Archives for April 2012

Are you the opponent, teammate, spectator, or coach?


In every sport there are the opponents, teammates, spectators, and coaches. Imagine your life as a sporting event. What role do you play? Are you the opponent, teammate, spectator, or coach?

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know what the answer should be, but let’s examine them all.

The opponent

When it is the parent’s job to monitor the child’s actions, attitudes, and beliefs, it is far too easy to become the child’s opponent. In many ways, you have differing attitudes and goals. With opposing viewpoints, you become the opponent.

Particularly in power struggles, specifically a “battle of wills,” it is easy for the parent to take on an opposing stance, thus becoming the opponent.

My husband and I have fallen into this trap, establishing an attitude of “us vs. them” or “parents vs. children” in our home. Do not become your child’s opponent. You will quickly find yourselves at odds, and you stack the deck against yourselves. Coming to an agreement on attitudes and beliefs with a child who sees you as his opponent is difficult to say the least.

The teammate

The Ezzos and I take a very firm stance that not only is the child not to be the center of the home, but more than this, the child is not to stand on equal footing with the parent. The child is not the parent’s friend or peer. Parents must hold a position of authority over the child. Parents must avoid establishing a democracy in the home.

As your child’s teammate, you are not his opponent, but you lack the authority to guide and direct his actions and attitudes. Imagine two teammates on a soccer field. They work together toward the same objective, passing the ball between each other to get the ball in the net. But neither player has the authority to direct the other’s actions.

The spectator

No professional sporting even can exist without its fans. But let me assure you, there are no spectators in the sport of parenting. Children need parents to actively participate in their lives, not stand back and watch. I have discussed the importance of preventing behavior problems in our children. If you act as a spectator, you are essentially waiting to see how your child will behave. You are then left to deal with behavior problems after they happen. If you find yourself in a spectator role, stand up and join the game.

The coach

If this was your guess, you’re right. You want to be your child’s coach. You are your child’s teacher, even after you have sent him off to school. You hold authority over your child to train him, teach him, hold him to a standard (hopefully a high one), set limits, redirect or correct him when problems arise, stand in support of the child, and offer encouragement and praise where it’s due.

Evaluate your role

Take a minute to step back and evaluate your role in the game of life. If you see yourself as your child’s opponent, teammate, or spectator, take that as your cue to work on your relationship. Change your course and do all that you can to solidify your position as your child’s coach in life.

Stop behavior problems before they happen


One of the most important considerations in parenting is prevention. I cannot stress enough how much prevention can save your sanity and induce compliance in your child.

“Prevention is the best form of correction,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are several parenting tactics that allow you to prevent behavior problems before they happen. Some of these tactics include:

As important all of these factors are–and, make no mistake, they are important–there is one factor that really drives prevention: freedoms. Avoid trouble by limiting access to items that aren’t within the child’s realm of responsibility (like the markers in the photo above).

I discussed the idea of having your child ask for permission. That’s one way to limit a child’s freedoms. As you go about your day, think through possible freedoms your child has (or takes on his own) that could be getting him into trouble.

“You should continually evaluate what you allow your child to do and whether those freedoms are appropriate considering his age, understanding, and abilities. Are you giving him inappropriate freedoms?

Let freedoms be handed out carefully as the child demonstrates contentment with your authority and responsibility in previous freedoms given. Granting freedoms consistent with a child’s level of self-control equals developmental harmony.

Freedoms come gradually: from the playpen, to the backyard, to the neighborhood, to the world at large. As your child demonstrates responsible behavior and sound judgment, he earns another level of freedom. This type of training results in a child who is a joy to everyone and who has achieved a sense of affirmation within himself,” (On Becoming Childwise).

What more could we want? Make sure your child’s freedoms are equal to his level of responsibility (not his age), and always focus on prevention. As always, if behavior problems are avoided altogether, that’s less disciplining and correcting that you need to do.

What habits are you teaching your child?


What habits does your child have? Typically, when we think of habits, we think of negative ones. But positive habits are just as important. The key is realizing that we, as parents, have great control over our children’s habits. The way we treat their behaviors (good or bad) serves to teach a lesson about those habits.

Here are some scenarios you might see in your home.

