wasn't quite ready for that. I was ready to accept negative answers to my questions. I was ready to have him consciously choose to sleep in and fail the class." 1

Self Esteem 

nderstanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Self-esteem is the collection of pictures children carry around of who they are and how they fit in. It is formed early in life. Even though children make these decisions internally, parents have a tremendous influence on the unconscious decisions children form. The way parents communicate, both with words and actions, helps children form healthy or unhealthy decisions about themselves.

Children usually form healthy self-esteem decisions when parents demonstrate that they believe their children are capable by giving them opportunities to experience their capability. They thrive when parents create an environment where children are allowed to contribute, and when they let children influence what happens to them by participating in decision making.

Children usually make unhealthy self-esteem decisions when they think they have to change to be good enough, or when parents do too much for them so they don't experience their capability. As a parent, you may think your children are great just the way they are, but what is more critical is what your children decide is true.


1. Avoid any kind of name calling. Do not call your children stupid, lazy, irresponsible, or any disrespectful put-down. Focus on solutions instead of blame.

2. Separate the deed from the do-er. Deal with the behavior, making it clear that you love the child, but you don't like crayon drawings on the wall. Remember that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow and not character defects in your children.

3. Listen to your children and take them seriously. They are forming their ideas and opinions. How they think today may be different from how they think tomorrow, but they still need their parent's ear and support. They need validation that their opinions are important.

4. Stay away from the use of praise. Praise may seem to work when things are going well and the child is succeeding. However, your children may be learning to be approval junkies. This means they believe they are okay only if someone else tells them they are. If you overuse praise, what do you do when your child is failing? That's when he/she needs encouragement the most--some word or gesture that lets him/her know, you're all right!

5. Do not compare children to each other. Each child is a different, unique person and is valued and belongs just the way he or she is.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Watch out for having overly high expectations for your children or making your love conditional on their behavior.

2. Hold regular family meetings so children have a place to air their opinions and to be reassured that they belong and are significant. Brainstorm for solutions to problems so they learn that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Plan opportunities for them to contribute and experience their capabilities.

3. Spend special time with each child alone, reminding him/her of his/her uniqueness and how much you appreciate his/her special qualities. Don't play favorites.

4. Be sensitive to situations where your children are being put down by siblings, teachers, classmates, friends, and other family members. Talk to your children about their feelings and share yours. Let them know that some of the mean things people say and do are about their own insecurities and have nothing to do with them.

5. You may choose to remove your child from a classroom if a teacher uses methods that are detrimental to the development of healthy self-esteem. However, there is a fine line between over protectiveness and alertness to a negative environment. Don't try to make everything even, equal, and fair. That gives your children the idea that something is unfair and usually has the opposite effect from what parents wanted.

6. Don't forget to have fun with your children!

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that they don't have to prove themselves to be loved, and that they are good enough the way they are. Also, they can learn that they are capable of solving problems and making a contribution.

Parenting Pointers

Value the uniqueness of each child. Avoid comparisons and work at finding out who your children are instead of trying to get them to live up to a picture of who you think they should be. The better you like and accept yourself with all your mistakes and shortcomings, the better model you give your children about self acceptance.

Booster Thoughts

There are times when staying positive about teenagers can be a real challenge. In the case of sixteen-year-old Jesse, his family members were all having a hard time for various reasons. His mom was angry because he was flunking out of school. His grandmother was worried about him because he had pierced his ear. His father was upset that he didn't follow through on his commitments, and his stepmother was ready to choke him for leaving his laundry in the washer, dryer, hallway, and car.

Thank goodness for Grandpa! Just when he was needed the most, he came to visit. He watched everyone nag, lecture, and avoid Jesse, and in his Grandpa way he didn't say a word. But out of nowhere, Jesse started finding notes in the strangest places, and they all said the same thing, "Jesse, you're all right!"

There were times when the family would be sitting around the table and Grandpa would look at Jesse and say, "Jesse, guess what?" Jesse would grin from ear to ear and say, "I'm all right?" "Right, and don't forget it."


