8 Common Parenting Phrases That Backfire

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve used some or all of these phrases at some point or another.

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve used some or all of these phrases at some point or another. Here are some research-backed reasons why these eight common parenting phrases often backfire in ways we wouldn’t expect.

1 | “Don’t cry”

It can be so tempting to tell children not to cry because we deal with crying all the time, but telling children not to cry invalidates their feelings and teaches them not to openly share their emotions with you. Instead, try naming their feeling by saying, “You are so sad/scared/upset right now.”

By giving them words to describe their emotion, you validate it while also giving them the language they need to describe that feeling the next time they have it.

2 | “Stop _____”

Stop running. Stop yelling. Stop throwing things. Any time a parent uses this kind of directive, research shows that children are actually less likely to stop their behavior. Children’s brains are programmed to do what they hear. So if you say, “Stop running,” the last thing they hear is “run.” By saying, “Remember to use your walking feet,” you are telling them exactly how they should be moving. It also frames the directive in a more positive light.

3 | “Say sorry”

Young children are being taught to say “sorry” long before they’re actually developmentally capable of feeling sorry for their actions. The act of saying sorry appeases adults because it’s the polite thing to do, but research shows that saying sorry isn’t what causes children to become empathetic adults.

Instead, it’s much more productive to teach children to take action to help the person they’ve offended. For the child that breaks down another child’s block tower, have her help fix the tower. For the child that bites, have him get the other child some ice. By teaching our children that their actions have real consequences and require more than an un-empathetic “sorry,” they’ll become less likely to do these things again and become more empathetic in the process.

4 | “We don’t hit”

Or “we don’t throw,” “we don’t bite,” etc. This one is tricky because the purpose of this phrase is to show the child that they’re a part of a group that has rules to keep us safe. Unfortunately, for many children that are “repeat offenders” in terms or hitting or biting or any other negative behavior, this phrase can make them feel like an outsider of the group.

A much more productive approach is to say, “It is not okay to hit,” and to express how it made you or the other child feel. Follow up by having the child take action to help repair any damage that was done. 

5 | “See?”

This is the classic “I told you so.” You tell the child to stop jumping on the couch; she doesn’t listen, and ends up falling off the couch and hurting herself. You respond with “See, I told you not to jump on the couch.”

This response shames the child and doesn’t provide her the opportunity for problem solving or reflection. It’s best to wait until the child is calm, and then have a conversation about what happened and ask her how she will make a better choice the next time.

6 | “No whining”

Whining is a challenge. It’s so annoying that you just want it to stop – and quick! But telling kids not to whine doesn’t stop their whining. Instead, try saying, “Use your strong voice,” or ask, “How can we solve this problem?” By tapping into the child’s problem-solving capabilities, you empower him to have some control over the situation.

You can also try parenting expert Lynn Lott’s “Asked and Answered” strategy. When your child has asked a question and you have responded with “No,” and yet he keeps whining, you can say, “Asked and Answered.” Once the child understands this phrase and it’s used consistently in the home, the child will be less likely to whine, nag, or negotiate.

7 | “How many times do I have to tell you?”

This phrase backfires because it sends a message that you’re willing to tell your child something more than once. If the child hasn’t responded the first time, it’s likely that she either 1) didn’t hear you or understand the direction the first time, or 2) is avoiding the direction. How we deal with this situation varies based on which category it falls into, but saying “How many times do I have to tell you,” sends the wrong message and doesn’t get our children to do what we’ve asked.

8 | “Wait until your father gets home”

This classic phrase does two things: it builds fear for the reaction of the parent that’s not present, and it sends the message that you aren’t going to take action in the moment. Consequences for young children must happen in the moment in order for them to be effective – waiting for Dad or Mom to get home makes the consequence ineffective in the long run. Additionally, when children build up a fear of their parents’ reaction, it makes the child less likely to come to the parent when he’s done something wrong for fear of punishment.

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Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.

How to End Screen Time Without A Struggle

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? This could help.

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? Like so many other parents, I used to give my children warning.

“Five more minutes, then it’s dinner!” I’d yell from the kitchen.

This statement would either be ignored or grunted at.

Five minutes later, I’d march into the living room and turn the TV/tablet/gadget off, expecting them to silently accept and for us all to have a lovely, quiet dinner together.

Cue screams. Cue tantrums. Cue cold dinner. Cue grey hairs.

I realized something was wrong. Something was wrong in the way I was approaching the issue. My children aren’t naturally prone to tantrums, so I was thrown by this. I couldn’t work out what I could do to stop the sudden screaming at the end of every screen-time.

