Why a Feelings Wheel Supports Your Positive Parenting Journey

little girl covering her face with feelings emojis
little girl covering her face with feelings emojis

little girl covering her face with feelings emojis

Feelings make us human. They’re constant, primal–and kids can go through about a dozen of them in ten brief minutes.

Luckily, whether your child is a teary toddler or a raging teen, there’s a shortcut to deciphering them. 

In 1980, Robert Plutchik developed what he called the Wheel of Emotions. Shortly afterwards, in 1982, Gloria Willcox published The Feeling Wheel: A Tool for Expanding Awareness of Emotions and Increasing Spontaneity and Intimacy. 

Countless versions of the feelings wheel now abound. You can find one shaped like a pizza, another using emojis, and even a wheel turned into a board game.

No matter the version you use, each one dives into the intricacies of human sentiment. But for this particular article, we’ll be referring specifically to Gloria Willcox’s Feeling Wheel (shown below).

Gloria Wilcox Feelings Wheel

Gloria Wilcox Feeling Wheel

The goal of the Wheel is to help people understand and identify not only what they feel, but the specifics of those feelings. Because sometimes, it’s not enough–or doesn’t feel quite right–to say you’re sad, happy, or scared: especially when somebody’s hiding in the closet over a homework assignment they would’ve sailed through last week.

There’s actually SO much more going on. 

How to Navigate the Feelings Wheel

Appearing like a bullseye, the center of the Feeling Wheel represents broader, mainstream emotions–think of these as the descriptors your toddler would use (sad, happy, scared, mad etc.)  

The middle and outer rings represent more detailed feelings that can constitute those mainstream emotions. The empty spaces on the outermost ring of the Wheel are designed for individuals to fill in with a relatable emotion of choice. 

In addition, the Wheel is designed to reflect contrasting feelings. The exact opposite of peaceful, for example, is scared. Both are found on symmetrically opposite sides of the circle. It also enlists the help of colors to visually group and separate emotions. And darker colors can indicate feelings of higher intensity. 

But despite exploring feelings that are as varied as a Pantone palette, how can we truly apply the Feeling Wheel to our daily lives and Positive Parenting journeys? 

Positive Parenting is all about using tools to manage obstacles. It’s also about getting to the core of problems. (Our FREE Webinar offers a glimpse into these tools and this mindset.) 

Luckily, the wheel is another tool designed with similar strategic advantages in mind. 

The following are a few practical applications of the Feeling Wheel to make you ask, “Where has this been my whole life?”

Locate the Root of Misbehavior

Misbehavior is tricky. You know the saying: If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Well, when it comes to misbehavior, that’s not the case. It’s usually a sign of something else entirely. 

Positive parenting stresses that kids who misbehave aren’t bad. Instead, they lack the skills to manage their emotions.

Maybe they don’t feel like they belong with their peer group. Or, they feel insignificant because parents rarely make time to play with them. They may even feel a lack of control. This, in turn, tempts kids to act out to gain attention and power–even if our response (or the response from their peers) is negative.

You see, more than anything, kids long to feel capable, respected, and valued. 

Lately, it seems like your teenage daughter is mad about everything. There could be a million reasons why, but before you jump to conclusions about the difficulties of raising teenagers, consult the Feeling Wheel. 

When you locate mad at the center of the circle and the emotions that branch out from that category, what do you see?

Your daughter could be feeling jealous of a friend’s new boyfriend or frustrated with gobs of new homework. She could be acting hatefully towards her sister because she’s really irritated that she keeps “borrowing” her clothes. 

But what’s least likely is that she’s mad for the sake of being mad.

Instead of chalking up her behavior to a teen stereotype, shrugging it off, or returning her anger with MORE anger, try finding out what your daughter’s mad about. 

I’m not suggesting nagging and prying. But now is a good time to ask questions to help her open up and explain what’s going on. 

Your opening can be as simple as, “Something seems to be bothering you. I want you to know that I’m here if there’s anything you’d like to tell me or something I can help you with.”

Finding the core reason behind misbehavior saves everyone’s sanity and confusion. It also eliminates the need to use ineffective and inapplicable parenting strategies like punishment.


Choose Problem-Solving Over Punishment 

Punishment is a reactive behavior that many parents routinely employ when kids misbehave. The dilemma is, punishment focuses on the behavior itself; it never pries open the reason behind that behavior to aid in fixing it long-term. 

Punishment isn’t designed to identify problems. So naturally, it can never be the solution. 

The Feeling Wheel can help by keeping us proactive. For example, there’s no need to spank a 3-year-old for purposefully smearing toothpaste all over the counter to catch your eye. It may be tempting, considering your own rage welling up inside. But it’s not going to stop the misbehavior.

punishment isn't a solution

Instead, consider that your toddler–if she is making a mess to get your attention–is feeling angry. When implementing the Feeling Wheel in this scenario, you will see that the exact opposite of angry is feeling appreciated. And appreciation falls under a feeling of power

So, it’s likely that your daughter is feeling a lack of control over her young life. She may feel overpowered by new rules, constantly hearing the word “no,” and never getting a chance to make decisions. And once again, children need to feel significant. 

Perhaps your 8-year-old son has been acting unusually helpless. He says he can’t do his homework on his own, he “doesn’t remember” where to put the clean dishes, and he’s asking for preposterous amounts of help just to get the clothes in his room picked up. 

On the Wheel, the opposite of helplessness is the feeling of being loved. You’re reminded that even the smallest sense of feeling unappreciated can make a big impact on a child. 

Your best bet in these two situations is to implement two Positive Parenting Solutions tools: Mind, Body, and Soul Time–which reminds our children how much we love them despite our busy schedules–and the Decision-Rich Environment tool, which enriches attitudes, self-confidence, and a feeling of power.  

Using the Wheel, you can apply an associated, proactive tool for troubling behavior and eliminate ineffective, punitive measures. 

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions members, please review the Mind, Body, and Soul Time and Decision-Rich Environment tools in Steps 1 and 3 of the course.

free parenting class

The Benefits of Helping Kids Identify Big Emotions

There’s no denying it–kids are born with their emotions. 

The tantrum your 2-year-old threw yesterday? It was almost shocking to see so much toil and rage unleashed from such a tiny little body.

One of the best ways to help our kids, even at their earliest levels of verbal comprehension, is to help them identify and label these powerful, instinctive sentiments. 

Nothing can be more exasperating, even for adults, than not being able to identify what’s bothering us. But when kids can validate powerful emotions with a label, they feel less overwhelmed.

Perhaps your 2-year-old is losing her mind over the popsicle melting all over her hands. She’s learning the sun melts things faster than she can eat them, and she’s enraged! 

The Feeling Wheel reminds us that frustration, irritation, and anger are all closely related. We can calmly get down on our daughter’s level, face to face, wait for the tears and screaming to subside, and explain that her frustration is making her mad. 

“I know you’re irritated that your hands are messy and half your popsicle is gone. I get it! You’re angry.”

Naming the feelings behind big tantrums is one of the best ways to quell them. Instead of suppressing emotions, it alleviates them through acknowledgment and empathy. 

Kids learning to label emotions will also have an easier time with anxiety, depression, and aggression. And fewer of their troubles will be pent-up and/or brushed aside. 

By speaking openly about feelings, kids will also be more willing to share their thoughts and concerns with us. As parents, it’s imperative to preserve communication channels for the many challenges and hurdles to come. 

Maybe your teenage son just failed his history exam while all his friends aced it. When you ask how the test went, he says, “I don’t want to talk about it, but let’s just say I’m stupid.” 

Feelings of ignorance, we know from the Wheel, make people melancholy. Using this knowledge, you can say, “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but when people feel inferior or like they’ve failed in some way, it’s natural to feel sad.”

While you’ll want to jump into ‘fixing’ feelings or make them out to be less than you think they should be, recognizing them first is crucial. Then, you can use encouragement to focus on a better approach.  

“I understand your feelings, but I also want you to know you aren’t stupid. That is a terrible, unfair word. All intelligent people fail sometimes. They simply need to try again–maybe with a little help or support.”

Explaining to kids why they feel those negative emotions–and then adding encouragement–guides kids towards surmounting them.

The Feeling Wheel Teaches Emotional Problem-Solving 

Detecting the true problem behind any emotion–or a set of them– is only the first part of the equation. 

Once kids have recognized and even vocalized their emotions, the next step is to use this knowledge to solve emotional problems.

