Decoding Family Holiday Traditions and Doing What Counts

Boy with Christmas Tree
Just thinking about the holiday season and the hustle and bustle that comes with it can trigger stress for many of us. We have come to a point in our society where trying to “make memories” can sometimes feel overwhelming, exhausting and way less magical than we bargained for. In addition, there are SO MANY THINGS now. An astonishing number of holiday events can fill your calendar to a point that no sane, reasonable, working (or not working) parent could do them all… nor should you. Here are my top tips for staying true to your family values and creating traditions that make sense for your family while keeping the spirit of Christmas alive all season.


Talk to your people

Start here. Start by having either a group conversation or individual conversations with your family to see what they most love out of all the things your family does during the holidays. You may be surprised! Once you have this information, you have a guide for where to place most of your focus and some areas to cross off the list.  It’s still important to remember that potentially not everyone will have the same things at the top of the list. This is ok because you can at least cut out what no one feels attached to at all.


Remember that even the little things are traditions

What I find is that we often don’t recognize the little things we do are still traditions. Sometimes it takes our little ones saying, “When are we doing _______? We ALWAYS do_______?” It could be setting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving or taking the time to read The Night Before Christmas or Polar Express. Remember that memories are not created by the SIZE of our actions and efforts but instead by the FEELING that’s created by them.


Cut the holiday fat -> Evaluate if the effort is worth the outcome

Even with checking in on your loved ones to see which events they do and do not love during the holiday season, you still have to evaluate what you feel works and doesn’t work for your family. There may be some things that feel good but simply aren’t worth the effort or time involved and need to be adjusted or cut altogether. For us this has been Christmas cookies. I have great memories of baking and decorating Christmas confections with my mom and sister during the holidays. I wanted to pass this tradition on to my own children. What I found was that my kids didn’t seem to enjoy it nearly as much as I had hoped and, considering the time, effort and mess involved, it really wasn’t worth continuing to mandate that this be an activity we make time for and do every single year. Now we do this when or if we have time and /or take short cuts (ie: pre-made dough is AMAZING) to help make baking and decoration more fun and enjoyable - the way I wanted it to be in the first place.


Balance what we do for ourselves and what we do for others

So for many of us the spirit of Christmas is very nestled into the value of givingBy incorporating opportunities to give or serve others you will again help balance both your energy as well as what your kids prioritize. It could be picking angels from a tree, serving meals in the community, or making boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Any way you shake it everyone will walk away with GREAT feelings about this one and will most likely look forward to this every year, along with instilling memories that will last a lifetime.


Plan it out

Once you know what you want to prioritize, planning out when or if they fit into your schedule is a good idea. Keeping a calendar may not be your favorite thing, but it’s essential to feeling less stressed. Knowing when things will be happening - and not racking your brain about when you’ll be able to fit it all in – will give you much-needed peace of mind during all the holiday chaos. Plus, you then have a way of deciding if any of the extra things (ie: church festival, caroling around the neighborhood, an invitation to a cookie swap, or anything else that comes up outside your priorities) will fit into your schedule, or if you just need to pass.


Remember that whatever you choose to do is ENOUGH!

No matter what you do it’s ENOUGH!  Spending time together, honoring your values, and having fun are the big goals. Whatever you choose to do, it will be fabulous. And you will be your family’s Christmas Star!

Teaching Gratitude (and what to do when your kids aren't so grateful...)


As we are getting closer and closer to the season of giving and gratitude I figured it would be a good time to discuss how we cultivate gratitude with our children. Here are a few points to consider if you’re working toward establishing a better sense of gratitude in your family.


Be realistic

Gratitude is something that often needs to be taught. Some people are born naturally positive, grateful, big-hearted folks - and some just need a little help in recognizing how great gratitude feels. It is not necessarily a “character flaw” if your child is one who needs a little help in this arena. Instead of getting upset with their seemingly lack of appreciation, simply recognize this as an area that needs to grow for your child and start looking for ways to teach this concept.


Create opportunities for your kids to earn things they would like to have or do

Kids who get, have, or do everything they want without earning it have no reason to feel appreciative or grateful. They have a limited understanding of the time and money it takes for them to have that new set of Lego's or going to the latest movie and, therefore, may have a difficult time understanding the depths of gratitude they should have. Offering kids their own experiences to feel pride in earning something will also shift into a better perception for the gratitude they should have when something is given to them.


Say no

By having good boundaries and saying “No” to things your kids have not earned you will be naturally battling the concept of entitlement, which is the arch enemy of appreciation and gratitude. 


Take it away

Sometimes kids need to learn the hard way. I know I certainly have a few who seem to prefer this method of learning at times! If kids are being actively unappreciative about something, then consider taking things away. For instance, if one of my teenagers is being rude and ungrateful while still expecting me to give them a ride, money for the movies or anything else, my best bet to teach them a lesson is to take away what they were getting or going to get. As humans we seem to appreciate things a lot more when they’re gone!


Talk about it

Have regular discussions with your kids - individually and as a family - about gratitude and appreciation. Discuss things you are grateful for and what life would be like without those were missing. Call on your children to really put some thought into what they feel grateful for, what’s important to them, and what goes into making those things possible. For example, if your kids enjoy their sports you could easily discuss the time contributed by coaches and other volunteers to make the teams and the games/tournaments happen.


Be a giver

Teaching kids to be a giver through practicing acts of service or kindness to others has a positive impact on their interpretation of what people give to them.  They become more aware that everything they have and do comes from somewhere, which is the foundational understanding for why we need to be grateful.