I wanted to find a way of gently disconnecting my children from the screen, of bringing them back into the real world without continual bumps and bruises along the way (because this happened almost every night), but I didn’t know how. Then a friend introduced me to a little trick by Isabelle Filliozat.

Isabelle Filliozat is a clinical psychologist specializing in positive parenting. She is the author of many books about children’s education, and an authority on gentle parenting in the French speaking world. From one day to the next, my world changed. I suddenly knew how to handle the end of screen-time without the screams, the tantrums, the cold dinner, or the grey hairs.

Here is Isabelle Filliozat’s very simple method to end screen-time without the screams.

The science behind screen-time

Have you ever had the electricity cut off just as the football game reached its most nerve-wracking stage?

Or your toddler pressed the “off” switch just as the protagonists in the deeply engrossing romantic comedy were finally going to kiss?

Or you ran out of power just as you were going to kill that alien and move up a level?

It’s hard to come out of the state of pleasure, which is what screen-time creates in our brains. It’s hard for adults. For a child, it can be terrible. Literally. Here, according to Isabelle Filliozat, is why.

When we human beings (not only children!) are absorbed in a film or playing a computer game, we are, mentally, in another world. Screens are hypnotic to our brains. The light, the sounds, the rhythm of the images puts the brain into a state of flow. We feel good, and don’t want to do anything else. We certainly don’t want the situation to change.

During these moments, our brains produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter which relieves stress-and pain. All is well – that is, until the screen is turned off. The dopamine levels in the body drop fast and without warning, which can, literally, create a sensation of pain in the body. This drop in hormones, this physical shock, is where children’s scream-time begins.

It doesn’t matter that we parents are quite clear that now is the end of screen-time. After all, we’d discussed and arranged it beforehand (”20 minutes!”), and/or given them warning (“5 more minutes!”). To us, it’s clear and fair enough, but to the child, it isn’t. When in front of a screen, she isn’t in a state to think that way or to take that information in. Her brain is awash with dopamine, remember? To turn the “off” switch on the television can, for the child, feel like a shock of physical pain. You’re not exactly slapping her in the face, but this is, neurologically speaking, how it might feel to her.

Cutting her off forcefully is hurtful. So instead of simply switching the “off” button, the trick is not to cut her off, but to instead enter her zone.

The trick: build a bridge

Whenever you decide that screen-time should come to an end, take a moment to sit down next to your child and enter his world. Watch TV with him, or sit with him while he plays his game massacring aliens on the screen. This doesn’t have to be long, half a minute is enough. Just share his experience. Then, ask him a question about it.

“What are you watching?” might work for some kids.

Others might need more specific questions. “So what level are you on now?” or “That’s a funny figure there in the background. Who’s he?”

Generally, children love it when their parents take an interest in their world. If they are too absorbed still and don’t engage, don’t give up. Just sit with them a moment longer, then ask another question.

Once the child starts answering your questions or tells you something she has seen or done on screen, it means that she is coming out of the “cut-off” zone and back into the real world. She’s coming out of the state of flow and back into a zone where she is aware of your existence – but slowly. The dopamine doesn’t drop abruptly, because you’ve built a bridge – a bridge between where she is and where you are. You can start to communicate, and this is where the magic happens.

You can choose to start discussing with your child that it’s time to eat, to go have his bath, or simply that screen-time is over now. Because of the minute of easing-in, your child will be in a space where he can listen and react to your request. He might even have been smoothed back into the real world gently enough, and is so happy about the parental attention that he wants turn off the TV/tablet/computer himself. (I’ve experienced my children do this, hand to heart.)

To me, simply the awareness of what’s going on in my children’s minds helps me handle end-of-screen-time much better than before. It isn’t always as smooth as I want it to be, but we haven’t had a scream-time incident since I discovered Isabelle Filliozat’s little trick.

Don’t take my word for it, go and try it yourself

Next time your child is sitting in front of a screen, and you want to end it, try this:

  • Sit with her for 30 seconds, a minute, or longer, and simply watch whatever she is watching/doing.
  • Ask an innocent question about what’s happening on screen. Most children love their parent’s attention, and will provide answers.
  • Once you’ve created a dialogue, you’ve created a bridge – a bridge that will allow your child to, in his mind and body, step from screen back into the real world, without hormones in free-fall, and therefore without crisis.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day together.

5 Sensory Experiences That Can Enhance Learning and Benefit Any Kid

Sensory experiences can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids- not just those with special needs.