One way to do this is looking to the opposing side of the Feeling Wheel to find an appropriate antidote. 

Your 16-year-old might be acting apathetic. She doesn’t want to do anything that friends or family suggest and has been moping around the house for days. While studying the Wheel with your daughter and helping her identify her emotions, you both see that the opposing emotion to apathy is daring.  

This gives you an idea; maybe you can get your daughter outside her comfort zone. With the Wheel as your guide, you both brainstorm ways to invigorate her and pull her out of her rut. She decides to sign up for a new sports camp that encourages physical and mental endurance. Or, maybe she challenges herself to perform a difficult piece in her upcoming piano recital. 

Imagine that your 4-year-old loves to draw. He is profoundly hurt every time his older brother makes fun of his messy coloring and strange, triangular clouds. These seemingly exaggerated feelings of hurt could be a reflection of missing pride

This inspires you to say, “It isn’t nice that your brother is teasing you, and you feel hurt. But you know what? All that matters is that you love your drawing. You can be proud of practicing what brings you joy!”

Taking a healthy risk–or confidently coloring outside the lines, so to speak–might be just what your daughter and son need for a jump-start to motivation and self-assurance. It takes practice, but when you Take Time for Training using the Feeling Wheel, your kids can learn to not only label their emotions, but soon advance to self-help guru.

There are always actions we can take to combat negative feelings, and the Feeling Wheel offers an inspiring menu of options. Not everything can be healed all at once, though, as many solutions take commitment and time. 

At first, we can always walk kids through long-term and short-term problem-solving techniques. Then, after some practice, we can rely on them to tackle issues on their own.  

Before long, our children will gain more independence and emotional intelligence. 

What could be more empowering?

Final Thoughts

Don’t forget to connect to your own emotions! 

Use of the Feeling Wheel shouldn’t just be on behalf of our kids. It’s designed for us, too. 

After all, how can we empathize with kids and help them analyze their emotions when we don’t understand our own feelings? 

Before using the Feeling Wheel to dissect your teenager’s latest mood mystery or your 6-year-old’s tendency to feel discouraged at school, try implementing it when you feel overwhelmed by an emotion yourself. 

Like most things, kids learn best by example. If we are masters of our own self-reflection, our kids will follow suit. If we sympathize through understanding and relatability, our kids will become more empathetic. And if we communicate well through it all, they likely will, too. 

It’s always beneficial to maintain perspective. A child coming across as unnecessarily mean, scared, or moody has a reason for it. By using an outside source of analysis, we can process their actions and attitudes less personally and more objectively. 

And don’t forget–the Feeling Wheel is just one way to contemplate emotions. Not all emotions are represented, and many can be experienced at once. But when used as a resource, it can help us stay more attuned to our family’s desires and deficiencies and assist our kids through emotional growing pains. 

Morning Routines You and Your Kids Can Master

young girl tired sleeping at breakfast table
young girl tired sleeping at breakfast table

young girl tired sleeping at breakfast table

You wake up two minutes before your phone alarm goes off, feeling well-rested. As you pull on your robe, you hear the kids laughing and getting along. You roll downstairs to see them already fully dressed, lunches packed, eating a nutritious breakfast. 

Gosh, you think. It’s only Monday, but this week is going to be great! I must be doing something right. 

While patting yourself on the back for raising such civilized children, you hear a faint, jarring sound. 

It gets louder, quickly becoming annoyingly deafening…

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!”

Oh, fudge. 

That’s your alarm, you’ve overslept, and your perfect morning is about to get real.

It’s time to hit the ground running. 

Forget about whether you’re a morning person or you woke up on the “right” or “wrong” side of the bed. Forget if you’re already straining to recall the foggy details of a wishful dream. And forget if your kids always seem to turn what would be peaceful mornings into madness.

For a successful start to any family’s day, a solid morning routine is what’s needed.

Here’s how to tame your morning mania:

Make Routine Your Best Friend Forever

Routines are regimented and repetitive. They seem boring and blasé. 

But when it comes to de-stressing and streamlining your daily life, morning rituals are your number one ally.

Why do routines work so well? 

First, even though kids love to push boundaries, they thrive on predictability. And parents do too. 

When kids know what’s expected of them, it’s easier to comply. They also feel comfortable in the confines of a reliable structure. 

But frenzy, complication, and stress? No one thrives on that. 

Second, routines are easier on our bodies. Anyone getting up at the same time every day–with sufficient sleep–will eventually find that waking up is easier. This means waking up at the same time on weekends, holidays, and all through summer break. 

And even though younger kids tend to jump out of bed while teenagers tend to sleep in, children of any age can train their bodies to follow a healthy circadian rhythm. 

It may take a little time and commitment. But to nail down a great routine, rehearsal is the perfect place to start.

Here are 3 quick strategies to ensure your routines run like clockwork…

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please review the Ultimate Survival Guide: Taming Morning Mania. We narrow down the 5 tools that lead to well-behaved kids (and dreamy, seamless mornings).

1. Take Time for Training

Practice makes mornings perfect–or, at least, much more manageable. 

No routines are ever flawless. Nor are they learned immediately. Tasks need to be tested and kinks worked out. Routines are always, at least to a small extent, an evolving work in progress. 

Still, the first step is to train children for what’s expected of them. 

If you want your kids to suddenly wake up and make their beds, get themselves dressed, brush their hair and teeth, eat a wholesome breakfast, pack their lunches, put homework in their backpacks, feed the dog…they are going to need a little guidance. 

We often overlook that kids aren’t born knowing how to accomplish basic tasks. Even older kids suddenly charged with more responsibility might have a learning curve. 

How long should they be brushing their teeth? How do they make their beds nicely? Where can they find clean pants? Is a brownie for lunch acceptable? How much food goes in the dog bowl, and which type? 

These are questions kids need answered before solidly executing what we ask of them.

So before you hand your kids a long list of jobs for their morning routine, be sure to Take Time for Training. This is a powerful tool that gives children the skills they need to complete tasks while increasing their own capabilities. 

Just like adults, when kids feel capable and empowered, they are more likely to confidently and successfully complete their list of to-dos. 

Use a When/Then Routine

As all parents know, just because we ask our kids to do something doesn’t mean they’ll do it. 

We can plead for them to cooperate, but their willpower and defiance can stand in the way. 

This is the time to implement a When/Then Routine. It’s especially useful when learning a new set of rules or morning schedule. 

If your kindergartener refuses to make his bed, simply state, When you’ve made your bed like we practiced yesterday, Ethan, then you can go downstairs and eat your yummy breakfast.” 

It’s important to note that the then portion of the request isn’t a reward. It’s just something more enjoyable, albeit normally allowed, than the task they’re complaining about. 

Once realizing you won’t budge and that he really won’t get breakfast until he’s made the bed, Ethan will eventually comply. 

The When/Then Routine might take some time to go smoothly at first. It depends on how long kids delay completing the requested task. But soon, the When/Then Routine becomes a habit and less and less of a struggle. 

Truth Bomb: Parents sometimes take for granted that kid priorities are different from adult priorities. Unlike laser-focused parents, kids get distracted and look for opportunities to maximize play. But the more we encourage them to stick to their routines, the more they’ll stay on track. 

kid priorities are different from parent priorities

No matter what time of year you’re tackling a new routine, just be sure to test it out first. It could be a warm spring weekend or a week before a new school year starts. But always allow a grace period–and gracious attitude–for kids to make mistakes, learn, and start anew.

The result is that kids will be more self-sufficient in no time. 

1. Plan for Punctuality 

You may be a person who marches to the beat of your own drum and the tick of your own clock. 

Or, maybe, if you aren’t 10 minutes early, you feel late. 

While we may think the ability to be punctual is a deeply-rooted character trait–the truth is, it directly relates to a person’s morning routine. 

Besides consistency, building a cushion of time into any routine is essential. And this isn’t just during the training period.

Daily life has unlimited variables. There could be a traffic accident, your preschooler could wake up with a bloody nose, or the cereal bowl could decide to be slippery in your daughter’s hands and spill all over the clean floor. 

Even a well-mastered routine is going to be thwarted by these minor hiccups, and that’s okay. But keeping ourselves calm–and punctual–despite these little obstacles is easier when we build in some leeway. 

If you’re in the habit of getting up at the last minute and cutting it down to the wire, or your kids are constantly late to school, don’t underestimate the time it takes for your family to complete your morning routine. Exaggerate the time and then add 10-20 minutes. 

