When Children Grieve: 7 Strategies to Help Them Cope

Girl and man putting flowers on a grave in the rain
Girl and man putting flowers on a grave in the rain

Girl and man putting flowers on a grave in the rain

From the moment we first hear their cries, we want to shield our children from life’s sorrows.

We know we can’t do this entirely, but we do what we can. We make sure they have fun, we keep them from getting hurt, and we tell them not to worry—“everything will be okay.”

Even so, tragedy, loss, and suffering inevitably hit home. 

It could be the death of a close relative or friend. Maybe there was a fire and you lost your home. It could even be your ten-year-old golden retriever that just lost a battle with cancer. 

The amount of pain, heartbreak, angst, and uncertainty we feel in the wake of a loss—or the anxiety we experience as we prepare to say our final good-byes to a loved one—is too much for any heart to handle. Then, as we’re managing our own grief, we need to help an innocent child process his or her grief, too.

We know we can’t control everything in life—especially loss and death. But here are 7 things we can control to help grieving children.

1. Offering Safety Through Normal Boundaries & Routines

When a child’s world is turned upside down through loss, we can provide consistency wherever possible.

By maintaining a normal schedule with familiar structure, we give our kids a sense of security and let them know, “You can count on me.” Unless they request otherwise, keep taking your son to soccer practice and attending your daughter’s pottery class.

While your gut instinct may say “he’s going through a hard time, I’m going to let him off the hook,” fight against this urge. It’s actually more helpful to retain a family’s normal rules and consequences than to let your child call the shots.

Clear expectations provide kids a great deal of comfort. They love knowing that someone is looking out for their progress and protection—even if they protest it.  

If there is an abnormal amount of pushback, consider that your child might need a little more flexibility based on the circumstances. But in general, maintain as much consistency as you can manage.

2.  Love & Attention

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, our core belief—based on Adlerian Psychology—is that all children need to feel a sense of belonging within the family unit and need to feel significant.

As you can imagine, grief may take this need for belonging and significance and turn it up a few notches. If your son just lost a parent or a relative he heavily relied on, loved, and looked up to, imagine how he might question the new family dynamic or his new place in the world.

We need to focus on daily one-on-one time with grieving children, doing something they care about and want to do. It could be going to a trampoline park and briefly distracting your daughter from her grief, or answering all her questions about death. We recommend this one-on-one time for all parents and children—but for a grieving child, it is especially crucial.

Intellectually, we understand that our child’s sadness should be combated with extra doses of love, affection, and attention. But if we ourselves are buried in grief, these needs can be easily overlooked or unintentionally pushed aside. 

Please Note: We should follow a child’s lead during the grieving process. If he wants to be left alone more than usual, allow this too. Just make sure your child knows that when he’s ready, you are available to shower as much love and attention as he’d like.

3.  Letting Go of Certain Expectations

Grief is as varied as the children it affects. 

While one child may relish getting lost in algebra equations, another may start failing in geometry class. 

Your son may want to talk incessantly about his deceased cousin, while your daughter yells at you any time you mention it. 

Although we want to be consistent with rules and routines, we also need to be flexible in our expectations. Changes in a child’s progress at school, sleep and appetite disturbances, dramatic fluctuations in mood, and even apathy are all common reactions to grief.

It’s also normal to see behavioral regression. A 4-year-old that’s been potty trained for two years might start having accidents. A 7-year-old might start throwing toddler-like tantrums

It’s hard not knowing what response to expect from a grieving child at any given moment, or what seemingly harmless activity could trigger an emotional reaction. Just try to remember that your child’s out-of-character behavior doesn’t mean you’re in for a future of defiance and power struggles—it’s probably just the grief that’s talking. 

Please Note: Although we should let compassion and patience be our guides during this process, if we do see signs of violence or other extreme types of behavior from a grieving child, we should seek professional help immediately.

Grief is as varied as the child it affects

4.  Modeling—but Managing—Your Emotions

If we fail to express our grief, our children may not feel inclined to express their grief, either. 

Modeling emotions teaches our kids that they aren’t alone in their feelings. It does help though, to limit catastrophic speech like “oh, how will we ever feel better,” or, “I just can’t handle this pain.” This can justifiably scare children and cause them additional stress.

Instead of saying, “I’m really sad today,” we can try saying “I’m having a sad moment.” Or, instead of, “I feel really lonely without our (loved one),” we can say, “I’m thinking about and remembering our (loved one) a lot today.”  

We should feel free to acknowledge pain, but we also want to show grieving children that it’s possible to manage pain, too—no matter how unbelievable that may seem at times. 

We also need to help them find healthy ways to express their grief. 

5.  Finding Grief Outlets


Sometimes in life, we need to scream into a pillow or pummel a punching bag. In particular, (just like adults) kids can experience anger and other big emotions during the grieving process. 

When grief, anxiety, and anger become unbearable, it’s helpful to suggest safe and effective ways for children to vent. 

We can take a ten-year-old to a karate class or give a toddler some old newspapers and boxes to stomp on, tear up, and destroy. We can put in earplugs while our teenager listens to Metallica on full blast. In essence, we shouldn’t be afraid to let our kids scream and steam like an old metal teapot (even if that means driving them somewhere isolated and quite literally letting them scream.)


Young children often make sense of their grief through play. This means you may find your daughter in the middle of a nurse Barbie reenactment after her time in hospice with grandma, or encounter your son making a funeral procession with his toy cars. 

