How to Talk to Kids About Politics

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Girl wearing an American flag like a super hero

Election year is here, and from now until November, politics will infiltrate everything from yard signs and commercials to TikToks and Instagram posts. 

As adults, we may be prepared for the onslaught of electrically charged insults and accusations from both sides–or, at the very least, we’re used to it. 

But we can’t expect our kids to be oblivious to the media blitz. Or, unaffected by it. 

So, when the country is awash with opposing views, how do we talk to our children about politics and set an example of civility–especially when politicians themselves are often the ones acting like kids? 

Read on for answers to commonly asked questions and some helpful DOs and DON’Ts… 

How Much Do We Share or Shield Our Kids From in Politics?

Politics, in its most general sense, is a safe subject to discuss with kids. Imparting the importance of voting for what we believe in is essential for a healthy democracy. 

But what is too much? Where do we draw the line between what our kids should and shouldn’t be politically exposed to? 

To protect kids from confusion and angst surrounding politics, it’s important to follow a few communication ground rules with them. 

1. No Name-Calling or Demonizing the Other Side 

The goal is to teach our kids to have a healthy “tolerance for disagreement”–that is, the ability to engage with people who have a different opinion or worldview from their own without becoming defensive or angry. Adopting this attitude of acceptance will guide them through conflict and disagreements the rest of their lives. 

But with politics so polarizing, it’s commonplace to call the other side “crazy” or “extreme.” But the reality is complicated. And because most kids have family members with different political views, they need to understand that both sides deserve equal consideration and respect.   

Not only is demonizing the other side disrespectful, but it can create stress and even fear in children. They may experience anxiety when parents use hyperboles or ultra-negative expressions about what will happen if an opposing candidate wins, for instance. (i.e. “There’s no hope for America if that happens!” or “I’ll move to a different country if they win the election!“)

Name-calling and disparaging the other side also teaches kids that it’s okay to judge and criticize others–as opposed to listening and considering alternative views. 

2. Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Want Repeated to the Teacher

Remember that kids are like parrots and they will likely repeat what you say! If your comments about politicians or hot-button issues would be inappropriate for your child to repeat to the principal or your neighbor, your language is likely too incendiary to use in their presence.   

While it’s normal to harbor strong political feelings, our kids need to know that no politician is 100% “right” or 100% “wrong.” And again, extreme language helps fuel the idea that one side is to be villainized. 

Regardless of our points of view, if we reinforce the importance of intellectual curiosity and keeping an open mind, our kids will understand that garnering facts and evidence is the best way to make informed decisions.

Amy McCready free parenting class

3. Open Your Mind to Their Open Mind

Analysis tells us that your worldview will likely become your child’s worldview. Pew Research surveyed teens and their families, and in the vast majority of cases, the teens classified themselves as belonging to the same political party as their parents.

It makes sense that young people look to their parents for anchoring in their values, and it’s also natural to hope your child will adopt the same political beliefs you hold dear. 

But, it’s equally important to allow kids room to form their own conclusions. Their convictions, if individually vetted, will be more sincere and strengthen their independence

If your child does land on opposing beliefs, you can applaud yourself for raising a child confident enough to make their own choices. (And, if you’ve been encouraging self-made decisions, you know they haven’t reached their opposing conclusions out of rebellion or spite!)

Talking About Politics–Every Age and Stage 

Elementary-Aged Kids

Five to twelve is the perfect age range to talk to kids about the basics of voting and democracy. Their school curriculum is likely already covering the different branches of government and, of course, famous American presidents. 

At this age, your kids probably don’t understand detailed policy issues, so it’s a good time to keep explanations simple. It’s also a great opportunity to point out the character traits you admire in candidates. Phrases like “she’s a good leader” or “he’s good at bringing people together” teach kids that certain traits are more ideal than others. 

The most important message to convey at this time, however, is that it’s perfectly fine for people to support different candidates–in fact, it’s an essential part of what makes our country so strong! Amy McCready quote imageKeep in mind that misinformation can run high on the school yard, so ask if your child has heard anything about politics or political issues. Then, turn to news sources designed for kids, like Time for Kids, Scholastic Kids Press Corps, and Nightly News Kids Edition with Lester Holt, to break down the issues in age-appropriate terms (while avoiding issues you may not want them exposed to quite yet.)

Middle School 

Around early adolescence, kids are generally mature enough to start watching debates with you and research candidates’ views via credible news sources.  

Around this time, politics may become a topic of conversation among your child’s peers. If those conversations become heated, it’s helpful to arm your child with a “comeback line” they can use to defuse tension–something like, “It’s cool if we don’t always like the same thing–life would be boring if we didn’t have choices. It’s the same type of language that would shut down a bullying taunt, because it refuses to engage. 

It’s also important to teach kids that they don’t have to engage in political debates if they don’t want to. Political opinions are something they have a right to keep private if they choose. After all, isn’t that why we vote privately in a voting booth?

High School   

By the time kids enter high school, they’re getting closer to voting age. Now is the time to keep them engaged in the entirety of the election process. Encourage them to watch debates, monitor polls, and follow candidates from both parties on trusted sources. (Remind them that social media isn’t always a reliable source of news, and to be careful what they share.) 

Most crucially, though, is to empower your kids to think outside party lines and research the issues that matter most to them. It could be the environment, a strong economy, or school safety…but the more passionate they are about the issues, the easier it will be to get them involved and to objectively scrutinize the information surrounding those issues. 

When Parents Are On Different Sides of the Political Aisle

If you and your partner have different political opinions, you are not alone! The great thing for your kids to see is that despite your different political views, you are choosing to be in a relationship with one another. It further affirms the fact that you can love anyone from the other side of the political spectrum. Your marriage/relationship alone proves this point and exemplifies a healthy tolerance for disagreement.

If you are divorced from your child’s other parent, it’s once again important not to demonize any difference in opinion. Respect for, or at least impartiality to their contrasting opinions, is key. 

Above all, we don’t want kids to feel pressure to choose a side. Instead, we want to give kids permission to make up their own minds by encouraging them to learn everything they can about the political platforms. 

There’s a reason the voting age is 18 and not 13, right? Kids don’t have to have it all figured out just yet. Focus on the education process, the power of an informed democracy, and helping them engage in an age-appropriate way. 

YIKES!! When Kids Ask About Political Issues That You Aren’t Comfortable Talking About

Research shows that kids as young as five usually know about current events; but they get a fair amount of the information wrong. In addition, most kids ages 11-12 have a smartphone, so they’re most likely accessing the internet outside your home. 

When your child raises a topic that makes you squirm…it’s important to first

find out what your child already knows about that issue. Ask open-ended questions like “What have you heard about this topic” or “Do you know what that word means?”

Be as factual as possible and keep things age-appropriate. This may mean leaving out certain unnecessary details while maintaining transparency. 

Remember, even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s best that kids learn about issues from you so you can convey accurate information in-line with your family values. The longer we wait to have these conversations, the likelier they’ll hear about politics in a convoluted, misinformed way.  

When Politicians Verbally Attack Each Other (and Blatantly Lie)

Sometimes, it can be downright difficult to find characteristics in politicians we admire. 

We wouldn’t want our kids behaving on the playground the way many candidates typically do: demeaning each other, interrupting, name-calling. 

This goes back to the fact the politicians are never 100% wrong or right. They are imperfect humans. 

These are scenarios we can use to prompt thoughtful questions, like, “How do you feel watching that? How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of that? Does that make you feel differently about this candidate?

These questions encourage kids to, once again, think for themselves rather than rely on our responses to determine their own beliefs.

We can also reiterate that actions have consequences–sometimes when candidates behave badly, it affects the way people perceive them and can ultimately affect the outcome of the election. (It seems that even the worst modeling by adults can provide helpful teaching moments!)

We can also help kids understand they don’t have to take everything they hear at face value. This can be a hard concept, especially when younger kids take everything literally. 

Most news sites offer a fact-checking analysis after the debates. If you and your kids are skeptical about something, guide them through gathering research from multiple reputable sites so they can determine what is fact versus spin. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of political noise out there. But siphoning it down to something intelligible–and informative–for our kiddos is far from an impossible task.

There isn’t a golden script that works for every family, but if you’re balancing accurate information with your family’s values (through open, age-appropriate political discussions), you’re providing ethical guidance without mandating what your kids should believe. It’s a winning combo.

As loving parents, all we can really do is give our kids the confidence and competence to carry our country forward.

In the end, we must remember this is a democracy. Our kids can pick any side. Or no side at all. Or invent a new political party! It’s their choice.

America is their future far more than it is ours. 

Effective Consequences for Misbehavior: 5 Tips for Success

mother and daughter sitting on couchmother and daughter sitting on couch

mother and daughter sitting on couch


You cringe as the sound of your daughter’s door shakes the entire house. For the third time this week, she’s come home late from school without calling first, and tonight, you decided to confront her about it.

