Creating Calm: For Ourselves and For Our Children

It is no secret that we live in a time of high anxiety.  As adults we navigate the news, weather issues, workplace stress, and family events or emergencies on a daily basis.  Being able to manage our strong feelings around all of these things that are beyond our control is difficult. It is only natural to find that some days we are better able to do this than others.  Each day has a different string of stressors, and we have varying degrees of energy or stamina to meet those demands.

Through the years we develop coping strategies that we have learned keep us calm or safe.  Whether intentional or not, we pass these strategies on to our children. We do it by example, and by what we consciously offer them in times of need.

But what if there was a different way of responding to stress that was more proactive? Could having an understanding of our nervous system help us manage stress before it becomes overwhelming?  If you could do this, wouldn’t you want to do this for your whole family to create a greater sense of well-being?

Throughout the day, your nervous system adjusts to manage the variety of demands of your day. This Stress Response, a chemical reaction to perceived threats in the central nervous system or CNS, can be a positive thing. This response offers many benefits:

  • Motivation to prioritize our time and efforts
  • Energy to meet demands
  • Alertness or focus to increase efficiency

However, when stress levels exceed our ability to meet and manage the challenge, we move into distress. Distress overwhelms the nervous system and we are not as able to meet demands, we can feel shaky, nervous, tired, and depleted.

By activating our Relaxation Response, we are providing equilibrium, or a return to a calmer state from which to respond in a productive way.  Simple strategies can help you activate your relaxation response, allowing you to be more present and productive during stressful situations and manage them in ways that are optimal, wise, and efficient.

This 4 part response can help you reset this CNS response system in order to manage and cope positively to stress and create a sense of calm for your whole family:

  1. The first thing we need to be able to do is be aware of our body when it is stressed and when it is calm. Notice how you feel on an evening stroll or walk, and compare this to how you are feeling when you are meeting a deadline. During your walk you are likely relaxed, hopefully noticing the sights around you, breathing in a relaxed manner, muscles fluid and flexible.  When we are stressed, the feeling is usually the opposite. We are tense, our hearts beating rapidly, breath is shallow and quick. Being aware of how our bodies feel during these episodes is key to being able to manage our stress response.

  2. Once you take notice, you can then start being aware of these symptoms during the course of your day.  When you do notice stress, notice if the feeling is helpful (motivating and helping you manage your work demands) or harmful (overreacting to situations, feeling anxious, or a sense of feeling overwhelmed). Not all stress is bad, we need to view it as a helpful response to our environmental needs. When you are moving into the harmful  or reactive state, it is helpful for you to activate the relaxation response.

    We typically know when we are in a harmful reactive stress state.  We may say things we don’t mean, and experience a flooding of emotions, and are hyper-aroused. We tend to see things as threats that are not intended to be threatening.  It is almost impossible to react in a purposeful, productive, and wise manner when our system is hyper-aroused.

  3. Triggering our relaxation response is not necessarily difficult. It can be as easy as having a cup of tea, or a cold drink, taking a walk outside, listening to music, looking at pictures or videos of people we love or something funny, taking 4 long and slow breaths, stretching and bending our bodies, or finding something to be grateful for.  Our nervous system wants to be responsive and helpful. We just need to learn how to “tap” into the wisdom of our bodies.

  4. It is important for parents to cultivate this practice daily. Parents provide models for their children in managing life. As we practice positive healthy ways of coping, our children will too. I suggest planning a time to relax or unwind for 15 minutes a day. This could be before or after dinner, at the end of the day, or after school. Schools used to promote a DEAR time – or Drop Everything And Read, what about Drop Everything And Relax? When you make this a priority, you give your child tools and insight on how to manage their stress for years to come.

For more information on this topic, including a more specific understanding of the nervous system and details on how to introduce meditation and other calming strategies, see under Digital Downloads.

Better Sleep, A Better You!

Happy New Year!

Winter weather makes it hard to get out of bed, doesn’t it? The warm comfort that holds us willingly inside the soft folds of our blankets makes it hard to move on to our ever growing to-do lists and responsibilities we are beholden to. It can also be hard to move out of our cozy nest if we have not had a restful night’s sleep. Many people struggle with sleep problems on a regular basis and most of us have had trouble dealing with it from time to time. Sleep can harness our mental abilities like nothing else. We are more productive, alert, and research is now showing, even happier and calmer, when we have had a good night’s sleep.

