What Behaviors Can You Ignore?

Posted February 5, 2016 by Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach

What Behaviors Can You Ignore?

When my son was three years old, I carried him to the car every morning with bare feet. In the freezing cold, in the rain, in the snow.

Before this started, putting on shoes to leave the house was a screaming battle. One morning I thought, why am I fighting this? I scooped up my barefoot son and walked out the front door. He stopped crying. When we got to daycare, the socks and shoes went on, no problem.

This was a huge lesson for me. Letting go of one thing made our lives much easier. Are there behaviors – as annoying and frustrating as they may be – that you can choose to ignore?

Allowing your child to get away with behavior you don’t like can feel like failure. But as a parent, remember this: You don’t have to fix everything, and parenting is not about perfection.

“If you’re seeking perfection as a parent, that’s not realistic. But if you’re aiming to be a better mom or dad, that’s really good enough.” – Janet Lehman, co-creator of The Total Transformation

If the list of behaviors you want to “fix” feels overwhelming, it can be very freeing to let go of a few issues. This allows you to concentrate on giving consequences for the big stuff; giving fewer consequences makes them more effective.

I encourage you to take a step back and think about what would happen if you chose to ignore certain behaviors. What is crucial and what is an irritant?

Here are some questions to think about:

  • What would happen if you ignored this behavior?
  • Do you need to focus on this?
  • Where else could you spend this energy?
  • If the neighbor’s child were doing this, how would you feel?

When you find yourself wanting to correct every concerning behavior no matter the size, take a moment to prioritize. You will be effective when you concentrate on the most important issues. The others? Take a deep breath and – for now – let go.

Posted January 13, 2016 by Rebecca Staples, 1-on-1 Coach

Parenting Mistake? Let’s Fix It.

Parenting Mistake? Let’s Fix It.

Here’s a typical situation our coaching team hears from parents:

“Last night was awful. My son came home two hours after curfew and when I tried to talk to him, he started making excuses and blaming me for making the curfew too early. I got so mad, we started yelling at each other. I told him he’s grounded for the next three months.”

Now what? Grounding her son for three months isn’t going to work. But if she backtracks, she feels like she’s giving in to bad behavior. This parent feels backed into a corner.

Luckily there is an effective way to “re-do” a parenting moment gone wrong. Once you master this tool, you’ll use it all the time.

“If you want your child to listen to you, I personally think you need a system in your home in which it becomes the child’s responsibility to listen to you.” – James Lehman, MSW, Creator of Total Transformation

Find a quiet time, the next day or a few hours later, and sit down with your child. Use this template to help you acknowledge the mistake and move forward:

“You know, we had a hard time last night and I told you were grounded for three months. That’s not going to work. I’m sorry that happened. Next time I get upset, I’m going to take a break so we can both calm down.

You’re not grounded for three months, but we do need to talk about what happened with curfew and how you’re going to come home on time in the future.”

Before you start this conversation, take time to think about what you would have done differently. Then tell your child what you wished you had done, and give a modified consequence. You are in control this time around. Admitting your mistake does not diminish your power and it doesn’t show inconsistency or weakness. A parenting mistake does give you and your child an opportunity to learn together.

We don’t expect this conversation to make your child feel happy and compliant. They still need a consequence and they will probably still be mad. If things start to get heated, it might be best to take a break and talk later – this is another opportunity to model the behavior you wanted to show last time.

These moments are uncomfortable, but parenting mistakes are incredible teaching opportunities.

 If you want another resource for staying calm while parenting, this article is a great place to start: 

Trapped in a Screaming Match With Your Child? 5 Ways to Get Out Now.

Caught Your Child Lying? Do This Before You Respond

Posted December 13, 2016 by Empowering Parents Coaching Team

Caught Your Child Lying? Do This Before You Respond

When we hear from parents about the issue of lying, we often hear them say:

“I don’t know what I feel worse about…her sneaking out or her lying to me about it!”

When you catch your child or teen in a lie, it is common to experience a flood of emotions. Lying hurts and it is okay to feel angry, disappointed, or betrayed. You might even feel afraid about what will happen next if the lying continues.  

This is why it is important, if you can, to take some time before you respond. Give yourself the time you need to calm down. Although it is common to take lying personally and to be upset, you will not be as effective if you respond with a lot of emotion.

Here are three things you can do the next time you catch your child lying.

