5 Ways to Make the Most of the Holidays During a Pandemic

lady in santa hat staring at computer screen
lady in santa hat staring at computer screen

lady in santa hat staring at computer screen

You skipped the annual Fourth of July block party and lit a few sparklers with your kids in the backyard instead. 

You spent hours pre-packaging hundreds of individual Halloween candy bags, then took your kids trick-or-treating from a six-foot distance. 

You even taught your great-aunt Susie how to attend your family’s annual Thanksgiving feast via Zoom.

So far, every single holiday this year has looked drastically different than years prior. And now you’ve reached the last in the line. The big one!

Whether Christmas is your thing, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else entirely, there’s no denying it. This is a special time of year. One that you look forward to with great anticipation.

Of course, just as with every other holiday so far, this year will be different.

But who says different has to be bad?

Now, more than ever, we need to really embrace the joy that comes so abundantly during the holiday season. Sure, we may have to give fewer hugs, share fewer goodies, and enjoy our families from a larger distance. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate!

So strap on your masks, hop on Zoom, wash your hands–do whatever you have to do to get ready. The holidays are here and we have 5 wonderful ways you can make the most of them this year. 

Even during a pandemic…

1. Keep Your Traditions…With Safety in Mind

Does the idea of watching your little one sit on Santa’s lap delivering her Christmas wish list ignite your holiday mood? Does listening to your son’s sweet voice belt out Jingle Bells during his school Christmas pageant make your heart melt? Perhaps nothing says the holidays quite like volunteering with your teens at your local food pantry?

Whatever your favorite holiday tradition may be, chances are it will look different this year. However, don’t put on your Grinch hat so quickly! The holidays are NOT canceled simply because we are in the midst of a pandemic.

You can still keep your favorite holiday traditions. You just need to modify them with safety in mind.

When you really think about it, there are very few things you cannot do as long as you’re willing to put forth the effort and good conscience to make them happen. Besides, when it comes to the best place to be during the holidays, there truly is no place like home.

To get started, here are a few traditions you can enjoy with your family this season…with an added measure of safety:

Go on a Christmas Light Tour

Want to really dive into the festive mood? Take your family on a Christmas lights tour!

Pour some hot cocoa, dole out some cookies, crank up the carols, and drive around your neighborhood admiring all of the beautiful Christmas lights. Not only is this an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to celebrate the holidays, but you’ll be sure to enjoy some much needed time out of the house with those you love most.

Take Part in (COVID-Friendly) Community Service

Even though we are living through a pandemic, the need for community service is as strong as ever. The great thing is, many nonprofits have amended their needs this year to make sure safety is still top of mind.

Try delivering food for Meal-on-Wheels, or clean out your kitchen pantry to take items to a local food bank. You can even adopt a grandparent at a local assisted living facility by writing them letters and calling them on the phone. 

There are plenty of ways for you to still get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with holiday service while maintaining your peace of mind.

Treat Your Neighbors

Whether you want to safely share your own homemade goods or purchase them from a store, you can still spread holiday cheer by bringing delicious treats to your friends and neighbors.

As always, show consideration by reaching out first to see if they are comfortable with the gesture. If they give you the go-ahead, you know what to do! 

Through this pandemic, we’ve certainly gotten the hang of doorstep drop-offs, and this doesn’t have to be any different. So package up those goodies, add a pretty bow, and drop them off with a sweet little note. 

You’ll be amazed at how far a simple but sweet act can go.

2. Establish Rules Ahead of Time

At the start of the holiday season, take a moment to sit down with your family and establish your own set of holiday rules. 

A Family Meeting is a great place to do this. Grab some snacks, sit in a comfortable spot, and let the meeting begin. Ask questions like:

  • What holiday activities are we comfortable doing as a family this year?
  • How many people should we/do we want to invite over?
  • Will we be shopping for gifts online this year or making them at home? 
  • How and where will family dinner be served?

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members can check out Step 6 for more information on how to host fun, informative, and wildly successful Family Meetings!

Once you’ve posed the questions, give each family member (yes, that includes the kids!) a chance to voice their opinion. The goal is to hold on to the joy of the season while ensuring everyone feels safe and secure.

Take the time to clearly determine your family’s level of comfort during the holidays and then stick to it. It may be tempting to give in to your mother-in-law’s wishes for a big, traditional family Christmas–36 cousins and all–but if that’s something you’ve decided against, stick to your resolve! The holidays will be so much more enjoyable without the added stress of doing something you’re uncomfortable with. 

Note: This is also a great time to take note of your local government’s rules and regulations regarding COVID-19 gatherings and events. You can reach out to your local Department of Health for more details.

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3. Take it Virtual

How fortunate are we to live in a time and society where staying connected is so easy to do? 

With technology and applications like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Meet, distance makes less of an impact. As long as we have Wi-Fi and a smartphone or computer, we can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

So, if traveling to see relatives or hosting out-of-town friends and family is not an option, why not take it online? Sure, your usual family get-togethers of holidays past may have aimed to include less technology, not more, but I think it’s okay to make an exception…just this once.

Here are a few ideas for you:

Host a Virtual Holiday Party!

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there’s very little we cannot do together–even from a distance! If social gatherings, whether at work or at home, are not going to be a part of your holidays this year, consider hosting a virtual party instead. 

Send out party invitations, decorate the space behind your computer, and put on your ugliest (or most beautiful) Christmas sweater! Do whatever you need to do to make your spirits bright.

Because, in the end, the atmosphere may change, but with a little creativity and some wonderful conversation, the party can–and should–go on!

Share Your Family Caroling Online or Outside

Buddy the Elf said it best: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear.”

And if singing for others is your favorite way to spread happiness during the holiday season, you shouldn’t let a pandemic stop you. You just have to be creative.

And a bit technologically savvy…

Hop on Facebook or Instagram and make a Live video of you and your family belting your favorite holiday tunes. Or, if going Live is not your thing (hello, stage fright), just pre-record your beautiful caroling and send it out with your family’s holiday e-card. 

And didn’t caroling used to happen outdoors anyway? Some assisted living communities might be grateful for outdoor carolers if you call ahead and set a time for your family or group. Go along with their rules and bundle up as you wave to residents through their windows and spread cheer inside and out.

So whether you take your caroling online or outside, you’ve got options!

4. Manage Your Expectations

If you want to make the most of your holiday season this year, you’ll first have to accept that things will be different than they were before. You may be upset about the upcoming changes, scared, or even a bit angry–and that is perfectly fine! This year has been tough and we’d be doing ourselves no favors if we pretended it wasn’t.

So accept what you’re feeling and grieve it if you need to. Then, manage your expectations for what’s to come.

Start with the knowns…

Family get-togethers may be smaller, budgets may be tighter, and travel plans may be delayed if not canceled. 

Then, focus on the positives…

Smaller family gatherings mean fewer mouths to feed and more quality time together. A tighter gift budget may present the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about giving. And skipping the family road trip or navigating your way through a crowded airport may mean a lot less stress.

Having a clear understanding of what you can expect from the holidays–before they’ve even begun–will ensure you aren’t setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s no need to compare this holiday to any of the ones in the past because this year is different.

And, as I’ve said before, different doesn’t have to be bad.

5. Find Joy in the Little Things

You want to know the best thing about joy? It costs nothing and can be found in the simplest of places!

Start by taking note of all the things you are thankful for this year. You can do this by yourself or as a family; it’s up to you! But I definitely recommend writing them down in a gratitude journal.

What do you have to be thankful for–especially this year? 

Is it more time at home with your family? The chance to get to know your kids a little better? What about your health? Maybe even your financial stability?

Whatever you have to celebrate (big or small), write it down! Because when you write it down, you commit it to memory. And when you remember what you have to celebrate, joy simply falls into place. 