Embrace this sweet manner of processing loss, and play along if they invite you to—even if the tears roll down your face (after all, it could be therapeutic for you, too).


A child may want to talk at length about grief, or she may not want to discuss it at all. However, communication is always a healthy outlet.  

If talking about death or loss is important to your child but is too hard for you to talk about just yet, encourage her to talk to a counselor or someone that’s willing to discuss it more openly (see Seeking Outside Resources below). 


Whether it’s writing daily in a journal, finger painting, or marching and playing in the high school band, creative expression is an excellent outlet for grief.

You can argue that many of the most brilliant, creative minds in history have worked through tragedy. Frida Kahlo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eminem…they all had to wrestle with some form of grief. Creativity arguably gave them that outlet.  

Creative flow can be an almost out-of-body, meditative experience. We can even forget about ourselves and our pain for a brief moment. We can also help make peace with something tragic.

Encourage kids to turn their sorrow into something meaningful and beautiful. If they have pursuits they’re passionate about, like basketball, dance, or even LEGO robotics club, we can suggest they focus on these activities and pour their emotions into their practice. 

If your child seems interested, she can even create something out of an article of clothing or special item that belonged to a deceased loved one. If your teenage daughter wants to take Grandma’s favorite dress and sew it into a blanket, you can assist her in the process. Even if your son wants to keep his cat’s ashes and paint them into a meaningful picture, that’s okay. 

The bottom line is, no creativity is too bizarre—especially if it gives grief some meaning.

Funerals & Rituals

People debate whether or not it’s appropriate to bring children to funerals. Again, we want to protect our children from pain. Depending on their age, we may also question whether or not they can fully handle and/or understand death and grief. 

If so, we are underestimating a child’s strength and emotional intelligence. 

Children may be innocent, but they are also fairly resilient. Even though funerals and other after-death rituals can be painful to attend, they are an important way to celebrate the lives of those that have passed. They also offer a chance for family members to express their grief together and to say goodbye to the deceased. Children deserve this chance as much as everyone else. They also learn about humanity from these rituals and processes.

“In respectful loss, we pass to children a reverence for the irreplaceable gift of each human life.”
– Sharon Holbrook, The Washington Post

Please Note: Don’t force your child to attend a funeral if they’d rather not, but don’t keep them from one, either. Your child can decide how involved she’d like to be.

6.  Relieving Kids of Guilt

Whether it’s a divorce, or a parent’s or friend’s untimely death, many children feel responsible for loss. 

Misplaced guilt is common for anyone dealing with grief. We blame ourselves and may spend years trying to understand that it wasn’t actually our fault.

Children are no different. They need to be informed, perhaps repeatedly, that there is no way that they could have caused the loss. Even if your teenager’s friend died in a car crash on her way to your house—after your daughter invited her over—she needs to understand that she didn’t make that car crash. It’s not her fault. 

7.  Seeking Outside Resources

No matter what grief your child is facing, I highly encourage you to find outside resources for help. It could be a counselor, psychologist, support group, or spiritual leader. The National Alliance for Grieving Children is a great place to find a grief support program or counselor near you. 

While I hope I’ve given you helpful and tangible advice in this little article, I also know it is incredibly important to seek out people in your own circle who can be your hands and feet during this time.

Relatives and friends can provide extra nurturing and support—especially adults and friends your child is close to and trusts. Anyone that might make your child feel less alone in the grieving process is a helping hand for you both. 

Final Thoughts

Sorrow has at least one positive side effect, besides making us stronger and inspiring creative masterpieces; it reminds us what really matters in this life.

With these coping strategies, we can focus on the grieving children that matter more than anything and that need us so desperately right now.

It’s not going to be pretty, or easy, no matter what we do. It will also take time—who knows how long—and a small part of the grief may never go away. But it’s important to remind yourself that your child will smile again, laugh again, and flourish again. 

And so will you.

Title Image: Twin Design / Shutterstock


6 Parenting Resolutions You Can Keep in 2020

Boy Holding Sparkler
Boy Holding Sparkler

Little boy holding sparklers
You’ve purchased a new gym membership or meal planning service for the next month. You’ve decided THIS is going to be the year you finally get out of debt or you resolved to finish the degree you started several years ago.

And while I’m cheering you on for those resolutions and I want you to look back on 2020 as the year you finally followed through on your important intentions, might I suggest you add something different to your list this year?

A resolution that will impact your family for years to come. A resolution that will bring peace and joy into your home in ways you’ve never experienced. A resolution that will reconnect you with your children in a meaningful way.

This, sweet friends, is a resolution you can keep: Become the parent you’ve always wanted to be in 2020.

In order to make that resolution a reality, I want to share 6 practical things you can start doing today. This isn’t a resolution about doing MORE, but rather a resolution about doing BETTER – both better for you and better for your children.

You CAN become the parent you’ve always dreamed of being. Don’t let the gym memberships or new workout routines or financial goals be the only resolutions you make this year.

Resolve to be the best you can for the most important people in your life. Resolve to make these 6 changes today and I guarantee you’ll enter 2020 with undeniable confidence as a parent.
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5 Positive Parenting Techniques You Can Use in 2020

Mom Throwing Kid in Air
Mom Throwing Kid in Air

Mom Throwing Kid in Air

It’s the moment parents know all too well: the moment where the energy in your house totally shifts.

All was calm until you handed breakfast to your toddler on the ever-so-controversial blue plate. You know, the one he liked YESTERDAY. Somehow overnight, everything you thought you knew about your child was suddenly wrong –  “I want my sandwich in triangles not rectangles!” or “I want the green cup not the red one!” or “I hate those socks!!”