  1. Understand What Lying Is (and What It Isn’t). Every situation is different, but kids and adults often use lying to get out of difficult situations. Lying can also be used as a way of avoiding trouble or trying to get away with not following the rules. Sometimes, lies are about trying to fit in or trying to make someone feel better. Kids who use lying as a way to solve their problems are probably not thinking about being hurtful. They are likely not seeing this the way that you are.
  2. Focus on the Issue That They Are Lying About. Try to keep your focus on the situation at hand. If your son lied about getting his homework turned in and now he has a failing grade, focus first on the plan to bring that grade up. Lying didn’t solve his problem and in fact, it made it worse. You can point this out and let him know that lying is not okay and doesn’t solve problems. Getting sidetracked into an argument about whether or not you trust him could take you away from the important homework conversation that you need to have.
  3. Rebuilding Trust. It may take some time to mend your broken trust with your child. Keep your focus on helping your child learn more effective ways to handle the things that come their way and just let them know that things might be different for a while. Trust is rebuilt when kids can show you that they can follow the rules even when they don’t like them or agree with them. With better choices comes more independence.

How to Respond When Your Child Acts Out in Public

How to Respond When Your Child Acts Out in Public

As you push your cart through the store you hear a wail from the next aisle. The cry starts low and rises sharply, followed by,

“I need it! But I NEED IT!!!”

You turn into the aisle and see a mom trying to get her 6-year-old to stop shouting. His cries are getting louder and louder. This is turning into a full-fledged tantrum.

As a bystander, many of us feel sympathy for parents in these situations. We know how hard it is; we silently wish them luck and good vibes as we navigate around the tantrum. You might hear someone muttering, “Get that child under control,” or “I would never allow my child to act that way!” or something else that is equally unhelpful to the situation.

As a parent, how do you respond when your child acts out in public?

  1. Know your Child’s Limits.  Having a meltdown doesn’t always mean that a child is deliberately being naughty. Toddlers are still developing their ability to control their emotions. When they get overstimulated or tired, tantrums and meltdowns are common. Even older children can have trouble controlling their emotions — especially when they are overtired or hungry. You know your child best. How much are they able to handle? A quick run to the grocery store is different than an afternoon at the mall. Shopping earlier in the day might go better than a trip right before dinner time. Can you get some of your errands done without bringing your child? As much as you can, recognize your child’s limits and plan accordingly.
  2. When the Tantrum is Happening. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that this is very hard. Parents feel pressure to make the tantrum stop immediately and when that doesn’t work, they often feel embarrassed and out-of-control. The main thing to remember is that tantrums and acting-out behavior should not result in a child getting their way. You don’t want your child to start bullying you into getting what they want with the threat of embarrassing you with bad behavior. As hard as it is, do your best to stay calm and firm with your limits. Try to ignore everyone else around you and focus on what your child needs from you right now. If your child is really upset, you might need to give them some direction to help them calm down. Try saying, “I can hear you are really upset, but yelling at me is not going to help. Try taking some deep breaths.”

    Don’t give their acting-out behavior any more attention and make your way to the exit. If you can come back for the items later, that’s great! Otherwise, head towards the checkout line and get back home as soon as you can. Sometimes you can’t leave the store and you might need to sit and wait out the meltdown. You can model calm behavior and direct them towards the exit when they see that their meltdown is not going to change your rules.

   Meltdowns and tantrums are signs of poor problem-solving skills.        Some of this is 

       to be expected and will get better as your child grows and learns how to regulate their emotions. 

Trouble at School? How Parents Can Respond

Posted November 7, 2016 by Empowering Parents Coaching Team

Trouble at School? How Parents Can Respond

School progress reports have arrived and it doesn’t look good. Your son is missing multiple assignments and his grades are dropping fast.

You know he can do better, but every time you try to talk about it, you get angry or frustrated.

How can you effectively respond to trouble at school?

Now that we’re through the back-to-school season, academic concerns and school struggles are starting to surface. We’re hearing from a lot of parents about these issues. It’s tough to know how to tackle behavior or academic concerns at school when you aren’t there to see them or address them.

Here are two effective ways to respond to your child’s school troubles:

1. Pause before jumping to action.  It’s a natural response for us to jump to action. You see a failing grade and immediately start worrying about what this means for your child’s future, so you ground him for the rest of the semester until his grades improve. Or, you hear about a fight at school and march in to confront the principal, who, in your opinion, has never been fair to your daughter.

These are serious issues and they do require action, but just pause for a few moments before you take the next step. Pause and take a deep breath.

2. Ask yourself: What’s my part here?  School issues often push our buttons. Perhaps you had some hard experiences at school and you don’t want the same thing to happen to your child. Whatever the situation, it’s important to remember that this is your child’s experience at school–not your own. These missing assignments are his to complete, not yours.

Try to separate your feelings and reactions from your next step. Ask yourself,

What part can I play in responding to this without doing my child’s work for them?

  • Your role might be to hold your child accountable and make a plan for him to make up the missing assignments.
  • You might decide to meet with teachers or school counselors about getting your child some extra support at school.
  • Maybe your role is to be an advocate for your child and bring your concerns to the principal or superintendent.  Make a plan for how you can be involved.

If you are feeling stuck with what your role or plan should be, try reaching out to the school. Ask who is available to help you and your child. See if you can meet with your child’s teacher or school counselor to talk about what is happening and how you can help find a solution.

