parenting

Positive Parenting for Blended Families: 5 Tips for Success

blended family holding kids in laps and smiling
blended family holding kids in laps and smiling

blended family holding kids in laps and smiling

When yours and mine suddenly become ours a lot of changes occur. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing those changes at this very moment. You are now a part of one of the most prominent family structures in today’s society—the blended family!

I can assure you, I’ve worked with families of every style, structure, and size. Whether they’ve taken my FREE PARENTING WEBINAR or signed up for the Parenting Success System, you name it, I’ve seen it.

And though these families may look vastly different on the outside, I’ve come to learn that every parent—no matter what type of family they come from—wants the exact same thing. 

To see their family flourish!

But how?

Just as with any family, blended families face their fair share of tough parenting challenges. When navigating the muddy waters of co-parenting and step-parenting, the road isn’t always easy. But I promise you, it’s well worth the trip! 

Your new family can succeed! Using these 5 tips, there’s no reason you cannot become the positive parent you’ve always dreamed of being.

Tip #1: Make Time for Connection (With Each Child)

“You’re not my mom!”  

“My REAL dad never makes me take out the trash.”

“I hate you!” 

Do any of these sound familiar?

Maybe the stinging pain of a fresh divorce is still lingering in their young minds or the idea of having to answer to another parent is too much for them to handle. 

Whatever the case may be, when merging two families, it can be incredibly difficult to establish a relationship with the children involved.

I know how hard this time can be, especially when all the kids seem to do is push you away. But believe me when I say NOW is the time to cultivate those relationships and establish a connection!

Here are a couple of ideas on how you can do just that:

Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST)

There is no better way to get to know your new children than by spending quality time with them. And there is no better way to ensure the children you already have continue to feel loved and empowered than by doing the exact same thing.

So what can you do? Incorporate what I call Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST)—with EACH child, EVERY day!

I get it, the life of a parent is anything but slow. And life for a parent in a blended family? Forget about it!

Still, I urge you to make the time for MBST with your kids. It’s so important because parents who regularly incorporate this time into their daily lives see a positive change in their kids’ behavior! All you need is 10-15 minutes each day that you can spend with each child one-on-one, doing whatever it is they would like to do.

Put away the distractions and protect this time for connection. Schedule it on the calendar so kids know when it’s happening and most importantly, give it a name!

By giving this “special time” a label, kids will have a tangible way of describing your time together and you’ll get “credit” when you say, “I really enjoyed our Mommy & Avery time! I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!”

Not only is this is a power-packed tool that will help you connect with each child, it will also help cut down on the amount of tantrums, attitude, and general misbehavior you see from your kids. 

Of course, the reality of living with a blended family means that you may not see your children every day. If that’s the case, fret not!

Use FaceTime to chat about their day or read a bedtime story together. Send them off with a handwritten letter (one for each day you’re apart) for them to read whenever they’re missing you. Make a plan to spend extra time together on the days that you have them.

The bottom line is, there are so many ways you can still make them feel empowered, loved, and important—even from afar. 

Plan Special “Date Nights”

When you were getting to know your significant other, chances are you learned a lot about one another while out on a date. You asked questions, had fun, and allowed yourself the time to truly build your relationship from the ground up.

Why not do the same for your new children?

Of course, there are a couple of rules: 

1) Each date must take place outside of the house.

2) Dates must be planned in advance, giving the child (and you!) something to look forward to. 

Try taking them to their favorite restaurant for dinner or out for a round of mini-golf. If money is an issue, no need to worry—great dates don’t have to cost a dime! Perhaps you go for a bike ride at their favorite park. Or pack a picnic and hit a local hiking trail!

Whatever it is you decide to do, make sure you have plenty of opportunities to talk. Ask them about school, their family, and especially their interests. Then work those into your time together.

Does your new step-daughter have a passion for dance? Maybe tickets to see The Nutcracker would make for the perfect Christmas gift. 

You can also ask them to teach you something new! 

Perhaps your step-son is an avid gamer? Why not make a connection and find some common ground while he’s showing you the ins and outs of Fortnite?

Whatever you do to reach out to your kids, just know that establishing an emotional connection takes time. But if you keep at it, persisting with love and attention, you’ll soon begin to feel the growing bond you’ve been longing for.

Tip #2: Set Up Family Meetings

Blended families ARE families—one unit! And when it comes to solving problems, getting along, merging schedules, and anything else you may need to coordinate, it’s best to work together.

Which is why I highly recommend setting up (and regularly sticking to) a family meeting.

Think of it like a business. Success comes when every person is on board. Family meetings provide a wonderful opportunity for every member of the family to get on the same page, connect, and problem solve.

Pick a time—preferably the same time each week—to have your meeting and stick to it! Then come up with an agenda.

Are your son and step-daughter constantly at each other’s throats? Are you having a hard time balancing everyone’s after-school schedules? Figure out what issues you may need to resolve and bring them to the table during this time.

Also, make sure that every family member—yes, that includes the kids—has a voice. Not only will this be the time you come together as one unit to problem solve and connect, but you’ll also be giving each of your children a huge dose of positive power and attention by allowing them to speak their minds and be heard.

Lastly, make sure it’s FUN! No one wants to show up to a meeting where they are just going to get lectured. Have a snack and plan a fun family activity to do at the end of the meeting — even if it’s just a dance party or going around the table and sharing a favorite joke. 

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to review Step 6. Here you will find out how to structure family meetings, check out agenda examples, and get a detailed list of what elements MUST be in place to make the Family Meeting most effective.

Tip #3: Model Respect

The funny thing about kids is, even when you think they aren’t listening, THEY ARE!

Which is why you should always be mindful of the things you say around them, even when you think they aren’t paying attention. 

When talking about your step-child’s mother, father, or the child himself, it’s important to make sure you’re always coming from a place of respect. Children have a way of picking up on negativity, hostility, and anger. And just as you want and deserve to be respected, your co-parents deserve the same thing.

The same goes for the kids themselves! Respect your children and they will respect you. By modeling this behavior, you are setting a wonderful example for how your children should treat each other and their parents.

Now, should you find it impossible to speak respectfully to your ex, Christina McGhee—divorce coach and author of Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids—recommends using one of a few highly rated mobile apps designed to help structure communication for co-parents (such as CoParenter and Truece). 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members can find more information on divorce and co-parenting as well as additional mobile apps in the Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart.
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Tip #4: Don’t Play Favorites

It’s been three months and your step-daughter still refuses to give you the time of day. You want her to like you so badly that you’d do just about anything to make her happy. That includes letting her stay up late on a school night.

Before this new union, your children have always had a strict 8 PM bedtime with little to no issues. But it seems each night your step-daughter stays over, she protests. You know you shouldn’t give in to her demands, but being a step-parent is so much harder than you ever imagined, so you cave and let her stay up a little later. Could it be worth upsetting your other children if it means getting her to like you?

We know as parents it is not our job for our children to like us…but it definitely doesn’t hurt when they do. Throw a step-child into the mix? Things get so much more complicated.

When changing up the family structure, it can be very easy to show favoritism toward certain children (intentional or not). Whether it’s giving your bonus child special privileges to get them to like you, or placing your biological children on a higher pedestal than the others, playing favorites is never a good idea.

Especially during those early days of blending families, it’s very easy for children to develop an us versus them mentality. Don’t give them any more fuel by playing into the idea that some children are more highly favored than others.

Tip #5: Limit Your Involvement in Sibling Squabbles

Your children will not always get along.

I know, shocking right? 

The thing is, many parents often forget that the same rule applies for step-siblings. Siblings fight!

The important thing for a parent isn’t necessarily figuring out how to prevent every disagreement they may have—who would have the time?—but rather knowing when to get involved in their arguments…and when to stay out.

Limit your involvement in sibling squabbles.