“What happened to my sweet child?” you wonder.

As the energy in the house escalates and it appears your child is willing to fall on his sword over every little request, you lose it. After all, his requests make no sense to an adult, and because they don’t make logical sense, your only response is rage – “STOP YELLING!” you scream.



And then in a moment of clarity, it hits you – you yelled at your child to stop yelling. The phrase “Do as I say, not as I do,”  has never held so much weight.

Oh, friend. I’ve been there and I know those feelings all too well.

As a “recovering yeller” I remember going to bed hoarse and defeated many nights until I decided there MUST be a better way. After years of studying Positive Parenting and Adlerian Psychology, I created a toolbox of strategies that completely transformed my family.

After seeing the effects firsthand, I knew I had to share this positive parenting philosophy and the corresponding discipline strategies with parents worldwide. The results continue to be astonishing.

The list of techniques below will help you see misbehavior in a different light. There is a full Toolbox of strategies that go along with these techniques, but this list will give you a great start to begin seeing a remarkable difference in your home.


1. Get to the Root of the Behavior

Positive parenting experts worldwide can agree on this: there is always something motivating a child’s negative or disruptive behavior.

So that tantrum over the blue plate? It wasn’t a random display of poor judgment –  it was motivated by something intrinsically in your child. Whether that was a lack of skills in managing his big feelings, a desire to get your attention, or a power play to assert his free will – there’s always a reason for the behavior. (Even if he doesn’t realize it – and most times he doesn’t!)

The thing to remember is the behavior itself is simply the symptom. Our challenge as parents is figuring out what’s really underneath that frustrating behavior.

It would make things MUCH easier if your child could simply say, “Mommy, I would really like some one-on-one attention with you when I have you all to myself. Is there a time we can do that this evening?” But we all know this is an absurd expectation. So instead, children push our buttons as a way to gain our attention, albeit negative. Because the truth is, if a child doesn’t receive our attention in positive ways, (when they don’t have to beg for or demand it) they will find ways to get any attention they can, even it’s negative.

Picture yourself as a detective. When a child begins to act out, ask yourself “What is this child trying to accomplish through his actions?”  If he had the verbal skills and emotional awareness, “What would he be trying to tell me with this behavior?

Once you identify the root cause of the issue, you can become a more PROACTIVE parent and preempt the outbursts from happening in the first place.

For example, imagine you have to take an important call but while you’re on the phone, your children decide it’s a great time to start a wrestling match. While still trying to sound engaged in the phone conversation, you give your kids the “if you don’t stop this right now I’m going to lose it when I’m done” look – but to no avail.  You continue with the non-verbal shushing as you run from one room to the next searching for quiet, but the wrestling match seems to follow you. It’s exhausting. And by the end of the phone call you feel like you just ran 5 miles.

The goal behind that wrestling match – that just happened to start the minute you got on the phone – was most likely intended to get your attention and push your buttons. They knew you were trapped on the phone and unable to intervene, so it became the perfect time to act up, getting your attention in negative ways. Use this as a learning experience and now PROACTIVELY PREPARE for the next time you need to take a call.

20 minutes before your phone call, say to your kiddos, “Hey guys, mommy has to get on the phone in 20 minutes. Before I do that, I would LOVE to play a game with you all!”

During those 20 minutes leading up to the call, give your children undivided attention. You can give them reminders leading up to the call like “Wow! I love playing games with you. Once mommy is finished with her call, I’d love to play again!”

When it comes time for the call, give your children a choice – “Mommy needs to get on her call now. Would you like to watch a show or play quietly with your legos while I’m on the phone?”

Also give them a way to “tell you something” if something they view as urgent comes up while you’re on the call.  Leave a pad of paper nearby so they write or draw whatever they wanted to tell you as soon as your call is finished.

Chances are that if you fill their attention buckets ahead of time and lay out clear expectations, your children will be much better behaved the next time you need to take a call.

Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, learn how to use the Attention Overload Tool in Lesson #31 in Session 4 to fend off all sorts of power struggles.


2. Be Consistent

While parents intellectually understand the importance of consistency, the truth is, life happens – school is canceled, plans change, additions are made to the calendar last-minute. While we can’t always control life happening, it’s best to maintain consistent routines, schedules, and expectations in your home the majority of the time.

How is your morning routine? If your children are expected to make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before eating breakfast, then maintain this routine every day.

PRO TIP: Maintain the SAME schedule on weekends and holidays. That way, you won’t have to experience the backslide that comes on Monday morning!  

Do you maintain firm technology “policies?”  What happens if your kids don’t respect your family rules for technology?  To be the positive parent you strive to be, it’s essential that technology rules are clearly communicated and that kids know the consequence if those rules are broken. If kids refuse or “forget” to turn off the video game when time is up, follow through each and every time with the previously discussed consequence. When parents are consistent with the rules and consequences, kids are much less likely to push the limits.

If you’re experiencing a lot of nagging and negotiating from your child because of inconsistency in the past, you can end it with 3 simple words, and get back on track.

Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions course members, refer to Session 3, Lessons 25 & 26 for everything you need to know about implementing effective consequences in your home. Also review the advanced training module included in your enrollment:  The Family Technology Contract.


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3. Say No to Rewards

Parents who are unfamiliar with positive parenting techniques are often surprised when I discourage them from using rewards. After all, rewards sound positive, but the truth is they do more harm than good and can lead to a major dose of entitlement down the road.  

Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. When making discipline decisions for your kids, it’s important to keep your long-term goals in mind. Rewards are ineffective because they only offer short-term gain.

Think about it..maybe today you rewarded your child with a cookie for behaving well in the grocery store, but what will she expect next time? At least one cookie, right? Maybe even two? Will a similar reward be expected during the next doctor’s office visit or trip to the mall?  

Or perhaps you bribed your picky eater to eat their vegetables by offering ice cream for dessert? Now that he knows vegetables can be sold for the price of ice cream, it only makes sense he would hold out on eating his greens until he’s offered ice cream or another equally appealing sweet reward.

Using rewards as a bargaining chip for the desired behavior is a slippery slope to an attitude of entitlement.

Further, many studies have shown that kids who are rewarded actually lose interest in the activity they’re being rewarded for – coloring, reading, practicing piano, doing their homework, etc. Hold your ground, my friend, children don’t need rewards to behave appropriately.

Related: When Treats Turn Sour: 3 Things to do Instead of Offering Rewards


4. Focus on what you can control – YOURSELF

Oh my friends, this one is tough, especially in the heat of the moment. But, if you remember that there’s always a REASON for the behavior AND your children have free will, then you can begin to respond appropriately.

After all, there is a level of emotional freedom that is found when parents realize “I can’t always control my kids, but I can control my responses.”

Sure, some parents might be able to scare their kids into behaving properly or threaten punishment to achieve a short-sighted goal, but at the end of the day – each child will grow into an adult who has full control over their life decisions.

So instead of overpowering children, or bribing, or shaming them into making good decisions, I encourage parents to reframe their perception of the child. Instead of thinking of him as a misbehaving child, view him as a little person who simply hasn’t been equipped with the right tools to behave appropriately in a given situation. By doing this, parents will be better prepared to handle the misbehaviors.

One way parents can control their responses is to decide what you’re willing to do AHEAD OF TIME. This works great for getting kids to take on responsibilities they’re perfectly capable of or you nag them about, but they normally just don’t do – emptying backpacks or lunchboxes, putting laundry in the hamper, cleaning up toys, etc.

Let’s use lunchboxes as an example.

Start by deciding what you’re willing to do, and what age-appropriate responsibility needs to be on your kids’ shoulders.

In a calm moment, reveal in advance, “I’m happy to make you a lunch every morning for school, as long as your lunchbox has been emptied out, and it’s on the shelf in the pantry or on the counter. If the lunchboxes are clean and in their place, I’m happy to make your lunch. If it’s not cleaned out or not in its place, it’ll be up to you to make your own lunch.”

Then ask, “Is there anything you’d like to do to help yourself remember to unload your lunchbox and put it in the pantry?” (He might want to make a sign in pictures or words to remind himself since you will not be reminding.)

And of course – make sure everyone has a clear understanding:  “Just so we’re on the same page, can you repeat back to me your responsibility for lunchboxes and what I’ve decided I will do about making lunches?”

At this point, you’ve trained and empowered your child, you’ve revealed what could happen, and you’ve told your child what you are willing to do.

The next step is to follow through. This part will be hard – but please don’t remind them or nag them – otherwise this becomes YOUR problem again.  If the lunchbox is clean and on the shelf – great, you’ll make the lunch. If not, it will make a wonderful learning opportunity for next time.

When you can proactively PREPARE  your responses to potentially sticky situations and clearly COMMUNICATE  your expectations beforehand, you’ll find yourself having to react to situations in the heat of the moment less frequently.


5. Discipline, Don’t Punish

One of the biggest differentiators between positive parenting techniques and other parenting methods is the focus on discipline over punishment.

Discipline means “to train by instruction and exercise” while punish means “to inflict a penalty for (an offense, fault, etc.)” or “to handle severely or roughly.”

By teaching our children the appropriate ways to behave without using blame, shame and pain forms of punishment, we equip and empower them to be competent and capable young adults.

When you are considering a response to an offense – just like with rewards – think long-term.

Does sending a child to time-out as punishment really help change a behavior?

Does spanking a child for hitting a sibling encourage a child to stop hitting?

In both examples, I’d argue the answer is “no.” Sure, time-out and spanking may seem to be effective in the short term, but if kids aren’t taught (aka disciplined) on how to behave appropriately, parents inadvertently put a band-aid on a long-term problem.

Related: How to Discipline Your Child


Final Thoughts

Parenting is hard, I get it. But with the right tools I believe that all parents can truly become the parents they’ve always dreamed of being.

If you’d like to learn even more positive parenting strategies, I’d be honored if you’d join me for a FREE ONLINE CLASS.

I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen without nagging, reminding or yelling. With a little hard work and consistency, you can start seeing changes today!


Best Parenting Products of 2020: 9 Tools to Make Your Life Easier

Baby in Shopping Cart
Baby in Shopping Cart

Little Asian girl staring into the window of a store front

I’m going to be honest, this isn’t your average parenting product review post. While you can scour the internet to find the elusive spill-proof sippy cup that actually works, or spend hours finding the best deal on educational video games for your teens, I’m here to tell you about products that will enhance your parenting skills and help bring peace into your home.

These are products I find myself recommending over and over again to parents during coaching calls or in our private members-only Facebook group. These tools help make your routines run more smoothly, improve cooperation from your kiddos and most importantly, make YOUR life easier!