What happens next will depend on the situation! But starting with these two steps can help you find your way forward.

The Importance of Following Through

Posted October 29, 2015 by Denise Rowden, 1-on-1 Coach

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Waking your kid up for school can be a nightmare.

He sleeps in until the last minute. Over breakfast, he fights to stay awake. He’s late to school because he’s “too tired to go.” The whole day starts off on the wrong foot!

Exasperated, you try to set limits…

“From now on, bedtime starts an hour earlier. That means you’re in bed, with no electronics, by 9pm.”

Fast forward to the evening and dinner is done, all the dishes are put away and you just got off the phone with your sister. It’s 9:30pm, and the last thing on your mind is enforcing limits.

The next morning, your son wakes up late again–the cycle continues. Frustrated at your lack of follow-through, you can’t help but wonder: Will I ever get better at this?

Here at Empowering Parents, we believe that with patience and consistent practice, any parent can change at any time. If you’re struggling with following through on limits and consequences, there’s no time like the present to get better. You can do this!

When you follow through, your child learns they can trust you to do what you say you’re going to do – this helps boost your authority and establish safe, healthy boundaries.

Start by making a commitment to your child. If you didn’t do something the way you feel you should have, it’s okay to say that. Remember, you’re role-modeling accountability, not “admitting defeat.”

In the case of the earlier scenario, you could say something like this:

“We said bedtime is at 9pm, but that didn’t happen last night. Tonight we’re going to stick to it and I can help you with that.”

If you don’t follow through with your limits and give in, a child is going to be more insistent on pushing boundaries because of the one time (or many times) they were able to get their way. Another downside to not following through is that eventually, kids will stop believing what you tell them.

We all know someone who means well, but doesn’t follow through. You might run into them at the grocery store and they say, “let’s get dinner soon!” or, “let’s catch up over coffee!” Yet they never follow through with these plans. The end result is that you lose faith in their intentions.

Remember, actions speak louder than words. Pick one area to focus on and do what you say you

will do. Even if you’ve struggled with follow-through in the past, you can start 

practicing today and still see results.

Parenting Differences Between Partners: Finding Common Ground

Posted October 30, 2015 by Denise Rowden, 1-on-1 Coach

Parenting Differences Between Partners: Finding Common Ground

Upon reviewing last month’s credit card statement, you nearly have a heart attack.

Clothes, video games, electronics…all charged to your account. You realize it wasn’t you who made the purchases…it was your child.

After a few deep breaths, you explain your discovery to your husband. Furious, he insists on teaching your son a lesson by taking away all his privileges – for a very long time.

“We can’t let him get away with this – he has to learn to grow up! Stop being so easy on him!”

You disagree, knowing that extreme consequences won’t fix the problem.

How can you get on the same page and parent as a team?

Disagreeing with your partner can be heart-wrenching. You both want the best for your child, yet coming together as a team feels like a problem in and of itself. We hear from many parents in this position. When two people grow up in different families with different values, they’re bound to disagree!

If you find yourself in a parenting disagreement, take some time to discuss where you do agree – your common ground.

The same goes for disagreements with a sister, grandparent, in-law, etc. Anyone working together to raise kids are bound to have differing opinions, but the end goal is the same: to prepare your child to be a successful adult.

In this example, the parents may agree that stealing is not okay and needs to be addressed. As an extra precaution, they may agree to hide their valuables to prevent future theft.

In some cases, you may have to agree to disagree, find some sort of compromise or let one of you take the lead this time – and that’s okay. In the end, it isn’t about being “right” or “wrong.” It’s about trying to figure out the next step together.

Have additional questions? Check out When Parents Disagree: 10 Ways to Parent as a Team.

Stay strong – we’re here to help support and guide you!

Talk soon,

Denise R., Empowering Parents Coach
Learn more about 1-on-1 Coaching

“Understand that every time you argue with your partner over parenting, the focus shifts away from your child. Rather than teaching your child how to behave and problem solve, the focus becomes parent against parent.” – Debbie Pinus, creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM

“You can’t make me!” The Push-and-Pull of Power Struggles

Posted September 28, 2015 by Darlene Beaulieu, 1-on-1 Coach

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You need to leave the house early so you can drop the kids off at school and make it to work on time. Just as you’re about to head out the door, your daughter decides that attending class is not in her cards today.

“I’m not going, and you can’t make me.”

Makes you cringe, doesn’t it?

This is just one example of how power struggles start. Your need (getting the kids to school and making it to work on time) rubs up against your daughter’s need (staying home from school). The situation turns into a push-and-pull, where your needs compete for attention.

Any time your child uses defiance to push back against your requests or rules, you’re in a power struggle.

Your daughter might have a good reason why she doesn’t want to go to school, but she’s not able or willing to talk about it. This causes tension, since both of you have places to be and not much time to get there.