In an article by Laurie Meyers in the American Counseling Association’s magazine, Counseling Today, May 2014, there is new research connecting the chronic insomnia to mood disorders due to sleep playing a significant role in emotional regulation and processing. I decided to share some of the articles’ suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep with you, in my hopes that this new year brings about the positive changes you are all working towards!

1.) Plan you meals. Don’t eat a big meal before you turn in. Digestion can interrupt sleep.

2.) Alcohol also interrupts sleep patterns. We think that it might help us sleep, but the digestion of sugars contained in alcohol can cause us to wake and interrupt deep sleep.

3.) Exercise in the morning or late afternoon can help us go to sleep more soundly.

4.) Getting just 10-15 minutes of sunshine can help us reset our sleep-wake cycle. Our bodies have an internal rhythm that takes cues from sunshine and darkness.

5.) Turning of the TV, tablet, or cell phone an hour before we sleep can also cue in these internal signals to sleep.

6.) Having a regular schedule and routine before bed can encourage sleep. Our bodies become very sensitive to routine.

7.) Relaxing activities like reading before bed can promote restful sleep.

8.) Certain teas or supplements like Chamomile can help ease the body and mind into restful slumber. There are other essential oils, like lavendar, that can be rubbed on the feet or behind the ears to help the body relax for bedtime.

9.) Meditation in the morning or afternoon can allow the body time to relax so that when bedtime rolls around, your mind is at ease. Many people report worry and anxiety prevent them from falling asleep at night, but these are states of being that we may be experiencing throughout the day. By managing it at various points throughout the day we can be more relaxed as we approach bedtime.

10.) Caffeine intake can keep us awake, but many people drink it throughout the day. By taking caffeine out of your diet after 12 noon, you may help your body relax towards the end of the day. Caffeine can stay in your system much longer than you think and it varies depending on the individual.

My wish for you is a restful, peaceful, and happy New Year!

10 Ways to Create Family Harmony

Fall is just the season where we begin to pull energies back into the home and family gatherings. When time is spent indoors more that out, and holidays keep us tethered to family. It can also be a time of unavoidable stress because of new fall schedules and the demands of school and work. I have a few tips that may help encourage family harmony in the face of life’s events.

1. Speak kindly to each other. This sounds so simple, but many times when we are under stress or just busy, we can often make remarks or use a tone that evokes irritability in others. If you do happen to use an unintended tone or language that sounds hurtful, excuse yourself. Let the other person know that the tone or language wasn’t intended to be harsh, and that you apologize. An apology goes a long way in my house.

2. Let each member of your family know what it is that you value in them. Don’t take the contributions of your family for granted. If they are kind, generous, giving, helpful, or supportive, let them know.

3. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family. What characteristics do your family members have that you find interesting, unique, or even wonderful? Celebrate the positive about those you love.

4. In so much of our lives we are evaluated or are competing with others (and even ourselves sometimes). Take time to just spend time doing non-competitive activities like walking, watching movies, and games that involve chance or where you learn something about each other (creative games like Charades, Apples to Apples, etc.) without making winning the most important thing. We honestly can make anything competitive, the effort is to make it non-competitive! Sometimes dividing a family into teams can make it more fun and take the focus off of winning.

5. Use Sundays as a day to gather and meet about the week ahead. Often schedules are overloaded and can be overwhelming as a result. Planning the week ahead and checking in with family members as to how they are doing, what is coming up in the week ahead, as well as, highlights and “low-lights” from the week past, can be a way of connecting and preventing potential problems or pitfalls in the coming week.

6. Have a plan for managing stress. We all have a certain level of stress, and not all stress is bad. But too much stress can lead to distress, and this takes a toll on the body, the mind, and relationships. Exercise, creative pursuits, fun activities, and positive relationships all counteract the effects of stress.