Not only will you become more joyous, but you’ll start to see your kids filled with gratitude, too. And there’s an added bonus that pops up when you instill gratitude in your children–they naturally begin to feel less entitled

Now that’s what I call a win-win.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying it; 2020 was tough! We’ve weathered some pretty rough storms and for many of us, we are merely waiting for the year to end. BUT despite COVID-19, lockdowns, virtual schooling, and more, this can STILL be the most wonderful time of the year! 

Because, as anyone who has taken my proven 7-Step Parenting Success System can tell you, a little positivity can transform anything. And I am positive you can enjoy the holidays just as much now as you did before the pandemic.

Who knows?! With the simplicity of the world and the extra time at home, maybe–just maybe–you’ll enjoy them even more.

Ultimate 2020 Gift Guide: Gifts the Whole Family will Love

family gathered opening christmas present
family gathered opening christmas present

family gathered opening christmas present

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

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

Now try saying that 10 times, fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

pricing guide

Gifts That Encourage FUN Family Time 

We’ve all had more time with family in 2020 than we bargained for. With the pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and virtual schooling, family time has been abundant–albeit a little crazy. 

But, as we’ve all learned by now, family time should be about quality, not just quantity. 

The last thing any of us need right now is to create more work for ourselves as parents. And sometimes, family activities can be just that. 

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

Individual Mind, Body, and Soul Time Gifts

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

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we always highly encourage one-on-one time with your kids. We call it Mind, Body, and Soul Time.

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

best gift is you

Our FREE ONLINE WEBINAR further explains why positive connection is so crucial, but it’s true: Mind, Body, and Soul Time is one of the best ways to make our kids feel loved and appreciated. 

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

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$$

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

Chasing Fireflies
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

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

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

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

Family Time Gifts 

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

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

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

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

Escape rooms are an excellent source of entertainment, especially for older kids. They help families work together and problem-solve. Check this link to find an escape room near you and look for a family-friendly challenge! Just make sure they’re open and that it’s safe to do so (COVID-wise) in your area. You can still wrap this by printing out a gift certificate or hand-written coupon detailing the experience. Or, for a family night in, purchase an escape-room-in-a-box kit, which are plentiful anywhere games are sold.


Ages: All Ages
Cost: $

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

Family Adventure Challenge
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$

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

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

Ages 2-3+

Ages 5-6+

Ages 10+

Educational Gifts That Kids Still Consider “Cool”

Educational gifts can be purchased for Mind, Body, and Soul Time, family activities, or solo play. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is packed with science experiments suitable for all ages.  

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

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

Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$$

A life-long love of astronomy–even philosophy–can come from a telescope. According to the brand website, the FunScope is “A great first telescope for beginners and families to test the waters of stargazing at an affordable price.”

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

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

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

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

LEGO Technic
Ages: 7+
Cost: $-$$$

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

Gifts That Inspire Gratitude

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

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

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

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

We can also purchase gifts that instill gratefulness:

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

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

Repurposed Items

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

If our goal is to minimize commercialism and waste, we can repurpose trash and encourage our kids to do the same. This book, along with these Household Recycling Toy Kits, does just that.

Eco Stars Recycled Crayonsblank
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

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

Zero Waste Boxes
Ages: All Ages
Cost: $$$

Okay, so this probably can’t be the only present under the tree. But it can be one of them. While opening this box, we can explain that it’s about giving back to the environment. With the other new toys they’re likely receiving, this one encourages them to simultaneously dispose of those they no longer want or need. 

Love for Animals and the Outdoors

WWF Donation
Ages: 4+
Cost: $$$

With a $75 donation to the World Wildlife Foundation, they’ll send you three stuffed animals of your choice. It’s a great way to give while also getting something fun in return. But the true lesson, of course, is explaining to our kids that these toys weren’t just purchased for them, but for the greater (animal) good.

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

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

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

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

Classes & Private Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ages: 7+
Cost: Free

Handing down heirlooms is something kids take to heart.

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

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

Here are some other ideas: Heirloom Gift Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SoapSox Bath Plushes
Ages: 0-10
Cost: $

These are also more than just fun. They’re functional. Your child can bring a stuffed animal sponge into the bath that cleans them and doesn’t leave a big toy mess for you to clean up. Awe.Some. 

Superhero Costumes
Ages: 4-12
Cost: $

Playing dress-up never goes out of style and is a gift that encourages confidence and imagination!

Build-a-Bouquet blank
Ages: 3-6
Cost: $

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

Hanging Solar System
Ages: 3+
Cost: $

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

Flybar Pogo Ball
Ages: 6+
Cost: $

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

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

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

Gifts FROM Kids (That They Really Did Help With)

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

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

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

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

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

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

With an Allowance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Gifts for Siblings
Ages: 3+ 
Cost: $

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

Without an Allowance

Repurposed Toys
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

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

Used Toy Donations
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

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

A Helpful Activity
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

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

DIY Crafts
Ages: All Ages
Cost: Free

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

Gift Exchanges

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

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

Best of all, they’re both riotous fun.

Final Thoughts

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

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

And everyone will benefit.

5 Tips to Tame the Terrible Twos

little girl pouting
little girl pouting

little girl pouting

You’re sitting outside at your mother-in-law’s house, enjoying a cup of coffee as your 18-month-old daughter quietly plays in the garden. 

She’s been perfectly content just smelling the flowers…up until now, that is. 

She digs her little hands into the soil and pulls up a beautiful petunia. 

“No, Sweetie!” you call to her. “Please don’t hurt Grandma’s flowers.”

Her brown eyes meet yours. Normally those sweet eyes are the picture of innocence, but today they darken mischievously. 

She reaches down once more and grasps another flower, ripping it from the earth.

Your jaw drops–you’re speechless! 

You turn to your mother-in-law sitting beside you. Is she laughing? 

“You think that’s bad,” she says. “Just wait until she hits the terrible twos!

And there you have it. The terrible twos cliché. What parent hasn’t been on the receiving end of this incredibly unhelpful line at some point in time? 

The twos are a time for change, no doubt–a time when your little one starts ping-ponging between a need to rely on you and the desire to test out her own independence. A time when tantrums, mood swings, and attitude become a little more par for the course.

I’ve had countless parents who’ve either taken my FREE PARENTING CLASS or are members of our 7-Step Parenting Success System course recount their experience with the terrible twos, and I can tell you one thing is constant across the board:

The twos may be a little less sweet and a little more salty. But they definitely do NOT have to be terrible! 

In fact, I guarantee–some of your greatest memories are about to be made. 

I’ll show you how to survive the not-so-fun part of this stage in child development while still cherishing the wonderfully amazing things 2-year-olds bring to the table. 

Because the only truly terrible thing about the dreaded second year? It will end all too soon!

What Drives The Terrible Twos?

Before we get into how you can tame the terrible twos, let’s talk about the driving forces behind the behavior so often attributed to this particular age.

A Need for Attention and Power

Once their physical needs have been met, children are hard-wired to want to fulfill their emotional needs. Specifically, they need to feel a strong sense of belonging and significance in their family. 

In other words, they subconsciously crave our attention and yearn to feel a sense of age-appropriate power and control over their own lives. Of course, this all becomes very apparent during their second year.

Since no child can say, “Hey, I’m feeling a need for your attention,” or “I need to feel in control for a little while,”  it’s our job to proactively meet each of these needs in positive ways. If we don’t, our children will subconsciously resort to less desirable behaviors to get what they want.

When it’s attention they’re seeking, we start to see whining, clinging, and helplessness. When power is what they’re after, that’s where tantrums and meltdowns step in.

Just think about it. As adults, we want to feel in control of our own worlds. Why would our children be any different?