In these moments, it can feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I understand how challenging it is. Parents are busy people — the last thing you need is another obstacle to overcome!

The good news is, there are effective ways to manage power struggles without going to war with your child. The first step is awareness: knowing when you’re being drawn into an argument.

It might seem obvious, but sometimes we’re so caught up in patterns of fighting or arguing, we miss the fact that we were invited into a power struggle. Don’t worry, this is normal! To learn more about identifying power struggles and how to overcome them, check out Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children: Declaring Victory is Easier Than You Think

.“This Is The Worst Day Ever!” Helping Kids 

Through Difficult Situations

Posted December 23, 2015 by Darlene Beaulieu, 1-on-1 Coach

“This Is The Worst Day Ever!” Helping Kids Through Difficult Situations

My daughter called me on my lunch break yesterday. I answered quickly, only to be greeted by a heavy sigh on the other line.

“Mom, I’m having the worst day ever…I had to do a presentation this morning and everyone was staring at me…the boys started laughing…I got so nervous, I cried in front of the whole class.”

I felt a lump form in my throat.

Part of me was angry at the boys for laughing, and at the teacher for allowing it to happen. The other part of me was asking, what can I say to help my daughter feel better right now?

Parents can help children navigate difficult situations by responding effectively. Using my coaching experience here at Empowering Parents, I put together the four steps I applied when responding to my daughter:

  1. Pause and breathe. Even though I felt angry at those responsible for my daughter’s bad day, I knew it wasn’t worth it to get worked up. Save your energy for listening and finding ways to help your child.
  2. Ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?” My daughter didn’t need me to call the school or get mad at the boys in her class — she needed a supportive ear. As parents, sometimes we have to put our emotions on hold in order to see what our kids really need from us.
  3. Listen. Let your child tell the story. For me, this was tough — I wanted to respond and ask questions right away. Ultimately, however, your response will be more effective if you know the full picture before weighing in.
  4. Get the facts. Ask questions in a business-like way. For example, “Then what happened?” or, “How did you handle it?” Try to understand your child’s perspective.

3 Tips for New School Year Complaints

Posted August 29, 2016 by Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW

3 Tips for New School Year Complaints

“But I don’t want to start school!”

I’ve heard my teenage daughter utter that phrase at least a thousand times in the past week. Well, maybe not quite a thousand, but it sure felt like it! It was so hard to know how to respond.

How could I reassure her that things will be okay, without ignoring her obvious distress about the start of school?

My daughter used to love school. She loved seeing her friends and she even liked her teachers. But then she entered middle school and that’s when it started: the DRAMA. Girl drama, boyfriend drama, homework drama, teacher drama! You name it, there was drama. If only she could channel that drama into theater acting, she might be the next Julia Roberts.

Don’t get me wrong – I get it. I remember that age and frankly, you couldn’t pay me to go back to that time. I didn’t talk to my mother much about the stress of school. Maybe I didn’t think she would understand or maybe I thought she wouldn’t really be able to help. So many times, adults forget that “teenage angst” is truly hard. How could I support my daughter in coping with these situations?

If you’re dealing with a child’s back-to-school dread, here are a few things that can help:

  1. Listen. Just listen. Sometimes our kids don’t want us to solve the problem – they just want to be heard.
  2. Give suggestions – if asked. None of us are born with coping skills – we learn them. If your child is open to ideas, give suggestions on ways to handle or cope with situations. Model problem-solving.
  3. Intervene if necessary. Some problems are truly bigger than what your child can handle independently. If he or she is struggling with being seriously bullied, failing grades or other risky situations, explore if it’s time you intervened at the school administration level. Some situations legitimately call for adult/parent intervention.

When I worry about my daughter and school, I try to remind myself: this is the training ground for the real world.There will be many opportunities for her to practice the coping skills she is learning. She’s going to get her heart broken, she’s going to have friends who let her down and she’s going to cry sometimes. But she’s also going to laugh, she’s going to meet a few lifelong friends and she’s going to have successes. She’s going to learn and she’s going to grow – and as her parent, so will I.

Put a Plan in Place for Back-to-School

Posted August 19, 2016 by Empowering Parents Coaching Team

Put a Plan in Place for Back-to-School

It’s that time of year again: back-to-school!

It’s a joyous time for some parents:

“Ah, my child who stayed up until 3 a.m. and slept in until noon will be getting back on a sleep schedule.”

“My child who left dirty lunch plates around the house while watching television and complaining about there being ‘nothing to eat in the fridge’ will now be dining in the school cafeteria.”

“My child who picked fights with his siblings because he was bored will now be too busy doing math and social studies to be bored.”

But for other parents, it’s a time of dread:

“Ugh. I wonder how long it will take to start getting calls from the teacher about my child refusing to do classwork?”