Of course, it’s easier said than done. As with any morning routine, waking up early can be the hardest part. 

Now that you have the tips to create the framework for a successful morning routine, here are some other strategies for turning morning madness into morning magic.

Sleep for Success 

The next, mandatory step to morning success is a solid bedtime routine.

Positive parenting is about unraveling the foundation of misbehavior. It’s finding the root of the problem. And that can be more complex than it seems.

Join Amy for a free class

Similarly, when hectic mornings still abound after strong routines are implemented, the culprit could be the lack of sleep from nights prior. 

Singers say the note before the high note is the foundation of a beautiful, sustained pitch. Athletes envision success the night before a game to perform better the next day. 

So, set your family up for success by going to bed earlier. Or, at the very least, on time. 

Adults and kids alike need a lot of sleep. And most of us don’t get enough. 

Electricity and technology, while amazing, are keeping us awake at night. So, we can start by keeping our kids and ourselves away from screens two hours before bed every night. This includes iPads, smartphones, social media, and TV

Next, we can add a consistent bedtime. Just like getting up at the same time every morning, going to bed at the same time every night trains our bodies to fall asleep faster and more easily. 

We also need to make sure bedtime is early enough to allow plenty of sleep per night. This time may be different for each child, but until kids can wake up feeling mostly refreshed, keep testing earlier bedtimes. 

No one is destined for a good morning when they’re grumpy and sleep-deprived. 

Structure Your Own Mornings–Like a Boss

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then let’s set good examples for the kids that so lovingly look up to us. 

Successful daily routines for our kids largely rely on our positive attitudes. If we feel calm and in control, our kids will pick up on that and reflect it. Conversely, our stress can show up in their actions, like resistance, dawdling, and backtalk.

I know. It’s hard to feel in control when life is so hectic, and the to-do list is so long it makes your head spin. 

So, what can you do?

Wake Up Before Your Kids

Start by getting up at least a half-hour before everyone else. 

If lack of sleep is an issue, set yourself an earlier bedtime, just like the kids. Then, just do it. Get up earlier. 

Waking up before your kids’ feet hit the floor allows you the chance to compose yourself, use the restroom in peace,   work out, check your email, and even make and drink a cup of coffee before the kids wake up and add to the equation. It gives you much-needed “me” time before you have to be “on” for everyone else. (It may be your only “alone” time during the day!) 

Parenthood will always have its moments: occasionally we’ll wake up to kids staring at us, jumping on us, or startling us awake by screaming and tattling on one other

While these do make funny memories, not every morning has to be as jarring. Most mornings, we can give ourselves time to stretch luxuriously, get out of bed on our own, and mentally prepare for the rest of the day. 

It really makes a world of difference.  

Simplify Your Tasks

Another way to make morning routines easier is to complete as much prep work as possible the day before. 

Suggest that your kids–especially the fashion-conscious ones–pick out the clothes they’d like to wear the next day before they go to bed. Help them get in the habit of putting completed homework in their backpacks the day before, not the morning it’s due. Ask them to accompany you for weekend grocery shopping, so they can plan what they’ll pack in their lunches that week. 

Just like routines themselves, the act of simplifying takes practice and training. So, be patient. Consider hanging up a routine chart that reminds kids of the to-do list until they have it memorized. (Pro Tip: For the younger kids, be sure your routine chart includes pictures!)

And don’t forget to make things easier on yourself, too. Start with an uncomplicated breakfast that doesn’t sacrifice healthy options. Defrost already prepared pancakes, serve pre-cut fruit, or even train the kids to make their own oatmeal. 

Most mornings will eventually go smoothly. Just don’t be frazzled by occasional mishaps. 

Prepare for Challenges

Yes, routines should be as consistent as possible, but there are times when we have to be flexible. 

Because life happens. 

As a general rule, we don’t want to stray from our routine wake-up time. But what if a late-night trip to the emergency room or an overseas vacation messes with our schedules? 

Changes to our routines can leave lingering effects for a few days. The important thing to remember is that it’s normal to have some setbacks. Whether it’s childhood sleep regression or any number of outside influences, just do your best to take glitches one day at a time and slowly melt back to a regular routine. 

And don’t forget it’s normal for kids to slip up in their routines and push boundaries. 

Instead of nagging and brandishing punishment when kids don’t “stick to the program,” allow them to make these mistakes. Then, implement two Positive Parenting Solutions tools; the No Rescue Policy and Natural Consequences. 

The No-Rescue Policy means that when your teenager forgets to put his homework in his backpack the night before, you won’t remind him that it’s missing–or run it to school for him. 

In order to use the No-Rescue Policy effectively, be sure your child is well-trained on the expectation ahead of time and work with him to create systems to remember in the future.

“I’ve noticed you have a hard time remembering your homework after a late lacrosse practice. You’re responsible enough to manage your sports schedule AND your homework, so next time you forget your homework, I won’t be bringing it to school. Do you want to brainstorm some visual reminders to cue you before you leave the house in the morning?”

The key to the No-Rescue Policy is that children are well-aware of the expectation and not being blind-sided. Otherwise, kids may feel angry and betrayed when suddenly learning THIS is the day we will no longer redeem them. 

After your strategic lack of involvement, Natural Consequences will soon follow. And the result of missing homework–be it zero credit for the work completed or a lower grade–will teach your teenager to be better organized and prepared next time.

Maintain Routines Through Virtual Schooling

For most of us, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into normalcy. 

Many of us work from home while our kids attend school remotely. We wear sweatpants to morning meetings, and kids wear pajamas to class. We turn off our cameras and brush our teeth with co-workers present, and kids eat sticky syrupy waffles while copying multiplication tables. 

Without having to leave the house, it’s tempting to let pre-COVID morning routines slide. But, despite so many changes, our morning habits should remain as consistent as they were before. 

It doesn’t matter if our commute to work is via the highway or a simple flight of stairs. It doesn’t matter if our kids are going to catch the bus or stay inside all day; maintaining the same routine instills a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic time. Furthermore, it reinforces that virtual school, while remarkably different, requires just as much preparation and respect as it does in person. 

We can still enjoy the small conveniences of slightly easier morning routines while there remains nowhere to go. But we can’t take for granted the power of a solid routine any day of the week, no matter our responsibilities or plans. 

Final Thoughts

Happier, efficient mornings really are within your grasp. But caffeine or decaf, summer or fall, five kids or one, your best bet is to find a morning routine and stick to it. 

Just know that the first few days–or even weeks–of any new routine will require some willpower and dedication. But I’m confident; before long, the mornings you used to dream about will come true.

Why Is It So Hard To Talk To Your Tween or Teen?

group of teens talking with skateboards and phones
group of teens talking with skateboards and phones

group of teens talking with skateboards and phones

Guest post by Michelle Icard, speaker and author of Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen

So often as parents, we long to connect with our tweens and teens, to share wisdom we hope will spare them trouble, to share inspiration we hope will encourage growth, or simply because we adore and miss them. And so often, our best intentions are met with stone cold resistance.

You ask your daughter how her math test went and she grumbles, “Ugh, I don’t know! Why are you making this into a thing?!” 

Your son asks to download a new game but when you tell him you need to know the price first, he throws his hands up and yells, “It’s not fair! You never want me to have fun anymore.”

Remember when talking with your child was simpler? When you didn’t have to imagine all the possible landmines you might trigger before opening your mouth? What happened? 

Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s them.

Understanding the Adolescent Construction Project

Every young adolescent embarks on a construction project to build the three things they need in order to become an adult. When I ask parents what they think those three things might be, they often suggest character traits like “responsibility,” “maturity” and “critical thinking.”

While these are all admirable qualities, and surely ones we want our children to grow into, we all know many adults who don’t have these mastered yet. It is quite possible to be an adult without hitting these targets. 

Your child’s current construction project consists of building three fundamental things they’ll need to become an adult: an adult brain, an adult body, and an adult identity.

An adult body is an easy concept for parents to grasp. Though puberty starts and progresses at slightly different rates for different kids, it follows a predictable and linear path. Plus, you can see it happening. From growth spurts to acne, you’re given lots of cues that your kid is on track and there is comfort in this confirmation. 

An adult brain is harder to see developing. One day, your child thinks rationally and communicates clearly. The next, they’re having a tantrum over chicken for dinner. Brain development often feels like it moves two steps forward, three steps back. 

