I hate you…

photo by *clairity* via Flickr

There are times when kids say things that seem like they are meant to hurt…and sometimes  it does:

“I wish I were never born!”

“You don’t love me.”

“You love her more than you love me.”

“I wish I had another mother”


There are some things kids say every day that are easy to ignore. But, there are other times when they go for the gusto. They really cut deep with their words and all of a sudden we loose our grasp on reality and react. Your ears get red, your throat swells, or tears start to well up. It is amazing some of the things a 4 year old can say, but it happens.

It is important to think about this when there is no emotion involved, no thought about whether or not your child actually feels that way, and no inner thoughts telling you your kid might be right. It is important to have a plan and an understanding of why they say these things so you don’t end up teaching them to use these words more.

So, if you are in a fresh state of mind, let’s get a few things clear about why they say these things and what you need to do when it happens.

They don’t know these words hurt. They don’t know why. This is not the way they feel.

Understand that first. Repeat it to yourself in times of distress or when you are questioning yourself.

Are you sharpening the tool or making it dull?

Your kids use these words for a reason. The words are tools…a last ditch effort when all else has failed. It is an escalation in most cases, but an immediately strong reaction in others.

It might be a sign that your kid’s “attention cup” is running low. It might be the case they are telling you, “but, I really, really want that Transformer and you don’t seem to care how much I want it.” Either way, you do not need to attend to it when it happens.

If you attend to these statements, you will likely teach your child how powerful these words or statements are. Be very careful.

For example, if you have ignored simple attempts at getting your attention, but then your daughter gets upset and says, “you NEVER play with me” and then you go and play, guess what just happened? Yep…you have taught them a very effective and efficient way to get access to you, NOT in a way you want them to.

It is about timing. If your kid is more able to get your attention after using these words than before they said these words, you are going to be in trouble.

There is a time for everything

And the time to reassure them about your love, affection and care is not when they say these things. It can be once they calm down or once they are reasonable (as reasonable as a 5 year old can be). You can even say something like, “I am glad you are calm now, did you want to read books with me or color in the den with me?”

Of course, and most importantly, if you maintain consistent attention, affection and reinforcement to your kid, you can better be prepared to ignore these statements and move on.

And remember…

Try to anticipate these things as they are likely to happen again and understand you dont want to be in the place again to have to ignore these comments. They are powerful. They hurt. Make sure you do as much as you can to not have to hear these words again.



Burps, fart noises, and dirty words

What do these things have in common? They are all things kids do for attention. Maybe it is to tick you off, make the little sister laugh, or get the friends hooting. BUT, what is also important here is these things are also very naturally funny and exciting to kids (and most adults…let’s be honest). Because these things are naturally funny/entertaining, it changes how we need to respond to them to make them less likely to happen in the future.

I have written multiple times about how behaviors that are fed by attention need to be ignored rather than “punished” because the primary reason they occur is for the attention, sometimes regardless of the type of attention it is: positive or negative. You have seen this happen: kid does something for attention, a parent calls them out, “don’t you make that face at me young man!” and the kid laughs and walks away fulfilled. Winner.

There are plenty of these attention-seeking behaviors that are totally ignorable and the best case scenario is to either completely ignore it or redirect your kid’s attention to something else.

But, there are behaviors that are fueled by attention, but also are naturally/automatically reinforced. For example, I have heard many children (including my own) do things without others around that make them laugh or that are appealing to one of their senses. Funny noises, bad words, bodily noises, etc.

My son likes to hear himself burp. My daughter likes to hear herself say “poopy.” They will both do these things in front of people, but also in isolation. This is problematic because even if you do ignore these behaviors, they will fuel themselves and will continue to be funny or entertaining for an undetermined period of time. They will also be intermittently reinforced by the attention from others, which will also give the behavior a bit more strength.

So, there are two things you need to do with these behaviors:

1) Make up your mind as to what consequences you will use for such behaviors when they occur. This could be one of the “three strikes” types of systems I have discussed before, or some other way you can respond to the behavior without getting caught up in the moment. This might be something like, “if you want to watch your shows tonight after bath time, you need to go without making that sound with your mouth at dinner.”

The reminder or the rules should be exact and simple and should be stated positively. Another example, “Danny can stay over to play as long as you use kind words and do not say potty words. If you do, he will have to leave.”

The important part here is not necessarily the consequence (although that is pretty big), but is the fact you are thinking about it, making your decision and talking to your kid ahead of time…before the behavior happens.

