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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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.

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.

The Social Spookiness of Halloween

Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday.

My dog is barking wildly at the large, misshapen pumpkin I just dragged from the car to the front porch. It’s a good thing my mom visited two weeks ago, or she would definitely be growling, at least internally, at the pagan gourd flanking the entryway to my home.
My mom really hates Halloween. When we were growing up, my siblings and I were permitted to hand out candy to neighborhood children, but we did not engage in the “coarse” act of trick-or-treating. I think I actually learned the definition of “extortion” from my mom’s interpretation of demanding candy from innocent people in return for the favor of not committing a “trick” to their homes or property.
Now I’m a mom, and I have accepted that Halloween, even with its ghosts and goblins, has developed into a beloved American tradition, with costumes, candy, and parties that dangle very far away from any morbid or devilish roots. I’ve made my peace with allowing my children to ask for junk food at neighbors’ and even strangers’ doors, as long as they are sure to respond with an audible thank you and not make a grab for more than one or two pieces of candy.
There’s a spirit of an autumn carnival in our neighborhood on Halloween night. Some families open their garage doors and provide adult-friendly “treats” to tired parents as kids excitedly make their rounds. My kids revel in the ritual of categorizing, classifying, and counting their stashes of candy even more than the actual trick-or-treating. Their hauls expertly spread on the living room carpet, they conduct barters and exchanges of brightly colored fruit flavored candies for chocolate delicacies.
Perhaps the most unanticipated lesson of Halloween lies in the run-up to the evening, when friend groups are tested and children realize their status in the social pecking order. Are they like Tootsie Rolls – accepted but not wildly popular? Will they walk around with their parents and siblings? Will they be invited to pre-Halloween pizza dinners with the most popular kids in the grade or dressed according to an agreed-upon theme of the year? Halloween can be a ghoulish night, as it casts a sharp light on who is in and who is out.
Some children are fortunate to have one best friend, a yin to their yang, a jelly to their peanut butter. Halloween is a blast for those fortunate dyads. Salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, angel and devil, they move through the darkening sidewalks with confidence and laughter. Other friend group formations abound as well: colors in a crayon box, a litter of kittens, a gaggle of superheroes.
What happens to children who want to be a part of a group but don’t know how to ask for entry? Even more prickly is the question of what happens to the child who boldly asserts him or herself by asking to join in a group costume and is then rebuffed?
Halloween is not for the faint of heart. There are modern lessons that can be derived from this ancient holiday. Historically, we dress ourselves up to honor our dead and to protect ourselves from goblins and dangerous spirits on the loose. Likewise, we find strength to encourage our children to rise above the sting of possible social rejection. We celebrate our children’s individual spirits and enjoy the process of finding costumes that reflect what they love and enjoy.
Instead of fretting over possible social exclusion, perhaps Halloween is a good time to remind our children that, even as adults, we don’t get invited to every party or fun activity. We will all still be okay. If your child is the popular one this year, perhaps a lesson in graciousness and generosity is helpful, too. Would it be so terrible to have one extra football hero in the group, especially if it means including the child who doesn’t have a million buddies in school?
When my daughter was very young, she went trick-or-treating with a large group of girls. The laces on her brand new shoes kept untying, so she was constantly stopping to retie them. As I watched from the sidewalk, I noticed her hunching over after each stop on the Halloween circuit while the other girls ran ahead to the next house to gather their goodies. One child remained by my daughter’s side and patiently waited for her to take care of her shoes so that she wouldn’t trip in the slippery grass.
When we returned home that evening, we spoke about the unusual kindness demonstrated by my daughter’s friend. This “shoelace test” became the litmus test for friendship in our house. This was the type of friend to aspire to be and to value.
Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday. We can help make the holiday sweeter by listening to our kids when they share their concerns and reassuring them that morning will come again on November 1st.

What Are We Apologizing for When We Apologize for Our Kids?

What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid.