Of course, things didn’t end well…

After a long (and loud) argument, she’s now brooding in her room while you march over to the computer. You’re tired of the constant fighting, disrespect, and door slams. You’ve had enough and are ready to search for help.

So you hop online and type in the only question you can think of:

What’s the best punishment for my child’s disrespect and defiance? 

Oh, dear friend, if you only knew how often that question comes up in my line of work! And I would love to give you a plain and simple, straightforward answer. 

But I can’t.

Because you’re asking the wrong question. 

Whether they’re taking my FREE ONLINE PARENTING CLASS or looking for private coaching support, I’ve noticed something in common among many of the parents first coming to me for help. 

They want to know what punishments will work for their kids’ misbehavior. That’s when I challenge them to shift their mindset–because punishments don’t work.

But–when the proper groundwork has been laid–consequences can be!

First, Can This Be Solved Another Way?

Before we dive into these five tips for effective consequences, I want you first to ask yourself: Can this be solved another way?

Although consequences are necessary from time to time, there are always other parenting tools you can implement beforehand that are more effective.

For example, one of the most powerful tools we teach at Positive Parenting Solutions is what’s known as MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® connection. (MBST). This tool, though simple, packs a powerful punch and is one of the most surefire ways to cut down on power struggles and misbehavior.

All you have to do is commit 10-15 minutes each day to playing with your child (one-on-one). That’s right–playing

Let them choose the activity, put away all distractions, and pour into them all the positive attention they so desperately crave. Behavior almost magically improves by meeting their need for positive attention and emotional connection. 

Or, if your child is older and playing isn’t their thing, you can still spend time doing something together they enjoy. Perhaps you foster their love of art by signing up for classes at a local pottery studio or practice your photography skills together on a nature walk. 

It’s not important what you do–just that you do something together.

Pro Tip: Did you know we have 37 easy-to-implement parenting tools offered in The 7-Step Parenting Success System? Consequences are one tool — but not your only option.

It’s also important to remember that your child’s good behavior is a collaborative effort. You have to work with them…taking time to train them in the positive behaviors you want to see and work with them on solutions when issues arise.

Your 3-year-old won’t know it’s wrong to color on the walls until you teach her not to and give her alternative outlets for her creative genius, just as your 16-year-old won’t know how to handle saying “no” to peer pressure unless you train him in advance how to get out of difficult situations.

The relationship you have with your child and the behavior you see in your child is a two-way street with plenty of give and take. Ensure they have the proper training and loving support they need first, and see what you get back.

Helpful Hint: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out the Collaborative Problem Solving approach by Dr. Ross Green. You’ll find it in The Explosive Child Expert Series masterclass in the 7-Step Parenting Success System.  

Of course, these are just a few examples of the many tools that can and should be used before consequences. In fact, we offer 37 easy-to-implement parenting tools in The 7-Step Parenting Success System

With so many practical resources readily available for parents, the times you’ll need to use consequences should be few and far between.

Now that we’ve covered a few options you can use before consequences, let’s move on to those helpful tips…

your child's good behavior is a collaborative effort

Tip #1: Avoid Punishment

If this first tip sounds impossible, I get it. It almost feels second nature for parents to jump to punishments when their kid acts out of line.

But, many parents misunderstand that punishments are NOT the same as consequences. 

So what’s the difference?

Dr. Jane Nelsen–the mother of Positive Discipline–explained it best when she described punishment as anything that causes a child to feel blame, shame, or pain.

For instance, it may feel like your only option is to give your son a swift spank on the bottom after hitting his sister. But, in reality, it does little to change his future behavior. He may stop in the moment, but you can bet he will hit her again–especially if he struggles with impulse control.

It also doesn’t make much sense, especially for young kids.

They think, If Mom and Dad don’t want me to hit, then why are they hitting me?

Punishments that cause your child to be embarrassed or humiliated–like yelling at them in front of their friends–aren’t helpful, either. In fact, they’re more likely to drive a wedge in your relationship and lead your child to lie in the future rather than make a genuine behavior shift.

Punishments rely on using negative feelings to end a negative behavior, which simply doesn’t work. However, consequences used correctly will empower your child to make the right choices the next time around. 

Tip #2: Always Give a Warning in Advance

Your kids have some exceptional abilities, but mind-reading isn’t one of them.

Your toddler knows to stay away from the hot stove because you told him it’s hot. 

Your older child knows to look both ways before crossing the street because you’ve spent years training her to do so safely.

As parents, it’s no secret our kids are impulsive and typically act long before they think (especially when they’re little). But it’s also our job to make sure they’re fully aware and prepared for the less-than-desirable outcomes of their actions. 

When it comes to figuring out effective consequences for your child, unless you give them a little grace and advanced warning (before they mess up), the consequences will be entirely ineffective because they’ll feel like punishment. 

Kids need to know the possible consequences of their actions before they have the opportunity to make a mistake, so they have every chance to make a positive decision.

So what does this sound like, exactly? 

**Friendly note: Mistakes happen, and kids deserve grace. We should only issue these warnings to our kids based on repeated patterns. 

I’m glad you asked! Here are a couple of examples:

Samantha, you are growing up in so many ways, and you are mature enough now to remember to take what you need for gym class. So, I will no longer be driving your forgotten sneakers or gym clothes to school in the future. If you forget your sneakers on gym days, you’ll have to miss out on enjoying gym time with the rest of the class. What systems or reminders would you like to put in place to help you remember on your own?

Marcus, I noticed you used your iPad during our family’s tech-free hours. If you choose to sneak more tech time, you will lose your iPad privileges for the next three days. Is there anything you want to do to help you remember our tech rules? Or is there a system you want to put in place so you know how much time you have left?

Then, have them repeat the expectation and the possible consequence back to you so they’re crystal clear on what will happen. When your kids know the consequences before you have to use them, the ball is now in their court. They are responsible for what happens next–not you!

Not only is this incredibly freeing to you–the parent–but it also hands over a certain amount of power and control to your child (which they love!). 

And don’t forget to make sure they are set up for success — with systems or reminders that they create — and let them know you have confidence they’ll be able to make the right decision independently.

You won’t believe how empowering that can be!

Tip #3: Seek Natural Consequences First

If you want the cream of the crop of consequences, Natural Consequences are the way to go. So seek those first! 

Natural Consequences occur without any parental involvement, as opposed to Logical Consequences, where you have a stake in the game. 

Let’s say your 6th grader left his math homework on his desk at home. He knew the assignment was due the following day but forgot to put it in his backpack before heading out the door.

He’d already been warned in advance (as described in Step 2 of the course) that it was his responsibility to make sure his assignments made it to school with him. You’ve had this conversation many times before. He knows the consequences.

So, when he ultimately realizes that he left his homework on his desk–and understands it’s his job to remember it–he’ll know the consequence falls squarely on his shoulders. He’ll have to take the dock in the grade that comes with a late assignment. 

No parent wants to be the bad guy. With Natural Consequences, life gets to be the big teacher

And in the future, he’ll likely be much more adamant about remembering his jersey. No reminding from you required!

How amazing is that?!

And once the natural consequence has played out, you can step in and offer your assistance. Calmly (and without an I-told-you-so attitude), ask how he can tweak his routine to ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again.

Helpful Hint: Make sure the consequence is reasonable in its severity or duration. 

For example, your daughter insists on walking to the bus stop in shorts in February. That’s an excellent opportunity for a natural consequence! But a 3-hour winter Girl Scout hike? Nope-the consequences are too dangerous. 

Instead, you might simply tell her you’ll give her a ride when she’s dressed appropriately-and alert her to the fact that if she’s late, she may miss the hike altogether.

The same goes for a consequence that might seriously inconvenience another person. In cases like these, consequences may not be the right tool — you’ll want to use another of the 36 tools in our Toolbox.

Unfortunately, it’s not always feasible to find a Natural Consequence for every misbehavior. That’s when you’ll move on to a Logical one. 

with natural consequences life gets to be the big teacher

Tip #4: Choose Consequences that Fit the Misbehavior

While Natural Consequences are more effective than Logical Consequences because they let life be the teacher, sometimes they’re simply not an option. That’s when we, as parents, must take on the unpleasant task of engineering the consequences ourselves.

However, Logical Consequences can be tricky because they have to be just that–logical! Which isn’t always the easiest to figure out, especially in the pinch of the moment.

Still, I cannot stress this enough: Logical Consequences must be related to your child’s misbehavior. 

If there’s no relation, I promise you, they’ll be useless in the long run. They’ll only make your child angry at you and won’t prompt them to learn from their mistakes. 

Of course, determining a Logical Consequence is much easier said than done. . .

That’s because we all get hung up on our child’s “currency.” You know, that thing they love so much that it’s our go-to item to take away for any and all misbehavior (whether it’s related or not).

