Being Bad

I was working with a kindergartener yesterday. She was loving the one-on-one attention and kept trying to talk to me and tell me little stories between practicing her letters. She let me know that she had a little brother, but that her mom wanted a baby girl, not a boy. We practiced writing some more letters and then she said, “My baby brother is bad!” I wasn’t expecting that and thought for a second before saying, “Babies don’t know how to be bad.” I know that babies can be exhausting, messy, tiring, and colicky, but they aren’t wicked. The way she had said the word ‘bad’ made it sound terrible. She insisted that he was bad and when I asked what he did that made him bad she said, “He always takes off his diaper.” I told her that I was certain that he wasn’t being bad, but maybe he thought his diaper was uncomfortable so that’s why he took it off.” I could see her really processing that idea.

This made me think two things:

1) kids are listening to everything and really soaking it up.

2) Just because kids or people make bad decisions it does not mean that they are bad.

I have really worked hard throughout my career to never say that a child was bad. I stressed to my students that we can all make bad decisions, but that does not make us bad.

How great would it be if that mother could say, “Oh, your brother took his diaper off again. That wasn’t a good choice! He might accidentally go to the bathroom on the floor and that will make a mess.” That labels the choice as a bad one, but not the person. Everyone will make bad choices occasionally, but we all need to understand that that is normal, it’s okay and it’s part of the growing process. We also need to remember we are still good and the next time we have to make a choice that we have the power to make good or bad choices. Remember, separate the person from the behavior, NOT bad choice bad person, INSTEAD, bad choice good person.




Determination vs. Determination Who Will Win?


Below is the type of conversation that most likely happens several times a day in homes that have children ages 2 to 18. The dialog is skeletal intentionally because it represents the format for hundreds of different conversations. The words may vary but the format is the same, you want one thing and your child wants something different. There could be endless variations to this conversation however each starts with two people each wanting a different thing.

You tell your child to do something.

They say no.

You say yes.

And they say no.

You insist.

They disagree.

You’re biggest and have more power so you win.

They cry a lot.

This is a classic example of a POWER STUGGLE – parent and child each trying to get what they want. Parenting would be so much easier if our children always just did what we told them to do, right? However that would produce a child/teenager who does not have the life skills to become a well functioning adult.

A very determined child can be so difficult to parent and yet a child needs lots of determination to grow up in this controversial world. So, our goal as parents should be to try not to squelch the very thing that would help them fight off negative peer pressure – DETERMINATION.

In the Sistine Chapel one whole, huge wall is filled with a huge mural titled ”Last Judgment”. An over simplified description: On one side of the painting it depicts a group of angels descending from Heaven to retrieve souls who are coming up out of their graves. There are demons sneaking out of a crevice in the earth grabbing the legs and arms of some who are trying to rise to heaven. In several cases there is a tug of war going on between the angles and horned demons with the resurrected body in the middle. In other sections some souls are trying to rise up because they want to get into heaven and the angles are pushing them back down.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit the thoughts I had when I first viewed this magnificent painting. I was definitely viewing it through the eyes of a parent, rather than an Art professor. I thought, “That’s how parenting feels sometimes”, lots of emotional pushing back and forth, a conflict of two competitors”. Then I thought, “Wait, parents and their children are on the same team so there should be no tug of war happening”. But there often is.

So, to avoid power struggles and help steer you child’s determination in the right direction, remember:  

Determination is a trait your child will need to survive in the world as they grow up.

Your job is not to break their will but help steer it in the right direction.

You and your child are “on the same team”. You should be pulling together rather than against each other.

Let your child be governed by choice and consequence rather than expecting them to do what you say because you are the parent.

Language Overextension

Three of my nephews fall in the 2-3 year old range.  One of my nephews was over today and he wanted to touch and use every new toy or object we brought out.  He kept declaring “MINE!”  It’s easy to think things like “Oh, kids are so greedy at this age” or “He is so egocentric and thinks everything belongs to him.”

But today as I heard this sweet little guy declaring that everything was his I had a thought.  While studying I read learning about overextension.  Feel free to read about it on Wikipedia.  Basically when kids overextend language they use one word to label anything that falls within a category.  For example they use the word “dad” for any grown male or “dog” for any animal with four legs.