“I’m sorry” I mutter when my three-year-old bumps into a stranger’s legs at the store.
“I’m sorry” when we cancel because she woke up at 3 a.m., was a terror all day, and finally went down for a nap.
“I’m sorry” that he can’t eat the treats because of food allergies.
“I’m sorry” when the two year old doesn’t share a favorite toy.
“I’m sorry” about the wiggles and squeals we try to suppress at church.
“I’m sorry” he acts hyper when he feels overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry” she wet her pants.
“I’m sorry” he’s eating your snacks.
“I’m sorry” she clings to the teacher in class.
“I’m sorry” someone pushed.
“I’m sorry” he’s standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry” they are loud.
“I’m sorry” they are in your way.
So many sorrys.
Recently we traveled to visit family. During the first part of our trip I spent a lot of time saying sorry – for spills, messes, misbehaviors, and early mornings. One afternoon, after struggling for several hours to get my kids to take naps, we showed up late at my grandma’s house for a playdate we had planned. When she answered the door I immediately began explaining myself, doing the “mommy sorry.” She cut me off, mid-apology. Looking me directly in my eyes as I fought off some tears of overwhelm, she said, “Please. You don’t ever need to apologize. We are in this together. We can be flexible.”
Her words melted me and all my mommy-insecurity into a big puddle of tears, right there on her porch. This was a veteran mom of six children talking. But more importantly it was my grandma, someone who loves and sees me and my kids for who we are, not how well we perform.
Her words lodged themselves in my heart, and they have caused me to think a lot about the superfluous “mommy sorry.” Why do so many of us do it? I hear you apologize for your kid not answering adults when asked a question, for your toddler not sharing, for countless other social infractions. I know I’ve said my share of sorrys too.
Why do we apologize for the growing process of our little people when it is not something we can control by verbally taking responsibility for it? Are we actually sorry? Their very existence hinges on inconveniencing others. When we say sorry for everything about our kids, it starts to sound like we are apologizing for the very fact they exist and for the people they are.
What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have been more concerned about pleasing others than properly parenting my kids. I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid. Or having food allergies. Or not sharing, although pediatricians say kids can’t understand sharing until age three. Why do I apologize for the social behaviors of these small people? For them not yet understanding personal space. For being attached to their mom. For struggling to master the art of whispering. For not noticing they are in the way because their eyes can’t even see over the shopping cart. Why do I apologize for their physical needs and the instincts they follow to meet them? Like wanting someone else’s snacks. Or taking a really long nap. Or having an accident in the middle of Target.
I’ve realized if there’s anyone’s forgiveness I should ask, it’s my kids. I hope they forgive me for the times I have apologized for their kid-ness. I want them to know I am not ashamed of them or embarrassed about the things that make them kids. Those sorrys were voiced by Mom’s insecurity, not her heart.
Parents of the world – can we stop apologizing to one another for our kids being kids? After all, we are all in this together. We can be flexible with each other as we all do our best to raise kind and responsible people. Let’s support more and judge less. Let’s be the village it takes to raise a child.

The Case for Boredom to Ignite Our Minds

We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

The demands of careers and parenting mean we’ve lost time to let our minds wander. There are always tasks that need to be handled.
Then there’s the other obvious way we cure boredom should it have a chance to strike: technology. Smartphones give us the opportunity to constantly engage with social media, games, news, or countless text threads. All of these serve as distractions that keep our minds from dealing with boredom for even a minute.
We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. We’re not bored, the kids aren’t bored, we don’t have to listen to the kids complain about being bored, and everyone can grab their smartphones or tablets should boredom arise.
But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

Why we need boredom

Research shows that people will go to extremes to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts. Studies found that boredom can cause excessive drinking, gambling, and eating when we’re not hungry.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to engage in these harmful activities to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, we turn to smartphones as a safe option when they are not.
According to studies used in author Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk, we now shift our attention every 45 seconds while working because technology makes it easy to do so. We also spend time checking our phones when we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Notifications constantly pop up, and we become Pavlovian in our responses to them, searching for them when they’re not even there just because we can see the phone.
A recent study showed that even having our smartphones in the room with us lowers our cognitive function.
Smartphones and the way we use them keep us from allowing ourselves to get bored, and that means we’re missing out. When bored, the brain goes into default mode. It’s in this mindset that we can reflect on our past and problem solve for our future.
When bored, we daydream, we create ideas, and we stick with a train of thought that can lead us to create. A study even found that participants asked to perform a boring task before solving a problem using creativity did a better job than those whose brains weren’t first prepared by boredom.

