Holiday Behavior Problems?


How was Thanksgiving? Did your children handle the day with grace and gratitude? Or did you uncover new behavior problems amidst the holiday hubbub? It’s not unusual, particularly when we spend the holiday with many friends and family members, for our kids to act uncharacteristically.

There are several issues that contribute to this problem. As much as we may attempt to keep life consistent, big holidays often disrupt the routine, causing sleep and meal disruptions. The kids may get more sugar than usual. They may go to bed later than usual. They may sleep less soundly if they’re not in their own beds. (My kids sleep on the floor at Grandma’s house.) They might get too much attention from family members. Our usual parenting tactics may get disrupted, either on our own accord (being lax), or comments from others may undermine our efforts.

No matter the specific cause, we are left to deal with children who are not themselves. Whether they are showing behavior problems or attitude issues, our kids are behaving uncharacteristically. This can confuse the most well-meaning parent. What do we do with this child we don’t recognize? And how do we deal with behavior problems we’ve never encountered before?

The most important idea to remember is that you will have to put effort into retraining your child. Whether the child has picked up bad behavior habits from others or has created some of his own, commit to retraining those bad behaviors right out of him. If your lives were only disrupted for a day or two, you might only require that much retraining time. If you were out of town for a week or longer, the behavior problems will be more deeply ingrained, and you’ll likely need more time for retraining.

Now, you may also be thinking ahead to Christmas. If your family is like mine, the time spent with friends and family over Christmas is similar to Thanksgiving, only on a larger scale. Again, you may need to retrain your child. But if you’d like to prevent behavior problems from occurring during Christmas festivities, rather than retrain after the fact, you’ll need to address your child’s specific needs. For example, if your child is an introvert and there are 20 people in your house, you may give the child an extra room time session to help him gather the energy to face all the people.

A few considerations to prevent holiday behavior problems include:

  • Keep meals as consistent as possible, even if that means feeding the child before or after the main family meal. Set alerts on your phone for meals, snacks and nap times.
  • Keep bed and nap times as consistent as possible. It can be difficult to get children to bed at their normal bedtimes when so many others stay up hours later, but sleep is the top consideration when facing behavior and attitude problems.
  • Limit sugar. Allow the child a Christmas cookie or two, but not much more.
  • Limit food dyes.
  • Do your best not to relax too much during the holidays. Take turns with your spouse and do all you can to stay consistent and follow through on your word.
  • Limit the child’s freedoms. If he’s not allowed to wander the house at home, he shouldn’t be allowed to do so at Grandma’s.
  • Consider the child’s personality. If he’s an introvert, give him some quiet, alone time.
  • Consider the child’s love language. If he thrives on words of encouragement from you and you spend all day talking to adult relatives, he may act up.

If, despite your best efforts, your child shows behavior problems, act on them before they escalate. Deal with whining before it escalates into a tantrum. Deal with grumpiness before it turns into a fight with a family member. Keep your eye on your child, and quietly and politely excuse yourselves if you need to discipline him. Then commit to retraining him when you get home.

Happy holidays! :)


Baby signing “please.” Source:

After my post last week about kids doing what works, I’ve gotten a few comments and questions about what to do with kids who whine. Whining is one of those things that can just grate on our nerves. But at the same time, if it goes on for too long, we get used to it and let it go until it gets worse!

The Ezzos say this about whining:

“Whining is an unacceptable form of communication that becomes annoying to the listener if left unchecked. Besides being obnoxious, it is often a subtle challenge to parental authority. Whining is a learned trait, not a warning of deep-seated, emotional problems,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 191).

Lucas struggles with whining (as did I as a kid), so I have very real personal experience with this. The key to squelching whining is to understand why they do it. What is their motivation? If the child is a “glass half empty” kind of kid, whining and complaining simply come naturally. These are the kids who thrive on a routine and hate any disruptions to that routine. Surprises are never a good thing for these kids.

Whining also comes easily to kids who learn that it works. If you have ever given in to the whining, you are just encouraging him to do it again. For some parents, whining grates on their nerves so much that they’ll give the child whatever he wants just to make the whining stop. Not good.