Raising kids to not only be grateful, but openly display their gratitude, can be a growth process for many.  As parents, we have to create a culture through role modeling, setting expectations, and practicing these skills for that growth to happen.  It can be a long process, but in the end, well worth it!

Close the Conversation - Tips for Parent/Child Arguments

Girl arguing with parent

I would say that, when it comes down to it, one of the most common complaints parents have is kids who argue. But kids aren’t arguing with a brick wall - for an argument to work, it takes two to tango. Here are a few things to consider while negotiating how you handle your little debaters. 


Arguing is actually a choice

As stated above, your kids can’t actually argue with themselves very well. When your child is challenging you with an argument, it is up to you whether or not to entertain and engage. Or you could choose to redefine a limit or boundary that closes the opportunity for them to argue. Closing the conversation by repeating your decision and staying firm (without adding extra discussion) can really help. If your kids are tenacious, however, going to the lengths of stating that there will be a consequence if they do not stop trying to change your decision may be in order. 


Avoiding tug of war with the last word 

Needing to have the last word is a dirty little force that continues arguments. I’m sure you can relate. You have told your child “no” about something and they always have another response. Which then kick starts an additional response from you - and this escalates until we are totally exhausted. It bothers us when our kids need to have the last word all the time! It seems to me, though, that part of the reason why it bothers us is because WE want the last word. As parents we see it as a power move. We don’t want to feel like our kids gained power over us or the conversation by getting to have that all-important "last word." So what do we do to maintain our parental power?………Respond. But when we respond we are actually handing over the power for them to respond back and keep the argument flowing. Instead we, as the parents, need to learn to control the conversation by not investing in the “value of the last word. By closing the conversation quickly, repeating ourselves, or staying quiet and no longer responding, we can keep our position of power and also limit the course of the argument. 


Make expectations clear 

Making expectations clear will help close the gaps and create less opportunity for those arguments to happen. The more clear we are with our kids about what we expect and what our boundaries are, the easier it will be for them to know what they can and cannot challenge. So if you have a hard rule that there are no video games after dinner - and you have stayed consistent with that rule - when your child is bored and asks to play video games one night after dinner, you can easily hold your ground and close the conversation. Conversely, if your kids don’t have a set rule, and it’s a nightly discussion to play or not to play, with you caving more than you’d like to admit, then you will find yourself in regular debates because it’s more likely than not you and your child will see the issue differently. As parents we can tell pretty quickly what is debatable and what is not based on if you have a set rule about it. 


Hear them out

We all have the urge to keep trying to make our point or “argue” when we don’t feel heard. Kids are no different. To help avoid escalation in the argument and close the conversation it is important to make your child feel heard. You can do this by using active listening skills - like looking at them while they are talking, summarize back to them what they are asking for, ask questions, and reflect their feelings. When they feel like you get them and what they are trying to say, they will be far more likely to accept your response rather than push back with an argument. 


Get to the source

If your kids are passionately defending their case and getting amplified about the issue, it is absolutely ok to stop and start asking questions. “This seems really important to you. How come?” “I can tell you feel like this situation needs to be different. Why is that?” “Something is clearly bothering you about this. Tell me more about what is going on.” At times when we can dig for more information on what is driving the bus for them in their argument, we can better respond to the situation as well as their feelings. If they are worried, nervous, or afraid they will be disappointed, etc., their drive to fight for what they want outside of our answers will be high. If we know what’s behind the curtain we can figure out the best thing for our kid and the situation. 


Arguing with kids is pretty much a regular part of parenting for the majority of us. As kids grow and crave more independence, they will challenge our direction and requests. This is relatively normal to a certain extent, although at times can make parents want to scream! Hopefully the tips above will give you some ideas to get through those challenges and keep everyone moving in a positive direction. 

Pillars of Parenting - Consistency {AKA: The REAL Work}

t this point, if you have followed the Pillars of Parenting series, you have learned about relationship, values, how to align your rules and expectations to your values, and how to approach keeping your kids accountable to the rules and expectations in your family. So now here we are, ready to discuss the final step- Consistency.

Consistency is what I would call the “Real Work. Understanding all the pillars is incredibly important. It’s the what and how of the “to do” list. However, consistency has more to do with the “doing” part of the “to do list. You’ve come to a better understanding of what to do and how to make the changes in your family that you are looking for, but unless you take consistent action toward these changes, nothing can really be different.  We can’t just KNOW what to do, we have to actually DO IT…as in all the time….every day….even when it’s difficult….and yes, this is the hard part of parenting.

I can know how to eat right and exercise to lose weight. I can absolutely know that these are the actions it will take to drop some pounds. And I can totally do that on any single given day. I can even do it really, REALLY well ONE whole day! However, after a day or two and skipping some really enticing opportunities to eat some favorite, not-so-healthy things, my willpower can get shot pretty quickly and, next thing you know, I’m two pizza slices and a side of cake down at that weekend’s birthday party. Taking the correct action really well for one single day will not move the scale, will not help me fit into my skinny jeans, and will not help me make progress toward my goals. CONSISTENT ACTION is what will create progress toward any goal including positive changes in your family.

Keep in mind I said consistent. I did NOT say “perfect.”

So here are some things to understand about consistency when it comes to parenting. Consistency not only has the power to create lasting change but also has other magical powers - like creating better trust and bonds in your family and helping to keep negative emotions to a minimum. It’s kind of like good tires on a car. Not only are they going to get you where you need to go, but they’ll make the ride smoother through the rough spots as well.