Sensory experiences can help calm kid’s anxiety, increase focus and concentration, and reduce misbehavior. Although focusing on sensory experiences is highly beneficial for kids, kids will not all react to these experiences in the same way. While sensory experiences have often been associated with children with special needs, they can help increase focus and concentration and calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids.
The available research suggests that incorporating sensory experiences to children’s everyday experiences can make it easier to meet the needs of even the most challenging among them. Below are five practical tips to help you incorporate sensory experiences to help your child find calm.

1 | Create a “sensory space”

A “sensory space” is a space filled with varied sensory resources where your kid can find calm. Creating a specific space has been found to help kids struggling with anxiety and anger. In one study, researchers created a “sensory room” filled with a variety of resources such as a mood lamp, a projector, aromatherapy, music, and bubble tubes. The researchers observed and recorded how often each child visited the sensory room. The results showed that the kids who visited the sensory room most had greater self-esteem and also improved emotional well-being.
A “sensory space” does not necessarily have to be a “physical space.” An alternative can be a “sensory box” where you put a variety of sensory items that your child can pick and use whenever he feels the need to. Varying the objects – smooth surfaces, rough surfaces, different smells – makes the sensory experience more fulfilling.

2 | Turn to aromatherapy

The sense of smell is a powerful sense connected to the brain. This explains why essential oils impact behavior. Research suggests that aromatherapy can have a healing and calming effect. There are different ways that aromatherapy can be used to make the sensory experience even more powerful. For instance, combining smell and touch by using essential oils to massage your child’s feet or toes can have an immediate calming effect.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to using aromatherapy but not all essential oils are appropriate to use with children. Before using essential oils with your child, inform yourself about the precautions to take and the oils best adapted to calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity.

3 | Provide multisensory experiences

In one study that sought to determine whether multisensory experiences helped children learn better, researchers associated different colors with music, scents, art, poetry, literature, and colored lights. They found that children who were taught colors using multisensory experiences were better able to learn different colors.
Multisensory experiences are those that enable kids to use their different senses. For example, aromatherapy play dough helps kids engage their sense of smell and touch. Remember, however, that all essential oils used with kids should be safe for them and should be diluted first if they are to come into contact with your child’s skin. Another multisensory experience could be playing soft music as your child is playing with her blocks or with sand.

4 | Incorporate sensory experiences throughout the day

Any activity that encourages children to use their senses is a sensory activity. Playing with water or grains, smelling the roses, jogging, running, playing with sand, listening to music, and dancing are all sensory activities.
Different activities respond to different sensory needs. Activities such as swinging, jumping on the trampoline, and doing aerobic exercises release endorphins that help decrease anxiety. Chewing chewy foods, sucking or blowing are different sensory experiences that may also have a calming impact on your child. Finger painting is a great sensory activity. Incorporating different activities throughout the day is a great way to help your kid find focus and calm.

5 | Use deep pressure and movement sensory activities

The pressure exerted by weights has been found to help calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity. For instance, weighted blankets have been found to create a natural calming effect.
Although they are frequently used with children with special needs (for example autism), they are also effective with high-energy kids. Many parents have reported benefits with their children, including better sleep, waking up more rested, and happier and more focused kids.
By exerting pressure on the body, weighted blankets release neurotransmitters that have been proven to have a calming effect on the body. Wrists and ankle weights may also have the same effect.
Activities that involve heavy work – raking leaves, pushing against a wall, pushing a heavy cart – have also been found to be effective in focusing kids’ attention and reducing anxiety.
While the information provided here can help calm anxiety and hyperactivity in all kids, it is provided for informational purposes only. If your child has a sensory processing disorder, please contact your therapist before trying the activities proposed above.

The Parenting Hack That Keeps My Kid in His Room at Bedtime

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence- until I discovered this.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence.

As a child, it brought on anxiety, and fears of intruders and house fires abounded. As a teen, bedtime meant I had to close my computer and end phone calls with friends, and what a terrible thing to have to do. As an adult, bedtime often felt lonely and stressful, with endless to-do lists and existential thoughts suddenly overcrowding my mind. Now, as a parent, bedtime entails being utterly exhausted – bone-tired, brain-fried – but unable to rest until I wrangle my two energetic children into bed and somehow convince them to stay there.

It’s easier with my infant – just knock him out with some of Mama’s milk and he’s not going anywhere, but with my preschooler, it’s a different story. For the first three years of his life, he co-slept with my husband and me. While our family fell into the habit out of sleep deprivation and desperation, I grew to completely love co-sleeping: the cuddles, the closeness, the ease of nursing, the reassurance of having my baby right beside me, and the reassurance it gave my baby.