And how can you do that?

First things first—prepare! Make sure every child knows your expectations for how to handle arguments. (Helpful Hint: This is a great thing to cover in a Family Meeting). 

Conflict resolution skills are something every person on earth needs to have, and there is no better time to learn how to handle conflict than with a sibling. So give your kids the opportunity to fine-tune those skills and learn to work through their problems together.

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 5 for more on how to EFFECTIVELY stay out of sibling squabbles and how to turn sibling enemies into besties.

Of course, you should know when to give helpful adult intervention. Obviously, if the fight turns physical you would want to get involved. The most important thing to remember is that all of your children are siblings. So allow them to behave as just that—siblings!

stay out of fights quote

Final Thoughts

Like traditional families, blended families are faced with a myriad of challenges when it comes to parenting. But that doesn’t mean they cannot be happy, successful, and thriving when given the proper tools to do so.

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, we want to support families of all styles and we want you to succeed. We offer positive parenting strategies for the exhausted parent, the frustrated parent, the step-parent, co-parent, and more! 

Whether you are having a hard time adjusting to life with new children, wanting to know more about how to parent positively, or are simply at a loss on how to continue forward with your kids—let us offer a helping hand.

I’d be honored if you joined me for a FREE ONLINE PARENTING CLASS, where I’ll show you how to get all of your kids to listen without nagging, reminding, or yelling. 

From our family to yours, we wish you the very best of luck with this new parenting adventure!

From Potty Talk to Swearing: 10 Tips to Curb Foul Language

Young boy covering his mouth
Young boy covering his mouth

Young boy covering his mouth

OH, FUDGE!

You know how it goes… 

Your three-year-old just called you a “butt face” because you refused to give him an extra fruit snack. 

Your middle schooler muttered something a little more colorful (and offensive) as she begrudgingly took out the trash this morning.

Your teenager shouted his favorite four-letter expletive when his team lost last night’s game.

Whatever the scenario, one thing is clear: any time you hear your sweet child utter some not-so-sweet language, you cringe. 

“How did we get here?” you think.

Was it the time you laughed when your toddler first learned how funny potty language could be? Did they hear it at school? From friends? Around the house?

The truth is—just like button-pushing, power struggles, and backtalk—foul language and swearing is something all children experiment with from time to time. They try it out—just to see what kind of reaction they’ll get. 

I’ve spent years working with countless parents who’ve found themselves stuck in one parenthood dilemma or another. From yelling, to punishments, to misbehavior in general—you name it, I’ve seen it. Which is why I even offer a FREE PARENTING WEBINAR to any parent who finds themselves in the trenches looking for a better, more positive way out.

And when it comes to potty language and swearing? I’ve got you covered there, too. 

Follow these 10 tips to curb cursing and potty talk in your house…

Tip #1: Watch Your Own Language

You are your child’s first role model. 

Let that sink in for a moment. 

We say it all the time…that kids learn more from our actions than our words. And this is one of those situations in which they learn a LOT from both…how we ACT when we’re excited, frustrated, angry, hurt, you name it—and the WORDS we use to punctuate those moments.  

And let’s be honest, sometimes a swear word just fits the bill for those big emotions we’re feeling. 

In fact, studies show that swearing can actually produce a therapeutic or cathartic effect. And while it can be temporarily satisfying for us, we all know it doesn’t set the best example for our kids!

So, in an effort to be the best role model for our kids, we must be careful to present OUR best self to our kids and, of course, that means curtailing our cursing!

Curious as to how this can be done?

Find a Curse Word Alternative

To jump-start the process, decide on a G-rated replacement word or phrase to use during those stressful moments when every fiber of your being wants to swear. It will take some practice but within a few days or a week, those curse-bombs will appear less often and more positive language will start to pop up in front of your kids. 

Not only should we cut back on the swearing, but we should also be mindful of how we speak to others throughout the day and the week. Try this…

Speak With A Smile

Let’s do an experiment, shall we? It may sound simple but it’s powerful.

For one week, aim to say whatever you have to say…with a smile on your face. (Even if it’s a little fake!) 

Sounds simple, right? But I can assure you, this is so powerful! When we speak with a smile on our face we naturally communicate more positively. Not only will we find ourselves being more encouraging to others, but we’ll be less likely to respond from the gut with a curse word or an unpleasantry!

Remember, our kids are always listening (even when they don’t appear to be). So it’s important to speak respectfully to them, our parenting partner, our family, and our friends. Be a model for appropriate language. 

Oh, and beware of this … the dreaded double standard. You know the one, “I’m an adult and I’m allowed to use adult language.”  Our kids are keenly sensitive to double standards. If it’s okay for us to swear, they don’t understand why it isn’t okay for them. 

Tip #2: Use the Right Terminology for Body Parts

There is a reason why the word “butthead” is enough to send your toddler (and maybe even your older children) into a fit of laughter. It’s exciting for them!

And should you tell them not to say it? Well, nothing piques a child’s interest in a word more than being told they can’t say it. 

Although we can’t control what words they hear at school, we can control the power those words have. This can be done by minimizing our kids’ exposure to them and by taking away the excitement—that wow-factor—by simply using the correct terminology when referring to body parts. 

Want an added benefit? Teaching them the appropriate names for body parts and using them conversationally is a wonderful way to aid in the prevention of sexual abuse.

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review the advanced training module “How to Talk to Modern Kids About Sexuality” for more helpful information.

Foul Language Quote

Tip #3: Make This a Learning Opportunity

As much as we would like to raise children who never say anything negative—nevermind curse or use potty language—that just isn’t realistic. Our kids will experiment with bad words at one time or another.

Parents often ask me what are some effective and “related” consequences for swearing. Since you can’t really take away your child’s ability to use bad language, this can be rather tricky to do. 

However, you can make this a learning opportunity!

Educational Psychologist and author, Michele Borba, Ed.. suggests requiring the offender to look up a new, more appropriate word in the dictionary to replace the offensive one. They can then be asked to use that new word throughout the day in conversation or write it on an index card and teach it to the rest of the family.

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Tip #4: Don’t Overreact! 

Did you laugh hysterically when your barely-verbal two-year-old called the dog a “poopie head?” Where did he even hear that? 

And, did you blow up in epic proportion when your teen dropped his third F-bomb that morning? How could he be so disrespectful after all you do for him?

I get it. It can be so hard to keep your cool when your child decides to drop a curse word. Your “practically involuntary” responses in these situations are perfectly understandable. 

But really try to remain calm.

Unfortunately, whether our kids are toddlers, tweens, or teens, the truth is an overreaction—of any sort—creates a payoff for the behavior. Our response will likely be seen as a big win for our children, causing them to want to say it again, and again, and again…

Think about it … our kids have learned from experience that potty talk or cursing is a trigger for us. They’ve seen it push our buttons time and time again. 

So when our kids let the foul language rip, more likely than not, they’re using it as an invitation to engage us in a power struggle. They say a bad word, we react and lose our cool—reinforcing that behavior and just about guaranteeing they’ll use that language again.

It’s a vicious cycle and oh so maddening for parents. So what can we do?

Remove our reaction.

This. Is. Hard.

BUT with a little advanced preparation on our part (like with Tip #7 below!), we can actually completely remove that power payoff, simply by keeping a level head. Do this enough times and we’ll begin to hear less cursing, potty talk, and bad language coming from our child’s mouth.

Tip #5: Emphasize Family Values

I am a firm believer that every family should adhere to a set of clear and concise values and refer back to them whenever conflict arises. These can cover anything from how each member of the family is expected to partake in family contributions around the house to what language is and is not allowed.

Is your daughter’s best friend’s cousin allowed to drop an F-bomb whenever she feels like it? Be clear and concise with your child about what kind of language is and is not allowed by setting clear expectations

Explain it to her simply. “I understand that you hear other kids use that word, but in this family that kind of language is not allowed.”

