parenting

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

Imagine…

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!

6 Tips for a Smooth Bedtime Routine

mom and daughter reading story with flashlight
mom and daughter reading story with flashlight

mom and daughter reading story with flashlight

After a long day of “adulting,” your on-demand shows are calling your name. All that stands between you and your couch is a little bedtime prep with your kids. What could go wrong?

“All right, it’s time for bed,” you say, with a little too much gratefulness and enthusiasm. 

“No, not yet! I’m not tired!”

“Just a little longer, pleeeeease?”

“I hate bedtime!”

You knew courteous, immediate compliance was a little hopeful–but you weren’t expecting war-time resistance. 

After all, your toddler is yawning and tripping over toys, your 6-year-old is giggling maniacally, and your teenager is blinking heavily at her video game. 

You can’t fathom why the prospect of bed is so outrageous. They’re clearly as exhausted as you. 

For many families, bedtime is tough. It’s prime time for power struggles, chaos, and stress. 

Getting to the bottom of power struggles is important (which is one reason why I created my free introductory positive parenting class), but the fact that everyone is so tired at the end of the day makes bedtime battles particularly difficult.

Basically, it’s akin to 2 AM at the local nightclub when–unless people start heading home–all hell will break loose. Nothing gets better at a nightclub after 2 AM. And for kids at home? Try 7 PM

Luckily, there’s an easy solution. A good set of strategies to help avoid common bedtime power struggles can really make a difference. It may seem simple, but I promise–implementing these 6 basic tactics can help earn you and your family the rest you deserve.

1. Same Time, Same Order, Same Place

I get it–a routine can be super inconvenient in these crazy-busy lives of ours. We have school activities that run late, projects to tackle, and family movie nights that interfere with bedtime. 

And that’s okay. For the occasional exception, like a Billie Eilish concert keeping our kids up late, some flexibility is necessary.

But although a routine can feel like a downer when everyone’s enjoying their evening, in reality…it can be a lifesaver. For those of us that haven’t already implemented a routine, it is the first step in combating bedtime battles.  

Start by setting a reasonable bedtime that is the same every night, including on the weekends. Thanks to the circadian rhythm, a reliable schedule actually helps the body know when to fall asleep.

A consistent schedule has the added benefit of limiting a child’s pleas for a later bedtime. After all, the less we bend and budge, the less room they have to negotiate.

Next, we can make activities leading up to bedtime orderly and consistent. A warm, soothing bath at the same time every day followed by books in bed is common for younger kids. For teenagers, it could be 9:00 PM when they start brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and lying in bed listening to music before lights out at 9:30 PM. 

Certain repeated actions can trigger a body’s sleep response making it easier to get kiddos to cooperate. Just make sure that the actions follow good sleep hygiene, like doing something quiet and subdued.

When-Then Routine

When establishing a new routine, especially one less lenient, kids might rebel. They’ll test our boundaries to see if we’re really serious and try to delay the inevitable. 

This is a great time to use a When-Then Routine.

This tool helps motivate kids to complete the more mundane parts of their bedtime routine they may dislike. For example, we can say:

“Connor, when you’ve flossed your teeth, then I can read you a bedtime story before lights are out at 8.” 

Or: “Evie, when you’ve taken a shower, then you can read your book until lights out at 9.”

Our kids are ultimately in control of when they complete these tasks, which helps dispel a battle of wills. They’re also more likely to complete the tasks relatively quickly because they want to get to the things they enjoy; like getting tucked into bed or reading the latest vampire romance novel. 

The then has nothing to do with a prize or a reward. It’s just something kids regularly enjoy more than other things like flossing. And that’s not hard to find. 

Just like a consistent bedtime, When-Then becomes doubly powerful when it’s used routinely. When kids know what to expect each night, they’re more likely to comply.

Note: If the child doesn’t complete the “when” part of the routine before bedtime, this doesn’t change the time the lights go out. 

If they dilly-dally and don’t complete their tasks until 3 minutes before lights out, then you can simply say, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to read before bed tonight. I have faith you’ll be able to complete your routine tomorrow.” 

Time Timer

To further back-up the cut-off for lights out, you can even utilize a tool like the Time Timer.

What we love about the Time Timer is it’s a VISUAL timer, not a simple countdown timer. Visual timers can help even the youngest kiddos conceptualize time in a more meaningful way than simply setting a timer on your phone or microwave.

And, once the clock starts, this reminds the kids that the routine–and time–are the boss.  

2. Take Time for Training

A routine is a reliable solution, but for younger kids especially, we can’t expect a perfectly performed routine without a little practice. 

It’s easy for parents and kids alike to become frustrated when kids struggle or procrastinate with tasks–especially when we ourselves are getting ready for bed. 

It’s also easy to forget that seemingly simple tasks may not be simple for our kids. 

A two-year-old isn’t going to know how to put on her inside-out pajamas until we show her, step-by-step. If we overlook this, her whining and crying might translate into our own unhelpful aggravation and yelling.

A four-year-old isn’t going to correctly brush his teeth until we take the time to demonstrate round circles, soft strokes, spit… don’t forget the tongue! Otherwise, he might start crying when we ask him to “hurry up, please.” You get the picture.

quote simple tasks may not be simple for our kids

If we take a little time upfront to teach our kids what we expect from them and what the new routine in our households will be, it will save us time and effort later. 

Although it might be tempting, we shouldn’t give up and do things for our kids, either–even though it might be faster and easier. 

With patience on both ends, our kids will eventually feel empowered by what they can do for themselves–and we’ll feel empowered, too. 