Consistent Action = Change  

As mentioned already, no lasting change typically comes without consistent action. It will never be enough to know what to do, you actually have to do it, over and over and over again. I think we are clear on this aspect, so moving on….

Consistent Action = Better Trust

So, you may be thinking, “How on earth does consistently putting my kid in time out when they won’t follow my directions make them trust me more?” But here’s the thing - when we respond to their emotions and behaviors in a consistent way we are teaching them where the boundary is for those things. Over time, when they experience these consistent responses and boundary setting, they begin to subconsciously feel they can TRUST us to keep them safe.

Consistent Action = Better Relationship

In addition consistent action builds better relationships because kids begin to trust and expect how you will respond to them. They have less fear in what will come down the pipe when they mess up or break a rule and instead can trust you - and the process you’ve created - to keep them accountable for their actions.

Consistent Action = Less Emotional Explosions

When parents have a plan on how they will respond to different situations they have a refreshing new confidence about even the most annoying or frustrating things their kids do and can respond with their plan of action instead of an explosion of words and emotions. And when kids are fully aware of how parents will respond to their behaviors and actions because it’s been the same every time, the last 10 times, they will be less upset with their consequences and be less reactive when you have to make them accountable for their actions. Instead, they will expect the time out or loss of privilege or whatever it is, and start preparing themselves to be accountable for their behavior instead of throwing that big melt down like your murdering them by suggesting they lose their video games.

So in the end, knowing is only half the battle (thanks GI Joe!), it’s the “doing consistently” that will carve out change in your family and your confidence as a parent. Realizing change needs to happen is the first step. Learning some new perspectives and strategies to help you move in the right direction is the next. Then, consistent action is the marathon that should help you get to where you want to be.

However, not everyone is successful working through these steps alone. Some parents find that this course of action works for most of their children, but there are one or two kids that have parents at the end of their rope, feeling like “nothing works.” In other families, it’s the parents themselves (whether separated or not) that are having trouble working on the “same page,” with each parent using very different parenting styles and finding little common ground. Others can get a bit lost when trying to make the Pillars of Parenting work for them. And still others can’t see where the problem is, they just know that their family could be doing better.

There are many circumstances that bring parents to utilize my parent coaching services, but the goals are always the same - to find new strategies to make parenting easier and less stressful while creating positive change within the home. Please contact me to learn how parent coaching can work for your family and create a more peaceful household. Contact me today about in–person or online coaching services. I look forward to learning more about your challenges and uniquely wonderful family!

Pillars of Parenting: Accountability

So if rules are meant to be broken what do we do when they break?

One of the biggest issues in parenting is keeping your kids accountable to the rules and expectations that you set. Let’s face it. If parenting had an underbelly, it would be discipline. No one likes it. No one waits in anticipation for the opportunity to really “teach them a lesson” when their kids break a rule. But it is an absolute necessity all at the same time. Discipline and keeping your kids accountable is what holds all those rules in place. So, let’s talk about some things that we can understand about this side of parenting to help make it a little easier. Probably still not going to make it your most favorite part of having kids, but at least it can be a subject you feel confident about.

The Latin origin of the word discipline is “to teach.” That being said, I think it’s important to go back to our focus: parenting based on values. To raise our kids by and teach them these values, we set our rules and expectations around them. However, the lesson goes one step further when they are then held accountable to these rules and expectations by way of appropriate consequences that also fit our values. The only way kids will learn that our rules and expectations matter is by being held accountable to them. If there is no accountability then our rules are merely suggestions. As simple as that sounds it is not always simple for parents to figure out their method for holding their kids accountable to their actions. Sometimes we get caught up in our feelings about being too harsh, not wanting our kids to be upset, or we get too rigid and fear every infraction deserves a sky high consequence or our kids are destined for orange jumpsuits. Below are some suggestions to help stay in the zone of fair, reasonable and productive.

