Mr. Negativity

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Q: My 9-year-old stepson seems increasingly negative and anxious. We thought it was due to our move (still within a half hour of the mother), but his mom mentioned that he complains he has no friends at school since his friends are in different classes/recesses. It coincides with him crying when his father leaves for work (he didn’t do this previously), crying after he comes here because he misses his mom, and crying when he goes there because he misses his dad. 

There is lots of crying for other reasons as well. I don’t know if he cries at school, but I suspect if he does that is increasing his social isolation. The only times he truly lights up is when he describes past injuries or illnesses, or say, the paper cut he got that day. He played goalie for hockey and the first thing he told me was he caught a puck on bare skin. Not that he blocked a bunch of shots and they won the game.

We try to emphasize the good happening and downplay every gripe he gives. From what I know of his other home environment, small injuries are fawned over and all feelings are discussed and parsed/etc. When he’s with other kids, he delights in enforcing rules and lording over people, despite not being particularly good at the games/sports. When I showed my latest ultrasound pics (this behavior came on well before the pregnancy/announcement), his first response was “Wow, he’s ugly!” Granted 4D pictures are not perfectly lifelike and I explained that to him, but I was thinking what a little punk.

I mentioned to his dad that he is really becoming that guy we all avoid at office Christmas parties. He’s a bit shy when it comes to making friends and I am afraid some of these behaviors are going to be off-putting to peers, making his situation worse. 

His mom is pushing for therapy and my husband is inclined to agree with that.  I am not sure he’s to that level. Anyway, that’s a lot of info. What do you suggest we do to redirect him? I had similar friend difficulties as a kid, including a school year in which all friends had a difference recess, so I thought I would approach the topic by talking about that and also explaining what “you reap what you sow” means. However, I’ve been a stepmom for a year and generally didn’t interact with kids prior to now.

A: From your question, I can see how much you care about your stepson and how much you ache for his floundering around in social situations. A couple of things to note before I offer some suggestions for what you and dad can do.

First, it sounds like your son is overwhelmed, whether with his own emotions about the move, his place in the family (you mention your pregnancy and that might worry him), the hard time he’s having making friends, etc. And some kids when they feel frustrated with themselves and with the situation, they cry. Unfortunately, when boys cry, it’s much more misunderstood by peers, by adults/teachers, and by themselves.

Second, I also think that perhaps there’s been too much talking about his crying and lack of friends, and “downplaying” his gripes isn’t the same as ignoring the gripes. You can’t make a child see the good when he’s bound and determined to see the negative.

What to do? For the crying, lack of friends, gripes, I’d go with starving the matter. He gets attention when he complains, when you and dad try to make him see the positive, etc. He’s fallen into a rut that even if he wanted to, he can’t get out of by himself.

Starve the negative beast by keeping your response to his gripes short and sweet. “Interesting.” “I see.” Very noncommittal to whether you’re agreeing with him or trying to jolly him out of the funk. This will take some time—this has been a long time building! But keep with it and you should see some improvements.

Use some the coping techniques to help him control his tears, such as putting his head down on his desk at school, taking deep breathes, counting to 10, etc. Crying when you don’t want to is very frustrating, so giving him some options of how HE can respond should help keep the crying shorter and more manageable.

And I had to laugh at his response to your ultrasound picture—that’s pure boy and pure kid! He was probably not trying to be mean, as kids blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, and seriously, babies (even those already born) aren’t always the most attractive! In other words, don’t take him so seriously.

Finally, play games with him, read books with him, find ways to share little droplets of your life as a child with him (very short!), cook his favorite meals (or better yet, have him cook with you), make sure that you are showing him your love in a million small ways (a touch on the arm, a hug in the morning—despite his protests, he will really love that. Find out his love language—is it touches, snuggle time, spending time with you or his dad? What makes him light up in relation to interactions with you? One of my sons loves to have snuggle time, another one loves it when I listen to him talk about something with my undivided attention.

Remember, you can’t change how his mother parents, but you can change how you respond to him.

More Hosting Tips (With Kids)

I’ve received a lot of wonderful feedback from last month’s Washington Post piece on “Once kids enter the picture, can parents still entertain?” Because of space constraints, not all of my tips made

Image courtesy of nuttakit/

it into the paper. Here are five additional lessons I’ve learned about how to pull off dinners and parties when kids are in the house.