Our mission at Positive Parenting Solutions is to equip parents with the tools to get kids to listen without nagging, yelling or losing control.

And while we have helped transform thousands of families, this does not diminish the fact that there are many great resources on the market to assist parents in their positive parenting journey.

All of these products are “Amy approved” and come with my biggest stamp of approval.

Here’s my Top 9 List of Positive Parenting Products: Read More


6 Ways to Put the Happy Back in Your Holidays

Child in winter coat laughing
Child in winter coat laughing

Child in winter coat laughing

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 

Not a child was sleeping, nor were you and your spouse. 

The presents sat wrapped, beneath the big tree 

While the kids argued, you played referee. 


December felt long, much longer than before

Between presents and baking, it felt like a chore!

Where was the joy, the warmth, and the cheer?!

Do you really have to do this again next year?


You long to go back to a time you barely remember

When life was simple and happy. When was thatSeptember?

Stress, it seems, is all you feel nowadays

And you wonder just how to put the happy back in your holidays.

—Poem by Kayla Runkel


As you think back on holidays past, are you filled with wonderment and joy? The lights, the pageants, the time spent with family—it truly made this the most wonderful time of the year…years ago, that is.

But somewhere between the crowded department stores and the endless hours spent in the kitchen baking, you’ve lost it…your holiday spirit.

Now the holidays are anything but happy. In fact, you’re trying your best just to get through them this year.

Still, you long for the days when this season was something to be enjoyed. When you spent hours blasting Christmas carols around the house and the sight of twinkling lights put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. 

So what can you do?

If the holidays have you feeling less Ho, Ho, Ho and more Bah Humbug, no need to worry! Here are 6 ways you can put the HAPPY back in your holidays this season.

1. Keep to Your Routine

It’s happening once again. Grandma and Grandpa have been here for only two hours and already your children are bouncing off the walls, loaded up on cookies and candy. 

“It’s the holidays,” you tell yourself. “It’s okay for them to be a bit spoiled.”

You put on a smile and try your best to enjoy their company, but bedtime is fast approaching, and you know the kids won’t go down easy tonight.

“Alright kids, say goodnight to Grandma and Grandpa.” 

As you expected, you’re met with much protest. 

“Ahh, come on,” Grandma says. “Can’t they stay up one extra hour? We’ve missed them so much.”

You’re stuck. You want so badly to say yes—to not be the wet blanket—but you know better than anyone how much your children need their sleep. 

As hard as it may be, stick to your normal lights-out routine. Why? Because having cranky kids is never fun. But cranky kids and cranky parents? Now that’s a recipe for holiday disaster.

I know how difficult it can be to maintain a normal schedule with holiday gatherings and obligations also pressing for your attention. But trust me when I say, sticking to your normal schedule will set the course for a smoother, less chaotic, holiday season. 

2. Manage Expectations

Adventure awaits! Now with more action-packed gadgets than ever before! This Christmas won’t be complete without…

You hear the commercial draining in from the other room as your son watches his afternoon television program. You can’t help but sigh. It seems like every time you turn on the TV or listen to the radio another holiday toy is being peddled to your kid. 

Of course, his Christmas list gets longer with each and every advertisement he hears.

You want to give your son a Christmas to remember—what parent doesn’t? But you don’t want it to come at the risk of entitlement. The fact of the matter is pretty simple. He is not getting everything he wants for Christmas.

But how do you break the news without ruining his Christmas? Or even worse, without inviting a huge temper tantrum?

This is the time to have a serious talk about holiday expectations. Perhaps you sit down to have a family meeting or start a discussion in the car on a holiday road trip. Be frank with your son about his wish list and set limits you all can live with.

Managing expectations ahead of time will help make sure your son doesn’t feel let down on Christmas morning.

This is also a great time to have him write a GIVING list that is at least as long as his wish list. What gifts does he plan on giving to his friends and family? Does he plan on giving his time to others? 

As adults, we know it’s better to give than to receive. What better way to drive that lesson home than by having your kid write out all of the ways he intends to give to others this holiday season?

Helpful tip: Not sure just how to battle the entitlement epidemic? Check out my book The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. 

3. Consider Gifts of Time

Maybe it’s your daughter who will not stop bugging you for the latest Barbie dream house or your son who has his eye on a brand new video game console. Whatever it is, one thing’s for certain: the glitz and glam of the hottest toys of the season are always hard for parents to top.

But there is one gift that will surpass all others, no matter what. The gift of YOU! 

Yes, you can give your kids the best gift of all simply by giving them your time and attention. While I am a huge advocate for spending daily one-on-one time with your children, this gift of time should go beyond the usual special time together. 

To make your gift of time more tangible, consider making a coupon book for your child filled with fun activities to do together.

For instance, you could have coupons good for One Ice Cream Date, an Impromptu Dance Party, or One Extra Story Before Bed.

Whatever activities you choose for your gift of time, be sure your undivided time and attention is the #1 priority. 

The beauty of giving your time as a holiday gift is that it is inexpensive, thoughtful, and, of course, incredibly fun! What could be better?

Helpful tip: These also make great gifts between siblings and grandparents.

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4. Share the Work

Every year you swear things will be different. Then crunch time hits and you are down to the wire when you notice something. You are doing absolutely everything. The present shopping, the cookie baking, the card writing—it’s all fallen squarely on your shoulders, just as it does every year.

No wonder the holidays are so stressful.

Why not change things up this year? Just because you can do everything, doesn’t mean you should. Instead, make it a point to share the work with the rest of your family.