Addressing these needs for attention and power in positive ways will take a significant amount of sting out of the terrible twos right off the bat.

A Lack of Verbal Skills

Around age two, your child’s speech and language development begin to take off at lightning speed. Still, it’s no surprise that while sometimes very chatty, he can be a little hard to understand. 

Sure, he may know how to ask for milk or tell you he loves you, but when it comes to articulating more complex emotions, he is only at the beginning of his learning journey. 

This is why we so often see our little ones act out in bouts of frustration. They just can’t get their point across.

You may see your son kicking and screaming on the kitchen floor and brush it off as another unpleasant side-effect of the terrible twos, but in reality, he wants a different snack and doesn’t know how else to tell you.

Parental Misunderstanding

The terrible twos aren’t just a kid issue. Parents play an equal role in both the good and the bad experiences.

One mistake I often see is labeling a 2-year-old’s desire for independence as “misbehavior,” when in reality, things are much less black-and-white. What may look like willful defiance is more likely her way of testing boundaries and figuring out where she can have a little more power and control.

When we attempt to control or punish this exploratory behavior, this is when the problems truly begin.

As a parent, having a better understanding of what to expect from this age will be beneficial in the long run. When we understand the why behind the tantrums, mood swings, and sass, it’s easier to navigate them in the future.

Now that we know what drives the terrible twos, here are my five tips to help you tame them.

5 Tips to Tame the Terrible Twos

Tip #1: Fill Their Attention Bucket

As I mentioned earlier, children want and need attention and will seek that attention–positive or negative–by any means possible.

Let’s say you’ve had a busy morning of working remotely and finishing up chores around the house. In an effort to get some peace and quiet, you’ve plopped your little guy in front of the TV so you could finish up your tasks.

Then, as soon as you get on your final work call, he comes right on into your office and starts begging for snacks and a new show. 

You try to calm him down through whispers and a promise of going to the park later. 

But nothing works. And there in your office, in the middle of the call, he throws an epic tantrum. 

Once you’re off the call, it may be tempting to scream back at him or threaten punishment, but try not to go down that road.

Why? Because you’d be responding to the behavior with attention. And that tells him next time you’re trying to get work done to do it again.

Attention–even if it’s negative–is what he wants.

Instead, fill his attention bucket proactively in positive ways! You can try…

Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST)

Spend a designated amount of time each day with your child one-on-one. This doesn’t have to be long–just 10 minutes will do the trick–but it should be special and he should pick the activity. 

Then, label it!

“I just LOVE our Mommy and Son time each day.”

Let him pick out his favorite book for you to read him. Grab some coloring pages and make art together. Go on a nature walk. The possibilities are endless.

Not only will you relish the extra bit of quality time you get with him, you’ll also start to notice his behavior change for the better.

And in the example above, it would be even better to have your special time BEFORE you sit down to get your work done to prevent any future interruptions.

When you fill his need for attention in positive ways, you’re sure to see more positive behavior as a result. Yes, even from a 2-year-old!

Use Encouraging Phrases

There’s a difference between praise and words of encouragement. Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning parents often get them confused.

When your daughter picks up all of her toys without arguing, it may feel natural to tell her, “I’m so proud of you for cleaning up!” 

But you know what would be even better? Encouragement!

Try saying, “Look at how clean you made the floor! You must feel so proud of your hard work.”

By using encouraging phrases instead of praise, you focus on the deed, not the doer. This allows her to learn self-motivation and to seek less validation from others.

encouraging words

This supportive language will also give your daughter a huge boost of positive attention. She’ll be encouraged to continue the good behavior. 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review step 2 of the Parenting Success System for more encouraging phrases to use with your child.

Engage in Conversation

There’s nothing quite as stimulating as good conversation. The feeling of getting something off your chest and being heard can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Believe it or not, 2-year-olds feel the same way. Perhaps even more so!

So, show some interest and engage them in conversation

You may ask, “What was your favorite thing you did at daycare today?” or “What book do you want to read for story time today?”

This is not only a fast and efficient way to fill their attention bucket, but you’ll be sure to learn a few new things about your child that you wouldn’t have known without taking the time to ask…and listen.

Tip #2: Fill Their Power Bucket

When it comes to toddler behavior, providing positive attention is important but goes hand-in-hand with providing positive power. Your child is not a baby anymore and wants to do more for himself, but he still has trouble letting you know that.

Just as you need to fill his attention bucket, you’ll need to meet his need for positive power.

One of the best ways you can do that is to create what we call a Decision-Rich Environment.

This useful tool is so easy to use and makes a powerful impact. Simply take a moment and think about the everyday routine the two of you share. Then, ask yourself how you can relinquish a little power and control.

At age two, this may be allowing him to choose between his blue sneakers or his red sandals. Does he want oatmeal or cereal for breakfast? Should you take a trip to the park before nap or after?

Believe it or not, allowing your child to make these little (but significant!) decisions throughout the day is going to give him a big hit of positive power, which will then reduce the amount of negative behavior you see through various power struggles.

Now is the time to embrace his growing need for independence and work with it–not against it! I know for parents this can be hard. After all, don’t you want to help your kids as much as possible?

But really, by stepping back and handing over the reins a little bit, you actually are helping them. It may take some practice, but over time you’ll notice many positive improvements.

embrace their need for independence

Tip #3: Take Time for Training

Maybe you dread taking your 2-year-old to the grocery store because you know how she acts out in the checkout line. Or perhaps you worry about going to playdates because she always throws a fit when you say it’s time to go.

Whatever the case may be, I completely understand your frustration–and your fear! That’s why I urge you to Take Time for Training.

Not only do little ones thrive on routine, but they also benefit from having a clear understanding of what to expect before doing it. 

Wherever you may be going–the grocery store, doctor, church–make sure to spend a little time beforehand talking about what they can expect AND what you expect of them.

“Today we are going to the store just for milk. We will not be getting any sugary treats during this visit. I know you can stay calm even though we won’t get a treat.”

When you take time for training, you’re setting out to instruct your child on how she should behave in a particular setting. After all, she’ll never understand the right way to act if you don’t teach her first!

One great way to do this is to role-play. Act out what a good trip to the store would look like and make it fun and engaging. Then swap roles, letting her be the parent and you the child (kids LOVE this).

Keep in mind, this takes time and consistency. Stick to the course and soon enough you’ll see great results each time you go out.

amy mccready free class

Tip #4: Know Their Triggers

Just like adults, kids have triggers for their less-than-ideal behaviors. 

It’s amazing how many times we brush off behavior as simply another unpleasant side effect of the terrible twos, when there is actually a very rational–and easily avoidable–reason behind it.

Does your son get cranky when he misses his afternoon nap? Does he throw a fit when he’s hungry? Bored? 

Fortunately, we know our children better than anyone else. And with just a bit of foresight and planning, we have the ability to control the outcome by avoiding these triggers all together.

If hunger is an issue–or should I say hanger–be sure to have a couple of healthy snacks on hand whenever you go out. 

Schedule playdates, appointments, and outings around nap time. 

And if you know boredom is going to be an issue, try and bring along a small book, some coloring pages, or a small toy to help your little one pass the time.

Tip #5: Shift Your Thinking

Although they have a few years under their belts, the truth is, 2-year-olds are just getting started on a long journey toward understanding how to behave properly in different situations. Up until now, you’ve done everything for them, but things are starting to change!

With a growing need for independence, they’re already learning what it’s like to make their own way in the world.

Of course, so often parents end up losing their cool when their toddler goes off the rails. Do they not understand that screaming, crying, and hitting are only going to get them in trouble?

Actually, no. They really don’t understand. Not yet anyway.

It’s your job to teach them.