  • Do not ignore behaviors that break your family rules. If there is a rule and it gets broken there should always be some type of accountability. It is often recommended to ignore behaviors and they will go away. This does NOT apply when your child is breaking a rule. Ignoring behaviors is something reserved for annoying, obnoxious, or attention seeking gestures - not for actual offenses to rules. If a rule is broken or expectation unmet it at least deserves a conversation. Even a conversation shows your kids that you are paying attention and they will be confronted if they step outside the boundaries. Even further follow-through with well-laid-out consequences would be even better.
  • Accountability is best found by way of natural consequences. The best lessons ever learned are the ones that make sense. When we find consequences that fit the crime it makes way more sense to us and our kids than the regular go-to of getting grounded….AGAIN. So whenever possible try and find a consequence that fits the situation. The best way to think of it is to ask yourself what it would take for your child to right their wrong. So if your kids made a huge mess the natural consequence is that they have to pick it up before they can do anything else. If your teenager comes home after curfew, the natural consequence is having to be home that many minutes earlier the next night. Excessive tardiness or repeatedly ignoring curfew (even after consequences) could then warrant not getting to go out at all for the next few nights.
  • Reasonable and fair. Consequences, after all, should not foster resentment from your children toward you, but instead be a reflection of their own behavior in a fair and reasonable way.  Getting your phone taken away for two weeks because you left a sock on the floor may or may not teach your kids to not leave a sock on the floor. What it will also potentially do is cause resentment and a lack of trust in the system of rules and consequences. This can then spiral into defiance, disrespect and a general lack of cooperation. Keeping things reasonable and fair will help keep emotions to a minimum in the discipline process.
  • Respect and Keeping Your Cool. Most families are going to have values around respect. It is important that when keeping your kids accountable that you are also using methods that are in line with this value. By discussing the accountability your kids need to have for their actions, or when delivering consequences, it is important to do this in a respectful manner. If the issue at hand is something that has you angry and upset it is absolutely fine to take a minute away and chill out before deciding how you want to go forward. If you don’t, then emotions could run high and the situation will quickly escalate. Your kids may not handle their consequences well, so it is even more important that, as the parent, you have kept your wits about you and can keep control of the situation.
  • Everyone should be on the same page. If there is more than one parent in the house it is important to communicate what has occurred and what the expectations are for holding the kids accountable. It’s important that you stay on this same page and neither parent work against, or undermine, the other while carrying out discipline. Kids will find a way to manipulate the situation if they know they have a chance. Be clear in both your words and actions that you are working together.
  • Know the finish line. Consequences without a concrete time line or action to mark the end are really just mind games. I am not a fan of leaving kids on a cliff hanger for when they will be “off the hook.” It tends to leave kids confused and eventually hopeless that they will ever be ungrounded or get their video games back or whatever the case may be. In addition, it also keeps you, as parents, in a state of constant contemplation and with few places to go when your kid breaks another rule - and then another - in the meantime.  So instead of saying “You’re grounded until we can trust you again.” (What does that even mean?!?!) Say, “You are grounded for 1 week,” or “You’re grounded from the car until you pay us back for the damages you caused.”
  • Follow-Through, Wait and Watch. Some kids will do their best to try and make you believe they do not care about their consequences. This is a power move on their part. Bless their little manipulative hearts for trying to win! It is important to remember that kids will try and outsmart you, make you mad, disengage or become incredibly emotional in order to make you forget your agenda in holding them accountable to their mistakes. It is important that you stand your ground, follow-through, wait and watch. When the consequences are complete, it is then that you can decide whether or not it was effective or meaningful. Even if kids are made to do something as a consequence that they don’t mind doing anyway - like volunteering or helping with chores - they still don’t have the freedom of how they are spending their time and energy. Once you name the consequence, it is important that you follow-through completely, regardless of the impression they are giving you of how it is affecting them.


Holding your kids accountable for their actions not only teaches them that their actions matter, and your rules matter, but also that THEY matter. At the end of the day, having parents watching over their decisions and keeping them accountable helps kids feel safe. It’s more than just getting kids to do and act the way you want them to. It creates an environment where they can trust that you are looking out for them (even if they don’t like it or see it that way now). So although discipline and teaching accountability may be the underbelly of parenting no one wants to talk about, it really is one of the main players working to build relationship, trust and respect in your family. 

Pillars of Parenting - Expectations (a.k.a. RULES!)


Once we know our Parenting Mojo (otherwise known as “values”) and what exactly we want to accomplish in parenting our children, we next have to figure out how we will make that happen.  This is where expectations and rules show up in the equation. (I know, I know, every kid’s FAVORITE thing!)

I find that most families, like values, feel that these rules already exist and are utilized in their everyday parenting. However, what I find is that these rules are assumed and not necessarily written down, properly explained or taught to all members of the family. This can leave parents feeling frustrated, kids confused and lots of parenting by way of shooting from the hip. In addition, the rules you may have been operating on may or may not align with the Parenting Mojo you have established for your family. This also can throw things off and may make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels.

When we are lacking in a clear set of rules for the family how do we know when and what we should discipline and what we can ignore or leave alone? We don’t. And your kids won’t really know where the lines of expectations are and what it takes to cross them. When it comes down to it, unless a rule is broken should there be a consequence? Probably not. The rest of the world doesn’t really work this way, so we don’t have to make it more complicated in our families. We don’t get sent to detention or get arrested because people around us didn’t like what we were doing. It’s because we broke a specific rule.

So, first thing’s first, as the parents or guardians (if there are two) and the leaders of the family, sit and discuss whether or not you, in fact, have rules and expectations all your kids know, understand and are in-line with your values. You may be winning already and have this piece knocked out of the park - or you may find, like many of us, that there are a lot of assumptions being made and some things out of alignment.

If you find that you need to do some work in this area, the first thing you want to do is pretty simple. Sit and make a list of rules. (I know, sounds kind of basic, right?) You may choose to have your kids in on the “fun” or you may decide, as parents, you want to have control of this all on your own. I recommend that your kids give some sort of input - either before you make the list or after – then, as The Parent(s), you have the final say.

There are a few things you want to think about in making your rules:

  • Rules must be able to tie back to at least one of your family values. Most of the time there will be more than one value to tie a rule to, but if you can’t tie it back to any value, it may not be a productive rule or it may need to be reworded to stay in alignment with your Parenting Mojo.
  • Make rules simple and clear. For example, “Respect others and their property” could have a lot of line items under this umbrella. It could include not teasing siblings, not taking other people’s things without asking, talking back, or even ignoring people in conversation. As a family you may decide to outline these things or, if you’re like me and like to keep things simple, you can remind the child of this rule when actions happen to break it and move forward from there. The risk to outlining every possible scenario would be your (especially more literal) kids pointing out when their action is not specifically listed in the line items and arguing that they did not break the rule. That may cause some frustration for everyone.
  • Rules must be doable. Feeling like you’ve been set up for failure stinks. For each rule it is important to triple-check that the rule is doable, and manageable in combination with other rules. For example, if you have a rule that all chores must be done before bed and also have a rule that everyone is in bed by a certain time, this could cause a problem in some situations. If you have a teen busy with school, sports, work and hours of homework they may be able to do one or the other (have chores done or get to bed on time) but not both.
  • Rules should apply to all members of the family (mostly). It will be very difficult to enforce rules without resentment if kids feel like they have to follow a rule you, as parents, don’t also respect. I mean, you can try and all, but I’m just giving you fair warning - it may cause more frustration than it’s worth. If you have rules like “respecting yourself and others,” and “everyone is expected to control their temper,” it may be seen as hypocrisy if you lose it on your kids left and right over both small and big things. Your kids may not put as much effort into following this rule as you would like. And you can expect them to point out, when being disciplined for breaking these rules, that “you do it all the time, too!” And that never feels good. This doesn’t necessarily mean consequences look the same if you break the same rule as your kids, but there should be a sincere effort to follow them in the first place.
  • A rule is not a rule until you make it a rule. Ok, so this is in preparation for the next segment on accountability, but we will discuss it here too. You may find that something comes up that you did not expect and it does not exactly fall under your other umbrella rules. Once this happens, it is important to talk about it as a family and decide what kind of rules need to be made for the issue. After and ONLY AFTER the rule is created, and there is a good understanding of the rule, can discipline be effectively accomplished. For instance, as more use of technology happens as kids get older there may be a need to build in some new rules or make some revisions.

Once rules and expectations have been hammered out, they should be written down. There’s something about writing things down that makes them real and makes them happen. It is good practice to write these rules down to add accountability for you and your kids to follow them. In addition, it is important to remember that, although rules are written out, they can change.  We want to have a clear and fairly concrete list of rules, but we also want to be sure this is a living breathing document with flexibility. We want to use this list as a guide and make changes as we need to. As our kids grow and change and have different needs and struggles, we may need to adjust how our rules are written and what is on the list. When they’re teenagers we may not need a rule stating they need to ask before grabbing a snack, but instead something clearer about checking in with the “who, what, where?” of what they are doing.

The most important last step, however, is making sure your kids know and understand the rules. No one likes feeling like they got in trouble for something they didn’t know was wrong or they didn’t know was a rule. Be sure you are clear with your kids regarding your expectations, and why you have those expectations in the first place. Also be clear before going into unique situations about what your expectations will be while there. If your kids are not used to going to a fancy restaurant or a formal dinner party, you may want to lay a few things out before getting there to make sure they realize what is expected of them.

I know sorting through your expectations and actually writing them all out may seem like a big job, but even God himself committed the Ten Commandments to stone!  I’m not asking for any engraving here (or any burning bushes!), just a way to make everyone in your family knowledgeable about the when, how and why they are following or breaking the rules you’ve set out for them – a strategy that will increase the calm in the chaos of family life.

Pillars of Parenting - Values

Parenting with Values

Have you ever stopped in the midst of yet another moment of Parental Outrage over something your kid has done, thinking up disciplinary action with finger still wagging, and wondered 'what am I even doing in the first place?' Have you ever been frustrated with your kids and just gave up trying to change the situation because you couldn’t remember why the fight was worth it? I think a lot of parents find themselves in this place way too many times. They know they “should” discipline their children for actions that are done or not done, but they’ve never taken a moment to verbalize why that discipline is so important. This is where knowing your Parenting Mojo (or Values), and how they are prioritized, is essential to how you parent. It is the definition of your WHY.

The process of sitting down with yourself and your partner or spouse, and really putting some thought into what kind of values you want your family and children to emulate creates the bow you’re shooting your arrows from. It gives direction and a launching pad for all other actions, including how you shape your rules and expectations - as well as your responses when holding your children accountable. A clear idea of Parenting Mojo closes the gaps when trying to explain to children the importance of their actions and puts gas in your tank when you’re running low on the desire to put effort into correcting the behaviors or the mindsets of your kids.

And the craziest part - it’s truly not that hard. When I work with my one-on-one parent coaching clients, I explain the principal of knowing their Parenting Mojo BEFORE we can set family rules and expectations. Once that clicks, they can usually whip up a good list pretty quickly. Most of us are looking to do the same sorts of things in raising kids, right? We want them to be respectful, honest, kind, helpful, and motivated to try hard in the things they do. We want them to be accountable for their actions and not run from their mistakes. We want them to be grateful, polite, and eventually a contributing member of society, correct?  These are the characteristics most parents are looking to build in their children through the process of parenting. But I think, in most cases, parents have never taken the time to put into words what those values actually are. 

The problem is, when you’re not thinking about these values and keeping them front and center (basically, not working from that Parenting Mojo), you begin to feel frustrated and confused about where to put your energy in regards to expectations and disciplining of your children. We start thinking things like, “Oh, well, what’s the big deal? They didn’t pick up their stuff when I asked them to, I’ll just do it for them.” Or the old, “Maybe we’re being too hard on them when they won’t put the toothpaste back after brushing. It’s really not an earth-shattering issue.”

In both of these cases the individual problem isn’t, in fact, a big deal. However, if you look back and remember those values you’re trying to teach - like the importance of following through on expectations, not leaving tasks unfinished or respecting the requests and spaces you share with others - then it is a big deal. Letting those seemingly small things go sends mixed messages about what you really want your kids to believe. They do not have the brain development to differentiate between the big and small things, or to decide when following through on their responsibilities is important, really important or no big deal.