  1. Make it easy. When we host large events, we make a Costco run to make setting out a buffet simple. Pressed for time? Buy prepared foods or order from a restaurant.
  2. Consider your guest list. Thinking about who to invite to what should involve some thought to ensure all are comfortable and have a good time. “Different friends find their way into your lives at different times of life, and if you’re in the kid stage, entertain others who are sympathetic,” says says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.
  3. Think beyond dinner. There are lots of ways you can host successfully, but it might take some trial and error to find the ones that work for you. For example, when our kids were little, we often hosted brunches instead of dinners because our kids were better behaved in the morning than in the evening.
  4. Communicate expectations. Let your guests know that your kids will be there and that theirs are welcome too. Or if it’s a grownup-only night and your kids will be off in their rooms, let them know that too. “Be sure to what ‘kid-friendly’ means for you and your family. If that means wine and beer are okay, but smoking and cursing are not, be clear and share it early,” advises Anitra Durand Allen with Experience Bliss Coaching.
  5. Remember the point. This is the key to any successful gathering—keeping in mind why you’re hosting. Hint: It’s because you want to spend time or get to know your guests, right?

Narcissistic Tendencies in Parent Equals Narcissistic Child?

Q: My husband refuses to make our 8-year-old daughter listen. He frequently undermines my parenting. Because of  marriage stresses, I recently began seeing a counselor. After listening to my situation, this counselor told me, “It sounds like your husband has narcissistic tendencies.”

After doing some research, I believe that she is right about that. After confronting him and giving him an ultimatum, he has agreed to start seeing a psychologist with me who specializes in people with narcissistic tendencies. We begin that counseling at the end of this week .

My question is: Is it possible for a narcissistic parent to cause a child to also become narcissistic? He has been the primary influence in our daughter’s life because he has elbowed me out from using tools to make her behave and respect others for years.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

She has most of the narcissistic qualities that he has. Most children don’t want to play with her, she has very little empathy for others, and when confronted with her behavior throws a tantrum like a two-year-old.

Is it possible for the narcissistic parent to have such influence on the child that she has become completely narcissistic? Can that be reversed? I have done Tickets with her, but nothing seems to phase her. When the punishment is over, she’s right back to it. Thank you for your help in this matter.

A: Because you indicated you’re now under the care of a counselor, I will answer your question more generally. Parents have a role in what kind of child they are raising, but there are numerous examples of kids from terrible homes who turn out well and kids from good homes who turn out badly. As John Rosemond says, “The child produces the child.” Parents have an integral part in that production, but not the only part.

A couple of years ago , I wrote an article for the Washington Post on “7 ways to nip narcissism in the bud” in response to a 2015 study that found parents who overvalue their children (over praise them, for example) are raising narcissistic kids. Basically, the best way to counter narcissistic tendencies in a child are to teach them empathy, to give them lots of chores to do for the family, to encourage and model kindness, and to discipline them consistently

But the good news is that your child is only eight—she has a whole lifetime ahead of her! That means there’s plenty of time to reverse her father’s narcissistic influence with patience and perseverance.

The Most Important Parenting Advice You’ll Ever Receive

By Patty Smith Hall

When I first booked this guest blog, I thought it would be a no-brainer. After all, I have 30-plus years of experience at being a mother, as well as being a pediatric nurse specialist who worked with high risk infants. There are several things I could advise parents on—what to expect during your first weeks at home with your newborn, how to discover the best way to correct your child, or even how to survive the teenage years.

Then recently I became a grandmother for the first time. After watching my daughter grow into her new role as a mother, I have two very important pieces of advice for every parent.

First, don’t be so hard on yourself. Parenting is a tough job, one that’s 24/7/365. There is no resigning from this position (though some of you probably wished you could if you have a teenager!). In raising your child, you’re preparing the next generation of leaders, those people who will shape our country and our world in the years to come. It’s a huge responsibility.

But try as you might, you’re going to screw up at times. You’re going to make a bone-headed decision or blow up when the oldest draws a mustache in permanent marker on her baby sister. It happens. You’re only human. But don’t get so wrapped up in your mistakes. Admit them—to yourself, to your best friend, sometimes to your kids—then move on. Learn from your miscues. Forgive yourself.

Second, enjoy the moment. Your kids aren’t always going to be in diapers or wearing a big grin on their face when they see you after school. One day sooner than you think, they’re going to be going off to college or getting married, maybe having kids of their own. Savor each moment you have with them. Even the hard times have those brief moments of joy. Don’t worry if the house is a wreck or you’ve got errands to run—have a tea party! Go to the park and kick a ball around. Just enjoy your babies, and remember—you’re making memories for the lifetime to come.