Good habits

  • You require that your child take his dishes to the kitchen after every meal. You send him back if you see he’s forgotten.
  • After every play time, you make sure he puts toys away where they belong (not just in any old bin).
  • You teach him how to properly brush his teeth and every now and then you pay close attention to make sure he’s doing it right.
  • You have a morning routine that includes putting clothes in the hamper, making his bed, brushing teeth, picking up any leftover toys.

I’d say if you do all of these things, you are well on your way to instilling great habits. If all of these habits are solidly under your belt, think about what more you could do.

Alternatively, think about some of the bad habits that may be going on in your home.

Bad habits

  • Your child tends to throw mini-tantrums over minor battles, but you decide to ignore them, hoping they’ll go away. (They won’t.)
  • You let your child ride a bike or scooter without a helmet. You think just once won’t hurt him, and that “just once” has turned into several times a week.
  • When he snatches a toy from his baby sister, you intervene by giving the baby a new toy. This teaches nothing to the older child about sharing.
  • You stifle laughter at some of his bad manners and potty jokes. That laughter only serves to encourage him, no matter how much you stifle it.
  • You’re lax about TV time, perhaps thinking that as soon as the baby sleeps through the night, you’ll fix it. Next thing you know, he can’t go a day without watching several hours of TV.
  • You’re inconsistent about hygiene issues like teeth-brushing, washing hands before meals, washing hands after going potty, etc.

Try to be honest with yourself if you see any of these (or other) bad habits creeping up in your home. But don’t be hard on yourself. We’re all human. A mixture of good and bad habits will naturally develop. It’s important to recognize the good ones for what they are, and do all we can to overcome the bad ones. Then always be on the lookout for new bad habits and new opportunities to teach good habits.

Why exactly is consistency so important?


We’ve all heard how important it is to be consistent with our children. I’ve mentioned it countless times on this blog. The Ezzos emphasize it, as do authors of other parenting books. But why exactly is consistency so important?

If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, you know that it’s not easy to be consistent. We live our lives and some days we are more on top of our game than others. Some days we’re in a mood to be the best parent we can be, and other days, we’re just tired. For most of us, our level of consistency varies based on our mood.

But that’s exactly what makes it difficult for our children. Why should they have to calculate our moods, the weather and many other factors when determining whether to obey?

It’s very simple: Inconsistency confuses our children.

It’s natural that children will try to assert as much independence as possible. They will push every limit to see how far they can get. They know that different parents, grandparents and other caregivers set different limits. They are very quick to figure it all out. They are also very quick to recognize when we’re being inconsistent.

I had an episode of this just today with Lucas. We were on a walk, and I always require that he hold my hand while crossing the street. Well, I wasn’t consistent in requiring it today. He’s starting to show that he’s responsible enough to not hold my hand. And when we were walking on sleepy residential roads, I tended to let it go. But when we got to a bigger road with more cars, I required that he hold my hand. He was defiant, pure and simple. He ran away from me to avoid holding my hand.

I realize that I was the cause of his defiance. I should have required that he hold my hand on every road, or at least explained to him the difference between the roads. In his mind, I was just changing the rules as we went. His confusion led to defiance.

Given that consistency is so important, yet so difficult for parents, what can we do to make it easier? Some ideas:

  • Create a list of house rules
  • Write them down and post them in a prominent place in your home
  • Ensure your spouse and other caregivers agree with those rules
  • Get them to commit to helping you follow through on those rules
  • Explain your rules to your children
  • Evaluate your rules regularly as your child ages and shows more responsibility (Perhaps Lucas is responsible enough now to not hold my hand.)
  • Create a list of rules for situations when you’re out in public
  • Keep that list somewhere handy (like on your smart phone)
  • Start your day vowing to be consistent
  • Establish a signal that you and your spouse can share when you see you’re not being consistent. For example, if he sees inconsistency in you, he can tug on his ear.
  • Be on the lookout for episodes of defiance caused by inconsistency (like Lucas’ defiance on our walk). See those episodes as an affirmation for consistency.
  • Work on your authority and avoid child-centered parenting, so your child knows he doesn’t make the rules

Do you find it difficult to be consistent? Have you established any tips or tricks to make it easier?