Sure, we may get a few eye rolls, some grumbling, maybe even a bit of sass, but emphasizing our family’s values (and modeling them for our kids) will ensure our children know exactly what is and is not expected of them when it comes to bad language.

Pro Tip: Family meetings are a great place to set and go over your family values! For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 6 of the Parenting Success System to learn how you can use family meetings to connect, problem solve, and have FUN!

Tip #6: Understand the Situational Context

Sometimes, as parents, we can jump to conclusions while only getting a small glimpse of the whole picture.

Does your teen swear on a regular basis, or just when he is around his friends? Is stress a factor? How about anger?

For older kids who swear, it’s important to try and understand where it’s coming from. Once we determine the root of the problem, then we can dive in for a solution.

For example, if their swearing stems from anger, validate his feelings while also suggesting others ways he can communicate his feelings more respectfully.

“I can tell you’re really angry about this. I would love to talk to you about it when you’ve calmed down and we can have a respectful conversation.” 

And just know, our child’s swearing is not always a reflection of our parenting.

It can be so easy to take what they say personally, wondering just where we went wrong or how we influenced this type of behavior. But sometimes, it simply isn’t about us.

Dig a little deeper to try and get to the root of the problem. And know that you’re doing a great job.

Tip #7: Decide What YOU Will Do

You’ve tried time-outs, taking away privileges, and an endless list of consequences, but still your son refuses to stop with the potty language. 

Now here you are, trying your best to resist your well-meaning grandmother’s “bar of soap” recommendation. Still, you have to admit, you have no idea what to do next. 

The truth is, we can’t make our child actually stop using potty talk or swearing. After all, he is in control of his mouth and his voice. Short of duct-taping his mouth closed, we can’t control what comes out of it. (By the way, we do NOT advocate duct-taping!) 

So what can be done?

Take action!

Now’s the time to decide what YOU will do whenever you hear any offensive language.

One possible solution? Know when to walk away.

Let your child know that when you hear him using disrespectful language, you will turn around and walk away without saying a word. Let him know you love him too much to argue with him and you certainly wouldn’t want to say anything that you would regret later. (This models personal responsibility, by the way.)

This is NOT about letting him get away with cursing, it simply removes the “payoff” for the behavior and shows him that you deserve to be treated with respect. Don’t tolerate anything less.

In short, as parents, our actions speak much louder than our ongoing lectures.

Our actions speak louder than our ongoing lectures

Tip #8: Monitor Screen Time, Music, and Internet Use

One minute you’re happily jamming to the radio as you drive your twelve-year-old daughter to school, then the next you’re in shock, jaw on the floor as you hear her drop each lyric—curses and all—as if she were Nicki Minaj herself.

This is such a hard reality for so many parents to face, especially at this age when their children are starting to make the transition from childhood to the teenage years

Call it a harsh reality of the times, but our children are exposed to so much more than we ever were at their age. Whether it’s the lippy sass from their favorite sitcom character, the M-rating on the hottest video game on the market, or the slew of nasty comments littered across social media—there’s simply no getting around their exposure to harsh language. 

The key is to manage it!

If you’re not comfortable with the language or values being thrown at your child, it’s time to have a candid conversation with your kids. Monitor their screen time, listen to their music, and keep an eye on their internet usage. 

Now, you may be thinking, “Amy, I am already so busy. How on earth am I supposed to monitor my child’s technology on top of everything else I have to do?” 

Believe me, I understand just how impossible this may seem. But I promise you, a solution is right at your fingertips! Give my FREE PARENTING WEBINAR a try. There I’ll show you a step-by-step process for consequences you can use to monitor your child’s use of technology.

There is no need to fear the world your child is becoming more and more a part of—it will exist no matter what. But you can always be proactive in how you manage it in your own household.

Pro Tip: Worried about your child’s backlash when monitoring their screen time? Positive Parenting Solutions Members can review the “Family Technology Survival Plan” advanced training and learn how to implement technology boundaries you all feel good about—while having a solid plan for any whining, complaining or negotiating that may arise! 

Tip #9: Encourage Good Language Choices

As with anything, when you see your child making good choices, encourage them!

Did your toddler use an appropriate term for one of his body parts? 

Encourage him by saying, “Thank you for using appropriate language when talking about your body. You are really growing up!” 

Did your teenage daughter stop herself just short of cursing at her little brother to get out of her room?  

Let her know, “I see how hard you’re working at editing your language and want you to know how much I appreciate the effort.”

Encourage your children because they are making progress in the right direction. And every step—no matter how small—matters!

Tip #10: Give Legitimate Power and Control

When cursing is intentional, it’s usually a power play. Our children know it will trigger us into giving them attention. When that’s the case, the best thing we can do is find a way to give them legitimate power and age-appropriate control. 

So how can we do this? Give them a healthy dose of control over certain areas of their life. That could be picking out clothes, choosing what to have for breakfast, or picking out their favorite book to read before bed. 

For older kids, you can try giving them a little more control over how they structure their day. Would they rather do homework before dinner or after? Would they like a ride to school or to take their bike?

A child who has sufficient positive attention and opportunities to exercise power in positive ways doesn’t have to use foul language to turn our head. 

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Steps 3 and 4 of the Parenting Success System for plenty of ideas on how to empower your children without breeding entitlement. 

Final Thoughts

Children use potty language and swearing for a variety of reasons, and for most parents it can be incredibly frustrating! 

If you’re currently wading through the filth, trying to figure out how to clean up your child’s language, just know that you are not alone and help is out there. 

If the swearing and foul language are becoming more frequent and increasingly offensive, it’s probably not about the “swearing.” Most likely, your child is using bad language as a potent tool to engage in a power struggle or even as a vehicle for revenge. At this point, it’s time to dig deeper and determine what’s really behind the behavior.

Feel free to join me for a FREE CLASS to see if The 7-Step Parenting Success System is right for you. We’d love to help you through every parenting trial you face, and celebrate with you during every success!

7 Ways to Promote Good Study Habits

Tween boy doing homework at kitchen table
Tween boy doing homework at kitchen table

Tween boy doing homework at kitchen table

During our school days of yore, many of us were late-night crammers and school-project procrastinators. We chose to play outside with friends rather than finish our math homework. We dreaded huge papers and intimidating tests.

Now that we’re older and wiser—and understand the long-term payoff of homework and studying—we want our kids to have a different attitude towards schoolwork. We want them to make smart, motivated choices (see our Ultimate Guide to Motivating Your Kids!).

We want them to LOVE studying.

Okay, maybe that’s a parent’s pipe-dream. But wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Considering that most kids aren’t going to fall head-over-heels for homework and studying anytime soon, what is—realistically—the best thing that we can do to help them?

Doing well in school, no matter the grade, takes a good set of habits. It also takes diligence and determination. Learning these skills might even assist them in all of life’s responsibilities and challenges.

If we want our children to be self-motivated for success, instilling the following 7 study habits is a great place to start.

1. Remove Distractions

I’ll bet this sounds familiar.

“Alex, please just focus on your homework for 10 minutes!” 

“Riley, If you stopped goofing off, you’d already be finished with your reading assignment!”

We know that one of the biggest problems with homework isn’t our kid’s inability to do the work. It’s the avoidance. While there can be multiple reasons for this avoidance, we can combat it by removing distractions. 

It may be an obvious solution, but in our technologically-inundated households it’s becoming increasingly harder to remove diversions like cell phones, iPads, and TV. The more we do so during study hours, however, the more our students can truly concentrate on the tasks at hand.

Also, if we’re in the habit of playing background music while our students study, we should make sure to ask if it is helping or distracting them. Sometimes it can be quite helpful (like for some kids with ADHD), but other times, even soothing music disrupts a child’s concentration. 