Another reason kids whine is simply to communicate. This is true for kids who aren’t yet talking. Grunting, screeching and whining are their main forms of communication. The screeching is happy, grunting is neutral, and whining is unhappy. But this doesn’t mean that you have to accept the whining. Teaching other forms of communication is key.

So how do you work with a child to stop whining? How you respond will depend on the child’s age.

For kids under age 2.5 (non-verbal kids), teach sign language! I took a baby sign language class when William was a baby. He picked up on it very quickly and was signing by 7 months. Lucas did just as well. I taught them several signs but the ones they used most were please, more, all done, thank you, milk, eat, water, and change (as in change my diaper). You can pick up a few signs from the Internet or get a DVD on baby sign language. Make sure you learn from a video. It’s hard to understand from static pictures.

Now, one of my readers asked what to do if they still whine after you’ve taught them to sign. I can understand if a toddler needs you to look at him so he can sign. If that’s the case, I would work on teaching the child to say “mama.” William started saying it at 11 months, and he had a speech delay. Make “mama” your cue that the child will sign after he gets your attention. If you’ve done this and he’s still whining, it’s simply become a habit. If this is the case, give the child a stern comment telling him not to whine. Show him with your voice what whining sounds like. Remember, these kids understand much more than they can communicate. So teach him, and remember that it’s better to overestimate their understanding than to underestimate it.

Also be sure that your actions teach that whining is unacceptable. I remember holding Lucas in my arms while he would whine for something. I would swiftly put him down to indicate that his whining is unacceptable. My quick action shocked him into changing his behavior.

For kids over age 2.5 (verbal kids), they key to stopping whining is to not ignore it but to make them wait. You might try saying, “I can’t understand you when you use that voice,” and have them ask again. But this might not be enough to break the habit. Typically, the whining comes in when they are asking you for something. Say the child is asking you for a cup of water in a whining voice. You would say, “I understand you’re thirsty, but since you asked in a whining voice, you will have to wait. I will set the timer for 5 minutes. When it beeps, you can come back and ask with a normal voice.”

Making them wait will have much more of an impact than simply telling them to ask their question over again. I’ve tried that, and Lucas just starts whining again. And ignoring it doesn’t work at all. You might think that ignoring the behavior would clue them in to the idea that whining doesn’t work, but as with everything in parenting, our kids only learn if we actively train them.

Another tactic with a verbal child is to have them acknowledge that whining is unacceptable. In the same way that we require our kids to verbalize submission by saying, “yes, mommy,” we can have them do so with whining. For example, you might respond to whining with the following dialogue: “Nathan, repeat after me, ‘Yes, mommy, no whining.'” The child repeats you and hears himself verbally agree to not whine. If he does this and continues to whine, the offense is direct disobedience, in which case a timeout (in isolation) is appropriate.

Now, if a child whines not when he’s asking for something but when you’re giving an instruction, your reaction would be very different. Getting a “But I doooon’t waaaan’t toooo,” after you’ve told a child to make his bed is simply unacceptable. Here, you would not make the child wait. You would stop the child immediately after the word “but” comes out of his mouth, put a finger over his lips, lean down to make eye contact and say, “Your only acceptable response right now is, ‘yes, mommy.'” At that point, the child says, “yes, mommy” and goes to make his bed. If he refuses, have him sit for a timeout and vow to yourself to work harder on first-time obedience. Yes, this is much more of an obedience issue than a whining issue.

I hope this helps. Let’s unite to rid the world of whining children! :)

Turn sibling squabbles into hugs


You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much about sibling rivalry. The simple explanation is that I don’t have much experience with it! My boys just love each other so much. And any squabbles were usually squelched by Lucas, my peacekeeper. For some reason, he saw it as his mission in life to appease his brother.

But all good things must come to an end. Lucas has decided that he’s done with keeping the peace. He’s decided to speak up for himself. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a few squabbles.

