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"Whereas he was once the center of your universe, he has been displaced from this paradise. He is now in time out, while you coo at his tiny rival. You cannot, of course, push back the clock to a time when he, alone, was the apple of your eye. All the same, trying to imagine how frustrated your 3 year old must often feel can help you counteract his sense of loss. Your expressions of love, gestures of devotion, and moments of intimacy with your son can help him feel less deserted and alone. Helping your son recapture a sense of shared joy in his relationship with you will turn down the fuel of his hate, and--in addition--smooth the pathway to his identification... as a loving, protective, sharing person." -- Elizabeth Berger

Every parent with more than one child knows that some sibling rivalry is inevitable. But what about when your child really acts out -- like when your almost-3- year old pees on the baby? In our last post we considered whether sticker charts work for a crime of passion like this, and why spankings and timeouts just increase the amount of anger and jealousy your little one is feeling and make it even harder, over time, for him to control himself.

If you missed that post, it's here: When You Pee On Your Brother You've Gone Too Far.  Bottom line: Kids "act out" when they have big feelings they can't put into words. So they act them out, to show you. If you want to change the behavior, help the child with the emotions driving the behavior.

In other words, don't get stuck in reacting and punishing, which is likely to make the child more defiant and aggressive. Instead, focus on prevention, to nip this behavior in the bud. Remind yourself that your child's acting out is a red flag that he needs your help with his emotions, so he doesn't act out like this again. Sure, you should set a limit, but every child knows he shouldn't pee on the baby. He just couldn't manage those big feelings enough to stop himself--or maybe he simply didn't care, which is worse, because it’s a symptom that the child considers his connection to you less important than doing what he wants.  READ POST

Tuesday, September 02, 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

"To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words....You listen not only for what someone knows, but for who he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind's hearing to your ears' natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning." -- Peter Senge

In our fast-paced life, we often take a secret pride in how busy we are, how good we are at multi-tasking, how fast we can move. We enjoy the rush of adrenaline. But that fast pace can make us impatient with ourselves, and with our children. Too often, we don't take the extra moment to slow down and connect. We forget to appreciate and take joy in our kids--which is, after all, what makes parenting worth it. We fly through the day without really listening to what matters to him, or the questions she's struggling to articulate.  READ POST

Thursday, August 21, 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

"Dr. Laura....I just want to give my kids a better start in life than I had.  How can I make sure they're self-disciplined but happy?" - Katie

All of us want to raise children who become self-disciplined -- and happy -- adults.  The only question is how best to do that.  Luckily, we know the answer.  Research studies have been following children from babyhood to adulthood for decades, so we actually know what works to raise great kids. Here are the five most important things we know.

1. Children need a secure attachment with at least one loving adult.  Parents facilitate this secure attachment in the first year by listening to their unique baby and responding to her needs. They continue to nurture secure attachment by accepting the full range of who their child is -- including all that messy neediness and anger -- into the toddler years and beyond. Parents who are unable to tolerate the child's neediness, controlling (rather than accepting the child as he is), intrusive (rather than taking the child's cues), or otherwise reacting out of their own needs rather than responding to their child's needs are less likely to raise a securely attached child.  READ POST

Friday, August 15, 2014 | Permalink

“Dr. Laura…My son is wound tighter than a drum and everything makes him mad.  I know there are tears under there, especially from having a new baby sister. But he won’t cry, he just gets mad! How can I help him work out all these feelings?”

Sometimes, our child seems to be provoking us on purpose, trying to make us crazy. It's almost like she's trying to start a fight, because the minute we set a limit ("Please don't hit the dog; it hurts him"), our child gets angry at us. The truth is, she IS provoking us to start a fight. Not to make us crazy, but because she feels awful inside and doesn't know what to do about it. The best defense (against those bad feelings) is a good offense, so she lashes out at you.

If you can summon up all your warm compassion as you set a kind but firm limit (Get between her and the dog and gently restrain her while saying "I won't let you hit the dog"), your child will sometimes burst into tears. After she sobs her heart out, she'll end up in your arms, and then be cooperative and delightful for the rest of the day, or even week.  This can be hard on parents, but once you experience it, you'll start to notice when she just needs to cry, and even to "schedule" meltdowns  when she's having a hard time (as described in this post on Preventive Maintenance.)

But more often, your child will be too frightened of that logjam of emotion he’s been tamping down, and he'll stay stuck in the anger, which is a useful defense.  The problem is, he needs to cry to release all those feelings.  Otherwise, he’ll spend the day (or week) bouncing from one angry incident to the next. But how can you break through his anger to help him release the tears and fears that are driving it?   READ POST

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | Permalink

“Scheduled meltdowns work just as you describe with my 3.5 year old daughter…But how do I follow this technique, which usually takes about 10 minutes of undivided attention, when I'm also taking care of my 16 month old at the same time?”- Kimberly

“I have found when another child is witnessing the process of my helping a child with emotions they become aware and able to help. Mine often imitate what they've seen me do and can even help each other through upset on their own with empathy and understanding.”- Seasyn

If you have more than one child, you know there are many hard things about parenting siblings. Perhaps the hardest part is when they both need you at once. After all, your love may be unlimited, but you only have two hands.

That’s why preventive maintenance (discussed in our last post) is so important—children’s needs for connection and emotional processing are met on a regular basis, so they don’t fall apart as often.

But there will inevitably be times when you’re the only adult present, you have more than one child in your care, and both children really need you at once, or one child needs your attention for ten minutes but you can’t focus on him because the other child is there. What can you do?  READ POST

Thursday, August 07, 2014 | Permalink