Have them ask for permission


It can be so incredibly important and effective to have our children ask for permission as they go about their days. If you have a child who tends to roam the house at will or who takes far too many verbal freedoms, having him ask for permission can immediately curb attitude issues.

I first learned the importance of this when I was on the phone with my contact mom one day (when William was about 3). He had started to put his boots on to go out into the backyard, and I asked her whether she thought that was okay. She said, “Did he ask for permission?” Of course he hadn’t, and I quickly realized that was at the root of many of our problems. He was just taking freedoms at will, and we never stopped to have him ask.

“Do you let your three-year-old go into the backyard to play without asking permission? Do you let your five-year-old decide for herself when she can go next door to play with her friend? Think through your day. How many times do you hear your child say, ‘Mom, I’m going to…’ rather than, ‘Mom, may I…?’ Is your child asking you to do things or just telling you what he’s going to do?” (On Becoming Childwise).

“The child who customarily tells you what she is going to do is assuming a level of decision-making freedom which she may or may not have. And if this continues, it is because her parents have allowed her to take this ground and hold it,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are two great benefits of having your child ask for permission. First, it prevents problems before they occur. Rather than having to discipline a child for taking a freedom after the fact, you can stop the child from taking the freedom in the first place. Second, it allows you time to decide whether you will allow the child the freedom.

There is nothing wrong with letting your child have certain freedoms. The problem lies with who ultimately decides what he can and cannot do.

“There is a simple technique you can use to keep this problem at bay. Have your child ask permission rather than informing you of his decision…. Seeking permission helps a child realize his dependence on your leadership. It also helps prevent a child from becoming wise in his own eyes,” (On Becoming Childwise).

If you never require your child to ask for permission, he will assume that it means he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. We all know this cannot be healthy.

The Ezzos caution us that we must always follow through when our response to a request is a “no.”

“One warning: this technique will only work if you actually play your parental role. If your child asks permission to go next door and you say no, you may witness a case of spontaneous combustion right there in your living room [especially if you’re new to this rule.] If the child throws a tantrum (or threatens to in front of your company) and you give in, you haven’t made an adjustment at all. The child is still telling you what he’s going to do—you’ve just changed the vocabulary,” (On Becoming Childwise).

You will have to decide what you will require them to ask permission for. But if in doubt, have them ask. Many times, when my kids start to do something, I stop them and have them ask. I may still go ahead and say “yes,” but it makes it clear to them that they aren’t the ones to decide.

Understand how important this simple technique can be. It can eliminate attitude issues almost immediately, and is very effective in ensuring the child doesn’t think he’s running the show. If you do nothing else, start implementing this right away!

The greenhouse effect


On the Babywise Grads message board on BabyCenter, we have been talking a lot about school choices for our children. I started the thread because my family is facing a turning point in our lives, and I need to make some decisions about school for next year. Both boys are in private school (preschool for Lucas and 1st grade for William). Given the uncertainty of our situation, I’m not sure private school will be an option for much longer, especially if we move.

Frightened by some of the stories I hear about our local public school, I’m not sure public is right for us either. Homeschooling has become the next logical choice. There are many reasons for this including the fact that it’s portable and enables me to address William’s unique needs (giftedness, food intolerances, blood sugar instability and SPD).

If I’m honest with myself, homeschooling also appeals to me because I can protect my boys from the big, wide world. I know I can’t do so forever, so the question becomes: When will my children be ready to face the world? When will they be prepared to handle peer pressure and all the other social issues that arise in public school? Should I send them to public school because it’s the thing to do? I’m typically a conformist, but I don’t conform without thinking things through, especially with such an important topic.

If I send them to public school, would they have the skills to deal with teasing and taunting from “the mean kids”? Some say the only way you can prepare them for this is to put them in the situation. I tend to disagree. The environment alone will not prepare them. You don’t throw a child into a swimming pool and expect that the pool will teach him how to swim.

Someone needs to be there to teach them and help them cope with difficult situations in the moment. And at our local public school in particular, it seems there are just too many kids and not enough adults, particularly at recess. Keeping them from hurting each other seems to be the baseline. Forget about teaching kindness, sharing, and so many other social qualities that can be learned on the playground.

