parenting

How to Parent a Bully: Why Kids Bully & 6 Actions to End It

young boy bullying a young girlyoung boy bullying a young girl

young boy bullying a young girl

It’s 10 AM on a Tuesday. You’re finally accomplishing some long put-off work when your cell rings. 

It’s the school. Oh no, is he sick? It’s already the third time this year.

But it’s not the school nurse. It’s an administrator. And, when she starts to speak, your heart skips a beat. 

There’s been a bullying incident. Everyone’s okay, thank goodness. But as the conversation continues, your heart begins to sink. 

Your son’s social challenges spiraled out of control, and he took it out on another student…

Parenting has never been harder. 

A lot of attention goes to kids who are the targets of bullying, and rightfully so. It’s a crucial issue that schools and families are working diligently to tackle.

But on the other side are those labeled as the bullies and their families. They may receive far less sympathy but are equally distraught. They are experiencing endless questions, blame, and shame. 

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we know the word bully is emotionally charged. It is an unnecessary, highly destructive label that makes kids feel even worse about themselves, and it affects the way parents and other adults interact with the child. 

(NOTE: In this article, we will not use the word “bully” as a label for a child–we will only use it as a verb to describe the “act of bullying.” Instead, we will refer to the challenging behaviors these kids are presenting.) 

Hearing the news that your child has been unkind or aggressive may make you bewildered, embarrassed, sick to your stomach, and even defensive. Quite possibly, you have no idea what to do next.

Admitting there’s a problem is the first step, and finding the reason behind this behavior comes next. In fact, before we go further, our FREE ONLINE CLASS reveals the source of misbehavior and how to deliver–when necessary–consequences that are efficient and effective. 

If you are a parent or family dealing with this difficult scenario, it IS possible to navigate it with confidence, dignity, and courage. Your kid isn’t a bad kid or destined for trouble. He or she simply needs some loving, positive guidance!

But, before we can help our kids make good choices when it comes to bullying, we need to understand why kids feel the need to take their frustration–whether from a lack of social awareness, deep-seated insecurities, violence they’ve dealt with in their own lives, or a host of other issues–out on other children.

Why Some Kids Bully

Bullying is as old as time, but we know that doesn’t make it okay. It’s our job as parents and as a society to make the world better for everyone–even if that means combatting something widespread.

Some experts assert that aggressive behavior may have evolutionary roots. But, based on a child’s circumstances and environment, it is most certainly an environmental/learned behavior, too. 

According to Stomp Out Bullying, kids can become more inclined towards intimidation when they:

  • Wrestle with emotional issues
  • Feel insecure/powerless/lack attention
  • Are bullied by someone else 
  • Have social difficulties 
  • Lack empathy 

If you’re worried your child may be wrestling with these issues but aren’t quite sure, here are some red flags to watch out for: 

Signs Your Child is Struggling to Manage or Recognize Emotions 

According to StopBullying.gov, there are multiple indications your child is becoming confrontational. These behaviors may include: 

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights
  • Hanging out with friends who bully others
  • Acting increasingly aggressive
  • Getting sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
  • Having unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Blaming others for their problems
  • Not accepting responsibility for their actions
  • Competitiveness and worrying about their reputation or popularity

If any of these behaviors are noticeable, it’s a good idea to try to talk to your child about things that could be bothering them. You can also reach out to the school if maintaining open communication is difficult. 

And be aware that these behaviors start young! According to Joel Haber, PhD, a bullying prevention expert, negative social behaviors can begin “…when kids start relating to each other, which can start at age two or three. We see at three that girls pair off to become best friends and exclude another. That’s at three years old. So by the time they get to elementary school and middle school, they’re pros.”

Why Bullying Is So Harmful 

Bullying is never something to take lightly. In fact, society is finally beginning to recognize that it’s an issue that must be dealt with. The impact can be truly devastating.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

When measuring the impact of early trauma, or ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), bullying plays a huge factor. 

ACEs can affect children their entire lives, impairing their mental health, relationships, and quality of life.

It Creates a Vicious Cycle 

Bullying commonly ricochets to more bullying. A child bullied by a friend or a parent is more likely to show aggression towards another child at school. 

When we stop bullying in its tracks, it can prevent exponential harm.

How to Help Your Child (and Prevent Future Bullying) 

We’ve learned that kids who choose to intimidate others are often lacking something. The question is, as parents and caregivers, how can we fulfill what they need? Especially when they take negative feelings out on others? 

1. Focus on Discipline, not Punishment

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we talk a lot about the difference between discipline and punishment. The distinction is crucial! 

According to Jane Nelsen, the author of Positive Discipline, the most basic explanation is that punishment, like spanking, is anything that inflicts blame, shame and/or pain. It is a reactive, rather than proactive, response to a misbehavior, and it doesn’t teach kids why certain behavior is wrong or how to act differently next time.

And, what’s equally detrimental–it turns their anger towards you and others. 

Discipline, on the other hand, correlates misbehavior to its outcomes without unnecessary negativity. In fact, well-engineered logical consequences teach kids that their own actions dictate results–all with respect and without judgment.

It may seem counterintuitive, but misbehaving kids need more love and understanding than ever. Yes, they may need to face discipline and consequences, but punishment? Never! That will only make things worse.

Here are some tools to try immediately with EVERY child–especially one singling out other kids to pick on or otherwise harm. 

free parenting class

2. Commit to Mind, Body, and Soul Time

As mentioned earlier, many kids feel insecure, powerless, and a lack of attention. And, according to Adlerian Psychology (which provides the basis for positive parenting) all children crave a sense of belonging and significance.

Yes. Aggressive kids may seem rough, tough, and unruly, but in many cases, that hard exterior is just a lack of feeling emotionally connected and knowing they matter. They may be suffering from a lack of positive, one-on-one time and attention with mom and dad. 

Mind, Body, and Soul Time is the most important tool in positive parenting, because, when a child feels a deep emotional connection with his parents or caregivers, we fend off a tremendous amount of misbehavior from occurring in the first place.

Really?? REALLY!!

When we talk about targeting the root source of misbehavior, Mind, Body, and Soul Time hits a bullseye. It tells kids they are valued, loved, and respected despite their failures and shortcomings–maybe even because of them. It gives them power, attention, and a sense of security, all of which so many kids lack!

This tool is best used EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. But, it doesn’t have to be a huge time suck. Even 10-15 minutes once or twice each day, one-on-one between each parent and each child will work wonders. It just has to include bonding over something the child chooses to do. 

It also opens doorways towards increased communication. You may find out your daughter is acting aggressively because she’s being bullied by someone else. Or, maybe your son is having social difficulties and doesn’t feel like he fits in. 

In a safe space, kids can open up about anything. Contrarily, when we don’t focus on our time and relationships with our children, we have less insight into their lives.

3. Create a Decision-Rich Environment

Another way to give kids a sense of power is to create a Decision-Rich Environment in your home. 

Kids that feel powerless typically receive a lot of ordering, correcting and directing from their parents. They may not be allowed a voice or as much input as they’d like. 

You may be saying, “Wait a minute…aren’t I the boss?” 

Of course you are! But, all human beings, big or small, need to have some power over their lives. That’s why we can create situations where our kids make age-appropriate decisions and know their opinions matter. 

Maybe, after the implementation of a new after-school routine, you’ve noticed your 10-year-old being mean to her younger sister. Take a look at the new schedule–is there room there for your older daughter to make some more decisions? She could be feeling constrained and powerless.

You can allow her to choose between outfits for school, decide what she’d like to do in her free time, and/or allow her to choose which homework subject she completes first. 

For younger kids, even as young as two or three, you may begin noticing playground aggression. Kids may feel powerless when they’re forced to share toys, told they can’t go up the slide, or asked repeatedly to wait their turn. Among a million other things. 

While kids still need to learn appropriate playground behavior, we can give them other playground choices to make them feel less “bossed around.” They can decide which snacks to bring for the playground picnic, or tell you which friend they’d like to invite for a play date. They can choose the toys they’d like to play with, and whether they’d like you to push them on the swing now, or later. 

The bottom line is…the more opportunities we give kids to make age-appropriate choices and to have some dominion over their own lives, the less likely they are to seek power over others. 

4. Withhold the Judgment

Kids are more likely to open up about misbehavior–or avoid it altogether–when we eliminate judgment. 