About Patty Smith Hall
A multi-published author, Patty lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30-plus years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters, her son-in-love and a grandboy who has his grandma’s heart. Her new release, “Hometown Heiress” in The American Heiress Bride Collection is available on Amazon or at your local bookstore.




Charting a Course of Discipline

Q: I have twin 6-year old boys and an 8-year old boy. I’ve recently implemented the weekly chart (for two of my boys) and I have one of the twins on the daily chart for school. I’m having trouble getting them to stay in there room when they make it to #6.

Earlier this week, I calmly said, “You must like your room because you are choosing to stay in it,” and he looked at me confused. I said, “Whenever you come out then you are choosing to spend tomorrow in your room as well.” And the next day he goes automatically to his room (even though he may have had an excellent day at school). Do you think this is a good solution?  Do you have another? 

Also, we have sports practice four out of the five days of the school week. They do have some time in their room before we leave, but it’s not always possible to have the 6:30 bedtime. Do you have any suggestions on what to do when it’s not possible to get to bed by 6:30?

A: I’m glad you asked because this is one of the areas that gets parents into trouble more than anything, especially when implementing a new system of discipline. You want to get this right, and you want your kids to get it right too. (For an explanation of Charts, visit the Discipline Methods section of this website.)

First of all, just because a child doesn’t physically stay in his room doesn’t mean you can’t effectively restrict his activities. There are many other ways to handle this—and to encourage a child to stay in his room.

For example, one reaches block Six, but he keeps coming out of his room. Each time he comes out, give him an onerous chore to complete. Say, “Oh, I see you’re ready to do X now. Here you go. You have X minutes to complete this to my satisfaction.” He might not be IN his room, but he’s certainly not enjoying himself. He might keep coming out—you just keep handing out chores (fill a jar with chores written on slips of paper—and your boys can do lots!—and pluck one out each time a child exits his room without permission).

Second, I think you need to revert to a daily chart for each child. This will let each kid start each day with a fresh slate. That gives a kid hope that he can do better the next day. Once they have mastered the daily charts on a consistent basis, then you can move to weekly for maintenance, finally eliminating charts all together. If a child loses hope that tomorrow can be different, he will stop trying. That’s not what we want our kids to learn from discipline. Discipline should be about bringing hope as well as correction.

Third, if a child loses all his boxes, then that child doesn’t play sports that day. Bring him along if you have to, and have him sit on the sidelines while his brothers practice. That will send a stronger message than any room time could ever do.

The sooner a child realizes that bad behavior results in his life stopping as he knows it, the sooner that child should wise up and fly right. Now you will have to be prepared to have coaches or other parents not support that decision but remember: You are not raising child sports star. You are raising an adult. Think about how you want that adult to be and act—develop your own parental vision—and you will have the backbone to follow through on these unpopular decisions.


PS: I’ve created PDF and laminated versions of weekly and daily Charts. Go to the Discipline Methods to order your copy today.

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent


We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon caption is from Claire Meade of Oak Hill, Va. Claire routinely had to say this to her younger son around age 5 “when he was in his big naked stage.” Fortunately, his older brother managed to keep his pants on at the table.

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below–yours might be featured as a cartoon!

Too Much Time Away From Home?

Q: How much time is too much time away from home? Is it one day a week, three times a week? What would be the guidelines for how much time we allow our kids to visit others without us?

A:It depends. I know, not the answer you wanted, right? I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule—parenting isn’t like that because every child and every situation is different. But I can give you some guidelines or questions to think about when considering such time away from mom and dad.

Image courtesy of vorakorn/

How visits in the past have gone. Is your child cranky every time she comes home from Grandma’s? Is she subdued? Does she cry a lot when you’re not around? How hard is it to re-establish routines when the child returns home?

What do you need? As parents, we’re used to putting our needs last, but sometimes, it’s important to realize that we need a break from our kids as much as they need a break from us. So if you know that by mid-summer, you really could use a long weekend by yourself (or with your spouse), then schedule something ahead of time. We all need mini-breaks, such as a night out or lunch with a friend, so make sure you hire sitters (or swap babysitting with friends) for those smaller chunks of time.