An adult identity is my favorite piece of this puzzle, because it’s deeply rooted in social-emotional development–the part of adolescence I find most fascinating and intriguing. What does it mean to build an adult identity? Well, quite simply, it means figuring out who you are apart from your parents. 

Up to this point in your child’s life, you’ve handpicked most of the defining elements of their identity. You’ve orchestrated who they’ll have playdates with, chosen what clothes they’ll wear, and funneled your kids into sports, activities, and hobbies that suit your schedule, interests or parent friend group.

Now, your child wants to make decisions for themselves, including who they hang out with, what they enjoy doing, and what clothes best express their new sense of self.

Okay. But why does this mean they won’t talk with me anymore?

Because of this neurological and developmental need to figure out who they are as an individual at the onset of adolescence, your child will begin to feel a deep and pressing need to begin separating from you. 

It’s a normal and natural part of becoming independent, albeit messy, and sometimes even painful. When this urge for independence asserts itself, your child will look for ways to establish their autonomy.

Breaking down communication is often a first step in this process. Think of it anthropologically. Language is what ties groups together. And suddenly, your child needs to start pulling away and forming ties elsewhere. 

It’s the reason tweens and teens begin adopting slang. This new way of talking serves to purposefully encode their relationships with friends, at the same time they exclude adults, often mocking their ability to understand. When I was 13, if my mom kindly offered me a warm coat before heading out the door, it like, gagged me with a spoon. 

This frustrates parents immensely because just at the age the world opens up–presenting new opportunities that are sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous, and exactly when kids need the most guidance–they stop talking with us. 

There’s only one thing to do. When your child starts middle school, it’s time to learn a new language. 

How do I learn to change the way I’ve always spoken?

For starters, I’m not suggesting you use slang. This tactic, used by some parents as a comedic approach, can be fun if it’s done minimally, good-naturedly, and if your teen plays along.

But when this approach is overused, passive aggressive, or even wholehearted, it usually ruins any attempt to engage your child. Leave that to their friends and instead, let’s look at a more practical (less humiliating) bridge to their world.

It’s simply time to change your approach. You can no longer rely on your old patterns. The humor that once brought forth reliable giggles now elicits eye rolls. A pat on the couch and invitation to snuggle is met with a hasty backing out of the room. So, let’s look at new ways you can invite engagement.

In my book, Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen, I offer a new model for overcoming your language obstacles. Like a Rosetta Stone for learning how to speak to your tween or teen, it includes which approaches and phrases encourage communication, and which shut it down.

Most importantly, it will introduce you to a new format for all your conversations, whether you’re broaching big, thorny topics like a friendship breaking up or the pervasiveness of pornography, or trying to cover what ought to be simple topics like wearing deodorant or helping with household chores (that somehow still ignite a disproportionate response). I call this new approach the BRIEF model. 

BRIEF is an acronym, each letter representing a step in your conversation. But before I explain what each letter means, it’s important to point out that it spells brief for a reason.

Your tween or teen appreciates when conversations are short and succinct. Don’t focus on fitting everything into one talk. In fact, many brief conversations over time are more effective than one giant, “checked-the-box!” conversation.

And remember, a conversation is not a lecture. It takes two willing participants to have a good talk, so approach your tween or teen during a neutral or happy time, not when emotions are running high. 

Introducing the BRIEF Model

B – begin peacefully. Parents tell me the hardest part of talking to their tween or teen is knowing how to get started. The fear of being shut down leads many parents to skip hard conversations altogether, or to blurt out the most crucial information in what feels like their allotted ten seconds before their teen calls it quits.

Instead, start peacefully. This can be achieved by scheduling a time to talk later (no kid likes feeling ambushed) or by expressing gentle and broad curiosity about a subject rather than beginning by asking your child a personal question.

“We need to talk about vape. You haven’t tried it, have you?” is a good example of how not to start. Instead, you might open the conversation more subtly, as in “I read an article about kids vaping during class and wondered if it was an exaggeration. I’m curious if kids your age think adults are overreacting to vape.”

R – relate to your child. Your tween or teen may seem automatically defensive when you want to talk. You can disarm them by starting your conversation with empathy or relatability.

Establishing that you’ve felt or done similarly, or that you remember what it was like, is a nice way to get on the same page early. “When I was your age, vape didn’t exist but I can remember lots of people smoked. Cigarette companies even advertised to kids using cartoon characters.” 

I – interview for data. If you’re curious what your child knows or feels about a topic, ask, and do this with an open mind. You’re not asking them questions to catch them in a misunderstanding or to prove a point.

This is a very neutral, fact-finding mission meant to show what a calm and nonjudgmental listener you can be for them, as well as to establish some baseline facts for discussion. “Have you read anything about the lasting health effects of vape?”

E – echo what you hear. Now that you’ve heard what your child thinks, make sure you really understand. You might say something like, “This helps me understand. It sounds like you have seen vaping happen in and out of school, but it’s not as rampant as the news may make it seem. Is that right?”

F – feedback. This is last step but the place most parents begin, which is why conversations derail so quickly. Using the BRIEF model, you won’t give feedback, advice, or suggestions until the end, after you’ve earned your child’s trust by listening and not until you better understand their point of view and experience.

“I worry about the health side effects of vape and I know it can be a temptation for some people your age. My advice is this: you’ve always been good at taking care of yourself and I hope you’ll keep learning about this if it continues to be something people do around you. I think you’re smart enough to research it and make decisions that future you will thank current you for. I’m always available if you want to talk more about this.” 

You can use this new approach for all kinds of conversations. With practice, you’ll begin doing it naturally and seamlessly. I find that if you start implementing this with easy topics (“Thoughts on whether you’d like to do sleepaway camp again or look for a job next summer?”), your kids will warm up to bigger, meatier conversations (“How are your friends talking about consent after all the news surrounding the latest allegations of sexual harassment against that director?”).

You’ll mount more and more credibility as an easy person to talk with so that by the time your child faces the harder challenges of being an older teen, from broken hearts to social media missteps, you’ll have become a trusted advisor. 

If you’d like to learn more about this approach, my book is available for purchase at major booksellers and indie booksellers and you can learn more about my work at or follow me on these platforms: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

About Michelle Icard

michelle icardMichelle Icard (pronounced IKE-urd) is a speaker, author, and educator who helps kids, parents, and teachers navigate the complicated social world of early adolescence. Her latest book, Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen (Harmony/Random House 2021) guides readers through the fourteen essential conversations parents need to have with their kids before they start high school. Her first book, Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years, is a primer for the social and emotional changes parents and kids navigate when mid-life meets middle school under one roof.

Michelle is a member of the TODAY Show parenting team and NBC News Learn. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Chicago TribuneCNNTime, and People Magazine. Her middle school leadership programs, Athena’s Path & Hero’s Pursuit, have been implemented at schools across the country and she speaks around the globe at schools and parenting events.

The Playful Parent’s Guide to Roughhousing

group of kids wrestling
group of kids wrestling

group of kids wrestling


You wince as the sound of glass smashing onto the hardwood floor echoes from the living room. Quickly, you run into the room, pretty sure you know what scene you’re about to come across.

Just as you suspected, there lies your favorite crystal vase, shattered to pieces amidst a sea of wilting flowers. Your children stare at you from their spot on the ground, arms entangled, waiting for your reaction.

You open your mouth but don’t know what to say. A million things come to mind…

Look at what you did! 

How many times have I told you not to roughhouse? 

Why don’t you ever listen?

You need to play nicely!

Instead, you hold back and take a deep breath. Sure, controlling your temper is proving to be rather challenging–after all, you must have asked them not to roughhouse at least fifty times (this week!). But as the saying goes, this isn’t your first rodeo. And if there’s one thing you’ve learned time and time again, it’s this: yelling won’t help.

But what can you do?

First off, friend, let me assure you, I know exactly how you feel.

You’ve given everything you have to be the best parent you can be. You’ve taken the classes, read the parenting books, and listened to all the experts.

Yet, when you find your children roughhousing (again), you feel a little hopeless. Isn’t there something you can do to make it stop?

But let’s pause for a moment. 

Now, I know from the outside looking in, roughhousing appears, well–ROUGH! It seems so brutal and violent. Not to mention heart-stopping (I mean, really. Do they want to go to the hospital?). We can’t possibly let our children act that way…right?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes. We can let them act that way!