It all comes down to the greenhouse effect. I’m no gardener, but I do know that young seedlings need to be protected before they are exposed to the elements. When our children are little, we keep them home and protect them from danger. As they grow older, protection is just as important, but it takes different forms.

On the flip side, keeping vegetables in the greenhouse for too long can limit their growth. The same can be said of children. If they are homeschooled for any length of time, is it possible that we’re limiting the opportunities that they might otherwise be exposed to?

As with a garden, the key question becomes: When are they ready to be released from the protection of the greenhouse?

The Ezzos address this in the first chapter of On Becoming Childwise. They say:

“The third goal common to all parents is to raise children who are well-prepared for life. Will you be able to give your children everything they need to make it in this world—without trying to give them the world?”

Of course, this is subjective and individual for every family, but I tend to take a more cautious approach and want to take the time to ensure I have given them what they need.

“Parents want their children emotionally, intellectually, physically, and morally equipped to enter life outside the watchful and protective eye of mom and dad.”

How long will you keep your kids in your greenhouse?

Chores affect character


Does your child do chores to help out around the house? The Ezzos tell us that having a child do chores does more than instill a healthy work ethic. Chores have a big impact on a child’s character. In Growing Kids God’s Way, the Ezzos note a study that followed families and studied their chores.

“Researchers from Toronto, Canada and from Macquarie University in Australia studied children from families who were given daily chores and those who were not. The research pointed toward some interesting conclusions.

“Children who performed household chores showed more compassion for their siblings and other family members than other children who did not share in family responsibility,” (GKGW, p. 112).

And understand that the type of chores your child does defines the extent of his compassion toward others.

“Even more interesting was the fact that not all chores are equal. The kids who did family-care chores like setting the table, feeding the cat, or bringing in firewood, showed more concern for the welfare of others than children who had only self-care responsibilities, such as making their own bed and handing up their own clothes,” (GKGW, p. 112).

The effects of this research are undeniable. When you involve your child in chores that help the family as a whole, he becomes more compassionate and caring toward others. So whenever you assign chores to your child, make sure they are chores that benefit the family, not just the child.

Sibling relationships

by Valerie Plowman, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom

As my children grow older, I worry less about things like sleep and eating and more about bigger issues like morals and relationships. Sleep and eating are not less important, but for us, we have long put behind us the need for concern on those topics. They are “old hat” and we are able to focus on bigger issues.

One such big issue is sibling relationships. All siblings argue from time to time, but as parents, we really hope to instill a lifelong friendship among our children. We also realize that much of how they learn to interact with siblings at home will spill over into interaction with peers out in the world. On Becoming Childwise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckham has some great tips on maintaining sibling relationships and minimizing conflict among siblings. Of course the conflict will not go away–they are human children who live under the same roof; these tips, however, should help keep things a lot more peaceful. These tips are found on pages 104-109.

Teach Children to Resolve Their Own Conflict

Can I just say that one of the best decisions I made years ago as a parent was to not step in and solve problems between my children? There are so many good reasons to do this. For one, your children will not be running to you each time they disagree. For another, they will learn conflict resolution at home with people they love. This is a low-risk situation to learn how to compromise and get along.

Naturally, the first thing you need to do is to teach your children and coach your children on conflict resolution. Some people are naturally better at conflict resolution than others. I have a daughter (age 5) who has amazing conflict resolution skills. She really is a natural at it. My oldest (6) needs coaching and guidance. Don’t expect children to know how to take turns, compromise, and problem solve just because they breathe on this earth. Teach them. Coach them. Give them ideas on how to solve problems.

As you expect them to resolve their own conflicts, make it clear that if they are unwilling to work on getting along without your help, they will not enjoy the outcome. When my children cannot come to a resolution, my solution is that they just don’t get to play with each other for a specified amount of time. If they can’t get along, they can’t play with each other. No one ever likes that solution, so they work on resolving things together. Again, let me remind you that they must be taught first. You can’t expect them to solve their own problems without any problem solving tools to turn to, but once they have these tools, you can expect them so solve problems and to do so from a young age.

