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.



Frustration Tolerance – How much can your kids handle?

How do your kids respond to frustration?

There are times in all of our lives when we have to push through a challenge, go past where we have been before, experience a little pain before the gain to improve our performance or simply make it to the end of the day. Our ability to do this is based on how we are taught from a very early age.

Here is a story from our house.

Christmas morning and in the living room sat a shiny red tricycle. Old school. Ribbons coming out the handlebars, bell on the left side, and the metal seat that looks like it fit more on a tractor than a kid’s first tricycle. Immediately, we took it outside for its first spin.

Our driveway’s gentle downhill slope gave our son enough propulsion to have forward movement on his maiden voyage. FUN. As he turned right onto the walkway, he experienced the gentle incline of this path as the pedals stopped moving under his feet and his forward progress was met with a slowing, a stop, and a slight backwards motion.

As parents do in this situation, we sat, video rolling, and offered our encouragement for him to “pedal,” “push down with your feet,” “turn around,” etc. Without warning he stood up like he had been shot in the rear, pushed the tricycle and screamed, “I CAN’T DO IT!” STOMP, STOMP. WHINE. CRY. COMPLAIN. GRUNT. STOMP.

Stop the camera, this just got ugly…quickly. Yikes. So much for the YouTube clip sent to grandpa in thanks for the trike.

This scenario plays out with all kids.

They are faced with moments when things don’t go their way and how they respond is critical. How you respond is even more critical.

If you want to teach a paper thin tolerance for frustration, help early, help often, and respond with the first signs of distress.

If you teach a paper thin tolerance for frustration you will teach dependence on you to solve problems. Terrible. You might want that now (don’t know why you would, but I have seen it), but soon, you will not be there and it will be a bad situation.

“Breaking through” frustration is learned through experiences when pushing through occurs (i.e. is allowed to occur) and reinforcement occurs as a result. Have you ever seen your kid beat the situation…face the frustration and come out on top? Awesome isn’t it? Why don’t we let them do it more often?

Another story from my house.

I recently got tired of fixing the shirt problem our son (same one) has when putting on his shirt (and the excessive whining that occurred with said problem). Although funny as hell because he puts his chin through first and can’t get the shirt over the top of his head so his face is the only thing showing, we decided to let him figure it out since he was doing it EVERY time, getting frustrated, asking for help, and receiving instruction and assistance from us. Tired of the whining and sensitive to the fact that his tolerance in this situation was pretty thin, we told him to have at it (“as soon as you get dressed you can go watch your show – its on by the way”).

Struggle, struggle, whine, struggle, “I can’t,” – SILENCE – “uurrrrgggh” – “YAY! I did it!”

The joy and satisfaction he got from doing it himself is something I could not have created. He did it, and that was enough. Lesson learned – for him and us:

After you have taught the skills, let them be frustrated. Let them learn. Let them experience it. Then, allow them to experience the rewards of pushing through.

Spoiled kids: Do they really have it good?


A recent article posted in the New Yorker Magazine has received a good bit of press because of the powerful statement that American kids suffer the fate of being incredibly spoiled. The author sites too many examples to retell here, but from 6 year olds with iPods and cell phones to the incredible market for “kiddie couture” (e.g., Burberry Baby – c’mon y’all…really?), the point she makes is pretty compelling.

Amazon (THE Amazon, not .com) vs. LA

She tells the story of an anthropologist from Los Angeles who spent some time with a small tribe in the Amazon researching how the family structure worked and what roles kids played. In contrast with the “spoiled” brats (my word, but you will agree when you read the story) she researched in LA, the 6 year olds in the Amazon were helping with the daily needs of the tribe. They were integral to the daily progress of the family. They did so without asking. They cleaned, cooked, hunted for food, and maintained the living area by sweeping the sand off the sleeping mats (twice day…yeah, I know). By the time the kids were in early adolescence, they were able to manage everything for themselves. They were built to survive in a world much more difficult than the neighborhoods of Main Street America (MUCH more difficult, they lived in the Amazon for crying out loud).

Do our kids really have it “good?”

Reading the story, you might sit back and say, “man, our kids have it GOOOOD.” But, do they really?