Responding calmly, listening well, and not rushing to conclusions makes kids less afraid to come to us when they’re in trouble. Withholding judgment also makes them less likely to lie

Kids like to avoid our disappointment and potential punishment, so in their minds, lying can be as good a tool as any to sidestep negative reactions and situations. 

But, when we listen and react well, there’s less concern over making things worse. Instead, kids can focus on making things right.

amy mccready quote

5. Set a Good Example 

Parents set the standards for their kids. We’re the role models, always modeling the correct way to treat people. Kids learn the most when they’re at home observing us. 

Teaching an appropriate attitude towards others means following the golden rule and treating others the way you want to be treated. It’s exhibiting inclusivity and empathy with friends, family, even strangers. 

It’s true that many quarrelsome kids come from families struggling with hardship, emotional issues, power imbalances, and trauma. So, making sure each child’s home environment is safe, loving, and supportive is equally crucial. 

6. Focus on Gratitude and Empathy

If your child has become combative at least partially because of a lack of empathy for others, it’s time to give a good dose of perspective. 

Volunteering for those less fortunate is always a way to expand a child’s awareness. It turns apathy and “what’s in it for me” into helping others because it’s the right thing to do–and it makes them feel good.

It’s seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. 

We can also train kids to regularly consider what they’re grateful for. Daily gratitude journals are a great start. 

Grateful kids are more likely to appreciate and understand why things are good in their lives. They’re less likely to take things for granted and more likely to understand the impact of negativity. 

What About Tough Love and Adversity?

There can be benefits to hardship. Growing stronger, learning to manage pain, and problem-solving are all powerful examples.

The trick is knowing where to draw the line between helpful and harmful adversity.

As we’ve learned, we don’t have to punish kids through tough love to teach important lessons. 

And kids don’t have to intimidate others to gain confidence and feel empowered!

Many parents embrace the philosophy that bullying and being bullied are a part of life. It’s unfortunate, but just another aspect of those everyday growing pains.

Sure, life won’t treat everyone fairly, and working through conflict does make kids tougher. 

But turning a blind eye when a child harms others only decreases their capacity for empathy. And bullied kids don’t have to run the gauntlet to learn to stand up for themselves!

Final Thoughts

The quest to end bullying starts at the source. When we raise our kids with love, intention, and positive techniques, the impetus to antagonize others quickly deteriorates. 

Don’t forget to involve teachers, counselors, family, and friends in your plans to stop bullying. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, or you aren’t seeing improvement with aggressive behavior, please consult a professional, too. 

Parenting has never been harder–but there’s no reason to be disheartened.

Is Your Child Being Bullied? The Signs and Prevention Plan

young boy bullied head on his kneesyoung boy bullied head on his knees

young boy bullied head on his knees

Our children will inevitably face injustices in their lifetimes. But no child has to silently suffer through anything that causes harm. 

Bullying, in particular, can wreak havoc on children’s lives. In worst-case scenarios, it can even lead to a variety of destructive behaviors, including suicide. 

But what exactly can we, as parents, do to help our kids avoid this unnecessary trauma?

My answer is simple. Keep imparting important life lessons while also giving them the confidence and encouragement to face bullying head-on. 

To start, I encourage you to request our FREE and comprehensive list of Encouraging Words. It is a great foundation for reinforcing the empathetic and resilient traits you want to foster in your kids.

Then, focus on bullying prevention! It’s a strategy that mentally prepares kids for an imperfect world and equips them with the tools needed to fight it. 

It all begins with knowledge. 

Types of Bullying

Not all bullying is equal, and a lot of definitions overlap. Bullying can also fall under one category or encompass multiple categories at once.

Identifying these different frameworks helps prepare you and your kids for the many bullying scenarios they might encounter. 

Before we jump into strategies to prevent it, let’s take a look at the different types of bullying that exist…

According to STOMP Out Bullying, Thriveworks Counseling & Coaching, and StopBullying.gov, categories include:

Physical

Getting shoved up against a locker. Kicked in the leg. Pinched. 

Physical bullying doesn’t have to be violent. It includes any unwanted physical contact. 

Verbal

Calling someone a bad name, making them feel inadequate, and hurtful teasing.

Thriveworks states, “Verbal abusers use language to hurt another person; this might involve speaking aggressively or violently, or it could mean not saying a single word.” It can also “include withholding, countering, and discounting.”

Emotional 

Thriveworks defines emotional abuse as the use of “…hurtful tactics that are rooted in one’s emotions to manipulate and mistreat the victim…

…A few common forms of emotional abuse include criticism, humiliation, and control.”

Relational/Social

Intentionally leaving someone out of a group invitation. Spreading rumors about someone you don’t like. Ruining a reputation. 

Prejudicial

Harassing someone for being dissimilar: religious preference, LGBTQ, or a physical or mental difference are all common examples.

Cyber

This includes slander on social media, sending inappropriate images, or purposely excluding someone from an online invite. 

It’s crucial to speak to children about the dangers of cyberbullying before allowing them access to smartphones and social media. 

Sexual

Harassment of any kind of sexual nature, including vulgar comments or gestures, name-calling, or unwanted, sexually-focused physical touching.

Where Do We Draw the Line?

Now that we understand the different types of bullying, you may be wondering, “But how do I know when playful banter crosses the line?”

Good question.

Some kids are more sensitive than others. And no one can deny that laughing off silly jokes and taking things less personally can be good qualities.

Maybe your older daughter had a terrible day. Out of frustration–and out of character–she called her little brother stupid. Or, at school, your 6-year-old boy likes to chase after a girl he likes. 

Perhaps the boys in your teenage son’s peer group like to jokingly give each other a really hard time.

Are these scenarios all common cases of bullying? It depends…

A general rule of thumb is that bullying consists of one, two, or all three of the following components: persistence (it’s happened more than once or often), power imbalances, and/or physical and verbal intimidation.

So, no, not everything that hurts your kids is considered bullying. Still, it’s crucial to tell kids to speak up if something bothers them–whether they’re unsure it constitutes bullying or not. This can help keep anything that bothers them from escalating into true bullying, and it teaches emotional recognition and conflict resolution. 

Let’s talk about how to do just that…

Bullying Prevention and Solutions

Awareness and training work to minimize bullying’s most harmful impacts, and it makes sense why–getting ahead of problems can be the best way to combat them. 

Focus on Open Communication

Ideally, gathering information from our children is natural and easy. We want them to confide in us–especially when something is hurting them and potentially dangerous. 

But as our kids grow older, and depending on their personalities, conversations aren’t always a two-way street.

If you feel a need to improve the communication between you and your children, start with a few simple strategies:

Increase Mind, Body, and Soul Time 

Mind, Body, and Soul Time is an incredibly powerful tool that we rave about here at Positive Parenting Solutions

Every day, when you spend 10-15 minutes of distraction-free, one-on-one time with each of your kids, you are building a foundation of trust and improved communication. 

Its effects can’t be overstated. Mind, Body, and Soul Time helps with kids’ behavior and strengthens the bond between parent and child in a way that can’t be replicated. 

Limit Overreactions

When a child approaches us about bullying, it’s easy to have a strong reaction. We’re often upset–even angry–and eager to solve the problem immediately. 

Your son might be trying to make friends at a new school. He confides that one of these new “friends” likes to pick on him a lot. When you subsequently–and fervently–talk about contacting the other boy’s mother and the school board, your son grows wary and shrinks into the corner. He wants help, but he doesn’t want to cause a big scene. 

Or, maybe your daughter was abnormally aggressive and pushed a girl who made fun of her clothes. Your daughter was bullied into a corner, and now she’s being bullied even more. But she’s also ashamed of her part in the situation and worried about your disapproval if she tells you the whole story.

When we fail to remain calm when kids come to us with problems and concerns, it creates additional stress for our kids. They may grow hesitant bringing problems to our attention next time. 

Even when we get involved in something unrelated to bullying–like causing a fuss when your daughter tells you her coach keeps her on the sidelines–she will probably assume you’ll also overreact about bullying. 

The way we react to all events and issues can set the stage for more open communication. 

