When your kid says “NO!”

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via Flickr

Are there times when you think your child’s favorite word is, “NO?”

Whether it is picking up socks, eating a few measly carrots at dinner, or going to bed, your kid is going to tell you “no.” So how should you handle that?

Here are a few things to remember: Continue reading

Lead your children in the right direction instead of away from the wrong

photo by vastateparksstaff via Flickr

When you were a kid, did you ever play the game, “HOT and COLD?” I am not sure what you called it, but you play by hiding a prize and your friend has to look for it based on your direction. As your friend gets closer, you say, “getting HOTTER!” and when walking away from it you say, “getting COLDER.” The final steps right before your friend gets to the prize usually results in, “HOT, HOT, HOT, FLAAAAMMMING HOT!” Or maybe your friend is way off and you say, “ICE COLD, FREEEEEZING COLD.” Fun game. I remember it well. Continue reading

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.

5 things your kid’s swimming teacher can teach you about parenting


Alright, so you’re not ready to listen to parenting advice from a hunky college kid teaching your kid how to swim?

Not learning anything from the “too skinny to be healthy, but I’m secretly jealous” local high school girl teaching the backstroke?

Maybe you should pay a little more attention, because deep down inside those tanned bodies, they are teaching you valuable lessons about parenting:

1. Anytime your mouth is below water, blow bubbles (Simple rules win!)

Look, the consequences of breathing under water are a bit more daunting than the consequences of not picking up after playtime, so its important for the kids to follow this direction. But the rule is very simple…blow out of your mouth when under water. It is that simple, because it is that important.

At home, make very simple rules when its really important. Follow through with them. At the very beginning, do not let them error. Be there to make sure they do it the right way. Encourage them and remind them…

2. See how big a splash you can make with your feet (Turn things into a game)

Your swim coach would never try to get your kid to kick their legs and feet by talking to them about propulsion and flotation. They get them to kick their feet by simply making it fun to kick their feet AND by giving them a way to get immediate feedback for doing it correctly (if they do it correctly, the larger the splash will be).

I think too often parents get into the mode of over-explaining, over-rationalizing and lecturing about the “whys” instead of the “hows.” Really, it is more important, at their age, how they engage in the behavior and experience the benefits of it rather than understanding why they should do it, why it makes sense, etc.

3. Swim to the edge (Early success matters)

Your kid’s swimming coach would never start your kids at the middle and tell them to swim to the edge…hope you make it! Hunky McSwimmerton starts your kid close to the edge and with his hand holding your little swimmer up, he gets the legs kicking and gently pushes him to the edge of the pool. Then the cheering begins! You’re a swimmer! Success not only breeds success, but it also builds a history with making it to the edge. Slowly, Tini Bikini backs up with your kid, but only to a distance she knows your kid will make. 

Too many times we start our kids “in the middle” and expect them to “swim” to the edge. We start with “clean your room” or “do your laundry” without starting them at a point of success and fading out to what we really want. This goes for quality too. Your “clean” room might not be your kid’s “clean” room. Start with success and fade out…maintaining that success.

4. Roll over if you get in trouble (Teach self-help and resiliency)

One of the things I recently saw a few kids do in the pool which was pretty neat was when they got in trouble (swam too far out or got too far from the parent), they rolled over on their backs to catch a few breaths and either called out for the parent or reset themselves to make it to the edge. Turns out, this is something they were taught in swimming class.

There are times when kids get upset for good reasons and also for reasons that are pretty ridiculous. Its gonna happen. They need to know how to reset themselves and calmly be able to access help or calm themselves enough to assess the situation and get out. When another kid takes a toy, when milk is spilled, when the show turns off all of a sudden when the power goes out. Resiliency is huge for kids. Teach them to be able to handle when things don’t go their way. This is huge (as is rolling over in the water to catch a breath).

5. I’ve gotcha (Be there to ensure success, reward effort and protect, just in case)

Teaching your kid that you will be there to support them, to make sure they learn easy and hard lessons (what it feels like when water goes in your nose or when you get a little too ambitious and have to roll on your back to breathe), and to catch them if they really get in a hard spot is something we can all strive to do on a daily basis.

When it is all said and done…we are still parents. We will protect above and beyond all things.

Alright guys, spread some Zinc on your nose, spin a whistle around your fingers and slide on a new pair of shades…you’re ready! 

Five Parenting Lessons from T-Ball

I just finished up my first year as a coach of my son’s four to six year old T-ball team. I’ve never coached anything, but hoped everything was going to turn out alright. Sure, I have handled my fair share of four year olds thanks to my job, but generally speaking, they have not had bats in their hands or were throwing semi-hard baseballs at each other. It was a blast and no one got hurt! Success.