7. Realize when to say “No”. Everyone has a limit, what’s yours? Don’t take on too much to do, and know when to stop. Keep this in mind with your children too. Children need down time and so do parents. Many times kids are taking on too many after school activities, and combined with increased school work this can lead to distress. Down time is time to do whatever you like, quiet or otherwise.

8. Find some Quiet Time daily. This is just 10 minutes of time to think, relax, sip on a cup of tea/coffee, and be still. This is unplugged, non-electronic time. Encourage your children to find quiet time, or still time. They could spend time in their room, laying on their bed, snuggling with you, walking outside, creating a craft, writing, drawing,or even looking out their window. Just 10 minutes to bring the mind back to quietness.

9. Spend time in nature. So often we are caught up in our worlds of work, sports, and school we forget the beautiful force of nature and all the tranquil moments it provides to release stress. Science has shown us that sending time in nature slows down the heart and improves one’s outlook. And to think, it is just outside our door.

10. Think positively and look for the positive in others. This is hard, but every moment has it’s silver lining. Most of our irritations are small and inconsequential. If you can find it in your heart to forgive and move on with whatever hurt you have experienced, it will lighten your load. Sometimes our inner space gets completely taken up with negative feelings and thoughts that actually end up hurting ourselves. Most people do not intend to be hurtful, they make mistakes, as we all do. Find the beauty in others and they will find it in you.

Five Communication Tips in Relating to Teens

Simple Suggestions for a Healthy Relationship

Adolescence is the time in your child’s life where they are moving towards independence, creating themselves as an individual, their own identity, separate from you, different from you. It is called “individuation” or “identity formation” in the mental health field and is usually a time of development that is fraught with arguments and power-struggles. If you find yourself thinking that your child just doesn’t listen to you, if seemingly minor requests, turn into major arguments then chances are that you and your teen aren’t connecting. Teens often feel that we are talking “at” them and not “to” them. They want a different connection to you, but don’t know how to ask for it. Harvard University did a study on parent involvement releasing a 100 page document entitled, Raising Teens. They found that parents often interpret adolescent behavior as their child needing less involvement and more space. In truth, it is a different kind of involvement that they are seeking. Teens still look at their parents as their #1 role models and the person they would go to in times of difficulty. These simple tweaks in your communication style may make all the difference in creating and maintaining a positive relationship.

1. Ask for What You Want. Tone can make a huge difference. If you have a rule to not leave shoes by the front door perhaps you say, “Are those your shoes by the door?” vs. “Get your shoes right now, I have tripped over them again!” Or “When do you think you will have time to work on your project?” instead of “You can’t go out with your friends until your project is done.”Framing requests or expectations in the form of questions allows the teen to be involved in the decision making. Teens tend to interpret tone and facial expressions more intensely than adults – and take them more personally. And teens have their developing brains swimming in hormones that can alter those social interpretations. Brain research has also found that problem solving, risk assessment, and abstract thinking (all functions of the frontal lobe) are continuing to develop into their early 20’s. They have also found that teens often interpret fear, worry, or surprise as anger. So be sure to access your “calm parent” voice. Even if they are escalating, perhaps even screaming, you remain calm. You can always talk later when they have calmed down and are more rational. These escalated arguments just leave room for power-struggles and stalemates.

2. Avoid Power Struggles by Stating your Values. Before you give your child privileges or freedoms, let them know your expectations. For Instance, “It is important that we all drive safely. You may use the family car this weekend, only you need to be driving alone and have the car back by dark. You will need more practice driving before I feel safe enough with you driving at night.” And then follow-up when your child leaves the house with, “Remember our rule, safety first, when can I expect you home?” This gives them a chance to problem-solve and self-govern at the same time. Now, you can use “safety first” as a short cut to remind them of other rules. “Safety First” can work with driving, risky behaviors @ parties or with groups of friends, underage drinking… All of these lead to safety concerns and possibly undesired consequences. Other values can include hard work or effort, following through with doing what you say (reliability). When stating values allow for discussion with your teen, it is important not to come off as a “dictator” but rather a concerned and protective parent.