There is a story about a kid who, before leaving the house demanded his father to untie his shoe and demanded for him to tie it back once he put it on. The demands were interrupted only by the father telling the son to “ask nicely.” Ug

Keeping them comfy

I have written several things about this situation: a mother whose only desire was to make sure her kids were “happy,” had done the exact opposite, problems with trying to reason with tantrummy 5 year olds, and parents who potentially create separation anxiety by trying to make sure their kids are always happy when leaving them. But, there is a bigger issue here and it is the issue of dependency and expectation.

“What do you need?” 

Wow, I wish I knew how many times I have said this. I wonder how many times parents (myself included) have asked the question and offered help when it really would have been better for the kid to figure it out by himself. “Let me help you with that” is a slight variation of this.

Every now and then, I have moments where I have the foresight to say to myself “let him do it…” or “she is completely capable of doing that” as I occupy myself in an attempt to look busy and coach myself not to intervene.

The celebration  

What happens, much more often than not, is the kids end up doing it by themselves. Figuring it out, working through it, and experiencing the benefits of not only the end result, but the struggle itself. “Whew…that was tough!” A calming celebration. 

Parent or entertainer?

Sometimes we feel like a little of both, but maybe we should do more of the first and less of the latter. I also recently saw a list of 25 Reasons NOT to keep your children busy this summer that proves this point. So much are the benefits of backing away!

Separation Anxiety? A “pick-me-up” for school drop-offs

“Separation anxiety,” from a behavioral point of view, is the same as any other behavior in that it is functional…it serves a purpose.  What purpose does it usually serve?  You ready?

I have been unreasonably hesitant to write about “separation anxiety” for some reason.  I openly talk to parents about it without problems, but I know it can encroach on some pretty sensitive grounds.  However, I do feel BehaviorBandAid is missing something if we don’t talk about it.  Here goes.

Lets define it.

For the purposes of this discussion, let me just say I am calling “separation anxiety” the crying, screaming, holding onto your left leg as you struggle (emotionally and physically) to get away behavior.  Your kid is scratching at the window, running out the door, kicking and screaming while the babysitter is wondering what she got herself into.  Misery.  We talked about some of this when we talked about getting your kids to bed.

This can be hard…

First, function

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, even those with the problem.  The function (read: “purpose”) of these behaviors is most likely regained access to you (assuming you are the one dropping them off or leaving them).

You try to leave….he cries…you return

You try to leave again…she screams and runs for you…you stay a little while longer

On top of that, when you return, it is usually a more comforting, nurturing version of you.  An extra few minutes, a few more good-bye kisses, a few more hugs, and a few more steps towards the door.

Take a look at this…

Did you see what just happened above?  Your kid does not want you to leave (a natural emotion) and crying, screaming and throwing a fit got you back to him.  It was FUNCTIONAL.  The emotional outburst was successful in getting him what he did not previously have…you.

For those that really have this problem, these things rarely help.  Your actions might even make it worse.  You know this, you are simply hesitant to do what I am about to tell you to do.

Stop, drop and roll

A teacher friend of mine has a saying about parent drop-off at her school in the morning.  She sees plenty of kids struggling to get out of the car with their parents, and plenty of parents struggling to let their kids go.  Her motto is: stop (your car), drop (off your kids) and roll (the hell out of the parking lot…see you at 3:00).

I’m not going to be that harsh, but she is close…because here is the secret:

Your kid is fine once you leave

Try this first.

If the problem is leaving your kid, create a good-bye routine.  Two high fives, a knuckle-bump and a hug, then you are out.  Practice it at home.  Leave her in her room and play like you are leaving at school or with a babysitter.  Let her know you will be back.  Come back later, but don’t make a huge deal over it…just tell her you will always be back.  Practice this…this is as much for you as it is for your kid.  Do it as much as possible, even at times when you are leaving when she usually does not have the problem.  This is what you do when you leave…every time.

On the way to school remind them of the “good-bye” deal.  Let them know you are into it.  When you get to school, do the good-bye routine and leave.  LEAVE.  Don’t come back.  Please.  Your kids are safe.  If you do not trust your kid’s teacher, you have a bad situation and a bigger problem.  If you do, your kid will be fine.  Leave.

You don’t love your kid less, you are not torturing them, and no, one more hug won’t help.  Put him down and leave…at this point it is about you…not your kid (OK, I said it).