If our kids do play a part in bullying, it’s important to focus on communication rather than discipline–especially if we want them to confide in us in the future. Disciplining our kids for confiding in us, regardless of fault, can be counterproductive and close invaluable communication channels. We can promise they will never be in trouble for reporting bullying–even if they are a part of the problem.

list of encouraging words

Be Open About Your Own Feelings and Experiences

The more we express our own feelings, the more our kids will do the same. 

Whether talking about your own difficult experiences as a child or sharing current struggles, you’re showing that a wide range of feelings can be normal. It also shows your capacity for understanding and empathy should they bring their issues to you. 

But once the communication lines are open, then what? 

Now it’s time to teach our kids how to respond in-the-heat-of-the bullying moment…

Teach Kids to Stand Up to Bullying

What can be more empowering than teaching kids to stand up for themselves? 

Empowerment is a huge part of positive parenting–and it’s just as significant when fighting against bullying. 

We already know the various types of bullying that can occur. We also know it is persistent, related to a power imbalance, and contains physician and/or verbal intimidation. But do our kids?

Kidpower International teaches kids and adults of all ages to recognize these signs before they even encounter bullying. Then, they arm them with essential, anti-bullying strategies. 

One of those indispensable skills is teaching kids to speak up. And this isn’t just hypothetical. The aim is to equip kids with actual words and phrases when they feel bullied or threatened. 

For example, kids are encouraged to find an adult and calmly but urgently say, “Excuse me, I have a safety problem.” 

This is a simple yet effective way to get a busy adult’s attention by raising immediate alarm.

It’s also important to recognize that many kids are resistant to seeking help. Partly because we’ve unknowingly trained them to seek solutions on their own. Think about it: we often become annoyed when kids complain about silly, inconsequential issues. But they can interpret that as a plea never to be bothered. 

Kids also fear possible overreactions and retribution from parents and aggressors for tattling. 

Knowing this, we must teach kids to bring bullying to our attention with persistence and urgency. This includes explaining safety issues and the difference between tattling and informing.

“The safety of our kids and well being of our kids are worth causing anyone embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.” – Ellen Bass, Co-Author of The Courage to Heal and Kidpower Founding Board President

Teaching kids to stand up to bullying also includes stepping in as bystanders. Kids don’t have to be directly bullied to be affected by its negativity, nor to report it and put a stop to it.

Take Time for Scenario Training

Bullying preparation isn’t that effective if we just talk about it. Kids might forget details or fail to grasp the strategy for various situations.

Plus, if we’re presenting problems without also presenting solutions, our warnings only serve to raise kids’ anxieties.

We have the same concept at Positive Parenting Solutions. Our Take Time for Training tool reminds parents to embrace and encourage rehearsal. 

Whether it’s watering flowers, turning the oven off, or standing up to combativeness, kids learning something for the first time need–and deserve–a chance to practice that skill.

Bullying training can also happen routinely. Anything is more effective if you cover it more than once. And although it serves a practical purpose, it can be approached in a fun, lighthearted way. (Otherwise, it may be a dreaded task!)

At home or anywhere you have downtime, you can walk through various bullying scenarios. Ask kids to take turns being the bully/bullied. 

They can also practice grabbing your attention (“Excuse me, I have a safety problem”), and then switch roles while you play the anxious, troubled kid, and they play the busy adult. This two-way role-play can be doubly effective. 

Scenario training can include how to handle words that hurt, too. Instead of letting mean words fester, for example, Kidpower encourages us to teach our kids how to use the “Trash Can Power” by throwing away those hurtful words in an imaginary trash can. Rather than ignoring bullying or suffering through it, this tool recognizes negative intentions and immediately discards them.

bullying blog quote

So, Is Your Child Being Bullied? Here Are Some Signs. 

It’s not always obvious when your child is being bullied. Some kids don’t want to report it and internalize it instead. But, according to Stopbullying.gov, the following symptoms could be a sign of trouble. 

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick, or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

These signs indicate an imperative need to focus on communication with your child, speak to teachers and school administration, and contact a counselor or other trained professional.  

What if the Bullying Still Doesn’t Stop?

Sometimes, bullying continues after a bullied child has requested, with confidence, that the perpetrators stop. It can also continue after a teacher or the school administration has become involved.

“Throwing punches” may not be the go-to solution for conflict resolutions, but in cases of relentless bullying or physical danger, Kidpower mentions it’s more than okay for kids to use self-defense as a last resort. 

“There are different self-defense techniques for bullying than for more dangerous situations. For example, you can practice a bullying self-defense move in the air like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone’s leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest in order to get the person bullying to move so they can run to safety.” 

And in extreme situations, like attempted kidnapping and direct physical violence, these tactics can save a child’s life. 

Parents may need to consider consulting professionals or making significant changes if the problem becomes more than the child–or the adults responsible for them at the time–can handle. We don’t want to teach our kids to give up, but they do need to recognize their limits when necessary. Parents should also contact their local police department in the case of any harmful threat. 

Above all, the safety and well-being of the child are the most important thing. Period. 

Final Thoughts

Our society can acknowledge bullying without accepting it. Our kids don’t have to be victims. 

Don’t forget, there are many professional bullying resources online. Reach out and delve into them all if you still have questions and concerns.

And most importantly–don’t wait until your child is actively being bullied. You can prepare and act preventatively now. 

There’s no reason to wait.

Talking to Kids About Tragedy: Tips for Hard Conversations

mom kissing tween daughter on foreheadmom kissing tween daughter on forehead

mom kissing tween daughter on forehead

We want to make the world a better place for our children, but it’s not always possible.

If only we could ignore that painful fact.

Instead, we have to broach tough topics like chaos, sadness, and uncertainty–things we’re often confused by ourselves. 

We see a pandemic that still hasn’t fully subsided. We are witnessing the deaths of loved ones. And we’re burdened by grief. 

We see politics growing in dissonance and families with varying beliefs torn apart.

And the news is always negative, darkened with mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters.

Things are…hard. They always have been, and they always will be. But if there’s one thing parents are designed to do, it’s to help kids survive a sometimes unforgiving world. 

In hopes of assisting, I’ve compiled a few ways to navigate the topic of tragedy with our kids in all its various forms. 

Having a Difficult Conversation With Kids

Let me start by saying that it’s good to have difficult discussions.

You may be grasping for the right words or feel like crying–or cringing–at the sight of an innocent face asking for real, raw answers. But from tragedy to the birds and the bees, tough conversations are crucial. 

Maybe you’re a biracial family trying to explain to your children the intricacies of racism. Or, you’re a parent trying to ease a daughter’s grief over her grandmother’s death. 

It could be making sense of a next-door neighbor’s house robbery or a pet run over by a car. 

In all of these scenarios, kids need honesty. How deep we delve just depends on their ages and level of understanding

“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the event and present it in a way that their child can understand, adjust to, and cope with.” — HealthyChildren.org

The same article also gives examples of how to talk to children of various ages about tragedy. It states, “…no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.”​

If your response is followed by an endless stream of why questions, it’s also okay to say, “I don’t know.” 

Then, be inspired by Mr. Rogers, who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You always find people who are helping.'” 

Focusing on the people who are working to ease suffering will not only help your child focus on the good, but also empower them to make a difference.

Alternatively, an older teenager that understands the deeper implications of a school shooting might need more explanation.

“Some people really struggle with mental illness and don’t get the help they need. Psychologists are still trying to understand why they decide to hurt others.” And, “While schools try their best to stay safe, they can’t always be protected against this type of violent attack.” 

It’s important to have these conversations in a safe, quiet place. It can be in the comfort of your home or on a long car ride, but somewhere familiar enough to provide a structured, loving environment. 

It’s also important to balance two distinct strategies: staying calm and modeling real feelings.

Staying Calm

Tragedy can feel overwhelming. But simply using a soft verbal tone can counteract any unease and intensity to help kids feel grounded.

One of the tools we teach in our 7-Step Parenting Success System is the Calm Voice. It’s applicable at any time, but is especially useful in emotionally-charged situations. 

It can be as simple as speaking softly and slowly, but you’ll find it takes everyone’s feelings of fight or flight down a notch. From a screaming toddler tantrum to overwhelming feelings of grief, it paves the way for discussion and healing through subtle confidence and strength. 

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions members, please review Step 2 of the 7-Step Parenting Success System. 