A final tip I have for you on this topic is for you to remain in earshot but out of eyesight when a conflict is being resolved. You need to listen and make sure the older child is not throwing his weight around to get his way or that the younger child is not emotionally manipulating to get his way. You need to listen and be sure they are practicing their conflict resolution skills appropriately. Listen to make sure no one is using phrases like, “Fine, then I’m not playing with you” or “If you don’t do what I want, I won’t be your friend anymore.” When I hear negotiations aren’t going well, I try to wait and see if they can come to a common ground. If they do, I talk to the individual child later who had some poor choices during negotiations and remind that we don’t XYZ. If they can’t resolve, I try to step in and negotiate, but I really don’t step in unless I see no resolution in sight. Also, you can’t possibly listen in on every discussion your children have, and I don’t think you should, but especially during early training days, try to be aware of the conversations going on. For more on having siblings resolve conflict, see this post on siblings and fighting.

Teach Children to Not Tattle

Oh tattling! It seems to be the bane of teachers and mothers alike. Tattling is an interesting topic because you want children to be able to come to you with real issues, but you don’t want to be bombarded with “he said/she saids” all day long. Observing number one above will naturally help with tattling issues, but it will not solve them.

Childwise suggests some guidelines for children. One is that you allow children to alert you if someone is hurt or in danger. This is okay.

You also want children to feel comfortable coming to an adult when they need help solving conflict. It is a great way to learn, and you don’t want them rolling on the floor fist fighting or screaming in a war of words.

What you do not allow is a child telling you something because he or she wants another child to get into trouble. I often let my children know that any tattling done out of malice will be met with the tattling child receiving the punishment he or she desires for the sibling.

We do not live in a tattle-free home–this is something we are working on. It ebbs and flows, and I have a certain child who likes to tattle far more than the other two.

Teach Children to Observe Physical and Verbal Kindness

In our home, we do not tolerate physical aggression nor to we tolerate verbal aggression or manipulation. Teach your children to speak kindly to each other. Remember to focus on the virtue rather than the vice. Do not allow physical aggression toward each other.

Just like you need to teach conflict resolution skills, you need to teach communication skills. Children need to be taught to use please and thank you. They need to be taught to not interrupt (how many adults could use that lesson!). They need to be taught how to share. They need to be taught how to listen (my minor is in communications and I had an entire semester-long class just on listening–it is a real skill to learn).

Children also need to be taught to be happy for others. Teach them that when a sibling does something well, they can congratulate them and be  happy for the sibling–there is no need to “one-up” or try to be just as good or better than the sibling. A simple example happened at our house about a month ago. A sister exclaimed, “Look how big of a bubble I blew!” and a sibling replied, “I have blown bigger bubbles than that before.” This was a moment to take the sibling aside and remind that the proper way to respond is with enthusiasm for the sibling. There is no need to compete. Congratulating another does not diminish any past accomplishments you have made in the same area.

Teach Children to be Service-Minded

Service is such a powerful parenting tool. Teaching children to serve is really setting them up to be happy people who love and care for others. Serving brings love, contentment, and joy. I have posts on teaching charityloving others, and teaching love.

There are so many ways to teach service, and many of those ways start with parental example. All areas of service will help family relationships at home.

A great idea for service in the home is family chores. You want to teach your children about work and personal responsibility. We have always treated cleaning in our family as a job of everyone. When we are cleaning bedrooms, we all help clean each other’s rooms. When we are picking up a mess that has been made, we all help even if we didn’t make the mess. We have had one of our younger children complain about this one time, and we pointed out that mom and dad didn’t help make the mess and we help clean it up, so the child can certainly help clean messes made by other children.

On Becoming Childwise talks about studies on children’s chores. “Children who performed household chores showed more compassion for their siblings and other family members than children who didn’t share in family responsibility” (page 108). Giving your child chores that benefit the entire family (as opposed to simply cleaning their own room and making their own bed) helps him or her to be more caring for their family members. I have also found the child is more aware of the messes he or she makes around the house–the child is better about cleaning up after him/herself. You can find many more ideas on chores here.


These are four tips on helping your children get along better with each other. Help your children to learn to solve conflicts, understand when to turn to adults for help, have kindness toward each other, and serve each other, and they will grow in their love and respect for each other. Yes, they will still bicker. Yes, they will still have days they don’t get along well. But overall, they will build relationships and become each other’s best friends.