How to be bored in the technology age

Journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a podcast in 2015 that challenged listeners to engage with technology responsibly and put some boredom back in their lives. It wasn’t a cold-turkey technology detox. Most of us have to use some form of technology for jobs or communication with others. Zomorodi launched her challenge to help people learn to do it responsibly.  She wanted participants to give themselves time during the day to free their minds from simply staring at a screen for no reason.
Her challenge led to a book that came out this year titled “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self”.  It details how to engage responsibly with our phones while giving our brains the sacred time they need to be utterly bored.
Challenges include deleting our favorite apps from our phones or walking without a phone in our hands for an entire day. None of these challenges seem that hard until participants are forced to perform them.
That’s when many who signed up for the challenge on Manoush’s podcast realized they were addicted, though some had inklings of that before. It’s why they signed up in the first place. Most of us know we are missing time we used to have, time where our minds roamed and we used wonder and curiosity to cure our boredom. Our brains had room and time to develop ideas.
Children born into the smartphone age need to be trained to use technology responsibly because they will not remember having all that tech-free time. That longing we have to unplug will be foreign to kids who live electronically plugged in at all times.
Parents can set the example by using self-control and making technology work for their lives, but not take them over. In the process, they teach their kids the sacred practice of boredom.
These simple guidelines are a good start:

Keep the phone out of the bedroom

Let those boring moments before sleep get the creative juices flowing and preserve rest. Phones in the bedroom can cause sleep problems.

Go hands-free

When walking or driving, don’t hold a phone like it’s an extension of the body. Instead of focusing brain power on looking at the phone or wondering when it’s going to offer a notification, go hands-free and let the brain go into default mode.

Set times for engagement

Those in the technology development industry have no problem admitting they are creating a product, and they want it to be as addictive as possible. Manoush believes that it’s so hard to be bored because our technology is designed to draw us in.
To combat this, set up rules and times for engagement. Don’t let tech designers decide how and when you use technology.

The long-term payoff

Creativity was identified as a leadership competency that CEOs look for in employees. Creative people may be hard to find if we now live in a society that doesn’t value boredom. We are also living in a society full of people who feel guilty about the unhealthy relationships they have with their phones.
We can change the course, though, and raise a generation that benefits from technology while still using their minds to create and problem solve without distractions. We can have the conveniences that smartphones offer without the addiction or the brain drain they cause.
It’s as simple, and as difficult, as embracing boredom.

Rewards and Punishments Don't Intrinsically Motivate – These Things Do

Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the world, a few days after Hurricane Irma stormed her way through Florida and left, not only people without power, but traffic lights, too. When I approached an intersection, I felt lost and unsure because I didn’t know how to move or when it was safe to go.
Knowing the rules, and trusting that everyone else observes them in the same way, provides a sense of security and competence. Without systems like these, our efficiency, comfort, and safety become jeopardized.
Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator refers to discipline as a social contract, which, like traffic signals, provides clear expectations and predictable environments. A system of rules, procedures, and values that the community agrees to makes life easier for everyone. For this reason, Magda Gerber said, “Lack of discipline isn’t kindness, it’s neglect.”
In the beginning of the school year, we talk a lot about the rules of our classroom, which all students agree to easily because they so clearly protect the well-being of everyone and promote a productive learning environment. We practice the procedures for coming into class, leaving class, going to the bathroom, walking down the hall, and so forth because – like me at that intersection – people want to know how to be safe and successful.
By the end of the first week, my students asked, “Are we going to have dojo points? Is there a treasure box? How about Fun Friday?” I told them yes and no. I believe in acknowledging accomplishments. I believe school should be a place where children want to go and that it’s important to incorporate fun into the classroom. So yes, we will celebrate regularly as a class, and no, there won’t be points to add or subtract.
The ultimate goal of discipline is self-discipline, which must be cultivated from within. The desire for points, or the fear of losing them, diverts internal guidance and makes children more externally motivated and dependent on outside control. My job is to teach expectations, practice procedures, hold discussions about our values, set limits, give feedback, and enforce the rules. But it’s also to stay out of the way and encourage the students’ independence and autonomy.
Over the summer, I read The Daily 5, which is a framework for structuring the literacy block so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently. I was surprised how adamant the authors are on the importance of staying out of the way:

[In the beginning] we did what we thought all good elementary teachers did. As the children were practicing Read to Self and building their stamina, we went around the room to each child, quietly telling them what a wonderful job they were doing as readers. We were proud of their ability to stay focused and believed that we needed to constantly reinforce on-task behavior. The first days our students read without our hovering reinforcement, their behavior fell apart. They were up and walking around and coming to us asking what they should do. We realized we anchored their behaviors in our reactions. We realized we unwittingly taught them to rely on our reinforcement to keep them on-task. They were not the least bit independent.

