Ditch the Aggressor and Victim Roles

Q: My kids are 5 (girl) and 9(boy). She is precocious and bates her brother regularly. She is an extrovert sometimes to the extreme. He is quiet, generally calm, and keeps things inside, always trying to please. He gets frustrated, yells, cries and will even push or hit her when she needles him. Then he feels badly and apologizes. 

I’ve read about “Do Not Disturb The Family Peace” and love it. How would I make this effective for my kids so that it’s fair to both? With just 3 tickets, they could end up losing all of them and it really wouldn’t be his fault—she is difficult!

hamaker fox5 family peaceA: Before we tackle how Do Not Disturb the Family Peace (DNDFP), let’s start with how you’re contributing to the sibling conflict. Yes, I know, they are the ones fighting, but by your own words, you are assigning blame squarely on your daughter—and absolving your son of any serious contribution, as in “they could end up losing all of them and it really wouldn’t be his fault…she is difficult!”

For DNDFP to work—and believe me, it really does!—you have to stop putting your son in the “victim” camp and your daughter in the “aggressor/villain” camp. They both have a hand in the fighting, no matter how “difficult” one of them might be.

Helping your son learn how to react to a “difficult” person is one of the greatest lessons in life–and he’s learning it at home at a young age. Just think about how many difficult people you’ve encountered–a teacher, classmate, co-worker, boss, etc. Difficult people are all around us, and we can’t avoid them. What we can do is help our children learn how to deal with them in a way that’s kind and firm.

So back to your question! The way DNDFP works is that you have nothing to do with its execution other than directing one of the kids to take a ticket (or taking it yourself). You write the top two or three things they argue/fight about (for example, when I had this up for my kids, it was no hurting each other, keep the noise level down, and no tattling), give them together three tickets each morning, then don’t try to figure out what happened–just tell them they disturbed the family peace and it’s a ticket. For more on DNDFP, click here.

Yes, they will likely blow through the tickets in short order—then they’re confined to their rooms for the rest of the day and put to bed directly after supper. Remember, your kids are caught in a vicious pattern of fighting that’s only going to get worse. They need help to get off the merry-go-round, and this will help them.

Digital Mothering

More than nine out of 10 mothers with children under the age of 18 use the Internet. A recent 2016 report from eMarketer explored how digital U.S. mothers are—and what they were using their electronic devices to do.

Mothers leverage digital devices to catch their breath from mom tasks—and to hang onto a life beyond motherhood. “When a woman becomes a mother, digital resources become a lifeline to the grown-up world, a guide informing the tasks of motherhood and a quick pass to moments of relaxation. But the Internet also has its downside for mothers, in part as a locus of ‘mommy judging,’” the report said.

US Mother Internet Users and Penetration, 2014-2020Mothers also spend a lot of time online, averaging just over three hours logged onto the Internet in a 24-hour time slot. Moms also heavily rely on the Internet to stay connected with family and friends.

While being online can be a great way to connect and to accomplish essential tasks, such as shopping, it can also encroach on our face time with our kids (and spouses). Here are some warning signs that you might be using your device too much:

  1. You try to swipe your toddler’s incessant talking to “off.”
  2. You attempt to enlarge the text on your daughter’s permission slip with a pinching motion.
  3. You panic when you can’t find your phone at the fast-food restaurant. When you find it, you leave…without your preschooler, who’s in the play area.
  4. You can’t hold a five second conversation with your tween without checking your status updates.
  5. You start to prefer checking Facebook for updates in the lives of friends and family, and don’t see the need for conversation when meeting them face-to-face.

What are some ways you use digital devices as a mom?

Until next time,

A Moody Eight-Year-Old

Q: One of our 8-year-old twin daughters has become more moody and disrespectful at home. Recently, I was surprised to find out that she has also not been acting well at school, for example, talking when she’s not supposed to. Today the teacher warned her 8 times, and when my daughter was caught playing rock, paper scissors at the end of a math test (most of the students were still taking the test), the teacher told her to move her clip (a form of classroom discipline). My daughter then tried to argue with her. This is very unlike my daughter. The teacher called me to let me know what happened (we have a good relationship). I made my daughter sit on her bed after dinner and do nothing for an hour except write a letter of apology to her teacher. Any thoughts on how we can turn this behavior around?