Now on the other side of this, you could get totally fired up when your kids are being too loud and noisy. Or you could get upset when your child is starting to grow some independence and does not agree with you about something. And the kicker here is that, unless you have family values about being quiet or your children always agreeing with you, you may be trying to skin the wrong cat. You may end up putting a great deal of misaligned energy pointed at the wrong target. However, if you’ve asked your kids to quiet down and they’re supposed to be respectful of your requests - or you have a child DISRESPECTFULLY disagreeing with you - then that’s a whole other story.

So there are some clear lines related to knowing the values you want to instill in your family and the daily parenting choices we make. Clarifying that Parenting Mojo helps parents feel like their actions, even when they’re stressful or hard, are still incredibly purposeful and also imparts a sort of magical parental confidence when we could otherwise just feel like the bad guy. This clarity helps keep us out of the rollercoaster of parenting-from-our-emotions and grounds us in knowing we’re accomplishing something bigger. And, finally, it creates the road for your children to become the people you want them to be in the end game. People you like. People you respect. And people who can show the rest of the world what your family is all about.  

Pillars of Parenting - Relationship

What kind of relationship you have with your kids is the cornerstone to your capabilities in parenting and creating the family life you want. It really is the thing that makes all the other things work or don’t work. Think about it - if your kids don’t respect you will they follow your rules? If your kids don’t feel like you’re ever around to spend time with them will they respond appropriately when you try to give consequences or set limits? My guess is no.  

“But I have a great relationship with my kids and they still don’t listen to me!”  Sound familiar? Well it does to me. I hear it all the time. We can totally feel like we are getting along great with our kids... and then be confused by the feeling that they don’t respect us. Or we can feel like they trust us to take care of them, or to look out for their happiness, but also find they don’t listen to or follow our directions. That’s when we have to pick apart the pieces of relationship that matter the most and still remember that the relationship is the FOUNDATION the rest of your parenting practices hinge on.

The most important pieces to building strong relationship with your kids, and a place to parent from, are Respect, Trust, Connection and Communication. Each one of these components weave together to create the foundation of relationship. Each has their own importance and their own pitfalls and all have to be present for there to be a balanced parent/child relationship. Let’s look at each one and what they have to offer.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T….Find out what it means to me!  Ok, sorry, it’s hard to not get carried away by the late, great Aretha Franklin when discussing respect. So, seriously, it seems obvious right? Kids are supposed to respect their parents. Well, here’s the thing - is it just as obvious that we as parents should have respect for our kids as well? Respect is most healthy and strongest when it is mutual. For this reason I believe it is important to have a healthy level of respect for your kids’ needs, wants, feelings, etc. By showing them this type of respect, you’re modeling to them how they should respect you. There is no "one-sidedness" to this equation. It should not be parents fully in-tune to respecting their kids' needs and wants, with kids having no regard for that of their parents. And it shouldn’t be kids blindly respecting their parents simply because they should. Bottom line is that people in any type of relationship will listen and cooperate better with the other person if they feel respected. Just ask Aretha!

Trust is a high stakes subject. It is a piece of relationship that is crucial and may be taken for granted at times. It is a dynamic concept. People may trust each other in one way but not another, which can be complicated. I might trust my best friend to keep my secrets, but not necessarily to perform open heart surgery on me. So when it comes to being trustworthy in the eyes of our kids, they need to believe that you will say what you mean and mean what you say. That you will be there to meet their needs, protect them and keep them safe. And like respect, trust needs to be mutual. Kids need to believe that you trust them as well. This trust you have for your kids can then become a thing of value that your children will protect through making good choices and being honest with you. So at the end of the day, because you trust them, they may just make better choices - like not trying that cigarette in the parking lot after school. (Oh wait, was that an after school special?!?)

Spending time or doing things to connect with your kids shows them you think they are important, that they matter, and are valued. Like being picked first for kickball at recess (a euphoric-type feeling, I'm guessing, since I was never the first-picked! ) kids light up with an internal feeling that they are awesome….because YOU picked THEM.  When we feel appreciated and worth someone’s time and attention we open ourselves up to valuing our relationship with that person and our interest in keeping the relationship positive goes up. This means that our kids will try harder to please us and stay in our good graces when they feel important to us. They will feel important to us if we do the work to connect with them.

Calm and respectful communication is basically the sauce that blends it all together. It is crucial in order for kids to feel respected, and to build trust and connection.  And when those things are in place, and kids feel heard, cooperation and respect for the limits you set improves greatly. When parents can respond - instead of react - to situations and hear their children’s thoughts and feelings with openness and respect, they create a safe place for kids to feel like they can be themselves and are valued for who they are. Honesty is increased as kids are less fearful of telling the truth and relationship deepens through steady streams of communication. Think about how you’ve felt when someone has barked orders or screamed at you. Did you listen or could you only pay attention to how they were talking to you? Or when you’ve had that friend that never listens to you but always expects you to listen to what she thinks and how she feels? At the end of the day is she the person you choose to talk to?

These components, Respect, Trust, Connection and Communication, all fold into each other but also weave into all things we do as parents. Again, trying to manage expectations we have of our children as well as keeping our kids accountable for their actions and teaching them to be the kids we want to raise is all managed much better when there is mutual respect, trust, solid connection and sound communication. It creates value in the relationship that your kids may not be able to explain in words, but can feel. This will also be something they want to protect and reproduce in other relationships they have with friends and significant others as they mature.  So when working on goals in parenting with my clients, this is the first area we work on and the area I would recommend folks to look at when wanting to make improvements in their family functioning. Absolutely everything else you do as a parent will work better if the foundation of relationship is solid.

