Attention Getting Behavior – A Positive Discipline View

July 21, 2014

Attention SignYou’re feeling annoyed. Your child keeps bothering you with the same behavior.

“Stop!” you huff for the tenth time, but it happens again.

Why can’t my child just listen to me, you think.

You’re confused as to the reason your child would continue to do something over and over again when you’ve made it clear that you want it to stop.

How many times has this happened for you this week?

Maybe did you finally “lose it” and yell? . . or end up threatening or following through with a punishment?

Want to better understand the situation? Would you like to try something that might yield better results? Read on to take a deeper look at what’s really going on between you and your child.

Attention Seeking Behaviors – What’s Going On

When looking more closely at attention seeking behaviors, there are a couple of issues going on. I’ll address them one at a time.

Negative attention is better than no attention

If your child wants your attention, he or she knows how to get it. First your child might, just might try a positive behavior to get your attention. If that doesn’t work, your child might try a negative approach next. You have “buttons” and who knows them better than your child? If you don’t notice a positive behavior from your child, surely you’ll notice a negative one, especially if it’s one that pushes your buttons. If your child is repeating negative behaviors in front of you (or making sure that you find out about them) then a good guess is that your child is seeking your attention. Now that’s not exactly a bad thing that your child wants your attention and truly that may or may not be what your child really wants, but the way your child is trying your attention probably isn’t working super well from his end or her end either.

Attention Seeking Behaviors Might Be Caused by Too Little or Too Much AttAttention Extremesention

All children need a healthy amount of attention. Think about this idea of attention on a spectrum – a line that represents not enough parent attention on one end and too much parent attention on the other end.

If you’re a super busy parent, maybe your child is seeking attention because he or she really hasn’t had enough attention from you to feel that he/she matters to you. On the other hand, maybe you and your child spend so much time together that your child has developed the idea that he or she needs attention from you almost constantly in order to feel that he/she matters.

What Your Child REALLY Wants – Instead of Attention

To address this issue of children and attention seeking behaviors, let’s change the label of attention to a new one that will help us better approach the problem. Instead of naming this attention seeking behaviors, let’s change the name to connection seeking behaviors. We might look at this problem in a slightly different way if we understand that our child is seeking connection – a connection with you.

Positive Discipline is based on the work of Alfred Adler. Adler believed that children (and all humans) are constantly seeking “belonging and significance.” They want to “belong” in a group of people or in a relationship – that’s the connection piece. They want to feel connected to other people. So really, instead of attention, it’s connection that your child seeks. Secondly, your child wants to feel significant in a group or in a relationship. Your child wants to contribute something valuable to the group or to the relationship somehow.

When we approach the problem with this Adlerian view, then the solutions below start to make more sense.

Positive Discipline Tools When Your Child Seeks Connection and Contribution

Connecting with you is what your child needs to form a healthy emotional bond that will foster relationship skills for life. In addition your child needs to feel significant by making contributions to others in his life. The following Positive Discipline tools address these two important needs.

1. Schedule Special Time

2. Involve your child in a helpful task

3. Give your child opportunities to make meaningful contributions through household jobs such as helping cook, feed pets, set the table  – on a daily basis. Do not pamper children in the name of love; instead let them see how capable they are.

4. Stop what you are doing and connect with your child for a few minutes. Love Rituals are one great way to do this.

5. Plan one night of the week for family time to create lasting memories and connections with each other.

6. Empathize with your child and validate your child’s feelings so your child knows that you care about his/her perspective.

Learn more Positive Discipline tools at my monthly teleconference called “Solution Seekers.” It’s for parents and it’s free.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Think It Through Parenting

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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Tell kids, “It’s okay to cry” – Reasons to use this parenting tool

May 19, 2014

Photo by John Evans on

Photo by John Evans on

Your child fell down.
Your child was told, “no” to a request.
Your child’s balloon floated up to the clouds.

All of the above might cause huge tears to slide down your little one’s face.

Parents, at this moment, how do you respond? Many parents were conditioned (during their childhoods) to thwart those tears so some offer the same advice to their kids . . .

  • “Big girls don’t cry.”
  • “Boys don’t cry.”
  • “No crying.”
  • “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Does this approach work? If it does, what messages are parents giving kids about expressing feelings?

Is there a problem with the “put a lid on it” approach?

When parents reflect on being told to stop crying (when they were children,) a sampling admit that even as a child, something felt wrong or perplexing about being “hushed,” even if it was done in a gentle way.

Some years back, I heard Jane Nelsen suggest to tell kids, “It’s okay to be disappointed and it’s okay to cry.” Dr. Jane Nelsen is the author of Positive Discipline and over thirteen other books on parenting. When I’ve shared Jane’s approach with parents and child care providers, it’s often met with surprise and confusion . . .