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Kids who have previously been well behaved have been known to take a “bender” of sorts and cause all sorts of havoc. Since you don’t mention trouble at school with classmates or classwork, then it’s like just one of those things. But it’s not at all unusual—kids will generally act like kids, which is to say, like little heathens. You’re right to want to nip this in the bud before it becomes entrenched.

Stop with the penny-ante stuff of sitting on her bed for an hour (the letter of apology was spot-on!). You need the big guns to make her an offer she can’t refuse. At this age, curtailing her freedom usually works well. This weekend, pick a time when she hasn’t been misbehaving and have a short chat with her. Tell her that you’ve noticed she’s been disobeying her teacher and her mom and dad, and that you’re going to help her remember how to behave.

Simply put: when she is disobedient (and clearly define what you mean, such as “when you do not do what you’re told to do”) either home or school (and have the teacher send home an email or a red card when she wasn’t behaving at school), then she’s immediately confined to her room and directly to bed after supper, lights out.

It will might take several days or even a week or more for her to straighten up, but she will likely do so. Remember, though, sometimes things get worse before they get better.

The Weirdness of Kids

Kids are, well, strange creatures, and some are perhaps stranger than others (ever read the comic strip Lio? Now that’s a weird kid!).

Kids are curious creatures, but about things that an adult wouldn’t look at twice. Why else do kids stare at worms on the sidewalk or muse about why the ground has dirt?

I was a strange child in some ways. I loved cemeteries. Yep, I enjoyed reading headstones, the older the better. My favorite cemetery as a child was the nearby Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Va., which boasted a church with original Tiffany stained glass windows—truly beautiful works of art, especially when the sunshine turned the glass into brilliant shades of vibrant colors. It’s the second-largest cemetery in Virginia (Arlington National Cemetery is the largest), and has veterans of every American war interred there, including 30,000 Confederate soldiers killed during the Siege of Petersburg.

Photograph by Ron Zanoni
Blandford Cemetery and church. Photograph by Ron Zanoni

My mom would often take me there and let me wander around in the old section, where graves dated back to the early 1700s. I read the names of those who had died so long ago usually at such young ages, along with the epitaphs that recounted the tragedies and loves of the person. Those tantalizing bits of information fired my imagination. Who were they? Where had they lived? What were their dreams and hopes?

I was lucky that my mom indulged my rather eccentric taste for tombstones in my youth, which made me wonder if I was doing the same with my kids. None of them have particular strange predilections, but am I providing a safe and welcome place for them to be weird as only a kid can be?

Here are two simple questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to encourage or restrict our children’s strange ideas or passions.

  1. Will it cause true bodily harm to the child or others? Be careful not to think too apocalyptically on this score. Remember there’s a world of difference between a scrapped knee and a broken leg. Also, the child needs to have a care for the harm of others as well.
  2. Will it damage property? Again, we need to think about the real possibilities of this happening, not a low percentage risk. For example, toss a baseball in the backyard might, as a result of a wild throw, break a neighbor’s window, but that’s probably highly unlikely to happen. Playing catch across the road when cars drive by has a higher probability of hitting a vehicle’s windshield, and should be forbidden. (And yes, I have personal experience of the latter incident….)

Other than those two questions, a child should be able to engage in his or her interests, even though we with our adult eyes and ears might find those odd or outlandish. Allowing our children to have eccentricities can be very freeing for a child. Many inventors, for example, had childhoods spent exploring or focusing on what society deemed abnormal or bizarre things.

So if you have a weird kid, take heart! You might just be raising the adult who will cure cancer or find an alternative fuel or write a beautiful symphony.

Until next time,

A Pretty Little Liar

Q: My daughter is 5 and is a liar…about anything and everything! It’s silly things like making up stories to fit in or get attention, and sometimes the things she says makes no sense at all. She always has a reason, such as it was a joke; I didn’t want to get in trouble; and I thought you would be mad. We’ve talked about this, punished her with early bedtimes, loss of privileges, snacks, desserts, trying anything that will motivate her to do the right thing. Any ideas how to nip this now?