“I wonder how many calls I’m going to get about my child starting fights on the playground?”

“I wonder if there’s anything I can do this year to get my child to finish her homework? I think I hate school more than my child does!”

Whether you’re anticipating the school year with joy or dread, it’s just around the corner. Many parents find it’s helpful to have a plan in place ahead of time. It may be a simple plan: going to the school orientation; meeting the teacher casually; helping your child find their way around the building or practicing opening a locker for the first time.

If your child displays behavior problems, your plan may be more involved: putting together a schedule or routine he will follow at home for things such as homework or chores; putting a system in place for rewarding positive behavior; or scheduling proactive meetings with school staff if your child has a specialized educational plan in place.

No matter what your situation is with your child, having a plan in place can help start the year off on a positive note.

Rudeness and Disrespect: How Kids Try to “Defuse” It

By James Lehman, MSW

Rudeness and Disrespect: How Kids Try  to “Defuse” It

“I was just kidding! Can’t you take a joke?” If your child gives you this excuse after he’s said or done something rude, it might leave you feeling frustrated and unsure of how to handle the situation. Later, you might question yourself when he says, “But I didn’t mean it that way.” In this article, James Lehman explains why disrespect and inappropriate behavior are really nothing to laugh at—no matter what the excuse.

“But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter to you why he does it. That’s like saying, ‘He lies because he’s afraid.’ That doesn’t matter; it’s an excuse.”

We all know that a sense of humor is vital. Kids learn humor from their parents, their peers, their teachers, and from T.V. They absorb it and take it all in and then they experiment. One of the things with which they experiment is how they talk to their parents. When they’re feeling hostile, lonely, depressed, or upset, one of the things they try to do is give a smart answer or sarcastic joke. There’s so much of this type of behavior on T.V. One guy says something and the other guy gives a rude response. It’s very much a part of our culture. Kids learn to mimic that kind of communication from an early age because they think it’s cool.

Kids also have peers around them using sarcastic and mean language. They pick up on that because they’re afraid that they’re going to be the next target. Often, children manage by using that humor themselves. It’s similar to a child who’s afraid of being bullied—so he becomes a bully himself. Much of this reaction and attitude is fear-based. I personally think it’s good for parents to adopt a philosophy of, “This is our home and this is the way we talk to each other. I don’t care what your friends said at school. I don’t care what your brother said in the parking lot. I’m telling you, in this home, this is how we talk to each other.” Lay that out for your kids so they understand that there’s an “inside” and an “outside.” Kids often don’t really comprehend the concept of there being an inside, which is your home, and an outside, which is the world. I think you can explain this to your child by saying, “When you’re inside, you have to follow certain rules and expectations. That’s your responsibility. If not, there will be consequences. If you’re outside, and you get yourself into trouble, then we’ll deal with that when the time comes. But at home, this is the way you need to act.”

How to Respond to: “I Was Just Kidding!” 
When your child responds to your reprimand or someone being upset with “I was just kidding,” I think you should say, “What you’re saying is hurtful. I need you to stop.” If he doesn’t stop, give him a consequence. I think an effective one is to take away two hours of phone or computer time (or whatever it is your child values) and build up from there. You can set it up by saying, “If you’re able to talk in a nice way to people for the next two hours, you get your phone back.” 

If your child lies and then says, “I was kidding,” you can say, “Well, you’re going to get consequences for that lie. Don’t kid about the truth.”

Young Kids: 
When your child is young, up until the age of six or so, you can just correct them when they’re joking in an inappropriate way. The kind of thing you would say to a young child is, “We don’t joke by saying hurtful things. And that was hurtful.”  If your child says it again, you should go ahead and give him a consequence. If your younger child uses a curse word, I also teach parents to say, “That’s a hurtful word. Don’t say it.” That way, you’re setting those limits and training him from an early age.

When kids are in early adolescence, they may develop a much more challenging way of talking to you. At that age, they’re testing adult authority and they’re pushing limits. One of the ways they push the limits is through speech. Simply put, they want to see what they can get away with. I think parents have to be very, very responsive to that. If you let your child get away with a hurtful remark once, even if they’re “joking,” watch out—it’s much harder to deal with once they turn it into a habit.

I think if your child says something inappropriate and then he says he’s only kidding, you have to make it clear that it’s not going to fly. You can say, “We don’t kid that way. If you say hurtful things when you’re kidding, you’re going to be held responsible for them. There’s no excuse for verbal abuse.” 

If you’re not sure if what your child is saying is hurtful, I think you should ask him point blank, “What did you just say?”  Speak very seriously, so your child knows you’re listening. If his comment is not way off-color or hurtful, you can say, “Oh, all right, that is funny.”  But if it is, I think you should say, “Listen, that’s a hurtful thing to say and it’s not funny. You know what we said about joking in a mean way.” And then give him a consequence.