“But if we tell kids that it’s okay to cry, won’t they just cry more and a lot?”

It seems to be a common worry for adults.

I decided to ask a group of Positive Discipline Trainers to respond to this concern to answer the question, “Why is it okay to tell kids they can cry?”

Photo by ccmackay on

Photo by ccmackay on

Positive Discipline Trainers answer, “Why is it okay to tell kids to cry?”

Deb Pysno answers . . .

Why is it not only okay, but essential, that you tell your kids it’s okay to cry? In the most simplistic terms, if I am crying, and it’s not okay to cry, then I am not okay. There is something wrong with me, with how I feel, with expressing those feelings with tears, with having feelings at all. These beliefs can stunt a child emotionally for life, and severely inhibit the richness and reward of all experiences and relationships. Telling a child it is not okay to cry is the opposite of acceptance and unconditional love, two things all people need to thrive.

-Deb Pysno, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, The E Team,

 Nadine Gaudin Thomas says . . .

. . . because it brings relief

-Nadine Gaudin Thomas, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer

Elly Zhen writes . . .

. . .because crying helps us face a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, stress, etc, and release them.  It  also helps us be emotional honest with ourselves and eventually create emotional security for ourselves. We will not have “fear of tears”.  Of course it’s ok to cry when our cry does not bother or hurt others.

 -Elly Zhen, Certified Positive Disicipline Trainer,

 Casey Wilson O’Roarty replied . . .

Why it’s ok to cry…  Well, crying is just our bodies way of allowing the emotions that are too big to hold spill out.  Crying is a release and an opportunity to physically meet the feelings that are hard to face.  Feelings of disappointment, anger, hurt – even compassion and joy, can be overwhelming, and crying creates the space we need to move forward and decide what needs to be done.  An adult that stays present with a crying child becomes an advocate for them.  It is also appropriate for the adult to remain curious about what is happening for the child, noticing patterns, and when the child is calm, engage them in exploring the experience they had.


-Casey O’Roarty, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Joyful Courage

Terese Bradshaw commented . . .

As a Montessori toddler teacher, I have observed many young children over the past 33 years, and have noticed that when children are allowed to cry and given a save place to express their feelings, whether it be physical pain, fear, sadness, disappointment or any other challenging emotion, they often cry for a shorter period of time than they might when a parent or caregiver tries to “convince” them not to cry. Often parents or caregivers fear the crying and will use any number of means to try to get the child to stop crying:

“You’re OK.” when they have fallen and bumped their knee, or

“You know we don’t eat cookies before lunch, and if you keep crying you won’t get ANY cookies.” or

“Big boys don’t cry.  Are you a big boy?” or

parents try to deliver a lecture to convince the child why their feelings are “wrong.”

Feelings are always OK.  The actions we choose to take when we don’t feel heard may not be OK, but when we adults take the time to connect with a child first, so they feel heard, they are less likely to “act out” in destructive ways, on those strong feelings.

-Terese Bradshaw, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Positive Parenting

Susie Zhang offers . . .

It is okay to cry or not, let’s ask ourselves few questions:

Is crying a normal function for human to express emotions, just like laugh or giggle? Is it okay to laugh and giggle?

How do you feel when kids cry?

Where did these feelings come from? Is it because kids crying, or because of yourself?

What does crying mean to you?

Standing in children’s shoes, what does crying mean to them?

Where did we learn about the meaning of crying?

 You may have your own answer now.

 -Susie Zhang, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer,

Suzanne Smitha McPherson writes . . .

I heard years ago that tears you cry when cutting onions, for example, are chemically different from the tears you cry when you are upset.  To read some for yourself, you can search, “Is there a difference between the chemical composition of tears?” There are quite a few good articles, most discussing that tears of sadness have higher levels of hormones.  I’ve often explained in parent groups that when we cry for emotional reasons, it is like we are literally crying some of the sadness out of our bodies.  So crying can be very helpful.
Works for me!
Suzanne Smitha McPherson, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer
Articles to read:


Sarina Behar Natkin responded . . .

Imagine you have just received really bad news. Maybe it’s a job loss, a best friend moving away, or a tragic news story from across the world. Now imagine your boss, your friend, or your partner saying, “don’t cry.” If you are like most people, you now add on to your feelings about the bad news with more negative emotions, such as shame, anger, and self-doubt.

Now imagine growing up in a home where crying is not allowed. Crying is a sign of weakness. Given that crying is a normal response to sadness, fear, anger, and even happiness, what do you do you do with those emotions? If you can’t express your emotions in a way that we are physiologically designed to do, you are left with either holding it in and letting it fester, or letting it out in less helpful and healthy ways.