3. Let them know what you Like and Appreciate about them. They do want to please you. Let them know the little things that make a difference in your family life. Like, “Thank you for putting the dishes away in the dishwasher before I start dinner, it makes clean up so much easier.” Or, “Thank you for helping your sister with her Math. You seem to know how to do the new math so much better than I do.” Or “I really like your friends. They seem like such nice guys/girls”. (It is very important that you acknowledge and like their friends- even if it is just some, not all.) Sometimes we are more courteous to strangers than to our own family.

4. Touch base with them. Use specific questions to inquire about their day in a non-evaluative way. For instance,“What are you learning in Science right now?” or “Is Tony in any of your classes this year?” Or even after the back to school night you might want to know who their favorite teacher is, and share your impressions too. I have talked many parents who only know vague notions of how their child is doing. I hear, “She seems to be fine. There are no complaints so far.” Or “She seems happy to me.” Or “He doesn’t ask for help, so I guess he understands it.” It could be just a few minutes in the car, or during dinner, or while you are running errands. These questions indicate that you want to know about their life and are ready to listen, not necessarily to advise.

5. Don’t Rush in to Rescue, Critique, Advise or Fix . Listen instead. Simpler said than done! Your teen wants to solve their own problems, sometimes they already know what they are going to do to make the situation better. So when your child tells you something distressing, you can just use minimal language, like “Oh, that’s a bummer.” Or “Hmm”, “I see”, “Okay”. And wait to see how your child verbalizes how they are going to solve the problem. For instance, “Tammi didn’t invite me to her party this weekend.” You respond with, “Oh”. Your daughter feels safe sharing so she adds, “Yeah, at first I was really bummed, but then I realized that I really don’t know the other girls going anyway and might feel really uncomfortable”. Many parents want to rush in to rescue and advise their teen with “Well, then don’t invite her to your party” or “We can find something better to do anyway” or “I never really liked her, so you’re better off without her as a friend.” These tend to actually make your child feel worse! By now you have probably given your child lots of good advice and wisdom – it is time to see them use it. These minimal verbal responses let them know you are listening, but not controlling. That you are present. That you are interested. That you are willing to listen.

The Pressure of Parenting Teens

They want us to be their biggest cheerleaders, yet they act like they could care less what we think. We can’t make a comment about their appearance yet they let us know how embarrassing we are to their friends. They know everything, yet somehow we have managed to complete our education, raise children, take care of our own parents in the mix, and still are able to walk around and not know anything. If you are parenting a teen, this is your world.

Teens are 50% attitude, 25% sensitivity, and 25% sensibilities. And at the same time they are learning to drive, starting to date, and doing some of the most difficult coursework they will do in their lives. It must be difficult for them to make it so difficult for us.

If we take a moment to consider the complexity of their lives, we realize that in some ways their fortunate lives are difficult. Think about when you were a teen and the demands that you had and what you spent your time doing. I was working and dating and driving, but I had much less pressure socially, academically, and physically. Our kids have much more social pressure in terms of the amount of communication – consider social media, texting, and tweeting. They really are never away from it. It surrounds them in a constant vapor of peer scrutiny. And academically, most schools promote and encourage AP classes starting in sophomore year. We are expecting more from them at a much younger age. Think about it -now kids are taking college courses at 15 years of age. Would you have been ready to do that? Would you have wanted to? And the pressure of sports gets in the mix. Daily practice and extended seasons – and year round sports. Am I overwhelming you yet? I should be!

So my thoughts are that it is no wonder they think they are adults. It is no wonder they are irritable and stressed. It is no wonder they treat us like we don’t know anything.

Perhaps we all need to pause, take a breath, and realize that it is the journey that is important. Being good at anything means that there was hard work and dedication somewhere in the process- and that is the payoff. We learn from hard work, making mistakes, and having the diligence to try again. We also learn from having the down-time to enjoy and appreciate our lives. If you think about feel-good childhood memories, many of them involve what we are doing when we were doing “nothing”. We shouldn’t have to be the best at everything, just the best at being ourselves. Perhaps we need time-off from it all just to realize that purpose comes from just being ourselves and being together – allowing life to unfold and to learn from it.

If there is one thing teens are telling us, that is that they need time to just do nothing, to just be – and when we get that time with our kids all else seems to fall into place. And maybe with a little less pressure, our kids will see that we are okay, that we understand them, and that we are people worth being around.