What did the authors do to correct this? Review the desired behaviors daily, give the students many opportunities to model them, stop the class as soon as someone practiced incorrectly, and reflect. It’s possible to hold children to very high standards without the use of rewards and punishments.
The experience of those authors applies to independence in general. I could give out points every time a student lines up quietly or starts a task promptly. I could move a color card higher each time a child acts with kindness. But rewards only motivate people to get rewards. Being a kind, responsible, and a contributing member of a community should be a reward in its own right. If I’m not around or the rewards aren’t forthcoming, where is the motivation to do the right thing?
In her book “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” Kathryn J. Kvols writes, “Rewards can interfere with the development of a sense of self-worth. Children may interpret being rewarded to mean they don’t need to do anything until there is something in it for them…. If you rely on rewards to teach children how you want them to behave, you deny them to learn from an internal source of motivation and strength.”
I want my students to do the right thing, but not because someone is watching, and not because they are going to earn or lose something. I don’t want them to act a certain way so they can make a trip to a treasure box. I want them to realize they have the power to make choices, and that their choices contribute to their happiness. It’s not up to someone else to provide a reward or punishment for their behavior. Behavior alone does that. This empowers children.
Misbehavior is often a child’s way of expressing a need. Maybe she’s asking for a limit or communicating that she hasn’t mastered a certain skill. When we take points away or move cards, we aren’t encouraging problem solving and communication. In this environment, children are more likely to feel discouraged or even angry and hide their mistakes. I want my students to learn that mistakes are inevitable, powerful teachers.
Even when rewards systems focus on positive behaviors, they create competition and stifle creativity. Many children spend time wondering what to do to “get to blue” or why someone else earned a point instead of them. Children typically want to please us. Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.
“The question isn’t how to get children to obey,” writes Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book “Out of Control”, “but what are the needs of the child?”
Below are 10 needs children have that I use to guide the way I run my classroom:

1 | Clear expectations that honor their age and nature

Third graders need to be social and active. For this reason, I incorporate movement and collaboration into the majority of our activities. Before we start an activity, I go over what the classroom should look and sound like while they work.

2 | A sense of control over themselves

For this reason, I offer choices within boundaries, which promotes inner discipline. For example, during Read to Self, the students may sit where they please and read material of their choosing, but they must begin right away, read the entire time, and stay in one spot.

3 | Consistency

A rule is always a rule, and it’s expected to be followed.

4 | Opportunities to practice

When I teach something, be it a skill or a procedure, I don’t just tell them what to do, I show them. I give them opportunities to practice and role play. Often, misbehavior is simply showing a lack of mastery. What’s called for in these cases is practice in the procedure or expectation, rather than guilt, shame, or punishment.

5 | Acknowledgment of their intentions

Although they require redirection, children should also have their true intentions acknowledged. For example, I might say, “Your friend is bothered because you’ve been violating his personal space. I know you’re usually very respectful, and that’s not your intention. Is there something going on?” Part of true discipline is cultivating positive self-talk in our children, not interfering with it.

6 | Chances to repair and solve

I believe in encouraging children to think through situations to come up with solutions. “What’s the problem? How can it be fixed? How can we prevent it from happening again?” Children are usually very insightful. If the problem regards a conflict between two people, we think of win-win solutions together.

7 | An understanding of why we do the things we do

It’s not about blind obedience. We do things in certain ways for important reasons, and these reasons should be communicated to create a sense of ownership over the rule or procedure.
When I go over the way we move in hallways, I explain the importance of being respectful to the people who work in the office and other classrooms. I tell them high-traffic times require us to move smoothly and in a way that allows other people to move, too. I also tell them it’s important for me to be able to give them directions in these situations. Cooperation is more likely when they understand why.