As I heard my nephew announcing that everything we brought out was ‘his’ I thought about this principle.  Maybe, I thought, he doesn’t really think everything belongs to him, but he doesn’t have the words to express just what he wants to say.  Maybe he really means, “Wow!  This new toy is cool!  I want to hold it and use it for a while.” Or maybe he thought, “This is new to me and I’d like to figure out how it works.  Please don’t take it away before I find out how it works.”

Overextensions decrease as a child gains a larger vocabulary.  It also decreases as they receive corrective feedback.  So next time you hear a child yelling “MINE!” help model what they may be trying to convey.

Car Time

The longer I’m a parent, the more I realize how precious time in the car with my children can be!  We are in the car a lot and I used to dread the rides when my children were little because they would mostly cry or fight.  I wanted to give them media devices or install TV screens in my car so I could just have some peace and quiet!!!  Then I decided there were better options.  I started with Books on CD.  My children were quite young when I played them the reading of “The Polar Express” for the first time. I will NEVER forget how quiet and mesmerized they were by a deep voice reading a book to them in the car.  They were a captive audience because they were buckled in and there was nowhere else they could go, but it kept them quiet, entertained and was teaching them all at the same time. They couldn’t do the really long chapter books at first, so we did some fun Disney stories, Jumanji, and other short ones we could check out from the library.  We would have the cutest little conversations after the book was finished.  As they’ve grown a little older we’ve transitioned into listening to chapter books and it has surprised me how well they listened and retained.  We have listened to:  “Old Yeller”, “Little House, Big Woods”, “Where the Red Fern Grows”, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Prince Caspian”, and several other great classics including the Old Testament (for children).  If we come to a part in the book they might not understand I pause the reading and explain and they can ask me question.  We have had so many amazing discussions in the car because one question would always lead to another. Often times I don’t even turn the book back on because we get so caught up talking. I find out so much about my children and their curiosities during these conversations in the car. I talk to them about so many things, ask them questions and they can talk to ME about anything.

Now that some of my children are older and can read on their own I love to have library books in the car next to them so they can read to themselves instead of just listening.  Some of my friends have kids who get carsick easily and can’t read in the car so that’s where the CD’s would come in handy. Did you know the public library carries a book/CD combo that enables the kids to be able to listen and/or follow along in the book?

I have learned that the car is also a great time to introduce good and uplifting music to my children. Everybody has their favorite kinds of music however I try to feed my children a variety of all kinds of music. I love playing CDs from musicals or great Broadway shows and explaining the basic story to my children. They love hearing the stories behind each song.  It’s fun to see what type of music each child prefers. I let them each choose their favorite track on the particular CD we are listening to and even my little 4 year-old has a definite preference.

Sometimes at home, there is too much going on to have a good long conversation with my children. Our car rides have become our uninterrupted conversation time. My husband and I don’t even bring a video player on long road trips anymore and my kids don’t expect it because they know we will either read, talk or listen to great music.  I never thought that could be possible!!

Our time in the car is so precious!  Listening to good books and music has completely changed the way we fell about out time in the car.

Thanks to my daugther-in-law Karlie for contributing this post!

Soft, Soft


When I was a young mother I was standing in the foyer at church with a friend whose youngest child was the same age as my oldest child. She was an experienced mother who had raised several well-behaved, happy children. We were in the middle of a conversation when her 4-year-old son kicked her in the shin. My first thought was, “My child will never get away with that”, and felt like she should stop talking to me and punish him right then. But she just looked down at him, made a sad face and said, “Oh, please don’t kick me, that hurts”. I thought, “What…” she didn’t spank him or even get really angry with him.

Side note: she also told him that she knew he was ready to go home because that was the reason he was trying to get her attention. Likewise hits can also be a result of an underling, unresolved problem that needs to be addressed.

Now that I’ve parented a little longer I realize that if a child is yelling it is ineffective to yell, “stop yelling”. Or if they hit someone it’s not a good example to spank them and tell them to not hit. So what should you do what should you do when your child hits?

Modeling appropriate behavior and teaching empathy can be ways to teach a child to be kind and not hit. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”. If your child hits you, or another child let them see how it made you feel. Make a sad face and tell them it hurt and made you feel sad. If they are old enough to understand ask, “Do you like it when someone hits you”? “How do you think it makes your brother feel when you hit him”?