The Family Meeting

In our busy culture where we are rushing just about everywhere and feeling like we don’t have time for anything else to do, the idea of finding time for a family meeting seems like just another demand on our time. But quality time, were we all have a voice, where we can be heard and take the time to listen to others is important. It could be after a meal, before “game night”, or after a Saturday morning of sports. Finding this time to connect in a meaningful way can validate everyone in the family and bring along a sense of harmony. Here I will give you some basic tips and an outline for hosting your family meeting.

Why should we have a family meeting when we see each other all the time? Family meetings are different from the daily interactions where we are working on homework or getting ready for work or school. Family meetings are a special time we set aside to think about our role in the family, set personal goals and share those with the family, and have an opportunity to share our own concerns, desires/wishes, and show regard for those we live with.

The Goal: The goal of a family meeting is to provide a space for all members to discuss, contribute, and focus on what they offer to the family.

The Process: Meetings should be consistent (same day and time of day – ie., Sundays after dinner), brief (around 20 minutes), structured (so everyone has a turn, gets their voice heard, and sets personal goals that benefit the group), and is respectful of all. Selecting a time convenient for all and a place that is comfortable for all sets the stage. Having desert, or a snack is a good idea. Offering rewards for moving towards one’s goal is fun – it could be stickers, or everyone could say a creative cheer for that person

Rules provide a forum for fair play the following guidelines are suggested and certainly can be modified.

1. Select a time of day and location that is comfortable and consistent for all. Bringing a snack or dessert makes it more enjoyable.

2. Decide on a facilitator (mom or dad), a recorder (someone who takes minutes), a time keeper (someone who moves things along), and any other roles you might want (ie., someone could reward stickers or make up cheers for rewarding those who have had a good week).

3. Each person gets a turn to review the week with the following questions: (Have a ball, or object to pass around so that each person gets an uninterrupted chance to reflect on the question).

  • How was your week? Was there a high point/low point?
  • What would you like to improve on this week? Did you move toward your self-improvement goal from last week?
  • How can you contribute to the household? Did you contribute last week?
  • Share a compliment with each member of the house. For instance: “ I like how you took out the trash without me asking – thank you!”

4. Make up a team cheer – or “On three: GO family name !”

Battling Backtalk: Five Tips Every Parent Needs

From Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions

Whether it’s a toddler’s defiant “No,” or a teenager screaming, “You can’t tell me what to do,” backtalk is enough to make any parent’s blood boil. What’s worse, it often seems our natural reaction to backtalk (“How dare you speak to me that way” or “You’ll do it because I said so, young lady!”;) only makes the problem snowball.

No one wants to raise a bratty kid, but it seems parents everywhere are battling backtalk. In fact, this is the number one behavioral issue sited by parents who contact me -– filled with frustration and wondering where they’ve gone wrong. Bill Cosby captured that frustration well when he famously joked, “I brought you into this world… I can take you out!”

So what can do we do to stop backtalk in its tracks? First, let’s look at the reasons behind it.


Why do kids talk back?
Kids talk back for a variety of reasons. They may be testing your limits or trying to get a reaction. Perhaps they’re hungry, tired or just having a bad day. However, if backtalk is frequent, it’s usually the child’s way of exerting his power and saying “You’re not the boss of me.”

We’re all hard-wired with a need for POSITIVE power -– the ability to have some control over our lives. When parents over-protect, over-demand, or constantly order, correct and direct their kids… they strip them of independence and personal power.

The only way our kids know to respond is to fight back. It’s a basic fight or flight response. They can’t easily flee (your food and shelter are way better than they can afford on their own), so they fight back with backtalk, attitude, negotiating, arguing, stomping away, eye rolling, etc.

All kids, toddlers through teens, seek to exert their independence -– it’s what they’re supposed to do. Our goal as parents is to foster their independence within our limits and without the back talk.


Here are five tips to help you reduce backtalk in your house.

Own your role: Power struggles that lead to backtalk are a two-way street and parents also play a starring role. Be aware of your day in and day out communication with your kids (and your spouse, for that matter!) Watch your tone of voice and minimize the amount of ordering, correcting and directing you do. No one wants to be “bossed around” all day and the natural reaction is to fight back.

