Parenting Blog

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"I recently discovered Aha! Parenting and am trying hard to change things at our house, but my kids seem to be acting out more.  So I still lose it. And I feel so guilty about the past. What am I doing wrong?" - Kate

"For me, this type of parenting is a daily choice. Every morning I have to make the commitment not to yell, to stay calm, to chose love. And there is something very empowering about that.  I apologize to my kids when I make mistakes and slip - I see that when they accept my apology, they feel empowerment and generosity of spirit. This influences their behavior with each other - there are more kind words and gestures, more "I'm sorry" and more "Don't worry, I know it wasn't your fault" that they extend to each other, than before. There are days when things are a big struggle, but I really feel that something is changing deep within our hearts AND I feel us grow closer together when we chose love, and when in the middle of a tantrum I hug my child and genuinely tell him that I hear his pain and that I'll help him work through it."

Shifting your parenting approach is a big transition, and you can expect some bumps as you and your children learn new patterns of relating. It doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong. In fact, what's happening is that you're healing old hurt feelings so they stop driving new bad behavior. When your child acts out, he's showing you feelings from the past when you punished or yelled. It takes extra compassion from you, but your empathic response will heal those hurts so you can all move on.

So ditch that guilt -- you're paying the price, after all, and making amends now, by helping your child through all those old hurt feelings. Besides, feeling bad doesn't help you act "good," any more than it helps your child. Here's your plan.  READ POST

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | Permalink

"All communication is either an SOS or a care package." -- Kelly Bryson

You’ve probably heard the term “Acting out’ refer to misbehaving.  It actually means to act out a feeling that you can't express in words.

So when your three year old hits the baby, or your five year old throws a toy at you, or your seven year old slams the door, they’re acting out.  You could respond with punishment.  After all, the behavior is clearly unacceptable.  But you would be missing the feeling that your child is finding so unbearable that he has to act it out. You would be missing your child’s SOS.  READ POST

Friday, March 21, 2014 | Permalink

"I watch their softly tousled heads slumbering on their pillows, and sadness wells up in me. Have I drunk in their smiles and laughter and hugged them, or have I just checked things off my to-do list today? They're growing so quickly. One morning I may wake up and one of my girls will be getting married, and I'll worry: Have I played with them enough? Have I enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of their lives?" -- Janet Fackrell

It's part of our job description as parents to guide our kids and keep them moving through the daily routine. All too often, that means setting limits, denying requests, correcting behavior.  Sometimes we're skillful enough that our child doesn't perceive our guidance as "negative."  More often, kids give us the benefit of the doubt because all the other loving, affirming interactions create a positive balance in our relationship account.  That's why creating those positive interactions with your child matters so much.

Research shows we need at least five positive interactions to each negative interaction to maintain a healthy, happy relationship that can weather the normal conflicts and upsets of daily life. So when we're short on positive interactions, our relationship balance dips into the red. As with any bank account, we're overdrawn. That's when kids resist our guidance and develop attitude, whether they're two or twelve.

Life is busy, and you don't need one more thing for your to-do list. Instead, why not create a few daily habits that replenish your relationship account with your child? After thirty days, any action becomes a habit, so you don't have to think about it.  Here are 20 things you can start doing today to build a closer relationship with your child.  READ POST

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | Permalink

"I just don't believe that kids learn to do what's right by us giving them hugs. The only reason I ever did my homework was the strap waiting if I brought home a bad report card." -- Jack

It's true. Kids need our hugs, but that's not what teaches them to do right. How do kids learn?

Our modeling. When we take responsibility, when we apologize, when we regulate our own emotions so we aren't yelling at them, children learn to take responsibility, to apologize, to regulate their own emotions and treat others with respect.

Our guidance. When we talk with them about the choices in their lives, kids learn. Should he lie about his age to get a cheaper admission price at the amusement park?  Can she break a date with a friend when she gets a more exciting offer? Should he help pay to replace his sister's toy that he broke?  Talk about the fact that ethical choices are worth making, even when it costs you...And what ethical choice doesn't cost you?

Our family habits.  When kids get used to "repair" rather than punishment, they automatically look to make things better after a fight with their sibling. When they learn that everyone has big feelings, but emotions aren't an emergency, they learn to take responsibility for their emotions and their behavior.

Kids really do learn what they live. We teach them what's right every day, by the example we set and the family culture we create.   READ POST

Thursday, March 13, 2014 | Permalink

"Dr. Laura...I love your approach.  I understand the ideas.  But in the heat of the moment, I find myself tongue-tied and I can't figure out what to say." - Teresa

The truth is, what you say is not nearly as important as your attitude.  Your child feels your warmth and love even when you don't say a word.

But what about those times when you're not feeling all that much love?  Those hot moments when you're trying hard to keep things from blowing up, and you want to say something constructive, but you aren't thinking all that clearly?  When you wish you had a fairy godmother whispering in your ear?  READ POST

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | Permalink

Dr. Laura, I see how all your mindfulness techniques make me a more patient mother.  But when I find my temper rising, what can I do in that moment?  I know yelling doesn't work. I know that my inner critic that tells me I'm a bad mother just makes things worse. But what do I actually DO?" -- Cara

Nothing. Really. You notice what you're feeling, you breathe your way through it, and you DO nothing.

When our temper rises, we all feel an urgent need to DO something, anything. But that's our emergency response system operating. And parenting, despite how it feels, is not usually an emergency.

So the most effective thing you can do is restore yourself to calm before you act. Why? Because the rational brain stops working when you're angry. So when you act from anger or fear, you're never taking constructive action.

I define mindfulness as just noticing our own feelings and thoughts without acting on them. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says it more directly: "Mindfulness is not hitting someone in the mouth."

Sure, it feels like we MUST intervene at that moment. Otherwise, our child will "get away with" bad behavior, and will become a terrible person. But that's fear speaking, and it drives us to take actions that make things worse. Later, we realize that we let our emotions run amok. We didn't guide our child with love. We didn't help her WANT to be a more responsible or cooperative person. Instead, we dumped those yucky feelings from our full emotional backpack onto our beloved, vulnerable, child.

So what can you actually DO when you feel your temper rising?  READ POST

Thursday, March 06, 2014 | Permalink

"Okay, you've convinced me not to punish. But my two year old still bites, has tantrums, throws his food and scribbles on the furniture...." - Rebecca

Unfortunately, a two year old's frontal cortex is still developing the ability to control his emotions and behavior. That means they throw food, break things, have meltdowns, bite when they're mad, and scribble on the furniture. In other words, they act like two year olds.

But since the brain is still developing through the teen years, kids of all ages sometimes lack the rational control to behave as we'd like. Sometimes even 15 year olds act like 2 year olds!

So what can you do when your child acts out, whether he's a toddler or a teen?  Here are the five best strategies for preventing misbehavior, for all age kids.  READ POST

Tuesday, March 04, 2014 | Permalink