Step-in Parenting

By Davalynn Spencer

Parenting is a challenging call. But the call to parent someone else’s child can often overwhelm us with a do-or-die, sink-or-swim fatalistic mind-set.

When my husband and I married, I gained a six-year-old stepson who spent summers and some holidays with us. He lived in a different state, and though we would like to have had him more often, we were happy for what we could get.

As a step-in parent, I did not ask my stepson to call me “mother” or “mom” or any other endearment while he was with us. I was not his mother and could not take her place, so I gave him the choice to call me whatever came naturally to him. However, my authority as his father’s wife was clearly established in our home, and he respected that.

Young and inexperienced in parenting, I did many things wrong, but choosing to accept him for who he was and giving him unconditional love helped us over the rough places and eventually won his trust.
When writing my novella, “The Wrangler’s Woman,” I drew upon my early experiences as a step-in parent. The story’s premise did not exactly match my circumstances, but the heroine’s challenges as a step-in authority were close to what I lived through.

The heroine, Corra Jameson, is hired to help a widowed rancher turn his tomboy daughter into a young lady. Corra moves in with the family and faces the challenge of being considered an interloper with no real authority, yet one who expects a child to change her ways. A three-prong approach helps her win the daughter over.

First, Corra demonstrates complete acceptance of the girl for who she is, even though it is Corra’s job to change what she is.

Next, Corra commands respect for her authority-by-position—that of a hired “lady-trainer” who is completely capable of accomplishing the task at hand.

Finally, Corra does not try to be the girl’s mother—substitute or otherwise. Through thoughtful acts of kindness, expectations of compliance, and as much giving as taking, she wins obedience, the required changes, and eventually love.

We live in a give-and-take world with an emphasis on taking. But if we choose to give where, when, and what we can, we will reap a harvest of love, even as a step-in parent. Maybe we won’t see it immediately, the next year, or in the next 20 years. But we serve a loving Father who has assured us that what we give will be returned to us, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

About Davalynn Spencer
Bestselling author Davalynn Spencer writes Christian romance with cowboys and teaches creative writing at her local junior college. She has a background in journalism and rodeo, and makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue and two mouse detectors, Annie and Oakley. Visit Davalynn on her website at

Beware of Pokémon?

Q: My 8-year-old son has recently been given a few Pokémon cards by a friend of his at school, and enjoys them. My wife’s and my concern is mostly about Pokémon that have psychic powers/moves or dark powers (“dream-eater” is a move). My son does seem to highlight these kind of moves as he talks about this new-found interest with us. I grew up playing the game, both electronic and card version. However, I was about 14 or 15 when Pokémon first became popular, and I had a good sense of fantasy versus reality when it came to the more fantastic moves.

What would your recommendation be for my 8-year-old about Pokémon, especially the monsters with psychic and dark powers?

A: I appreciate your question because it shows you are trying to be thoughtful in discerning what is and isn’t impacting your son’s mental well-being. So many times, we parents don’t pay enough attention to how our kids are playing. The fact that you noticed something about your son’s demeanor in playing Pokémon is great.

That said, I must confess that my two boys, ages 8 and 10, have been avid Pokémon collectors for several years, and I have yet to notice anything particularly dark about their play or countenance because of their association with Pokémon. We don’t allow them to play the Pokémon video games or watch the Pokémon TV show (we don’t have cable or a subscriber service). Mostly, they trade and play the game with friends, read Pokémon books and watch the occasional Pokémon movie.

But that doesn’t mean that your son can’t be influenced by some of the darker side of Pokémon. As with any child, some are more prone to fantasy than others–some kids have no trouble with separating real and fantasy, while others do. You can limit the amount of time he spends playing with the cards or game as well.

Have him stick with the actual cards and in-person play versus online games and interactions. That will likely help keep him more grounded in reality. Since you have some experience with Pokémon, perhaps you can play with him.

Honesty—The Best Policy?

By Lillian Duncan

Honesty is the best policy, right? So in all honesty, I have to tell you I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up to write a post for this blog since I’m not a parent and my writing focus is mostly suspense and mystery.

But I must have had something in mind when I did sign up but the idea is long gone!

However, speaking of honesty: children can be brutally honest, especially at the most inopportune times.

I’m very short, only 4 foot, 8 inches. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the grocery store minding my own business when a child will stare at me. Usually one of two things will happen after that. Either they just keep staring, in which case I smile back and give them a little wave or eventually they will say to their mother, “Look at that short lady.”