2) Specifically and appropriately reinforce the absence of it. If you are having a lot of trouble with dirty words or with body sounds, etc., then make a consistent and concerted effort to apply a little extra emphasis on the non-occurrence of the behavior. For example, “if Danny comes over and you can play until dinner without using potty words, we can order a special pizza” or “you can have a special treat when we get home if you don’t make those noises at the park today.”

This is important because you have to overcome the power of the natural reinforcer (i.e., the word “poopy” is naturally funny) with something else. Doing this will not only allow you to focus on something positive (i.e., earning something), but will also help you get traction on the behavior not occurring for a bit so it will have a chance to die a natural death.

Good luck…poopy pants. BWWAHAHA

What happens when one kid sucks all your energy…and what to do


When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we got all the usual comments about the difference between parenting one kid vs. two. I even heard some ridiculous statement about, “you’re really never a parent until your second child.” CRAP. Be quiet.

I’m pretty sure I was a parent when I was changing diapers, cleaning up puke, sticking thermometers in places they really should not go, and doing 4:00 am feedings before leaving for work at 5:00. Don’t even ask my wife…I’m pretty sure she immediately felt like a parent the moment that child crowned…just saying.

With all this said, there are some things that are only experienced when you do have more than one child. Every family with multiple kids I work with experiences the same problems, and we have even experienced it in our own home.

It is the situation when one of the children completely sucks the energy out of the day. Tantrums, demanding, and “NO!” is the answer for everything EXCEPT when you ask, “are you trying to ruin my day?” – you already knew the answer to that. 

It can consume you.

But, what you might not realize is that it is also likely consuming your other child too.

The hard part is not going down with the ship. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the tug-of-war with the kid who is clearly not in control and continue with the back and forth, but it is imperative that you don’t. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost.

Here is what to do when it happens(you’ll feel it as you increasingly react and respond to simple little things and utter that gutteral grunt, “uuuuhhhhhh” for something that is usually easily overlooked):

Concentrate your efforts and energy on the other kid: the one doing what you want (or at least doing whatever she is doing quietly).

When I talk about this to parents, I will say, “control what you can control” or “go with the one who is the most likely to follow you.” Its not giving up on the other kid, it is simply redirecting your attention towards the child who deserves the attention.

Make cookies, play a game, take a walk…do something a little out of the ordinary or something the child really likes. You can even be blatant with it,

“since your sister is having some trouble this morning, I figure you and I can do make those cookies you wanted to make last week. You have been so nice and calm this morning, I think you deserve it. Whaddaya think?”

(Do not say this loudly as to try to affect the child who is behaving poorly…thats ridiculous, mean-spirited and will be ineffective).That is not what this is about. This is about focusing your energy and attention in the right direction.

The reality is you will be exhausted at the end of the day one way or the other.

If you do it right, your energy will be positively spent and you will be exhausted happy rather than exhausted mad.

What if…

Hopefully, the kid who is on your last nerve will come around and see what fun is being had by all and shape into place. If he does, welcome him in: this is the time when you can either get the ball rolling in the right direction or re-engage the behavior death spiral that started all of this. “

“I’m glad you could join us. Are you O.K.? Are you gonna be cool hanging out with us and being calm?”

If he doesn’t…no big deal. More cookies for you.

A Powerful Face

The more powerful your face is, the more powerful your back can be


This is a statement I use pretty frequently with parents and I think it deserves a little more explanation. I have talked about it a little in previous posts about ignoring, attention seekers and several thoughts of the day, but I wanted to talk about this specifically and all the things I mean when I say it. Let me break it down, then I will explain.

The more powerful your face = the more powerful, frequent and consistent your positive attention is towards your kid’s appropriate behavior

…the more powerful your back can be = the more effective ignoring will be in reducing the likelihood of inappropriate or undesirable behavior

Attention can be a powerful reinforcer 

This is huge for so many parents. Your kids want, need, and desire your attention. They will get it one way or the other. This is a good thing. Your kids want to be around you, they want you to pay attention to them. It is valuable to themVery cool. 

You get what you pay for (you get what behaviors you pay attention to)

The bad news about this is if you are not giving your kids ample attention for the good stuff (even though some of the good stuff can be a bit annoying at times…I get it), they WILL get your attention in some other way.

They will engage in behavior that will REQUIRE your attention. Loud noises, screaming siblings, crashes in the bathroom, pulling on your pants leg, dancing around you singing some weird song from “Yo Gabba Gabba.” You can only handle so much of that, so you attend…whoops.

Many times, parents who experience trouble from their kids (especially older kids who have just experienced the divided attention that comes with the “new addition” of a little brother or sister) simply need to focus on spending more undivided attention with the older child. Front loading the attention with special outings, 1:1 time can be essential and really helpful to keep that child’s “cup filled.”