Sibling Rivalry 

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Everyone needs to feel that he or she belongs and is significant. The first place we make decisions about how we belong is in our family of origin. Children are good observers, but poor interpreters. When a new baby arrives, the older child often believes, "Mommy doesn't love me as much as the baby." As children get older, they often mistakenly believe that only one person in a family can have a certain claim to fame. If a child thinks his sibling already has the place of being athletic, for example, he may decide to be studious, musical, or a social butterfly. Children often develop typical characteristics based on their birth order. The oldest child usually tries to be first and boss; the second looks for the injustices and often becomes a rebel, or may try hard to catch up with the first; the youngest thinks he is entitled to extra attention; and the only child wants to be special. If adults are trying to control a situation in which kids are trying to find ways in which they are unique, it is wasted effort. The kids will find their own ways to belong and feel significant.1


1. Get into your children's world. The oldest usually feels "dethroned," just as you would if your spouse brought home a new lover. The youngest often feels inadequate when comparing herself to the capabilities of the oldest. Understanding how they might feel helps you interact with them with compassion. Never say, "You shouldn't feel that way." Allow children to feel what they feel.

2. Compassion does not mean sympathy. It is not helpful to overprotect your children and try to save them from the many feelings and emotions they will experience in life. Compassion helps you maintain kindness with firmness while applying any of the following suggestions.

3. Avoid victim and bully training. This happens when you assume the oldest is always at fault (the bully) and rescue the youngest (the victim). Often the youngest starts a conflict (that you don't see) just to get you to rescue her. Treat them the same. Verbalize faith in their ability to work things out, or separate them.

4. Make sure that you have one-on-one special time with each child sometime during each day. If a child is jealous of another, let him know that you want to be with each child and his time will come. Tell him that it is okay to feel jealous.

5. If the situation between the kids gets out of hand, see if you can redirect them into activities, such as contests or relays, where cooperation is more important than competition.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Give positive messages to every child so each knows how special he or she is. For instance, with the three boys mentioned above, one was told, "You're really good at organizing activities." Another was told, "You're really good at ignoring group pressure and doing what you like." The youngest was told, "You sure have figured out how to let these big guys think they're the boss, while you get exactly what you want."

2. Find activities that stress group cooperation and teamwork. Help the kids discover that things are more fun when they include people who have different strengths.

3. Make it a point to let the kids know how much you appreciate their special qualities that set them apart from the other kids.

4. Don't compare the kids in a misguided attempt to motivate them to be like another child. This is very discouraging.

5. At family meetings and other activities, stress how great it is that we are all different and bring different skills and ideas to the family.

6. It does not help to read stories about new babies to children under three. They cannot understand abstract concepts. They will understand concrete actions if you spend as much time with them as you do with the new baby.

7. Don't gush and make a fuss over the new baby in front of an older sibling. This enhances the belief of the older child that she has been "replaced."

8. Get rid of your "fair button." Kids will push it and use it to manipulate you.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn how to be together and realize that each one is unique and special. Children can learn that everyone is different and that is okay. They can learn how to be resourceful and solve their own problems. Most important, they can learn that they are all loved and that love is not conditional on being one certain way.

Parenting Pointers

1. Sibling rivalry is normal and happens in just about every family that has two or more children. It is more intense for children who are born less that three years apart. Rivalry increases when parents are competitive, and decreases when parents cooperate respectfully.

2. Problems result when children decide that being loved is conditional. If parents stress competition, which emphasizes comparing and judging, instead of cooperation, which stresses uniqueness and differences, sibling rivalry can get out of hand. Make sure the message of love gets through and that each child is loved for being the unique human he or she is.

3. If there is a change in how one child finds belonging and significance in a family, all the other children have to reevaluate their unique places as well. Often when families get into therapy, the "good" child gets worse while the "problem" child begins to behave better. This is normal until each child sorts out his or her special place in the family.

Booster Thoughts

Pam's two children tussled on the floor, punching, threatening, teasing, and wrestling with each other. Every time she tried to get them to stop, their behavior got more intense. She was upset about the sibling rivalry and was worried that her children would never be able to get along with each other.

Her friend Rita had been attending a parenting class. She suggested that Pam accompany her to the class and bring up this problem for discussion. Pam did so and was amazed to find that the other parents all had similar situations. Knowing that brought a certain amount of relief, but Pam still wanted guidance on what to do about her fighting children.

The group brainstormed a list of suggestions. The one that Pam decided to try for a week was to think of her children as bear cubs, scuffling together. It was amazing how much less the children's behavior concerned her when she simply changed her attitude. Instead of trying to make the kids stop, she sat back and enjoyed the show. She realized that her kids were really playing with each other and having fun together. She was the only one who had been upset. As she hassled them less about it, they seemed to have less need to wrestle, although they didn't give up their fun "game" completely.