Staying calm doesn’t mean we’re unfeeling robots. We aren’t ignoring our emotions or the issues. It just means we’re ready to discuss/process our feelings with more control. 

Because it’s not only important to discuss the circumstances of tragedy; it’s equally important to discuss the emotions surrounding them. 

Modeling and Managing Real Feelings

While we don’t want to completely let loose our own feelings of anger, sadness, or despair, it is okay to express negative emotions. After all, we want kids to know these feelings are normal. 

Shoving dark feelings down deep isn’t going to help us or our kids in the long run. That’s why having difficult discussions through open communication–and modeling the realm of emotions they’ll face in life–is so important. 

Maybe you’re prone to getting worked up when you hear bad news from friends or family. You’ve slammed a few doors and said a curse word or two.

Instead, try working on your reactions by taking deep breaths and counting out loud from one to ten. You can explain to your kids that this helps you calm down.

And don’t be afraid to cry when you really need to. This is a normal and healthy way to release emotion! Crying in front of your kids shows them it’s okay to let those tears flow, but, it also helps to accompany it with an explanation. According to this article, you can “Let your kids know you’re crying because you’re sad, happy, angry, frustrated or touched.”

Crying can also be followed by thoughts and words of encouragement–either for yourself or your children.

You’re still acknowledging that strong feelings affect you, but you’re also offering solutions for dealing with them.

nelson mandela quote

Or maybe you’re seething from a sudden job loss and wondering how you’ll pay the bills. So, after a few months of job applications and zero interviews, you join a neighborhood kickboxing club to release your frustration. It’s a healthy and proactive outlet for your feelings.

Your teenage daughter observes your frustration, as well as the actions you take to manage it. You also explain the reason for your actions, to make sure she understands you’re managing your worry and stress. 

“As you know, I’ve been feeling and acting a little overwhelmed these past few months while looking for a new job. That’s why I’ve decided to join this kickboxing class! It makes me feel better and stronger and keeps my stress levels down.”

Less than a year later, in a moment of extreme anger over a friend’s recent suicide, she contemplates punching the wall. Instead, she reconsiders. She decides to join you at your weekly kickboxing club. 

She saves the wall (and her hand) in exchange for a punching bag. And it was all thanks to your example. 

Turning an Imperfect World into a Learning Opportunity 

As much as it hurts, exposure to tragic events imparts emotional intelligence and prepares kids for a future full of challenges. 

So, while it’s natural to censor our kids from more tragedy than necessary, allowing them that glimpse of harsher reality is beneficial. 

Here are 3 distinct ways to pivot your tragedy conversation towards meaningful, powerful life lessons: 

1. Resilience Through Imperfection and Failure

Tragedy teaches us that life isn’t a perfect, utopian fantasy. It’s so imperfect, in fact, that bad things happen to good people ALL THE TIME. 

The earlier kids learn things won’t be perfect in their lives, the more adaptable they’ll become. They may still feel sideswiped by their mishaps or uncontrollable tragedies, but they’ll be prepared to make adjustments. 

Their setbacks will make them stronger.

Some of life’s biggest disappointments occur as perceived failures. High school students bomb their SATs and get rejected from the college of their dreams. Injured ballet dancers miss the big performance they worked for years to earn a place in. Brilliant inventions fail to garner investments.

Younger kids might break an arm or a finger at the playground and learn their bodily limits. They may even fail in less impactful ways, like falling off their bikes 30 times before mastering how to ride. Even these small mishaps can teach the beginnings of resiliency. 

Kids fear failure much less when we shatter the unfortunate idea of perfection. From playing the piano to flawless social media posts, kids face personal and peer pressure to do everything well. 

But failure isn’t bad. It’s how we improve.

kids fear failure quote

This lesson can be especially valuable for more entitled kids. They expect things to always go well and might be unfamiliar with hardship. But while we want our children to live happy lives, we don’t serve them well without teaching them to bounce back from misfortune. 

So, whether it’s a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster, let your kids experience a small portion of the emotions it generates. They will understand that what seems incomprehensible and unbearable really isn’t–and that we must move on from each obstacle.

2. Tragedy Enhances Empathy and Gratitude

In an instant, tragedy gives a whole new perspective. 

The fire destroyed their house–but not just their house. It destroyed their beds, their toys, their photo albums full of memories…

BUT, you know what? As devastating as that is, we can take comfort in knowing their lives were saved. That’s all that matters.”

With any tragedy, it’s important to take a few moments for reflection. 

We can start with compassion and extend feelings of sorrow to those impacted by the tragedy. This way, kids learn to feel and show empathy from even the earliest of ages.

Next, we can use a tragedy to be grateful for what we have. Unlike the family stricken by fire, we still have our warm and cozy beds, toys, and most importantly, a roof over our heads. We won’t have to live in a hotel or with friends while waiting to see if insurance will pay for a new house. And we don’t have to try to replace what’s been lost. 

Finally, we can focus on what good–if any–has come out of the tragedy. In the scenario above, it was the family’s survival. In other tragedies, it could be an extended family coming together, or an entire community gathering to support one another. 

Sometimes, it can be a stretch to find that silver lining–but it’s SO important. 

It could be the thread that keeps us hanging on. 

3. Now Is the Time to Encourage Action 

Once kids learn that not all tragedies can be prevented, they can move on to what they can control–their own actions.

Making a difference starts with helping. It could be making a family donation for recent hurricane victims, or writing a condolence letter to a friend that lost a family member. 

Maybe there was a mass shooting in a local city or nearby state. You can show support for the affected families by attending the candlelight vigil. 

You don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes, either. 

Ask your kids of any age how they’d like to improve the world. A 4-year-old might suggest “free candy for all,” while a tween might suggest a (more practical) food drive. But the key is to introduce them to the idea of being thoughtful and proactive in their communities and their own lives. 

It can be as simple as showing kindness: maybe towards the new kid in school who just moved after his parents’ divorce, or to the newly widowed next-door neighbor who needs help shoveling her driveway.   

It’s then thinking about bigger issues, like how to repurpose plastic water bottles or removing litter from the beach to help the troubled environment. It’s giving grocery store gift cards to the curbside homeless woman or helping you organize a local fundraiser for the children’s hospital. 

Because when it comes down to it, making the world a little less sad takes one small action at a time. 

Final Thoughts

The inability to thwart tragedy means learning to live with it. But we can also learn from it.

So, talk to your kids about the tough things. Then, make a pact not to let those obstacles keep you from living full, intentional lives. 

Let’s not let the pain and suffering pass by in vain.

5 Tips for Parenting The Strong-Willed Child

strong willed childstrong willed child

strong willed child

Bossy. Controlling. Inflexible. Argumentative. Stubborn.

You may have heard these words thrown around a time or two (okay, maybe a few hundred times) to describe your child. Because from the moment she entered this world, she’s had a spark that simply would not die down. In her eyes, authority is meant to be challenged, and rules are made to be broken. 

You love her tenacious little spirit. Still, you’re not afraid to admit, parenting that spirit is genuinely exhausting. 

Because when you go left, she sways right. When you say sit, she stands. Every decision you make, there she is, ready to challenge it.

There’s no doubt about it. You have a strong-willed child. . .

If that phrase sounds nothing short of horrifying, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many parents of boys and girls, toddlers and teens fear raising strong-willed children because of the negative stigma that seems to be attached. 

After all, aren’t we supposed to raise kids that aren’t bossy, controlling, and stubborn? Isn’t that the opposite of well-behaved? 

Actually, it’s not. 

Countless parents have taken our FREE WEBINAR, read our blogs, and become students of our 7-Step Parenting Success System, all looking to answer the same question.

How do I raise a well-behaved child?

Guess what? The parenting techniques are no different for those raising strong-willed children! 

Having a strong-willed child does not automatically mean you have an ill-behaved child. But you may have to adjust your parenting to accommodate their unshakeable spirit.

I’d like to give you five tips to help you positively parent your strong-willed child. But first, let’s go over some benefits of having a child with an iron will.

It may not feel great at the moment, but I promise, your strong-willed child is a force to be reckoned with. And that is certainly not a bad thing.

Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed Child

Believe it or not, your child’s unyielding temperament may be an indicator of future success.