A: Stop asking her questions to which you know (or are reasonably sure you know) the answer to. In other words, don’t give her as many opportunities to lie. For the made-up stories among her peers/other kids, let those go. Kids are smart enough to figure out when a peer is not telling the truth–peer pressure doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; sometimes it can work to your advantage!

For the rest of the lies, try not saying anything at all when she tells a whopper. Part of the drama is her lying, you telling her she’s lying, her protesting vehemently, and the game is afoot. Simply stare at her for at least a minute (count it out in your head if you need to) without saying anything. If she persists, say something noncommittal like “hmm” or “interesting,” then walk away. Stop engaging her in the lying game, and she’ll eventually stop lying as much. She may still tell an occasional lie, but then again, she’s not perfect.

Five Ways to Survive Your Child’s Difficult Stage

By Cindi McMenamin

Is your child going through a stage that is worrying you or driving you crazy?

In my book 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom, I interviewed moms of children going through the “questioning” stage, the “testing” stage, and the “lack of motivation” stage, to name just a few.10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom

In some cases, the phase lasted only a few months. In most cases, it lasted about a year. But in every case I’ve seen or heard about, it was a limited time – a short season of a child’s life.

Most of the things we worry about come down to a phase our kids are going through. A phase that eventually ends, and then our kids seem normal again.”

As one mom summed it up: “Every phase my kids went through, whether good or bad, seemed to change over time. I spent a lot of time worrying about something that wasn’t even an issue a year later.”

Here are some practical ways to keep your sanity and not worry when your child is going through a difficult stage:

  1. Learn to Respond, Rather Than React. When we react, rather than respond to our children’s behavior, it can escalate a situation between a parent and child, especially if you are reacting emotionally to something you don’t understand (like your child’s choice of dress or unusual request). Instead of reacting to something your child might say from a bad attitude or an irrational thought, respond by calmly saying “Tell me more about that.”
  2. Learn to Laugh. It helps to have a sense of humor. See the “stage” as something to look back and laugh about later.
  3. Learn to Count It Out. One mom told me she counts to ten in every situation where she’s tempted to lose her cool. Being patient by taking a deep breath and counting makes sure we are not as impulsive and emotional in our responses, as our children are in their actions.
  4. Learn from Moms Who Have Been There. God many times speaks to us through the wisdom of others. Talk to godly moms who are facing the same things with their kids and can offer sound biblical insight. If you don’t have a group of moms around you who can give you biblical advice, find a Moms in Prayer group at your children’s school or find a moms group at your local church.
  5. Lean on God and His Word. In Psalm 16:8, David said, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” You can have that kind of confidence, too. As you lean on God and His Word, you can stand firmly and be a steady, immovable force in your child’s life no matter what he or she is going through.

About Cindi McMenamin
View More: http://chelseamariephoto.pass.us/cindi
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker who helps women find strength for the soul. She is the author of 15 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter,  and her newest book, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom. For more on her ministry, books or free resources to strengthen your walk with God, your marriage or your parenting, visit her website at StrengthForTheSoul.com.

All I want is Some Help!

Q: I have four children ages 7, 6, 4 and 2. The current chore load is emptying the dishwasher, clearing the table, making beds and vacuuming, but I want to provide more responsibility. Do you have recommendations for what chores are appropriate for what age? Do you have suggestions for how to train them in a way where Mom does not run out of patience?

A: You are off to a great start, and you may certainly put your children to more work around the house, but it will take some training on your part (think of it as investing in a clean house and self-sufficient kids of the future!). Overall, your children should be told to do the chore, then check back with you when they are finished. You will then check it, and release them from that chore (or have them correct it). This helps to keep everyone on track and shows kids that chores have a beginning, middle, and end.

Image courtesy of kdshutterman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of kdshutterman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are some specific chore suggestions for your children’s ages:

2 years old: can wipe the kitchen, bathroom floors with damp cloth; can pick up own toys and clothes. Break these down into one step, such as pick up your toy cars and put them here (indicate where) and tell me when you’re done. Repeat as necessary.

4 years old: same as younger sib, plus can help take out the trash and set the silverware around the table, dust baseboards.

5 years old: same as younger sibs, plus set the table entirely, make own lunch/breakfast, sweep inside and outside areas, weed gardens, dust, wipe windows, etc.

