Most parents can relate to the morning battle over what to wear to school. Even though your child’s closet is filled with plenty of clothes appropriate for any weather or occasion, you cringe when she shows up at breakfast with a purple plaid skirt, a Mickey Mouse tank top that looks like it’s been worn for days, and green flip-flops.
Or maybe you selected an outfit the night before, but come morning, you’re still convincing her to actually wear it.
Thankfully, parents can avoid many of the power struggles related to clothing by following these four simple strategies (and by signing up for our free online webinar, available at your leisure!).
1. Create Outfits
For younger children, put “outfits” together on one hanger by gathering matching pants, shirts, and socks, and clipping them together. This gives her the power to choose a completed outfit, and it gives you peace of mind that it won’t be a fashion disaster.
It’s also best to hang the rod at a kid-friendly height, so she can feel capable and independent by reaching it herself.
2. Respect Sensory Complaints
Be aware that some kids are more sensitive to itchy tags, bulky seams, and uncomfortable fabrics. If your son has a fit when you suggest he wear a certain type of shirt (because the tag itches or the fabric feels “icky” on his skin), respect that and remove those clothing choices from the mix.
3. Control the Environment
You can’t “control” children (at least not without a battle!) but you can control the environment. If flip-flops in February are out of the question, don’t battle about them, simply remove them from the closet. If they are no longer among the available alternatives for school clothes, they are no longer a point of contention.
If certain clothes are inappropriate for school, separate their drawers or create sections in the closet for school clothes versus fun clothes. Give your kids the power to choose anything they want to wear as long as it comes from the school drawer.
4. Let it Go
The very best strategy to avoid power struggles and foster independence is to “let it go,” and allow your child to make her own clothing choices.
You can provide some training about “matching colors” if you’d like, but remember that fashion and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. It’s much more important that she feel independent and powerful by having some control over her day.
Kids perceive that parents call the shots and make most of the decisions. Giving her the option to select her own clothes gives her a big “hit” of positive power and goes a long way in fostering self-sufficiency, avoiding negative power struggles, and limiting morning dawdling!
If her choice does result in a fashion disaster, don’t worry about what others think. Most teachers love to see kids arrive for school in mismatched clothing. They know it means mom and dad recognize their child’s need for independence and positive power.
Our 7-Step Parenting Success System®course offers far more strategies for morning dawdling, bedtime battles, chore wars, and more. For a preview, join us for our free online class: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Discover why parents say it’s the best hour they’ve devoted to improving their parenting!
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.
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’sproblem.
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 forpower 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.
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.
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.
Are you experiencing an influx of eye rolls, annoyed sighs, and slammed doors?
Have you repeatedly been told you know nothing, despite the fact that you’ve been around for decades? Maybe you’re freshly naive to music trends and just generally uncool?
If so, chances are you have a tween or teen in your house.
The tween and teen years are notorious, and not without reason. It can be a turbulent time for both you and your young adult, and your relationship may be continually tested.
Tweens, or kids between the ages of 8-12, are starting to experience puberty, societal pressure, and additional responsibility. Teenagers are experiencing these same problems, while also increasingly identifying outside the family unit.
Maneuvering through these new obstacles is all part of your child’s individualization process, and although it can be painful for all parties involved, it’s a necessary step towards adulthood.
Knowing these growing pains are normal may not make it easier, but there are a few common parenting mistakes that unwittingly worsen the process. Becoming familiar with these pitfalls can give you and your tween or teen a better chance at surviving these years unscathed.
Pitfall #1: Maintaining Too Much Control
Kids in the tween and teen years are ready for increasing amounts of responsibility and privilege. Understandably though, parents can be terrified of letting go. As a result, we tend to “clamp down” and exert more control over our kids. This is where a lot of heated power struggles arise.
Instead of tightening your grip, respect your child’s need for autonomy and let go more and more as he grows older. Look for opportunities to give him more responsibility and let him practice his decision-making skills.
You could encourage your child to decide any of the following: after-school activities he’d like to participate in; which dinner he’d like to help cook each week; or when and how he’d like to complete his homework each evening.
When we empower our kids with age-appropriate choices, we give them a strong sense of confidence.
Make sure he knows the kind of behavior you expect from him, as well as what will happen if he decides to test your limits. The more he succeeds, however, the more leeway you can offer. With a little more control over his life, your tween or teen will thrive–and you’ll love seeing his confidence and independence grow.
Pitfall #2: Nagging and Directing
Why do even the most well-intentioned parents feel required to nag, direct, and get bossy with their kids?
Because if we don’t, nothing gets done. Am I right?
As frustrating as it is, this is the reality for most families.
Unfortunately, all of our well-intended reminding and directing usually results in those eye rolls, exasperated huffs, and slammed doors.