Because the truth is, roughhousing–when done right–is NOT a bad thing. It actually has some fantastic benefits!

Let me explain…

The Science of Roughhousing

Roughhousing–or as some call it, “Rough and Tumble Play”–looks a bit sketchy on the outside (especially to us moms–yikes!). But science tells us there are numerous benefits to this type of play.

In fact, in their book The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, Drs. Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen suggest that roughhousing has both intellectual AND connective benefits. 

You see, when our kids are roughhousing, their brains release a chemical known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). You can think of this as a type of fertilizer that stimulates brain growth. 

How neat is that?!

Each time they start horsing around playfully, their brains are treated to a healthy boost of stimulation that will not only lead to stronger intellectual and social development but will help them learn to regulate their emotional responses as well.

This type of rough play between kids or with parents is also an excellent way to build connections with others. When done the right way–with both parties having a good time playing–the brain releases a significant dose of oxytocin. 

You know oxytocin–the hormone that gives you all those warm, loving feelings? It’s the same thing that’s released when we share a hug or snuggle our kiddos.

Seeing your kids playing so wildly may give your heart quite the fright, and the thought of joining in? Forget about it! But you can rest assured knowing there are a lot of benefits resting just below the surface. 

Here’s the thing…it’s not your job to stop the rough and tumble play. But it is your job to teach your children to partake in the right way.

Follow these tips to make sure your kids’ roughhousing stays playful, fun, and harmless!

roughhousing quote

Tips for Roughhousing the Right Way 

Tip #1: Know the Difference Between Play Fighting and Real Fighting

You’re standing at the kitchen sink, multitasking as usual. As your hands wash the dishes, your eyes keep darting out the window, checking on your kids playing in the backyard. 

Your oldest is jumping on the trampoline with his little brother, and the two are getting along well. After a year spent at home together through the pandemic, you take this as a huge win.

Of course, you look down to grab another dish only to glance up a few seconds later to find things have changed…drastically.

Suddenly, the two boys are no longer happily bouncing up and down. Instead, they’re rolling across the trampoline, arms entangled, legs thrashing. Your oldest puts his brother in a headlock and messes up his hair, but the little guy soon wiggles free and jumps on his brother’s back. 

Naturally panicked, you run outside to put a stop to the fighting. However, upon closer inspection, you notice things look a little different. Are the boys actually…laughing?

From afar, it’s easy to understand how play fighting can be mistaken for real fighting. After all, it’s still technically fighting.

But there are key differences between the two. And when you learn to recognize the signs, it’s much easier to accept roughhousing for what it is–another form of play!

When kids are play fighting, “attacks” are simulated and “held back.” By that, I simply mean they’re pretend. It looked like your oldest had his brother in a severe headlock, but up close, his grip was actually loose enough to let him easily slip out.

When fighting for play, punches are softened, tackles are less aggressive, and attitudes are usually pretty cheerful. And afterward, there are no hard feelings.  

When kids fight for real, however, all the rules go out the window.

Happy shrieks are traded for angry cries. The intention of fun is replaced with a desire to harm. And when the fight is over, anger remains. 

As a parent, you know your children better than anyone. And I’d be willing to bet you have a pretty good understanding of when they’re fighting for play versus when they’ve entered a full-on knock-down-drag-out match.

So keep an eye out, and listen to your gut. By knowing and watching for the difference between the two types of play, you’re setting yourself (and your kids) up for understanding the key to successful and safe roughhousing.

Tip #2: Establish Ground Rules

“Last one in the house is a rotten egg!” 

Your 7-year-old daughter takes off in a sprint, racing her older sister toward the house. They’ve been playing outside all morning and are more than ready to eat when you call them in for dinner. 

However, just as she’s about to reach the front steps, her sister catches up and latches onto her shirt. They push and pull, and the younger girl is clearly trying to get away when…RIIIIIP!

“Hey, you ruined my shirt!” 

Your youngest is red in the face as she gives her sister a firm shove to the ground. On come the waterworks.

And you just know what you’ve been worried about all this time has suddenly come true. Someone has gotten hurt.

Now I know your first instinct may be to ban them from ever horsing around again. But try and hold off. Because, like it or not, trying to force your will is nothing but a recipe for power struggles.

Instead, try establishing some ground rules.

In a calm moment, perhaps during a family meeting or somewhere else away from the chaos, make it a priority to create your family’s own ground rules for roughhousing

These can be anything you see fit, though certain rules are probably a given. For instance:

  • Consent is the number one priority! Any participation in roughhousing should be agreed upon by all involved. AND the moment one party no longer wants to play, the roughhousing should end. 
  • Be nice! Just because the play is rough does not mean it can’t be nice. That means no hitting, kicking, biting, etc., that is rough enough to cause physical harm. 
  • Pick a safe space. Roughhousing right next to mom’s favorite vase is probably not the best idea. Out in the yard or downstairs on a playmat? Much better! 

Once you have your rules finalized, the next step is to utilize this fantastic tool from our toolbox–Take Time for Training.

Rules are hard, and they take time to learn–especially for kids. So make sure you aren’t setting your expectations too high right out of the gate. 

Will they forget one of the rules? Probably. But that’s why we take time to train them. Eventually, the knowledge will seep in, and they’ll catch on.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 2 Lesson 14 for more information on Take Time for Training and how it can help your child feel more capable and independent.

Tip #3: Make it About Connection

Imagine, if you will…

You’ve completed The 7-Step Parenting Success System, and of all the tools in the toolbox, Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST) is your absolute favorite! Those 10-15 minutes you spend each day with your son one-on-one are the best 10-15 minutes of the entire day.

It’s your husband’s favorite tool, as well. But his MBST with your son looks a little different from yours. And, sometimes, that has you worried.

Because, while the two of you enjoy reading comic books, building LEGO sets, and drawing pictures, he and your husband have a different daily ritual.

They fight. Well, play fight, that is.

Every day, the moment your son steps foot off the school bus, you know what’s about to go down. Or should I say, throw down? 

Right there on the front lawn, for all the world to see, they wrestle. They shove. They fight.

But you know what else they do? Bond!

Believe it or not, roughhousing paves the way to building a deeper connection with your child. (It works great for siblings to connect, as well!)

To make it simple, set your mind right by entering into the Child Ego State, where emotional connections are made. No longer are you the parent whose job is to maintain rules and keep order. You’re there to have fun! 

And when you’re having fun with your child, you’re not only meeting their hard-wired need for attention–you’re building memories that last a lifetime! 

As a bonus, enjoying a deep level of connection not only makes you a happier, less stressed parent; it also cuts down on the amount of misbehavior you see coming from your child. 

What a win!

Tip #4: Keep it Playful

For kids, more than anything else, roughhousing is downright fun! 

They enjoy the movement, the laughter, and the connection it brings, which explains why you may be finding it next to impossible to put a stop to in your household. 

Just remember, stopping the roughhousing isn’t the goal. Maintaining that playfulness, however, absolutely is. Because, unfortunately, the jump from playful to aggressive isn’t a very long one. 

I’m sure you’ve been there, watching your children wrestling on the playroom floor. One second they’re all laughing and giggles; the next, they’re screaming and crying because one child pushed the other a little too hard.

Your instinct may be to put a stop to it that very instant. And, if safety is a concern, you absolutely should. But I’d challenge you to play a little more offense if you can and go in with the mindset of preventing a downward spiral altogether.

And the best way to do so is to take an active role in keeping it playful.

Try some encouragement!

“Look at how much fun you two are having!” 

“Wow! You have so much energy! It’s great to see you playing so nicely.”

Of course, if you’re roughhousing alongside them, you have a fantastic opportunity to model good behavior. Keep smiling, laughing, and mentioning how much fun you’re having. Also, pay close attention to ensure you never let your size and strength become intimidating or scary. 

The truth of the matter is, if you’re in a playful mindset, your kids will most likely follow. Which is a fantastic way to ensure this fun pastime stays precisely that–FUN!

sibling roughhousing

Tip #5: Know When to (Calmly) Rein It In

It’s so easy, especially in the heat of the moment, for things to take a turn for the worse. Feelings get hurt, tempers flare, and everything else seems to disintegrate very quickly. 

Fortunately, there are a few clues you can look for that are pretty good indicators things are about to head south.

Are the smiles and giggles becoming fewer and further between? Are the shoves getting harder? Is the room feeling less fun?

What about body language? 