A recently completed 40-year longitudinal study found that children who were labeled as “rule-breakers” or “defiant” were more likely to become over-achieving and financially successful adults.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. I mean, I can’t think of many Fortune 500 CEOs without a strong sense of determination. 

While the everyday battle with your toddler about putting her blocks away may feel discouraging, take heart! Because the same unbending attitude that drives you insane at home should give you a little peace of mind when thinking of the future. After all, if she won’t cave into your pressure as a parent, she’ll likely have that same attitude when interacting with her peers down the road. 

The thing is, strong-willed children are often misunderstood. Though it may come across as disrespectful, their sturdy spirit is actually a gift to be harnessed. These kids have the ability to focus on what they want and the drive to push forward.

What you see as demanding, someone else may see as decisive. Where you see a rebel, others may see a nonconformist. 

Will they challenge you as a parent? Absolutely.

But the most extraordinary ventures often come at a heavy price. I promise, once you begin to see the fruits of a stubborn spirit, you’ll understand the tremendous benefits that come with parenting a strong-willed child.

Now, let’s talk about how you can parent your spirited child without losing your parenting joy…

Tip #1: Identify Your Child’s Most Common Power Struggles 

Power struggles can be sneaky–especially with a strong-willed child.

At some point, every parent will enter into a battle for power with their child. This can be anything from toddler tantrums to teenage backtalk and everything in between. 

But, as parents, we must learn to identify our child’s typical power struggles (which can be different for every kid!) and what triggers set them in motion.

Let’s say one minute you’re helping your daughter get ready for preschool, and the next she’s stubbornly stomping around the room in her underwear because she doesn’t want to wear the outfit you picked out for her.

“I hate those pants! They feel funny! And I don’t like that shirt!” 

Like an auctioneer, you start the negotiations.

“Just put them on, we need to get out the door. And I’ll let you watch an extra show later.”

“No!”

“Fine. Just the pants and we’ll find a different shirt.”

“No!”

“Please, just TRY!”

Does she put on the clothes? No. Does anything come from you begging and pleading with her? You bet. A power struggle! 

If getting dressed in the morning is a trigger that brings out your daughter’s stubbornness, try allowing her to have more control over the outfit she wears every day. 

Instead of forcing her into one choice, you can let her choose from a list of pre-approved options, or even let her sleep in her outfit the night before. (Don’t worry if her clothes are wrinkled. Power struggle-free mornings are worth the trade off!) 

Or, for a little extra fun, try letting her have mismatched days when you turn a blind eye to the mixed-patterns ensemble she’s chosen.

You want her to get dressed at a reasonable time; she wants to feel like she has some control over what she puts on her body. Meet her in the middle and see what a difference it can make.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out our Managing Morning Mania Ultimate Survival Guide to learn more about why kids battle us in the mornings, and how that can change.

This same idea applies to strong-willed kids of all ages.

For instance, does asking your teenager to do his homework as soon as he gets home always lead to an argument? If so, identify the power struggle in advance, then shift your approach by giving him a little more autonomy over his schedule. 

“I understand you may not feel like doing your homework right after school. Would you rather do it before or after dinner once you’ve had some time to rest and eat?”

Some power struggles pop up out of nowhere, but if you think about it, I’m sure you can identify a few that are constantly prevalent with your strong-willed child. Figure out what they are, then take the proper steps to avoid them.

Helpful Hint: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, looking for even more problem-solving strategies for strong-willed kids? Check out The Explosive Child advanced module in the 7-Step Parenting Success System course.  

Tip #2: Give Them Some Power and Control

Now that you’ve identified what common power struggles your strong-willed child faces, let’s talk about how you can hand some control over (while still maintaining your peace of mind).

From the examples above, you saw how putting your child in charge of little decisions–like what to wear and when to do homework–can make a significant impact on whether or not they give you pushback. 

You know what pushes your strong-willed child into a fight, so the next step is to make a list of areas where you’re willing to loosen the reins and hand off some control.

For example…

You don’t need to pick out your 3-year-old daughter’s place setting; she can. Sure, she may pick all the cheap plastic dishes but it also gives her a huge hit of positive power (which leads to better behavior).

Your 10-year-old can pack his lunch for school. If you’re worried he’ll eat nothing but Fruit Roll-Ups and potato chips, simply use a little tool we like to call Control the Environment by ensuring you only shop for healthy options you don’t mind him packing each day.

If your headstrong 16-year-old is unrelenting in her desire to stay out later with her friends, invite her to sit down for a civilized conversation about why her curfew should be extended. She may have some very valid reasons you wouldn’t have thought of had you not allowed her to state her case. 

Handing off control to your child may sound terrifying, especially if you have a controlling parenting personality. But once you see the fruits of your labor, you’ll understand why this is so important. 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, check out Step 1 of the 7-Step Parenting Success System to take the Parent Personality Assessment and learn more about your specific parenting style and why it matters.

When you start giving your child options for control over their lives, you’re creating what we call a Decision-Rich Environment. A Decision-Rich Environment gives kids a boost of positive power while also helping to develop a strong sense of internal motivation.

“If Mom thinks I’m capable enough to pack my own lunch each day, I must be!” 

Creating a household environment filled with little decisions your kids can make for themselves will surely cut down on those insignificant power struggles you’re used to. Your child can be as headstrong as they come, and you’ll still see a difference in their misbehavior and attitude.free parenting class

Tip #3: Show Some Empathy and Respect

Parenting a strong-willed child can feel a little like playing an endless game of tug-of-war…only nobody wins.

We make demands, and they openly defy everything we say. Then we wonder why we experience an endless stream of meltdowns and temper tantrums (on both our parts).

The thing is, our kids house the same emotions we do, just in much smaller containers. 

We don’t like having orders barked at us or being told what to do and how to do it every second of every day, so why would our children be any different? Add a firm will to the mix, and the fight becomes even more challenging.

Instead of shaking your fist the next time your daughter engages you in a battle of wills, try putting on a more empathetic hat. Step into her shoes and take on her worldview.

Start by physically getting on her level, eye-to-eye, and offering an understanding statement that labels and validates her big feelings

“I understand you are frustrated we have to leave the playground. It’s never fun to leave such a fun place! How about we pick a day next week to come back?”

Don’t forget, there’s also a level of respect that should always accompany any conversation you have with your child. Start with yourself and set the example. Because when you model respect toward your kid, you’re more likely to receive the same in return. 

As parents, we all want to raise respectful kids who will remain so into adulthood. But sometimes we make the mistake of focusing so much on their respectful attitudes that we completely disregard our own.

So how can we show our kids respect? Many ways, but here are a few important ones…

Avoid talking down to them. Your 6-year-old can understand some pretty complex things, so it doesn’t work speaking to them as you would a toddler. The same goes for your teens and tweens, who will be entering the adult world sooner than you’d like. Speak to them the way you’d like to be spoken to. 

Also, avoid doing tasks for them they are perfectly capable of doing on their own. Allow them to answer questions for themselves. And respect their wants and desires.

When you show your child respect, you’re sending them a very important message.

You’re saying, “I know you are a strong, intelligent, and capable human being.” 

Wow! Talk about a boost of power. 

Tip #4: Find a Routine That Works

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, we love our routines. Why? Because they work!

Whether it’s for bedtime, bath time, mealtime–whatever! I cannot stress enough the importance of incorporating daily routines into the areas of life where you and your child most struggle.

In truth, all kids thrive on healthy routines, but they can be especially beneficial for strong-willed kids. 

There’s something about the predictability of knowing exactly what to expect that sets their minds at ease, while also avoiding your most common power struggles. 

For instance, let’s say the mere thought of putting your child to bed exhausts you completely. You know that no matter how wonderful your day has been, come the bedtime hour, you’ll step into their bedroom like a boxer entering the ring–ready for a fight.

“I don’t WANT to brush my teeth!” “I won’t wear the striped pajamas! I want the ones I wore yesterday.” “Pleeeeese, I need another story!” “But I’m not tired!” 

This is when you know it’s time to get strict with your child’s bedtime routine.

When it comes to routines, consistency is key. It’s important to do the same thing over and over so your child can get an idea of what to expect. This is true for any child! But with a strong-willed child? Inconsistency to the routine can be so detrimental.

If you’re trying to establish a good bedtime routine, start by picking a set time to be in bed and sticking to it. Now’s not the time to allow “just one more episode” or “five more minutes playing with toys.”  This only opens up the road to night-after-night negotiations and the end of a firm bedtime. 