Is this kind of behavior part of adolescence?  Absolutely. So is calling a parent by their first name instead of “Mom” and “Dad.”  These are all ways your child tests you and challenges your authority. Personally, I think it’s important to be called “Mom” and “Dad” because that’s your role as a parent. Think of it this way: your child doesn’t know how to relate to Tommy and Betty—he knows how to relate to Mom and Dad. Your title as a parent gives you authority and status. Kids will often try to test the limits by taking away your title, but I think it’s a mistake to go along with that.

“Joking” with Siblings and Others

What if your child hurts siblings’ or other people’s feelings and uses the “I was only joking” excuse? If you overhear your child being hurtful to a sibling or friend, don’t jump in right away unless it’s abusive. Try to see what the conversation is about—find out if the other child is doing the same thing. If the other child is using the same kind of language and tone, I think you have to leave it alone. Later on, you can comment and say, “I heard you and Max playing earlier today and I don’t think the things you were saying were very nice.” 

If you find the hurtful joking is a one-way street, with one child being mean or rude and the other taking it, then you should intervene. I think you can pull your child aside, correct him and then say, “What can you say differently instead of saying this?”  Hopefully he’ll think of something. If he can’t, suggest something to him. This is so important because it’s exactly what we want—we want our kids to be appropriate the next time they feel that way.

“You Take Everything Too Seriously!” 
When you start to crack down on the mean joking in your household, many kids will say something like, “We can’t have fun around here anymore because you take everything too seriously.”  I think you should say, “You’re right, I take hurtfulness very seriously. I take disrespect very seriously—and they’re no joking matter.” I think you can continue with, “On the other hand, I’ve heard you come up with jokes that aren’t disrespectful or hurtful, too. I think they’re really funny. Those are the kind of jokes that I accept. But the other ones are hurtful and I really don’t see their place in our family.”

Talk to Your Child about the Difference between Joking and Hurtful Language
I think it’s a good idea to talk to your child about the difference between joking and being hurtful—especially if you’re going to start calling them out on their language. Call them into the room and say, “That was a hurtful way to say what you said, and I don’t like it. Can you think of a different way to say it?” 

Also, catch your child when they’re being good. If they make a funny joke, say, “See, that was really funny and appropriate. I really appreciate that.” Whenever you can, catch your child being good.

If you have a child who’s gotten a lot of attention and laughs for being smart alecky and wisecracking in a hurtful way and you want to put a stop to it, I also think you need to talk to them about what they’re doing. Sit down with your child when things are going well—not when there’s a crisis or when he’s angry. If your child is sitting in the living room, sit down next to him. I would tell him that you’ve decided that you find certain things offensive and you want to talk to him about it. And then you say, “The jokes that you make, even though you say you’re only kidding, are really hurtful. And as of today, you have to stop being hurtful and sarcastic to others. If you don’t, you’re going to be held responsible for that.” Give your child room to discuss what you’ve just told him by saying, “Do you have any questions? Would you like an example? Do you understand what I mean?”  Give examples. Write some things down ahead of time.

I recommend that whenever you talk with your child, write down what you want to say on an index card in simple sentences so you don’t get distracted. If he’s resistant or explosive, you can say, “All right, well you have no video game privileges until you’re ready to talk about this.” Use the “Stop the Show” technique that I explain in the Total Transformation Program. Don’t give your child an audience for his outburst—just give him a consequence and leave the room.

I know some parents have children with behavioral or social problems who have learned to use humor to deflect or compensate for their lack of social or problem-solving skills. I’ve met many kids like that, and I was that kind of child myself. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter to you why he does it. That’s like saying, “He steals because he doesn’t have anything.” Or, “He lies because he’s afraid.” That doesn’t matter; it’s an excuse. Instead, we stop the behavior. We challenge it, we teach our kids other things, and we eliminate it— with no excuses.

A House Divided Against Itself

Posted April 15, 2016 by Marissa Stephens

Photo of mstephens

If you’re struggling with your co-parent (or an ex) – arguing about whose style is more correct, or more effective – you’re not alone. Coming to an agreement can be very difficult. And when you’re talking about parenting, emotions can certainly run very high.

The good news is, you and your co-parent can find a way to work together, even if you have different ideas.

If you find that you and your partner often argue about key issues, take some time to discuss places you might agree.

Sounds easy enough, but how are you supposed to find places you agree when you argue about everything? The good news is, no matter how insurmountable it feels, there are a few things you might try, just to get started:

Create a specific time to come together and talk about your differences in parenting. This isn’t a time to argue, it’s a time to acknowledge that you have differences. It’s a time to talk about how you might manage those differences more effectively, for the sake of your child. As simplistic as it seems, openly acknowledging your differences, rather than staying in the tug of war between you, can help to shift things.