7 years old: same as younger sibs, plus clear table and put away food; do breakfast dishes (or lunch dishes); vacuum, clean toilets/bathroom, etc.

The best way to handle training is two-fold. Demonstrate (will need to do this a lot in the beginning) and write down specific steps, either in a notebook or index cards. That clears up any confusion as to what you mean by clean the bathroom and also helps a child realize what steps are involved in specific chores. I made up a chore book for my four kids that listed their daily/weekly chores, plus a list of very specific steps for each chore (such as how to clean a bathroom).

Signup for my weekly parenting newsletter and receive a sample chore book with ideas for specific ages, plus step-by-step instructions for chores you can use to make your own! If you’re already a subscriber, simply email me for the book through my contact page.

6 Practical Ways to Teach Kids to be Self-Reliant

We all want our kids to be able to do things for themselves, to grow and learn and blossom in independence. Here are 6 easy ways for us as parents to help our children become self-reliant.

  1. Focus on self-confidence, not self-esteem. High self-esteem has been the Holy Grail of childhood achievement for years, with many parents, educators, and child-rearing experts proclaiming its ability to heal all the ills of society. Children are heaped with lots of praise, even for mediocre or failing efforts, and all that positive reinforcement has created a generation of kids who think only of themselves. After all, everyone has told them their entire lives that they are wonderful, practically perfect people.

Most parents confuse high self-esteem with self-confidence. A child can have self-confidence and be humble—the two are compatible. What builds self-confidence? Failing and not succeeding. Failing lets the child know that they can get it wrong and still be okay. Failing helps the child learn to deal with frustrations. Letting our children become acquainted with failure can encourage perseverance and develop humility.

  1. Be deliberate with praise. Children don’t need endless praise for every, little thing they do. Constant or excessive praise doesn’t teach kids how to strive and grow—it turns them into little praise-seeking monsters. Stick to the point with your praise. Praise the present, not the past or future. Be sparing, but not a miser, with your praise. Praise what is worthy of complimenting, not everything your child does.
  2. Develop a parental vision for your kids. Effective leaders also have a vision for their company. A vision is what helps effective leaders get through the tough times. A vision keeps effective leaders focused instead of becoming derailed by setbacks. Take the long-term approach, thinking of what kind of adult you want your child to grown up to be: that’s the person you will be friends with, once the child has emancipated from your home into his own home. To hone your own vision for your children, think about how you want to describe your child at age 30—then parent with those characteristics in mind.
  3. Stop micromanaging your kids. Micromanaging is a form of overprotecting our children. A micromanager is one who exercises excessive control, especially over the details. The easiest way to derail your parenting is to become a micromanager. This is when you hover over your child, check in with him on every step, etc. We need to be micromanagers to some extent when our kids are under 3, but most of us forget to stop when they are able to do things for themselves. Begin by using these phrases more when talking with your children:

“I want you to,”

“It’s time to,”

“You will.”

Be prepared for the child to whine that she can’t do it because you’ve trained her to think she can’t. Be firm with saying she can do this on her own—then back off and let her.

  1. Stay back—way back!. As parents, we’re way too invested in our children and their success or failure. When we are, we are more likely to be the ones to become frustrated or take ownership of things that are properly our child’s. One example is homework. Many parents help their children nightly with homework, and by help, you sit down beside your child and hover while he completes his work. These sessions generally last hours, with the parent prodding and pushing, and the child whining and acting like he can’t do the work.
  2. Children need to experience pain and discomfort in order to properly negotiate life. Often, parents try to minimize the amount of pain and frustration in their children’s lives because it makes the kids unhappy. But children who don’t learn how to handle pain and disappointment are the ones who grow up to become young adults who often fail in college because they don’t know how to deal with frustrations, etc.

Where would you rather your child fail, in elementary school or high school? When the academic stakes are low or high? It’s not up to us to smooth the path our kids take—it’s up to us to equip them as best we can with the right characteristics that will guide them to do the right thing.