Still, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that end was near when I became pregnant with my second son when my first was two and a half. I could tell by then that my big boy was ready for his own bed and his own room (both of which he had – he just hadn’t slept in them yet), but I also knew that this was going to be a tough transition, for both of us if I’m being honest.

I looked to the Internet to help me figure out what to expect from this process, and I came across the term: “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome,” defined as a common “affliction” causing children to constantly pop out of bed after their parents have put them to sleep due to a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The articles I read contained some tips for dealing with it, but I soon learned that I’d have to think outside the box, because my son’s “Jack-in-the-Box” game was on point and strong.

“Hey Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Dad! I’m thirsty.”

“There are shadows on my wall.”

“What’s inside the wall?”

“How many miles have I slept so far?”

“I mean minutes.”

“Is it morning?”

By the third or fourth night of this, I was losing steam. I couldn’t spend the whole night ushering him back to his bedroom, and he couldn’t be staying up so late. I started to waver in my decision to transition him. Should we build some kind of epic family bed instead that can fit our growing family? No, no, no, I thought, this will be so good for him. He’ll learn to love his big boy bed and be proud of his independence.

But how would we get there?

One night it dawned on me as I was using the talk button on the baby monitor to tell my son, “You better not open up that door!” that I could use this talk function for way more than issuing warnings. I could use it as a tool to make it appealing for my boy to remain in his bed by inviting him to engage in actual conversation with me over the monitor. This way, I could open up the lines of communication that he so misses when I shut his bedroom door, and I could also ensure that I don’t miss out on the meaningful talks we always had while co-sleeping when he was relaxed enough to really open up – talks that would be more difficult to have with a newborn in the mix. Plus, we could pretend like we’re using walkie-talkies, and how fun is that? This could be our new special thing.

And just like that (well maybe there were also some toy rewards involved) bedtime started to change for the better. Not only did this parenting hack help my son stay put in his room, it also helped keep our bedtime routine (relatively) short and sweet. Kids will do just about anything to prolong saying goodnight. Now when my little man gives me puppy eyes after we’ve already done bath and books and snuggles, and says, “But I just have to tell you one more thing!” I reply, “And I can’t wait to hear that one thing, over the MONITOR!” and I make it sound super exciting. It works.

Now, of course, this monitor chatting can get a bit out of control, and there’ve been plenty of shit-show moments where I’m trying to nurse the baby to sleep while also fielding questions from my preschooler about why he can’t marry his cousin and how many days are left until Christmas. When this happens, I remind him that he needs his sleep and kindly request that he slow his roll with the questions. For the most part, he does.

Other nights, he barely talks to me at all, but knowing that he can is comforting to him, and that’s what makes this system so great. He gets his own space and chance to self-soothe, which is healthy and important at his age, and I don’t have to spend hours in a dark room waiting for him to fall asleep. I can tend to his baby brother, do chores, or unwind while still helping my son feel secure and heard as he decompresses from the day.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he tells me over the monitor each night.

“I love you to infinity and beyond,” I respond.

I don’t know how long he’ll want to talk with me like this, but I’ll be ready and waiting, monitor in hand, for as long as he does. When my six-month-old gets older and moves out of my bed, I’ll try the same hack with him, although with his chatty and loving big brother around, I may not even need to.

Ten Proverbs That Unintentionally Taught Me to Be a Better Parent

I doubt some of the parenting advice I gleaned from these proverbs was exactly what the original authors intended, but it was helpful nonetheless.

I’m not really one for trite sayings in general, but especially trite sayings about parenting, like “the days are long but the years are short.” Then one day, I realized how much parenting wisdom is tucked away in our most common proverbs. Though I doubt some of the advice I gleaned was exactly what the original authors intended.
Here are 10 proverbs, modified to suit the parenting life:

1 | If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

True. Except here’s the thing. If a kid or spouse is doing it and you think you can do it better, ask yourself a simple question: “Do you actually want to do it yourself?”
If no, shut your mouth, carry on and, if necessary, take notes for constructive feedback later.

2 | A watched pot never boils.

Similarly, children can never put on their shoes and socks while you’re watching them. Watching kids struggle to get dressed is like trying to get through a “Lord of the Rings” marathon to impress a first date.
Seriously, walk away. Have a second cup of coffee.

3 | If you can’t beat them, join them.

Every now and then, when your kids are off-the-wall bonkers and you can’t calm them down, just join in. Nobody really wants to be the one sober person at the party.
I can tell you from experience that watching your kids toilet-papering your living room can send you into a tailspin. But doing it with them is oddly satisfying.