This is where a shift in your own thinking is going to make a world of difference in how you view your 2-year-old’s behavior. That and a tremendous amount of grace.

Because your daughter isn’t a bad kid for throwing a tantrum when you told her it was time to leave the park. She’s not bratty or ungrateful whenever she forgets to say please or thank you.

She’s simply a little person trying her best who hasn’t acquired the tools to handle the situation properly.

So shift your thinking when it comes to your child’s terrible twos behavior and show her a little compassion. You’ll be amazed at how changing your own reaction will lead to better behavior.

Final Thoughts

Tantrums, power struggles, attitude, and sass are terrible! But the twos definitely do not have to fall into that category.

I want to encourage you to shift your thinking on this particular point in your child’s life and not give in to the doom-and-gloom warnings that seem to come from every well-meaning relative, friend, or stranger.

And please, don’t hesitate to try out my FREE WEBINAR to see if the Parenting Success System is right for you. Along with these 5 Tips for Taming the Terrible Twos, you’ll be sure to find that the twos are not terrible at all, actually.


Why Counting 1-2-3 Isn’t Magic (Plus 4 Tools to Use Instead)

angry dad in grocery store counting to son
angry dad in grocery store counting to son

angry dad in grocery store counting to son

You’ve kindly asked, begged, and bribed–but he just won’t budge. 

It’s time for the final countdown

“Justin, you have three seconds to put that toy back on the shelf.” 

Your 5-year-old remains motionless–despite your warning.


Still nothing.

“2 ½, 2 ¾…”

As you raise your voice, the eyebrows of fellow bystanders raise, too. This is becoming a public battle of wills. 

You definitely don’t want to cause a scene, but you also need immediate cooperation. 

“Justin, I told you we weren’t going to buy a toy at the supermarket. If I reach the count of 3, you’re going to be in BIG trouble!!……..”



Maybe, after your final warning, Justin will budge. 

But, maybe–and just as likely–he won’t. You might even have to chase him down the crowded aisle and pry the toy from his tiny, yet iron-like, fingertips.

In either case, counting for compliance is not an ideal tactic. 

Though many of us regularly rely on this strategy, there are a few reasons why it isn’t going to help our kids–or us–in the long run. (To discover more effective disciplinary measures, sign up right now for our FREE CLASS: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Yelling, or Losing Control!)

Want the scoop on this age-old tactic? 

Here are 4 reasons why counting “1-2-3” doesn’t stop bad habits–it prolongs them.

1. We’re Allowing Kids to Ignore Us

Think about it: counting to three teaches kids they really don’t have to listen the first time. Instead, they learn they have several opportunities before they have to respond to us. 

Even though our blood increasingly boils each moment of a countdown, our kids’ minds read something like this:

“Okay, I’m good here for a while. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

“He just started counting. I don’t have to do anything quite yet. I’ve got time.”

By counting “1-2-3,” we’re actually giving our children 3 or more chances to ignore us. We probably asked them once or twice before we started counting. Add a “two and a half” and a “two and three-quarters,” and we’re up to 6-7 opportunities to be tuned out. 

Effectively, our kids have learned to ignore us–and wouldn’t we rather them listen the first time we make a request? 

Plus, teaching our kids to listen the first time and be more cooperative helps them outside the home, too. After all, a student can’t delay submitting his book report until the teacher has requested it several times. Not if he wants to get a good grade, anyway. 

Nor will a coach play a student in the next big game who repeatedly fails to listen to team strategy and instructions.

Our children won’t always get multiple opportunities outside the home, so it’s important that we set the expectation for listening the first time while they’re in our care.
Counting 1-2-3 quote

2.  Our Kids’ Responsibility Becomes Ours–and Entitlement Grows

When we feel the need to count, who isn’t listening and helping? Our kids. But who is getting angry, frustrated, and doing the work? Us. 

When children don’t cooperate, parents often (mistakenly) deploy discipline strategies–punishment, time-out, countdowns, etc.– that turn those misbehaviors into the parent’s problem.

In short, it becomes incumbent on the parent to force the child to comply instead of placing the onus on the misbehaving child. 

This, my friends, is WAY too accommodating. 

Occasional leniency may be relatively harmless, but a lot of it can lead to entitlement.

Breeding entitlement is surprisingly easy, because it usually doesn’t come from a parent’s conscious effort to reward their kids or spoil them beyond measure.

Instead, it sneakily arises from small, everyday actions that give kids more leeway, advantages, and excuses to shirk responsibility. 

Counting to 3 is one small action that does this by transferring responsibility from the kids to the parents. And, over time, when kids push the limits on the countdown, they will get away with more and more–increasing their feelings of entitlement.

3.  “1-2-3” Means We’re Willing to Wait…and Negotiate

No means no, right? 

But when a lot of parents say “no,” this isn’t the case. 

In the scene above, 5-year-old Justin knew he couldn’t have the toy. His dad said, “I told you we weren’t going to buy a toy at the supermarket.”

Telling our children “no” is good–and necessary! It’s important in situations like these to teach our kids they can’t have everything they want. 

But, saying “no”–and subsequently counting down until they finally give in–leaves room for children to re-interpret the situation.  

“He said ‘no,’ but now he’s counting–so I guess I still have time to play with this toy. Maybe he’ll even change his mind and let me keep it.” 

Even though parents see a narrowing window as they count, kids see increasing negotiation power. Depending on how often we rely on counting “1-2-3”, kids may even start to doubt our words and when they need to take us seriously.

4.  Counting Sets the Stage for a Power Struggle

Whether our dear 5-year-old, Justin, tightened his grip and ran down the supermarket aisle, threw himself on the floor in a writhing tantrum, or finally–begrudgingly–put back the toy, this was a classic showdown between parent and child. 

Children have an innate need for power and control and if those needs aren’t met in legitimate, positive ways, they’ll seek those needs through other means. For the power-seeking child, when given an inch, he’ll take it–and a mile more. 

Cue the power struggle.

Power struggles can be common, epic, and ugly. But they don’t have to be. 

If Justin still chooses not to listen to his dad–even after he reaches the dreaded count of “3”–what will he do next? He might say, “I’m serious now!” but he probably won’t believe him. 

Or, what happens when dad continues to lose control–both literally and figuratively? He might feel the need to yell, spank, or apply other totally ineffective consequences in an attempt to re-instill his authority. Justin, in turn, would further roll up his sleeves for the fight. 

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4 Tactics to Try Instead of Counting

Luckily, you don’t have to go down this road! Nor do you need to negotiate, accommodate, or be ignored.

Are you ready to take heart and switch gears?

Here are 4 alternate ways to encourage–and earn–your kids’ compliance:

1. Prevention Through Power

Naturally, life would be a lot easier without all these standoffs in stores, at playgrounds, and at bedtime, right? 

We all want our kiddos to behave appropriately–without having to employ discipline tactics–but that doesn’t happen without some proactive planning on our part.

The best way to encourage positive behavior is to look at the misbehavior itself. Yes, your child is interested in the toy at the store, but he’s also gaining a HUGE power boost at your expense as you jump through hoops and embarrass yourself to get his cooperation.

So he might want the toy; but even deeper than that, he wants to fill his need for personal power and prove who’s boss.

In fact, Adlerian Psychology–which is what all the tools in the 7-Step Parenting Success System course are based on–tells us that once physical needs are met, all people have an innate need for attention and emotional connection and a sense of autonomy and personal power. 

In kids, when these needs aren’t met positively and proactively, this shows up through misbehaviors like tantrums, whining, arguing, backtalk, and all the rest. They don’t want to misbehave but they don’t have the awareness or the skills to communicate which needs aren’t being met. 

But, if we help our kids get that powerful feeling before their power bucket is running low, they will no longer feel the need to lash out, argue, talk back, and more.

