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"Dr. Laura...How should I respond when he yells  'You're not the boss of me!'?" -- Ariel

Defiance.  It's guaranteed to push a parent's buttons.  After all, we're supposed to be in charge, right?  Defiance rubs our nose in the fact that we can't really control another person, whether he's three or thirteen, unless we use force.

Unfortunately, since force creates resistance, either openly or in a passive-aggressive form, it's ultimately a losing strategy.  (You might win the battle, but you'll lose the war.)

When we overreact to defiance we escalate the battle. Often, the result is kids who have problems with authority--either they're always in fights, or they can't stand up for themselves.

So what can a parent do about defiance?  READ POST

Thursday, October 16, 2014 | Permalink

"How much more love and affection can I give him? .... Because once you pee on your brother, you've gone too far, and we have to fix this now."

What's a parent to do when a child acts out in a big way? In a recent post, we evaluated some options: spanking, time-out, sticker charts. Bottom line, they're unlikely to be effective, because they don't get to the root of the behavior. We can assume the toddler is showing his baby brother who's boss because he's feeling major jealousy. Punishing him will just reinforce the sibling rivalry, because it convinces him that he really has lost you.

Then, in our last post, we talked about how connecting differently with your child can turn a situation like this around. Instead of punishing, nip this behavior in the bud by focusing on prevention. Refill your child’s love tank and give her an emotional tune-up on a daily basis, so you don’t end up in the breakdown lane. Hard, yes--but it works. When you connect with your child in the way she needs, most of the time her behavior improves dramatically.

But what if it doesn't? "Just how much more love and attention can I give him?"  I call this the leaky cup syndrome. The answer is, if you're really giving him all the love and attention you can, and it isn't changing his behavior, it's because you aren't healing the feelings driving the behavior.   READ POST

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | Permalink

"This morning, he really pushed me to my limit when I realized he had peed on his 9 month old brother. And then when I put him in time-out in his room (instead of spanking him, which is really what I wanted to do) he peed in his heater vent. I feel like I try to be a good parent, so I don't know what I'm doing wrong. How much more love and affection can I give him? We'll start a sticker chart today and hope that works. Because once you pee on your brother, you've gone too far, and we have to fix this now."

I'm so impressed with this mom, who has held her natural outrage in check and is trying to go positive with a sticker chart. And I couldn't agree more with her: When you pee on your brother, things have gone too far.

But I'm afraid that a sticker chart isn't going to work any better than the timeouts are working. Why?  They don't get to the root of the problem, which is the child's hurt and fear. He thinks his Mom got a replacement for him. As my three year old son said before our second child "We don't need another boy. If it's a boy....we can send him back, right?"

This little guy defines "acting out."  He's acting out feelings he can't express in any other way.  He might not even be able to express those feelings to himself, but they're bursting out and making themselves known, as feelings have a way of doing. (Even when they're repressed. In fact, especially when they're repressed.)

Peeing where they know they shouldn't is a common way for children to express anger that they can't put into words. Male mammals often pee on things to stake out their territory and warn off intruders. And from the fact that he peed on his brother, we can guess who the intruder is!

What's a parent to do?  Let's consider our options.  READ POST

Thursday, August 28, 2014 | Permalink

"How many times have you felt forced/nudged/shamed/coerced into parenting in a way you don't usually because you were in a public situation? I know I have, and it still happens now that my kids are out of the toddler tantrum stage." - Ask Moxie

"Where I struggle is under the judgmental gaze of grandparents who believe in PUNISHMENT and CONSEQUENCES when the line is crossed. I can almost hear a tsk, tsk as I do my empathic parenting. .. No matter how old I get....I still want parents' approval, you know?" - Ann

Kids don't always behave as we'd like when we're out and about.  They get over-stimulated and stressed out. And when children are at family gatherings, they're often off their schedules and especially excited, so their behavior can be particularly challenging. 

The hard part is that we have to be extra creative to help our child cope in a way that doesn't infringe on the rights of others...AND we have to do it in front of an audience! An audience that we suspect is judging us as bad parents. It doesn't matter whether it's grandparents judging us as Permissive and Spoiling, or supermarket cashiers judging us as Lazy or Mean. If we were good parents, our child wouldn't be acting up to begin with.  Right?  READ POST

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | Permalink

“I'm so tired of parents who can't say No to their child and let them rule the roost. No wonder kids today don't have any self-discipline."

Most parents assume that not punishing means permissive parenting. But resisting the urge to punish doesn't mean we don't set limits! In fact, neither permissive parenting nor authoritarian parenting work to raise self-disciplined kids.

Kids raised permissively may not have the opportunity to develop self discipline, which is about giving up something we want for something we want more. Kids raised with authoritarian parenting, however, don't develop self-discipline either, because they aren't choosing--they're being forced. Often, they stop cooperating, rebel, and become very good liars.

So yes, in my view LIMITS are an essential part of raising great kids. But not just any limits. EMPATHIC LIMITS. Which means we:  READ POST

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | Permalink

"Dr. Laura – I'm not one of those 'Count to 3 and They Jump' parents.  I was raised that way and it always seems to involve threats and harshness. But when I say 'It's time to clean up' they ignore me unless I yell. What's the secret of getting them to listen and to take No for an answer, if I don't use punishment?" -- Danielle

Last week, we explored why kids don't jump to it (Obedience: Why Do You Have To Tell Them Five Times?) when we ask them to do something, as part of my series Are Kids Today Spoiled and Undisciplined?  Many parents told me that post helped them understand conflicts from their child's perspective, which made it possible to find some common ground and more cooperation. As always, a few parents advocated more harshness: "Parents just need to learn to say No and back it up with punishment!" But even many parents who are committed to loving guidance wondered, "How can I say No if I don't resort to threats?"

This is, of course, the million dollar question. But it is indeed possible to get kids cooperating, without resorting to yelling, threats or harshness.  The secrets?  READ POST

Wednesday, July 09, 2014 | Permalink

"Dr. Laura, I was wondering if you could do a post about empathic limits. What is an appropriate response to bad behavior from an unconditional parenting approach? For example, every time I come home with my daughter I remind her that when we go inside she must take off her shoes. She often will immediately run to the couch and climb onto it with her shoes on. I know she does this precisely because she knows she's not supposed to, and now I warn her if she doesn't get down she will get a timeout. Usually she gets a timeout. I can't not respond when she does something like this. What can I do instead of a timeout?"

“You don't seem to ever discuss discipline in terms of teaching acceptable behavior.  I really think its a lot of bull to give people an excuse not to have decent expectations. Sometimes these kids are brats and they need to be aware of it.  I'm not saying that Screaming is good but screaming or other tactics besides hugs are necessary."

The Aha! Parenting website is loaded with hundreds of pages of examples of how to teach acceptable behavior using empathic limits, so if you aren't getting enough from these posts, please do some exploring on the website.  I'm hoping you'll have an Aha! moment, which is this: 

There is no such thing as a brat, only a child who is hurting. When our starting point as parents is a close bond with our children, we are their North Star, the point around which they orient. They want more than anything in the world to protect that relationship and meet our expectations, as long as that doesn't compromise their own integrity. If our child is acting like a "brat," she's either signaling that she needs a stronger connection with us, that she's got some big feelings she needs our help with, or that she can't meet our expectation without some tailored support. After all, that (along with modeling) is how we teach acceptable behavior!

So given that Aha! insight, which would be the most effective tactics to transform "bratty" behavior into cooperative behavior?  READ POST

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | Permalink