Fewer distractions simply equates to higher quality work—and less time spent doing it!

2. Make Homework Less of a “Chore”

The most common reason for homework avoidance is that it feels too much like a chore. It’s understandably the last thing kids want to do after a long day of school. They just want to relax or play. Yet, the homework still needs to get done.

Whenever possible, instill the idea that homework can actually be fun. Or, at the very least, that it can be interesting. 

I know—you’re wondering how you could ever make thirty algebra equations even remotely intriguing or fun. Especially when kids ask, “When will I ever use this in the real world? This is useless.”

To give them a dose of practicality, consider associating school lessons with family activities. Maybe your second grader is reading about food groups for a book report. While she studies each food group, she can help plan that night’s dinner menu. Later, while serving the family an eclectic dinner representing the food groups—and their rainbow of colors—she can proudly explain what she’s learned.

If your junior high student is dreading his science project but really loves Star Wars, help him brainstorm project themes that play to this interest—like the concept of traveling at light speed—that he can embellish with his favorite Star Wars characters and stories. 

And back to those algebra equations. 

Lots of interesting, real life-examples can come into play through math (like How Can You Win Every Prize at Chuck E. Cheese’s?), so try to encourage some imagination when your kids are just staring at numbers.

It may take extra time on our part to be creative (and we’re all short on time, I know), but we’ll bank time later when they’re interested enough to cooperate and start imagining on their own. 

Not everything in life is fun, of course, and kids need to understand this. Sometimes, things just need to be done —homework included. But learning should be much more enjoyable than washing dishes and taking out the trash. And the more fun kids have with it, the more addictive it will be. 

3. Encourage Independent, Self-Learning

It seems like a cruel joke—you’ve been chauffeuring your son to school and extracurricular activities all day when you get home and realize that his Solar System project is due tomorrow!

You enlist your son’s help for about half an hour before; A) he sees your exponential effort and lets you do the work; B) he gets bored; or C) he just needs to go to bed. And, alas, you’re the one up until 11 PM finishing HIS project because you love him and want him to get a good grade.

Many of us are stuck in the habit of helping our kids—sometimes to the point of exhaustion—with their schoolwork. After all, we care.

The honest, simple fact is that kids need to do their own work. They need to see how taking time to understand and accomplish something can pay off. They need to feel empowered by the fact that getting a good grade on their Solar System project came from their own effort—not from the help of (or nagging from) their parents. Sure, we can help guide, inspire, review work, and teach our kids overall homework management, but they need to put in the most effort. End of story.

Or maybe the homework hassle at your house has escalated from mere helplessness to an all-out power struggle? Raise your hand if you (like me) have found yourself in an emotional, frustrating, angst-filled battle of wills at the kitchen table. 

Whether we’ve been banging our heads trying to understand the new way they’re doing math (Common Core, anyone?) or relating all too well with the video parody We Can’t Help With Homework Anymore (because we’ve just plain forgotten!), the more independent our kids’ efforts are, the more we all win.

Even kindergarteners can be encouraged to do their homework as single-handedly as possible. As soon as they can read their own instructions, they have all the information they need to complete the task. Plus, the younger they learn, the easier managing their increasing workload will be.

Please Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please review our battle-tested blueprint, Help With Homework Hassles for more strategies to take the stress out of homework time.

Ultimate Guide for Motivating Kids

4. Use a When-Then Routine

Things run smoothly when homework becomes a part of the daily schedule. Structuring the routine into a “When-Then” format allows homework to be completed before the distractions come back into the picture and your child pursues other activities. 

You can present the schedule as When you’ve finished your homework, then you can use the phone.” or When you’ve practiced your spelling words, then you can play outside.” 

Give your child some input into the daily “then” activity, and solidify it by sticking to the routine every day.

Routines are powerful because they let kids know what to expect. They aren’t surprised by suddenly being told it’s time for homework when they’re in the middle of an Iron Man vs. Barbie battle or an online video game with friends.

Using a When-Then Routine also helps homework feel less like a chore. It’s not an extra, unpleasant activity—it’s just a normal part of the daily checklist. It also involves a lot less nagging, because the When-Then Routine becomes the boss and the reminder—not us. 

5. Instill Time Management

Having a studying routine is also a great way to learn time management—a crucial, life-long skill. Young kids encouraged to carve out time for homework in daily routines are more likely to continue doing so in high school and college. 

Setting timers can help kids dedicate a concrete amount of time to their work. Visual timers like the Time Timer are helpful for kids that struggle to focus and/or misunderstand the flow of time. They also help kids manage transitions. 

Time Timer

The Time Timer

Additionally, if our kids are wiggly, antsy, and unwilling to concentrate during scheduled study time, consider built-in breaks. These can be especially helpful for kids with ADHD. 

Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions members, check out the battle-tested blueprint, Homework Skills for Kids with ADHD/EFD. You’ll learn life-changing homework strategies for kids with learning differences and without.

Your child might also benefit from an after-school snack or a quick break with a Dog Man comic book before starting homework. Although it’s easier to use the When-Then tool before they begin the more enjoyable parts of their day, some kids simply need to take breaks to maximize focus. We can try out different timing with each of our kids to see what works best. 

If you feel like your kids are being assigned an unmanageable amount of homework, don’t be afraid to discuss this with their teachers. Many parents request to opt-out of homework because they don’t feel it’s benefiting their child. The point of homework and studying should be to supplement school work and teach good study habits, but if it’s too much of a burden, it can produce resentment and anxiety

Monitoring a healthy, routine timeline for homework in our children’s after-school schedules will protect their relationship with learning, reinforce time-management, and decrease procrastination. 

6. Help Kids Embrace Failure & Be Constructive

When kids do their own homework and study independently, they are bound to make more mistakes, fail some tests, and even get some bad grades: all of which can be difficult for us to allow and see. 

Embracing—even encouraging—failure is becoming harder in our society. We’re focused on the competition and coming in on top. However, letting our children make mistakes and turn wrong answers into learning opportunities is an invaluable, life-long skill.

Let our children make mistakes quote

Reviewing our children’s homework with them is a great way to acknowledge their hard work while keeping an eye out for any difficulties they’re having. If we choose to do this, we need to be sure to keep the focus on the effort put into the work, not just the mistakes they may have made. We need to encourage their progress. 

If your child doesn’t want you to review her homework, that’s perfectly fine. She will receive feedback from the teacher on the assignment which will be highly instructive. In fact, most kids will remember the incorrect answers better than the answers they got right. 

Even basic tasks like failing to put their names on their homework or forgetting to bring their homework to school are great learning opportunities. If they don’t get credit for the work they forgot, they likely won’t make the same mistake twice. And the less we’re involved, the more they’ll notice all these necessary steps (plus, they can’t lay the blame on us)!

7. Avoid Rewards

Offering rewards is a common and tempting way to help homework-resistant kids get their work done.

The problem with this tactic, however, is that it focuses on short-term motivation. 

Promising our third grader a handful of Oreo cookies if he completes his book report isn’t motivating him to be interested in the subject he’s reading. His thoughts are only of the sugary end-result. Similarly, if we pay our high-school students for their good grades, they are only motivated by money. Whatever they need to learn or complete to earn that money isn’t valued. 

And beyond the enjoyment of learning, the critical, crowning achievement of their completed homework and good grades—hard work—is either disregarded or overlooked.

If we want self-motivated learners, they need to accept—and respect—the process of work itself. They need to feel empowered by their effort. Alternatively, kids rewarded for accomplishments can grow up with an attitude of entitlement. They may be less likely to pour in the hard work, sweat, and tears that are required.

Whenever we feel the urge to promise a reward in exchange for studying, we can opt for the When-Then Routine instead. When they complete a task, then they can do something else. 