It sounds incredible…and it truly is! 

So, if that’s you in the grocery store with a 5-year-old, instead of waiting for your child to act out, you’re going to help him feel super empowered. 

Give him the list and a pencil so he can check off the items. Let him decide the yogurt flavor. Ask him if he can find the Cheerios box in the cereal aisle. Weigh some vegetables. 

Through these small tasks, your son will feel such a strong sense of power that he’ll be more likely to take your “no” for an answer and put the toy back without complaint when asked.

This works wherever you are: during your routines, in the car, as you’re getting ready to leave the park, or any other tricky times of the day. Preplan some empowering activities, and you’ll be much less likely to even need other strategies. 

But if you do…

2. Start by Maintaining a Calm Voice

As much as we need to be firm when we make requests of our children, we need to be equally respectful and calm. 

Maintaining a Calm Voice, a tool we use in our positive parenting online course, is more powerful than it sounds. Because, in a way, it compels kids to listen without using force

When your 3-year-old refuses to get in her car seat after several requests, simply replace the urge to count by getting down on her level (physically), making eye contact, and stating the desired behavior in your calm but firm voice. 

“Becca, we need to pick your sister up from school now, so I need your help getting in the car seat. You can do so many things by yourself now! Show me how you buckle yourself in!

If your toddler has been loud or screaming, she’ll have to quiet down to hear your voice. Plus, without you yelling, she won’t have to raise her voice to respond. Using a calm voice has immediately blockaded a power struggle because you aren’t angry, upset, or emotional.

Becca is also pleased she can buckle herself in! This added dose of encouragement and self-positivity has further helped her comply.

But if she doesn’t, and continues to ramp up her reaction, you’ll feel much more prepared if you…

3. Train Your Child to Manage Big Emotions 

As we follow through with whatever it is we need our child to do–leave the playground, give a snatched toy back to a little sibling, or stop jumping on the couch–children are likely to pitch a fit…especially at first. 

As long as no one is in danger, that’s fine. There’s no need to lecture or get angry; empathize that you know he’s disappointed or that it’s hard to share, but move on. The tantrum will pass and your child will learn the valuable lesson that when you say something, you mean it

In a public place, naturally, this isn’t so easy. And, of course, you’d rather the situation not repeat itself.

The thing is, counting “1-2-3″ doesn’t help our kids get a grip on their defiance, anger, and willpower–it intensifies it!

Instead, training children to manage their feelings and express them appropriately–even in the heat of the moment–is a great alternate solution. 

When a child is at his wit’s end and refusing to listen, take a moment to first find out why. 

Maybe you purchased Justin a toy the last time you were at the store and he assumes he can have another one. Or maybe he just struggles to hear the word “no.” You can start by asking him why he is upset or encouraging him to describe how he feels. 

Also, for kids too young to express their feelings, we can help by labeling their feelings for them. 

“Anthony, I know you’re frustrated and angry that your brother gets to listen to Hamilton on the car ride today. It’s hard not to always get what we want.”

After a moment or two, we can add: “But that doesn’t mean you can yell and make noise during his songs. I know you wouldn’t want him to scream over your Disney tunes. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be, too?”

Labeling our kids’ feelings and showing empathy, despite how frustrating their behavior may be, helps them learn to express their emotions in a less dramatic way. 

And this helps curb their misbehaviors. 

Even a teenager struggling to cooperate can benefit from this tactic. Maybe you’re inclined to give your tween daughter a 5-second countdown after you’ve asked her four times to put her phone away. Instead, you can say:

“Alysha, I know it’s hard to put down the phone. It’s important for you to connect with your friends–and I respect that. But now, it’s time to do your homework.” 

Often, this is the only step you’ll need to take. But if your kids are still putting up a stink, your best bet is to ignore the fuss and avoid getting drawn into the power struggle. Leave the room if you need to, but act completely disinterested. They’ll soon get the point.

And what about that dreaded scenario when your preschooler is losing it in public? Usher kids to a location that can withstand a tantrum (outside, the car, or maybe an out-of-the-way corner) and let it run its course. We can show empathy during this process by holding them and acknowledging their disappointment. 

Empathy doesn’t mean we’re giving into their demands–it just helps them feel understood. 

When they see we’re not budging, kids will, eventually, lose interest. They’ll get the message that pitching a fit doesn’t get them what they want. What’s more, they’re less likely to lose control next time. 

4. Take Action with Redirection

Sometimes, parents resort to punishment when counting goes ignored–spanking, time-outs, etc. Other times, counting is an idle threat with no follow-through. 

But occasionally, both scenarios can be avoided when we take immediate action and redirect our kids.  

Poor Justin may be approaching his wits’ end over this silly toy, but if you quickly whisk him away to see the crabs and lobsters in the seafood aisle BEFORE he erupts, he may just forget it. Or, if you ask him to pick out his favorite brownie mix to make over the weekend, he could be happily distracted. 

If you and your 11-year-old are nearing a high-noon showdown over his wanting to stay up past 10, try talking about some of his favorite subjects while tucking him into bed or asking what he’d like to do with you tomorrow after getting a good night’s sleep. 

It seems simple, and it is. But taking our kids’ minds off the idea that they’re struggling against us and distracting them in healthy ways is an amazing way to get their cooperation. 

The key is to do it before the tension mounts. Once you’re in the middle of a battle, they’re less likely to take your bait and switch gears.

Kids still need to learn to cooperate without distraction, so this tactic may seem like the avoidance of a hard, but important, lesson. In reality, our kids will have plenty of opportunities to hear “no” and other words of opposition. 

Picking and choosing our battles and avoiding constant stand-offs will eliminate tension. It will also make conversations about what behavior you expect from them smoother and better received next time. 

Final Thoughts

We all want our children to listen the first time we ask, and while counting to 3 might be working for you right now, it’s not the best long-term solution for helping your child become more cooperative and compliant.

So whether you’re counting to 3 out of desperation or conscious choice, I’d love to encourage you to try the strategies above next time you find yourself in a battle of wills.

Or, better yet, you can join me for my FREE CLASS: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Yelling, or Losing Control where I’ll share another favorite tool from my parenting toolbox–the 5Rs to fair and effective consequences. 

But for now, which tactic (or three, or four) will you try next time, in place of counting “1-2-3?”

Kicking the “Helpless” Habit: 4 Strategies for Success

mom fixing daughter's shoe
mom fixing daughter's shoe

mom fixing daughter's shoe

It’s 8:15 AM and, as usual, you’re struggling to get yourself and your 6-year-old daughter out the door on time. 

After a hurried morning routine of brushing teeth, picking out clothes, and packing lunches, you’re just about ready to load into the car. All you have left is to put on shoes.

Simple enough, right?

“Mom, can you tie my shoes?” your daughter asks (even though she’s been able to tie them herself for a year now).

“No, you can do it,” you insist.

“No, I can’t,” she whines. “It’s too HARD!” 

You sigh, clearly annoyed, but drop to your knee and tie her shoes for her. You feel defeated, but at least you’ll get her to school on time…

Fellow parents, raise your hand if you’ve been here before. Time and time again, overwhelmingly irritated when your child asks–or demands–you help them with something they are perfectly capable of doing themselves?

As tough as it may be, take comfort! You are most certainly not alone.

Every family deals with this type of feigned helplessness from time to time. If it typically only happens once in a blue moon, no need to fret! We all have our moments.

But if you’re dealing with incessant whining, pleading, and nagging for help, day in and day out, you’ve come to the right place. Because you don’t have to simply grin and bear it, hoping this rough season is just another passing phase.

You CAN help your kids kick the “helpless” habit!

Using a few simple strategies, I’ll show you how you can put the brakes on this exaggerated helplessness and give you insight into recognizing when help is truly needed. 