Stay strong and let the routine be the boss (so you don’t have to be!).

Also, it’s important to make sure the events leading up to that bedtime are just as consistent.

“At 8:00, we will put on pajamas and brush our teeth. At 8:15, let’s pick out a few stories and snuggle up in bed to read. At 8:30, it’s lights out.”

Helpful hint: Instead of setting a timer on your phone or microwave, use a visual timer (like the Time Timer) to help your younger kids conceptualize the passing of time. 

Should you receive any pushback, simply ask, “What does the routine say we have to do now?” 

If, after consistently implementing your routine, you’re still facing an iron will from your child, use what we call the When-Then Routine. 

It’s simple, straightforward, and works like magic. Here’s how it goes…

“Henry, WHEN you brush your teeth, THEN we get to read books!”

“Maddy, WHEN you’ve packed up all your books, THEN we can head to the library!”

See what happened there? 

By placing the least desirable task as a precursor to the more desirable one, you create a simple, easy-to-follow routine. This is fantastic because it still leaves the control in the child’s hands, but now they want to do what is required to get to the fun stuff later.

No sassing, pushback, or power struggles are required.

Simply put, routines are the guardrails that help keep your strong-willed child from going off the tracks. And they make all the difference! 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to read Step-3 of the 7-Step Parenting Success System for more ways to implement When-Then Routines.

strong willed child quote

Tip #5: Focus on Problem-Solving, NOT Punishment

Strong-willed children have such a powerful sense of independence, but it can often be mistaken for defiance and misbehavior. A clever disguise if there ever was one.

Unfortunately, what do most frustrated and exhausted parents tend to do when their child is misbehaving? Look for a punishment.

And in the world of positive parenting, punishment and discipline do not go hand-in-hand. Honestly, they aren’t even in the same ballpark.

Now, I understand how this becomes the go-to solution for most parents. Perhaps they’re tired, embarrassed by their child’s behavior, or just feel as though they’re out of options. But punishment comes with a lot of emotional baggage. And trust me, you don’t want to unpack it. 

First, for the sake of clarity, please know that we define punishment as any action by an adult that causes the child to experience blame, shame, or pain (physical or emotional). Source: Jane Nelsen, EdD, and Positive Discipline founder.

Let’s say you spank your daughter anytime she gets frustrated and smacks her younger sister. Does this form of punishment stop her from hitting?

Perhaps it does in the moment. But in the long run? Nope! 

I’d be willing to argue that she will just get better at hiding the misbehavior in the future. Because not only are you telling her not to hit by hitting–which is so confusing–but you’ve done nothing to address the bigger issue…why she’s hitting in the first place. 

Instead, focus on solving the bigger problem.

If your daughter is hitting her sister out of frustration, try getting to the heart of why she’s so frustrated, and help her work through those big emotions. (Hint: A Feelings Wheel is a great place to start!) Talk about what changes she’d make next time, and how she can make things right with her sister. 

And if your son is defiant every day after school, put on your detective hat to figure out why. 

Is he hungry because he’s trading his sandwich for cookies every day? Is he having trouble in a subject or two? Problems with friends? Or simply weary after sitting still so long? 

Whatever it is, get to the bottom of it, and figure out some solutions to try. He’ll be much more likely to work with you if he understands you’re with him, and not against him.

I know it can be challenging to stifle that automatic desire to jump straight to punishment, but the more you practice implementing a problem-solving approach with your strong-willed child, the easier it will become.

Final Thoughts

If your life feels like a constant battle of tug-of-war with your child, now is the time to end the game. When they pull, resist the urge to pull back even harder.

Instead, loosen your grip and remember these five tips. Because parenting a strong-willed child does not have to be so exhausting.I promise, with a bit of time, patience, and the right tools, you can even learn to enjoy that fighting spirit. You’ve got this, and I’ve got you!

3 Communication Tips to Avoid Power Struggles

young african american family holding hands

Just imagine…

You’re 4-years-old, walking to the park with your mom and dad. The sun is shining, there’s a soft breeze in the air, and the twirly slide is calling your name. You can’t wait to get there. 

Just as you step onto the sidewalk, your mom shouts, “Don’t go in the street!” 

You hadn’t planned on walking in the street. At least not until this very moment. You stare at the smooth black pavement glistening in the sunlight. It’s just begging for you to run across it!

Why, oh, why did your mom even mention the street? Had she said, “Please walk with us on the sidewalk,” you probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. 

Now, it’s all your little mind can think about.

As parents, we can give commands to our children positively or negatively. Both, essentially, are asking the same thing, but the delivery–and the impression it leaves– can be exponentially different.

And in a world where the average child hears 432 negative comments or words per day versus 32 positive ones (Source: K. Kvols, Redirecting Children’s Behavior), it’s safe to say which style we typically rely on.

Don’t be late! Stop talking with your mouth full! Don’t touch your sister! No more fighting!

I’m sure a few of these sound familiar. But you see, when most of the language we use with our kids is negative (don’t, stop, no more, etc.) we create problems for both them and us.

Negative language is confusing, demeaning, and comes off as harsh. Kids don’t want to feel talked down to any more than adults do. 

Not to mention, it invites All. The. Power. Struggles.

Fortunately, the fix is as simple as swapping out those negative phrases for more positive ones. Trust me; this will do wonders for your child’s misbehavior!

Why? Because positive language empowers kids! It tells them that they can make good choices, and we value what they have to say. It’s a massive boost to their self-esteem.

Here’s the not-so-fortunate part. It may be simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Making these changes isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if you’ve been using negative commands for years–it’s just second nature at this point! 

But with a bit of time, practice, and intentional effort, I’m confident you’ll get there. 

To get you started, here are 3 tips to avoid power struggles by using positive language.

Tip #1: Practice Using “Do” Commands

Don’t run in the street! Don’t talk with food in your mouth! Don’t forget to brush your teeth!

Do any of these sound familiar?

To put an end to the power struggles, try to rephrase these statements using “Do” commands….

Please walk on the sidewalk. Keep your lips together when chewing food, please. When your teeth are brushed, we’ll be ready for storytime!

Why “Do” Commands Lead to More Cooperation

As parents, we probably say the word “don’t” more times than we can count in one day. And with good reason! We want to keep our children safe, healthy, and happy. Naturally, we have to tell them what they shouldn’t do. 

Right?

The problem isn’t so much what we’re asking but rather how we’re asking it. You see, when we use “don’t” commands, our kids automatically have to “double-process” what we’re telling them.

They think, What does Mom NOT want me to do? AND, What does she want me to DO instead?

Not only is this discouraging, but it’s also incredibly confusing–especially for young children. “Don’t” reinforces the negative behavior and brings it to their full attention (remember the street scenario above?).

You say, “Don’t run in the street!” and they think, “Gee, running in the street sounds really fun right about now.”

You say, “Don’t play on your iPad,” and they think, “iPad, iPad, iPad! I REALLY want my iPad!”

Instead, try switching up your phrasing by stating what you do want instead of what you don’t. (Bonus points if you ask politely.)

For example, if you want to say “DO walk on the sidewalk,” try, “Please walk on the sidewalk. It’s so nice knowing we are being safe.”

Or, if you’re going for “DO stay away from the iPad,” try, “Let’s play outside while the weather is nice and save your screen time for when we’re in the car later.”

Doesn’t that sound much better?

Right off the bat, this eliminates the need to “double-process” the command. Your child knows exactly what you’re asking and feels especially significant because you asked in such a polite and respectful way.

It also does away with any looming frustration that tends to go hand-in-hand with negative comments. You’ll take their thinking from, Why can’t I? to Yes, I can! 

And with that boost of empowerment in your daily lives, you’ll be sure to see less misbehavior.

free parenting class

Tip #2: Find Opportunities to Say “Yes!”

One of the best ways to reduce power struggles is to shift our “no’s” into something that — to a child — feels more like a “yes.”

For example, just imagine…

It’s Saturday afternoon, and you and your 10-year-old son are perusing the aisles of your local pet store. All you need is a bag of dog food, but you’re making it an outing because you both enjoy peeking in on the new puppies and kittens.