You might have taken away your son’s video game privileges because he refused to mow the lawn or canceled your daughter’s playdates because she slapped her little sister.

More often than not, we use whatever has the most leverage to gain control over our child. 

While this may appear to work in the short term–like your son giving in and mowing the lawn–you’re guaranteeing an increase in power struggles down the line. 

They may even decide that their “currency” isn’t all that valuable after all and would rather be stubborn and fight back.

Simply put, when the consequence isn’t directly related to the actual behavior choice, nothing is learned.

So what does an effective Logical Consequence look like?

I’m glad you asked…

Let’s say your 12-year-old received a brand-new drum set for Christmas. For years she’s been begging to learn to play, and you finally feel like she’s old enough to be responsible with them.

The gift comes with only one stipulation–no playing between 8 PM and 8 AM. 

You warn her in advance that the consequence of breaking this rule will mean losing her drum privileges for three days. The consequence is reasonable and related, and you have her repeat it back to you so she’s clear. You also brainstorm with her ways of reminding herself to be done by 8:00, and she decides to set a recurring alarm on her watch.

She should be able to manage that, right?


After about a week of putting away her drumsticks by 8 PM, she pushes the limit and shows no signs of stopping, even at 8:15. It’s time to follow through with the consequence you set up. And as much as you’d like to let life be the big teacher here, you know that job is all yours.

In a calm voice, you enter the room and say, “I see you chose to lose your drum-playing privileges by ignoring the playing hours you agreed to. You’ll need to put your drumsticks away until Thursday. But this is a learning opportunity, and I have confidence you’ll be able to follow the rules for quiet time in the future.”  

Naturally, she protests. But in the end, she knows it was her actions alone that led to the unwanted consequence–and you can bet she’ll keep a better eye on the time starting Thursday.

As with Natural Consequences, you’ll want to make sure Logical Consequences are reasonable in severity and duration. You’ll be more likely to follow through when they are something you can live with.

learn more about natural and logical consequences

Tip #5: Make it a Teachable Moment

As parents, we love teachable moments, don’t we?

There’s nothing quite like seeing an important lesson finally sink into our kids’ brains. It’s just so satisfying!

But we must remember that we shouldn’t use consequences so haphazardly that our child learns nothing from the experience. 

Because our ultimate goal isn’t to end misbehavior…

Uh, say what now, Amy?

Our ultimate goal is to find and use strategies that will be most helpful to our child while continuing to foster a strong parent-child connection.

Do we want our kids to behave better? Absolutely!

But it’s far more important to ensure that every consequence creates a ripple effect in their lives. It’s to make sure the lessons learned are important enough to stick around for future reference. 

When you’re processing what happened with your child, just be sure to avoid the “I told you so.”

“I know it will be hard for you without your screen time privileges, and you’re frustrated. But you can learn from this! I have confidence you’ll be able to follow the rules next time.”

As I said before, consequences should be used sparingly. There are often other, more effective strategies to try first.

And should you find your head reeling, wondering just how you’ll lay off the consequences? Don’t worry because teachable moments aren’t just for our kids. 

Sometimes, we’re the ones who need to learn the lesson. 

Final Thoughts

At some point, every parent has struggled with understanding how to hand out consequences appropriately. And should you find yourself deep in the consequence trenches, know there is no better time to get a handle on things than right now.

These five tips are a fantastic starting point to get you heading in the right direction but know that there are many more resources to help you end your child’s misbehavior. 

With both practice and intention, I promise you’ll be a consequence master in no time!

How to Help A Child Who is Acting Out at School

student throwing something at another studentstudent throwing something at another student

student throwing paper at another student

No kid acts perfectly at school 100% of the time. Not one. 

So let’s ditch the labels. No more “good kids,” “bad kids,” “troublemakers,” or “bullies.” There’s no need to categorize a child’s behavior.

Why? Because there are a million variables at play, every school year, every day. 

Still, a call from the principal bearing news of behavior problems is concerning. A teacher expressing her frustrations at a parent-teacher conference is upsetting. And seeing the results of a tough day of school on a child’s face is absolutely heartbreaking.

School is a place where kids are learning far more than academics. They’re learning to be respectful, decent schoolmates in a shared environment. Along that path, they’re bound to stumble.

But whether it’s a one-off event or routine trouble, it’s how we handle a child’s school misbehavior that impacts that child’s self-worth and prompts less–or further–misbehavior. That’s why it’s so important to tailor our words and actions towards misbehavior appropriately and strategically.

And, ideally, by getting parents and teachers on the same page.

When school misbehavior occurs, here’s where to start: 

Stay Calm, Empathize, and Find the Root Cause 

When notified about behavior issues at school, some parents understandably jump into defensive mode. You know how great your kids are, and it’s your job to protect them. Any misbehavior at school must be justifiable. 

Did something in the classroom prompt this disruption? 

Is the teacher overreacting? 

Did some other kid start it, and my kid took the fall? 

Other parents might automatically lay full responsibility on their kids, believing there is zero excuse for misbehavior. 

However, the best approach is to gather all the facts before making any assumptions. 

While listening to your child’s side of the story, encourage them to express their feelings and concerns. Assure them you will listen without judgment or blame. 

"We must establish a judgment-free zone" - Amy McCready

By using a calm voice and demeanor during this process, your kids will feel more comfortable opening up to you. And, by empathizing with your child’s perspective–even if you disagree with their actions–you will keep them from becoming defensive and further disengaging from the conversation…and possibly the truth. 

Your goal right now is to find the root cause of the misbehavior without creating a power struggle. That’s it.

Finding the source (or sources, as there may be multiple contributing factors) proactively addresses the problem, as opposed to retroactively managing the symptoms. 

Root causes can be surface-level. But, they can also stem from deep, unmet needs. 

Psychologist and author of The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene, states, “Kids do well when they can.” So, if a child is struggling, there is always an underlying reason for that struggle and or misbehavior.  

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions members, watch or review our Expert Series: The Explosive Child. 

For example, when talking and listening to your child, keep in mind the following pertinent questions: 

  • How is her sense of belonging and significance in the CLASSROOM? 
  • Does he need more positive power in the classroom? 
  • Does she feel discouraged? 
  • Is the teacher understanding and supportive?
  • Are there other personalities in the class that clash with hers?
  • Has he been labeled as a “troublemaker?” 
  • Does he struggle with impulse control? 
  • Are there attention or learning differences?

If any of these questions can be answered with a “yes,” then it’s possible you’ve found your root cause. Or, one of the contributing causes.

So, what’s next?

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please reference our Expert Series: Keeping Our Kids Safe from Bullying 

Communicate and Collaborate with the Teacher and School

Just like you will listen calmly and without judgment to your student, do your best to listen to a teacher or administrator with care and attention when they notify you of misbehavior. Again, gather all the information you can and avoid rushing to any unfounded conclusions. 

If necessary, request an adults-only meeting with the teacher or school counselor to gain a better understanding of the problem. This might help all parties avoid any miscommunication that can commonly arise from emails or text messages. 

During the conference, ask what the teacher needs–or doesn’t need–from you. 

With all the information at hand, it’s now time to work as a team. Through open and honest communication with teachers and school staff, you can develop a two-pronged plan for addressing the misbehavior. This includes both sides setting clear expectations for and from one another. It also means remaining open to the school’s guidance and recommendations for addressing the issue. 

This is also a good time to talk about what you are doing at home to encourage the best possible behavior in your child.  

Your child’s teacher may or may not be familiar with the techniques you use to proactively help your child. If you’ve already been successful with certain positive parenting strategies at home, now is the time to share which work best with your child. 

Let the teacher know these are not reactive strategies; like applying a band-aid after misbehavior occurs. These are the positive parenting tools you use to continually provide a strong sense of belonging and significance, making your child less inclined to act out.

If you’re new to positive parenting techniques, now is the time for you–and the school–to put a few of the strategies to effective use.

To get started with a supercharged approach…

Reinforce Positive Behavior (the Right Way!)

Kids who struggle to meet behavioral expectations are constantly being corrected and redirected. They continually hear their names called out in class and their actions scolded. At home, they may hear similar reprimands. 

Soon, they begin to believe they are actually “bad” kids. And, guess what? Their behavior worsens.  

One way to upend this negative cycle is to celebrate and encourage a child’s positive behavior. Kids should hear at least as much positive reinforcement as the admonishments they receive–if not far more! 

My mentor in positive parenting, Vivian Brault, used this analogy: 

Imagine telling your prized rose bushes, “I’ll start giving you fertilizer after you give me the kinds of blooms I know you’re capable of.” 

Now, switch it to parenting. “If my kids start behaving well, then I’ll give them encouragement.” 

It becomes clear, now, that this retroactive approach is doomed to fail. Positive reinforcement and encouragement must come first. 

You aren’t rewarding your child for their successes. Not with candy, money, or even praise. 