Pro Tip: For access to Curing the Bedtime Blues, an additional guide for all Positive Parenting Solutions members, sign up for our Online Course today!

3. Anticipate Children’s Needs 

Your eyes are settling on the final chapter of your page-turner when you hear that familiar little voice in the next room.

“Mooooooom? Daaaaaad?”

You cringe a little, set the book down, and reluctantly say, “Yes, honey?”

“I’m scared. I can’t sleep.”

“Can you bring me a glass of water?”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

Lately, this has been happening every night and you’re fed up with the pattern.

Many kids have fears at bedtime. Some are afraid of the dark, others of monsters, and many have bad nightmares and night terrors. Often, kids go to bed before they’re tired or when they’re overtired, and some like to stay up as late as possible regardless.

We can start by considering whether or not the bedtime we’ve set for our kids is too early or too late. Although kids need as much as 8-14 hours of sleep (depending on a child’s age and genetics), a bedtime that isn’t quite right works against everyone. 

You might need to experiment to find the sweet-spot time for lights out–one that is most likely to get your child snoozing the soonest.

Next, we can proactively add the items that our kids are commonly requesting into the next evening’s routine. 

“Carson, here’s a glass of water on your nightstand, just in case you get thirsty again tonight. Now, will you help me look in your closet for monsters? I know there aren’t any in there, but I want you to see for yourself. And let’s turn on your new nightlight!” 

If our children are still sending us on one bedtime quest after another, the thing they’re most likely after is our attention. Which brings us to this:

join amy for a free class

4. Splurge on Quality Time 

Our children thrive on feeling significant and important. They want to matter–especially to us. 

I always encourage parents to spend quality one-on-one time with each of their children individually. Ideally, this should be done every day for at least 10-15 minutes–doing something our kids want to do. 

By providing this huge dose of positive attention proactively, you’ll drastically reduce the attention-seeking misbehaviors you see from your kids; like whining about bedtime or dragging it out with endless requests. In fact, this is the #1 thing I recommend to parents all the time for cutting back on misbehavior across the board!

Beyond that, there are so many anxieties that keep us all awake at night. A child’s anxiety may differ from ours, like an irrational fear of giant purple people-eaters, but some are also very real and just as terrifying, like the spread of the Coronavirus. 

If we can give kids a good dose of tender love and care, it can work wonders for a child’s need for attention and a sense of security. An excellent opportunity to share that special time together is right before bed. 

After all, happiness and fulfillment lead to better sleep. 

And while there’s nothing wrong with a parent vs. kids pillow fight now and again, keep in mind that energizing activities are ideally followed by calm ones. 

5. Practice Gratitude

Much like feeling loved and significant, kids that focus on things they’re happy about or thankful for before bed have an easier time falling asleep. 

We can encourage a teenager to keep a journal on his nightstand and write down three good things that happen each day at school. 

We can cuddle a 4-year-old and ask her what her roses and thorns were that day; the roses being her favorite experiences, the thorns her least favorite. Then, we can put extra emphasis on the roses. 

Positive thoughts can improve anyone’s life. Even if it begins by getting a better night’s sleep, that small difference can make an impact the next day, and the next. With so many things in the world outside of our control, the way we perceive and manage our thoughts to our advantage–which is within our control–is crucial. 

Just like with routine and tasks, regular gratitude takes some training. But if we teach our kids to focus on the haves instead of the have-nots, they might just fall asleep with smiles on their faces.  

6. Limit Technology Usage

With the invention of the light bulb, a large quantity of the world population started staying up later than usual. Now it’s television, iPads, and iPhones keeping us up well into the night.

We’re so addicted to lights, screens, and technology that we even bring our phones into bed with us. 

Screen time right before bed is extremely harmful in many ways. It alerts a part of the brain, making our minds assume it’s still daytime. 

It means we’re tempted to watch scary movies or read the news right before bed (both of which can be equally disturbing). Children with screens in their rooms have access to all of this and more. 

Despite establishing internet controls, just staying up late playing games or having an emotional conversation with a BFF can cause kids stress and sleeplessness. 

Even for teens, many of which have a biological tendency to stay up later, allowing them screen-time two hours or less before bed can rob them of sleep.

Limiting technology is hard at first. It will cause arguments, which of course we want to avoid. But standing firm on this commitment will eventually eliminate bargaining and late-night screen time dangers.

Note: Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please refer to the Battle-Tested Blueprint: Technology Survival Plan to learn how to set appropriate limits around technology that the whole family can agree on–kids included!

Final Thoughts

If you’re still reading this, chances are that bedtime in your house hasn’t been a walk in the park. 

Starting tonight, I encourage you to give these strategies a try and see what wonders they work on your nocturnal wannabes.

Most families nowadays need a lot less chaos and a lot more sleep. Enforcing a good bedtime routine will help avoid power struggles and bring a healthier balance to our lives.

I truly believe reliable rest and relaxation are in your future. And those under-eye circles you’ve been trying to hide? They’ll be gone before you know it. 

So go on now, and get those kids to bed. Your favorite shows are waiting. 

You’re not alone–bedtime battles are just one of the many power struggles that families face.

My free online introductory class was designed to help parents understand WHY these common struggles and misbehaviors occur and learn what you can do to resolve them.

Check it out!

Is Tattling Good or Bad? It’s Actually Both

Boy telling another boy a secret
Boy telling another boy a secret

Boy telling another boy a secret

“He took my toy and won’t give it back!”

“It was my turn to win. He’s a cheater. It’s not fair!”

“You’re going to be in BIG trouble when I tell on you!”