That’s because we fail to understand a fundamental truth bomb of parenting: Parent priorities are not the same as tween and teen priorities.
This seems completely obvious, but it’s at the core of most power struggles with your tween or teen. Think about it–they aren’t concerned about messy rooms, unloaded dishwashers, or piles of dirty laundry stacked in the closet. Those are parent priorities.
Your teen’s priorities are next week’s chemistry exam, posting her Instagram story in time to get plenty of views, and finding a dress for the Homecoming dance. The ins and outs of maintaining an orderly and chaos-free home don’t even register on her radar.
While it’s our job to teach our kids responsibility, if we try to do this by nagging and directing, we won’t get very far. In fact, we’ll have more power struggles than we ever bargained for.
Ensure your requests are reasonable and phrased in a calm voice. Use phrases like, “What is your plan for completing (x)?” This demonstrates faith that they already have a plan in place. And even if they don’t, they can quickly save face and come up with a game plan on the spot.
You can still hold your child accountable for what you ask, but do so in a way that empowers her to learn from her choices.
Also, be sure to show appreciation when your tween/teen helps out–even if it’s for an “expected” job. Everyone wants to know they make a difference, and showing gratitude will go a long way in fostering a team spirit in your family.
Along those lines, I encourage parents to ditch the word “chores” and instead label tasks as “Family Contributions.” This simple change in terminology reminds kids that what they do to help out around the house is beneficial to the entire family–even if they don’t want to do it.
It may seem like our tweens and teens don’t want to have anything to do with us. To a certain degree, this may be true. And yes, we need to start allowing them more independence.
But, during the transition from childhood to adulthood, our kids still need our guidance. Perhaps we have to sit shotgun and stop driving the car (literally and figuratively), but knowing we’re there to give directions–only if requested, of course–is crucial to their peace of mind.
Make sure your presence and availability is known, even if it feels like your kids are pushing you away. The backtalk may be unbearable, or their attitude hurtful, but it’s best not to completely retreat. If you see any openings in connection, seize them.
You can leave sticky notes around the house to remind them that you’re thinking of them or send them encouraging texts throughout the day–maybe in preparation for a big soccer game or play audition…or maybe just because. And why not stay relevant in the latest forms of communication and send a funny Snapchat while you’re at it?
Technology can actually be a great avenue for bonding with your kids–just be aware of how technology may be negatively affecting your family, too. With cell phones, video games, TV, and computers, kids–especially tweens and teens–spend an exorbitant amount of time staring at screens. If you notice technology taking the place of one-on-one quality time with your kids, start limiting usage to maintain that connection.
I know. Limiting usage will make you unpopular. But your one-on-one time together doesn’t need to be long (unless you both want it to be!). Just 10-15 minutes of undivided time between you and your child each day will do wonders for your connection with one other. Make sure you’re doing something that your child wants to do to ensure participation (unless, of course, all she wants to do with you is still stare at her phone).
Also, don’t abandon the “tuck in” concept. Yes, “tucking kids in” may be something we just do with our little ones, but the idea of spending quality time with our tweens and teens before bed–and setting them up for positive, peaceful sleep–is still relevant. We can read them a chapter from a chapter book, talk about their favorite–and least favorite–parts of the day, and even sneak in a cuddle. Whatever your tween or teen might suggest doing during this quiet time before bed is an amazing opportunity to connect.
Pitfall #4: Fearing Failure
Anxiety is a leading problem in young adults today. Elementary school, middle school, and high school standards have only increased in recent years. Extracurricular activities and schedules have been amplified to an almost unmanageable pace. College applications, volunteer requirements, testing, scholarships…the pressures kids face are intense.
It’s tempting for parents to be overly invested in their kids’ success and rescue them from their struggles or intervene with teachers or coaches on their behalf.
Again, we need to have faith in our kids’ abilities and loosen the reins during this time. We need to step back and let our kids handle the increased responsibility. We need to let them learn to succeed on their own.
Added pressure and unreasonable expectations from parents may make your tweens and teens feel like failure is unacceptable, but embracing defeat is a crucial skill. Because failure of varying degrees will be an inevitable part of their lives, learning the skills to overcome adversity might be the most important lesson of all.
As hard as it might be, let your flailing science student fail a test. Let him understand that even though a bad grade isn’t ideal, the world isn’t going to end. Also, know that most kids will receive enough pressure from their teachers, peers, and countless others to make their failure memorable. Instead, focus on creating a safe space between you and your child where failure can be embraced, reflected upon, and surpassed.
Pitfall #5: Forgetting That It’s Not About YOU
You may be heartbroken because the little girl who used to pick you flowers and hold your hand now has KEEP OUT posted on her door. Or maybe you lie awake at night because the little boy who asked if he could marry you now asks you to drop him off, unseen, a block away from school.