Is your spouse a terrible baker but great at wrapping presents? Does your son love cookie decorating but could care less about shopping? Whatever it may be, find a way to divvy out the holiday responsibilities between family members so that it’s both enjoyable for them and takes the burden off of your shoulders.

As you discover new ways to work together to make the holiday happen, you’ll create long-lasting, happy holiday memories your kids will treasure for years to come.

5. Use Shortcuts

You see it every time you hop online—the seven-course plated meals, presents wrapped to perfection, and family Christmas portraits with every person donning matching plaid pajamas. 

Yes, it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit when you’re surrounded by nothing but Pinterest perfection. 

The thing is, that isn’t what the holidays are about. In fact, it isn’t even real.

The season is about the spirit and the people you love. So give yourself the gift of grace and stop chasing holiday perfection. Instead, take shortcuts!

Bake a cake from a box. Buy the store-bought cookies. Put a present in a bag—or, better yet, have them wrap it at the store! 

The holidays are not about how everything looks as much as how it feels to be surrounded by those you love. So, should you find your light being dimmed by the thought of trying to create a picture-perfect holiday, do yourself a favor. Put the camera away and take all the shortcuts you want. 

6 tips to happier holidays

6. Focus on Service

Want to know a surefire way to bring some joy back to your holiday season? Give! 

Give of your time. Give of your talents. Perhaps even give of your money. But most importantly, give as a family

Pull the focus away from the commercialization of the season and shine the spotlight on service. Because when we focus on what we can do as a family to help others, it helps keep the hustle and hurry of the season in perspective

Serving others in need shouldn’t feel like just one more thing to check off your holiday to-do list, because the reward is so much greater than the effort it takes to do so.

Curious where to start? 

Give of Your Time

Start by calling around to your local places of worship and shelters and ask where they have the greatest needs. Do they need help serving meals at the soup kitchen? Wrapping presents for children in need?

Whatever it may be, pick a day when your whole family is available and go serve together. Not only will this provide a wonderful chance for you to spend time with your own family, but serving those less fortunate will help give your children a healthy appreciation for what they already have.

Give of Your Talents

Do you consider yourself pretty talented in the kitchen? Is your spouse handy with a hammer and nails? The holiday season is the perfect time to put your talents to good use.

Maybe your church needs a handyman to help build the Christmas pageant set. Perhaps your local soup kitchen needs an experienced cook to help prepare a tasty holiday meal. Whatever it may be, finding ways to use your talents to serve is a wonderful way to give back this season.

Give of Your Money

Time can be a precious commodity—especially during the holidays. If you’re looking for a way to serve that fits into your busy schedule, consider giving a monetary gift this season.

You can always give your spare change to the bell ringers on your way into the grocery store, or write a check to your favorite charity. But now is your chance to get a little creative and think outside of the box!

Try contacting the guidance counselor at your child’s school and see if there is a student in need. Maybe they are without a winter coat or have some overdue lunch fines they can’t manage. 

If you have the means to give a little extra, this is certainly a great way to serve. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to get your children involved, especially if they have an allowance and want to make a meaningful donation of their own.

Final Thoughts

We’ve all been there—someone wishes us a “happy holiday” and we respond with a forced smile and simple, “you too.” 

Believe me, I get how easy it can be to get bogged down in all of the holiday to-do lists. But this time is meant to be enjoyed and treasured! Not dreaded.

If the happy has been seriously lacking in your holidays, take heart! Trying out any one of these 6 tips for holiday happiness is sure to have you feeling merry and bright in no time. 

Or, if you’d like even more strategies to get your family back on track, I’d love for you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS.

I’ll teach you one of my most trusted parenting tools to get kids to listen without nagging or yelling!

From our family to yours, we wish you the HAPPIEST holiday season.


Is Spanking Harmful? Here’s What You Need to Know

Little Boy Hugging Dad
Little Boy Hugging Dad

Little Boy Hugging Dad

A few generations ago, if you acted out in class, you could have been met with a paddle or yardstick to the bottom—and possibly gone home with bruises. But it wouldn’t have stopped there. It’s likely another painful spanking would have awaited you at home. 

Thankfully, today’s standards are more child-friendly. Many parents are abandoning certain, if not all, forms of spanking. And school corporal punishment—though not yet banned in all 50 US states—is mostly frowned upon. Still, many teachers, parents, and caregivers remain certain that spanking is a reliable behavioral remedy for unruly kids.

If spanking falls under the umbrella of corporal punishment, and corporal punishment is still legal in some schools, it might be logical to think that a certain degree of spanking—especially in the privacy of our own homes—is harmless.

After all, the spectrum of corporal punishment is wide. A light spanking or flick of the hand can cause far less damage than an angry strike with a stick—and the short and long-term side effects of a simple swat could be minor, some might think.

Spanking remains controversial because it’s a difficult subject to study. Researchers don’t have an exact way to differentiate between a family’s use of more severe corporal punishment and basic spanking. The causes and effects of spanking are also incredibly subjective. 

“Some research suggests that the effects of spanking differ depending on the reasons parents spank, how frequently they do so and how old children are at the time—so the conclusion from the meta-analysis that spanking itself is dangerous may be overly simplistic.” 

The Scientific American

We don’t want parents to feel overly guilt-ridden for spanking when they did so with the best of intentions—helping their children learn.

And we certainly don’t want to lump parents who use spanking into the same category as those who use more severe forms of corporal punishment or even resort to child abuse.