We need to let our children know that crying is not only ok, it’s a normal response and one that should be respected. When adults are uncomfortable with children crying, it often stems from their own experience of being told crying is not ok. So, instead of focusing on getting some one else to stop crying, we are more effective if we turn inward and reflect on where our own negative feelings about this normal human response is coming from. Only then can we really get to the root of the problem.

Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Parent Education & Coaching,

Carol Dores added . . .

We need to validate children’s feelings.  If a child is crying, saying something like, “you seem upset,” and then listening (if they want to talk) will help a child understand that their feelings are important.  Telling a child that they should not be crying is giving them the message that their feelings are unimportant.  Acknowledging their feelings and listening will help build a trusting, supportive relationship.

Carol Dores, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer Candidate

Lori Onderwyzer and Catherine Bronnert DeSchepper offered similar feedback . . .

Here’s my fav back from when I was a little kid. Still know it by heart and my sis and I always sing it when we are together! (song lyrics below)

– Lori Onderwyzer, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

I’m dating myself here, but I grew up listening to “It’s Alright to Cry” from the Free to Be You and Me record sung by a former professional football player, Rosie Greer. The lyrics are still relevant today – especially for boys and men who in many cultures still aren’t always supported to embrace, experience and express the full range of human emotions, including crying. It is critical for children to build their own emotional literacy as they mature – and sometimes crying is an important expression of different emotions.
-Catherine Bronnert DeSchepper, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Interweavers Consulting



It’s All Right to Cry – Free to Be You and Me

[Performed by Rosey Grier]

It’s all right to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better

Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better

It’s all right to feel things
Though the feelings may be strange
Feelings are such real things
And they change and change and change

Sad ‘n’ grumpy, down in the dumpy
Snuggly, hugly, mean ‘n’ ugly
Sloppy, slappy, hoppy, happy
Change and change and change

It’s all right to know
Feelings come and feelings go
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better

and lastly, my thoughts on telling kids it’s okay to cry . . .

Our emotions are a normal part of us. When we feel happy, we smile. When we encounter something humorous, we laugh. When we feel hurt, sad, disappointed and yes, even sometimes when we feel happy, we cry. It’s a normal reaction to a normal emotion. Much of the “discipline” we can do to help children as parents and teachers  is to help them learn to recognize, label and cope with their emotions.

Kelly Pfeiffer, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer, Think It Through ParentingKelly014


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Ways to Embrace Your Imperfect Parenting with Positive Discipline Tools

March 10, 2014

embrace your imperfect parenting_reduced_800One of my favorite things about parenting with Positive Discipline is that the tools allow me and my kids to make mistakes and still learn valuable life skills. I used to think I had to focus on doing everything the right way, the best way to be an effective parent and have good kids. But since I’ve been using Positive Discipline eighteen years ago (Thank you Ann Pfeiffer!) I’ve learned that mistakes are wonderful teaching tools too.

Positive Discipline has plenty of great tools to use even when we parents haven’t made mistakes, but my favorite tools are the ones that allow me to be imperfect, because these tools teach me to stretch in my human journey. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I’ll clear it up with a list of tools and some examples here.

Positive Discipline Tools for When I’ve Made a Mistake

  1. The Three R’s of Recovery: This tool is a wondrous tool for any relationship – marriages, co-workers, friendships, but I seem to use it most often in my relationship with my children. 1) Recognize the mistake with a feeling of responsibility instead of blame. 2) Reconcile by apologizing. Children are so forgiving. 3) Resolve the problem by working together on a respectful solution. See the Positive Discipline Tool Card about the 3 R’s of Recovery and read more about this tool on Single Dad Brad’s blog post.
  2. Positive Time Out: Positive Discipline doesn’t use time out in the traditional way. A Positive Discipline time out is a cool off time and can be used by both parents and children. During a Positive Discipline time out, I can simply take steps to calm myself and put my brain back into a state of rational thinking. (When we flip our lids under stress, our brains downshift into flight or flight mode.) Positive Discipline time out allows children and parents to practice and develop self-calming skills. Once everyone is calm, THEN parent and child can come back together to work on a solution to the problem. Perhaps parent and child may even need to use three tools together: 1)Positive Time Out 2)3 R’s of Recovery (if mistakes were made) and then the next tool I’ll list, 3)Focusing on Solutions
  3. Focus on Solutions: After I’ve calmed down, I can get back together with my child and focus on solutions to the problem. When I’m upset and my brain has downshifted to flight or flight mode, I focus on blame. So it is necessary that as parents, we use self calming skills to calm ourselves and encourage our children to do the same so that we can reset out brains back to safe mode. When we are calm, it is because we feel safe, instead of threatened. Visit Single Dad Brad’s blogto learn about the three step process to focus on solutions.
  4. See Mistakes as Opportunities to Learn: In order to practice the three skills above, I must approach my parenting with the attitude tool that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. I didn’t always look at mistakes as learning opportunities. I was thirty years old when I read Jane Nelsen’s first book, Positive Discipline and was told that it was okay to make mistakes. I have worked on this attitude tools more than any other of the Positive Discipline tools because I had to make big changes in how I viewed myself.