So, put those hoops away. There’s no more need to jump through them! Because, soon enough, you’ll notice the helplessness leaving your household–for good!

Normal Request vs. Special Service

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Amy, sometimes my kids really DO need my help!”

And I agree!

In fact, many of the parents who’ve taken my FREE WEBINAR or are Positive Parenting Solutions Members have had this very same concern.

But it’s important to understand the distinction between your child truly needing help and simply wanting to engage you in a power struggle. In other words, when they ask for help, are they making a normal request or seeking a special service?

Let’s break it down…

Normal Request

Your 2-year-old son is absolutely ecstatic to open his birthday present and find a cozy new set of pajamas with his favorite superhero’s emblem across the chest. 

Of course, just before bedtime, he starts to get upset when he tries to dress himself and his little fingers fumble with the button holes.

“Help me!” he sobs. “I can’t do it.”

Naturally, you step in to assist. This is a skill deficit. He has not yet acquired the skills to button his own pajamas, so asking for your help is a perfectly reasonable and normal request!

It should come as no surprise to you that kids need help–sometimes a lot! And as parents, it’s in our very nature to want to give them that assistance. It feels good to be needed and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, it’s important that we only help our children when that help is actually needed. And, like this example, when they make a normal request for help, it’s totally fine to lend a helping hand.

Special Service

Now, let’s say that same little boy a few years down the road gets another set of pajamas that he absolutely adores.

With age and more mature dexterity, he’s now mastered the ability to button the shirt all by himself. In fact, you’ve seen him do it many times! 

Still, bedtime rolls around and, once again, he’s shouting for help.

“I can’t button my shirt. I need YOU to do it!” 

This time, instead of tenderly leaning in to button up your sweet baby’s shirt, you do so begrudgingly. You find yourself angrily pulling each button through every little hole as your son stares back at you, soaking in a huge hit of attention and power.

He played the helpless card and it worked out…in his favor.

So, What’s the Difference?

Curious how you can tell the difference between a normal request and a special service?

That’s easy. Your gut will tell you!

Normal requests for help rarely leave us feeling angry or played. After all, as I’ve mentioned before, that’s what we do as parents–we help our kids! 

But if the request leaves you feeling taken advantage of or irritated–you know he can do the task himself, yet he regularly asks for help–that’s a sure sign of a special service! Time to hit the breaks, fast!

Let’s discuss what strategies you can use to do just that.

4 Strategies to Kick the “Helpless” Habit

Strategy #1: Take Time for Training

training is an investment in good behavior

Training is an investment in good behavior. And a worthwhile one at that.

This is why Take Time for Training is just one of the many power-packed tools we at Positive Parenting Solutions offer our members.

When you take time, one-on-one, to train your child how they should behave and in new tasks, they will begin to feel more capable and independent–eliminating the desire to act helpless! And the best part? It’s so easy!

Let’s say your 6-year-old daughter has been having a hard time getting herself ready in the mornings. You know she can brush her teeth and fix her hair by herself, yet she insists on having you do it for her.

This is your cue to Take Time for Training. (Even if you think she is already capable.)

You might say, “Sweetie, the past few mornings, you seemed to have trouble brushing your teeth and fixing your hair. Let’s take a few minutes to practice right now so you know exactly what to do tomorrow morning.” 

Then, role play! 

Give her the chance to practice doing the tasks herself. Not only will this prove to you (and her!) that she is capable of getting ready, but it will also give her a much-needed boost of confidence and independence. 

Just remember, this tool is meant to be fun! Keep the training positive, remain calm, and avoid criticism. Everything else will fall into place nicely.

Strategy #2: Give Clear Expectations

You did it! You finally hit that parenting sweet spot. Your youngest child can now pour his own cereal.

Now you can spend your days dreaming of getting a full night’s rest and sleeping in until–dare you say it?-7 AM! 

Of course, that dream is short-lived. It’s 5:30 AM and you wake up to your son’s face mere inches from your own. 

“Mom, I’m hungry.” 

“Pour yourself a bowl of cereal, Honey,” you answer groggily.

“I CAN’T do it right! You need to get it for me.” 

So much for hitting that sweet spot…

Here’s the thing. Kids aren’t mind readers. So if we want them to act a certain way, we need to make sure we’re giving them very clear expectations–and giving them in advance.

The night before, perhaps try something like, “Honey, you are growing up in so many ways and I know you’re capable of pouring your own cereal in the morning. Instead of coming to me early tomorrow morning, if you want breakfast, I expect you to get it yourself. Let’s make sure everything is within your reach so you can handle this all on your own.” 

Solidify this by being encouraging. Remember, we want them to want to do things on their own. It’s empowering!

By setting your expectations early–with encouragement–and making sure they are crystal clear, your child will have a full understanding of what is expected of him with no excuse for helplessness. You know he is capable and so does he! 

Pro Tip: I’ve crafted a list of 27 Encouraging Phrases that you can use to empower your kids – Grab your FREE copy today.
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Strategy #3: Walk Away

Remember when your daughter first started throwing temper tantrums that you knew were solely for your benefit and you decided to walk away rather than give her any attention for the outbursts?

Well, here’s some great news–you can do that again! At least sometimes.

When it comes to feigned helplessness, the root of the issue is her desire for power and attention. And just as with tantrums, sometimes you need to know when to simply walk away.


Because there is power in walking away! When you take away the attention she’s so desperately seeking, her helplessness loses its intrigue and sends her a clear message: This doesn’t work.

When she pulls the helpless card, stay completely cool, calm, and–most importantly–unimpressed.

If you need to say something, keep it simple and to the point. Perhaps try, “I’m confident you can handle this all by yourself. I’ll be in the other room when you’re ready to move on.”

And then walk away.

Sticking around and providing any sort of attention could suck you into an unnecessary power struggle.

Strategy #4: Use a When-Then Routine 

Despite your weekly family meetings, discussions about family contributions, and having years of practice under his belt, your 9-year-old still insists that his room cannot be cleaned without your help. 

“I can’t tuck my sheets in.” 

“I don’t know how to fold my clothes right.” 

“You clean it so much better than I do!”

His list of excuses is a mile long and you are just about at the end of your rope. Wouldn’t it just be easier to clean it for him? 

Maybe in the short term. But I promise you, cleaning his room for him would be doing you AND your son a huge disservice. Fortunately, you have options!

One great thing about kids is that they absolutely thrive on predictable routines. And when we need them to take action, using a When-Then Routine is a wonderful tool to get them motivated–especially when time is of the essence!

The basic idea behind the When-Then Routine is to delay something more appealing until the less appealing task has been completed.

“WHEN you are dressed, THEN we’ll have breakfast.” 

“WHEN you finish your book report, THEN you can do some reading for fun.”

“WHEN you finish studying, THEN you can enjoy some TV time.”

And of course, “WHEN you are finished cleaning your room and I’ve inspected it, THEN you can go out and play with your friends.” All of a sudden, the burden is on your son’s shoulders and off of yours.

It’s a simple concept yet one of the most powerful tools in our parenting toolbox. And the best part? The consequence is built-in! No need to nag, yell, or remind.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out Step 3 of the Parenting Success System for 5 Ground Rules for When-Then Routines.

Final Thoughts

With all the whining, begging, and pleading for “help”, getting your kid to kick the “helpless” habit may seem next to impossible. But by using these 4 strategies, you absolutely can empower your child to be more capable and self-sufficient. 

Now, I can’t promise this will be an instant fix. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee your child will play the helpless card again. Why wouldn’t they? It’s worked in the past!

However, take heart. With practice and consistency on your part, they’ll soon get the point that you won’t jump through hoops at their every whim and demand. 