You’re deeply enthralled with an adorable little furball when, all of a sudden, you hear your son call to you from across the store. 

“Mom, come check out this baby alligator! Can we buy him?”

Ummm, say what now? 

Sure, there are many amazing parents out there that would love to bring a pet alligator home. But you are NOT one of them. Of course, now you feel backed into a corner. Up until now, you’ve been a positive language rockstar! But that ends today.  

You have to say no.

And you know what? That’s fine! 

Parents can’t (and shouldn’t) give their children every single thing they ask for. If they did, I’m pretty sure the world would be run by entitled kids fueled solely on dino nuggets and candy.

So let’s set the record straight right now. “No” isn’t the problem. How we present the “no” can be.

Let’s say your immediate reaction is:

“No. We are absolutely NOT getting a pet alligator today, tomorrow, or ever!”

Can you see how something so negatively charged may be discouraging to your 10-year-old? He was only asking a question, but your answer leaves him frustrated, disheartened, and ready to push back.

So what can you do when the answer is “no,” but you want to maintain that positive language? 

Try shifting that power struggle paradigm by finding a way to turn that “no” answer into something that more resembles a “yes.” 

You could try:

“We can’t buy an alligator to take home, but let’s pick a day when we can come back and visit it in the store. Would you rather come back Sunday afternoon or Monday evening?”

This way, you aren’t driving home with a reptilian creature in the backseat, but you also don’t have to say no.

It’s a win-win. 

While this may seem tricky at first, I’m willing to bet that you’re actually much better at disguising no’s for yes’s than you think.

Maybe it’s your toddler, asking for the hundredth time if she can wear her purple polka dot snowsuit to the swimming pool because it’s her “favorite color in the whole wide world!”

“You can absolutely wear your snowsuit inside the house with the A/C on high! But let’s stick to wearing your purple swimsuit at the pool. Snowsuits are hard to splash in.”

Or perhaps your fresh-from-the-DMV teen really wants to learn how to drive in your classic (and newly restored) ’65 Mustang.

“Buddy, you’d look so awesome driving that car, but it can be really hard to learn the rules of the road in a manual transmission. Why don’t we start in an automatic until you’re more confident behind the wheel?”

See? Even when the answer is “no” you can always squeeze a refreshingly positive “yes” in there somewhere.

Try a Yes Day!

positive language quote

Another way to find more opportunities to say “yes” throughout the day is quite simple. Just say “yes!”

A popular trend in recent years has been for families to institute a “Yes Day” with their kiddos. Typically, this is one full day when parents say yes to any request (with ground rules and within reason) their kids ask.

Breakfast for dinner? Yes! 

Mini golf followed by a movie? Absolutely! 

Wear pajamas to the candy store? Um, if you say so!

The intention behind the idea of a Yes Day is to give your children something all Positive Parenting Solutions parents know they desire–a strong feeling of belonging and significance!

Saying “yes” to their requests tells them that you’re interested in what they have to say and what they want to do. They’re an essential part of the family, and you recognize all of their contributions.

Yes is powerful! 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 1 Lesson 2 of The 7-Step Parenting Success System to understand more about your child’s desire for belonging and significance.

Tip #3: Whenever Possible, Smile When You Speak

You may be thinking, Okay, Amy, what’s with you? This is getting a little weird. 

Trust me. I get it. 

But, believe it or not, lots of research shows that smiling when we speak has a significantly positive impact on both us and those we’re talking to! It may seem a bit out there, but I promise you’ll soon see just how helpful it can be when trying to switch from negative to positive language. 

Because the truth is, it’s really hard to say anything negative when you’ve got a smile on your face.

Let’s give it a try…

With your brightest smile, repeat after me: “Don’t ride your bike without a helmet on. It’s really dangerous, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

I’m willing to bet that felt pretty awkward (and possibly looked a little terrifying). Why? Because the emotion on your face didn’t match what you were saying. 

Now, let’s try it again. Only this time, let’s also rephrase the sentence using what we learned in the first two tips.

Again, be sure to show off those pearly whites: “Please wear your helmet when you’re on your bike. I love knowing that you’re being safe.”

Ahhh, I bet that felt much better! And the funny thing is, you were still getting the same point across…just in a more positive way.

Final Thoughts

As the saying goes, old habits die hard! And, unfortunately, for most parents, using negative language is a very old habit.

Right now, it may seem an impossible feat. You ask, repeat, remind, and yell, only to feel nothing but guilt a few moments later. “No,” “don’t,” and “can’t” are a few of your most-used vocabulary words, yet the power struggles remain.

But that’s the very reason why Positive Parenting Solutions came about in the first place! I wanted to meet parents right where they are–in the hardest of places–and give them hope for a brighter, more positive way to parent. 

Yes, you can empower your children with positive language! You can reduce the amount of misbehavior you see every day. And you absolutely can be the positive parent you’ve always dreamed of becoming.

We’re happy to help you every step of the way!

What Age Should Kids Get a Phone? 4 Questions to Consider

young african girl holding smartphoneyoung african girl holding smartphone

young african girl holding smartphone

Buying a phone is a high-dive plunge, and the risks must be weighed before we determine whether our children should jump.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22–we don’t want screen time inhibiting our kids’ social, emotional, and intellectual growth, but there are circumstances when they may actually need a phone.

There’s already plenty of evidence that phones (and more specifically, smartphones) negatively affect mental health. Still, our daily lives are built increasingly around them. 

We also have to keep track of our kids–literally–and we want to give them the ability to call and text us (you know, all the time, even on dates, when they’re in college–forever). 

Paving communication channels between parent and child begins by allowing kids (some) freedom of movement and choice. In fact, my FREE WEBINAR is all about recognizing our children’s desire for power and autonomy and accommodating these innate needs in a safe and effective way. 

Giving a child a phone is one increasingly common way of allowing kids autonomy, whether it’s through conversations with friends or the freedom to watch funny videos. But as much as they may enjoy these privileges (and as much as we enjoy the ability to always text, call, and pinpoint their whereabouts), phones can be equally detrimental.

So, the questions abound: Should we be buying our kids phones? If so, what type, when, at what literal cost, and within what boundaries?

To answer these questions, let’s start at the very beginning. 

You remember the scene…when your daughter walked in the door and exclaimed:

“Bridget got a phone when she was nine, and I’m almost 11! Why can’t I have one?” 

Should Kids Get a Phone? 

Keeping up with the Joneses–even intentionally not keeping up with them–is a constant struggle in life and parenting. 

You may want that BMW and that Louis Vuitton. You may be jealous of the neighbor’s vacation to Greece. But you know your 6-year-old son doesn’t need an iPhone 12…or 67…or whatever it is now.   

It’s easy to give kids what they want when it makes them happy. Even if it just silences the begging, pleading, and negotiating, it can feel well worth a pretty penny. 

But as fun or as tempting as it may be, buying phones based on the status quo ignores whether our children are actually ready for one. 

Growing up, you may have heard, “This is the way we do it in our house, regardless of what your friends’ parents do.”

And now you’re regurgitating the same phrase and sounding just like your parents.

But the influence of peer pressure and the importance of keeping our kids up-to-date with their contemporaries is nothing to scoff at, either. 

Many kids use cell phones and other technologies almost exclusively to keep in touch with their peers. They can’t even schedule outings without texting first. 

Now, with virtual learning a commonality, kids are often required to go face to face through a digital lens. 

Regardless of our technological wishes or preferences, it’s essential we consider how much our kids need phones just to function in the world around them. 

Your friend might need her 6-year-old to have a phone because she spends every other weekend at her co-parent‘s house. But you might not see a need for your kids to have a phone until high school.

Determining if–and when–kids are ready for phones is completely family and kid dependent–especially when it comes to smartphones.

What Type of Phone Should My Kids Get?

Kids Should Start With a Basic Phone

The tech industry has realized that one size does not fit all. This means we can find a phone option that suits our family’s unique needs while also keeping our kiddos safe.

Even with basic phones, we can keep track of kids and start to build trust. These simpler phones still allow them to text family, friends, and make important, or emergency, calls. 

And for the youngest kids, a simple watch that allows your kindergartener to call and tell you he missed the school bus–but that also restricts his access to games, social media, and the internet–may be the perfect fit. 