Temper Tantrums 

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Temper tantrums can be infuriating and embarrassing. Sometimes, children have tantrums because they are tired and parents are dragging them to places they don't have the resources and skills to handle. Other times, it helps to remember that your child's behavior may have a purpose. Children may throw temper tantrums to get an adult's attention, to get their own way, to hurt back if they feel hurt, or to get others to leave them alone. Temper tantrums are an emotional display. The child may feel angry or frustrated or vindictive-or even playful. We are most effective when we deal with the tantrum and then later deal with the feeling behind the tantrum.


  1. One of the best ways to deal with a temper tantrum is to simply ignore it. Stand quietly and wait until it's over.
  2. Another possibility is to shut your mouth and act. One way to do this is to kindly and firmly pick up the child or take the child by the hand and leave the public place. If you take the child's hand, and she pulls in the other direction, do not resist. While still keeping your mouth shut, let yourself be pulled in her direction until she stops pulling. Then start walking (still holding her hand, kindly and firmly) away from the public place. Keep repeating this every time your child resists. It looks like a seesaw, with you leaning in the child's direction until she stops resisting, then pulling in your direction until she resists, then back in her direction until she stops resisting. When you don't engage in the power struggle, your child will usually stop resisting after three to five times of this seesaw.
  3. With some children, it helps to hold them and comfort them when they have a tantrum. Say, "It's okay to be upset. It happens to all of us. I'm here and I love you.
  4. It's okay to say no to your child, and it's okay for her to be angry. You don't have to fix it. It is healthy for children to learn that they can deal with their emotions. They will do so more quickly if parents don't feed the emotional fires with arguments and lectures.
  5. Once the tantrum is over, say nothing about it. If your child is using a tantrum for emotional blackmail, she will soon give up if you don't buy into it.
  6. Follow through by deciding what you will do instead of what you will try to make your child do. This is effective only after preplanning has taken place (see "Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems," below).

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. Ask your child at a calmer time if she would like to learn some other ways to handle frustration. Teach her to tell you in words how she feels instead of using an emotional display.
  2. Pay attention to ways you may be setting your child up to have a tantrum. Most kids don't start off with a tantrum. You may be arguing, demanding, controlling, and fighting with your child until she throws a tantrum in exasperation.
  3. Ask your child what she would like you to do when she is having a tantrum. Do this at a time when you can discuss it calmly. Give choices like, "Would you like a hug, would you like me to just wait until you're over it, or would you like to go to your comfort place (positive time-out) until you feel better?" Children are more receptive to an intervention that they have chosen in advance.
  4. Role-play before going to a public place. (Three- to six-year-olds will understand it better as the game "Let's Pretend.") Describe the behavior that is expected and let your children pretend you are in the public place and that they are doing what is expected. Let them have fun role-playing a temper tantrum while you role-play what you will do. It is also fun to reverse roles. You play the child who is having the tantrum and let your child play what the parent will do.
  5. Set up a time for training shortly after you have played "Let's Pretend." Plan to go somewhere in public where you are willing to follow through immediately with the agreed-upon suggestion. If the tantrum starts, follow through immediately without anger.
  6. Decide what you will do and inform your child in advance. For example, you may decide that you will take the child to the car and patiently read a book until she has settled down and tells you that she is ready to try again. Or you may decide that you will go home immediately. Whatever you decide, be sure to follow through with dignity and respect. In other words, keep your mouth shut and act. The only thing you could say that would be effective is, "You can try again when you are ready" (if you are in the car) or "You can try again tomorrow or next week" (if you have returned home). It might be better to wait until everyone is calm to make either comment.
  7. Put the problem of tantrums on the family-meeting agenda and let your children brainstorm for solutions about what to do. After you have a list of suggestions, let the child who typically has tantrums choose the suggestion she feels will help her the most.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that tantrums and emotional blackmail won't get them what they want and that there are more appropriate ways to express their feelings. They can learn that it is okay to have their feelings and you love and accept them even if they are having a fit.