8 | Honesty

When we communicate authentically with our children, we model respect for ourselves and respect for them. From this place, we set limits that honor who we are.
We were walking to lunch recently, and the students were very chatty. It was hard for me to give them a direction. I told them, “I’m not willing to fight for your attention. Let’s go back to the room and review this procedure.” When we’re honest, we reveal parts of who we are, but not in ways that are flustered or emotional. This promotes connection and trust.

9 | Connection

I strive every day to give each of my students focused attention, even if it’s just for a moment or two. I want them to know I care about who they are and am interested in listening to them. Every child is important, and when they feel this, their need to misbehave in order to get attention decreases. I always thought, even with my own children, that cooperation is best won through closeness.

10 | True and meaningful learning experiences

Consequences for misbehavior should be respectful, reasonable, and related. For example, if a student doesn’t finish her classwork, it becomes homework. If a student makes a mess, he must clean it up. If she damages something, she must repair it. If he abuses a privilege, he loses it. If she’s off task while working in a group, she’ll work on her own. Natural and logical consequences are built in to just about every situation.
Discipline isn’t about controlling children, but teaching them to be self-responsible. Rewards and punishments are effective in gaining temporary compliance, but they don’t help kids become caring, responsible, and self-directed.
I firmly believe children don’t need to suffer to learn, and they don’t need external rewards to be motivated. They need a system that fosters respect between all community members, in which self confidence is the by product and joy is the reward of cooperation.

10 Rules for Sharing Every Sibling Should Know

What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

“I feel like I need two of everything,” you lament to a friend as your kids argue in the living room.
“It wouldn’t matter. Even if I had two of everything, they would still find something to fight over,” your friend replies.
Sighing, you sip your coffee, close your eyes, and try to ignore the noise.
What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

10 sharing rules every sibling should know

Rather than thinking of this list as a cumbersome list of expectations, see it as a starting point. An opportunity to look at the concept of sharing from a different perspective.

1 | Sharing is a choice

Start by setting the expectation that no one is forced to share. Forcing kids to share often leads to resentment and bitterness. Instead, encourage kindness and empathy by modeling the behavior you want to see. Use respect and patience as you guide your kids through the ups and downs of sharing.

2 | Give them the words

Kids need to learn how to ask to use something, how to respectfully join a game, how to politely refuse to share, how to ask for more time with a toy, etc. Slow down the conversation and give your kids time to learn and practice these phrases before expecting them to do them well.

3 | Define the word “mine”

When kids claim something is “mine!” they may actually be trying to say “I’m using this right now” or “I’d like to use it soon” or “I’m worried you’re going to break it.” Rather than getting into a power struggle over the true owner, help your child use different language to express their feelings and find a solution.

4 | Taking turns takes practice

Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they build their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline, or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore.

5 | Special toys need a special place

Allow each child to have a few toys, games, or objects that they do not have to share or that they can choose to share with certain people, at their discretion. Make sure each child has a safe place to store these objects so other children do not disturb them or play with them without permission.

6 | Trading can keep the peace

From the outside, trading may look like a shady business deal, but it is also a savvy social skill that kids can use to navigate play dates and friendships. Offering a different toy, packaging a few toys (and three stickers), or allowing their sibling to play with a normally off-limits toy may be a great way to play peacefully together.

7 | Long turns are acceptable

Rather than setting a random “time’s up” rule, create a common household language to give kids the option of using a toy for an extended amount of time. If someone asks for the toy, the child can say “I’m having a long turn.” Then, they can explain when the long turn will be up – the next morning, after lunch, etc.

8 | New toys get priority

Birthday gifts or other presents get special priority over the everyday toys and games. While some kids may willingly share their new toys, other kids may be more protective. Rather than forcing them to share right away, give them the opportunity enjoy the excitement of having something new.

9 | Big feelings are okay

There will be times when a sibling says “no” to a request to join a game, or when someone else is having a long turn with a toy. Let your child know that it’s okay to be upset. Empathize with these feelings. Explore ways to manage disappointment or sadness. Talk about what they can do while they wait for a turn.