Smartphones (and tablets and computers) can also be used on a very basic level. They don’t need all of those apps to work. We can cut out any unnecessary internet access and social media we deem necessary while adding plenty of restrictions (we love OurPact). 

We also love Gabb Phones because they…

  1. Look like a smartphone and ward off any negative peer pressure, and… 
  2. They have all the text & call capabilities WITHOUT an app store, social media, or games that distract kids.

There are many resources to guide you through the safest possible smartphone set-up for your kids. 

And don’t worry–early access to a basic phone isn’t a gateway phone to the dark net. Safe protocols lead to safe results. 

So, how can you know your child is ready to navigate even more of the world at their fingertips with a smartphone?

The Minimum Age for Smartphone Usage 

When determining smartphone eligibility, it ultimately comes down to a child’s level of maturity and responsibility. So, kids wanting to use–and not abuse–smartphone privileges should prove a few things first. 

Here are 4 signs they’re up for the challenge:

1. They’re Well Aware of Smartphone Dangers 

Kids shouldn’t have mobile devices at their fingertips unless they’re well-versed in the power they contain.

Discussing, in-depth, the risks of cyberbullying, online predators, sexting, and even how to call 911 (or what to do when accidentally calling 911) should all preface the purchase of a smartphone. 

Phone safety is a crucial, non-negotiable conversation we must have with our children. It’s not unlike discussing stranger danger before sending our kids on solo walks to school or broaching the less-than-comfortable birds and bees talk.

smartphone safety quote

Smartphones are literally a gateway to the entire world; kids need to be prepared for what they’re going to see and familiar with what is–and isn’t–okay. 

If children can rattle off how sharing sensitive, personal information in a text is a bad idea, explain proper online etiquette, and understand that social media is based on appearances more than reality, they may be prepared to navigate the perils, and not just the technical aspects, of a smartphone.

2. They Exhibit Self-Control with Other Technologies

Kids have a lot of different technologies to distract them. Most likely, it’s already a huge part of their lives and will remain so. 

To test their self-restraint, try setting daily time limits on the hours or minutes they can use each type of tech. If they complain profusely when their 30 minutes of TV shows are up, they are not ready to demonstrate the self-control that’s required to use a phone. 

If they’d rather stay inside and play video games than join the friendly neighborhood kids in a game of kickball, they might need encouragement to re-balance the amount of screen time they enjoy. 

Kids should also be setting aside technology while they’re studying, eating meals, and at least 2 hours before heading to bed

If you’re on the struggle-bus demanding screen breaks and controlling time limits already, it’s best to delay the purchase of a smartphone until they can better self-monitor and control their usage. 

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members; please review the ADVANCED training session–Technology Survival Plan–for signs of technology addiction and a plan to turn it around. 

3. They Prioritize School and Family Contributions

Kids can–and should–have age-appropriate responsibilities. It gives them a sense of power. It creates confidence. And it encourages them to keep up the good work. 

But smartphones are such a gloriously fun distraction from it all.

Ideally, our kids are helping out around the house daily. Whether it’s our 7-year-old folding and putting away his laundry or our 16-year-old cleaning his bathroom, these family contributions should occur (without constant reminders) before any technology time.

Additionally, kids also need to be regularly keeping up with their schooling (whether virtual or in-person) and homework before you consider buying a smartphone.

You might think that smartphones can help kids learn. It’s true–many great educational resources are available as phone apps, and you can even limit a child’s phone usage to education only. However, before our kids are ready to dig into these educational resources on their devices, they must demonstrate responsibility in learning the old-school way! 

4. They Are Open in Their Communication

At some point, kids stop telling us everything. Depending on the subject, that’s okay! 

Your teen son doesn’t want to tell you which girls he’s secretly crushing on. And your tween daughter may want to keep a few of her BFF’s secrets, well, secret. As long as they’re appropriate, there are some things we simply don’t need to know.

But we do still need our kids–at any age–to come to us when something is wrong. It’s important they feel comfortable confiding in us and know we offer a safe refuge for them to talk and ask questions. 

If we don’t have a solid rapport with our kids, they’re less likely to come to us with problems. 

With smartphones a part of their everyday lives, online bullying, dangerous activities–even suicidal friends–might all be things our children encounter. Even if our kids do something wrong, we need them to confide in us.

free parenting class

Therefore, it’s crucial to establish and maintain open communication before unleashing a smartphone. 

This is doubly true if you’ll be allowing your kids access to social media. Healthy communication  translates to healthy usage. And healthy usage means that no social media accounts can be kept private from you. 

Dishonesty and concealment are giant, waving red flags. Kids that either struggle with lying or tend to be deceptive need to understand that the truth alone will earn your trust–and their smartphone privileges. 

Should Kids Help Pay for Their Phones?

They’ll probably beg to differ, but kids don’t deserve every toy they ever want. Nor do they deserve a dog just because they like animals or a new car just for passing driver’s ed. 

The same is true for phones.

Phones can be earned–or purchased–through legitimate work and hard-earned money. 

If we don’t want our kids feeling entitled, they’re best served understanding the monetary value of a family phone plan and the hefty cost of a phone itself. 

If you provide your kids an allowance, encourage them to set aside a percentage each month to help pay for their phones/smartphones.

Alternatively, they can accomplish special jobs around the house or even pocket money through babysitting or other work to contribute to the cost. 

In a way, it’s easy to understand why so many kids feel entitled to a phone when everyone else has one. But kids that don’t work for their privileges tend not to feel gratitude–or even respect–for what they have. 

Our job as parents is to combat that feeling of expectation by insisting they earn it through due diligence and monetary contribution/awareness. 

What Boundaries Should Be in Place for Smartphone Use?

So, you’ve decided your kids have earned and are ready for a smartphone!  

Regardless, you may still feel like you’ve opened Pandora’s box. Your kids now have potential access to endless information–both helpful and harmful. And despite their maturity, you may foresee problems with enhanced screen-time addiction. This is when a family technology contract can encourage kids to respect–and not abuse–their newfound privilege.  

To begin with, a technology contract is upfront and doesn’t involve secretly “spying” on kids. It can detail restrictions, like the parental controls you’ll be implementing and the apps you’ll rely on to monitor their usage and time limits. It can be transparent about blocked websites and the prohibition of secret social media accounts.

Like any business contract, family technology contracts require an upfront understanding of the parameters. Kids can study the contract, agree to the terms, and even acknowledge their awareness by signing it. 

What’s more, the contract mirrors the terms of a logical consequence.

Logical consequences require that children understand in advance what will happen if they break the rules. And, if they break the rules, they will face consequences related to that offense.

Therefore, the contract can go on to say what will happen if terms aren’t upheld. A breach in contract could lead to losing smartphone privileges for a day, a week–even longer. It could mean loss of access to the internet, social media, or YouTube.

You can create a family technology contract that is the right fit for you. But remember–the contract is set in stone. And as much as possible, the same terms should apply to you, too.

logical consequences quote

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members; please review the ADVANCED training session–Technology Survival Plan–for a sample Family Technology Contract.

Setting a Good Example

If anyone can understand the constant draw to technology and addictive qualities, it’s us. Raise your hand if you’re trying to find where you left your iPhone at least five times a day and feel naked accidentally leaving the house without it. 

We use our smartphones to find take-out, navigate ourselves to the dentist office, keep in touch with friends and relatives, and read the latest news. 

To a large extent, we have to use smartphones way more than our kids. We have work, bills to pay, appointments to schedule, communication to maintain…and it can all happen on our small devices.

But if we expect our kids to set aside their phones at dinnertime and play games or watch videos an hour or less each day, we need to hold ourselves to the same standards. Our own addiction to technology–or lack of–can be the most powerful example of all. 

I get it though…it’s also one of the hardest to uphold! 

Just remember that any terms our children agree to will feel more balanced and fair the more all family members are onboard. 

Final Thoughts

Whether the latest parenting style is helicopter, Tiger Mom, or free-range, determining if and when our kids can have a phone is a serious question–one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

But with proper precautions, preparedness, and boundaries, kids can use phones of any kind much more safely and at your discretion. And with continual, hard-earned trust, additional access and privileges across all devices may follow. 

As influential as it is, technology doesn’t determine the rules in your family–YOU do!

With oversight and guidance, you can safely guide your kids towards exciting and responsible technological futures.

0