How to Learn Amazing and Life Chancing Skills and Attitudes

You don’t have to work on changing your attitude first. What I found was that by using the tools, I gained skills and my successes shifted my attitude and outlook on parenting. Since first learning about Positive Discipline age 30, my views have changed a lot –  about relationships, about how the brain learns and about how adults can empower kids. I’ve learned that I can be firm and connect with my child in the same moment. I’ve gained so many new parenting skills and relationship skills.  I hope you’ll choose one tool above and start learning more about it and practicing it so you can feel more empowered as a parent, experience more control (over yourself and tough parenting situations) and learn to enjoy your relationships more than you ever dreamed.



Parent Educator, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Mom, Step-Mom, Wife, Writer, Mistake Maker, Imperfect Parent

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Mistakes are Part of the Learning Process – Turning Responsibility Over to Kids

March 2, 2014

Embrace Imperfection Month March 2014 REDUCED

Parents, are you having trouble letting go and turning over some small responsibilities to your kids? Is it because you’re afraid they’ll not do things right or won’t do them the way that you would? (We all know that truly you could do it better.) This is a common issue for parents and to let go of that responsibility and hand it over requires embracing imperfection – plus taking time to train your child a little before you let go.

There are many reasons that parents don’t turn responsibility over to children. One common reason is that kids will make mistakes. Because parents can’t trust kids to “do things right”, many parents simply don’t hand over responsibility to children.

Parents, children need for you to gradually hand over life responsibilities to them and when you do, children will definitely make mistakes as they learn. Mistakes are a normal part of the learning process and actually help teach true responsibility, when parents handle the mistake in a teaching way.

Most parents don’t expect for young children to name their colors the first time a parent asks. When a parent asks what color the sky is, a young child might say “red”. Most parents understand that while learning colors, children will make mistakes. But making mistakes applies to learning lots of things.



  1. Expect Mistakes: Know that mistakes are part of the learning process. Expect that kids will make mistakes. 
  2. Take Time for Training: Spend plenty of time training kids. Have kids watch you complete a chore or emotional skills. Let kids practice the skill while you supervise. Gradually hand the task over to them in small steps. This training process make take five minutes or may take five months depending on the level of the task and the ability level of the child. Children with special needs may take longer to acquire skills than a typical child will.
  3. Train Using Small Steps: Build confidence in kids by giving them small bits of responsibility at a time.
  4. Use Visual Aids: Simple visual reminders can be helpful. We see them at adult workplaces often. There’s a sign in many restrooms to remind employees to wash their hands before they return to work. At my house, we have one sign on the washing machine and one sign on the dryer because our four teens all do their own laundry. The sign on the washing machine reads “Empty All Pockets B4 Washing”. The sign on the dryer reads, “Empty the Lint Filter Before Each Load”.
  5. Ask “What…?” and “How…?”Questions: Instead of nagging when children make mistakes and forget to do things, ask questions that begin with “What” and “How” instead of “Why”.  Question Example I could ask my child – “What do you need to do each time you put laundry in the dryer?”or “How do we keep the lint filter clean?
  6. Calm Down Before Addressing Issues: When you get frustrated or angry when your kids forget responsibilities or make mistakes (and you WILL get frustrated and angry because that’s a normal part of being a parent) take a cool off time before dealing with or addressing the issue if possible. You’ll be more effective in teaching children about taking responsibility for their emotions (by you taking responsibility to cool off) and about learning from mistakes if you can communicate with kindness and firmness.

What else helps you embrace imperfection or helps you hand over responsibility to your kids?


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Embrace Your Imperfect Kids – My Rock of Values

March 2, 2014

Embrace Your Imperfect Kids

Embrace Your Imperfect Kid

As part of Embrace Perfection month, this week the focus is on embracing our imperfect children. When I glance at the words in the image above, I easily nod my head. A huge part of me agrees – 0f course that’s one of my beliefs! I can wrap my arms all around my imperfect kids; after all, they’re just kids!

But in my tough parenting moments, when my kids have pushed limits beyond belief or hurt others in seemingly intentional ways (one of my hot buttons), I painfully struggle with this notion of imperfection. When my kids screw up, I’ve found myself questioning my parenting and doubting the whole notion that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn (one of the key attitudes of practicing Positive Discipline and life for that matter).