The mother usually is horrified and so embarrassed.

What can you do to avoid this type of situation? Before I retired, I was a speech therapist to school children and often had to deal with helping children learn the pragmatics of language (pragmatics are about the social use of language).

Here are a few ways you can stop this situation from happening with your own child.

Use the teachable moments. Teachable moments happen often, usually at the worst time possible. Still, as a parent or teacher you need to take the time to teach in the moment.

When your child says something inappropriate, take a moment to tell them why it was the wrong thing to say. And when they say, “But it’s true,” you need to say, “It may be true but there was no reason to hurt someone’s feelings.”

Roleplaying. Dolls and action figures are a great way to help a child learn what is appropriate to say to someone else. You can take turns saying nice and mean things to the doll and exploring how those things might make the doll feel. This helps teach empathy, and that’s a good thing.

Games. I’m a big believer in using games to teach all sorts of skills. Why? Because they’re fun and they work. If you look hard enough, there may even be some commercial games out there that could work. If not, you can always try a teacher store. And last but not least create your own game.

Create a game board, then write mean and nice things on index cards. When your child labels them correctly as mean or nice, they get to roll the dice. You do the same when it’s your turn, but be sure to slip in why it’s mean or nice. First one to the finish line wins!

Yes, honestly is the best policy but it’s also important for your child to learn not every thoughts need to be expressed.

About Lillian Duncan

Lillian Duncan…Stories of faith mingled… with murder & mayhem. Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at or She also has a devotional blog at

Awkward Autistic 10 Year Old

Q: My 10-year-old son has autism. He speaks all the time. He interrupts us all the time and doesn’t seem to see the signs of others when they are upset about it. When reviewing with my daughter, he answers the questions in his room and tell her that she is not good (don’t understand that it’s wrong and apologizes all the time and says “I didn’t know).

At school, he interrupts the teacher. At the end of everything he says, he wants to add personal things that aren’t related to the question. When somebody says something that he knows is wrong, he will argue on the subject and repeat and repeat. He is really intelligent but doesn’t seem to understand simple manner. With friends (he has very few), he is always in their bubbles (us too) and talks about himself all the time. He tries to make them laugh by doing things really stupid and saying stupid things. He acts like a kindergartener. I really don’t know any more what to do. Please help me!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

A: Some kids, autistic or not, have trouble relating to peers. Either they miss social cues or they don’t know how to control their enthusiasm, and that causes friction. As you’ve seen, your son is struggling with knowing how to share his own knowledge and sense of self with others, including authority figures.

Here are a few ideas to help him out. For the teacher, visual cues might be better. I taught a class of chatty first and second grade girls one time, who wanted to constantly share personal stories all the time. Giving them each a set number of paper tickets (one ticket equaled one story) allowed them to decide if they wanted to give up a ticket to tell a story. He might benefit from the same thing in the classroom.

Have his teacher give him three slips of paper or sticks or something tangible that represent three stories he can tell during that day. When he starts to add personal things, the teacher can simply say, “Do you want to give me a stick for that?” If he does, she takes the stick, and he can tell his story. When the sticks are done, so are the stories. She can say, “I’m sorry, you’re out of sticks. Save that story for tomorrow.” It won’t be perfect, but I think it will help him be able to share in a more limited time and give him a visual cue that he’s done with stories when the sticks are gone.

For his peers, he would probably do better if he has some practice, either informally at home with role playing different friend scenarios, or signing him up for a manners or socialization class for kids, which are popping up all over the place nowadays. If you can find a class, that would make it not Mom/Dad telling him what to do, but someone else who is guiding kids who want to learn how to be better friends.

At home, you could use a modified stick approach by having a “talking stick” at the dinner table, for example. Whoever has the stick is the only one who can talk, so you pass the stick around as others have a chance to talk. This is another visual cue to help him remember not to talk when others are talking, plus it gives other family members time to share as well

Above all, remember that while he can improve and do better, but it will take some work on his part with your guidance.

How to Fight Discouragement

We start a new year off with fire and commitments that likely include being better parents or solving a particularly thorny problem related to our children. About this point in the year, many of us have succumb to reality and the hard truth that change is, well, hard. We’ve already slipped up on our promise to eat better, exercise more and to stop yelling at our kids. We’ve missed the boat on being nicer and spending less time on our phones and more time talking to those with whom we share living quarters. We’re starting to give up on fixing the “old” problems that never seem to go away.