10 | You can ask for help

Sometimes, the situation is too intense or complicated for kids to come to a peaceful conclusion. Let your kids know that they can come to you when they are stuck. Your role is to listen and facilitate conversation between the siblings, rather than pick a side or create a solution.

Putting the sharing rules into practice

This list may look overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. You don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your family’s sharing rules overnight. Look through the list and pick one or two that you would like to focus on first. Or, sit down with your kids and get their feedback.
The goal is not to have a rigid set of “rules” but a way to change the atmosphere around sharing in your home.
To introduce respectful communication, problem-solving, and empathy into the mix.
And … to avoid buying two (or three, or four!) of everything.

It’s not too late

Maybe you’re thinking “Well, it’s hopeless. My kids are too old to learn these skills.”
Or “I wish they were fighting over toys. We’ve moved on to bigger – and more difficult things to share – like iPads and game systems.”
You’re right, the older your kids get, the more complex sibling rivalry can become. But older kids are able to engage in discussions, think critically through challenging situations and be a part of the solution.
So, take the rules above and adapt them to fit your children’s age or developmental stage. Open up the conversation and see what insight they can bring to the table.
You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

When Sass Is the New Tantrum

I have bad news: The tween years are basically the toddler years on steroids.

I often doubt that I’m mature enough to be a parent. I still stifle a laugh every time I hear a toddler shout “NO!” in defiance to his poor mom. Lately I find I’m caught between laughter and surprise when my own child, now a middle schooler, cracks wise. We are a long way from her shouting “NO!” but we have entered a new era: The Sassy Years.
Admittedly I struggled a bit when my oldest was a toddler, but I was a preschool teacher before I was a mom so I knew that at ages two and three children are establishing their independence. They are testing the waters of asserting control and making choices. Toddlers are at a crossroads between being babies and becoming “big” kids, and with that comes new emotions, new vocabulary, and new physical abilities.
Sound familiar? Because I have bad news: The tween years are basically the toddler years on steroids.
Oh, sure, you think it can’t be as bad as the toddler years, but it’s all relative. Your tween/young teen has a whole set of tools in her arsenal that she didn’t have as a toddler. Plus peer pressure. And electronic devices with which to ignore you. And the uncanny ability to pick up all of your bad habits.
Let’s just say that you use sarcasm frequently in your day-to-day conversations. Who can blame you? Sarcasm has permeated our language, thanks to sitcoms and multiple online platforms that reward witty one-liners. But what happens when your tween utters “Way to go, Mom” when you drop your phone or run into a wall. (I may have some coordination issues.) It’s not cool to hear your mini-me ridicule you. What’s more, because of your own smart mouth she doesn’t seem to take you seriously when you reprimand her or give her The Look.
So not only do we have nearly full-size humans sassing us, we’ve probably undermined our ability to discipline them because we can’t stop being smart alecks ourselves.
Way to go, us.
Don’t panic yet. Our tweens may have new tools in their arsenals, but so do we. Though weird behavior patterns and tantrums may have thrown us for a loop when they were toddlers, eventually we learned that there’s usually a reason for that behavior, like being overtired, over-hungry, or overstimulated. We eventually figured it all out, or at least figured it out enough to survive.
Much like the tween years mirror the toddler years for kids behavior-wise, the explanations for their behaviors can also mirror the toddler years. I learned this in a child development class years ago, but now I need this information for my own kids instead of someone else’s.
My trusty child development textbook “The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence” by Kathleen Stassen Berger says tweens who talk back may be trying to (unconsciously) establish with their parents that they are no longer little kids. Young teens who can’t stop with the sarcasm may be masking real emotions and sensitivities they don’t yet know how to deal with. Sometimes they are just modeling the behavior the adults in their lives have shown them and aren’t aware of what is inappropriate for them to say or do.
This behavior can sting for us as parents because we take it personally. We suddenly feel like we don’t know our children anymore. It can also sting when those remarks are actually disrespectful. We raised them better than that, didn’t we?
We did. We just aren’t done yet.
We can take those moments to remind our offspring about our family’s values regarding respect. I’ve found my daughters often don’t realize they’ve been disrespectful and are even embarrassed when I bring it to their attention.
A sharp wit is a personality trait that may not go away. Instead of squashing those natural impulses, we can guide children towards respectful and thoughtful behavior. Sarcasm and humor aren’t always inappropriate, so bringing thoughtfulness into the picture allows them to fine tune the behavior themselves. As we did when they were toddlers, we can still ask them how they would feel if their own words/actions were used against them.
It also helps if we acknowledge to our children the (perhaps less than ideal) example we have set. Putting our language and our roles in context for them may not make them happy, but it’s important to establish the difference in expectations between parents and children for the sake of consistency in discipline.
This is another one of those parenting issues in which we have to pick our battles. Sometimes it’s better to bite your tongue and move on instead of reprimanding a child every time they say something you wish they hadn’t.
Continued problems with rudeness or disrespect shouldn’t be brushed aside, however. While it is considered normal for adolescents to back talk sometimes, repeated insolence, rudeness, or disrespect towards parents, teachers, or peers are signs something is not right. Enlisting the help of a professional may be necessary to get to the root of the issue.
Ultimately, sass or backtalk or whatever you want to call it is – in normal circumstances – like an emotional growth spurt in your child’s search for identity. It isn’t so much a problem to solve as it is an opportunity to build your relationship with your child. We should guide them through this stage of life so they can succeed as independent adults who don’t regularly get shunned for inappropriate, smart aleck remarks.
I still have work to do in this department myself. I started asking my 11-year-old to consider “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” before she speaks. She unapologetically adds “Is it funny?” to the list every time – after which I struggle to stifle my laughter.