Reflecting on the season, I could not help but think of how many parenting and behavior lessons can be learned from the perspective of my experience as a T-ball coach. Here are the first 5 (the others soon to come):


1. Always keep your hand on (or close to) the bat.

I appreciated this lesson that came up in the coach’s meeting when an experienced coach said, “don’t let go of the bat until you are all clear and ready for that kid to swing.” What a great lesson. I was always especially careful of where the bat was at all times. And he was right…once you let go, that kid is gonna swing away.

As for parenting, I think this speaks right to the heart of always being prepared and super focused when the situation is potentially dangerous (physically, emotionally or behaviorally). Keeping an eye out, surveying the field and then letting go of the child when it is safe for them to swing away ensures success or extremely reduces the chances of failure. In those situations…hold onto the bat until you are sure everything is ready.

2. Never forget to show them where first base is.

I could not believe it. The last game of the season and I still had a few players run in the wrong direction or not run at all when they hit the ball. I assumed too much. I assumed since we had practiced running the bases and had been playing for so long they would have it. Nope. Not all of them (including my son who I had to stop from chasing down the ball he had just hit and redirect him to first base).

There are times when, as parents, you will assume incorrectly that your child knows what behaviors are expected. “He should know by now” situations will come up and potentially be tough to manage. Until you are completely sure your child knows what do to and what behaviors you are looking for, remind them. Show them.

3. The team will tell you when you are not in control.

Yes, there were times when things were more hectic than I had planned. The players got a little pushy in line, started talking more about “being first” or “thats my ball.” This always, without exception, occurred when I did not have as good of a grasp on the current situation as I had planned.  Too many kids in the line waiting to catch, too much time between batters, too few helmets, lost gloves, etc. Their behavior was a reflection on how well I had prepared them and the activity.

In the same way, your kids will tell you (with their behavior) when you are less in control: when you had too little sleep, too much aggravation, not enough time to finish that first cup of coffee in the morning. Remember, your kid’s behavior is often a reflection of your preparation and organization. Dont take it out on them. Wake up earlier, sleep more, take a “chill out” if frustrated, etc.

4. Find a white line.

When we were out on the field, I was always looking for some physical something to help the kids know where they needed to be. The white line became my source of boundaries. The circle around the home plate area was where they needed to be while we were hitting, the line from third to home was where their feet needed to be during fielding drills, the line from home to first base was where they needed to walk to shake hands with the opposing team after the game. 

Boundaries with children are important to maintain as are very clear expectations. Sometimes we have to make it exceptionally clear and give physical references for the behaviors we want. I mentioned the Parking Pal on the Facebook page previously, which is a perfect example for this. Find those physical boundaries and things in the environment to make sure your expectations are clear and visible.


5. Huddle up.

This is probably one of the practices most influenced by my work. I know sometimes kids have difficulties transitioning from one thing to another. Especially when they are in a group of 13 all getting ready to bat, things can go haywire if you do not watch out. So, every time we had any transition at all, we “huddled up.” Everyone together, hands in the middle, I would give the instructions of what we were going to do next, then finish it off with a “1,2,3 – GO ORIOLES!” That part was necessary because it made them want to come to the huddle. Otherwise, I would have struggled to get them in a group and maintain them at such close quarters. Also, it allowed me to have control and everyone’s attention at a time of transition. I was able to assign batting order, get them behind the line and do so in an orderly manner because I had then all right there with me.

This is so important in the daily lives of parents. There are changes in the schedule, some going more announced than others, and some when you are going into something that might not be as fun as the last thing you just did. Huddle up, inform your kids of what is coming up. Be prepared yourself so you can prepare them. Bring them together so you can start from a good, organized position rather than going into your next activity without fully gaining control of them. This is huge.

Oh, and as always, make it fun and cheer for them. A good high five goes a long way!

Teaching your kid to be a “people person”


“Your kids are so polite.” 

“What a little gentleman.  What is your name, little boy?”

Oh, the smiles of proud parents when this happens.  Your child being publicly recognized for good behavior is about as good as it gets for parents.  Bigger deal for kids?  ABSOLUTELY, here is why:

So much of how we behave is maintained by social consequences. 

Making people smile, doing things not to embarrass yourself in front of your spouse’s boss, receiving compliments, “looking good,” the list goes on.  The power of following social rules and social boundaries is huge.   Receiving social acceptance and avoiding social disgrace is makes us tick.  Here is an example I use in many of my trainings:

Picture yourself at a red-light in a town far away from home.  There are cars on both sides of you.  You get an itch on the inside of your left nostril.  CRAP.

Do you scratch it? 

Most people smile and look around nervously, even as I tell the story.  The truth is, in most cases we will NOT scratch the inside of our nose simply because one of those people (who you will NEVER, EVER see again) might, JUST MAYBE, think you are picking your nose.  How embarrassing.

Need anymore evidence of how much social consequences play a part in our behavior?