4 | No use crying over spilled milk.

My kids spill their milk and other things a lot. It used to upset me a lot. But there are only so many yells in one day, and I decided to save them for more important things.
Our current mantra is, “Well, at least it’s not blood. Now go clean it up.”

5 | Familiarity breeds contempt / Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I’ve lumped these together because they’re opposite sides of the same coin. Any parent who has ever spent several days (okay, hours) trapped in a house with their kids will understand. You start off at 6 a.m. with nothing but love, but by bedtime…pure contempt.
On the flip side, nothing makes me love my kids more than a little break. So when you find yourself climbing up Contempt Hill, work to arrange a get-away fast, even if it’s just a quick run to the drugstore to buy things you don’t need.

6 | Good things come to those who wait.

This can be applied to a million things, but comes in particularly handy for dinner and tantrums. When trying to get my kids to eat something not high on their list of top foods (i.e. anything that’s not pizza), I’ve learned to plop it down and walk away.
Don’t make eye contact, don’t cajole or discuss, just leave it and wait. At some point, they’ll eat it, if the dog doesn’t get to it first.

7 | You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

I love cooking and I love my kids, but initially, I didn’t love the two together. Eggshells got in the batter, flour got on every surface in the kitchen, butter got places butter should never be, and it took roughly two hours to complete a 15-minute recipe.
But, oh how they loved it. Once I embraced the disaster (and learned to have them crack eggs, one at a time, in a separate bowl), I loved it, too.

8 | No man is an island.

I really, really struggle with asking for help. I once cut my fingertip off with a mandolin and then pushed my two-year-old two miles in a stroller, while pregnant, looking for an urgent care that took my insurance.
Once I had two kids, I realized this wasn’t sustainable. Learn to ask for help, because most people don’t mind and you can’t get it done yourself.

9 | Better late than never.

This obviously applies to day-to-day lateness, but it hit home for me in terms of child development. My daughter didn’t walk until 18 months, and my six-year-old son, while showing early promise in engineering, still can’t tell me the difference between the sounds ch and th.
It’s easy to get caught up in intense worry over these things, but the truth is, kids really do develop at different rates. Comparing will make you crazy.

10 | When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sure, we want to model how to stick it out for our kids, but we also want everyone to survive until they reach adulthood. No one benefits from a crazed parent. Sometimes, it’s best to just walk away.
Give yourself a timeout in your closet, preferably with a drink or snack of your choice.
 

A Sexual Assault Pun is Not a Halloween Costume

I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

All the #MeToo headlines in recent weeks have definitely caught my attention and sharpened my Sexual Assault-Dar. I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Halloween. I don’t find a lot of things inappropriate. I took my kids to this pumpkin massacre scene earlier in the day, and we all had a good laugh at the one pumpkin lawn-mowing the other pumpkin, whose bloody orange guts were spilling out everywhere. We took selfies and high fived.

But my daughter’s almost 10, and while she’s beginning to notice that girls’ costumes tend to involve short skirts and bathing suits, how the hell am I supposed to explain the rapey gynecologist costume to her? In a couple years, she’ll figure out that her looks are where our culture wants her to put her focus. But we can draw the line at the light riff on sexual assault, can’t we?
It takes a lot to shield her from the headlines about Harvey Weinstein and the other men being exposed in this wave of revelations about past and current abuses. I somehow kept her from knowing about the recent Las Vegas shooting – but the next one may have to be confronted.
We want to preserve the innoncence of our childrens’ experience in this world as long as possible. We are here to be their rocks, to keep their impressionable brains developing on a vector unblemished by the trauma of shootings, natural disasters, and sexual predation.
She’s old enough to process that there is racism in this world. A proud understanding of Rosa Parks’ bravery could inspire her to be strong and stand up for what’s just, to treat her neighbors with sensitivity and respect.
She’s old enough to know that hurricanes are a reality, that people on islands which bore the brunt of the storm need our help. She understands that the oceans are warming and that scientists think our environmental impact is a part of the problem. She knows we had a hurricane here in New York when she was little, and we know we can always find ways to be safe if another one comes.
Somehow explaining that Dr. Howie Feltersnatch (how he felt her snatch) is a joke about a doctor who touches women’s private parts with a creepy grin feels like a conversation we don’t have to have.
Spirit Halloween, your seasonal pop-up shops with overpriced pink hairspray and employee only bathrooms bring us much joy. But you can do better than this.
Get this crap off your shelves!
Tell Spirit Halloween what you think via Twitter or email customer service here.