Encouragement is far better; it verbally reinforces the positive behavior your child displays and makes them feel good about themselves. If we’re focusing on how they’re making us feel or offering an external reward as gratification, they’re going to miss the true satisfaction of self-accomplishment. 

Notice the difference, for example, between the following phrases:

“I heard from the teacher that you’ve been talking less in class. That makes me really happy!”


“Your teacher mentioned that you’ve been working really hard on paying attention and listening to instructions. She even said it’s been helping other kids in the class focus too. You must feel so proud of how far you’ve come! 

See how the focus is on how our kid must be feeling? We don’t want to condition our kids to make us, or others, feel proud or pleased. We want them to want to succeed for themselves. That’s the kind of motivation that doesn’t rely on others and the kind that lasts. 

Encouraging phrases (which focus on effort and improvement) and praise (which focuses on a successful outcome) often become unintentionally intermixed. Many teachers already understand the power of encouragement versus praise, but others may be less familiar.  

I realize it might feel counterintuitive to encourage a child who is misbehaving. But this child is already feeling disheartened enough

That’s why positive behavior, on any scale, should be intentionally highlighted–with zest! 

"When children feel better they behave better." Pam Leo

Set Clear Expectations at Home Without Consequences

A common reaction to a child getting in trouble at school is the urge to discipline them at home. Because, don’t they need to learn how serious this is? 

I understand your concern about your child’s classroom behavior, but, please…do not issue consequences at home for misbehavior that happens at school. 

When a child misbehaves at school by pulling someone’s hair, yelling at the teacher, or escaping a classroom like she’s running for freedom, that behavior must be handled when and where it occurs. Trust that your child’s teacher has handled the situation at school according to the school’s protocol.

Applying consequences at home would only further the child’s discouragement and reinforce feelings of insignificance and resentment. 

Your job at home is to show empathy–because getting in trouble was probably upsetting and embarrassing for your child–and then focus on communication and training. Help your child process what happened and discuss alternative ways he could have handled the situation. Use role play to practice how he could do or say something differently if a similar situation happens again.

Be a Positive Role Model

When considering expectations, nothing’s better than when we demonstrate the behaviors and values we wish to instill in our children. Our kids are always learning by our example!

Ensure that your home environment is nurturing and supportive. Make it a sanctuary where your child feels safe, loved, and respected. 

That doesn’t mean there won’t be arguments or hard days. Nothing is perfect! Sometimes, parents yell at their kids (and each other!) and realize they have overreacted. Other days siblings are at each other’s necks, hurling hateful words, and wondering how to put each other up for adoption.

Even if families have disagreements or frustrations with one another, modeling an “I’m sorry” when we’ve done or said something we regret teaches kids we should all be accountable for our actions. 

When kids can transfer these attitudes, actions, and feelings to school, misbehavior is destined to plummet. 

Teach Kids Ways to Manage Classroom Struggles 

It’s our role to show kids how to handle conflicts and frustrations in a respectful and responsible manner. 

This starts by not overreacting and laying blame when we hear about misbehavior and extends to basic problem-solving skills. 

You don’t have to wait for real-time situations to train kids on conflict resolution at home. You can always co-implement two Positive Parenting Solutions® tools: Take Time for Training and Role-Play. 

These tools help guide children through sample conflicts bound to occur one day–or situations that have already posed a problem–with peers and authority figures. 

Maybe your daughter is struggling to sit still in her classroom when she’s supposed to be working on independent tasks. At home one evening, you ask if you can play the teacher while she plays herself in a desk chair. 

You start “teaching” a lesson, but your daughter gets up and starts running around. You say, “Hey, Carla, I know you’re getting antsy. Instead of running around the classroom, would you like to stand next to your desk and try 15 jumping jacks? 

I’ll tell you what–if you do it quietly, without disrupting any other kids, I’ll let you do that anytime you feel like you have to move!” 

Here comes the really fun part. YOU can now play the wiggly kiddo while your child plays the teacher! Likely, she’ll repeat much of what you said, and the lesson will be doubly memorable. 

This is the Role-Play tool, and it’s a fun, non-confrontational way to rehearse real-world problem-solving! And with the Role-Play tool, you are taking time to train your child what to do next time!

If you come up with a great solution or two during this practice, be sure to share it with the teacher!

Stay Calm and Carry On

Changes in school misbehavior may not happen overnight. It might be necessary to keep track of your child’s behavior and any improvements or setbacks by staying in communication with teachers and school staff.

But keep in mind during this process not to project your anxiety onto your kids, either. We often pick up kids who’ve been struggling in school and ask with nervous anticipation, “How was your day?? Did you get into trouble at school today?” 

Our bated breath alone tells kids we’re worried. They feel our doubts in their capabilities drooping heavily in the air. 

Without meaning to micromanage and undermine them, our questions have done exactly that.  

Instead, while staying involved in our kids’ progress, we can always assume they’ve had a great day. This assures them we have confidence in their actions. 

If they didn’t have a great day, you’ll know anyway, based on your communication and rapport with the school staff. Just encourage teachers to message you privately if there’s a problem. This prevents a child’s exposure to public, on-the-spot discussions that could further dissolve their self-confidence. 

Seek Professional Help if Necessary

Sometimes, despite all our best, combined efforts, misbehavior stubbornly persists.

If so, there may be underlying emotional or behavioral issues that deserve to be addressed.

Don’t let this discourage you! You can seek help from a child (developmental) psychologist, counselor, or therapist. Many have strategies and interventions that can be tailored to your child’s specific needs.

Final Thoughts

When children get into trouble at school, it doesn’t mean they’re “bad.” What they really need, as opposed to admonishment, is catered care and attention. 

Because positive parenting thrives on tactics that increase a child’s feelings of belonging and significance, it’s a great answer to misbehavior both at home and at school. I again encourage you and the school to work together to enact positive discipline practices.

Before long, I’m confident you’ll see a vast improvement in your student’s behavior and happiness. Because, when the idea of a “bad” kid dissipates, so does the number of their bad days.

The Do’s and Don’ts to End Toddler Hitting & Biting for Good

toddler running and hitting momtoddler running and hitting mom

toddler running and hitting mom

It happens in an instant. 

One moment, you’re joyfully watching your toddler play with his big brother, giggling as they roughhouse across the floor; the next, your ears are flooded with your oldest’s screams.

Ouch! He bit me!!!

You want to believe this was a one-time-only incident. That he just got caught up in the moment of play. But in all honesty, this isn’t an isolated incident.

Your toddler has bitten before. He’s also thrown a few fists from time to time. And you’re afraid he’ll do it again if you don’t do something about it now.

Parents are understandably concerned when their sweet little one becomes aggressive with other children (or Mom and Dad). They wonder, Is this normal? Or, Where on earth did he pick that up from? 

Throw in the added guilt of knowing their child inflicted pain on another person, and other worries start to pop up.

Is my child habitually aggressive? Will this stop him from making friends? Will he be a bully one day?

Though it’s a situation no parent wants to go through, it is a common one nonetheless. 

I can’t tell you how many exasperated and desperate parents have reached out after taking my FREE PARENTING WEBINAR or enrolling in the 7-Step Parenting Success System® course with this same concern. 

Thankfully, toddler biting and hitting is rarely something to be seriously concerned about. Still, they are reactions that should be nipped before they turn into a pattern of behavior that’s much more challenging to correct.

For toddlers–or kids under three–biting and hitting are more of a training issue than a “misbehavior.” 

To a frustrated toddler with a limited vocabulary and very few social skills, taking a bite from Mom or Dad’s arm or smacking a playmate who refuses to give up a favored toy seems logical. More often than not, there was no ill will or malice behind the action. 

It was simply a means to an end. 

Our job as parents is to train our children for better behavior in the future without creating a payoff that may cause more biting, hitting, or escalation.

So how do we do that? 

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to your toddler’s hitting and biting.

Let’s start with the things we shouldn’t do…

Don’t Retaliate

After a hitting or biting incident, many well-intentioned parents and caregivers have had the same thought: How will he know how bad that hurt unless I do it back to him? 

From a high level, this sounds logical enough. Bite the biter, hit the hitter, slap, spank, or do anything else to ensure the child knows how their actions made the other person feel. But the truth is, doing the same thing to the child doesn’t stop the behavior…it reinforces it.

While your first instinct may be to “give him a taste of his own medicine,” understand that toddler brains work differently than adult brains. Toddlers lack the reasoning skills to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

When confronting your child’s hitting and biting, do everything you can to end the habit of immediate retaliation. This way of thinking is counterproductive to stopping the aggression. 

Don’t Resort to Punishment

In parenting, the line between discipline and punishment can seem blurry. To some, the two may even be used interchangeably. However, by definition, they are not synonymous.

Dr. Jane Nelsen-the mother of Positive Discipline-described punishment as anything that causes a child to feel blame, shame, or pain. It relies on using negative feelings to end negative behavior, which doesn’t work.