Ah yes. The snitch. The rat. The informant. It’s a common theme in mobster movies–and on the local playground.

It’s no secret that in our culture, tattling is seen as negative. It’s nitpicky complaining–a nuisance–and none of us have time to deal with it. Am I right? 

But there are a lot of grey areas, and the difference between tattling and whistleblowing–raising a legitimate alarm–can be complicated.

As with all our kids’ behavior, when we take a look at the reasons behind tattling, we can discover how to solve the problem. So let’s dive in: why do kids tattle so much, and when do we need to either encourage or discourage it?

When Tattling is Unhelpful

While there are plenty of times we need to know what’s going on, most of the cases are nothing more than simple tattling–and therefore unnecessary. The tales our kids tell don’t serve a real purpose or are used for negative, harmful reasons. 

The general rule is that if it doesn’t help someone, tattling is not a good solution. That’s why it’s also important to train kids in problem-solving. The more comfortable they are with handling eyebrow-raising behavior in positive ways, the less they’ll feel a need to tattle. 

Here are the 4 main reasons children resort to negative tattling:

1. Tattling for Attention

One of the top reasons kids choose to tattle is simply to get our attention. 

Maybe you’ve been staring at your iPhone too long or working a lot from home. Children of any age can quickly start to feel left out and insignificant. 

To counter this, kids will find any reason at all to be noticed. To them, even negative attention is better than no attention. 

So if your 4-year-old is tired of watching her older brother’s TV shows, it’s an opportune time to get your attention by complaining about how he’s going over his screen time minutes for the week. If your 6th grader just wants some sympathy, he might go on and on about how his friend selfishly played Minecraft without him at their last sleepover.

The solution to reducing tattling, in this case, is giving our kids more proactive, positive attention

I know that in our incredibly busy lives, this isn’t so simple. But it can start small. Carving out a brief 10-15 minute block each day to do something fun with each of our kids can work wonders. As long as it’s undistracted, one-on-one time, we’ll find our kids less likely to seek our attention in negative ways (like nitpicky tattling).

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2. Tattling Out of Spite

Kids have their moments of anger and frustration. They can feel hurt by a friend, mad about a demanding sibling, or filled with general angst.

If your tween is angry with his older sister, he may divulge that she’s listening to inappropriate, explicit music. 

Your 5-year-old, mad at his annoying little brother, might decide to tell you that his little brother hit him yesterday–all in hopes that he gets in big trouble today

When tattling comes from anger or spite, we can use in-the-moment redirection. 

You can say “Are you telling me this to get your brother in trouble, or are you trying to help him?” 

Most kids will respond that they are trying to help. You can then say something like, “Okay, let’s focus on solutions to his problem. What ideas do you have to help him out?” 

If the spiteful tattling continues, you can tell your kids the tattling department is closed. Make sure they understand that from this point on, you expect they will limit their “I’m telling!” communications to helpful informing.

3. Tattling to Feel More Important or Mature

As much as kids like attention, they also like to feel grown-up. 

A second-grader might feel empowered after telling her teacher that another girl (reportedly) teased a boy about his hair. Knowing that teasing can be bad–even though she didn’t personally witness the event–it makes her feel important to report and condemn it. 

To counter this, we need to encourage maturity in other ways. 

One avenue is to give kids more age-appropriate choices. The same second-grader might savor being responsible for a day of meal planning, choosing the discussion topics at the next family meeting, or picking out her own school clothes.

Kids should be encouraged to do anything they are capable of doing on their own. This means that a five-year-old can start packing her own lunch and emptying the dishwasher without help (it just takes a little training at first) and a teenager can wash his own clothes, gas up his own car, and definitely do his own homework

Even if they rebel against it, asking kids to take on responsibility gives them confidence. They are empowered by their abilities–big or small–and encouraged by our trust. 

It’s also likely they’ll no longer need to point out someone else’s shortcomings or misbehaviors to feel better about themselves.

tatling quote

4. When the Tattler is Unwilling (or Needs to Learn How) to Problem Solve

When children are given the tools to problem solve, this erases the need for unhelpful tattling.

“…children who tattle have obtained enough social-emotional skills to refrain from hitting, but not enough to solve the problem on their own.” – Eileen Kennedy-Moore Ph.D., Psychology Today

One of the best tactics is to Take Time for Training (just one of our 36 Parenting Success System tools) and role-play different scenarios. 

For example, you could start by saying to your child, “Let’s pretend that you and Sam are playing outside and Sam won’t let you play with his basketball. You come to me to tell me that Sam won’t share the ball. Is this tattling or informing?” 

This scenario is clearly an example of unhelpful tattling, as the goal is to get Sam in trouble. Once identifying the goal in each example, help your child brainstorm ways she could solve the problem on her own without tattling.

Then, the next time your kids are tattling about a sibling argument, reply with, “I have confidence you two can work it out.” Drive the point home by giving them a chance to do so.

tattling quote 2

 

By creating a distinction between useless tattling and beneficial informing, our kids will know when to come to us and when they can solve problems on their own. Focusing on problem-solving also allows our children to master a lifelong skill.

But it can certainly be difficult for kids to distinguish between true problems and minor infractions. The choice is rarely obvious. (To learn WHY kids have trouble making the best choices when it comes to tattling–or any other frustrating behavior–check out my FREE ONLINE CLASS!)

For kids to know appropriate and inappropriate reasons to involve adults and report what they see, they need explanation and training. Here’s how to help:

Tell Them When To Tell

Begin by differentiating tattling from the more helpful advising, notifying, or telling, all of which are more positive. 