Once when I was holding my toddler while he was being really rough he hit me on the jaw. It really hurt and my natural instinct was to feel angry or physically punish him. Instead I tried something different. I made a frowning face and kindly said, “Oh no, don’t hit, be soft” and then, smiling I softly stroked his cheeks and repeated, “Soft”. He imitated what I did and said “boff”. After that when there would be hits he’d remember and say, “Soft” and he’d want to gently stroke some ones arm or cheek.

Now, the bad news is that this is not usually a quick fix. It can take a long time for a child to learn not to hit when they are feeling frustrated, mistreated or uncomfortable. But if you are able to muster enough self-control to not strike back, or get angry, they will eventually learn by example to be kind and not hit.

To learn more about how to teach children to appropriately deal with feelings in a kind way, take a look at the last post Lindsey wrote titled, Feelings.


Growing up my mom used to say, “feelings are not right or wrong, they just are.”

I think that it’s easy to see how others respond emotionally to a situation and think, “they shouldn’t be feeling that way.” But you know what? Their feelings are not wrong.  Many times we can’t help how we feel.

I talk to my students a LOT about feelings.  We talk about how our actions might make others feel.  We talk about how good choices make us feel good inside and bad ones make us feel bad inside.  We also talk about how it’s okay to feel mad, or sad, or hurt.

I remember one day a few months ago our lesson talked about getting mad and how we deal with those feelings.  As I told the kids that it’s OKAY to get mad every child became perfectly still and all eyes were on me.  There are times when kids are listening completely and absorbing every.single.thing you are saying.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does if feels almost magical! I told them that feeling upset, mad and angry was normal.  I told them that even I feel that way sometimes.  I told them that feeling that was is okay.  They took it all in.

I took the opportunity to take it further.  I then proceeded to talk about what we do with those feelings.  I told them that while it is okay to get mad it’s not okay to react certain ways.  They listened as I told them that it’s not okay to hurt someone, or break something, or yell at other people.  We proceded to talk about some acceptable ways to deal with anger.  The kids shared how they cope with those types of feelings.  One student said he liked to hug someone.  Another student said he likes to go to his room and be away from everybody.  Another student talked about how it helps relieve his anger if he can run or move his body.  I let them know that those were all great ways to deal with anger.  I told them that there have been 3 or 4 times in my life when I felt so angry that I couldn’t take it.  I told them that I liked being alone, just the way that one of them had talked about.  I also told them that those few times I put my face in my pillow and I screamed!  I screamed as loud and as long as I could.  The kids chuckled, but I knew they were really thinking about it.

It’s healthy for kids to hear that adults have feelings just like them.  It’s good for them to know that they aren’t alone in the way that they feel.  It’s also really good for them to hear the right way to deal with those feelings.

I read this article the other day.  I thought it was really good.  That’s actually what got me thinking about all this.

Talk to your children and students about their feelings and reactions.  Just remember that the heat of the moment is not the best time to talk about it.  Talk about it afterwards or when you have time in the car.  It’s hard to think and take in new ideas when you are feeling emotionally charged.  Let your kids know that their feelings are normal and brainstorm good ways to deal with them.  Hey!  You could even talk to your peers or spouse about it since everyone has feelings–they are a part of life and aren’t going anywhere.

Sharing – An Argument Free Method

Have your kids ever fought over sharing something to eat? “He got more than me”, “His piece is bigger than mine”, or “That’s not fair”. Sound familiar? If so, here’s an idea to try. Assign one kid to cut and the other one gets to be the first to choose which piece he wants. This method assures the one doing the dividing tries to be exact and the one choosing first feels the power of getting just what he wants. Using this method we almost always came out with two satisfied children.


One… Two… Three… Then What?

While I was at the store last week I rounded a corner just in time to see a little boy pick up a plastic sword he saw leaning against the return counter and heard his mom say, “Anthony! One”.   At that moment I had several questions come to my mind,

“Will she get all the way to three or will her young son know that hearing “One” means he better stop what he’s doing immediately”?

“What will happen when the mom gets to “three”? Then what will she do”?

“Perhaps the kid knows that if he hurries he can play with the sword for three seconds before his mom does anything”.