Look for scowls, furrowed brows, even a lack of eye contact. When the atmosphere in the room turns from fun-filled to on-edge, that’s a sure sign that trouble is brewing.

One of the most beautiful things about roughhousing is that it allows children to strengthen their awareness of their bodies as well as learn to respect the boundaries of others. Of course, when boundaries are crossed and the joy begins to leave the playtime, be aware, and prepare to rein it in.

Should you see any of the warning signs, politely shut it down before anything serious happens. It’s up to you to know your kids and their limits.

In a calm voice, say, “Hey kids, I can see you aren’t having as much fun as you were before. Let’s take a break for a while and go have a snack.” 

Or perhaps you simply have something else coming up that will require the rough play to end. You can get ahead of the curve (and avoid unnecessary power struggles) by calmly preparing your children to stop with the roughhousing. 

You can do this by laying out your expectations in advance. This will avoid blindsiding them and prepare them to settle down without feeling as though they are being nagged.

Perhaps try, “Alright, we are running out of time before we have to go eat dinner. Let’s play for one more minute, and then we can have dinner. You must be so hungry!”

There’s a reason why Calm Voice is one of the top Positive Parenting Solutions tools in the toolbox–it works! And when it comes to roughhousing, staying calm (even when everything inside you is trying to freak out) will always prove to be beneficial in the long run.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 2 Lesson 13: The Power of Calm for tips to help you remember how to use your Calm Voice.

But here’s what not to do: jump in too soon, if you can possibly help it. Not only do you want to give them a chance to figure out for themselves when to make an exit or call a playful truce, but you also don’t want to get in the habit of helicoptering their interactions.

Final Thoughts

As hard as it may be, now is the time to put away those preconceived notions you may have of roughhousing. We now have so much evidence that tells us, when done correctly, rough play can be a significant asset to our children and to us as well!

It’s physically and emotionally stimulating, and connective beyond measure. Of course, as with anything our children do, precautions must be taken. 

But you can rest assured, as your children mutually wrestle out in the yard or jump on your partner the moment he walks in the door, what may seem like a risky form of play is nothing to worry about. 

In fact, it’s absolutely normal. 

Have fun playing!

“I’m Bored!” 5 Tips for Parenting When Boredom Strikes

little girl with glasses bored
little girl with glasses bored

little girl with glasses bored“Mom, I’m so bored,” your eight-year-old whines from across the room.

You fight back the urge to whine right back as your eyes roll to the back of your head. Here you are, months into a global pandemic, and you’ve finally hit your wall. The jig is up. Your mind is blank. There’s absolutely nothing left in your arsenal of ideas. 

You’ve played board games, gone on walks, read books, but it’s never enough. The boredom continues.

And the worst part? Despite being home all day, you’ve never felt busier. The last thing you want to do is figure out a way to keep your daughter entertained.

Oh, sweet friend, I know exactly where you are coming from. Stuck between wanting to make your child happy and trying to encourage her sense of independence. Fighting the guilt of not dropping everything to entertain her while juggling everything else on your list of to-dos. 

Now, add in the extra hours spent home together during a pandemic? You’re frazzled beyond belief.

Believe me, this is a problem so common no parent is immune–even in a non-pandemic world. Those two little words (I’m bored!) may drive you absolutely up a wall, but you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Countless parents–myself included–have dealt with our children’s boredom and lived to tell the tale.

Fortunately, for you, we’ve got plenty of resources to help you out. In fact, you can try out our FREE Parenting Class right now where you’ll learn the root cause of your child’s boredom!

So what exactly can you do when you hear those two dreaded words? Here are 5 helpful tips for parenting kids when boredom strikes. 

5 Tips to Bust the Boredom

Tip #1: Get to the Root of the Issue

You don’t need to be a parenting expert–or even a parent–to know when it comes to kids, big feelings are always bubbling beneath the surface.

Sure, your son may bust out an exclamation of boredom and it could be just that–he’s bored! He’s looking for something “fun” to do. To be entertained.

But sometimes, things go a little deeper…

Before you immediately assume your child is merely begging for something to do, consider this: There could be an underlying issue–outside of general boredom–that is causing him to identify as “bored.”

Is it…

A Need for Attention?

Like all kids, he has an innate desire to feel connected to his family through positive attention. It’s why he thrives when spending quality time with you and his siblings and why his behavior always seems to improve when he feels a sense of significance and belonging.

However, when his need for positive attention goes unmet, that’s when other issues start to take form. You may see this as tantrums in the younger years, or backtalk when he’s a bit older. 

And, of course, through complaints of boredom! 

So if you’ve had it up to your neck with the constant nagging about being bored, consider for a moment if there’s more to it. Has he had a healthy dose of your attention today?

If not, perhaps give some Mind, Body, and Soul Time a try. All you need to do is spend 10-15 minutes, once or twice a day, doing something that he wants to do — one-on-one and distraction free. 

Plus, to make it really sink in, give the time together a name so he has a tangible reminder of your togetherness time – “Wow, Sam, I really enjoyed our special time together. I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!

You won’t believe the difference this small shift in your time can make.

Pro Tip: Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST) is one of the most powerful tools in the Positive Parenting Solutions Toolbox for raising respectful, capable, and independent kids. Members can review Step 1, Lesson 7 to learn how to easily fit this amazing tool into your already too-busy life.

A Need to Become More Self-Sufficient?

As parents, we are often met with a bittersweet mixture of sadness from the passing of each phase our children go through and excitement over what’s to come. It’s so nice when they can get themselves dressed in the morning but, oh, what we wouldn’t give to dress those cute little baby rolls once more. 

The thing is, at one point or another, kids grow up and become more self-sufficient. But sometimes we need to give them a little nudge in the right direction. Because teaching kids to be self-sufficient is absolutely critical!

So how does that relate to boredom? Think about it…

Is your child crying out because he wants you to entertain him OR does he lack the skills needed to come up with a few options on his own? If it’s the latter, this is where you need to pull out another wonderful Positive Parenting Solutions tool–Take Time for Training!

Before he complains of boredom again, give him the tools to problem-solve himself.

“I’ve been noticing that you get bored sometimes, but I also know you’re capable of coming up with something fun to do all on your own. Why don’t you make a list of your favorite activities and then next time you’re bored, you’ll have a few great things to choose from?”

This may be met with resistance at first, but with some encouragement, you’ll start to see a significant shift in his ability to find his own means of amusement. Plus, he’ll stop expecting you to bail him out of his boredom.

A Lack of Rest?

Just like adults, kids often suffer from mental fatigue when they’ve failed to get the appropriate amount of rest for their age

When sleep is compromised and the brain begins to tire, naturally, things start falling apart. This can show up as anything from compromised immune systems to falling behind at school to, you guessed it, boredom!

When their minds are fatigued, it makes it really easy to lose interest in a given activity quickly. That could be why the game your son was playing for only five minutes quickly lost its appeal, diverting his short attention span elsewhere.

Making sure he has an adequate amount of rest won’t just help bust the boredom. You’ll see improvements in nearly every other area of his behavior as well.

A Lack of Age-Appropriate Options?

Sometimes what looks like boredom may actually be a lack of age-appropriate options.

Is your son complaining that he’s bored because his toys are designed for kids a few years younger than he is? Is your daughter trying to read books outside her grade level?

Oftentimes, kids lose interest not because they’re bored, but because they aren’t being challenged enough (or are too challenged). Ensuring your child has interesting, age-appropriate options is an easy way to keep their dissatisfaction at bay.

free parenting class

Tip #2: Limit Screen Time

You don’t like to admit it, but you’ve fallen into a trap. Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Most parents have.

You’ve made screen time your go-to source of entertainment.

Hey, I get it, truly. As adults, after a long and tiring work day, don’t we enjoy ending the night relaxing on the couch watching our favorite TV series? Aren’t movies one of the best date nights?

Like it or not, screens have become synonymous with entertainment. And while a little screen time is perfectly fine, it’s easy to let 30 minutes turn into an hour which turns into an afternoon. 

The slope is slippery, my friends. And although it may seem counter-productive, when it comes to busting boredom, too much screen time can actually cause more boredom.

Let me explain…

Let’s say your daughter gets screen time the moment she walks in the door from school. Some days it’s television, other days it’s video games, but the problem remains the same…she has become accustomed to being entertained–constantly and at the press of a button.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before she is conditioned to expect amusement at the drop of a hat.