Once you’ve talked about your differences, affirm together that you’d like to find more common ground, in order to help your child learn and grow. Find one or two behaviors you’d both like your child to improve. Talk about ways you can clearly and effectively help your child take responsibility for improving these behaviors.

One last thing – try to stay focused on specific behaviors like reducing backtalk, or completing chores, rather than broad concepts like “respect” or “attitude.” Those tend to be gray areas in which parents – and adults in general – have lots of disagreements. If you find yourselves being drawn into another argument, step back, take a break, and refocus on one or two very specific behaviors.

Be sure to have these conversations in private, rather than in front of your child. Most importantly, agree to present a united front to your child. Let her know that she can’t get around the rules by appealing to one parent over another. For more help with how to address specific behaviors, check out our article archives HERE.

Except in cases of abuse, there are no clear cut right or wrong answers when it comes to parenting styles. Discussing different ways of reaching your shared family goals is a worthwhile endeavor. Just don’t let those arguments get in the way of your parenting. One step at a time – one shared goal at a time – you and your co-parent can make a fantastic team.

How to Use Incentives and Encourage Behavior You Want to See

Posted March 11, 2016 by Darlene Beaulieu, 1-on-1 Coach

How to Use Incentives and Encourage Behavior You Want to See

Incentives are a powerful way to encourage certain behaviors in kids. Used correctly, they can motivate children to make change and stick with it.

Parents often have mixed feelings about using incentives, and they ask us how incentives differ from bribes.

Here’s how incentives are different from bribes, and how to use them effectively.

An incentive is chosen in a calm moment before a behavior takes place. You and your child talk about – and agree on – the behavior and incentive ahead of time.

For instance, you might tell your younger child that if they are calm during grocery shopping, you will spend time at the playground afterwards. Or if your older child completes their homework before dinner, they will earn a half hour of something they enjoy.

A bribe is given in the middle of bad behavior as an attempt to make it stop. If your toddler is having a tantrum at the grocery store, you might promise the playground if they’ll just stop screaming.

Bribes teach children that bad behavior will get them a reward. Incentives help children work toward a goal and celebrate their successes. Incentives shouldn’t be used for everything. It’s best to pick one or two behaviors you want to encourage and work on them with your kids.

We all enjoy incentives and use them as motivation. Kids love to earn rewards and praise. Strategically using incentives can be effective and fun for both kids and adults.

A behavior chart can be a powerful tool combined with an incentive. Feel free to download our free behavior charts to use with your children.

How Would You Parent Your Friend’s Child?

Posted March 4, 2016 by Rebecca Staples, 1-on-1 Coach

How Would You Parent Your Friend’s Child?

Would you like a break from the emotions of parenting? Here’s a little trick: Parent your friend’s child instead.

Parenting is emotional. Our strong emotional connection to our children is a powerful and challenging part of parenting. Sometimes these emotions can blur our vision. Or just wear us down. When you need some perspective about your child’s behavior, try asking yourself a simple question:

How would I parent my friend’s child in this situation?

When it’s our own child acting out, we often feel worse about bad behavior. A good way to lessen emotional intensity is to imagine that you are managing a friend or neighbor’s child. Does it seem less stressful? We think sometimes it might.

Think about listening to your infant cry. The sound of that cry affects you more than the sound of another baby crying. Our own children tap deeply into our emotions, and rightfully so.

That’s why this question can be a quick way to switch from your emotional to logical brain. We don’t have strong emotions attached to our friends’ children the way we do with our own. If they misbehave, it’s much easier to see the whole view and make a decision based on logic, not emotion.

4 Ways to Make Natural Consequences Work

Posted March 4, 2016 by Denise Rowden, 1-on-1 Coach

4 Ways to Make Natural Consequences Work

At Empowering Parents, we’re often asked about appropriate consequences. But in many cases, the most effective consequences require you to do nothing at all.

Most of us learn nicely from our mistakes or missteps. If we drive too fast, we might get a ticket – an expensive lesson. Our children are no different. They learn well from their mistakes.

For instance, if your child doesn’t do his homework, he’ll get detention and/or a bad grade for missing an assignment. That’s the consequence. If your toddler refuses to wear mittens outside, she might get uncomfortably cold hands. Rather than attempting to change your child’s course, you can choose to let them experience the natural consequences of their choices.

As with many things in parenting, this can be emotionally challenging. After all, you don’t want your son to get a bad grade! Or you may feel like you’re not doing your job if you let the school’s consequence be enough. You want your daughter to have warm hands, and you may feel like a bad parent if she’s not dressed the way she “should be.”