Remember, it’s not about “winning” the battle. It’s about recognizing that your child needs more control over her life and helping her find ways to have positive power within your boundaries.

Fill the attention basket: Kids of all ages have an attention basket -– plain and simple. If they don’t get sufficient positive attention, they will use negative behaviors to provoke us until they get our attention. From their perspective, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Fill their attention baskets in positive ways by spending one-on-one time with your kids daily. It doesn’t have to be a long time – just 10 minutes when they have your undivided time and attention (if the phone rings, don’t answer… if your Blackberry chirps, let it go.) As you fill their attention baskets positively and proactively, your kids will become more cooperative and less likely to provoke power struggles.

Finding a spare 10 minutes to spend with each child can seem daunting in a busy non-stop life, but think of it as an “investment” in good behavior, a calmer home and less backtalk.

Give power to the people: Find ways to give your people the positive power they need. Provide more choices — within your family boundaries –- so they can have more control over their world. To a toddler, power means choosing between a Batman and Spiderman toothbrush. To a teenager, it can be allowing him to decide which restaurant the family goes to on Saturday night.

Chill out: Don’t overreact! Kids talk back to get a reaction. When you get upset and respond with “you will not talk to me that way, young man”, they score with a power payoff.

Instead, get eye to eye and very calmly say, “I feel hurt/disrespected when you speak to me that way. When I hear that tone of voice, I’m going to walk away. I’ll be happy to talk with you when we can speak to each other respectfully.”

Then – walk away! The next time it happens, don’t remind; don’t say a word. Just calmly walk away. It sends the message, “I won’t participate in this power struggle with you.”

Rule of law: Be very clear about the rules in your house and be equally clear about the consequences if the rules are broken. Then, if kids push the limits, follow through -– each and every time. Parents don’t have to be harsh or overly strict. They just have to set fair limits, communicate those limits clearly and be consistent in implementing consequences when appropriate.

Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and mom to two boys, ages 12 and 14. Positive Parenting Solutions teaches parents of toddlers to teens how to correct misbehaviors permanently without nagging, reminding or yelling.

For free training resources and additional information on backtalk, power struggles, whining, tantrums and more, visit:

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Coping with a Demanding Child

By Jody Johnston Pawel

Demanding behavior — from the time a child is about two to four a parent can usually expect to experience it. Occasionally children test limits in their attempts to separate from their parents as individuals, with preferences and ideas of their own. Parents should not, however, excuse such behavior as only a passing stage. A parent’s response to such bossiness may determine how long and how intense these battles last.

I’ve had many discussions with parents, individually and through the parenting classes and mother-at-home support groups I lead. I find many parents who are concerned about how to handle this behavior in their own child. I also heard many parents express concern about some of the problems that arose when the parent of a child’s playmate did not attend to this type of behavior. It started affecting their child’s behavior and the adult’s relationship with the other parent.

In an effort to reach some of the parents involved in this conflict, I combined what I learned through these discussions and my consultations with “the experts” via literature. I came to a better understanding about this common, irritating behavior and was able to suggest several ways for parents to approach a bossy child.



When I was working as a protective service caseworker, I made a home visit to a family with a four-year-old boy named David. David’s mother was frequently despondent, on medication for depression, and very passive. His father was often absent, slightly mentally retarded, and tended to physically punish (but not abuse) David.

David was a difficult to manage child but he mostly exhibited his demanding behavior and tantrums at home with his parents. At his grandparents, who cared for him frequently, David’s behavior was more acceptable. It was obvious that David was in control of his parents. When David didn’t get what he wanted, he would become so out of control his mother would eventually give in. Although she complained about David’s behavior, she said it was too hard to stand up to him. When she had tried to change her parenting approach David became destructive and defiant. When his mother tried to talk Davie out of his tantrums, his behavior became even more drastic. I observed him throwing and breaking things, yelling, and even urinating on the carpet to illustrate his protests and get his own way.

David’s example is extreme, but illustrates how passive pleading rewarded his demanding behavior. Many parents would say David was a spoiled brat who needed a good spanking — which his father tried, but it only made David’s bids for control increase. Others could probably see that a child like David — raised with inconsistent structure, guidelines, or consequences — can become determined to do whatever it takes to get more attention and control.