Ignoring can also be a powerful tool    

Yes, it can be. If your kid is freaking out, sticking gummy bears in her nose, or saying “I pooted, I pooted” and looking at you when doing it, it is totally cool to ignore that. They are likely doing it for the effect: your shock response, a laugh, a conversation about “nice words,” getting you off the phone, etc. Ignoring a behavior that is an attention seeker can be a very effective way to reduce the likelihood of the behavior again. 

Please watch this video for the effect. You will regret not looking at this. Please!


Here are the problems you need to be aware of 

1. If you ignore your kid too much, you are going to have problems. If you ignore everything (exaggeration, but you get it), ignoring the inappropriate or undesirable behavior will not look any different to them. Their experiences with your response to appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior will be the same. This sucks, so be careful. 

2. Escalations can and will occur. If you ignore the smaller stuff, your kid might get louder, go longer, and get more and more annoying to you to the point where you break down and react or when things get dangerous and out of control so you have to respond. This gets worse and worse if you attend less and less to the appropriate behavior. Go back to #1 if you have this problem.

Learn from your experiences here. 

If you frequently find yourself having to pull away from what you are doing to pay attention to some craziness or you feel like your kid is always after you…they likely are telling you to spend more 1:1 time with them.

Don’t be oversold on this “ignore inappropriate behavior” thing. It is hard to do and has some pretty tough side effects if you are not in a position to do it well. Pay attention to the good stuff. Be effortful towards this. The more you do this, the more ignoring the other stuff will work.

Be sure to check out the posts I linked to for more on this.

Attention seekers

Pay attention to the kid, not the behavior

photo by Elessar and johnharveytolson via Flickr

Attention seekers and “empty cups”


Listen carefully and pause to think after reading this next phrase:

Your kids will get your attention one way or the other. 

Read that again, out loud…here, I’ll help

“The reality is that my child will get my attention one way or the other…whether I like it or not”

We have all seen it…kids who do a variety of things “for attention.”  From dance routines in the restaurant to counting in a foreign language to funny fart sounds with an armpit (a classic).  All behaviors that draw attention, both in good ways and not-so-good. 

It starts early.  Not long after they learn to talk, here it comes, “Hey, look at me!”  At least at this age it is obvious.  They are actually asking for the attention rather than getting it as a by-product of some behavior.  It is clear, right in your face.  It is not far at all from “Hey, pay attention to me.”  If only it were always this blatant.

Kids do so many things to draw attention to themselves.  Truly, it is not a bad quality to have if used appropriately and with behaviors that you actually want to occur again.  The problems come from when those attempts do not work.  

You’re job is to decide how you want them to get your attention (not really hard), to respond to them when they use those behaviors (kinda hard), to NOT respond to them when they try other ways (hard, truly) and to realize when they are doing things just for your attention (harder yet).

Lets start here:

I’m a “cup-full / cup-empty” guy (there is research behind this, so its really more than just me being me).  Truly, this is an example of being hungry versus being full.  People will do crazy stuff when they are hungry for food, attention, sex, etc.  Those behaviors get crazier when the initial attempts do not work and they are then more and more hungry, attention starved, etc.  You’ve seen the reality shows…c’mon, you know what I’m talking about.

Same thing with your kids.  If their “cup” is not filled, if they are attention “hungry,” they will behave in ways that often result in attention.  Don’t get me wrong, they might not be doing this purposefully (“I am going to pull the cat’s tail to get it to scream, then mommy will come running”), it is just how behavior works.  If they are not getting the attention, they will ultimately get the attention and likely with behaviors you don’t like and don’t want to see again.  

You HAVE to respond to the cat screaming, your underwear in the fan, mayonnaise in the baby’s hair, the phone being dialed that sounds a lot like 9-1-1, the dirty word or the ugly “where did you learn that” dance.  You have been there. 

If you don’t “fill their cup,” you will automatically be teaching them the more ridiculous and disruptive you are, the more likely it is I will pay attention to you.  EESSHH

If this sounds like your house, like your kids (all kids do it when “hungry”), make a point to pay more attention to the things you want: ask them to tell you a story, help in the kitchen, play a game, etc.  Set a timer, put something in your pocket or refrigerator to remind you – “hey go pay that kid some attention.”  It really does not matter, just as long as you are “filling the cup.”

The cup is always leaking, some kids leak faster than others and require more frequent attention, but “every now and then attention” keeps most kids “full.”  

My bet is the craziness will go away because they will already be “full.”

Do it on your terms…your kid does not come with a “30 miles till empty” warning.