Fear Challenges Our Values

I sincerely value imperfection in my life and am convinced that I gain more knowledge, compassion, perspective taking skills and problem solving opportunities from imperfection than I do from perfection. I didn’t always view imperfection that way. It’s a journey and I’m still making progress on it. But I do value imperfection.

Although I highly value imperfection, fear can knock me off of my “rock of values”.

Our Rocks of Values – Mine and Yours

Imagine a huge rock, maybe six feet tall, with a flat place on top, big enough for me to comfortable stand, sit or even lie down. Imagine that you see the rock and me standing up on top of it. Now gaze down under me at the rock. You see words chiseled onto the smooth front face of the rock. The words are my values.  So you notice words and phrases like family, respect for self and others, creativity and of course, imperfection carved into the rock. You look back up and again see me standing on top of the rock. I  say, “This is where I stand! These are my values!” This is my image of my rock of values.

But life presents me with things like storms, emergencies and other challenges that knock me off of my rock. It’s not the challenges that knock me off the rock, but my response to the challenge. Sometimes my response is fear – a deep pang of what if I’ve really screwed this up fear. What if I haven’t given my kids my best? What if I’ve been too permissive with my kids? What if I’ve been too strict with my kids? I doubt myself in many ways, but it’s all about fear.

We all have our “rocks of values” and we all get knocked off of our rocks at times. I’ve decided it’s a good thing.

The Opportunities of Falling Off the Rock

If we get too comfortable standing up on our rocks, we often forget what values we’ve carved there and why we sliced them there in the first place. I’m imagining myself flat on my butt beside the rock – knocked down by the imperfect decisions my child made last weekend. It was  painful fall, but I’ve not broken any bones. I stand up and dust myself off and look back up to see how high the fall was. Next I examine the rock more. I walk around to the front of my rock and stare up at the words I carved.Really? I think. Is this really what I believe and want to hold true to?

Getting knocked off my rock is helpful because it helps me re-examine my values and think through the reasons I took time to work them into the rock in the first place. After evaluating my values again, I can stick with the ones that are there or I can sand down to a flat surface and carve new words if i want.

One Gift of Having Imperfect Children

My kids and their imperfections challenge me to consider and re-consider who I am and what I want – both for myself and for them. My own imperfections do that too, but my kids’ imperfections stretch me even further to get clear on my values. I hope you’ll consider your own imperfect actions and your kids’ imperfect actions as opportunities to get clear on what is it you’re trying to accomplish and what you’ve carved on your rock of values.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Think It Through Parenting

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5 Alternatives to Saying “Be Good” to Kids

October 5, 2013

BE-GOOD ALTERNATIVESHave you been telling your child to “be good” and it isn’t working well? In my previous post, I explained why saying “be good” to kids isn’t super helpful. (So you may want to start with my first article, Why  ‘Be Good’ Isn’t Good Advice to Kids.) In this article, I’m offering some concrete ideas on what to do and say instead of saying “be good.”

Alternatives to Saying “Be Good” to Kids – Plan Ahead Strategies

What your child needs, to work towards “behaving” (as we call it) is help from you to learn new skills and gain more life experience/maturity. Even then your child will still make mistakes, so remember this important Positive Discipline tip – focus on improvement rather than perfection.

Here are five alternatives to telling kids to “be good” and these concrete ways of teaching will yield better results, especially over time.

1. Give Your Child Useable Information

Give specific instructions to help children know what to do (instead of what not to do.)You may need to tell your child details that seem obvious to you, but may not be obvious to your child.


  • “While we’re shopping you can either walk beside me, help me push the cart or ride in the cart.”
  • “Stand behind the last person in line. When the person in front of you steps forward, then you step forward too. Stay behind that same person until the ladder is in front of you. After the person in front of you has slid all the way to the bottom and is out of the way, THEN you can slide.”

2.  Role Play to Help Your Child Practice Skills

Role play situations for your child to try out different ways to solve problems (such as asking a friend for a turn)

3. Give Your Child an Age Appropriate Job or Task

Ask your child to complete a “job” to help out around the house or on an errand so he/she will have a focus (cross off items on a grocery list, hand out napkins to guests.) When kids are involved in a useful task, they feel important in an “I can help/I am capable” way plus they won’t misbehave due to boredom.

4. Create a Wheel of Choice to Help Your Child Learn to Problem Solve

A Wheel of Choice can be created and tailored to your child’s age and specific needs – for children ages 3 and up.