The Myths of ADHD - BUSTED!

Like any other mental health disorder, people with ADHD are inundated withmisunderstandings, stigma, and negative judgements from others around them who just don’t get it. This does not help kids with ADHD receive the support they need and can keep parents from recognizing when their child could have a bigger issue (such as ADHD) that requires a professional evaluation. Here are a few common misunderstandings and myths about ADHD. If we can clear up some of the smoke maybe we can do something about the fire!

Myth #1:  ADHD is just an excuse for bad behavior and poor parenting.

Truth: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which is in charge of impulse control, focus, and other executive functioning skills. For kids with ADHD, the operating system in these areas is slow or broken which means that,regardless of the parenting that child receives, they can struggle to respond to situations in appropriate ways. Most discipline strategies are based on the premise that a child will think BEFORE they act, recalling previous consequences of similar actions beforehand. Kids with ADHD have a very limited ability to stop and think before taking action due to their impulsivity.  They also have difficulty recalling what may have happened last time they were in a similar situation and visualizing the result, which may seem to others as if they don’t learn from their mistakes. For this reason, it can appear like they make multiple negative choices repeatedly (Read…ARE NAUGHTY), however, a good portion of the cause can be out of their control.

Myth #2: Everyone has ADHD.

Truth: Although we can all lose focus or become scattered and disorganized, it does not mean we all have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed through an evaluation process where information is gathered from multiple sources and a kid must display a minimum number of symptoms consistently across several environments. Typically evaluation is done by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health therapist. There are different diagnostic tools that are given to parents, teachers, and/or daycare providers to rate their observations of the child’s behaviors as it relates to physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning. The majority of these tools use a scale to rate the child’s behaviors compared to what would be appropriate for children the same age. This is not a careless process and not a disorder that deserves to be minimized.

Myth #3: They can focus when they want to, so it’s not ADHD, it’s their choice.

Truth: Again, because of the effects on the frontal lobe, kids with ADHD have a very difficult time regulating their focus. It is not that they are without the ability, it is that they can’t consistently control that ability. They may hyper-focus on a project or game particularly interesting to them for hours and find it difficult to pull away once they are fully engaged in such an activity. Or they may not be able to focus at all on something, even if they know it is important and genuinely want to. In addition, changing their focus from one task to another may be tricky as well.

Myth #4: ADHD is what we call kids who can’t sit still.

Truth: ADHD is known for its effect on a person’s ability to control their impulses. This may include physical impulses (hyperactivity) and self-control. Because this symptom can be so disruptive in classrooms, at home, and in the community, it is the likeliest symptom that will lead people to have their child evaluated. However, ADHD can present in people in ways that are much less publicly noticeable, such as focus problems, working memory issues, difficulty with emotional control, difficulty maintaining motivation to finish tasks and complete goals, ordisorganization, as well as other executive functioning skills.

Myth #5: People with ADHD are lazy and don’t care enough to finish things they start.

Truth: What many people don’t realize is that the ability to sustain motivation to do things that are hard or uninteresting to a person is broken for folks with ADHD. Sustaining motivation to think through or persevere through hard or difficult (especially mentally difficult) tasks is one of our executive functioning skills. You may be thinking, “But it’s hard for everyone to persevere through hard things.” Yes, this is true. However, neuro-typical (that’s my extra cool word for people who do not have neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD) folks have the ability to visualize the reward (whether emotional or tangible) at the end of the struggle, remember how important this outcome is to them, and can control the impulse to quit when things get rough. For all these reasons and more, it is quite common for ADHD kids to avoid or give up on tasks that seem hard to them, but doable to the rest of us.

Myth #6: ADHD is just a label.

Truth: As stated above, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which is also listed in the American Psychiatric Association DSM-5. This means it is a diagnosable disorder of mental health.  It has been scientifically researched as primarily a genetic disorder with clear evidence that there are differences in brain functioning for those diagnosed with it. Although, due to stigma and misunderstanding, it is reasonable to understand why some parents avoid their child being evaluated or identified as having ADHD. This stigma also keeps those children from gaining support and treatment that could give them the opportunity to function at home, school,and in the community to the best of their abilities.  When an appropriate ADHD diagnosis is determined it opens a road map of opportunities for families to serve their child better. A confirmed diagnosis can bring opportunities for medical/mental health treatment, and accommodations at school and other community settings that will help the ADHD child be more successful. Best of all it will help the child be better understood by others and understand themselves better, increasing their self-esteem.

There are many more myths of ADHD, but hopefully the ones listed above have generated enough curiosity to warrant digging into this topic further before rushing to conclusions. At the end of the day, we must remember that a great majority of children desire to please and want to do well if given the opportunity. If we can make certain kids with ADHD have an improved CAPABILITY to do that by recognizing where they struggle - what a difference it would make.

Parenting's Fine Line Between Help and Hinderance

When Parents Should Help
So, I posted this adorable pic of my daughter trying diligently to blow up an air raft about three times the size of her little 5-year-old body. Days later, after looking at the pic several times, I was inspired to write about this issue. I couldn’t help but speculate that folks out there probably thought, “Geez, Mom, help the girl out!”  Well I did. I did help her out. But I waited for her to ask for my help. See, when it comes to giving my kids help - I don’t jump in. I don’t take over, I don’t give them the luxury of automatically having my help, or give them the impression they cannot turn it down. I do give them practice in using the courage to ask for help from others and the opportunity to push through hard things, which gives them a chance to be proud of themselves for creating their own solution to a problem. When we don’t allow our kids space to do hard things - without swooping in to “help” them (or could be read: “save them”) - we cheat them of personal growth experiences, and can also create some really funky ideas about perseverance and capability.