A When-Then Routine isn’t a reward, because the “Then” is not something special or out of the ordinary. It’s not a bribe. The “Then” of a When-Then routine is a regularly occurring event—such as leaving for soccer practice. We are simply controlling the order in which that event can be enjoyed. 

Parents worldwide hail the Positive Parenting Solutions When-Then Routine as a life-saver because it motivates kids to get the “yucky” stuff done without expectation and entitlement

When Homework Isn’t Challenging

There are a lot of intelligent kids out there who are simply underwhelmed by schoolwork. It’s too easy, boring, and uninspiring. They may do well on their tests without having to study, but they hate doing homework. 

Again, don’t be afraid to discuss your child’s workload—or work difficulty—with her teacher. Children enjoy a challenge because of the good feeling that results from figuring something out. 

We want kids to be inspired by learning—and certainly never bored. As an equal partner in your child’s education, don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for more challenging activities for your student to work on at home. Or, you can find loads of websites with engaging at-home learning activities.

Kids with ADHD (and Other Learning Differences)

Kids with learning differences like ADHD and dyslexia can greatly benefit from the same habits we’ve already discussed: this includes routines, timers, and study breaks. 

The main thing to remember is while we all need to tailor study to our kids’ individual personalities and needs, kids with learning differences may need additional outside-of-the-box ideas. There are many excellent online ideas and resources for keeping kids with learning differences engaged, like these helpful planners for time management.

Daily academic planner from Order Out of Chaos

Please Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please review: Taming Homework Madness: Systems and Strategies for Students with ADHD

Final Thoughts

The strategies in this article are designed to improve your kids’ study habits, but even the best ideas can’t guarantee they will love doing their homework. When the whining starts, we can empathize so they know we’re on their team: “I get it! It’s no fun to stay inside doing homework on such a nice day!” 

If the whining won’t let up, just tune it out. Ignore the fussing and complaining about homework. Complaints will happen, and responding to them will only encourage our kids to keep them coming. Instead, fostering their internal motivation by connecting effort to results helps our children tackle homework and studying more positively.

It’s a simple approach that might, just might…trigger a lifetime love of learning.

Want kids that are self-starters? I assure you, it’s possible! Check out our Ultimate Guide to Motivating Your Kids.

Tantrums at All Ages: What is normal?

Kid banging their fist against a wall
Kid banging their fist against a wall

Kid banging their fist against a wall

“I want a candy bar!” 

Your 2-year-old daughter stands screaming in the middle of the grocery store checkout line as you look on in shock. With tears flowing, fists clenched, and her piercing wail echoing throughout the entire store, she is the absolute center of attention. 

Your 9-year-old son sits in the backseat of your minivan, his arms folded across his chest in pure defiance. He had wanted to go to the mall with his friends by himself, but you insisted on going as a chaperone. 

“I promise, I will keep my distance,” you assure him. “You’re simply too young to go alone.”

However, your assurance does little to change his attitude. After spending the entire drive yelling at you for being so unfair, he’s now giving you the silent treatment. 

Your 16-year-old storms out of the house, slamming the door behind her as she makes her exit. “You’re being completely unfair!” she yells over her shoulder. 

All you had asked her to do was to fill up the car with gas after she finished using it. Was that so unreasonable?

***

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

You made it through the Terrible Twos, survived the Threenage years, and held on tight through all of the turmoil your Fournado brought about. Then, just when you thought the worst was behind you, you realized the cold, hard truth.

Tantrums happen.

Anytime. Anywhere. And at any age.

Join Amy for a Free Class
As a parenting educator, I’ve seen this time and time again. Exhausted parents wondering when their children will finally stop throwing tantrums. And for good reason! No one dislikes a tantrum more than a parent.

While there are plenty of tactics and tools parents can use to prevent temper tantrums from happening, there is no hard and clear rule that says tantrums are limited to a certain age group. 

In fact, even adults give in to the occasional tantrum every now and then.

While tantrums may happen at every age, they begin to look different as children grow. The crocodile tears and high pitched screams suddenly turn into eye rolls and slammed doors. The possibilities are endless and can be endlessly confusing for a stressed-out parent. 

So whether you have a toddler, a preschooler, a tween, or a teen, there is no better time to take a deeper look at tantrums through the ages than right now. Because when you have a better understanding of the role tantrums play at different ages, you’ll start to learn how to handle each one specifically; making your life—and your child’s—much less chaotic.

Toddler Tantrums (Ages 12 months to 4)

You are six months into being a parent of two and, so far, you are absolutely loving it!

Watching your 3-year-old become a big sister was nothing short of a dream come true, and now you feel as though you’re finally starting to fall into a comfortable groove as a family. Still, the honeymoon phase of having a new baby has come to an end as you’ve noticed a bit of jealousy coming from your oldest. 

It’s not that she doesn’t love her sister—in fact, she adores her—but it’s clear the baby’s newness is starting to wear off. You knew this would happen eventually, it’s only natural. Yet, as you watch your daughter kicking and screaming on the nursery floor, you feel unprepared to handle the situation. 

What happened?

One minute she was perfectly fine, the next a wreck. After noticing her baby sister play with a noisy toy piano—a toy that used to be hers, no less—she lost her temper and a tantrum quickly ensued.

“But that’s my toy!” she wails.

“Honey, you’re too big for that toy. It’s for babies.” 

You try to reason with her, but that only makes the tantrum worse

Yes, toddler tantrums can thrust any parent into a panic and have the ability to turn a perfectly good day into a total disaster. Still, you can’t say you weren’t warned… 

It seems everyone from your great aunt Mildred to the random cashier at the grocery store have been uttering warnings since the moment you announced a baby was on the way. 

You understand that tantrums are simply a part of the territory—especially during those early years—and you’ve known they were coming. The crying, the whining, the kicking, the screaming. From grocery store meltdowns to strategic manipulation, toddler tantrums come in many shapes and sizes.

Fortunately, you are not alone in your desire to end toddler tantrums. At Positive Parenting Solutions, we offer plenty of resources to help you navigate the early years. With some support and a little patience (okay, maybe a lot), you will be taming tantrums from big to small in no time.

School-Aged Tantrums (Ages 5 to 12)

You swore it would never happen but it did. They went and changed math.

You thought 2 + 2 = 4, but it looks so different now. It’s longer and so much more complicated. This is not the math you remember doing in elementary school. 

But times have changed. Now, you are forced to sit through at least an hour of torment each evening at the kitchen table, as you try and help your 8-year-old son figure it out as well.

Unfortunately, every night has become an uphill battle that usually ends in a fight between the two of you. He hates math and you’re not the biggest fan of it either.

Frustrated, you press him to work through each problem, urging him to try and understand—for you to understand. Eventually, he reaches his breaking point.

The math book slams shut, his pencil goes flying, and tears start to streak his cheeks. 

“I can’t do this!” he yells as he marches off to his bedroom. With the slam of his door, you hang your head in defeat. 

Something has to change.

It may look a little different than a few years ago, but this is a prime example of your son having, you guessed it—a temper tantrum! 

For most families, temper tantrums have tapered off dramatically by the time their child enters school. With age comes maturity and a stronger handle on mastering their big emotions.

Still, after-school meltdowns may still happen. Sometimes often. And why wouldn’t they? School is stressful after all!

Of course, no kid wants to have a meltdown at school for all of his classmates and teachers to witness. So he holds back, waiting for the moment he walks through the front door into his own home. His safe space. 

To you.

Oh friends, I know exactly how you feel. Especially when you hear great things about your child’s behavior all day, only to experience nothing but attitude, sass, and backtalk the moment he arrives home. Talk about frustrating!

It’s easy to see these tantrums as nothing more than your child exhibiting disrespectful, bratty behavior. But be careful not to judge too quickly! 