However, evidence still suggests that spanking has negative effects.

In the same way that doctors don’t encourage alcohol consumption during pregnancy, psychologists certainly don’t recommend the use of spanking. Why take a chance, especially if there are plenty of potential risks and zero proven benefits?

The Risks of Spanking

Continued—and Encouraged—Misbehavior 

It’s important to know that spanking of any degree can escalate a child’s behavior. It makes many kids obstinate and motivated to fight back. What’s worse, a child that’s misunderstood and discouraged long enough can begin exhibiting revenge-type misbehaviors. 

Let’s say a 4-year-old is spanked for drawing on the walls. He’s now mad because either he doesn’t know he wasn’t supposed to draw on the walls, or he really doesn’t understand why he can’t draw on the walls. After all, the walls are just standing there, all clean and white—aren’t they just begging for color?

He tries again the next day to draw his masterpiece because he figures yesterday’s spanking was a fluke. Besides, he really wants to use his new crayons, and as a 4-year-old, his ability to control his impulses is limited at best.

But, he gets spanked again. 

Now he’s fuming. He turns his anger—which he isn’t sure how to contain—towards his parent. This, in turn, inspires him to draw on the walls of the entire house; just to show how displeased he is. 

Naturally, this further escalates his parent’s response and everything gets blown way out of proportion. What was originally a spanking intended to make him stop coloring on the walls—evolved into another spanking and a lot more anger and frustration.

And what could possibly be next? Hopefully not another, even more aggressive spanking.

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Children who are spanked also tend to lie. 

Think about it. To a child, it makes sense to lie to a parent to dodge a painful or embarrassing consequence or avoid a parent’s disappointment. A little white lie—or even a big one—seems like the easier choice. 

We all want kids who tell the truth. But spanking undermines their motivation to come clean. If kids think they may be spanked for making a bad choice, why would they ever want to approach us with the truth? 

What if there’s something we need to know, like that our 4-year-old was jumping—uninvited—on the neighbor’s trampoline when she fell and broke her wrist? If she wasn’t supposed to be on the trampoline in the first place (especially without zipping the safety net closed and without adult supervision) and she’s accustomed to being spanked for not following instructions, she’s likely to hide the true cause of her injury. 

These omissions may not seem like a huge deal when kids are younger, but how will these situations play out when kids are older and the stakes are a lot higher?

Lying and spanking can become a vicious cycle. Lying can further motivate a parent to use spanking as a consequence, can undermine parent-child trust, and, ultimately, can damage the parent-child relationship by making children feel unworthy of our love. It’s best to choose a discipline strategy that doesn’t pose this risk.

Why Kids lie and How to Get them to tell the truth ebook


The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary’s definition of spanking is “a series of hits on the bottom, given to somebody, especially a child, as a punishment.”

A little “hit” on a child’s bottom may not be a life-changer and likely won’t instill life-long psychological trauma. Still, we want any discipline we use to be effective long-term—and we certainly don’t want it to be harmful.  

While we may be applying the Pavlov’s dog conditioning technique when we spank our children (through an attempt to make them stop their actions in fear of pain), the idea of teaching this through hitting is—at best—hypocritical. 

We certainly don’t want our children hitting us, or anyone else. Most parents would be appalled to get a call from school saying their son or daughter had been hitting kids on the playground. But from a child’s perspective, there’s no difference between being spanked and hitting a friend for taking away a toy. 

Despite even the best intentions, spanking teaches that hitting and aggression are appropriate ways to resolve conflict and vent frustration. So studies understandably show that children hit through spanking are prone to aggression. 

If a spanked child is showing aggression, it’s time to consider spanking’s harmful side effects.

Cognitive Effects

Spanking our children may also result in negative cognitive effects. 

A 2009 study from the University of New Hampshire said that children who were spanked had lower IQs than those who weren’t. 

Lasting cognitive effects on young, developing brains isn’t hard to imagine. After all, “…children who spend more time responding to conflicts…spend more time thinking with their primitive brain (which is mostly autonomous) than their cerebral brain, (which is mostly wired for logic).” Subsequently, “…they perform more poorly on cognitive tests designed to measure a child’s competency in using logic.” Ugo Uche, Psychology Today

A similar decade-old study from Duke University also concluded that children who were spanked had lower scores on tests that measured thinking when they were 3. The study went on to say “when parents use physical discipline through childhood, their children experience more behavior problems in adolescence.” 

While advocates of spanking usually insist there is a difference between spanking and abuse, it’s important to note these studies did look solely at spanking and not other forms of corporal abuse.

Adding Insult to Injury: Additional Effects of Spanking

It’s still likely that spanking with an object—like a stick or a belt—is going to be the most physically and mentally harmful to a child. But once again, what about a light spanking? Do we really need to worry about long-term side effects?

It doesn’t just matter how hard—or not—parents hit, or what tool may or may not be used. 

It can also be the intention behind spanking that’s a big problem.


Shame is arguably one of the most uncomfortable feelings humans experience. It makes us want to hide in a corner, disappear, and pretend the situation never happened. 

It may seem like spanking a child with the intent of embarrassing and shaming her for her actions is teaching a good, memorable lesson. To some extent, embarrassment is just a part of life and a normal feeling to experience now and again. 

However, it isn’t necessary for a parent to shame or humiliate a child to make her understand she did something wrong. 

It isn't necessary to shame or humiliate a child
There are other much more effective ways to discipline our children that won’t lead them to believe they’re “bad kids” or make them feel unnecessarily shamed.