Even before our kids report negatively about someone, we can role-play scenarios with them–especially those that lie in those grey areas–to determine when to involve an adult.

Here are 3 situations when we should encourage our kids to speak up:

1. Someone’s In Danger

First, our kids need to understand that telling or informing is the right thing to do when someone is in a dangerous (or potentially dangerous) situation. 

Your teenage son could have witnessed a friend drive home drunk last weekend or been in a car with another friend who was texting while driving. Your daughter might have noticed her little brother run straight into the street without looking. Your kid’s friend might be sneaking out at night. Or, your tween might notice her older sister corresponding intimately with an online stranger.  

Whenever real danger is involved, a responsible adult needs to be, too.

2. Someone’s Being Bullied

Sometimes kids need to let things roll off their shoulders, like a classmate making fun of their clothes or a sibling purposefully hogging the remote.

It’s also unnecessary for kids to meddle in everything that’s wrong, like a random person calling another friend a bad name or a brief playground stand-off.

But other times, kids witness or experience things that go too far–and an adult needs to know. 

A few generations ago, kids were often told to “suck it up” around a classroom bully. They were even encouraged to physically fight back. Verbally reporting a bully wasn’t as honorable as standing one’s solitary ground.

Today, we know these aren’t the messages we want to send our kids. Instead, we want to assure them that violence is never the answer and they don’t have to face harassment alone.

Luckily, more schools are tackling bullying head-on and not dismissing it as just “another part of growing up.” Whether it’s bullying in-person or cyberbullying, numerous campaigns to end harassment between students are gaining support and momentum. 

Our society is also starting to acknowledge the importance of mental health. We’re concerned with the increasing suicide rate amongst young kids where bullying is the culprit.

Encouraging kids to report bullies is a huge part of the solution. Maybe our kids’ friends are being bullied or our kids themselves are feeling harassed. It’s important they understand there’s no need to put up with it or turn a blind eye. 

If you’re uncertain, three red flags to identify something as “bullying” are persistence (happens more than once or often), power imbalances, and/or physical and verbal intimidation.

A single stand-off, unless it meets the above criteria, is best handled by kids themselves. This is also helpful when we ourselves can’t determine the truth of what actually happened.

Even if it means getting a person in serious trouble, addressing bullying helps other potential victims and may eventually help the bully himself/herself. It’s all part of teaching our kids how to act kindly and appropriately towards one another.

3. Someone’s Engaging in Illegal Activity

Kids also need to be educated about the risks of illegal activity. Whether it’s your teen’s friend using a fake ID to buy liquor, her older sister dabbling in drugs, or your 6th grader’s friend shoplifting at Target, explaining that these behaviors can have long-term consequences helps kids understand when and why to reveal compromising information. 

Again, children might feel like tattling on friends is a complete betrayal. Their friends will also likely see it this way. And friendships, especially for teens and tweens, are sacred. 

We can sympathize with our kids if they are caught in this difficult situation. But, it’s essential to remind them that reporting illegal activity is actually what’s best for their friends in the long run. It may have serious implications, but this information will get them out of even more long-term trouble; like continually unsafe situations, a possible juvenile record, or even drug addiction. 

When It’s Hard to Tell–Literally

Keep in mind that sharing information–without that person’s approval–can put kids in an awkward situation. 

Kids may avoid reporting something bad out of fear of losing a friend or being ostracized. It’s important we help them understand when–and why–putting relationships at risk can be more important than shared secrecy. 

Along the way, we can reassure them that we’ll respond with respect and guidance appropriate for the situation and help their friend get assistance. Be open and honest about things like confidentiality, especially with older kids.

Beyond asking kids to report scenarios, we can make it easier by sustaining positive, open communication with them. When we’re focused on healthy, non-judgmental dialogue, they’re more likely to confide in us when it’s important to do so. 

Once our kids do come to us with the information they believe is dangerous, we need to applaud them for their actions and their bravery. It’s not an easy thing to do. In extreme circumstances, they may even be compromising their own safety–like exposing sexual abuse or domestic violence. In this case, we need to protect them as quickly as possible by notifying authorities.

The Grey Area

The difference between helpful and unhelpful tattling can still be vague, even with discussion, training, and practice. There could be a girl in your first-grader’s class that complains to you at school pick-up about your son chasing her too much. It seems like something she and your son could problem solve on their own (you don’t believe he was trying to bully her) but it could also be something that really disturbed her. 

And what if we aren’t sure what the truth is? Two kids might have opposing arguments about what actually occurred and it becomes “he said, she said.”

Like any misbehavior, we can decide on a case-by-case basis how serious the conflict is and how it needs to be addressed. We may also need to circle back and either train on conflict resolution, or, alternatively, let a child know it was the right choice to involve us. This kind of feedback will help kids make a good decision next time.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with tattling can be tricky. After all, we appreciate being “in the know” about little Peyton’s tendency to stray into the neighbor’s yard or Aaron’s lying habit. But that doesn’t mean we want to hear about every little complaint our eight-year-old can come up with in regards to her little brother. 

We also live in a world where danger, illegality, and bullying too often make the news. We want to teach kids–as young as possible–not to fear, ignore, or propagate poor behavior, but to instead make responsible decisions about when to reach out for adult guidance.

We can help our children determine where to draw the line between what’s helpful and unhelpful. After all, tattling can be a silly frustration–or it can go so far as to save a person’s life. 

The distinction is crucial.