Before you know it, your child will be more confident, capable, and empowered. And their excessive helplessness? That will be leaving your house for good!

Fighting the Good Fight: 5 Strategies to Curb Child Aggression

young angry boy with his fist up in the air
young angry boy with his fist up in the air

young angry boy with his fist up in the airYou’re at the park with your 3-year-old son, watching as he cheerfully climbs up the jungle gym and glides down the big, twirly slide. It’s by far his favorite pastime, and you must admit, you love watching him play.

He’s had the playground to himself for most of the morning, but things are starting to get a bit crowded as the day wears on. When another little boy approaches the slide–your son’s slide–you tense. Something is about to happen.

As you guessed, an argument breaks out. And before you know it, push comes to shove–literally.

“Get away!” your son yells as he drives both hands into the other boy’s chest.

As parents, chances are we’ve all experienced something similar. From meltdowns in the toy aisle to fights between siblings, we know what it’s like to watch as our little angels act anything but angelic. 

And I think we can all agree…it isn’t fun.

But what do you do when those meltdowns and tantrums turn into aggressive outbursts? When a sibling squabble turns physical or an argument between friends ends in a knock-down drag-out fight? 

The topic of child aggression is a tricky subject, but trust me when I say it’s one I’m very familiar with. In my years of experience as a parenting educator, I’ve had thousands of families come to me with this very same concern.

If you happen to be one of those parents, you’ve come to the right place. From my FREE parenting training to the 7-Step Parenting Success System, my desire is to help parents just like you. I’ll meet you right where you are and show you how to take your family from surviving to thriving! 

Address Unmet Needs and Skill Deficits

Before we talk about strategies you can use to ease your child’s aggression, I want to be clear about one important fact: 

Aggression is NOT the problem. It is a symptom of an underlying issue.

Now, you may be scratching your head thinking, What are you talking about, Amy? Of course, aggression is the problem!

Aggression is certainly a behavior we don’t like to see in our kids. But instead of being an outright misbehavior, it’s actually a symptom of a bigger issue. 

Just imagine you walked into the doctor’s office with a fever. The doctor is clearly concerned about the fever, but the doctor knows the fever isn’t the issue. 

Sure, they could try to give you medicine to bring your temperature down and make you drink a cold drink or sit in a walk-in freezer to bring your fever down. But you and I both know the fever isn’t the issue! It’s a symptom of an underlying problem.

When your child consistently exhibits aggressive behaviors, this is your cue that you need to address the underlying cause, rather than simply focus on the angry slap your daughter just dealt her little brother. 

By digging down to that underlying cause, you’ll be able to help your child be more successful in controlling aggressive outbursts down the road. To start, let’s take a look at what’s happening on a psychological level.

When it comes to children, there are two main buckets you should consider when evaluating the root cause of their aggression. 

I’m talking about Unmet Needs and Skill Deficit.

Unmet Needs

Once their physical needs like food and shelter are met, kids have an innate, subconscious need for a sense of belonging and a sense of significance. 

They yearn to feel emotionally connected to members of their family unit through positive attention and need to know their presence is important. They also need to feel an age-appropriate sense of power and control over their own lives.

However, if these needs for attention, power, and control go unmet, that’s where problems can arise. 

I’m talking about sass, tantrums, power struggles! And, yes, sometimes even lashing out and aggression. 

All of these misbehaviors, and many more, can happen because your child is using whatever means he must to get your attention or feel that sense of control or significance that he’s missing. 

He may walk over and deliberately push his little brother to the ground or slam a door so hard it causes your favorite family portrait to come crashing down, all because he knows these behaviors will get your attention. 

Simply put, when his needs aren’t met in proactive and positive ways, he may settle for getting them met by any means necessary–even if that requires him to use negative behaviors to get your attention or exert his power. 

And that’s why aggression is not the problem in itself. Instead, it’s a sign that your child might be seeking to achieve an unmet need.

And as difficult as it may be to deal with in the moment, I have wonderful news. Unmet needs can always be met! 

We’ll talk more on that later…

Skill Deficit

On the flip side, aggression may be the outcome when children lack the appropriate skills to resolve conflict. This is not misbehavior. They simply don’t yet know how to handle their strong feelings and emotions or communicate them effectively. 

Parents, this is a wonderful training opportunity! 

Now is the time to really put in the effort and teach your child how to handle and calm her big emotions. Once she has the skills to manage those big feelings, you’ll find her tendency to lash out when conflict arises decrease significantly.  

That said, here are 5 strategies you can use TODAY to help curb child aggression in your own home.

5 Strategies to Curb Child Aggression

Strategy #1: KNOW Your Child

When it comes to emotional and behavioral development, at one point or another, all children experiment with some act of aggression. Just ask any parent who has ever stared helplessly as their child kicked or hit another kid after having their favorite toy stolen. 

But just because experimenting with aggression is normal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proactive in putting an end to the behavior early on. So how can you do that?

KNOW your child!

From their favorite food to the number of freckles on their cheeks, you know your child better than anyone else in the world. Why not take that knowledge and use it to help them be successful in potentially challenging situations?

For instance, if you know your child struggles with aggression, it’s up to you to remain vigilant in your supervision. Watch carefully during their playdates and be keenly aware of what’s going on. 

Should you sense things heading south–change it up! Interrupt the play and change the scenery–BEFORE the eruption.

Also, understand that with kids, not everything is visible on the surface. There may be additional underlying issues affecting their aggression. 

Is your child hungry? Embarrassed? Sleep-deprived, maybe? 

Once you get a better understanding of what may be driving the aggression, then you can put forth the work in helping them overcome those tendencies. 

Helpful Hint: One thing parents often overlook when it comes to their child’s aggression is the importance of sleep. In addition to the following 5 strategies, be sure your child is getting sufficient sleep–rich in both quality AND quantity. And if bedtime is an issue, Positive Parenting Solutions Members can check out our Ultimate Survival Guide: Curing the Bedtime Blues. 

Strategy #2: Maintain Your Composure


Your oldest just sucker-punched his little brother in the gut when he refused to share the TV remote…right in front of your visiting in-laws. Naturally, you’re upset over his behavior, but having an audience made it so much worse.

You’re angry, embarrassed, and, now, finding it very hard to keep your cool. But as difficult as it may be to remain level headed, I promise you, now is not the time to lose control. 

Here are a few things you definitely DON’T want to do when your child’s aggression is on the rise.

DON’T make a scene. Adding anger, frustration, and hostility to an already heated environment will only raise the chances of another harmful encounter, and it will make it harder for your child to regain his composure. 

DON’T spank, slap, or otherwise punish–no matter how upset you are–as it only models the behavior you’re trying to avoid. 

DON’T force an insincere apology. I know this goes against every parent’s first instinct, but when you force a child to apologize before he actually feels any remorse, it doesn’t actually do any good. Instead, wait until he calms down and explain how his actions made the other person feel.

DON’T take sides. Even if you saw the whole thing go down, it’s best to remain neutral. By assigning victim and aggressor roles in the aftermath of a fight, you increase the likelihood of a repeat performance. 

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 5 Lesson 43 “Put ‘Em All in the Same Boat” for insight on how to encourage problem-solving and end any argument.

With so much to consider NOT doing, you may be wondering, What is it that I CAN do, Amy? 

My answer is simple: Take a deep breath, calm yourself (and your child!), and talk it out.

By controlling your own reaction to the situation, you can quickly navigate your aggressive child into a much calmer mindset. 

Take the opportunity to control the environment by stepping aside–away from the judgment of others–and talk through the issue at hand. 

After all, there’s very little that can’t be solved when the right words align with the proper emotions.