5.  Keep Your Preschooler Busy with Age Appropriate Play

Kids of any age find it difficult to just sit and wait or stand and wait. If you’re going somewhere where waiting is involved, take along portable toys or create a simple game to play with your child to keep your child engaged in an activity.

Age Appropriate Toy Ideas to Take to the Store, Doctor’s Office, Other Appointments, etc.

  • plain paper and crayons
  • a book on tape and headphones
  • Magnadoodle
  • I Spy books

Waiting Games/Grocery Store Games to Play with Kids

And just in case you’re wondering, I don’t recommend bribing your child with a special treat for behaving. It doesn’t do the job of teaching concrete skills and it sets up the dynamic that your child will expect to be compensated for learning appropriate skills that will help them grow and mature. I want my kids to feel inner pride about learning and growing and acquiring new skills, not pride in working out a deal to get a prize.


I love discussion and comments. Offer ideas and comments below.

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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Why “Be Good” Isn’t Good Advice to Children

October 5, 2013

BE-GOOD Image for post

  • “I need you to be good in the grocery store.”
  • “Be good for the babysitter, okay?”
  • “Why can’t you just be good today?”

Parents in every U.S. city tell, ask, and bribe children to “be good” every single day. But does it work? For a few kids, this simple phrase might produce positive outcomes, but for the majority of children, the term “be good” doesn’t help them work towards “good” behavior.

Parents, have you told your child to “be good” and within minutes found yourself disappointed or surprised about your child’s “ungood” behavior. Maybe the last time this happened, your child was walking into a cousin’s birthday party. Possibly it was while you were shopping . It might have been in the morning as your child was headed to school. But later you learned that your child misbehaved a little or a lot. Do you often wonder why your child can’t follow simple instructions such as “be good?” If so, I think I can offer some understanding.

There are two main reasons why saying “be good” to children doesn’t produce good behavior. Read on to learn why and what you can do instead to get better results and teach your child important life skills.

#1 Reason Why “Be Good” Doesn’t Help Kids

The first reason why “be good” doesn’t work is one that’s relevant no matter what discipline philosophy you choose. The main problem with “be good” is a lack of effective communication. “Be good” is abstract and too general for kids to truly understand. It’s almost like saying, “Okay, read my mind and act the way I’d like you to act.” Many parents might argue that kids know what the parent means when the parents states, “be good.” I disagree.

Here’s where I borrow my favorite quote from brain researcher John Medina, author of the books, Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Babies  – “what is obvious to you is obvious to you.” Your child can not read your mind. Most likely your child does want to be good. However, you aren’t offering your child usable information when you give the vague directions, “be good.”

#2 Reason Why “Be Good” Doesn’t Help Kids

The second reason why “be good” doesn’t work is one that relates to Positive Discipline parenting and a few other non-traditional parenting philosophies. When parents want kids to “be good,” the basic message conveyed is “don’t screw up” or “get it right.” Besides being a vague message, this message is also unrealistic. Are you truly asking your child, who has limited social and emotional skills, to know what to do all day long? It’s not possible. That’s why your kids need you – to help them learn!

Most kids aren’t capable of being good for extended periods of time. That’s why kids require lots of supervision and tons of teaching, healthy modeling and opportunities to practice skills. Kids are going to make lots of mistakes while learning about the world and the culture in which they’re being raised. Your child will find himself (or herself) in plenty of situations where he doesn’t know what to do – because he doesn’t have the skills or the life experience to know what to do. Your child doesn’t have the life experience that you have and is still figuring out how the world works. (Hey I’m almost half a century old and I’m positive that I’m still figuring out -on many levels- how the world works.)

I still make mistakes and at times blurt out comments that don’t sound super eloquent or ultra-friendly. Although I do my best everyday, I’m not capable of being good all the time. (Thank goodness I’ve learned the 3 R’s of Recovery from mistakes.)

What to Say to Kids Instead of “Be Good”

So what can parents say to kids that might be more helpful than “be good?” Read my follow-up article, 5 Alternatives to Saying “Be Good” to Kids to learn some new strategies to try instead of saying “be good.”

Kelly Pfeiffer



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How to Get Your Kids to Talk and Build a Strong Relationship with Your Child

July 29, 2013

Talking Conversation

Mark Aplet at Stock.Xchange

The average parent has just three and a half minutes of real conversation with their child per week  say the authors of Jump-Starting Boys [Viva Editions, 2013.] Most of the parents I work with want way more than three and a half minutes of engaged conversation with their kids. As a parent, I want more of that too. That’s one of the many reasons I love teaching the Positive Discipline curriculum.