Is your patience wearing thin?
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Encouragement vs. Praise: Why the Differentiation Matters

boy riding his bike with parents cheering
boy riding his bike with parents cheering

boy riding his bike with parents cheering

You just tied your 3-year-old’s pigtails, then watched her bounce off toward the sandbox with big plans for a princess castle. In your eyes, she’s simply the best thing since sliced bread. 

“You’re just SO cute,” you tell her when she finds you for a snack. 

Your 9-year-old is a great athlete. His team just won the Little League trophy; thanks, in part, to his home runs. On a celebratory trip to his favorite restaurant, you beam with pride. 

“You’re so good at sports,” you say. “Your team won, thanks to you!”

There’s also your difficult teenager, who’s more like the best thing since moldy bread these days. Regardless, she comes home one day with her best report card yet. You can’t help but jump for joy. 

“I’m SO proud of you. See how brilliant you are?!”

It seems harmless. It even seems good. But when the kind neighbor tells your pigtailed toddler how cute she is and your daughter responds, “I know”–she’s suddenly not quite as adorable. 

When your 9-year-old decides he doesn’t need to practice baseball because he’s already SO good, his skills actually start declining. 

And when your teenager feels overly confident about her intelligence, she’s actually less likely to put in the hard work when classes get tougher.

As you may have already seen in your home, compliments and praise can negatively affect our kids. 

Wait, you think. Isn’t sweetness and unabashed cheerleading what Positive Parenting is all about? 

Actually, not at all.

Positive Parenting focuses on empowering our kids, and the best tool for the job isn’t praise; it’s Encouragement. Encouragement is so important that it’s one of the first tools–out of 36–that I teach parents in my online course.

I’ve even compiled a short-list of Encouraging Words and phrases that can be emailed to you for free within minutes so you can start shifting your language!

With Encouragement, you focus your words on the positive action, behavior, or improvement you’d like to promote, rather than on the result. 

For example, the praise, “Good job!” could become a more encouraging, “Wow, your hard work really paid off!” 

And instead of praising your child with, “You’re so amazing at basketball!” you can tie the big win to the dedicated practice that developed those skills: “It’s clear you’ve been practicing–your passing has really improved!”

Encouragement is a more empowering way of providing positive feedback to kids. Essentially, it helps them replicate the skills they need to achieve a similar result in the future.

ProTip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please study/review Step 2: From Complaining to Contributing: Empower Your Kids to be Confident, Capable, and Independent

I realize the line between praise and encouragement may still seem vague, or even unimportant. But that’s why it’s all the more crucial to define.

The differentiation makes a world of difference.

What Is Praise, and Why Is It A Problem? 

Praise is a Reward

These days, kids are rewarded for many things: M&Ms in exchange for using the potty, dessert for eating veggies, and even money for making good grades

While praise isn’t a material possession like cash, a new toy, or even ice cream, it offers the same quick hit of satisfaction. Although it feels really good to receive, the effects of praise don’t necessarily last long and are even weakened over time.

The views your self-conscious tween received on his Instagram video, for instance, left him on a high for a solid week. But now his feelings of insecurity have returned. His new goal is even more views, and that cycle will continue.

Some parents praise incessantly, making the reward of the praise less meaningful. Others praise rarely, forcing children to yearn for recognition. 

In either case, offering steady Encouragement for children’s efforts is preferable. It forces kids to see the depth of their actions and to appreciate internal effort more than external outcomes.

Praise is Superficial, Regardless of Its Intent

Your 7-year-old daughter loves it when you compliment her drawings. She spends all afternoon coloring and constantly asking your opinion. 

“What do you think about this one?” 

“Do you like my unicorn, Mommy?” 

But when you become too busy on a conference call to compliment her unparalleled artistry, she loses all interest. She is performing for praise rather than simply drawing because she enjoys it.

Praising our children’s talents may feel natural or even required, but it usually doesn’t focus on their determination or their love of an activity. 

Think about it. We don’t want our children to do things just to impress us or to be noticed. Quite the contrary; we want them to do things because they are passionate about them. 

It’s normal for kids to want recognition and approval, and they need to know they are supported and loved. But a 12-year-old learning karate just to please his parents and hear their praise–and not because it brings him joy–may not pursue martial arts in the long run. It may even become something he dislikes. 

If we want to help our kids focus on what is meaningful to them, praise is an unhelpful distraction.

quote on happiness

Once again, praise rewards results. It doesn’t celebrate the activity itself. This is true even if the intention of praise is to make kids feel good and happy. It’s also true when the compliment is sincere. I mean, it could be a very beautiful unicorn. But that isn’t the point.  

When your daughter shows you her make-believe drawing, try helping her find her own satisfaction in her work. An encouraging phrase might sound like:

“It’s fantastic that you enjoy drawing so much. What do you like to imagine while you color your unicorn?” 

Or, “You put a lot of effort into this picture! What’s your favorite part?”

encouraging words download

Praise Focuses on the Doer–Not the Deed

Your ten-year-old just decided to take out the trash. Is he feeling guilty, or does he want something? you wonder in suspicion. 

When you ask him about it and he replies, “I just thought I’d take out the trash because it was really full,” your jaw hits the floor. 

You are the best ever!!,” you say. And you really mean it. 

Recognizing kids for good deeds is the right thing to do. But the way in which we do so is equally–if not more–important. 

Your son shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal just for taking out the trash. Sure, it’s great–but it’s not amazing. However, he should be encouraged for his actions and the impact that small effort made.

“Thanks for taking a few moments to take out the trash. It helped to have an empty bin while I was cleaning out the fridge!”

Encouraging good behavior through kind, reinforcing words creates the desire to repeat those actions and recreate the feelings coinciding with them. 