Discipline does quite the opposite. Instead of focusing on blaming, shaming, or hurting a child to teach a lesson, discipline trains them in the ways they should act. To help yourself shift from a punishment-focused mindset to a disciplinary one, try focusing on creating a teachable moment.

Suppose your toddler bit her brother when he refused to share his after-school snack. In what ways can you use this experience to teach her a better way to handle her emotions and negative feelings? What positive parenting techniques would be best to employ?

Changing your mindset from punishment to training will take you far!

Don’t Label

If you’re like most parents, labeling your child comes as second nature to you. 

He’s just such a good baby. She’s the most loving little girl on the planet! My 2-year-old can count to 100–he’s such a genius!

And while this is mainly done with nothing but a loving heart, it’s equally easy for parents to label their children negatively.

I swear, she’s so sassy! He’s always being so naughty. She’s going to be such a wild child!

Children are complex individuals facing the same life challenges adults do…without the life experience to back it up. And just as you are more than a parent, teacher, spouse, etc., your toddler cannot be shoved into a singular, neatly defined box.

Discouragement abounds when we attach negative labels to our children. These labels also invite judgment and criticism from others, leaving your child at an unfair disadvantage. 

Will the “biter” be invited to the next group play date? Will the “naughty kid” receive less empathy or understanding from his peers and caretakers? In short, labels perpetuate unfair stereotypes that can be hard to overcome and limit the positive connections kids can make with others.

Don’t Worry About the Opinions of Others

One of the most challenging things to overcome–for people of all ages–is concern over the opinions of others. But bringing that concern into the parenting realm adds a whole new level of chaos to the mix. 

While desiring to protect your public image is natural, an unhealthy obsession with what others think of you can do incredible damage to your mental health when left unchecked. And the last thing your already emotional and stressed child needs is an emotional and stressed parent. 

Now, I get it; being known as “the biter’s mom” or “the hitter’s dad” is mortifying, especially after a public incident. But try not to allow yourself to be phased by the opinions of others or worry about what they may think or say.

Instead, keep your focus firmly rooted on your child. 

Not only is it incredibly liberating to let go of your worry over other peoples’ opinions of you and your child, but this will also enable you to grow solid, positive relationships that will help your parenting, not hinder it.

Don’t Force Them To Apologize

For parents, it’s almost second nature to immediately request an apology whenever our kids do something terrible to another. We want to teach them manners and rules for polite living, and this seems like the only way to do so.

But the thing is, a forced apology isn’t a genuine apology, especially for toddlers.

Kids this young lack an understanding of their actions’ consequences on other people. A forced apology will likely be ineffective in ending the misbehavior in the future.

Now, that’s not to say that apologies aren’t necessary. Research shows that children who sincerely apologize after a transgression build more trust with the person they hurt than those who do not apologize. 

The key is ensuring that the apology is genuine, and that is learned through empathy.

True apologies involve deeper understanding and the ability to see from another person’s perspective. This is a learned trait and does not come naturally to toddlers. That’s where you come in!

Using simple, considerate language helps your child understand how their actions impacted the other person.

It hurt Emily when you hit her. Can you remember a time when someone hit you? How did that make you feel?

Forcing an apology doesn’t teach empathy. But it can lead to feelings of resentment, shame, and judgment.

Now that we’ve talked about what you shouldn’t do when it comes to your toddler’s hitting or biting, let’s discuss what you should do.

end toddler hitting and biting

Do Remain Calm & Calm Your Child

Seeing or learning about your toddler hurting another person may elicit some pretty intense emotions. Embarrassment, shock, anger, hurt…all are normal but do little to help you remain calm. 

Of course, a calm state is exactly where you want to be.

Maintaining your composure models proper emotional regulation for your little one and gives you time to address the problem from a less emotionally charged state. Not to mention, raising your voice is scary for a child and only escalates an already intense situation.

If you’re worried about more aggression happening, gently hold your child to prevent him from doing so again. You can check on the other child to ensure they aren’t injured, then calmly remove your toddler from the situation.

Do Take Time for Training

Once everyone is calm, take time for training by teaching your child various calming techniques. You can work on belly breathing, sing a song together, or simply give them a huge hug to let them know you’re there and they’re safe. 

Education is your number one priority here. Teaching your child how to work through those big emotions without lashing out starts with you modeling the correct behavior. 

Of course, training time isn’t just for emotional regulation (though that’s definitely important!). You can stay one step ahead of any possible triggers for power struggles, meltdowns, and aggression simply by preparing your child to handle those conflicts ahead of time.

Here are a few resources we believe will be helpful to you! 

Do Empathize & Explain Boundaries

More often than not, biting and hitting are not random occurrences but result from a surplus of big emotions. Empathize with your toddler to help them identify their overwhelming emotions.

You might say, “Wow, you look angry/frustrated/mad/upset. But it’s not okay to hit/bite when you are mad.” Then, actively listen to what they say, even if it’s not in words. More often than not, body language and tone can tell us far more than anything else.

Next, reflect their emotions back to them by saying, “I see you’re really upset right now, and it’s okay to feel that way. What’s not okay is hurting others because of that feeling.”

Finally, end your conversation by explaining (in terms they can understand) your boundaries and provide them with solutions to choose from. 

“You know it’s never okay to hit/bite when you’re mad. Instead, next time, try talking to a grown-up/taking a few deep breaths/walking away.”

Do Practice the Re-Do

Everyone–adults and kids alike–needs a re-do now and then. 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members can review Step 4, Lesson 30, for more details on practicing the Re-Do Tool.

After all is said and done, in a calm moment, help your child figure out what they could do differently next time. 

“Instead of hitting Zach because you wanted his truck, what could you have said to him instead?” or “Instead of biting mommy because you were frustrated, what could you have done instead?”

If your child could re-do the situation, help them figure out how to improve it. This allows them to acquire more constructive methods for managing intense emotions in the future.

(Remember to exercise patience! It will take them time to learn these new habits and skills.)

Do Practice Alternative Strategies

Let’s face it: for most toddlers, hitting and biting appear to be second nature. But conflict resolution skills? Not so much…

Yet, as parents, we often focus so strongly on teaching our kids what they did wrong that we  stop short of teaching them what they could have done right. And the thing is, that’s the most crucial step!

One of the best ways to do this is to role-play with your toddler and show them how to handle certain situations! 

Since you’re working with a toddler, make sure play is the focal point. Play is essential to toddler cognitive development and learning. (It’s even recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a birthright for all children!) So if you want a lesson to stick, make it fun! 

Try arranging a pretend playdate with stuffed animals and encourage your little one to rehearse how to handle their frustration, seek assistance, or express their emotions without hitting or biting. Just remember, consistent, early practice is the key ingredient for success.

Over time, the lesson will stick, but all they’ll care about is the fun quality time they got to spend with you–which will also help decrease their misbehavior!

Final Thoughts:

You may look at your toddler and find it hard to believe they have an aggressive bone in their adorable little body, but I can assure you, there’s no better time than the early years to teach them how to work through their emotions without hurting others.

Of course, don’t worry if you feel like you’ve missed your window if you’re dealing with aggression in older kids–it’s never too late to teach these valuable life skills! Through the 7-Step Parenting Success System® course and my FREE  WEBINAR, I’ve helped thousands of families with kids of all ages understand the main reasons their children act out with behaviors like hitting or biting.

Every day, more and more parents come to know what joy they can achieve in their households, and I’d love for your family to join that growing list.

Ultimate 2024 Gift Guide: Gifts the Whole Family will Love

family gathered opening christmas presentfamily gathered opening christmas present

Family opening gifts together

While it is our absolute joy to bring you a list of our favorite products, we may receive a small commission if you purchase products through some of the links on this page (don’t worry, this doesn’t affect the price you pay). But please know, even though we are constantly asked to review products, we only recommend products we absolutely LOVE, so you can trust that this list contains only our shout-it-from-the-rooftops favorites!

When gifts suit the giftee, there is no greater glee. 

Now try saying that 10 times, fast.

It’s true, though. The best gifts bring joy to those who give and receive. And when a gift is truly loved and appreciated? It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

The problem is, finding ideal presents can take a toll on our time and add stress each holiday season.

We draw blanks brainstorming what to give extended family and shrewdly narrow down the gift list for present-loving kids.  

We try our best to spend the same amount of money on everyone, without spending too much. 

We want our gifts to be enjoyed, not unappreciated or wasted. (Thank goodness for gift receipts and gift cards though, right?) 

AND, as parents, we try to spread love and fun–without the materialism that can come with it

But whether we tend to purchase everything in July or shop frantically online the week before Christmas, the best gifts take careful consideration. 

To help out, we’ve compiled a list of super easy ideas to save you some sanity (and a few brain cells) when choosing this year’s presents.