What do they need? Kids learn and grow apart from Mom and Dad. An overnight camp during the summer, weekends with grandparents or other relatives, spending the night at a friend’s house—all of these activities help kids become more independent and resourceful.

Who are they spending time with? You didn’t ask this exactly, but we should be careful with whom who we leave our children. For example, vet summer camps by asking how staff are selected and trained. For the families of your child’s friends that you might not know well, ask questions like who lives in the house, who will be home during the sleepover, what kind of supervision will be given, etc.

You take all of that information and you make a case-by-case decision on away-from-home trips, overnights, etc. Sometimes, a child isn’t ready for an overnight one year, but by the next, she’s ready to go.

Cryin’ All the Time

Three of my four kids cry. A lot. They shed tears when they’re angry. They bawl when they’re sad. They sob when they’re frustrated. In short, emotions tend to manifest themselves as water.

And I understand, because I’m the same way. I’ve cried when I was spitting mad–and hated every tear that fell. I cried when frustrated because someone wasn’t hearing me or understanding what I was saying or trying to do.

Teaching our kids how to handle tears has been an ongoing and important lesson in our home. Our criers will probably always shed tears at the most inopportune times. Knowing how to respond and what they can do to control those tears can be one of the best things they’ll ever learn.

Image courtesy of patrisyu/

With the help of a few experts, I tackled that topic in a recent Washington Post On Parenting blog entitled “How to help your child cope with tears that come too easily.” One tip that has been of enormous help in our house has been to give the child permission to take a moment to regroup, such as putting her head down on her desk at school, closing his eyes and counting to 10, etc. Those little coping mechanisms have paid huge dividends as our kids have become more confident in how they respond to their own teariness.

Until next time,

Calling All Mothers

If you’re called to motherhood, what does that mean? In the simplest terms, it means you have children, who either came to you by way of birth or adoption (both formal and informal). Chimene Shipley Dupler posits that being a mother is a high calling in her new book on the topic. Hers is the voice of encouragement, whispering in our ears that we can do this mothering thing because God has given us this work.

Written in a breezy, cheerleader tone, The High Calling of Motherhood offers guidance on what it means to be called to motherhood. The chapters flow into each other and cover a lot of ground, from social media feeding our insecurities to the power of prayer in the lives of our children. The book’s strength lies in her biblical grounding that God is sovereign over our entire lives—and the lives of our children. All too often, we let fear reign in our hearts instead of resting in the sovereignty of Almighty God.

Dupler’s sincerity and her passion for helping moms shines throughout the book. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to overcome some inherent problems with the book overall. Her prose exuded excitement—a good editor should have curbed her generous use of exclamation points (!)—as well as repeated phrases and ideas, such as informing us over and over (and over) again that motherhood is a high calling (and that’s just in the first chapter). Subsequent chapters also have the similar repetitive notes that could have been streamlined and beefed up with a more rigorous exposition.

I also had a hard time with one huge assumption Dupler asserts early on in the book: “But motherhood has always been hard, in every generation and in every culture. Mothering is hard because it comes from the heart.” I know for a fact that my mother or grandmother would never have said that being a mom is hard in general. This “mothering is hard work” is a very modern idea, one that is largely American in nature (read Bringing Up Bebe to see how different modern Frenchwomen view motherhood, for instance).

In addition, the book has more of a “you can do it!” tone than practical advice, which is thin on the ground. It’s all good and well to tell us that we are called to motherhood, but how does that fit into our other callings as wives? Or into our work or volunteer opportunities? I wished for more chapters like the one on storyboarding and visioning, which provided tangible ways to envision our children’s future that could help us through a particular season of life. While she gives us insights into her own life and shares a few stories of other women she’s met, I wanted Dupler to provide the voices of other moms in her book.

The Bottom Line
The High Calling of Motherhood is a saccharine dose of encouragement for moms who have lost their way after having children. You will find much in this book to spur you on to rediscovering your calling as a mother. However, for those who are in search of practical ways to be a mother, you might find Dupler’s work a little lacking. For that group, I recommend How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. For Christian mothers wanting a guidebook to raising kids in the faith, there is no better recommendation than The Mother at Home by John S.C. Abbott, a 19th century American pastor.

Readers can enter The High of Calling of Motherhood Blog Tour Giveaway for a chance to win either a custom made “World Changer” necklace by The Giving Keys or two tickets to attend the Passion4Moms conference being held in Washington, D.C., May 5-6, 2017.