Maybe you do believe your son is the kindest kid ever–and he probably is pretty great. But if you tell him so, he might think his kindness comes naturally. And if that’s the case, where is the desire to work harder on his generosity?

Praise Decreases Internal Motivation and Confidence

We want to impart our love to our children and to ingrain confidence. After all, it’s important to raise kids with conviction in their beliefs, their behavior, and their abilities. 

Many of us attempt this by complimenting our children in one way or another. We don’t want it to go to their heads, of course, but we also feel they’ll encounter enough self-doubt and obstacles in life to balance our praise. 

It may feel right to tell your daughter how smart she is. After all, you know she’ll one day compare herself to her very accomplished peers. It may feel natural to tell your son he’s beyond athletic, despite his occasional awkwardness on the field. 

To a certain extent, this is fine. But repeatedly complimenting our children, whether it’s on their special abilities, physical looks, or general traits, doesn’t actually benefit them. 

Research by developmental and social psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck backs this up. Her studies show that praise statements affect children’s motivations by instilling fixed–rather than growth–mindsets. 

Students with fixed mindsets aren’t as willing to work as hard as those with growth mindsets. 

Praise also leans towards the idea of perfection. Whether or not it’s exaggerated (“You’re just the best daughter EVER!” or “You’re the smartest boy I’ve ever met!”), praise is hard to live up to. The fear of failure becomes an imposing factor.

When we want our kids to feel confident in their abilities, we can encourage them by promoting positive behaviors that help them further their skills. “Sticking to a music practice schedule has really made a difference. You seemed so sure of yourself at your concert!”  

We can provide encouragement in all aspects of their personal development: their pursuit of knowledge, their hobbies, and their generosity towards family, friends, and community

If we focus on encouraging even the smallest steps in a positive direction–like volunteering at an animal shelter, baking cookies for a sick friend, or working a little harder on an essay–they’ll feel good about their choices and be more likely to repeat the process. 

Kids that lack praise won’t think they’re perfect, nor will they lack confidence. With proper encouragement, they’ll understand that actions and efforts are the true sources of success and fulfillment.  

The Best Ways to Use Encouragement 

Encouraging children in place of praise might take some practice. After all, we all use a little praise now and again. Still, the following guidelines can help keep encouraging statements on track:

Remember to Commend Positive Actions

A big part of preventing bad behavior is to reinforce good behavior when we see it. 

Whether kids are still early in their childhood development or older teenagers leaving the nest, encouraging their positive actions makes a deep, lasting impact.

When a toddler uses his words to explain his frustration with his older sister (rather than smack her, like last time), you can hug him and say, “What a great job expressing your feelings! It makes sense why you’re frustrated.”

Even if it seems sophisticated for a toddler, he’ll understand that what he did (and chose not to do) was correct. 

If your teenager decides to study the night before a big exam–instead of going to a high school party–you can encourage her wise choice. “I know you wish you could be at the party tonight, but you should be proud that you took this extra time to learn the material.”

Keep Your Encouragement Effective by Avoiding This Mistake

While Encouragement can be a super powerful strategy for strengthening your kids’ internal drive toward positive behaviors, there’s one common mistake parents make that renders the tool nearly useless. It’s called piggybacking, and it’s a common and easy trap to fall into. 

To your kids, a piggybacking statement feels more or less like an “I told you so.” 

Let’s say your daughter has some new friends you don’t approve of. They don’t seem very caring–they even seem prone to causing trouble. You decide to warn her, gently, that they may not be the best choice in friends. Naturally, she doesn’t listen. 

One day, months later, she comes home crying–she and her new friends had a falling out. Her new crew thought it would be funny to shoplift, and your daughter bravely spoke out against it. 

You’re very proud and tell her she made the right decision by speaking out against their actions. You know that must have been hard to do. 

You’ve just successfully encouraged her. However, you can’t help but add one more thing… 

“You know, I did tell you to be wary of those girls. I wish you had listened to me.”  

What would have left your daughter feeling positive and empowered has now left her undermined.

As tempting as it was to remind her that you DO know what you’re talking about every once in a while, it weakened the Encouragement you just offered like a small jab to the gut. 

Although she had to learn the hard way, your daughter did come to the right conclusion. Encouragement should focus on–and stop at–that fact alone.

Keep the Word “I” Out of Encouragement

One final watch-out as you begin to use Encouragement. While we do have the power to wield Encouragement, the tool isn’t about us. 

Just as Encouragement focuses on the deed and not the doer, Encouragement should only relate to our children. It should not be about us or our feelings.

Seemingly harmless phrases like, “I love how you play the piano with such emotion” or, “It makes me feel proud when you put in so much effort” take the intended focus away from Encouragement. 

It’s not about what makes us proud or what we enjoy. It’s about helping our children feel growth and satisfaction. 

Some example phrases could be:

“You must feel so proud of your progress!”

“You play the piano in such an expressive way!”

“Wasn’t it fun using your imagination–instead of instructions–to build that LEGO set?”

Otherwise, like that sweet 7-year-old, they’ll never stop asking if we like their unicorns. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to giving our kids a pat on the back, a quick “good job” or “you’re a rockstar” just doesn’t cut it.

Unlike superfluous praise, Encouragement goes much deeper. It motivates a child internally to demonstrate positive behavior and to value things like hard work, improvement, teamwork, and perseverance.

Let’s help our children discover their limitless potential for their own benefit–not ours.

Positive Parenting can’t be defined by just one word or one action. It’s a series of parenting choices we make every day in our parenting lives.