In other words, we’re feeling very discouraged and are about to throw in the towel until the end of 2017, where the promise of a fresh 2018 will induce us to try again. But we can fight discouragement and restart our resolutions. Here’s how.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Stop thinking in terms of “pass” and “fail.” Semantics matter, and framing missing the mark as a misstep rather than a setback can help you keep going.

Focus on the long term, rather than the short term. When we keep our eyes on the “prize,” it’s easier to overlook small setbacks or mistakes along the way. The key is to have a mantra or mission statement—something short that you can use to self-talk your way through discouragements.

Modify goals as needed. If your New Year’s Resolution is to never yell at your kids again, then you’ve set yourself up for failure from the get-go, because you will find yourself yelling at your children. Instead, modify the original resolution to something more attainable, such as, “Instead of yelling, I will count to 10 when I’m feeling frustrated with the kids, then speak.”

Learn from the mistakes. You’ve decided to lose 10 pounds by not eating sweets, but find yourself secretly sneaking chocolate leftover from Christmas. Instead of putting sweets totally off the table, try limiting yourself to a handful of M&Ms each afternoon.

Enlist help. If yelling has been your default method of communication when something frustrates you, ask your family for assistance in helping you tame the screaming beast. Maybe your spouse and kids could say a secret word, like pickles, when they see you starting to get upset.

Overall, remember that discouragement takes root only when we let it reside in our hearts. Sure, you’ll feel discouraged at times, but you should acknowledge it, take a deep breath, and move on. After all, tomorrow is another day, one without mistakes.

Until next time,

The Trials of Being Three

Q: I took my 3½-year-old to the dentist two days ago. After his cleaning was done, I was discussing a few things with the dentist. My son started to run around and act wild. I told him to stop. He continued to run, then he took some dental equipment and threw it. I was so embarrassed. I apologized and quickly left. I put him in his room when I got home and bed early. The next day, we took his sister to school and he didn’t hold my hand like I told him to. He ran away from me and laughed. I put him back in his room when we got home. I took all the toys and books out. While in his room, he took all the clothes out of closet and made a huge mess. I told him he has to stay in there until it is cleaned. Now I’m thinking this is too big of a task for a 3-year-old. My husband showed him how to hang up his shirts and where the other clothes go. He works on it for a little bit, then quits. Am I being too harsh? Should he have to stay in there until his room is cleaned?

Image courtesy of chrisroll/

A: He’s a typical 3-year-old, which means a couple of things. First, he’s going to run around and laugh when he’s misbehaving. Second, he’s not going to be able to clean his room to your satisfaction on his own but he is able to make a huge mess. Third, while he is developing his long-term memory, he’s not able to connect his misbehavior with being in his room for an entire day. That’s not effective and it’s frustrating for you and for your son.

So, let’s tackle this in chunks here. For a preschooler, you have to clean alongside him or give him very small, specific tasks, like “hang up your shirts, then come get me.” You check, straighten up, have him hand you the missed ones, and get that task taken care of. Then you tell him to pick up his socks and put them in the drawer. Repeat, helping a bit with each task, taking a break to have a tickle fest or read a book after 15 minutes or so. A 3-year-old’s attention span is short and you should respect that.

Now, what should you have done in the dentist’s office? Nothing. You handled that beautifully. When he runs away and doesn’t take your hand, firmly (but gently) get him and hold his hand tightly (but not crushingly). Or you strap him in a stroller or grocery cart basket rather than let him run around. You restrict his movement in times like this.

Overall, try role playing a bit at home before you go on outings, like asking him “How do we act in a store? Do we run around like monkeys (demonstrate)? No? Do we crash into things like a bull (demonstrate)? No?” Let him tell you the right way to act and demonstrate. Then remind him as you’re walking into the store. Kids need to be told, shown, told, shown, for things to stick.


Our Inheritance: Puzzles

By Gail Kittleson

Every ounce of information we glean about our parents has the potential to change our perspective on our childhood years. One orphan quipped that “the joy of having been abandoned is having no known gene pool to blame for my foibles.” The key word here is known.

Of course, that pool exists, but the recipient of the genes remains ignorant of her ancestors. Those of us who know our parents find answers to many of our questions in our memories, in fading slideshows, family videos or photo albums. If we’re lucky, great aunts, uncles and cousins can still supply trivia capable of unlocking mysteries.