When our tweens and teens are distant towards us, short-tempered, uncommunicative, and just different than they were before, we tend to take it personally.
Remember, kids are prioritizing their friends during this time of their lives. They’re also just struggling with growing up. It’s hard, stressful–hormonal–and all of this can manifest into negative attitudes and behaviors. It may feel personal, and it can really hurt your feelings, but it’s not about you.
Your daughter could be stressing over exams, a recent break-up, an ill-timed pimple, or college applications. It’s easy to be defensive when she takes all her stress out on you. A better tactic is to try to see things from her perspective. You can also rest assured that she still needs your love and support–it just may be harder for her to show it.
By remembering that it’s not about us, we can adapt our feelings, expectations, and strategies to focus onour kids and what they need.
And I promise–one day they’ll thank you for it.
I know what’s it’s like to have tweens and teens in the house and the frustration you may be feeling. I designed my course, Positive Parenting Solutions, to help parents like you find a way through these challenges.
Even if your “kids” are older and just a few years away from “leaving the nest,” I encourage you to try my FREE CLASS and learn more tools to use on your parenting adventures.
By avoiding common pitfalls and adding more positive parenting tactics, the roller coaster of parenting–which is far from over–will soon become smooth sailing.
And who knows? In your tween or teen’s eyes, you might even become cool again.
It’s summer! For many of us, this is our favorite time of the year–the slow pace, the long days and no school activities to rush around to.
On the other hand, if we’re not careful, having the kids home all summer with no clear-cut responsibilities can slowly drive us crazy.
First, there’s the whining for a later bedtime: “But Moooooom, I can sleep in since there’s no school!”
And then there are the power struggles about family contributions: “I can’t believe you’re making me take out the trash!”
And possibly worst of all, there are the endless battles about screen time: “Just one more show, pleeeeeaaaazzzz! It’s summer!”
Whether or not you’re about ready to scream, read on–I have a way to make summer easier on everyone, and it’s called a summer contract.
A summer contract is an agreement between parents and kids about summer expectations. The summer contract can–and should–include things like screen time limits, household responsibilities, summer reading, bedtime, and anything else that’s likely to be a struggle.
Kids benefit from knowing their expectations up front, and being able to exercise some control over when family contributions (chores) get completed, for instance. Parents benefit because they now have a way to help their kids have both a relaxing and productive summer. Here are some guidelines for setting up a summer contract in your house. Read More →
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Backtalk is the number one parenting complaint I hear from the thousands of parents I’ve worked with. But does knowing how common backtalk is make it any less frustrating? Of course not!
Backtalk might be annoying and, at times, infuriating, but it’s a common side effect of growing up and gaining independence.
At all ages, kids need a strong sense of personal power on an emotional level. When they can’t get it because we’re ordering them around or doing everything for them, they lash out with words.
It’s a typical “fight or flight” response–since they can’t exactly move into their own apartment (flight), they’ll fight back by testing limits and trying to get a reaction.
There are many reasons WHY kids talk back, so it’s important to get to the root of the issue to determine which strategy will work best.
The best way to stop backtalk in its tracks is to give our kids the positive personal power they need. By fostering independence within our limits, we can help them grow up, as well as limit the backtalk, arguing, and whining that no one enjoys.
I see it all the time – parents lamenting the fact that their children are “disrespectful” or “don’t respect my rules” or “show no respect to their elders.”
I totally get how frustrating that is. All parents want their kids to be kind, polite, and respectful to everyone they interact with. Obviously, it’s important children know how to act in a civilized society – but let’s be honest, we also feel incredibly guilty or embarrassed when OUR kids are disrespectful. We can just feel the judgment of other parents when our son or daughter snaps back at the cashier at Target.
(Is your parenting based on frustration, fear, and perceived judgment? You might as well be banging your head against a proverbial parenting wall. Positive parenting, however, is infinitely effective–and our FREE online webinar has the starter tools!)
So the big question remains, in a world where common courtesies come and go, how can we teach our kids to be respectful?! Both respectful to us and to other kids and adults? The answer is that WE have to model the respect we hope to see from our kids.
The truth is, you may feel like you’re already doing that and the respect still isn’t reciprocated. If that’s the case, stay with me, my friend. As you’ll learn in this article, there are a few ways even well-intentioned parents accidentally undermine the development of this mutually respectful relationship without even knowing it.
The good news is we can make a few simple tweaks to the way we interact with our children that will ENCOURAGE a mutually respectful relationship. When we make an intentional effort to model a respectful attitude for our children, they are more likely to mimic it. The idea that children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity is the foundation of Positive Parenting.
What does it look like to show our kids respect?Read More →
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