Tantrums happen for a reason. Although they may be more emotionally stable now than when they were toddlers, kids at this age are still working to get a handle on their big emotions—a task that takes years to master.

I encourage you to take a step back, show some grace, and approach these tantrums just as you did when he was younger. Help him to work through his emotions when he starts to melt down. Ignore any attempts at manipulation.

Above all else, be calm when he cannot. Over time, you will begin to see these new tantrums start to diminish.

And should you find yourself still scratching your head, lost in confusion? No need to worry! Here at Positive Parenting Solutions we offer a free webinar to help you understand not only why your kids misbehave, but how to help them. 

Teenage Tantrums

“This is completely unfair!” your daughter screams. 

Slam! Her bedroom door closes with such force the sound alone is enough to rattle your bones, not to mention your last nerve.

She had asked to go to a party Friday night—a party you know will have no adult supervision. As much as you appreciate her coming to you first, you had to say no.

You find yourself torn. 

She’s sixteen and has shown an impressive level of maturity in the past few months. Naturally, you want to cast a wider net, giving her a little room to grow. Then again, she’s only sixteen, and her safety is as important to you now as the day you brought her home from the hospital.

So you patiently wait outside her bedroom door, allowing her (and yourself) a bit of time to cool off. Then you give the door a soft knock, hoping she will let you in.

Is there anything quite like a good old-fashioned teenage temper tantrum?

The truth of the matter is, tantrums look much different now than they did in those early years. Gone are the days of big crocodile tears, howling screams, and even physical aggression (thankfully!). But you’re certainly not out of the woods just yet.

Because this is where the attitude comes in. I’m talking about the eye rolls, the silent treatments, and, of course, the dreaded door slams.

The teenage years, in particular, can be a very turbulent time. With one foot planted firmly in childhood while the other steps anxiously into adulthood, your teen is stuck. Stuck between relying on you for everything and wanting to be independent. Stuck navigating the emotions of an adult with only the experience of a child. 

When you think about it that way, tantrums in the teenage years make a lot of sense.

When she was a toddler and had a tantrum, maybe you gave her a big hug and helped her work through her emotions. Or maybe you ignored it altogether. Now, as a teen, you find yourself needing to adjust your strategy a bit.

Now you want to focus on building trust. It may seem impossible, but having a trusting relationship with your teen will work wonders in getting them to open up and come to you when life’s problems seem to be piling up.

Eat dinner together, go on family walks, teach them how to drive. Make sure the time you have together—however little it may be these days—is filled with purpose. Talk and open up the lines of communication. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is once your teen feels like she can trust you with what she has to say.

And when tantrums do happen? Follow your gut!

Ignore the outburst when it feels manipulative. Give them a hug and help them work it out when it’s the result of an emotionally trying time. This is the age when most parents report feeling furthest from the child, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Despite their pushes, this is the time to help your near-adult child navigate some particularly muddy waters. After all, a teenage temper tantrum is not so different from your own occasional meltdown. 

There are just a few added hormones thrown in.

Final Thoughts

Toddler, tweens, and teens—it makes no difference! Tantrums happen at any time, any place, and any age. And no matter who you are or how long you’ve been a parent, dealing with your child’s temper tantrum is never an easy thing to do. 

However, we are here to help! Having an understanding of how tantrums differ (and sometimes are the same) at different ages is important in learning how to handle them. 

The Positive Parenting Solutions course is filled with useful tools and strategies to help you deal with temper tantrums of every kind, in every place, with every age.

Not sure if we’re right for you? You can always test us out first!

I encourage you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS where I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

I assure you, no matter how old your kids are, it is never too early or too late to learn how to tame the dreaded temper tantrum. We promise to give you the right tools and unending support.

When Children Grieve: What to Expect from Toddlers to Teens

little girl standing in a cemetery of gravestones
little girl standing in a cemetery of gravestones

little girl standing in a cemetery of gravestones

When grief has seized control of our lives, we want to know—how long will the suffering last? When children grieve, the question becomes even more imperative.

Will the nightmares ever subside?

Will my son find joy in playing his instrument again?

Will my daughter smile again during our family game night?

We can’t bear to see them in pain any longer than necessary—let alone at all. 

Unfortunately, grief has no exact expiration. Nor does it play by the rules. The depth and duration depends on each child and each situation. And at least a portion of grief can stay with a child forever.

Many of us are familiar with the commonly referenced stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But perhaps fewer of us know that these grief stages, which can also be seen in children, aren’t set in stone. In fact, it would be rare for grief to ever appear exactly as these stages describe or in such a specific order. 

So, what can we expect from children mourning tragedy, death, and loss? 

Re-Defining the Phases of Grief

Perhaps the best way to define the progression of grief is that we can’t define it. Yet one reason the five stages of grief have become so widespread could be the sense of structure and reliability they convey. They offer sufferers specific feelings to look for and expect.

Even though we’ve established that grief follows no guidelines, it’s easy to understand that people still want a concrete prescription to turn to. One possible alternative is Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s 6 Needs of Mourning

In it, he describes what all mourners experience at some point along their journey. This includes: acknowledging the reality of the death, embracing the pain of the loss, remembering the person who died, developing a new self-identity, searching for meaning, and receiving ongoing support from others. 

While we can look for and recognize the processes our grieving children are going through, there are other common grief responses that children exhibit. 

The intensity of these responses can vary, and they likely won’t appear in a particular order. The emotions stemming from their grief may also range from confused, scared, and angry to anxious, depressed, and numb—and everything in between. 

Progression of grief definition

Typical Grief Responses in Children

Regression in Behavior and at School

A certain amount of regression in grieving children is normal. A night-trained 6-year old might start bedwetting, or a 4-year-old might start sucking his thumb. 

A twelve-year-old that kicked the whining habit years ago might start up again. A teenager might forego her usual chores or avoid any extra responsibilities.

Unfortunately, behavior and progress at school can alter just as much as it does at home. A well-behaved pre-schooler might start getting in trouble by pushing friends on the playground or being disruptive at circle time. An advanced, all “A”s high-school student might start failing classes or forget to attend his extracurricular activities. 

While we want to keep our kids on track as much as possible, we can be assured that the sudden setbacks are very likely a result of the grief they’re weathering. They’re simply overwhelmed—both mentally and emotionally. 

It may be hard to see regression as anything but negative, but allowing grieving children some leniency is important. We can also remind ourselves that as children work through grief at their own pace, they’ll eventually return to the same level of success, independence, and functionality they had before their loss. 

Separation Anxiety/Clinginess

Grief is a time when children may not want to be left alone. Little ones might cry when we leave the house—or even leave the room—more than they once did. Older kids could choose to tag along with us on errands they’ve avoided before. 

When overcome with grief, children might find solitude not only intimidating, but unbearable. Maybe, after the loss of an older family member, they have a heightened fear of being abandoned. Or, perhaps they’re just afraid of their thoughts. Regardless, any needy, helpless, and unusually attached behavior reflects a need for companionship and emotional connection. 

Letting our kids stick by our side, and even enlisting the help of family and friends to play with or “hang out” with grieving kids can give them the extra dose of care, affection, and even distraction they desire. 

It’s also common for grieving kids to connect with a person, either a familiar face or a new one, that reminds them of a lost loved one. This can be beneficial and might fill a void—just as long as it’s understood that their loved one can never be fully replicated or replaced (which would also be an unfair—and impossible—standard for anyone to live up to).

Apathy or Withdrawal 

It’s not unusual for children to sometimes act as though a loss never even occurred. 

While children may appear unaffected by tragedy, death, or loss, this is likely far from the case. Maybe they’re unwilling to confront the loss just yet, can only handle grief for brief spurts of time, or are modeling the restrained reactions of their parents or caregivers. 

Children can also step in and out of grief more easily than adults. 