Positive Discipline has so many parenting tools that are considered “relationship tools,” ways for parents to build a strong connection with a child. A strong parent-child bond definitely prevents some misbehavior issues. When a child feels that a parent truly wants to spend time with him or her and does spend time on a continuing basis, children learn they can count on a parent’s attention and engagement.

Positive Discipline Tools that Foster Engaged Conversations

I’d like to highlight several Positive Discipline tools that sometimes are overlooked by parents. Some parents only look for tools to use after a child has misbehaved and forget about the wonderful tools that prevent misbehavior by staying connected to you child through talking and spending time together.

  1. Special Time: “Special Time” is quality time spent each day or each week (depending on the child’s age.) This time is scheduled ahead of time and is usually at the same time each week or day. Read more about how to set up special time and what type of schedule is best for certain ages in How Spending Quality Time with Kids Improves Behavior.
  2. Have Your Child Help Cook Dinner Once a Week: Each of my biological children have helped me cook dinner once or twice a week since they turned three years old. You can add 52 more conversations a year between you and your child by having your child help you prepare dinner one night each week. Along with sparking casual conversations, cooking dinner with your child offers other great benefits such as indirectly encouraging your child to try new and different foods. Read Benefits of Having a Teen Cook Dinner One Night Per Week for more ideas and information, but remember that preschoolers love to help in the kitchen too. Kids helping cook dinner is for all age kids.
  3. Family Meetings: Holding family meetings once night per week means that you and your family get to talk about real life issues, plan events and vacations together and discuss solutions to problems that arise in your household.
  4. Limit Screen Time is one of the tools in the set of Positive Discipline Tool Cards. A great way to limit screen time is hold a family game night or a family activity night once a week. When you and your family play games together or do something such as take a family walk or hike, you’ll notice that these activities seem to evolve into some great conversation time when parents just let conversations happen.
  5. Validate Feelings: Your children will feel more safe telling you about their feelings and disappointments when they feel heard. Validating your child’s feelings is a great tool that helps your child feel listened to and connected to you. You can encourage your child to start more conversations with you by being a good listener and by validating feelings that your child expresses to you.

I hope you’ll choose one of the tools above and start implementing it soon. Choose one that you’re interested in and excited about.Kelly014

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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Benefits of Having a Teen Cooking Family Dinner One Night Per Week

July 21, 2013

file0001458463564Spending time with your family and especially eating a meal together, helps teens learn important life skills and lessons.  Having them cook a meal a week is a great way to help them gain independence and help them to become self-sufficient.

Teens Cooking Family Dinner
Having teens help prepare family dinner on a weekly basis can improve parent-child relationships, decrease power struggles and boost healthy eating habits.

In addition to the obvious benefit that a teenager will learn life skills, assigning a teen cooking tasks just once a week can also positively impact the parent-child relationship. The key to gradual improvements in the relationship has to do with how a parent interacts with his or her child while they prepare family dinner together.

Tips to Get a Teen Cooking Family Dinner and Enjoying It
The first tip for parents is to ask teens to commit to cooking on a particular night every week. This discussion works best when both parent and teen are not distracted and both are in a reasonable mood. Parents should let a teenager know approximately what time the cooking will start. Parents need to allow more time for when a teen is cooking family dinner alongside them.

Next parents must follow through and hold a teenager to the agreement. Many teenagers will resist at first because they are involved in a video game, TV show or other activities. When teaching a teenager to cook, parents much remember to demonstrate any skills that are new for him and give specific instructions. Finally parents can give positive feedback and encouragement to him or her, but should avoid gushing as many teens perceive excess praise as condescending.

A summary of the steps to get a teen cooking family dinner are:

  1. Ask for a commitment
  2. Follow through with the plan
  3. Allow extra time
  4. Demonstrate in a friendly manner
  5. Encourage, but don’t overdo it

Reducing Power Struggles in the Parent-Child Relationship
So how can a chore such as cooking family dinner reduce power struggles between a parent and teenager? Cooking together can only have a positive effect on power struggles if the parent makes a conscious choice to focus the cooking time with teens to teach life skills in a positive way, be encouraging and build or rebuild the parent-child relationship. Parents can look for opportunities to work together on cooking tasks and enjoy spending time with a teenage son or daughter.
Any change in power struggles is not expected to happen overnight, but instead will evolve over time. If parents are looking for quick change, the plan is not likely to work. But when parents focus on bonding with a teen and improving the relationship, power struggles will often decrease on their own because of the improved dynamics of the relationship.

It is normal for parents and teens to have conflicts so parents may want to remind themselves that it is unrealistic to expect that power struggles will go away completely.

Teaching Life Skills and Healthy Eating Habits
Cooking family dinner once a week will definitely teach life skills that teens need to know. Basic cooking skills such as measuring, cutting and following recipe instructions will teach them skills to be self sufficient and develop self confidence. As well, cooking alongside a parent will promote cooperation and teamwork skills.

