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?

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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.

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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.

Why Reading Matters

We’re a family of readers. My husband reads. I read. Each of our four children read voraciously. At least weekly, we take trips to the library to check out new books. Currently, I have three or four books on my “next-to-read” shelf, and am juggling two that I’ve begun reading.

We read mysteries and romantic suspense, young adult fiction and fantasy, middle grade chapter books and fan fiction, plus a variety of nonfiction books. With a 14 year old, a 12 year old, a 10 year old and an 8 year old, I’m often asked how I encourage reading, or why all of my kids—the two oldest girls and the two youngest boys—love books so much.

The answer is quiet simple: We value reading, and it shows in our lifestyle. Instead of turning to visual media to entertain, we turn to books. Even at as toddlers, I rarely plopped them in front of the TV for a movie or educational show—rather, I plopped them down with a stack of books when I needed a moment of quiet or to take a shower.

My favorite reading chair.

Reading does more than pass the time. It teaches kids about the world around them. Books entertain, yes, but through books we learn about other cultures, about how to handle difficult or uncomfortable situations, about ourselves. We encounter joy, laughter, fear, anger, sorrow and hope. Stories lift us out of the ordinary and into realms unknown. Words fire our imaginations and provide a link to deeper thoughts and feelings.

The Need to Read” article in The Wall Street Journal encapsulates this nicely: “Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.”

This is why we should read and why we should encourage our children to read. Set aside time for family reading. Connect with your teen over a book. Spend a few moments each day immersed in a good book. You won’t regret it—and neither will your kids.

Until next time,