When kids are exposed to too much screen time, the instant gratification leaves little to the imagination. Without screens, kids are forced to think outside the box, using their own imaginations to fill their leisure time.

Instead, try encouraging your daughter to write a story, come up with a play she can put on for the family, or go on a nature hunt. Anything that gets her mind away from the screen and engaged in the real world is going to do wonders.

Pretty soon, her complaints of boredom will become fewer and farther between.

Tip #3: Don’t Become a Source of Entertainment

You’re sitting on the couch, a few pages into a really good book. After a long day of work, school drop-offs, pick-ups, and cooking dinner, you’re so ready to sit back and relax for a bit. 

Out of the blue, your 10-year-old son plops down on the couch beside you.

“There’s NOTHING to do in this house,” he whines. 

I’m sure this scenario sounds all too familiar. But what I really want to focus on is your response.

Do you immediately put down your book and start listing all the options he has for entertainment? Do you take him out of the house to some place more fun?

If so, you may want to consider pumping the brakes just a tad. Because as naturally as it may be for you to automatically jump into problem-solving mode, you’re not doing your son any favors by doing the work for him. 

All you’ve done is become his own personal source of entertainment.

You may be thinking, “But Amy, he’s been stuck at home for so long. I feel so GUILTY if I don’t do something to keep him occupied!”

I get it. As parents, it can feel as though we’re hard-wired to feel guilty about each and every one of our children’s concerns. We want them to be happy, after all! But trust me when I say, now is the time to ditch the guilt.

You are not a source of entertainment for your son. You are his parent. And when you give up on the tireless task of trying to keep him entertained every moment of every day, you’re going to discover a magnificent secret few parents know about, but every parent should…

One of the best things we can do for our children is to let them be bored!

let them be bored quote

Tip #4: Let Them Be Bored

Did I seriously just tell you to let your child be bored?

Absolutely! And I meant every word, because, believe it or not, boredom is a good thing.

Why? Because boredom idles the mind, giving kids the opportunity to slow down and quiet the world around them. It also gives them the chance to come up with things to do on their own–without our help. This is also known as a boredomtunity!

Your 8-year-old daughter may complain of boredom anytime she’s left to her own devices, but here’s the thing–she’s creative (and capable) enough to come up with her own ways to fill her down time.

Next time, instead of automatically jumping in and providing a quick source of entertainment, try saying, “Sweetie, I understand you are bored right now, and no one likes that feeling. But I have confidence you’re creative enough to come up with some fun things to do on your own.”

By allowing her the freedom to personally fill that unstructured time throughout her day, you’re giving her a huge dose of power and responsibility. And bonus! She’ll also get a healthy lesson in time-management on the side. 

What a win-win!

Tip #5: Establish Your Family’s Go-To Boredom Busters

Now, I get it. Sometimes we are simply exhausted! We AND our children. And coming up with a fun, unique, spur-of-the-moment entertainment idea is just not going to happen.

If that’s the case, I highly suggest you come together as a family–perhaps during a Family Meeting–and put together a list of your go-to boredom busters.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out Step 6 of the 7-Step Parenting Success System for more information on how to run a successful Family Meeting.

You can put these ideas in a boredom jar, write them down on the family chalkboard–whatever! Just make sure your kids can easily refer back to them when needed. That way, when the moment strikes and they cannot come up with anything to ease their boredom, you’ll know where to direct them.

I’ve put together a few fun and easy ideas to get you started. But don’t stop here! Take the time to truly make these boredom busters specific to your family.

  • Go for a bike/scooter ride.
  • Bake a healthy treat.
  • Draw a comic book that’s filled with things you WANT to be doing.
  • Make a scavenger hunt.
  • Put on a play.
  • Write a letter to a friend or family member.
  • Call your grandparents or other relatives.
  • Complete a random act of kindness.
  • Have a dance party/dance-off with a sibling.  

Now, if you’re looking to go the extra mile and really cover your bases, don’t stop here! In addition to a boredom jar, you can also create a family jobs jar

This is just like a boredom jar, instead it’s filled with activities your kids can do around the house. Think of things outside their normal Family Contributions, such as mopping the kitchen floor, dusting the baseboards, or organizing the pantry.

Then, when your child comes to you and says, “I’m bored…”

All you need to do is respond with, “What can YOU DO to feel less bored?” 

If they can’t find something to do on their own, simply point them in the direction of the jars. That way, one of two things will happen. They’ll pick something from the family jobs jar and you’ll get some much needed help around the house OR they’ll pick a fun activity from the boredom jar to keep them occupied.

Either way, it’s a win for parents!

Final Thoughts

If your child’s constant complaints of boredom are driving you to your very edge, take heart! There’s hope that you can end the whining, complaining, and moaning–for good!

Using these 5 simple tips, you won’t just bust your child’s boredom. You’ll also find clever and easy ways to increase their independence, allowing them to come up with entertainment all on their own.

Boredom gets a bad rap. But trust me when I say, it’s NOT a bad thing! In fact, allowing your child to be bored and rest in a certain amount of unstructured time will certainly prove beneficial in the long-run.

Before you know it, you’ll notice less complaining and more playing. And the best part? You don’t have to lift a finger! Unless you want to, of course.


6 Tips for Raising Independent Children

Young boy on pretending to be flying on a suitcase
Young boy on pretending to be flying on a suitcase

Young boy on pretending to be flying on a suitcase

It starts when your son rides his balance bike around the block–alone. A few years later, he’s off to his first sleepover. 

It continues when your teenage daughter goes out on her first date. Before you know it, you’re waving goodbye as she drives off to college.

The pattern is familiar for all parents, and it never gets any easier. 

Loving our children means letting them go

We don’t always remember this in the thick of things when our children are so dependent on us. 

I mean, it’s hard to imagine that little toddler in fire truck pajamas riding his bike to school or leading his cub scouts to their campsite. It’s just as difficult to grasp that your daughter, once in a high chair flinging pasta around the kitchen, is now on that first dinner date. 

But 10-20 years from now–if all goes according to plan–we’ll have raised our children to be independent. 

But what’s the best way to impart independence? Which tools can we utilize now to help our kids one day succeed outside our domain? 

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we are all about tools. My online course has over 36 of them that can help in almost every parenting predicament. We’ll discuss a few of them here, and you can learn even more through our FREE PARENTING CLASS

But positive parenting is also a philosophy–one that naturally equips kids with the skills needed to grow in their independence. 

Even so, ensuring our kids will successfully soar in the soon-to-be real world is easier said than done.

Here are 6 strategies for raising independent kids (as hard as it will one day be to see them go).

1. Don’t Do For Your Kids What They Can Do For Themselves

It begins by simply offering help. Maybe it’s tying their shoes, pouring their milk, or doing their math homework. Then, we keep helping. 

Before long, they either expect us to help or don’t believe they can do it themselves. 

To a large extent, assisting our kids is part of our job description. We’re supposed to help toddlers zip up their winter coats and guide sleepy kids towards their soft, warm beds. We’re meant to place curfews on teenagers still learning to make wise choices. 

But a pattern of regularly doing for kids what they can do for themselves makes them further reliant on us.

According to Adlerian Psychology–the basis of positive parenting–our primary job as caregivers is to move our kids from complete dependence to complete independence. If we don’t, we inhibit their progress (and make our lives harder). 

It’s so tempting to do things for our kids, either through generosity or even to get the task done faster. But the best advice I can give you is to resist this urge and encourage self-sufficiency. 

“A dependent child is a demanding child. Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on responsibility.” – Rudolf Dreikurs and Margaret Goldman.

Take Time for Training

Even still, you may be wondering, “If we aren’t supposed to do things FOR our kids that they’re perfectly capable of doing for themselves, how do we ensure things get done completely and efficiently?”

Instead of unintentionally instilling a sense of helplessness by overly assisting our children, we can Take Time for Training and TEACH them they can do most things for themselves. 

Parents often underestimate this simple tool. It can feel burdensome because it does take time. It may even take several repetitions for kids to grasp something–like a toddler carefully cracking an egg into cookie batter or a tween getting ALL the grime off those dishes. 

We don’t always have time to interact with our kids face-to-face and calmly teach them what we know. But this is one of a parent’s most crucial jobs. Besides providing for our children, we need to teach them to provide for themselves.

Quote about Raising Independent Kids

Kids as young as two or three can be encouraged to do as much as possible for themselves. This includes getting dressed, making their beds, and helping themselves to food in the refrigerator. 