Handling a Picky Eater

Q: My 4-year-old son is an extremely picky eater who screams whenever he sees a new food or non-preferred food on his plate. As an infant, he suffered from reflux, and I read some research that indicated GI problems can lead to feeding issues later. We’ve talked with a feeding specialist and an occupational therapist but nothing is working. He will now tolerate the unwanted foods on his plate but he won’t touch the foods or eat them, not even a bite. We dread mealtimes because it has become a stressful battle! What can we do?

A: It’s hard when a child screams at dinner time, especially since that’s the time of day when we want to be together as a family and we’re often tired and cranky ourselves after a long day at home or the office. So I understand your frustration.

However, you’ve had a hand in creating this non-eating monster by tying his previous GI problems with his current pickiness of the plate. That has meant lots of consultations and “methods” to help him “get over” his feeding issues and has resulted in a lot of angst on your part and entrenchment on his. Now you’re at an impasse, and things are no better than when you started.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To reboot things, here’s what I recommend. Take a break from “making” him eat things for a few weeks to allow everyone to calm down. Don’t cook special meals, but allow him to “not” eat something he doesn’t want to. For breakfast and lunch, he can have more autonomy with food choices within reason (picking one cereal from the two offered, for example), but at dinner time, implement the one-bite method: serve him literally a teaspoon of each dish on the table. Once your son has consumed the food on his plate (two or three bites), he may have seconds of anything on the table. Make sure you serve at least one food he does like at each evening meal for the first few months, as an added incentive to get him to eat the other food. To help progress things along, hold off on late afternoon snacks so he’s good and hungry at dinnertime. But don’t ask him to eat, don’t cajole him to eat—simply ignore his eating or not eating altogether.


Understand that this problem didn’t crop up overnight, and it will take several weeks, if not longer, for him to actually eat the foods he doesn’t like. For the screaming, I would excuse him from the table and send him to his room until he can control himself. Not as a punishment or for a specific time limit but “until you can get control of yourself.” He’s old enough to be taught that just because he doesn’t like something, doesn’t mean he gets to scream.

Finally, realize that if he doesn’t eat his supper, he will not starve. For more tips on helping kids learn to like different foods, read my blog “Educating a Child’s Palate.”

Author Brad Meltzer on the Role of Fathers Today

The role of dads has been evolving rapidly today. Fathers are more likely to take paternity leave as well as stay at home with the kids than in generations past. I recently chatted with Brad Meltzer, best-selling parenting author and TV host, about the changing views on fatherhood and being a dad.

How has the role of fathers changed over the last century?

Photo by Andy Ryan
Photo by Andy Ryan

Brad: Mostly in how we portray fathers in media. For example, we would be horrified about the roles of Lucy and Ricki Ricardo in “I Love Lucy” because those roles are foreign to us now. What we see today is that there’s truth in showing strength and the real strength is caring—that’s where it’s changed most of all. One of the reason I started writing the Real Heroes children’s book series was that I wanted my kids to have books that taught them the values that are important, like sensitivity and concern and humility, which are all things more fathers today are expressing and living.

What are some current signs you’ve seen that the perception of fathers as bumbling man-child or clueless dads has been evolving?

Brad: There’s a reason why the movie “Three men and a baby,” seems so dated now—it was the ultimate life joke that it took three men to fulfill the father role for one baby. But we have so many different portrayals of fathers who are in touch with their feelings today, such as in the TV show “Modern Family.” I see it in my own thrillers, when I write father and mother characters, I’m careful not to let it become a characterization of the old way of viewing those roles.

Who are some of your role models for fatherhood?

Brad: I had a very caring grandfather who told me bedtime stories and taught me how to give to others. He was very caring and sensitive, and showed me you could be those things as a man.

How can wives be more supportive of their husbands in their roles as fathers?

Brad: Every relationship benefits from trust, and the more you trust each other, the better your relationship will be. My son’s an athlete and we often watch sports together. We recently watched one of those sports shows that feature an athlete with a disability or obstacle to overcome. We like to watch those rather than the ones about the victory even though we’re both sobbing at the end. So many of “macho” dads do because it moves them, it’s touching to see the love of a mom or dad for their child is priceless.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Brad: It’s interesting that the number-one group buying my children’s books are dads because they want their daughters to be curious (I am Albert Einstein) and to know no bounds (I am Amelia Earhart).