Table of Contents

pricing guide

Safe Starter Phones

They’ve been begging for a phone for months…maybe years. But you’re justifiably concerned about whether your kids are old enough to navigate the smartphone world (check out our blog on this topic).

Luckily, there are starter phones that allow you far more control–all while facilitating (monitored) access to the features you and your kids need most.

Gabb Wireless
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $-$$$ 

Gabb devices allow you to locate and communicate with your kids while remaining internet, game, and social-media-free.

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $-$$$

Troomi phones are 100% monitored by you, and apps can be adjusted based on your kids’ needs and levels of responsibility.

Gifts That Encourage FUN Family Time 

Family time should be about quality, not just quantity. 

The last thing we need is to create more work for ourselves as parents. And sometimes, family activities can be just that. 

Instead, we’ve pulled together some thoughtful gift ideas for the whole family–all void of too much effort or extravagance.

Individual MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® Activities as Gifts

Kids love presents, but the truth is, the gift of time–from parent to child–is the ultimate present. 

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we always highly encourage one-on-one time with your kids. We call it MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® bonding.

We recommend this activity between each parent and each child for 10-15 minutes EVERY DAY. And while even this brief amount of time can be hard to set aside, it truly does help with everything from misbehavior to parent-child connection. 

best gift is you

Our FREE ONLINE WEBINAR further explains why positive connection is so crucial, but it’s true: MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® activities are some of the best ways to make our kids feel loved and appreciated. 

But beyond the fact that this attention is a gift in and of itself, it can still be wrapped up in a bow:

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$$

HearthSong has a fun collection of Build-a-Fort kits that you and your child can build and rebuild to your hearts’ content. This can work as a larger group activity too! This particular set is sold on Amazon.

Chasing Fireflies
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

Hide and Seek is a timeless, classic game kids love. With this fun toy, you can combine the game with cute, light-up fireflies and even hunt for the bugs alone.

Laser X
Ages: 12+ (In our opinion, kids much younger will enjoy this game, too.)
Cost: $

Kids always like a fun game of laser tag. With this set, you can play one-on-one at home. Some also come in larger sets for the whole family.

Family Time Gifts 

Since most of us are spending more time with our kids than ever before, why not make it as fun–and as sane–as possible?

Family Paint Night
Ages: 6+
Cost: $-$$$

Painting To Gogh will mail paint kits to your doorstep. All you have to do is link to the tutorial when you and the fam are ready for your paint party! Recommended for kids ages 6+.

Escape Room
Ages: 10+
Cost: $-$$$

Escape rooms are an excellent source of entertainment, especially for older kids. They help families work together and problem-solve. Check this link to find an escape room near you and look for a family-friendly challenge! You can still wrap this by printing out a gift certificate or hand-written coupon detailing the experience. Or, for a family night in, purchase an escape-room-in-a-box kit, which are plentiful anywhere games are sold.

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $

Family dinners are always a wonderful time for families to connect. But if it’s been a long day for us parents, or the kids don’t feel like sitting, we often need motivation and icebreakers. There is also a teen edition.

Family Adventure Challenge
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$

This is a book that takes family activities to an awesome new level. Families scratch off an adventure together and must complete it before taking on the next challenge. This is a great gift from kids to their parents, too!

Board Games: Family game night can’t be beaten. With a little set-up and patience for the rules, board games deliver good, old-fashioned fun. Here are our favorites:

Ages 2-3+

Ages 5-6+

Ages 10+

Educational Gifts That Kids Still Consider “Cool”

Educational gifts can be purchased for MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® pursuits, family activities, or solo play. 

And sometimes, we really want kids to cherish their individual time–without the screens and while doing something educational. 

Of course, when we do encourage that solo play, it’s important to find age-appropriate toys to eliminate frustration for everyone.

Subscription Boxes
Ages: Varies
Cost: $-$$$

Kids love receiving packages not just once a year, but once a month! KiwiCo offers monthly science and STEM subscription kits for kids ages 3-16, while MEL Science is for ages 10+ and includes virtual reality science lessons. You can also purchase single kits through KiwiCo.

Yoto Mini Player
Ages: 3-12+
Cost: $$$

With Yoto Mini, kids can listen to music, audiobooks, and educational audio on the go…all screen-free! In addition, there are zero advertisements.

Basically, they’re akin to modern Walkmans–but way cooler!

Don’t let your kids get sidetracked by media players with apps and Internet access–get a Yoto, instead!

Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids
Ages: 8+
Cost: $

Minecraft is an uber-popular video game, but getting our tweens off the screen is always ideal. According to this book’s description, “you can balance your child’s screen time with real-life learning and interaction.”

Crayola Color Chemistry Labcolour chemistry
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$

This is packed with science experiments suitable for all ages.  

Cooking Classes
Ages: 2+
Cost: $-$$$

In-person cooking classes or their virtual counterparts are always excellent for a budding, food-loving chef. Plus, your child can learn to cook for the whole family! We absolutely LOVE Kids Cook Real Food eCourse if you want to get your kids helping in the kitchen.

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$$

A lifelong love of astronomy–even philosophy–can come from a telescope. “This easy-to-use NASA Lunar Telescope is the perfect way to introduce your child to the wonders of space and to observe the moon with incredible detail!”

Mindful Buddiez
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$

Calming techniques are an important part of a child’s emotional education. These adorable, interactive stuffed animals help kids manage big feelings (while offering a soft, warm cuddle).

IlluStory by Lulu Jr.
Ages: 4+
Cost: $

You can nurture your child’s love for storytelling with this book-making kit.

My Comic Book by Lulu Jr.
Ages: 6+
Cost: $

This is a similar kit, with an additional focus on artwork.

LEGO Technic
Ages: 6+
Cost: $-$$$

For kids ages 7-8 and up, LEGO Technic will get your children’s mechanical gears turning. 

Gifts That Inspire Gratitude

As we all know, the holidays have become a time of excess. And while this is fun and exhilarating for kids and parents alike, it can also create feelings of entitlement.

Yes, we train our kids to say thank you for the gifts they open, especially in front of the loved ones who gave them. But sometimes, the sentiment isn’t there. And it’s not necessarily because they’re ungrateful. 

Kids are simply conditioned to receive and to expect each holiday, without much afterthought.

One battle tactic is to purchase fewer gifts–or even just one–that may have more meaning to our kids. 

We can also purchase gifts that instill gratefulness:

Time Capsules
Ages: 4+
Cost: $-$$$

Encouraging kids to think of something meaningful to them–which also represents themselves or their setting–is one of the many advantages of a time capsule. When kids have time to both reflect and consider the future, they learn about perspective. These suggestions will help you pick out a time capsule that you wrap, and they fill. Just include a DO NOT OPEN UNTIL date! (These make great gifts again at high school or college graduations!)

Repurposed Items

Recycle and Remake
Ages: 9+
Cost: $-$$

If our goal is to minimize commercialism and waste, we can repurpose trash and encourage our kids to do the same. This book does just that.

Eco Stars Recycled Crayons
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

Turn the purchase of recycled crayons into a learning lesson for your youngest kiddos, or even make your own! Thou shall not waste! 

Love for Animals and the Outdoors

WWF Symbolic Adoption Donation
Ages: 4+
Cost: $$$

Through the World Wildlife Foundation’s Symbolic Species Adoptions, you’ll help protect wild animals and their habitats and receive a fun adoption package (an animal plush and adoption certificate) in return. The true lesson, of course, is explaining to your kids that this wasn’t just purchased for them, but for the greater (animal) good.

Outdoor Explorer and Bug Catcher Kit
Ages: 3+
Cost: $$

A love of the outdoors and tiny insects will make kids more appreciative of the massive–and miniature–worlds around them.

The Ultimate Book of Scavenger Hunts
Ages: 4+
Cost: $

This contains 42 outdoor hunts. It helps engage kids when they’re bored without their screens (the horror!) and instills a sense of wonder and gratitude for the great outdoors.

Classes & Private Lessons

Private lessons can come in any shape and size. They even come virtually! 

From music to sports, these one-on-one lessons with an instructor deliver much more than one package ever could. They can inspire a life-long love of creative and athletic pursuits. 

Anything that your child has shown interest in can be gifted as a private lesson. And gratitude for this gift will only grow as your child learns more and excels at something new!

Music Lessons
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $-$$$

Music & Arts offers in-person and virtual music classes alike. 

Sports/Fitness Lessons
Ages: Varies
Cost: $-$$$ offers private lessons in sports and fitness.
Ages: Varies
Cost: $-$$$

Not only does this site offer individualized lessons in sports and fitness as mentioned above, but it also offers lessons in languages and other academics.


Ages: 7+
Cost: Free

Handing down heirlooms is something kids take to heart.

The older kids are, the more meaningful these gifts can be. But younger kids can appreciate them, too. 

You can even go through an old box of vintage toys you had when you were little and let them pick out toys to be fixed, re-painted, or enjoyed as-is. 