Well, I came across a fantastic way to stop sibling fighting the minute it starts. The consequence for any fighting is that they must hold hands. They cannot hold just one hand. They have to face each other holding both hands. And they must stay that way until they’re ready to hug.

I’ve tried this twice in the past two days, and it works beautifully! It ends the fighting in mere seconds! They see each other’s faces and almost immediately hug. At first, William wanted to hold just one hand and still look away from his brother. But as soon as I required them to hold both hands, they hugged.

It’s so simple and so sweet to see!


Kids do what works


Kids do what works. It’s very simple, but for some reason, this idea can be difficult for parents to recognize. If your child has a chronic behavior problem that you can’t seem to shake, ask yourself whether you’re encouraging it somehow by proving to your child that it’s working.

To determine whether a behavior is working for your child, it’s important to understand his motivations. In many cases, our kids seek positive attention from us, but even negative attention is attention. Consider the following behaviors:

  • Whining
  • Crying
  • Sibling squabbles
  • Tattling

These behaviors typically incite some sort of reaction from us. Be careful that you don’t respond to these behaviors like this:

  • Whining = Giving in to the whining or responding in any way to the child’s whining voice
  • Crying = Again, giving in to the child’s protest
  • Sibling squabbles = Taking sides, giving one child more attention than the other or somehow validating the argument
  • Tattling = Disciplining the child who did the initial wrong without disciplining the child who tattled

There are many more behaviors that we see in our children that become chronic misbehaviors simply because the child has learned that they work. But before you label your child as a manipulator, understand that all of this happens on a very subconscious level for the child. Recently, I was talking to a friend about William’s complaining about school work. (We’re homeschooling.) The complaining had become such a habit that it was a daily problem. She suggested that I simply walk away or turn my head. It worked! Not only that, but a few days later, he had to work alone by necessity, and he actually decided that he did better when he was left alone. Without consciously recognizing that he was whining and complaining, he realized that it was getting him nowhere, so much so that he asked to work alone.

One other thing to look out for when identifying chronic misbehaviors that work is to realize that you are not the only one who might be feeding the fire. Your spouse, grandparents, and even the child’s sibling might encourage the misbehavior. So if you hear whining from your child and see it directed toward your husband, you know that he is probably the one who gives in to the whining. It is then his task to work on his response to any and all whining.

Also beware that if you don’t nip a misbehavior in the bud, the child’s sibling might actually do it, too. If your youngest cries to get what he wants and his sibling sees this happening all day every day, then he or she will start to do it as well. Who wouldn’t? If it works for baby brother, why wouldn’t it work for big sister?


Learn the art of hovering


Hovering over a child can be a very useful trick. But I don’t mean the helicopter parent type of hovering. In the spirit of the idea that actions speak louder than words, hovering can have a great effect on our children.

Next time you see your child misbehave or begin to cross a line, just stand near him. Let him feel your presence. Like a security guard tailing a shoplifter, just stand near him. If he knows you’re onto him, he may stop.

Say you’re on the phone and your child is supposed to be cleaning his room. Simply drift over to his room to see how it’s going. If he’s not cleaning, don’t say a word. Just stand there for a minute. If he makes eye contact with you, just raise your eyebrows and say “humph,” as in, I’m making a mental note of what’s going on here. And walk away.

If your child is doing homework, but you see him doodling instead of working, just stand behind him. If he doesn’t notice you, put your hand on the table or sit down next to him. You can look at his work. Just don’t say anything. He knows what he’s supposed to be doing. If he see that you’re there checking up on him, he’ll get back to work.

When you employ this technique, resist the urge to nag. Nagging only gives our children an excuse to complain and argue with us. If they know what they’re supposed to be doing and you hover nearby, they will get the hint.

React swiftly but have a plan


When our children misbehave, reacting swiftly and quietly can have a much greater impact than giving a warning or waiting to see if they’ll stop. But to react swiftly, we must have a plan.

For example, when you see your toddler throwing toys, I’m sure there’s no doubt in your mind that this is not a behavior you allow. I’m sure the child knows it as well. So what do you do? Do you tell him to stop? Do you plead with him? Do you try to reason with him?