David’s case is clear evidence of what can happen when parents don’t set limits on a child’s demands. These parents were unable (due to physical problems and lack of skills) to give David the structure he needed. I’ve often wondered (and shuddered to imagine) what David will be like when he gets older and becomes more involved with peers and adults in the real world, where choices and consequences are the law of the land and people do not give in to him like his parents did.



Until a child is about two years old, parents can respond to a child’s emotional outbursts through distractions, reflective listening, and helping the child identify his/her feelings. Helping a child work through frustrations or walking away from a tantrum often results in an end to these outbursts. Demanding behavior can be an older child’s way of testing limits, can take many forms, and often comes on with little or no apparent reason.

There are actually some positive aspects to such strong-willed behavior in children. These children are often honest, speak up for themselves, and don’t let others push them around. They do not often succumb to peer pressure and are leaders rather than followers. Most parents would agree that they do not want their child blindly following orders from any adult who gives them. Keeping all this in mind we, as parents, can help these children learn how to channel their determination in a positive direction, rather than trying to break their will.



Even the most calm, easy-going parents can find themselves enraged and appalled when their child outwardly defies or challenges them. Many parents think to themselves, “My parents would never have allowed me to talk that way to them!” Many parents have conflicting feelings about how to respond to demanding behavior. They don’t want to let their child get away with the behavior but also don’t want to revert to some of the tactics their parents might have used, such as physical force or a because-I-say-so approach. Neither of these strategies results in long-term benefits, changing the behavior, or improving the parent-child relationship.

Physical force merely impresses the child with the importance of being in control and the child often uses this approach towards parents and peers later. Although the parent modeled this way of interacting, few recognize its role in perpetuating the power conflict.

The because-I-say-so approach often backfires, too. Children are in the process of developing logical thinking and when no logical reason is evident, they again interpret this strategy as an attempt to control them, thus escalating the power struggle.

At the other extreme, always giving a logical reason can lead to a parent going on and on with explanations. Children can capitalize on this by asking more and more questions to sidestep the real issue of their original defiant behavior. A parent should try to state their expectations only once or twice before following through.

If a parent interacts with his/her child courteously and with respect, the parent usually expects equal treatment from the child. Many parents strive for balanced child-rearing but implement it in such a way that they respect their children’s rights but allow themselves to get walked on. That is not balanced, it is more often called permissive. At the other extreme is the over-controlling parent, who’s uses power tactics to control the child but often fails to acknowledge the child’s feelings and preferences. In both cases the parents are missing a prime opportunity for allowing the natural and logical consequences of the situation to prevail.



In most cases, parents can respond to demanding behavior by refusing to respond until the child’s request is appropriate. What, you may be saying, if this approach is met with an even more demanding response, like a tantrum, yelling, or even destructive behavior? First of all, a parent can expect children to resist a change in parenting styles if the parent has allowed himself/herself to be ordered around in the past to avoid a scene.

These parents are experiencing the consequences of inadvertently rewarding the demanding behavior in the past. Now these parents are faced with what appears to be a battle of wills. The How-long-can-you-hold-out-if-I-act-even-worse game has begun. This sequence can lead into a demonstration of who has more power and control between the two (and often it is the child).

For example, we’ve all probably been in a situation at home where we hear “Give me some milk!” Sometimes we blindly get the milk without attending to the demanding tone of voice. Often a simple reminder to ask nicely is all the parent needs to say. However, a parent must be consistent for the child to realize he does not get what he wants by ordering people around. Another common situation is a child changing his mind and expecting the parent to be at his beckoned call.

In the example of mealtimes, if a child chooses his meal and then changes his mind and no longer wants it, the parent has every right to refuse to be a short-order cook! At this point the child has several choices:

He can eat what the parent fixed.

The child can eat something different if he fixes it himself, which is a logical consequence. (Even a two- or three-year-old can fix some foods.)

He can wait until the next meal and experience the natural consequence of hunger.

If the child fusses about being hungry, the parent can politely point out the child’s choice not to eat the food he/she requested. This is and example of consequences and mutual respect at work. The parent is not a villain starving his child! Parents are family members with equal rights not to be short-order cooks who cater to children’s whims!