“Children’s grief is like jumping in and out of puddles. They can be very sad one minute and very happy the next. You need to give them opportunities to be both.”

Julia Samuel, British psychotherapist and counselor. 

So while kids might be playful and acting normally one minute, they can also withdraw socially from friends and avoid activities the next. 

They may also seem numb to things around them—like being uninterested in the fun day at the water park you’ve planned, the movie their friends are attending, or the fact that grandpa and grandma are flying in for a visit. In this case, the grief—like depression—is taking the joy out of normally pleasurable events. 

On some level this is normal, especially considering the recency of the loss. But it’s always good to keep a close eye on signs of depression and anxiety. If you’re concerned, consider finding your child a counselor or therapist. 

Physical Ailments & Sleep/Appetite Disturbances

We know that common stressors can keep us up all night, morph into back and shoulder pain, and even appear as bodily tics and twitches. 

Imagine what grief can do.

We can expect a certain amount of sleeplessness, nightmares, and/or night terrors from a grieving child. We can expect a loss of appetite or bingeing on comfort foods. 

But we can also see grief in a variety of physical ailments. It might be a teenager’s headache that has lasted for days or a toddler’s frequently upset tummy. 

It’s helpful to know these physical responses can be common; but again, it’s important to see a doctor when we have concerns.

Guilt

Guilt is very common amongst anyone grieving death and loss, and children are no exception. 

Younger children, when they don’t fully understand the concepts of death, may feel they’re responsible for the loss—especially when they’re wired to be more preoccupied with their own needs and have the belief that everything in the world revolves around them. 

A preschooler who hit her friend—after she stole her toy last week—may feel she’s the reason her young friend tragically passed away.  

Older kids are also susceptible to guilt. A teenager who gave his friend the cold shoulder last month may feel partly to blame when that depressed, bullied friend takes his own life.

Naturally, it’s of ultimate importance to remind children that they are not responsible for these tragic events. We need to also consider that it may take time and additional resources—like consistent counseling—for them to understand this fact. 

Interest in Death

Grieving kids might ask questions about tragedy and loss repeatedly. Young kids might become interested in dead things like the upside-down beetle in the driveway and the lifeless bird on the porch. Older children might become drawn to darker themes in books, music, movies, and video games. 

Even kids that aren’t dealing with grief are commonly obsessed with the morbid and bleak. They are trying to understand the world around them and the challenging concepts that even adults fail to grasp. 

A loved one’s death or personal loss just intensifies these questions.

Risk-Taking & Aggression

One of the most distressing aspects of grief is the possibility that children will internalize it in a negative way. 

Older children, especially, might engage in risky behavior. “They may drive recklessly, get into fights, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use drugs. They may become involved in sexual activity or delinquency.” After a Loved One Dies—How Children Grieve by David J Schonfeld, MD

Younger children can also express their grief through hostility and/or self-harm. A 5-year-old girl struggling with anger from her parents’ divorce might start bullying her younger brother or try pulling out her own hair.  

Aggression, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts can all emerge during times of grief. Naturally, it’s imperative to intervene in any of these situations with professional assistance as quickly as possible.

Psychological Changes

Another serious concern is the prospect of grief leaving life-long, psychological implications. Children are still developing mentally—with rapidly evolving brains, personalities, and intellect—and it’s possible that grief can leave an intense, life-shaping impression.

Studies of adults with various mental disorders, especially depression, frequently reveal childhood bereavement, suggesting that such loss may precipitate or contribute to the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders and that this experience can render a person emotionally vulnerable for life. This special vulnerability of children is attributed to developmental immaturity and insufficiently developed coping capacities.- Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences, and Care

Regardless of these implications, please don’t be disheartened. By no means is it a foregone conclusion that children struck by tragedy, death, and loss will have challenging futures

On the contrary, grief can strengthen children and give them a greater appreciation for the beauty and complexity of life. But, grieving children do need appropriate support from loved ones and constructive coping mechanisms to shape their grief as positively as possible. The book Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences, and Care, states that children with a reliable adult addressing their needs—including the need to explore and express feelings of grief—can adapt and overcome loss in a healthy, positive way.

Disenfranchised and Secondary Grief

Disenfranchised Grief

Not all grief comes from death or tragedy. Children can feel intense sorrow from a variety of other situations and need to process these changes the same way other grievers do. 

This is called disenfranchised grief.

It’s so-named because the cause of this grief isn’t considered—at least by society at large—a “justifiable” reason to mourn. Regardless, it is felt acutely by the person it affects and can’t simply be dismissed or ignored.

A 3-year-old could experience disenfranchised grief after the death of her pet gerbil. It could be a foster child distraught over moving to a new home. Maybe it’s your teenager, devastated after his girlfriend broke up with him. Or, it could be a preteen struggling with the reaction she received when she told her parents she’s gay.

No one, especially a parent, has the right to tell a child that his or her feelings are unworthy, unnecessary, or insignificant. No matter the cause, our feelings are often out of our control. This is especially true for children still learning to manage their raw emotions. Teaching a child how to cope with grief, rather than dismiss it, will help them more than anything. 

Secondary Loss/Grief

Secondary losses result from a primary loss. Essentially, they’re the collateral damage produced by death, tragedy, and grief. 

If your 10-year-old daughter just had to move to a new school due to your recent divorce from her father, the grief she feels from the loss of her school and friends would be secondary to the loss she feels from the divorce.  

Just like disenfranchised grief, secondary losses may not be accepted or appreciated for their potential severity. If we are aware of them, however, we can better prepare our children and ourselves to cope with these added stressors.

The secondary losses and disenfranchised grief of a family member or friend can also affect a child. We all know that depression doesn’t just hurt the people it affects. It harms all of the people that love them, too. So when a child’s parent or caregiver is grieving, whether it’s about bankruptcy, the death of a coworker, or a crisis of faith, children may grieve, too. 

When to Seek Help

If all of these grief responses are common, when is it important to seek help? Especially if there are no set guidelines or timelines for grief?

Again, any signs of aggression or self-harm need to be addressed by a mental health specialist immediately. But for other common, less severe responses, the answer is less clear.

One of the best indicators that our children are progressing healthily through grief is when the intensity and frequency of their grief responses lessens over time. If our teenager is averaging a little more sleep each week, he is improving. If our 5-year-old daughter starts playing with her friends despite frequent tears, then she is recovering.

But, what if symptoms persist—or escalate? 

According to the Child Mind Institute, “…symptoms that persist beyond six months or are very impairing can indicate that your child may need professional help to overcome her grief.” 

These symptoms can include the more common grief responses; from sleep and appetite disturbances to regression and apathy. If they worsen or linger longer than the six-month time frame, it’s time to seek professional help from a grief counselor, support group, or psychiatrist. 

Final Thoughts

Loss is both heart-wrenching and unavoidable at some point in all of our lives. While we hope our children will avoid exposure to death and loss in their childhood, we can’t always protect them from life’s most painful realities.

It could be a few weeks before they crack a smile or a few months before they laugh out loud. To a certain degree, some of the grief will always be a part of them. 

But with our help and love, grief will never define them.

Two Types of Tantrums: How to Tell the Difference

Young girl lying on ground having a tantrum
Young girl lying on ground having a tantrum

Young girl lying on ground having a tantrum

It’s 8 AM on a busy Monday morning and, once again, you are late for school drop-off because your six-year-old daughter is refusing to get dressed. 

“I want to wear my pink polka-dot shirt!” she wails.

“I’m sorry sweetie, but it’s in the wash. You’ll have to pick something else.”

You go through this every morning. Same problem, different outfit. You want her to be independent, so you allow her to pick out her own clothes, but lately it just feels like one power struggle after another.

“But I want to wear it!” she yells, stomping her foot on the ground.