Parenting Pointers

  1. The more you involve your children in decisions that affect them, the less they feel the need to use tantrums to have a say.
  2. Some kids (and some adults, too) like to bluster before they accept the inevitable. It's their style and doesn't hurt anyone. Once the blustering (or tantrum) is done, often they will cheerfully do what needs to be done. Keep your sail out of their wind while they bluster, and it won't rock your boat.

Booster Thoughts

It may be difficult for parents to accept how effective it can be to remain kind and firm at the same time. Remember that kindness shows respect for the child and for yourself. Firmness shows respect for the "needs of the situation"-in this case, that acting out in public is not appropriate.

Keeping your mouth shut while acting adds to kindness and firmness. It is useless to talk during the time of conflict for several reasons:

  1. Anything said would usually be disrespectful. (Lectures are disrespectful.) It is also disrespectful to assume that the child does not already know whatever you are trying to convey.
  2. Things said in anger are usually later regretted by the speaker, but retained by the listener.
  3. Whatever is said during a time of conflict may be heard, but not rationally-nor is it spoken rationally.
  4. Whatever is said in anger usually feeds a power struggle or a revenge cycle.

On the other hand, keeping your mouth shut is a reminder for you to maintain kindness and firmness. Keeping your mouth shut also teaches your child that you mean what you say. Actions speak louder than words.

Words can be used for follow up when the conflict is over and everyone feels good. At that time you could help your child explore what happened through what and how questions so the event is transformed into a learning experience.



Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Children do what works. If your child is whining, he or she is getting a response from you. Oddly enough, children seem to prefer punishment and anger to no response at all. Whining is usually based on the goal of seeking undue attention. This child believes, "I belong only if you pay constant attention to me--one way or the other." For some children, it is the only method they know to get their needs met. Other children go through a whiny time and it then disappears as quickly as it started. Some of the suggestions here may seem contradictory, depending on whether they address the belief or the behavior. Choose the approach that feels best to you.


1. Every time your child whines, take him on your lap and say, "I bet you need a big hug." Do not say anything about the whining or what the child is whining about--just hug until you both feel better.

2. Let your child know that you love him but you can't stand whining. Tell him that if he whines you'll leave the room. You'll be happy when he stops so you can spend time with him. Then, every time your child whines, leave the room. If your child follows, go to the bathroom, lock the door, and turn up the radio. It is more effective if you don't say a word when you follow through on what you said you would do. Kind and firm actions speak louder than words.

3. Address the problem your child is whining about, by saying, "Let's put that on the family-meeting agenda and work on a solution at our next meeting."

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

1. Plan for regular, scheduled special time with your child to help her feel special, important, and that she belongs.

2. During a happy time, work out a signal with your child about what you will do when you hear whining. Perhaps you will put your fingers in your ears and smile. Another possibility is to pat your hand over your heart as a reminder that "I love you."

3. Tell your child what you are going to do: "When you whine, I will leave the room. Please let me know when you are willing to talk in a respectful voice so I will enjoy listening to you." Still another possibility is to explain, "It's not that I don't hear you. I just don't want to have a discussion with you until you use your regular voice. I don't answer whiny voices."

4. Have regular family meetings.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that their parents love them but will not fall for their manipulative tactics. Children feel better about themselves when they learn effective skills to deal with their needs and wants.

Parenting Pointers

1. Some fascinating studies have been done with children of deaf parents. The researchers found that the children would make facial expressions that looked like they were crying, but they weren't making any sounds. The children had learned from experience that their deaf parents didn't respond to sounds, but did respond to their facial expressions. Whatever works!

2. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. A cooperative child is an encouraged child. Whining could be a sign of discouragement that will stop when the child feels enough belonging and significance.

Booster Thoughts

Mrs. Jones had a little girl, Stacy, who whined incessantly and demanded almost constant attention. Mrs. Jones scolded Stacy and pushed her away, telling her she could entertain herself.

One day a friend of Mrs. Jones talked her into having her fortune told at a county fair. The fortune-teller implied that Mrs. Jones would not live to see the flowers bloom next spring. Even though Mrs. Jones didn't believe in fortune-tellers, she was plagued with the possibility that she might not live to watch her little girl grow up. Suddenly she could not get enough of Stacy. She wanted to spend time with her, hold her, read to her, play with her. Stacy loved all the attention--for awhile. Then she began to feel smothered. Instead of demanding constant attention, she started pushing her mother away and demanding more independence.