The key for parents is to be willing to calmly follow through with consequences consistently. Down deep, children want guidance from parents because it communicates love. They can become discouraged and overly concerned with power if their parents don’t provide loving guidelines for living and model them consistently.

It is a disservice to children to protect them from some of the more uncomfortable consequences of their inappropriate behavior. It delays their life’s lessons and makes the inevitable ones harder to experience. As parents, we often want to protect our children from embarrassment and hurts. Many times we try to avoid conflict in our relationships, but this is not life. It is not our role to teach children to avoid life’s lessons. Instead, let them experience the lessons and be there to help guide them through it so they can learn something from it.



When dealing with demanding behavior in your child remember the following points:

Children and parents have rights and can assert these rights in respectful ways.

Parents are doing a disservice to themselves and to their child by giving in to demands to avoid a scene. Even if unintentional, this teaches the child that if his behavior gets severe enough he will get what he wants.

Always make sure you are modeling the kind of respectful communication you want your child to use; don’t keep a double standard. Acknowledge your child and show appreciation when he/she states something in a respectful way.

When your child does say something in a demanding tone of voice, reflect his/her feelings (“I understand you feel…”) before stating your expectation about how it should be said (“…but I expect you to tell me in a calm, polite way.”)

If parents allow the natural consequences of a situation to occur, the parent is not the one exerting the control, nature is. The parent can now face the situation calmly and from a detached position of presenting the child with his choices and then letting him experience the consequences of his choice.

Try to stick with choices within limits unless the behavior becomes even more unacceptable. When this happens, parents can shift the focus from the original issue to the behavior. The parent can present the child with a new set of choices. For example “You can calm down or we’ll leave.” Remember to focus on the behavior and not attack the child’s character.

Parents should be prepared to disengage and remove themselves or the child if the behavior escalates. Parents must be willing to leave a situation and trust that others will understand and respect their need to attend to the situation. Most people are supportive of a parent disciplining a child in a respectful way. Although some people would think this action would violate the parent’s right to enjoy an outing, one needs to remember that parental responsibilities do not end whenever it’s inconvenient for the parent to uphold them. The parent needs to remember the rights of others to exist in a peaceful environment and the child needs to learn that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable in all situations.

There are times when it is best to walk away from the situation and refuse to interact until the child’s behavior improves. A power struggle cannot occur with one person. Walking away is not giving in. Usually the child wants something from the parent, either some service or attention. Walking away will give the child nothing and will give him a chance to calm down and rethink his choice in the matter.

If the child has become destructive in the past, the parent can plan ahead by arranging a safe place for the child to go and discussing appropriate ways for the child to release angry energy away from others. Remember to tell the child specifically what behavior is acceptable rather than wording your statements in terms of “don’t”.

The middle of a tantrum is not the time to reflect feelings or try to talk a child out of being angry. That time has already passed and the child will now interpret these efforts as a denial of his feelings and he may escalate his behavior to convince the parent of how strongly he feels. Communication may be futile until the child calms down and may even keep the tantrum going by giving the child more attention for his behavior. Process what happened, the child and parent’s feelings, and the law of choices and consequences of behavior after the tantrum is over.

A parent’s goal is to immediately respond to demands with choices, consequences, and consistent follow-through to avoid power struggles and tantrums. If this is a new approach for a parent or if the parent’s consistency is new, the child will probably still have tantrums in response to this new approach. In fact, the child’s reactions may seem to be more extreme before it improves, because he is testing new limits. The child wants to see if the parent will react differently if embarrassed in public, if the child destroys things, or if the child loses control.

Just remember that this testing will be temporary if the parent is consistent with this new approach. Stick with it! If the parent maintains this game plan the child will eventually adjust and everyone will be happier with the new, more respectful ways of communicating.

The Parent’s Toolshop book briefly describes temperaments and summarizes some key suggestions for parents. For more detailed information about temperaments and strategies for nurturing each read Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka (©1991, HarperCollins).


Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series. Jody currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox Ohio Publishing’s mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of the National Effective Parenting Initiative.


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