Creating an “EASY” mindset

As we see our kids begin to struggle with something, and we jump in to do it for them or make it easier, we inadvertently create the mindset that things should be easy. It has become more and more common for kids these days to believe that the things they do, or have to do, should be easy - or they simply don’t want to do them. Well, that really stinks….because some of the greatest joys we have in life come from persevering through our most challenging and difficult accomplishments. This leads us to the next point.

Cheating kids of the “I can do it” mindset and “I did it” victories

As mentioned above, when we do things for our kids that they could have potentially done themselves, it cheats them from the sense of pride that comes with accomplishing hard things.  Worse, the need to struggle with a task may cause children to quit trying.  We call this “learned helplessness.” Feeling capable is an essential piece of our self-esteem. We can only feel capable if given enough space and opportunity to figure things out for ourselves.   


We want our kids to be somewhat independent, right?!? I know this part is hard because as they grow and can do things on their own we look on with that stinging feeling like they don’t need us anymore. But this simply isn’t true.  Our kids will always need us for something, just maybe not that thing anymore. As they grow they will still need our help but what they need it for will evolve. However, jumping in and continuing to “help” when our kids could otherwise handle a situation on their own will hinder their desire to put forth the effort and to achieve independence.

Learning to fail

Did you know it’s actually ok if things don’t turn out the way your kids want? Did you know that’s how they learn to be flexible with their expectations, manage disappointment, and again part of what actually builds self-esteem? Say what??? Build self-esteem??? Yep. It’s true. When kids experience failure – the feeling of not being good at something, not get something right, etc. - and then also see that they are still accepted and acceptable by their people (family, friends, teachers and such), it builds their sense of self-worth, confidence in their relationships and sense of belonging.  The positive aftermath of failure creates the “come as you are” unconditional acceptance we crave from our relationships.

Failing and struggling also builds confidence to try again. This is another aspect of perseverance. When we can feel confident that we can try lots of different things to figure out solutions to our problems, including asking for help, our self-esteem gets a serious boost.

Asking for help

Asking for help is HAAAAAAAAARD for a lot of people. As a parent, I want my kids to learn to recognize when they need help and have the guts to ask for it. This is a life skill. We can’t make it very far if we aren’t in good practice of asking others for help when we need it. On the other hand, I’m also aware of my kids trying to manipulate me for help when they don’t really need it. This one is a dance. Not asking for help ever is not ok. Just like overstepping boundaries and asking for help all the time, when they are clearly capable to handle the task, is not ok. But how will they know the difference if we, as parents, aren’t teaching those boundaries?

***Disclaimer. Of course I don’t make my kids ask me for help if there is an emergency, someone is going to get hurt, or quick action is needed. That’s crazy, people. I’m talking about the everyday mundane kinds of things, like fixing their own snack or cleaning their bedrooms.  Got it?  Good.

Taking over the ownership of the problem

When we take the wheel for our kids, whether big kids or small kids, we are also taking over the ownership of the problem. When we give kids time to figure things out for themselves, and they come to us and ask us for help, they continue to hold investment that the problem is still theirs.  They stay in a mindset that they are now in partnership with us when they seek our help and are invested in finding a solution. That’s a big difference from an “I give up” mentality.

Limiting the creative process

The last point to make falls in the zone of creativity and imagination. When we don’t offer the freedom for kids to think through their problems and create their own, and possibly innovative, solution we don’t allow them to grow. They need these opportunities to grow their critical thinking skills, which uses their imaginations as well as all kinds of executive functioning skills, like judgement, visual imagery (picturing outcomes), planning, emotional control, etc. We can’t develop these areas if we don’t allow the opportunities for them to be challenged. Granted they may take, what you would consider, a needlessly long way around to the solution, but again that’s ok, too.  When you truly let them be, without interjecting ways to hurry the process, you'll be surprised with what they can come up with!

Some tips on how to decide the right time and ways to help your kids when they need it.

  1. Wait for them to ask you (as long as it isn’t an urgent predicament or a safety issue).
  2. When you see them struggling, let them know you are there to help if they need it.
  3. Only offer as much help as they need (i.e.: Don’t take over!)
  4. Allow them to stay involved in the process, if possible, so they can still have ownership of the accomplishment when it is resolved.
  5. Cheer them on! Show your kids that you see them doing hard things and that you believe in them. Tell them how proud you are of them when they push through and persevere regardless of the outcome.

So let me wrap up by telling you how the little girl against the great big raft story ended. This little peanut of mine was just sure she could blow this raft up. She tried and tried and tried. And I took pictures. LOL! Finally, she looked at me out of breath and said, “Hey Mom, can you help me?”  I said, “Of course.” She informed me I would blow some and then she would blow some. I accepted this agreement. As I blew and my giant grown up breathes were able to fill and expand the raft with each one, she squealed in delight. I would take a break, and she would quickly grab it back and say “Ok, it’s my turn.” She would again blow and blow, with little progress, but I used every bit of encouragement as she tried and tried. This back and forth lasted until we were done. She was BEAMING because SHE did it and WE did it together!