Notice that we’re not punishing, or even assigning consequences, to the actual aggressive act. Many parents are surprised by this–understandably thinking, “Wait, my child doesn’t even get in trouble for hitting?”

Sure, your child may need some quiet time away from the action to calm his emotions, and afterward, might need to make amends. But the truth is, you’ll get much farther by focusing on solutions first, and decoding the root causes of the aggression second, than by putting harsh penalties on your child. 
end childhood aggression

Strategy #3: Teach Them Conflict Resolution

Conflict costs!

Just ask any company–large or small–that invests a portion of its profits into conflict management. It costs money. It costs relationships.

And for families, it can cost even more…

This is why it’s so important to combat aggressive behavior with learning opportunities. Teaching your child how to resolve conflicts gives them plenty of positive alternatives to aggression.

Start by helping them recognize and label their big emotions. Then follow up with how to control and calm them. Perhaps you sing Elmo’s Belly Breathing song with your toddler or take a walk with your older child. 

Then practice, practice, practice!

For younger kids, you can role-play using stuffed animals or action figures to talk about feelings. “Watch how Mr. Puppy can ask for a turn on the slide from Stripey the Tiger instead of pushing him out of the way.”

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 5, Lesson 44 for conflict resolution for kids ages 1-4.

Try talking through various scenarios with your older kids and discuss different strategies they can use when conflict arises. That may be “I Feel” statements, problem-solving, or simply knowing when to walk away.

When you take time for conflict resolution training–and do it consistently–the change you’ll see is nothing short of spectacular. You’re gifting your child a skill that will benefit them now AND when they’re grown and flown.

Strategy #4: Model Good Behavior

what we are shouts louder than what we say

Our children are watching us and paying close attention (even though it may not feel that way). So it makes sense that the behavior we see in them is a direct reflection of the behavior they see in us as parents.

This is how children learn! They model the behavior before them. 

So how might you apply this knowledge to your child’s aggression?

Control your own aggressive attitude! 

Again, we should never respond to a child’s aggression with more aggression. When we choose to hit/spank/slap your child as punishment for aggressive behavior, it sends a mixed message. 

Kids aren’t clueless to double standards–especially when they see them played out right before their eyes. They may wonder, Why can Dad do this but I can’t?

Additionally, being aggressive toward your child doesn’t put a damper on their own aggression. But it does increase the likelihood that they’ll lie in the future to avoid punishment.

Of course, you’re human and staying calm can be just as difficult for you as it is for your child. Perhaps work has been stressful, or the long days spent at home with your kids have left you exasperated and desperate for a retreat.

Whatever the case may be, in times of high anxiety and frustration, do your best to work on maintaining a calm demeanor. Then, go one step further and model it in front of your kids.

You can try inviting them to meditate or practice some deep breathing exercises. If your kids are young, make sure to explain what you’re doing in terms they will understand.

“Mommy is breathing to calm her big feelings. Want to join me? Let’s pretend to smell a beautiful flower, then blow out a birthday candle! Doesn’t that feel great?”

There’s exceptional power that comes with the ability to stay calm. And when you work on mastering your own aggressive attitude, your child won’t be far behind.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Lesson 13, “The Power of Calm,” in Step 2 for helpful tips to help you remember to use your calm voice.

Strategy #5: Give Plenty of Positive Power and Attention

This may be a tough pill to swallow, but it must be said. Parents have just as much to contribute to their child’s misbehavior as the child himself.

Fun Fact! Part of the 7-Step Parenting Success System is the Parenting Personality Assessment. Find out what your parenting personality is and how you can tweak it to get more cooperation from your kids!

Remember, earlier, when we talked about our children’s Unmet Needs and how they can always be met? Well, here you have it! We now know that when those basic needs for belonging and significance go unmet, problems start to transpire.

The only way to combat all of these negative emotions and behaviors is by pouring into those needs for positive power and attention. Here are three fantastic ways you can do it!

Tactic #1: Use Encouraging Phrases

Although this one may sound easy enough, the truth is many parents fall into a trap when it comes to encouraging their kids. They want to build their child up and show their support, but what is supposed to sound encouraging oftentimes comes out as shallow praise.

You know how it goes. . .

“I’m so proud of you!” or “You’re so smart!” 

Of course, there’s no ill-intention when a parent says these things to their child–they do mean them after all! But praise may actually do more harm than good because it focuses on external motivation

This is the motivation that comes from anyone other than your child–whether it be praise, rewards, social media likes–whatever! Eventually, children who receive lots of praise end up needing–even craving–external affirmation. 

Instead, try Encouragement.

Encouragement focuses on internal motivation. It doesn’t matter that YOU think your child is smart. THEY need to know they can work hard and take specific actions to achieve the results they want. And so you encourage them…

“You worked so hard to receive that A. You must feel so proud!”

“Your sister really appreciated how patient you were today while you two were building the tower. I bet it felt good to be so kind!”

Encouragement helps foster good behavior because it’s personally rewarding. And when it comes to curbing aggressive attitudes, providing the right amount of encouragement–NOT praise–can make a world of difference.

For instance, when you see your child struggling to control her emotions, perhaps say, “I can tell you are working hard to stay calm.”

It can also help reinforce better choices. “I appreciate you not getting upset when your brother took your truck. That must feel so good!”

It may be hard to get into the habit, but give it some time. I promise, the more encouraging phrases you use with your child, the more naturally they will come.

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members can check out Step 2 for a great list of ideas on how to help kids feel more capable and significant. 

Tactic #2: Daily Mind, Body, and Soul Time

mind body and soul time is an investment in good behavior

There’s a power-packed tool our Positive Parenting Solutions students refer to as Mind, Body, and Soul Time, and let me tell you–it works wonders!

All you need is as little as 10-15 minutes, once or twice a day, to spend one-on-one with your child doing something they want to do. Simply ditch your own distractions and get ready for some fun. Play a board game, try a new recipe, make a chalk art masterpiece–the sky’s the limit!

Quality time is what’s important here. With Mind, Body, and Soul Time, you’ll give your child a heaping portion of what they need most: a sense of belonging and significance. In so doing, you’ll cut down on the negative behaviors they turn to in an effort to achieve these for themselves.

Tactic #3: Give Them Some Control

You can cut back on child aggression by creating a Decision-Rich Environment in your household and handing off a little control.

As adults, we get agitated when things don’t go our way or according to our own timelines. And if it’s hard for us to lose control, just think how tough it must be for our little ones. 

If your child is wrestling with aggression, consider her worldview. What areas of life does she have some–if any–control over? Then, consider where you can loosen the reins a bit.

Maybe that’s letting her choose which shoes she wants to wear each morning or what music you listen to on the car ride to school. Throughout the day, make sure you are giving her plenty of opportunities to exercise some (age-appropriate) control. 

Not only will this tell her, I trust you to do this!, but you’re going to be giving her a huge boost of positive power. Over time, you’ll find those aggressive outbursts starting to dwindle.

Now doesn’t that sound nice?

Pro Tip: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Step 3 for more ways to hand off control and create a Decision-Rich Environment.

Final Thoughts

From tantrums to hitting and biting, child aggression comes in all shapes and sizes. And while a certain amount of aggression in children is normal, it’s definitely something parents want to overcome–quickly!

At Positive Parenting Solutions, we’ve made it our mission to meet parents exactly where they are. Whether you’re on the highest of mountaintops or stuck in the lowest valley, we’re here for you every step of the way.

If you’re struggling to help your child work through their aggressive behavior–or struggling to stay calm, cool, and collected yourself–we have what you need to make it through to the other side.

If you’re still not sure if our program will work for your family, I’d be honored to have you join me for a FREE PARENTING CLASS to see if our 7-Step Parenting Success System is right for you. Together we can work to end the battles and bring back the JOY to your household!