Actions speak louder than words. So when you see such a behavior, simply stop what you’re doing and react swiftly but calmly. You might take your child by the hand and guide him to his room for a timeout. Or you might simply take the toy away. Guiding him by his hand without saying a word or even having an angry expression on your face will surprise the child. He won’t know for sure what’s going on until you sit him on his bed and walk away. It eliminates any chance for a tantrum or that spaghetti legs thing they know works so well.

By the same token, if you take the toy away, simply take it and walk away. If he knows he threw it and he knows it’s wrong, you taking it away will send the message. When he asks for it back, then you can tell him why you took it away.

You’ll notice that both examples, however, require having a plan. Acting calmly and swiftly can only happen if you have a plan. If you see your child throwing toys but aren’t quite sure what to do, you will hesitate and your actions won’t be as powerful. You might also think that reasoning with him will work.

Not having a plan will also increase the likelihood that you’ll act out of anger and frustration. And when they know they can get a rise out of us, some kids see that as score 1 for the child–not to mention the fact that correction done in anger is simply less effective.

“It’s natural for parents to react spontaneously to negative behavior. You see defiance and boom, you jump on it. But before you jump, you stop and think. You must act for the child’s good. Recklessly reacting in the heat of the moment isn’t the best plan.” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 135)

So take the time to think through your child’s most chronic misbehaviors and come up with a consequence for each. Then decide on your “go to” consequence for every other behavior problem that presents itself. We use timeouts as our “go to” consequence. Read more here on how to create a discipline plan.

Do you say “no” too often?


How many times in a day do you hear the word “no” escape your lips? Do you feel like all you ever do is say “no” to your child?

There are some parents who are so legalistic in the training/teaching of their children, that they say “no” much more often than they say “yes.” Do you fall into that category?

If so, imagine life from your child’s perspective. Yes, many times when we say “no” it is valid. Whether the child is being unsafe or flagrantly defying our instructions, saying “no” to our children is perfectly fine. But how about all the other times in the day?

I’ll be honest, I sometimes feel like my husband and I say “no” to our kids too often. There are many times when it’s warranted, but then I try to imagine life from my kids’ perspective. It can be stifling. It can create an “us vs. them” (children vs. parents) adversarial mentality. Really, when they’re just curious about something and not hurting anything, we should just allow the behavior.

So when you’re tempted to say “no,” stop and ask yourself if any of the following are true of the behavior:

  • Is it unsafe?
  • Is it hurting anyone or anything?
  • If it continues, will it bother you?
  • Will it lead to long-term behavior problems?
  • Does the child know when and where the behavior is unacceptable? (For example, if you allow a child to hold his lovey during dinner, does he know it’s inappropriate to bring it to a restaurant?)

And finally, ask yourself if any of your child’s misbehaviors are a direct result of the fact that you say “no” too often. When our kids feel stifled, they often act out because of it. When they are denied every bit of freedom, some children will try to get it in any way they can.

Discipline is heart training


Did you know that the root of the word “discipline” has nothing to do with punishment? We often think of discipline as punishment, as a way to correct our kids’ misdeeds. Such discipline isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We parents just need to understand that there’s much more to discipline than punishment.

The Ezzos explain it this way:

“Today, we define discipline as punishment. But discipline in its truest sense refers to one thing: training. Heart training. … The word discipline comes from the same Latin root (discipulus) as ‘disciple’ — one who is a learner. Parents are the teachers, children are the disciples,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 114).

As we correct our children, we must ensure that teaching is our goal. If the child doesn’t learn from his mistakes, you will be correcting for the same misdeeds over and over. And more than correcting specific behaviors, we need to make sure our kids understand the effects that their behaviors have on others.

“Discipline — heart training — is best accomplished by parenting from the first principle. Values-based discipline urges children to treat other people the way they want to be treated. Neither child-centered nor authoritarian parenting styles emphasize personal responsibility, inner growth, self-control, and other virtues the way first principle parenting does. We have found that if parents shape their child’s heart and character, they will not have to concentrate as much on reshaping the child’s outward behavior,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 115).