Here are some other ideas: Heirloom Gift Ideas

Fun and Frivolous Gifts (That Won’t Annoy Parents)

We’ve all had that doll that makes sudden, creepy cries in the middle of the night, and the high-pitched monotonous toy you feel the need to make “disappear.”

Let’s not forget the flashy, obnoxious, battery-eating toys that stop working after 5-minutes and leave us regretting our purchase. 

Kids love these toys, though. They don the top of wish lists and catch their eyes at every store. 

We’re bound to buy one or two–or a few–each season.

One idea is to save these toys, when they’re small enough, as stocking stuffers. That way we can keep more valuable and meaningful gifts under the tree. 

But when we still want to wrap a few gifts for pure fun, here are some solid ideas:

Eco-Friendly Marble Run
Ages: 4+
Cost: $$$

We’ll admit, this toy still has educational value and the marbles can get everywhere, but it’s a classic game that always sparks joy. 

Ages: 3-6
Cost: $

This sweet flower set made by Green Toys (from recycled plastics) helps kids create, build, and practice their gardening skills!

Hanging Solar System
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

This is fun to both unwrap and hang in their rooms. 

Flybar Pogo Ball
Ages: 6+
Cost: $

Let kids expend some energy with this indoor/outdoor activity.

Little Live Pets Cozy Dozy cozy dozy
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

Kids will love these cute teddy bear and koala babies. They can play animal, house, doctor, and dolls with these nap-friendly, soothing toys. 

Gifts FROM Kids (That They Really Did Help With)

We’ve all presented gifts on behalf of our kids. 

When a gift tag says “To Mom, from Liam,” it’s probably really “To Mom, from Dad Pretending to be Liam.” Because Liam’s only four. 

Or, even more realistically, “To Mom, from Mom, Pretending to be Dad, Pretending to be Liam.”

Still, from an early age, kids can be encouraged to give thoughtfully. The earlier they learn the joy of giving, the less they’ll want. Really. 

But how can a 4-year-old give something, at least monetarily? Well, that’s for each family to decide. 

We can either encourage our children to contemplate and choose gifts while we cover the cost, or we can encourage them to use their allowance to budget for gifts. 

With an Allowance

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we see an allowance as a fantastic financial training tool. We believe kids even as young as four or five can benefit from monetary management. 

Ideally, an allowance isn’t just about spending. It’s about saving and giving. If kids do this successfully, they’ll have enough money of their own to spend on gifts.

It may not be much, but even a little can go a long way. 

Ornaments 4 Orphans
Ages: 4+ (So kids grasp the donation concept)
Cost: $-$$$

100% of the cost of the items on this website (more than just ornaments) goes to fair wages for the artisans that create them. By purchasing through this website, kids learn about fair trade and supporting communities far and wide.

Toys for Tots
Ages: 4+ (So kids grasp the donation concept)
Cost: $-$$$

The well-established Toys for Tots is a great way for kids to consider those less fortunate. Children can choose a toy and donate it–all online. 

4 Ocean
Ages: 4+ (So kids grasp the donation concept)
Cost: $-$$$

Buy a gift–some under $25.00–and help save the ocean! For example, kids can gift moms, grandmas, sisters–anyone!–the beautiful bracelets on offer. 

Indoor Curling, Golf/Pool, Shuffleboard, or Darts
Ages: 8+ 
Cost: $$-$$$

Dad and Mom might both like these fun indoor options that encourage fun family time. Parents can even pitch in with the costs. 

Starbucks Gift Card
Ages: 4+ 
Cost: $-$$$

Kids know what picks their parents up–and contributing to that joy is something almost any child can afford with basic budgeting. Naturally, kids can substitute other options for siblings, grandparents, and the rest of their peeps.

Small Gifts for Siblings
Ages: 3+ 
Cost: $

Many kids have just a few dollars to spend, but it’s impactful when kids remember not just Mom and Dad, but each other. One idea is to gift a LEGO-loving sibling a unique Minifigure. Another is to wrap some neon or glitter crayons.   

Without an Allowance

Repurposed Toys
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

We talked above about repurposing trash, but kids can also repurpose their toys to make new gifts for family and friends. 

Used Toy Donations
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

Kids can turn their excess into something valuable for another child.

A Helpful Activity
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

When kids give presents, a little can go a long way. It may be unrealistic to expect them to make breakfast in bed for mom and dad on Christmas morning, but they could make a dessert for holiday dinner or clean the house after the presents are opened. 

DIY Crafts
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

Depending on a child’s age (and the type of craft), a DIY project may be something an adult needs to assist with. Still, if we let our kids choose the crafts and help substantially with the project, they will feel pride in a handmade gift. And the recipient will love the thought and work put into it.

Gift Exchanges

Many of us are familiar with the annual White Elephant or Secret Santa exchanges at work and at school. But kids will adore playing these games with family members. They’re a clever way to receive a gift while giving something in return. 

Secret Santa encourages kids to consider what others care about, while White Elephant teaches, “We get what we get and don’t throw a fit.” 

Best of all, they’re both riotous fun.

Final Thoughts

The art of gifting is legit–as in legitimately nuanced, thoughtful, impactful, stressful, and tricky.

Just remember that starting a tradition of substantial, meaningful gifting is the most priceless gift of all. 

And everyone will benefit.

Should Stepparents Discipline?

woman and girl sitting on couch talkingwoman and girl sitting on couch talking

woman and girl sitting on couch talking

When introducing children to a new family dynamic, one thing is certain…

Kids will naturally test the waters.

Whether it’s adding a new baby into the mix, a stay-at-home parent re-entering the workforce, or going through the process of divorce–no matter the circumstances, changes like these rock everyone’s worlds (kids and adults alike). And when worlds are shaken, pushback is to be expected.

Still, nothing can quite compare to the radical shift that occurs when two families blend together to become one. 

If this is a venture you’re embarking on, you know that navigating the murky waters of stepparenting isn’t for the faint of heart. From getting to know your new stepchildren to establishing your place in an already-formed family, it may feel like an uphill battle lies before you. And a long one at that.

In fact, bestselling author, therapist, and blended family expert Ron L. Deal from Smart Stepfamilies says, “The average blended family needs between five and seven years to merge and form a shared identity.”

Naturally, you have hundreds of questions running through your mind right now. But I’m willing to bet there’s one question that stands out above all others. And it’s a question stepparents have been asking for years…

Am I allowed to discipline my stepchildren?

As a parenting educator, I hear this question…a lot! Sometimes it comes from parents taking my FREE PARENTING WEBINAR. Other times it’s brought up by those who have already signed up for the 7-Step Parenting Success System® course.

While I’d love to give you a straightforward, cut-and-dry answer, this is a complicated topic. And learning how to navigate this new territory is just one of many hurdles blended families have to overcome.

But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean it’s impossible! 

If you genuinely want to know if you can discipline your new children, the answer is yes–but only alongside the proper tools that nurture your budding relationship. 

However, before we get to the relationship building, the first critical step is to understand what discipline even means

So let’s discuss…

What is Discipline?

From a Positive Parenting Solutions perspective, the main goal of discipline should always be to bring out the absolute best in your kids! Sure, they may exhibit less-than-ideal behaviors, but they are not less-than-ideal children. 

They only need to be shown how to behave properly (with you leading the way).

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be an overly permissive or strictly punitive stepparent. In fact, I don’t recommend either of those options. Instead, seek to properly train your stepchildren. When misbehaviors arise, they can learn and grow from the experience. 

Of course, parents and stepparents alike often find themselves stuck, confusing two very different concepts: punishment and discipline.

To be clear, when discussing discipline, we are NOT talking about punishment. 

Dr. Jane Nelsen–the mother of Positive Discipline–best-described punishment as anything that causes a child to feel blame, shame, or pain. It relies on using negative feelings to end negative behavior, which simply doesn’t work.

Our job as parents (and stepparents) isn’t to scare or threaten our kids into behaving properly, giving them no understanding of why their behavior was wrong in the first place. Our job is to guide, mold, and instruct them on how to behave. 

It’s training! And it works wonders, now and for years to come.

So how can you discipline without stepping into punishment territory?

Start with clear communication…

Kids need to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. But how are they supposed to know if it isn’t clearly communicated to them? 

Once you and your spouse are in lock-step agreement on your family’s rules, bring the kids into the conversation during a family meeting. Allow them a say in the process of figuring out which rules are currently working and which are not. 

You may be surprised to find out that disobedience isn’t the issue at all! Plus, the more you get their buy-in, the more they’ll be willing to cooperate within the family rules. 

Of course, certain misbehaviors have consequences, and your kids need to know what those consequences are beforehand. But getting everyone on the same page rule-wise may be your ticket to avoiding consequences altogether. 

How amazing is that!

Also, your discipline should come from a place of kindness and understanding. 