            Actually, this whole counting to three thing has always been mysterious (or silly or interesting) to me. As parents, what are we really doing when try to terminate a child’s actions by counting to three? Are we giving them time to consider what to do? Do they know what’s going to happen if they don’t conform before we say, “three”? It’s all so arbitrary to me.

I think we should throw the whole counting thing out as a discipline technique. Rather, we should tell our child what we would like to have happen, or give them a choice. For example, the mom could have said to Anthony, “Son, we did not pay for that so we should not play with it” or “Put it back because if you play with it and break it, we’ll have to pay for it and we don’t want to buy a broken toy”. These type of comments help a child understand what’s happening better than just hearing, “One, two…”.

Of course, the tricky part comes when we give some nice explanation and they still choose to continue with the undesirable behavior. There are so many ways to explain what you would like your child to do, which do not contain any numbers or counting. For more on this see: Set the Expectation and Consequence and You Have Two Choices.

Labels- They Stick

Recently a lady I know said to me, “You carry yourself so well- so dignified” Up to that point of my life I had not considered my posture as a positive quality. However, now, every time I see her I stand up a little straighter and walked a little more gracefully. Her simple comment changed how I felt about myself and how I acted.

When you were a child do you ever remember an adult giving you a label or title? Did they say, “Oh isn’t she pretty, look at the curly hair”, or “My second son is so wild I really can’t take him anywhere with out him acting up”? Children believe what they hear said about them and those comments can shape who they become.

Recently I was at a neighbor’s house with another friend who is a young mom with two children. The oldest child is 5 and the younger one 3 years old. Much to the mom’s embarrassment the younger one was into everything. She was constantly getting up to follow him and keep him from bothering things on the shelves, opening drawers or going down the hall into the bedrooms. As we were leaving she said, patting her 3 year old on the head, “This one is my little terror, he gets into everything”. The child was listening and hearing himself be labeled. I could imagine the child thinking that if that’s what his mom thought, that’s what he should do.

When I hear a parent say something really negative about their child, while the child is listening, I wonder:

-Do they think their child can’t hear them?

-Do they think the child isn’t paying attention to what the adults are saying?

-Perhaps they are more concerned about what other adults think about them as a parent than what the child thinks about himself.

All children have good qualities, even our most challenging ones. So make sure your child only hears you mention their positive attributes to others. Even if you don’t think your child is listening remember, kids tend to listen even BETTER when they feel like they are listening in to what adults are talking about. If you feel like you need to say something negative about them, don’t say it when they can hear you.

Just Move the Thing!

When I was a young mom, my 8-month-old baby loved to play in the dirt of my indoor potted plant. Each time he would crawl over and get a handful of dirt I’d race over and try to catch him before he’d throw it all over the carpet. I’d move him to another room or find him toys to distract him but soon he’d find his way back to the pot of dirt. I remember wondering if I should slap his hand every time he did it. Or how many times I was going to have to tell him, “No” before he’d finally learn and stop doing it.

Around this same time of life as I was still wondering the best way to handle this kind of parenting situation I remember watching another parent in a public place in a similar situation. They stood right between their child and the thing they did not want them to touch, waiting for them to do the thing they’d been forbidden to do so they could loudly say, “No” and slap the child’s hand. The scenario played out over and over and over again. It was like the parent was daring the child to do it so they could prove to the little person that they were in charge and what they wanted would be what happened.

Now, years later I realize the answer to this situation… Just move the thing out of sight! If your child wants to keep playing in the dirt of your potted plant, or pulling the night light out of the electric socket or pulling all the books off the bottom shelf of the bookcase, just move them. It’s a waste of your time and energy (and a power struggle waiting to happen) to have a situation where you must constantly monitor your child’s actions and correct them. The more times it happens the more frustrated you will become and nothing good will come of it. Also, it’s good to remember that in reality the whole thing probably just feels like a game to your child and they might not be doing it to make you mad, they just see it as a fun game. They’ll outgrow the stage before very long and you can put your books back on the bottom shelf and move the plant back into the living room. As your child grows older there will be lots of things that you will not be able to “move out of the way” which could turn into power struggles, so don’t sweat the small things – just avoid them. Save your energy for the things that just can’t be moved out of the way, or be avoided.