Back to your kids. 

As they grow up, many of their behaviors will occur outside of your reach.  These behaviors will be reinforced by those around them: friends, teachers, coaches, even strangers on the street.  It is important for you to begin to teach your kids how to best access the best kinds of social consequences: praise, smiles, compliments, etc.  We talked about this a bit before when talking about the Suzuki method and “teaching the bow.”  If you have not read that, please do so…very cool story.

Politeness.  Manners.  Introducing themselves, shaking hands (even at early ages), saying, “excuse me,” “potty” or “restroom” instead of “I gotta poop.”  Go ahead and teach them to raise their hand.  It is amazing how people respond when young kids do these things.  It is a powerful force. 

It also allows you to follow up the public praise with some of your own: “did you see how amazed that guy was when you said, ‘excuse me, sir.’  That was so awesome.”

Try it.  Do something simple.  Prompt it next time a friend comes over.  Teach your son to shake hands, teach your daughter to say, “would you like something to drink.”  I think they (and you) will be surprised and pleased.

Parent with confidence!


Parenting with confidence makes a difference

One of the things I have to ask a lot of parents to do when we are making changes with the way they interact with their children is to have a sense of confidence.  Many have a hard time doing it.

It makes sense.  Over the years, there have been many ways they have tried to help their children behave better, follow directions, do their homework, be more independent, and lead overall happier lives.  Unfortunately, for many parents with whom I work, those efforts have been met with continued tantrums, challenging behaviors, and hurtful words.  Essentially, the kids have punished their parents’ efforts to do better and it weakens resolve and makes them question themselves.  This leads to more inconsistency and more problems. 

This is very natural.  Every parent experiences this at some point or another.

Sometimes all I have to do is tell parents they are doing the right thing: “Hang in there, you’re right.  He’ll be fine, just hang in there for a bit.”  Yes, they might have made some mistakes in the past, but their current efforts are simply going to take time. 

Just because your son screamed at you does not mean you should have cleaned his room for him.  Just because your daughter fell to the floor crying does not mean you should have given her that last piece of candy she wanted.  Learning takes experience over time…trials…to really sink in.  

Stirring the Kool-Aid

Think about this: you have just added the water to your two packs of Awesome Berry Blast Kool-Aid powder mix (after you licked your finger and tasted a bit of it out of the packet) and you get the trusty wooden spoon out to stir it in.  You stir, first in the counter clockwise direction.  The water gets spinning in that direction.  Kinda looks like a tornado.  Then you reverse the direction of your stir.  The neon blue water splashes a bit, you feel some resistance, but you keep stirring.   Clockwise now, you start to feel less resistance.  There are still some ripples and disturbance, but the ripples fade and the direction of the water is now with your stir. You have changed the direction of the flow. 

Now, if you just went back and forth without maintaining your direction for any length of time, there is no direction.  Often, there is more splash…more disturbance.  Harder to maintain any sense of order. 

Changing behavior is not that different. 

When changing the direction of a behavior, especially one that has some momentum, you might get splashed a bit at first.  But, maintaining your direction over time will get things heading in the right direction.  Going back and forth without any consistent direction will often cause more problems, more disturbance, more challenging behavior.

Lets say your daughter has been whining a bunch, and you are trying to get her to ask nicely to get things she wants.  This is a new behavior.  Not only are you trying to teach her that she needs to “ask nicely” and that is the correct way to get things she wants, you are also teaching her the old way isn’t going to work anymore…the way that has worked a good bit in the past.  That is not going to happen all at once.  She will likely react a bit as she learns the “old way” does not work anymore.  It does not mean you are doing anything wrong.  In fact, you might be doing something correctly! 

Give her plenty of opportunities to learn the new way…prompt her, role play, practice and praise her when she does it so she knows and has experience with what “asking nicely” means.

The path to confidence

If you are having a problem with a specific behavior, think about what you want to do to change it.  What is the new behavior you want to teach in place of the old (always teach a “to-do” when you are teaching a “not-to-do”)?  Talk to your spouse.  Consult professionals.  Do some reading.  Make an educated decision about what you are going to do.  Then do it.  Be confident. 

Your children can smell hesitancy and uncertainty.  Even if afterwards you wish you would have done something a bit differently, just do it differently next time.  At least you were paying enough attention to know what you should have done.

The time to make decisions about behavior and how you are going to respond to it is when you have your wits about you, when you can think with an open mind, while you are not hampered by the emotion of the moment.  Think it through, then be confident. 

Do it.  Hesitancy leads to inconsistency, which will likely lead to more challenging behaviors. 

If you are really interested, measure your results.  Is your child doing more of the “to-do” behaviors and less of the “not-to-do” behavior?  

Pay attention, be informed then be confident and consistent.  You’ve earned your Kool-Aid.