Recently, a friend’s cousin found an archived newspaper clipping from a family member’s rather long leave at his parents’ home in St. Louis. Right there in black and white rested the name of the Navy nurse who accompanied him—definitely not the woman he later married.

The family had been aware of his former girlfriend, but wow –those two must have been serious for her to cross the country together with him during that leave. Otherwise, wouldn’t she have visited her own family in Kentucky?

What happened to their relationship? The family has no clue, but this new tidbit opened another window to their uncle’s/father’s life. He later married a local girl, but did he also nurse a broken heart?

We can only imagine World War II’s effect on its participants, and on their baby boomer children. This family will probably never know what caused their family member’s rages, but there was something healing about this fresh peek into his past.

In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” Amen to that, and in addition, we often discover knowledge to be curative. This principle proves true for Kate Isaacs, the heroine of With Each New Dawn, the second in my World War II women’s fiction series.

Kate’s sparse memories of her mother and her aunt’s nurturing gave her a solid foundation, but she possesses an enormous longing for insights about her deceased father. No wonder that receiving an unexpected glimpse of him in the midst of war-torn London alters her world. To learn of his clandestine activity as a spy in the Great War stuns Kate—and a puzzle piece falls in place in her quest to understand her own risk-taking nature.

This momentous discovery also propels her into further exploration. Especially if you met Kate as Addie’s best friend in In Times Like These, you’ll enjoy delving deeper into her story.

About Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life. With Each New Dawn releases February 24.

Middle Child Acts Out

Q: We have 3 boys: 3 years old, 2 years old and 10 months old. Our second son has recently been hitting, biting, pushing and kicking his brothers but not other kids when we are out. He is also a very affectionate and loving boy who has a sweet side, but he can get angry fast, before I even know what is going on. He slams doors, throws things and has the tendency to get angry with everyone. Sometimes it is unprovoked, and other times it is provoked, even if it is just the baby crawling by. The hitting is sometimes followed by tickling and he never seems to show any remorse. I’ve tried taking away his coveted teddy bear and putting him in short timeouts in his room away from his brothers. His brothers have had minor injuries from these altercations, and I am hoping to make a change before anything worse happens. This behavior seemed to start when our 3 year old started preschool in September, the baby started becoming more mobile crawling around, and I started having two different part time babysitters help me during the day.

Image courtesy of sattva/

A: You are in the thick of things and I understand you just want this problem to go away! However, your 2-year-old is acting like, well, a toddler tyrant. This is what 2-year-olds do—they hit, slam doors, throws things, get angry at the drop of a hat for no discernible reason. In short, when he’s upset, everyone knows it.

You could spend time investigating the why behind his behavior, but really, what will you do with the answer? You can’t very well put the baby back, or keep your 3-year-old home from preschool, or stop having help over.

So, what to do with your toddler tyrant? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Make sure you spend time with him several times during the day. A five-minute snuggle time after big brother goes off to preschool, a book read after you’ve tended to the baby for a while, etc., will go a long way toward making him feel noticed and loved.
  2. When he starts having a temper tantrum (hitting, biting, throwing things), simply remove him from the area and confine him to his crib (or room) until he calms down. This isn’t as punishment so much as it is depriving him of an audience and helping to teach him how to calm down himself.
  3. Don’t use the baby as an excuse, as in, “We can’t do X because the baby needs a nap.” Instead, say, “We’ll go do X in 15 minutes. I’ve set the timer so you’ll know when it’s time.” This will help him not resent the baby.
  4. Involve him in baby’s care. Have him entertain the baby when you’re cooking dinner, bring you diapers, etc. Exclaim what a big boy he is to help baby brother out.
  5. Make sure you keep the baby away from his favorite toys when you can. In fact, let him pick two or three toys to be “his” and don’t let the baby play with them.

Finally, remember that at this age, he’s doesn’t understand why he’s acting this way—that sort of self-reflection isn’t possible in a toddler. At this age, he’s all emotions and action. So keep that in mind as well.

This too will pass—it is only a stage. I know it seems like it’s going on forever, but it won’t.


5 Easy Ways to Overcome Misbehavior

It takes more effort to misbehave than it does to behave, and the negative emotions that go along with doing the wrong thing take a toll as well, adding unnecessary stress and angst to the overall family dynamic. The good news is that children and teens don’t really want to behave badly—it’s often a habit that has gotten out of control and they are, in a sense, helpless to stop.