Recently, I’ve been teaching my kids that making somebody wait is rude. It’s another way that they are showing disrespect for others. This usually comes up when we’re getting into the car. William will have his nose in his book and take his sweet time buckling his carseat. Lucas, will sit in his seat and will immediately reach for a book or toy, which usually gets in the way as we attempt to buckle him up.

In the past, I’ve simply said “hurry up” or “put the book down.” But it’s never been a big enough issue for me to deal with it head on. That is, until I recently realized that they are making me wait and that it’s simply rude.

So as you discipline your children (through a timeout or a benign verbal correction), keep heart training in mind. Explain to them why you are correcting them and be sure to emphasize the morals that stand behind your correction.


Sometimes it’s better left unsaid


Do you have a child who easily tunes you out? Do you feel like all you do is repeat yourself? Do your words get the behavior and attitude that you want from your child?

Sometimes, it’s better if we keep our mouths shut. It’s so cliche, but actions do speak louder than words. There are several scenarios where staying quiet has more power:

  • Your child suddenly whacks his baby sister in the head. He knows better; you don’t need to remind him.
  • The child throws a toy across the room in a fit of rage. Quickly carrying him by the hand to his room for a timeout will speak volumes.
  • You tell him to wash his hands for dinner, and he turns around and screams “no!” in your face. There should be no question in anybody’s mind whether this is acceptable.

Imagine your toddler throws a fit in public. You might be tempted to give him a piece of your mind. Or you might want to ask the people nearby whose kid this is. It can be tempting to publicly admonish our kids because we want other people to know that we don’t let tantrums go unaddressed. But really, does the grocery store checker care how you parent your child? Probably not. And it’s bad enough that the people around you have to hear your screaming child. Do they really need to listen to your threats and demands?

Besides, our discipline is often much more effective when we don’t say a word. When he’s throwing a fit in public, simply take him by the hand, hold it firmly, and walk quickly out of the store. He’ll get the hint. Take him home, put him on his bed for a timeout, and then when he’s calm you can start talking. The other benefit of keeping quiet is that it keeps you from flying off the handle and threatening consequences that you eventually regret.

It’s also important to keep quiet when you’re about to hand over a logical consequence. If the child knows his behavior is wrong, don’t warn him. Don’t give him the option of choosing the consequence over obeying. React calmly and swiftly and he’ll be all the more respectful of  your authority. And if your child is in the middle of a tantrum, it’s especially important to keep quiet about consequences. Threatening consequences to a kicking, screaming child will not get him to settle down. It will only make him more mad.

So the next time your child frustrates, angers or embarrasses you, think twice before saying a word. If your child thinks you’re all talk and no action, the reversal of your ways will surprise him (in a good way).


A tiny gripe: natural and logical consequences are not the same


Can I clarify something? I often see people misusing the term “natural consequences.” The grammar snob in me cannot let this go. Natural consequences and logical consequences are two very different things. Both forms of consequences happen as a direct result of the child’s actions. But how they happen is very different.

Here’s the difference: Natural consequences are imposed by someone or something other than the parent. Logical consequences are imposed by the parent or other authority figure (like a teacher).

Here are a few examples of logical consequences:

  • The child whines when you say it’s time to turn off the TV, so you take away his TV privileges for 2 days.
  • The child doesn’t eat his veggies at dinner, so you don’t allow dessert.
  • The child refuses to clean up, so you take his toys away.

Now, here are a few examples of natural consequences:

  • The child runs downhill on a slippery surface and falls and hurts himself.
  • The child pulls a cat’s tail, and the cat scratches him.
  • The child mistreats a friend and loses the friend.
  • The child chooses not to eat dinner and is starving in the morning.

Do you see the difference? You have no involvement in natural consequences. And you know what? Natural consequences are so much more powerful because they come from someone other than mom. Funny how our kids are so willing to listen to somebody or something other than us. So whenever your child is approaching a situation that may end in a natural consequence, give him fair warning, but let it happen. He’ll be much more likely to learn from it.