You take a deep breath and watch as the tantrum unfolds. She grabs a handful of clean clothes and throws them across the room, then sits on the floor in defiance, her face red with anger.

You wonder, how should I handle this?

Oh friend, I know where you are because I have been there myself. Frustrated parents from all walks of life have called out for help, which is why we created this FREE PARENTING WEBINARto help parents stay calm in exhausting situations just like this. 

As your own temper starts to rise you fight the urge to scream back at her. You’ve had enough of these outbursts and want nothing more than to walk away, slamming the door behind you. She has to learn that this kind of bratty behavior will not be tolerated anymore.

But is it truly bratty behavior? Is your daughter just trying to manipulate you into letting her wear the outfit she wants—maybe even skip school?

Or is this a different type of tantrum?

Believe it or not, not all tantrums are created equal. Science actually tells us that there are two very different, yet very specific types of tantrums that are determined by which area of the brain is firing at the time.

Think of it like a house…

The Whole-Brain Child

You don’t have to be a world-class architect to know that every worthwhile home must be built on a solid foundation. Progress starts from the ground level, with each layer being built upon the one before it.

Our brains operate in much the same way, with both an upstairs and a downstairs component.

In Daniel J. Siegel’s and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole-Brain Child, they bring forth the notion that the human brain—particularly a child’s—is like a two-story house. Even though the upstairs and downstairs portions are both parts of the same whole, they have vastly different purposes.

This makes a lot of sense when it comes to how your child’s brain is wired. Just like a house under construction, the downstairs portion of their brain—responsible for emotion and decision-making—is developed first. The upstairs portion of the brain—responsible for higher-thinking and impulse control—takes much longer to construct. 

When your child has a tantrum, you can determine the type based on which portion of their brain is in use—the upstairs or downstairs. Understanding where the tantrum stems from will help you handle the situation appropriately.

Note: Looking for more helpful parenting resources? Be sure to check out my list of Best Parenting Books: Top Picks for 2020.

Downstairs/Meltdown Tantrums

Imagine…

You’re at the mall with your five-year-old son. 

After a sleepless night spent tending to his scary dreams, the two of you had a hard time getting going this morning. You needed to run a few errands around town, so you handed him a granola bar and rushed him out the door. 

The weather was gloomy and it started to downpour, backing up traffic all across town—why did you decide to go out today? To avoid the traffic, you chose to stop at the mall and wait out the storm.

You walk inside, dripping water on the floor, chilled to the bone. That’s when he spots it—the horse carousel. It’s his absolute favorite ride.

“Mommy, can I ride the horse? Please!”

It’s been such a rough day you figure you’ll treat him to a ride. However, when you pull out your wallet you find it empty of change.

“I’m sorry, honey,” you say. “I don’t have any money. You can’t ride today.”

His face darkens as he sticks out his bottom lip.

“But I want to ride it,” he says quietly.

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

Suddenly, big tears begin to roll down his cheeks as heaving sobs rise up from his chest. He falls to the floor and slams his little fists into the tile.

You start to notice people staring—he doesn’t.

You try to pull him up into a hug, but his body goes limp as he cries even louder. As much as you try to stop the tantrum, nothing seems to work. Quickly, you pick him up and carry him toward the door.

All you want right now is to help him calm down. The whole situation leaves you feeling helpless and sympathetic.

*****

So what happened?

After a rough night with little sleep, and an even rougher morning with little food, your son hit a wall…and lost it.

This would be an example of a downstairs tantrum. Also known as a meltdown.

Just like a house, the downstairs portion of the brain was built first. It’s been there since birth helping control basic functions and emotions, such as flight or fight, anger, and sadness.

Naturally, the downstairs brain is very easily affected by outside conditions. In this case, the combination of little sleep from the night before and a rushed morning without much food meant a meltdown was not only possible, it was highly likely to happen. Not getting to ride the horse was simply the catalyst that set the tantrum in motion.

Helpful Tip: If you are a frustrated parent who has experienced more than their fair share of tantrums, please try out our free online webinar, where you’ll learn why your kids misbehave, how to institute effective consequences, and so much more.

Upstairs/Manipulative Tantrums

Now imagine…

You’re at the mall with your five-year-old son. 

After sleeping in this morning, the two of you enjoyed a filling breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon, before hitting the road to run some errands around town.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the traffic was light—all the ingredients for a perfect day—so you decided to make one more stop at the mall to enjoy lunch at your son’s favorite restaurant.

As you’re leaving the restaurant he spots the little horse carousel a few shops down. It’s his absolute favorite ride.

“Mommy, can I ride the horse? Please!”

He’s been so good today, you figure you’ll treat him to a ride. However, when you pull out your wallet you find it empty of change.

“I’m sorry, honey,” you say. “I don’t have any money. You can’t ride today.”

Suddenly, your sweet, well-behaved little boy is nowhere to be seen.

“But I want to ride it!” he yells.

You start to notice people staring—and so does he. This only further ignites his need to make a scene. He rushes over to the horse and hops on, wrapping his arms tightly around the neck.

“I won’t leave until I have a ride!” he yells.

With cheeks flushed, you lift him off the horse and start pulling him toward the door. He lets his body go limp and crumples to the floor. You can do nothing but stand beside him, wide-eyed in disbelief at how his attitude so quickly shifted.

You are frustrated, annoyed, and absolutely embarrassed by his behavior.

So much for your perfect day.

*****

Your son had a great night’s sleep, a full belly, and a good attitude. So what happened?

This would be an example of an upstairs tantrum. Also known as a manipulative tantrum. 

This type of tantrum is generally a display of power, used by the child to manipulate his parents into giving him what he wants. In this case, a ride on his favorite carousel.

It’s this portion of the brain that your son uses for higher thinking and planning, hence the manipulation factor. He knew—probably from past experience—that a public tantrum could get him what he wanted and acted accordingly.

Ironically enough, this same portion of the brain controls his ability to think calmly. But because it’s so much more sophisticated than the downstairs, it takes much longer to develop. In fact, your son’s upstairs brain won’t fully mature until he is in his twenties!

This also explains why meltdowns happen. When the upstairs brain isn’t working properly, it’s very easy for a child’s brain to lose control, unable to grasp the ability to calm down and think rationally. 

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Which Tantrum is Which?

Although there are two types of toddler temper tantrums, spotting the difference can be tricky. But knowing the difference is key because each one must be handled differently.

So how do you know which is which? Believe it or not, the biggest factor comes down to you—NOT your child.

That’s right. I’m talking about your reaction to the tantrum itself. How does it make you feel?

When your child’s tantrum leaves you feeling helpless or sympathetic, there’s a good chance it’s a downstairs tantrum. 

Why? Because the meltdown is something your child really cannot help. They don’t want to misbehave, but without the help of a mature upstairs brain, they simply cannot control their emotions.

It’s your job to help them work through their big emotions and be the calm to their storm. 

Kids do well if they can

However, when the tantrum leaves you feeling frustrated, angry, or irritated, it is most likely an upstairs tantrum. You know you are being manipulated.

Final Thoughts

As parents, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a toddler tantrum at one point in time. There’s nothing quite like them. 

Whether they happen in public—where it feels like every eye is glaring at you—or in the privacy of your own home, it’s never pretty. And certainly never easy. 

Having an understanding of which type of tantrum you are dealing with can help tremendously. Especially, if you have the right tools to deal with them. 

Fortunately, the Positive Parenting Solutions course is filled with useful tools and strategies to help you deal with temper tantrums of every kind, in every place, with every age.

Feel free to test us out first by JOINING ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS where I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

Upstairs or downstairs. Big or small. Toddler or teen. It doesn’t matter what type of tantrum, I assure you, there is hope for each one. Especially when you’ve got the right tools in your belt and the right support to help you out.