Here are four ways to make natural consequences work for you:

  1. Stay on the lookout for natural consequences. They are all around us. If you are accustomed to giving consequences for certain behaviors, you might not recognize the potential effectiveness of a natural consequence.
  2. Don’t save your child from a natural consequence. If you can stand it! Understandably, many parents have a hard time watching their child experience the physical or psychological discomfort that can be such a powerful learning experience. But your child learns best if she experiences the entire scenario: her choice and the consequence that follows.You can certainly give your child a warning, but if she decides to ignore your advice, allow the consequence to happen without intervening. Of course parents need to intervene if you think there’s serious risk or danger involved.
  3. Recognize when a natural consequence is enough. If your child rides his bike too fast and he falls, that may be sufficient. Shaken up and scraped, he probably learned his lesson and will change his behavior next time. An additional consequence isn’t necessary.
  4. Watch for changing behavior…or not. Observe what happens the next time your child repeats the behavior. Did they learn from their previous experience? If you see change, wonderful. If not, evaluate whether you need to intervene and give another consequence.

Natural consequences are very powerful learning opportunities; they can foster self-reliance and growth. Knowing when and how to let them work for you and your child involves some letting go, allowing your child to experience the consequence when appropriate, and looking for signs of change.

Coach Advice: Listen to Your Worries!

Posted February 26, 2016 by Marissa Stephens

Coach Advice: Listen to Your Worries!

As a 1-on-1 Coach, I talk to a lot of parents who are full of worry about their child’s future.

Parents worry a lot! And that’s a good thing! Parental concern is nature’s way of making sure we attend to our child’s needs. Worry keeps us involved, attuned to our kids and can even give us energy when we’re exhausted.

Here’s how you can use worry to your advantage.

When you find yourself overwhelmed with worry, ask yourself this question: Are you worried about what’s actually happening now or something that might or might not happen in the child’s future?

The best way to feel relief is to focus on the present. Maybe it’s schoolwork or how he’s treating others. Identify the behavior you’re worried about in present terms and let that be your new focus.

“Anxiety…. fools us out of the now and into worrying about tomorrow. It makes our focus rigid and keeps the present, real issues out of sight.” – Debbie Pincus, Creator of The Calm Parent: AM & PM

Remember, you can’t control your child and you can’t control the future. But you can control your actions right now.

The Debbie Pincus quote above is from an excellent article if you would like to do more reading: Worried Sick About Your Child’s Future? How to Stop the Anxiety.

Dealing with Chronic Negativity in Kids

Posted February 19, 2016 by Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach

Dealing with Chronic Negativity in Kids

Let’s face it, we all have bad days. And sometimes kids seem to have never-ending bad days! Nothing ever seems good enough or makes them happy.

Kids can get stuck in negative patterns, especially during certain stages of development. Here’s how to deal with chronic negativity at home.

Know that negativity is part of normal development. Especially for toddlers and teenagers. Normal doesn’t make it more pleasant, but it can give you some perspective.

    1. You don’t have to react right now. 
    2. A negative attitude is very powerful and can draw other people into its orbit. When your child says something negative, choose to ignore them. 
    3. Don’t give the negativity any more power.
    4. Don’t struggle against it. No matter how ridiculous or overblown your child’s attitude may seem to you, they have a different perspective. Empathy can go a long way toward helping both of you cope.Find an outlet. Constant negativity can be frustrating and draining to live with. It’s important to find a way to help yourself feel better.

Remember, it’s not your job to make your child feel a certain way.

Acceptance is key to effectively coping with negativity. You can’t force your child to change their attitude; you can only accept where they are right now. It doesn’t mean they will be this way forever. In the meantime, we realize that it’s not easy for you or them.

The Gift of Unhappiness

Posted February 12, 2016 by Darlene Beaulieu, 1-on-1 Coach

The Gift of Unhappiness

When I was eight years old, my friend was invited to a neighborhood birthday party and I wasn’t. There was ice cream cake and the promise of a piñata. I was devastated.

My parents could have asked the neighbors to invite me. They could have sent me along to the party uninvited. They could have come up with a special afternoon so that I would be distracted during the party.

But they didn’t do any of these things. My parents let me experience this disappointment without intervening. That night before bedtime, my mother sat down and talked with me about my hard afternoon, but that was it.

What my parents did that day was very important. Here’s why.

I speak with many parents who go to great lengths to help their children avoid disappointment, stress, and adversity. I understand this instinct.

But by doing so, they are unintentionally shielding their child from learning opportunities. A child who has been protected from unhappiness may have trouble dealing with disappointment as a child and as an adult. Coping with disappointment is key to a successful, balanced life.

As a parent, take the time to teach your child how to deal with disappointment. It’s an incredible gift.

Instead of trying to prevent or “fix” difficulties for your child, be with them in their disappointment. Allow them to feel sad, left out, or angry. Let the moment happen and then talk to them about how to move forward. Resiliency is a valuable skill that will serve them well in childhood and adulthood.


“In order for children to learn how to do hard things, you have to let them go through hard times. There is no way to truly master something without experiencing it.” – Sara Bean, M.Ed., Elementary School Counselor