25 G-Rated Swears That Are Surprisingly Just as Satisfying

Looking for some G-rated exclamations to replace the R-rated ones you’re used to? Here are some fresh ideas you can use in your daily life.

When I was pregnant, I thought nine months would be plenty of time to clean up my language. I’ve always been a procrastinator, though. Five years and two children later, I still hadn’t gotten around to kicking the habit when one evening over dinner, our eldest suggested we have a “manners contest.” My heart swelled with pride.
“What are the rules of the contest?” I asked.
She looked at me, deadpan. “No elbows on the table. And no talking with your mouth full.”
I shot my husband a how-cute-is-our-kid look just as she added one last rule.
“Also, no saying ‘Goddamnit, this food is fucking gross.’”
I can’t see myself kicking my cursing habit for good. But I also can’t see myself not dying of shame were my child to bust out her unsavory vocabulary at the wrong time. To be clear, I think she’s well aware of the difference between the right time and the wrong time. I also think the universe gave the child I am supposed to have, which means I am pretty confident I’m always about an inch away from the dying-of-shame scenario.
So, if like me, you’re looking for some G-rated exclamations to replace the R-rated ones you’re used to, here are some fresh ideas you can use in your daily life. (Bonus: most came highly recommended from actual parents.)
When: It’s 8 p.m. on a Sunday night and your kid asks you to take him to buy all the supplies for the science project that is due tomorrow.
Try:

  • Ballsagna
  • I swear to John
  • Are you effingham kidding me?
  • Son of a motherless goat

When: You come back to bed after nursing the baby for the third time to find your partner right where you left him, sleeping soundly, despite your rabid, passive aggressive pillow fluffing.
Try:

  • Jackface
  • Bull sugar
  • Are you cussing kidding me
  • Turdwaffle

When: You step on a Lego in your unshod foot (again).
Try:

  • Cheese and crackers
  • Flapjacks
  • God bless America
  • Mr. Padinky
  • Son of a monkey’s uncle

When: You drop a hot casserole dish as you’re taking it out of the oven, creating an actual hot mess of cheese and glass on your kitchen floor and now there is nothing for dinner.
Try:

  • Brother trucker
  • Cheese and rice
  • Fire truck
  • Fudgesicle
  • Aw hamburgers!
  • Flux capacitor

When: Your kid dumps all 32 ounces of your expensive shampoo into the tub because she “felt like a bubble bath.”
Try:

  • Cheesus Christmas
  • God love ya
  • Sugar honey iced tea

When: Another parent cuts you off in the school pick up line, then sits in her car texting after her kids get out like there isn’t a line of 100 cars waiting behind her.
Try:

  • Juice box
  • Jackwagon
  • Son of a biscuit eater