And naturally, the older kids get, the greater the responsibilities.

The Take Time for Training tool gives our kids the confidence and encouragement to develop the skills so crucial for independence. It also replaces expectation and entitlement with a healthy dose of responsibility.

Which leads me to that never ending quest for help around the house…

2. Focus on Family Contributions

Every member of a family plays an important role in a successfully running household. 

If our goal is to raise independent kids, there are basic skills they’ll need as a functioning adult. Learning how to clean a house, cook wholesome meals, and change a baby sister’s diaper now saves kids time and training later

From folding their laundry to picking up toys, when we expect kids to contribute in age-appropriate ways they realize they are indispensable to the family team. This builds their confidence and encourages them to do even more to help out!

What also helps is to label these tasks as “Family Contributions”–because “chores” is a word more associated with boring, undesirable, and begrudging work. Plus, by switching up our language, we drive home the fact that our children’s contributions have a greater purpose.

Once they’re on their own, kids who are well-rehearsed in completing contributions will be experts in home economics. After all, cleaning a bathroom isn’t something we just know how to do. Nor is cooking a healthy, unpackaged dinner. It’s something that needs to be learned and practiced!

Plus, while we want our kids to be brilliant and great at their future jobs, let’s face it–if their houses are a pig-sty and they can’t cook a pancake, they are at a disadvantage. 

The earlier kids share a portion of daily duties, the better for everyone. 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to review the “Jobs for Kids by Age” list in your Step 2 Workbook.


3. Maintain a Decision-Rich Environment

Every single day is filled with hundreds of choices. Pizza or pasta? Red skirt or blue? Violin or cello? Four-year college or two?

Allowing our children to make age-appropriate choices throughout the day gives them a sense of control and dominion over their lives. And–you guessed it. Decisions also lead to independent thinking and independent actions.

Kids need practice making choices and weighing pros and cons. Plus, when making their own choices they take ownership of those choices. They learn from their bad decisions and can’t blame anyone else for them. 

The key is to make decision-making a normal part of your family’s routine and environment. This could mean anything from stocking a bin in the pantry with healthy snacks for your 4-year-old to letting your 12-year-old plan-out her after-school routine. 

It’s not a free-for-all–you’ll set up the choices and get the final say. But by purposefully building decision-making opportunities into each day, your kids will get used to the expectation that they’ll be thinking for themselves–not only now, but once they’re grown and flown.

Also, that pasta tastes SO much better because they picked it!

Provide an Allowance 

Another excellent way to flex children’s decision-making muscles is to offer them an allowance. Besides granting some fiscal fun, an allowance can teach kids to budget and manage future incomes.

As we all know, monetary self-sufficiency is one of the most crucial aspects of independence.

Maybe there’s a toy they want to buy, new skinny jeans–even a used car. Having an allowance to work with teaches kids how long it takes to save for things they really want. 

On the flip side of the coin, an allowance teaches them how quickly and easily money can be spent.

One day, they’ll likely need a down payment for a house. They’ll also want to take that once-in-a-lifetime vacation–all while also paying their bills. 

If we allow some practice with a small budget (even just a little piggy bank), our children will know what kind of hard work and patience these goals require.

Please Note: Be conscious of not tying allowances to Family Contributions. Although the concept can be tricky, allowances given in exchange for ordinary help around the house can be confused with rewards. Ideally, an allowance is for budgeting alone.

Giving our kids real-life choices, whether major, minor, or monetary, helps prepare them for all the other choices that lay ahead.  

4. Encourage Effort…and Celebrate Failure!

That perfection thing? It’s overrated and causes kids a LOT of anxiety. Some kids are so locked into the fear of failure, they don’t even try.

Imagine how this might play out in the real world–the place where your child needs to take risks. Whether applying for college, interviewing for jobs, or bidding on their very first home, they’ll need to be prepared for disappointment and poised to learn from it.

To help kids overcome this when they’re independent adults, focus on the quality of their EFFORTS while they’re still under your roof.

If your son studied hard for his biology test and still got a C, it’s the hard work he put in that counts. If your potty-training toddler failed to make it to the toilet in time, her steps (literally) in the right direction are commendable. 

We can also focus on efforts by encouraging kids to try new things, get out of their comfort zones, and be creative–all to foster their sense of independence without the pressure to succeed or be perfect. Encouragement is never about the result. 

Instead, it embraces the process. 

When we laser-focus on our kids’ efforts and bravery–especially through their willingness to take risks–they’ll be less intimidated to work hard and take chances in the future. Ideally, they’ll learn not to fear failure at all, because failure isn’t even the point. 

Effort is what will keep them on their own two feet.

5. Promote Problem-Solving

It’s SO hard to curb the parental instinct to jump in and fix our kids’ problems. But when it comes to encouraging them to do things on their own, this includes problem-solving!

We can assist them, instead, by giving them the chance to find good solutions. 

One way to inspire this is to ask our kids “How?” questions. 

“How could you make your sister feel better (since you took her action figure)?” 

“How will you make sure you get up in time to catch the bus?”

Just like in a Decision-Rich Environment, if we want kids to think for themselves one day, we can’t provide all the answers. We can assure them we’re available for suggestions or assistance but that it’s best for them to reach their own conclusions.

Avoiding the tendency to jump in with our answers to their problems helps our kids feel confident in their abilities. 

What we DO want to offer, however, is a safety-net that allows kids to problem-solve in a controlled environment. With this structure and support in place, bad solutions won’t face serious consequences. 

For example: 

Let’s say your eleven-year-old left his retainer at his friend’s sleepover last night. If his solution is to walk across the neighborhood at 9 pm to retrieve it, you can respond with, “I appreciate your plan to walk over there, but it’s your bedtime and probably pretty close to your friend’s bedtime, too. Let’s wait until morning when it isn’t dark out and your friend is up and around.” 

This way, less-than-ideal solutions can become learning opportunities.

Before long, your child’s problem-solving skills will be prepped and ready for long-term, real-life action.   

6. Nourish Your Child’s “Spirit”

It can be shocking how early our kids’ personalities shine through. Maybe your baby fusses easily and loves being the center of attention. Maybe your bubbly toddler is as stubborn as she is talkative. 

One of the best things we can do for our kids’ independence–especially if we want them to be confident in their abilities and comfortable in their own skin–is to work with these unique strengths and characteristics without defining them. 

This includes abandoning any preconceived notions of what we think our kids are like or what we want them to become.

It helps if we start by not labeling our kids. Even if we notice strengths or weaknesses early on, we don’t want our kids to feel defined by our perceptions.


Extroverted parents might have an introverted 6-year-old that likes to play alone and would rather not talk to other kids. When she refuses to talk to friends and extended family, they tend to call her “shy”–right within earshot. 

Even if certain behaviors or characteristics are true, they aren’t necessarily set in stone, especially at such a young age. We don’t want to define our kids, nor do we want them thinking that certain characteristics are bad. 

In her alone play, the same introverted daughter could be honing her LEGO engineering skills or developing a wonderful, outside-the-box imagination. Both are skills and strengths that, regardless of any overt social hesitancy, should be embraced.

Even when parents feel the need to explain a child’s characteristics, like, “I’m sorry, my daughter will talk your ear off if you let her,” a better phrase would be, “My daughter is excellent at communication. She’s really open about her experiences and feelings.” 

Kids that hear positive feedback spend less time retreating from their traits and more time expanding upon them. And when they’re ultimately out on their own, being well aware of these strengths will help them choose suitable lifestyles, careers–even partners. 

All in all, nourishing a child’s spirit makes confident, strong-minded thinking just that much more inherent. 

Final Thoughts

As parents, it feels good–great even–when our kids need us. We love it when they turn to us for guidance, affection–even for that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

Don’t worry, your kids will always need you in one way or another. 

We do have to remind ourselves, however, that our long-term parenting goal is to guide our kids from being totally dependent on us into becoming independent thinkers and doers. And that’s no overnight task.

Raising kids to take a proactive role in their everyday lives might be a little scary at first. But believe me, encouraging your kids’ independence is a gift that will keep on giving.

I can’t promise you won’t crumble after sending your recruit off to boot camp or cry buckets when your daughter chooses an out-of-state college. You will lose part of your heart when you send your children into the “real world.” 

But knowing that you’ve raised them to be independent will give you the confidence and strength to let them go…and conquer.