When misbehaviors arise, don’t blindly react in the heat of the moment. Be intentional about how you choose to discipline your stepkids (and consistent with how your partner feels about the situation). Your thoughts and actions should always be grounded in how you will help them make better decisions down the road. 

This doesn’t mean backing off and letting them walk all over you. You can be firm in your decision while still respecting your stepchild. Not only will they respond better to this type of discipline, but you’ll see the long-term effectiveness as time goes on.

Now that you know what it means to discipline, let’s put it into action. How can you, as a stepparent, discipline your stepchildren? 

Build a Relationship First

Just as you are still building a relationship with your new spouse, your new stepchildren will also need some of your time and attention. During that honeymoon period, discipline will probably be the last thing on your mind; but I can assure you the topic will eventually come up.

And if there is one thing I can promise you, it’s this:

If there is no connection between you and your stepchildren, your attempts to discipline them will mean nothing.

Experts agree that until some sort of familial bond is formed with your stepchildren, they’ll likely have a hard time accepting you as an authority figure and may push back against any disciplinary attempts. 

This is why it’s essential to focus on building a strong, positive relationship from day one. And one of the best ways to establish a healthy relationship is to connect with your stepkids through quality one-on-one time together.

Start a MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® Schedule

Nothing tells a child, “You’re so important to me,” quite like making special time each day to pour your attention into them.

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, we refer to this as a MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® schedule. That’s 10-15 (distraction-free) minutes of your day spent doing something they want to do.  

This could be playing your stepdaughter’s favorite board game or listening along as your stepson tells you about each of his 500 Pokémon cards. As long as you allow them to choose the activity (within reason), the possibilities are truly endless! 

You’ll get to know them. They’ll get to know you. And you’ll both end up with a stronger, more established connection with one another.

Amy McCready quote

Encourage, Encourage, Encourage!

Another fantastic relationship-strengthening tool is the use of encouragement.

Like many well-meaning stepparents, your first instinct may be to dole out the praise. 

Umm, yeah, Amy. I want them to like me, after all! 

I know, I know! It’s so tempting. But pump those brakes just a bit because constant praise does very little to help your relationship in the long run. 

In fact, it can even lead to more significant problems down the road.

That’s because praise fosters a need for external motivation–that constant need for others to affirm their value and self-worth. And the more praise your stepkids receive, the more they’ll crave it.

Instead, focus on empowering them through encouraging words.

For example…

Instead of saying, “Wow, bud, you are such a good athlete! Your team couldn’t have won without you,” try, “I know we’re just getting to know each other, but I can tell you work hard at your sport. I bet it feels awesome to be such a great team player.”

This type of encouragement tells him you care while also allowing him to reflect on how his actions make him feel. 

free encouraging words download

Starting a new marriage provides an excellent opportunity for you, your spouse, and your children to focus on building great relationships with one another from the very beginning. 

Just remember, connection is far more important than correction. Focus on building the relationship first, then figure out how best to handle the disciplinary action.

That said, here are four important considerations to remember when weighing discipline for your stepchildren.

1. Consider Their Age

New marriages affect children of all ages. But how your stepchildren react to you could be heavily influenced by how old they are when you first come into the family. 

For example, younger children tend to push back with their actions, like tantrums or hitting–while older kids often do so with their words. Just ask any stepparent who has ever been on the receiving end of this dreaded comment: “You’re not my real dad/mom!” 

Do these words hurt? Of course. But try to understand where the harsh words and actions are coming from without getting defensive. More often than not, a deeper issue lies beneath the surface.

We know that kids have a deeply rooted need to feel power and control over their own lives. But they can’t control their parents’ relationships. Just imagine how frustratingly powerless the situation makes them feel…and try to empathize.

It’s also important to note that younger children typically have an easier time adjusting to new authority figures than older kids. As kids grow up and move into the teenage years, they naturally move on to resisting even their biological parents’ authority. 

So don’t take it personally if they do the same with you. Teens and toddlers don’t act the same way (usually…), so you shouldn’t expect to discipline them the same way either.

2. Consider Their Perspective

Your stepchildren were part of a family before you came onto the scene. It would be unfair to pretend that wasn’t the case, especially if they’re still grieving the loss of the family they knew before.

Before you even think about your role as a disciplinarian in their life, take time to consider life from their point of view.

How must it feel to see their parent romantically involved with someone else? What was their family dynamic before you entered into it? 

No matter your intentions, there’s a good chance they may see you as the “bad guy.” Not because of anything you have done but simply because of the role you’re stepping into.

And it’s okay for them to feel this way. It’s not your job to fix anything. It’s just your job to understand where they are coming from.

But how can you do that?

Outside a MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® schedule, another fantastic way to learn about your new kids and gain their trust is to implement regular Family Meetings.

Think of your new family as a start-up business–one you want to succeed! Just as good businesses succeed when every employee works together, so does a family unit.

Pick a time each week (preferably the same time every week) to sit down together. This is your chance to talk as a family about struggles, brainstorm solutions, and even practice a few team-building exercises. 

You’ll never be able to truly understand your stepchildren’s perspectives without first getting them to open up. And the Family Meeting provides the perfect grounds to do just that!

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members can review Step 6 for more details on how to run the best, most effective Family Meeting.

3. Consider Your Spouse

You and your new spouse are a team. But in the early stages of entering your stepchildren’s lives, it’s best to leave the disciplining to your spouse. Not only will your stepchildren recognize this parent as one of authority, but they’ll also feel most safe and comfortable under the gentle guidance of their mom or dad.

Family psychologist Patricia Paper now suggests that stepparents who take the time to establish a foundation of mutual respect and affection are setting themselves up for success because later disciplinary action will be met with less resentment from the stepchild.  

This is also an excellent time for you to learn from your spouse. Take note of how they interact with their children, what behavior battles seem to be most common, and what steps they take to encourage better behavior in their kids.   

Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse All. The. Questions. (Seriously, just ask!)

Questions like…

How do you prefer to discipline the kids? 

What areas of discipline do you feel most strongly about? 

What are your absolute “no-nos” when it comes to discipline?

Are you a strong proponent of positive parenting? If not, are you willing to get on board with that? 

In the end, your consideration of your spouse, their opinions, and their expertise will be a driving force for your own success as a stepparent. Plus, they’ll feel better knowing how dedicated you are to parenting their children likewise.

And don’t worry that you’re putting all the parenting burden on your spouse. As your relationship with your stepchildren warms and develops, you’ll be able to take on more of the load.

But to start, you focus on connection. Let your spouse focus on correction.

free parenting class

4. Consider Their Other Parent

If you’re actively co-parenting with your stepchild’s biological mother or father, you need to consider them an essential part of the equation regarding when and how you discipline. You, your spouse, and their ex need to be on the same page.

Make it one of your top priorities to include the other parent in your parenting conversations. Consider how they run their household in comparison to how you run yours, and think about what those differences might mean for your stepkids.

For example… 

Do you and your spouse avoid paying your kids for doing chores, but their other parent has no issue with it? Are you sticklers for a strict bedtime routine, but it’s not a priority at their other house?

And what about the topic we’re here for–discipline? What types of disciplinary approaches are they comfortable with you taking on as a stepparent? 

While you can’t control exactly how the other parent runs their house (as they can’t run yours), it would be wise to discuss the details and get on the same page about as many of these key issues as possible.

Not only will you be working to provide much more stability for your stepchildren, but you’ll also give your stepkids less reason to compare one set of parents to the other.

Now you may be thinking, That’s so much easier said than done, Amy, but you don’t know who I’m dealing with. 

And you may be right. But there are parents out there who have been in your same shoes and risen above the conflict victoriously.

In fact, in their book, No One’s the Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan For the Mother and Stepmother Relationship, Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Maine explain how they completely transformed their co-parenting relationship and even became close friends.

Similarly, in the book Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, author Mashonda Tifrere uses her personal experience co-parenting with her ex-husband Swizz Beatz and his new wife, Alicia Keys, to create a guide for helping families blend in a healthy way.

The truth is kids need both sets of parents fully engaged in their lives. You may not enjoy or get along with your spouse’s ex, but your stepchildren love them. And they obviously love your stepchildren.

Do your best to respect the other parent’s wishes, involve them in your decisions whenever appropriate, and above all else, let adult issues stay adult issues

When you give your co-parent the consideration and respect you’d want for yourself, you’ll more likely see the same in return. 

CTA: Positive Parenting Solutions members, check out the Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart with Christina McGhee, MSW. Here you’ll find surefire strategies to take the hassle out of co-parenting.

Final Thoughts

Parenting is hard. Full stop.

But stepparenting is on an entirely different level of difficulty. So if this is the life arena you find yourself currently in (or getting ready to enter), take heart! You are most certainly not alone.

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we’re not just here to help the average parent, the biological parent, or the perfect parent. We’re here to help every parent! 

As you embark on this new journey in parenthood, I thank you for taking the time to consider our approach, and I wish you the very best of luck on your adventure.