Public spanking is additionally humiliating for a child. Even though we often want to address misbehavior immediately and in the heat of the moment, it’s better to remove a child from public before dealing with the misbehavior. (This also gives both of you time to cool down and allows you to figure out what would be most helpful to your child.) 

Instead of spanking a four-year-old—in front of her friends and other parents—for opening her friend’s present at her friend’s birthday party, we should calmly take her outside and explain what she did wrong. It’s completely shameless—and much more effective.


It’s certainly easy to blame our children for their misbehavior. After all, they’re the ones that came up with the bad ideas and executed them. It’s quite literally their fault. 

Even if it is their fault, there’s always a reason behind misbehavior. And blaming and spanking our kids won’t combat it.

Imagine your daughter screaming at her little brother. You enter the room just as she pushes him over. You immediately spank your daughter and blame her for bullying her brother. After all, she’s older and should know better. 

What you may not have seen was your son pulling your daughter’s hair three times before she’d had enough. 

We aren’t always there to witness what may have happened to cause misbehavior. Therefore, laying blame isn’t exactly fair. We also never know, without a doubt, what’s going through our kids’ minds. Even if a behavior is clearly unjustified, our kids are still learning how to manage their actions and emotions.  

We don’t want our kids to feel less worthy or less capable after misbehaving by inflicting blame. It just damages their self-confidence. Instead, we need kids to know that it’s not only okay—and normal—to make mistakes, but that those mistakes also help them make better choices in the future. 

This certainly doesn’t mean we should never apply consequences to misbehavior. Nor should we avoid teaching our kids self-reflection and humility. 
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But, instead of spanking your daughter and saying “What’s wrong with you?! You need to set a better example for your brother!” avoid spanking her and say, “I know you love your brother, and everybody makes mistakes sometimes. So let’s talk about what we can do differently next time.”

The thought of using a statement like this with a kid whose behavior is getting worse may not seem firm enough. But I’d like to emphasize that the kids who need encouragement the MOST get it the LEAST. This means the kid who always causes trouble and seems SO bad and is SO easy to blame—doesn’t need to be berated or spanked. Instead, he needs to be helped through positive parenting—and quickly. 


To our children, we are big, knowledgeable, intimidating, and—to our younger ones especially—we are their world. As their guides, they rely heavily, and for a while even solely, on us. 

Because we have so much power, we can also—if we’re angry—be terrifying. Children are vulnerable, easily influenced, and prone to fear

When spanking comes from a place of anger, or even reaches the point of sounding threatening, our children are justifiably scared. We are stronger than them—a giant to them—and they feel powerless. 

Nothing can make a child feel further defeated than fear. And although we may want to “win” battles with our children over misbehavior, to do so in a way that makes them afraid, unsettled, and unstable? Now that can produce life-long psychological effects. 

The Harmful Effects Spanking Can Have on US

Unfortunately, the use of spanking can backfire and harm us just as much as our kids. 

Anything that adversely affects our children will adversely affect us. We want them to be happy. We want them to be healthy. We love them unconditionally. 

We also have the added responsibility of taking care of and parenting our kids in the best manner possible. So when our spanking causes them harm (or is ineffective at best), we’re left to pick up the pieces. 

Added Frustration

Nothing is worse than inflicting pain on our beloved children to no avail. When we spank our kids and don’t see any results, we are rightfully fed up with them and the situation.

Maybe we spank our kids and DO see some immediate results. But a few weeks later, the same misbehavior likely returns. The frustration from a lesson unlearned just adds to our parenting woes. 

Continued frustration can wear us all down, my friend. We need to be intentional about the discipline strategies we choose and make sure they aren’t adding unnecessary stress.


Maybe we’ve spanked our children on occasion and haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. But when spanking increases misbehavior and decreases positive results, it’s also natural to question if spanking was the right choice. 

Guilt harms our confidence as parents and adds more unpleasantness to the emotional roller coaster we’re riding. 

My advice for you is to choose a discipline strategy that is not only positive and without harm, but EFFECTIVE. Our children will still learn tough lessons from positive parenting techniques, but it will be in a way that doesn’t risk harming your child physically or emotionally. Nor will it leave you questioning your choices.

Final Thoughts 

I’d like to share a quote with you from Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking, that made a big impact on me when I first read it years ago: 

Above all, I believe that there should never be any violence. In 1978, I received a peace prize in West Germany for my books, and I gave an acceptance speech that I called just that: “Never Violence.” And in that speech I told a story from my own experience.

When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first in his life. She told him that he would have to go outside himself and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy into her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because if violence begins in the nursery one can raise children into violence.

– By Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking. Originally shared by Vivian Brault, founder of Directions, Inc.

Although I understand many parents feel the need to spank their children, my years of work as a positive parenting educator have helped me conclude that spanking is neither effective nor harmless as a discipline strategy. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a light swat on the bottom or a painful strike with a belt. Spanking will always be a risky way to teach children to behave. And why would we want to take any more chances with our children’s futures than necessary?

So, please—I encourage you to take the first steps towards positive discipline today.

And remember—never violence.

Not sure what to do instead of spanking? JOIN ME FOR A FREE CLASS. You’ll not only learn how to implement fair, effective, and non-physical consequences for your children; you’ll start shedding remorse and frustration over the methods that have failed to work.

We are here for you on this wildly wonderful road of parenthood!

Title Image: altanaka / Shutterstock