Please understand why I am asking you to do this.  I am asking you to do this so you do not accidentally create a situation where your kid has more and more trouble being away from you and it actually turns into serious and real anxiety.  You are a safe and nurturing place…that is good.  That is the way it is supposed to be.  But, there are problems associated with your kid being dependent only on you for those things.  Her happiness and security relies on you being there.  Thats not good.  It will potentially keep your kids from exploring other things and being able to enjoy times away from you.  It will also exhaust you to the point where that one day, you finally say “thats enough” and you leave them in a complete mess at soccer camp, school or a friend’s house.  Don’t create that moment…prepare your kids for being away from you.  They will need that one day, and so will you.



“Mommy…I’m scared”


This is a long overdue answer to a question written in to BehaviorBandAid:

I have a problem.  My son is 4.5 and has a twin sister. He is now scared to go in any room of our house alone.  This is now affecting his sleep. He now wakes up between 5:15 and 5:45 because he is scared. His sister is in the room, but…he can’t go to the bathroom alone or to get his clothes from his room without one of us going with.

Interestingly, the experiences this mother has are not uncommon. I recently posted an article written about “fear of the dark” that I feel was interesting and helpful in terms of getting through different “fears” kids often have.   My answer is a little more in depth, so see what you think.

I believe the answer lies in practice outside the event when it usually occurs (you don’t want to practice hitting a baseball only at the times when the bases are loaded and there are 2 out) and a bit of work up front when the occasion is likely to occur.  Make sense?  Lets attack this one area at a time.

Calming agent: It seems the “calming agent” is you or your husband (a good think if you time it correctly).  We need to arrange this from the beginning to make sure you are initially present and slowly fade that presence instead of putting him out there, crossing your fingers, then going to him once he gets more and more fearful.  This is likely not a “sink or swim” situation in which you can say “you do it this time” because you might be setting up a situation where you are contributing to his experiences of getting scared and having that fear relieved by you guys. 

Play it out:  Find opportunities to “play games” where he can practice being alone for short periods of time and experience fun around those events.  I quickly begin to think of “hide and go seek.”  Play games with getting dressed up (independently).  The idea is to find ways to make these behaviors fun, so they are likely to occur then you can reward them and use them as a reference in the future…”see you can do it!”

Set the alarm:  As for the nighttime thing, does this happen every night (having to wake up to use the restroom then calling for you guys to go with)?  If so, (and this might be initially painful) I would set my alarm for 4:00 AM, go in to get him before he wakes and take him.  Don’t make this very entertaining, but do reinforce this with praise, “good job…I knew you could do it. Well done.”  Send him back to bed and tell him you will come to wake him up later, but he needs to be in his bed.  Make sure you get there (again…initially painful) a bit before he is likely to wake on his own (given you have already toileted…if that is a nightly thing).  If that is too early to be up and about, you should give him things to do when he is awake, but in bed.  I am trying to make sure he does not need you at these times and at the very least has a lesser opportunity to gain access to you by screaming or calling out for you and “being scared.”

Slowly back away:  Slowly fade your presence from the bathroom (assuming this occurs throughout the day).  Begin by going with him before he asks.  Over time, slowly fade out (“O.K., I will be right here outside the door” – “O.K. I am going to step into the kitchen” — “O.K. I will be in the living room”).  Praise and maybe even have some other reward (see this post and this one).  The idea is to do this slowly enough that he will be likely to succeed and less likely to get fearful and then get access to you.  This applies to the nighttime thing too.  If he can go overnight without you…there needs to be some positive effect of that.  Whether that is solid praise and high fives or something more tangible is up to you guys (consider what it would be like not to have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning when considering this).

Timing is everything:  Same idea with the clothes.  You essentially want to begin with what you would do after he gets scared, but do it before he gets scared and tries to get access to you guys.  So, if you go collect the clothes for him when he says he is scared, then I would do that before he gets scared (go with him) and then fade back from that after you have gotten some momentum with him doing it without getting scared.  Again…not a “sink or swim” behavior because you know he needs to get dressed and you will ultimately help him if he gets scared.  So, my idea is to go back to where his success can be rewarded then slowly and predictably move back and let the effects of the success take hold.

Main ideas: a) the recognition that it is your attention and help that is likely the “calming agent,” b) this attention and help can be used to your advantage before the fear behavior occurs, c) “sink or swim” won’t likely apply, d) praise, reward, praise as you slowly back away.  Fear is reduced initially by reducing the opportunity for the fear to occur (you are there from the get-go) and is less likely to occur as you reward the independent behavior and back away.