Learning to cook usually piques a teen’s interest in food. It’s hard for a teenager to resist tasting a dish that he or she prepared. Parents can involve the kids in cooking meals that are their favorites as well as meals that include sources of fiber, vegetables, and protein. Don’t feel the need to coax teens to try new foods or preach about healthy eating habits, but rather allow them to internalize lessons through “doing” – cooking and trying new foods.

Cooking family dinner with a parent may turn out to be a teenager’s favorite weekly chore. Parents may learn a little about their teen sons or daughters and the children may learn a little about having fun with their parents. Spending time together cooking once a week can teach important life skills, promote healthy eating habits and improve the dynamics of the parent-child relationship.

Kelly014Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer



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Conveying Unconditional Love to Your Child – A Necessity for Improving Behavior

July 18, 2013

Unconditoinal Love for KidsAccording to counselor and Positive Discipline Trainer Mike Brock, the number one question people want to ask their parents is, “Do you really love me?” I’ve sat and listened to Mike deliver this message in person at the Positive Discipline Trainer’s Think Tank before. Mike explained that in his years of counseling people of all ages, this one question seems to weigh heavily in their minds.

I’ve also listened to Jane Nelsen speak on this topic. “We know we love our children, but do they know we really love them? ” Jane asks on one of her many audio recordings. In disapproving of a child’s behavior, sometimes we may also convey that we disapprove of the child. I love Positive Discipline tools because the tools all use respect (a component of love) to teach children what to do differently in the future. One of the big ideas in Positive Discipline is “make sure the message of love gets through.”

Many of us weren’t raised with examples of sending the message of love while our parents dealt with our behaviors. Including a message of love may even feel like soft or permissive parenting to some of you. For those of you learning Positive Discipline or just researching Positive Discipline may worry that the ideas are too loving. If you’re one of those people, know that Positive Discipline upholds the idea that parents be both kind and firm at the same time. So the idea of conveying unconditional love is harnessed together with tools that are firm and also tools that really teach your child important life skills. Children usually don’t feel loved from parents who never set limits or let kids do anything the kids want to do. Firmness is definitely a part of love too.

Positive Discipline Tools for Conveying Unconditional Love

Although all of the Positive Discipline tools include mutual respect and the idea of staying emotionally connected with your child (the kindness part), here I’ll list a few of my favorites ones for conveying unconditional love:

  • Special Time – Spend one-on-one time with your child each week. For young children, this may be 30 minutes each day and this can be a part of the bedtime routine each night. For elementary aged children and middle schoolers, plan a time of 45 minutes to an hour each week (every Saturday morning for example) that you dedicate to spending one on one time with your child. This is also the same recommendation for high school children, but personally I’ve found it a little more difficult to keep a schedule for this and we fit it in whenever we can. During this time, simply have fun with your child and avoid talking about grades, misbehavior, etc.
  • Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn – When your child makes a mistake, by misbehaving, tell your child that everyone makes mistakes. This acceptance of your child as a wonderful, yet imperfect individual sends a big time message that you love your child no matter what they do or how imperfect they are. (I also suggest that you take this attitude towards yourself to show yourself unconditional love and self-compassion when you make mistakes.)
  • Connection Before Correction – When you approach your child, do you start by talking immediately about the mess your child left on the kitchen counter? What if you connected first and then asked your child to clean up the mess? There are many ways to connect first. You could ask your child how he or she is feeling? You could give a hug or high five. You could call your child one of the positive cute names you’ve created for them. The possibilities are endless, but I’m pretty sure you’d like someone else to connect with you before they “correct” you.

In my experience, when someone expresses unconditional love to me while they discuss a mistake I made, then I genuinely want to do better. Traditional discipline works from a basis of fear while Positive Discipline focuses on mutual respect, and unconditional love. This idea that we can express love to our children while at the same time teaching them responsibility, accountability and how to make up for their mistakes is new to many people. Also it might be a scary step for you to take.  Here are a few ideas to remember when struggling with conveying unconditional love:

  • Wait until you’ve calmed down before you talk to you child about the behavior.
  • Focus on the long term goal or the life skill you want your child to learn so that he or she can be more successful in the future.
  • If you calm down, but then get triggered again while talking to your child, excuse yourself to go calm down again before continuing the conversation with your child.
  • Get on eye level with your child to talk to him or her. Squat, sit or do what is necessary to look your child in the eye instead of looking down at your child.
  • Work on your belief that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.

I love helping families learn to experience more acceptance and love with each other. The more I stay calm AKelly014ND convey unconditional love, the richer my relationships are.

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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