Here’s where the parent comes in, either with consequences to motivate the child to turn things around or with by appealing to the child’s conscience to do the right thing. But all too often, the mom or dad tries to tackle all the misdeeds in one fell swoop and creates a maelstrom of despair and new fights because no one can make wholesale changes all at once and succeed. It’s akin to multitasking—we think we can do three things at once, but we end up doing three things half way or very badly instead of one thing well, then moving on to the second item, and so on.

Image courtesy of nuttakit/

It’s the same principle for changing the bad habits of misbehavior—the more on the list, the more likely for failure and more anxiety and misbehavior. So what’s a parent to do? Try this approach instead.

  1. Make a list of all the misbehaviors that need correcting. Just write down everything!
  2. Rank the items in terms of how much they bother you and your spouse. Don’t rank them as major or minor misbehaviors—that doesn’t matter as much as what bothers you (or what you can see bothers your child) the most.
  3. Circle the top two misbehaviors. Those are the only ones you’ll focus on for the next few weeks. You will ignore all the others. Yes, I know it will be difficult to not say something about the other misdeeds, but you and your child will have more success if you only tackle two at a time.
  4. Write down at least 10 things you love about that child. Then for each item, write down at least three ways you can show that child your love. For example, you might love your child’s enthusiasm for learning. One way you could show that is to take just him to a special dinosaur science exhibit. Or you keep an eye out for articles about birds to share with your budding ornithologist.
  5. Tell your child at least once a day that you love him. Frequently communicate that through hugs and other touches. Kids need to feel that emotional connection with their parent. If you let this slip because you’re concentrating so much on correcting the problems, you will have a harder time making progress.

If you follow this “formula,” you will have a new kid—and a new relationship with that child to build upon in the future.

Until next time,

Parental Communication

Q: Our issue has more to do with my spouse and me being on the same page and communicating. We have both read parenting books and my husband knows I’m a big proponent of more traditional methods. He’ll say he “agrees” but I find that I am the only one using the ticket method with our 5-year-old son (our only child), for example. My husband will say things to me that “I’m the one who wants to bring down the hammer.” Our son adores his father and wants him to do everything for him and with him. I feel my husband’s leniency has resulted in this. What advice do you have that might better enable us to work as a team?

A: This is always a tricky question for a parent coach to answer because we only have your side of the story. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that every story has two “versions.” You say you’ve both read parenting books and that you’re a bigger proponent of more traditional child-rearing methods. You’re feeling like the heavy because you think you’re the only one who wants to discipline, while your husband wants to be seen as the “fun” guy with his son.

Image courtesy of chatchai_stocker/

Here are a couple of suggestions for bringing you both on the same parenting page, keeping in mind that the only person who you can make change is yourself. Not your spouse, not your son. Just you. With that caveat in mind, here goes.

  • Stop criticizing your husband for not following your way of disciplining your son. If son acts up while husband is interacting with him—and eventually, this will happen—don’t swoop in with a solution. Let your husband figure out what to do and how to discipline or not discipline.
  • Keep doing what you think needs to be done in regard to your son and his upbringing.
  • Let your son have his time with dad. This is relationship you want to be good, right?
  • Do fun things with Son on your own. Find special times during the day to interact with your son to build your own relationship with him. I’m guessing here, but I wonder if you’ve let that slip some in your focus on behavior. Tell him jokes, give him hugs, invite him into your world as you fold laundry (such as: “Hey, Son, why don’t you help me match socks and tell me what you did today,” then just listen), don’t wait for him to ask you to read a book–suggest one to him. Make sure you’re having many touch points with him throughout the day, and that will make him more responsive to discipline and also ensure you stay connected with him as well.
  • Finally, ask your husband in a nonjudgmental way what he would do to correct X behavior. Like if son is not doing his chores, say to hubby: “Son isn’t doing his chores. What do you think we should do about it?” Then let him answer without interrupting and ask your husband to implement the plan. In other words, give your spouse complete control over a discipline issue and let him see how it goes (or doesn’t go).

The trap we can all fall into is thinking our way is the best way when it comes to child rearing. While that might be true, we don’t allow for another person’s viewpoint or method—we can find ourselves constantly criticizing or suggesting or fixing what the other person is doing. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but keep that tucked into the back of your mind and see if you perhaps aren’t giving your husband equal footing in parenting by insisting that things be done your way.