Being familiar with Encouraging Words and Phrases–and employing them regularly–is one of the best ways to keep Positive Parenting on the right track! 

5 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Divorce

teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting
teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting

teen girl crying on couch with parents fighting

We live in a world where the answers to almost all of our questions lie no further than the tips of our fingers.

How amazing is that?

By simply picking up our smartphone or sitting down at a computer, we can ask just about any question and instantly receive an answer. And few people have more to gain from instant access to information than us as parents.

We ask things like, “How do I sleep train my baby? Should my child go to public school or private? How much screen time should my kids be getting?”

And why wouldn’t we? When caring for lives other than our own, we do our research! We take classes (like our FREE WEBINAR!), read books, and yes, search the internet. Because when it comes to raising our kids, we want to be well informed.

Some parents look for advice on how to deal with toddler tantrums while others may be curious how they can help their children study better.

But there are a select few who may find their Google searches going a bit further and digging a little deeper into new territory that is, quite frankly, rather uncomfortable. 

It’s a place no one wants to go, and certainly doesn’t plan to, but a reality nonetheless. I’m talking about those parents contemplating divorce. Of course, with children involved they are now stuck wondering, “How are we going to break the news to our kids?”

If you and your spouse are considering divorce, I can assume that your children are your number one priority. Maybe you’re curious how this will affect them and wondering what life looks like parenting separately?

While divorce is never an easy topic for any couple to discuss, it’s important to remember that children thrive on certainty, knowing where they stand with their family, and the assurance that they are safe and well cared for. 

In order to break the news as gently, yet effectively as possible, follow these 5 tips when the time comes to talk with your kids about divorce.

Tip #1: Prepare in Advance

Divorce is nothing to take lightly. And when it comes to telling your kids the news? You MUST do the prep work! It’s absolutely essential that both you and your soon-to-be ex are on the same page before you even think about telling your kids.

So what can you do? Come up with a game plan! 

First of all, know your ultimate priority: To ensure your children know they are still loved and will continue to be cared for. The relationship between you and your spouse is ending, NOT the relationship each of you have with your kids.

Then, anticipate what questions they may ask and be prepared to answer them. Remember, you may see the big picture and can understand why divorce is the best option, but your children may have a more difficult time understanding.

They can only see what’s in front of them, and if you aren’t on solid ground, they’ll feel it! They need to know that they’ll be taken care of and it’s your responsibility as their parents to make sure they have that assurance.

Finally, decide not only when you are going to tell them about the divorce but how you are going to bring it up. Your teen is going to take the news differently than your toddler, so it’s important to understand how to talk to them based on their age.

Preschool (Ages 2-5)

It’s easy to assume that children this young will be least affected by the news of divorce. After all, will they even remember it?

But preschool-aged children rely on their parents for absolutely everything–food, shelter, love, and stability!

Not only will the news of divorce rock them in a significant way, they’re also at an incredibly self-focused age where they may perceive the separation to be their fault. It’s easy for them to make the leap from mom left dad to mom left me. 

You’ll want to remind them of their own significance and offer plenty of reassurance. They will always be loved and cared for–by both of their parents. 

Living apart means you may also want to support a two-home concept. Nix the idea of “our house” and “dad’s house”. Your child will benefit most by seeing both houses as home because that’s exactly what they are–his home! 

Finally, be prepared to answer a lot of questions over time. Divorce is a really hard concept for little minds to grasp, so it’s important to be patient and help them understand in their own time and way.

Younger Kids (Ages 5-9)

By this age your children may be more in tune with processing bigger emotions, but the concept of divorce can still be hard for them to fully understand.

Again, they may fall into the trap of blaming themselves for mom and dad separating. They may wonder, Did dad move out because I misbehaved? Did mom leave because she’s mad at me?

Be ready to discuss how the news makes them feel. Are they sad? Anxious? Angry?

You’ll need to talk them through what’s on their mind then come up with concrete ideas on how you can help them manage those feelings.

Older Kids (Ages 10 and up)

Older kids have the benefit of a greater understanding of divorce, but it can also feel as though they have the most to lose.

After all, they’ve spent an entire lifetime under one roof and now that’s all about to change.

They may also worry about the important relationships they’ve established. Not only how will their relationship with mom and dad change, but what about their friends, relatives, and teachers?

As much as you want the divorce to only be about you and your spouse, the reality of the situation is many people may feel the ripple effect. 

Because of their age, you can get more specific. Give them a clear explanation of what it means to divorce and talk openly about how custody works.

Of course, with greater detail may come more in-depth questions. Be ready to give them truthful answers.

As always, never forget to mention that their relationship with you will not change. No matter how old they are, it doesn’t hurt to remind them that divorce is an adult concept–parents don’t divorce their kids.

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Tip #2: Break the News Together (And to Everyone!)

When kids are involved, divorce is a family matter. Plain and simple. And when it comes to breaking the news that mom and dad are splitting up, you need to do it together–with everyone–if possible!

Now, I know it may be tempting to pull your oldest aside and give him the news before his younger siblings–after all, he’s so mature for his age! But I promise you this will only do more harm than good. You’d just be giving him a heavy burden he has no business bearing. 

When the time comes, gather everyone together and tell them at the same time. Make sure you pick a time of day that isn’t rushed.

The last thing you want to do is drop this bomb on your kids and then rush them off to soccer practice. They’ll need plenty of time to digest the information, ask questions, and grieve the sudden loss of the family as they’ve always known it.

Then, start gently. 

You may try, “Before we tell you our news, we want to remind you how much we love and care for you. We are, and always will be, a family. It will just look a little different.”