Valerie Plowman is a mother to three (and one on the way!) and blogs at Chronicles of a Babywise Mom.

Use the power of encouragement

Just last night, my oldest, William, demonstrated very clearly the power of encouragement. It’s fitting since my last post talked about using your relationship (love and encouragement) to motivate children to obey.

Here’s the story. Earlier in the day, the house had gotten to be quite a mess, and I needed to find a way to motivate my kids to clean up. As funny (or sad) as it sounds, the sun was finally out, and I wanted this cleanup job to happen very quickly. (Here in Seattle we need to get outside the minute the sun comes out.) So I told them I would set the timer for 10 minutes and they needed to clean up as much as they could without stopping (or stopping to complain).

After the playroom was clean, we moved upstairs to clean bedrooms. Again, I set the timer. This was all great encouragement, but when I passed by William’s room, he was cleaning very intently. In fact, he was in the process of neatly folding his pajamas and putting them on top of his dresser. He was very deliberate about it. I told him what a great job he was doing.

He also earned extra marbles for the great job he did. (We have a marble system that enables them to trade one marble for 10 minutes on the iPad or iPhone.) Lucas got three marbles for cleaning up, and I was sure to tell him that he would have earned more if he hadn’t complained. William did such a great job that I gave him five marbles. (Understand that they only earned marbles after the fact, so it was a reward, not a bribe.)

This was all so great, but I’m not done yet. Later that night, I sent William upstairs to get started getting ready for bed. He knew he needed to take his vitamins, brush teeth, and get in the shower. By the time I got upstairs, he was in the shower. What put a smile on my face were his clothes, folded ever so neatly and placed in a pile on my bed. They went right in the hamper anyway, but usually, he leaves them in a heap on the bathroom floor.

Plus, he had set the egg timer that was sitting on top of my dresser. When he got out of the shower, he checked and found that he had 10 minutes left. He had challenged himself to get ready for bed before the timer went off (much like our timed cleanup job).

It’s so refreshing to me to see that just a small amount of encouragement (verbal praise and a few marbles) can have such great power to motivate my kids. Try something similar in your home and see if you get the same results.

Does your child have motivation to obey?


Do you give your child enough of a motivation to obey? I’m not talking about reward charts and potty training incentives. I’m talking about your relationship.

Yes, our children should obey (the first time) because we expect them to. We expect them to obey our word. But when that obedience isn’t happening, we should ask ourselves whether the child has enough motivation.

When you spend your days angry and frustrated by your child’s behavior, imagine how he feels. He spends his days with an angry, frustrated mom who does nothing to encourage or show love for him. He spends more time in timeout than playing, being silly, or being loved. Sometimes, in these times of frustration, mom’s expectations are unreasonable and unfair. Mom’s inconsistency complicates the matter.

Our children will rise to whatever expectation we set for them. But they must have motivation to do so. If they’re not feeling loved or encouraged, they’re not going to go out of their way to please us. If they expect that we’ll be disappointed, they figure they may as well not even try.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child misbehaves. You’re disappointed. He misbehaves some more. You’re all the more disappointed. You try to buckle down, eventually setting inconsistent, unrealistic expectations. The child is exacerbated and misbehaves more. Weeks or months go on like this, and the child loses all motivation.

Who will be the first to break the cycle? The parent, I hope. The child is a child and is only following the path you set for him. If you find yourself in a cycle like this, consider tossing aside all of your discipline for a day or two. Cancel all meetings, play dates, etc. Just be in the moment with your child and do all you can to show your love. Be silly. Go on walks. Let him stop at every twig and leaf that interests him. Go out for ice cream. Snuggle while reading books.

Don’t think of these things as rewards for his misbehavior. Think of them as the necessary lifeblood for your relationship. Inject life and love back into your relationship. Lay that foundation of love and encouragement, and then if he continues to misbehave you can correct in love, not frustration.

Always remember that our ultimate goal is not perfect obedience, but a loving relationship between parent and child. Parenting is nothing without a child who wants to please us. Lose that and you lose everything. So do all you can to encourage obedience, but always make sure your child is motivated to please you.