Lay out what life for them will start to look like. Will they spend weekends with dad and weekdays with mom? Will mom be moving into a new house while dad stays in this one?

Of course, try not to overload them with too much information. Give them the high-level details they need to know and then allow them to ask questions about the rest later–on their own time and in their own way. 

Remember, this is going to be a profoundly significant moment in your children’s lives. Not only will having the whole family together for support be instrumental in how they take the news, but this will also be the first of many instances over the years to come that the two of you should come together for the sake of your children.

Remember, just because you aren’t the best as romantic partners, doesn’t mean you cannot still be wonderful parents…together! 

Pro Tip: Parenting apart doesn’t have to be a hassle! Positive Parenting Solutions Members can check out my Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart for more surefire tips and tricks on how to be the best co-parent you can be.

Tip #3: Put Your Hurts Aside

As is often the case with divorce, emotional hurt may be running deep. 

Perhaps you’re dealing with the aftermath of an affair or a sudden loss of trust. Whatever the case may be, when such extreme pain exists between you and your spouse, it can be hard to look at them, let alone speak to them. Still, now is not the time to play the blame game–especially in front of the kids.

When it comes to breaking the news about your divorce, your kids don’t just want you to be mature, they need you to. 

Here are a few things you definitely DON’T want to do:

DON’T use this time to pick a fight. You’ll want to be as calm and level headed as possible when you let them know. They’re going to be hurt, angry, and scared. Seeing their parents fight would only add to the problem.

Pro Tip: I understand that for many couples going through the process of divorce, being civil toward one another can feel like an unthinkable task. Should you find it impossible to keep the peace in person, you may consider trying a free app–such as coParenter or Truece–designed to help structure communication for co-parents. 

DON’T pit your children against the other parent. There are, arguably, no two people in the entire world your child loves more than you and your spouse. While your feelings for your soon-to-be ex may be down in the gutter, your child’s aren’t.

And that’s the way it should stay, because there’s nothing more unfair to a child who is just learning that his parents are about to divorce than being forced to choose between the two. 

christina mcghee quote

And finally, DON’T blame the other parent for your marriage coming to an end. 

If you’re going through a particularly troublesome separation, I understand that this can seem nearly impossible. You’re hurt, angry, and quite frankly, you do blame them for the marriage coming to an end! But this is not the time to bring it up. 

Right now, who’s at fault for the demise of the marriage is of absolutely no importance. What is important? Your children. 

Leave the blame behind.

Tip #4: Remind Them of the Constants

When it comes to divorce, the only certainty is uncertainty–especially for kids.

They may be wondering, “Will I live with mom or dad? What school will I go to? Did I cause this?”

In the midst of all the wonder and chaos, don’t forget to remind them of the constants–the things that won’t be changing. 

Again, divorce doesn’t apply to children. Reassure them of everything that will stay the same. Will mom still be there to tuck them in at night? Will dad still make all of the baseball games? Lay those certainties out and really emphasize their importance to you.

You may say, “We understand that this can be a scary time, but we promise that our love for you is constant. Nothing you say or do can change that.”

Give them your word…then stick to it.

Tip #5: Promise to Walk the Walk (Then Do It!)

So you’ve broken the news and made the ultimate promise–to love your kids the same as before, guaranteeing you’re still their parent, now and forever. But what happens after the talk is over? 

Keep that promise! Now’s the time you walk the walk, making a point to actively show your kids you meant every single word. 

Want to ensure they continue to feel loved and cared for? Then say I love you and say it often. You can never remind them enough. Give them a hug, a high-five, a pat on the back. Spend quality time together, even though you may have less of it.

Now that your time with them is divided, you’ll want to make the most of every minute you have with them. What a wonderful chance to engage in regular Mind, Body, and Soul Time each day you are together (you can even double up if you want!). 

Helpful Hint: Your time with your kids is important, but don’t be a strict time monger! Try to be flexible with your ex when it comes to sharing time with the kids. Positive Parenting Solutions Members, be sure to check out Christina McGhee’s helpful tips on how to divide time fairly in the Battle-Tested Blueprint: Divorce & Parenting Apart.

Want to know another great way to show you care? Take your house and make it a home

The walls may change but your routines can stay the same. Eat dinner as a family, host family game nights, decorate the kids’ rooms–whatever you did before the divorce, keep it up.

You may be down a parent, but your kids will appreciate the effort you take to ensure their comfort while staying with you.

Final Thoughts

Oh sweet friend, from the bottom of my heart, let me just say how sorry I am that you are having to face such a difficult task.

Breaking any bad news to our children is difficult enough, but the news of mom and dad splitting up is especially hard–for both them and you! 

As always, we are here to support you on your parenting journey–single or together–so please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help!

Resources for Talking to Kids About Race & Racism

White hands and black hands hold each other
White hands and black hands hold each other
White hands and black hands hold each other

Here at Positive Parenting Solutions, it has always been our mission to help families thrive and help parents achieve “parenting peace.”

Our business is built on education — we know that when parents are equipped with effective tools, they can become the parents they always knew they could be, and our world becomes a better place.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity and an obligation to further our education on the difficult topics of race and racism–for the sake of our kids, ourselves, and our world.

Below is a list of resources that may help you and your family — from how to talk to kids about racism and the disturbing images they may have seen — to books parents can read to educate themselves — to book recommendations for kids.

Resources For Talking to Your Kids:

Books For Parents to Read:

Books For Kids:

Please know we are here for you. We continue to wish you peace — peace in your home, your community, and the world.

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