Developing a Sword of Self Control

Q: Our 9-year-old son (middle child) is just very immature and over reacts when things don’t go his way. He consistently makes five cent problems into fifty dollar problems. Now it’s starting to effect his ability to have friends. At home, we step in to calm the situation down. However, at school among peers, his outbursts are heartbreaking. Nobody wants to be around him. We recently moved and the problems with friendships have followed.  How can we help him reign in these emotions?

Image courtesy of saphatthachat/
Image courtesy of saphatthachat/

A: Yes, it is heartbreaking when a child’s reactions make him unlikeable or have trouble with friends. It’s not at all unusual that a 9-year-old would have trouble with self-control. That’s what he needs to work on, but you’ve contributed to the problem by always stepping in to calm the situation at home—that action, while done with the best intentions, has robbed your son of countless opportunities to learn to master himself.

So first, you need to stop stepping in to calm him down at home. He needs the practice in a safe environment like home. Before he gets upset, say that you’ve noticed he’s having trouble overreacting (give one recent example), and that at home, when he has a tantrum (might as well call it like it is), he must go directly to a special room (like an unused guest room, or powder room, etc.) and stay there until he’s regained control of himself. You’ll remind me to go there. This isn’t a punishment per se, but a tool to help a child gain control over his actions.

Next, tell him (at a separate time) that his self-control muscle is flabby, like a piece of wet spaghetti. That’s causing him to not get along with friends at school and to have crying or screaming episodes. Ask him how those episodes make him feel. If he can’t express it, say that you bet he feels pretty awful in the midst of such episodes.

To strengthen his self-control muscle into a sword (or light saber), he needs some tools. Ask him what he thinks he could do to not overreact. He might have some really good ideas. Tell him to write those down. If he comes up blank, suggest a few calming measures, like counting to ten in his head, taking deep breaths, walking away from the situation, putting his head down on his desk, etc. (I’d also tell his teacher that you’re working with him on self control so that if he puts his head down, she’ll leave him alone for a minute or two). Our elementary school has a “take a break” corner with a chair in every classroom where kids can go if they need a minute to regain control, calm their thoughts, etc. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn how to control themselves, so perhaps there might be a similar method in his classroom.

Remember, giving him complete ownership of this problem will help him solve it more quickly than your stepping in.

Take an Active Role in Your Teenager’s Online Life

By Anne Livingston

With a smartphone in their pocket, teens can check in with their friends any time. In fact, the Pew Internet Research found that 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online almost constantly across multiple networks. Their social lives are often a never-ending campaign for likes and status. While the quest for popularity is not new, social media is like adding rocket fuel to this quest.

The popularity race on social media has not escaped parents’ notice. According to a FOSI report, almost half (47%) of parents say the harm outweighs the benefit of social media. Parents struggle with trying to manage multiple devices and mentor their teens on social networks. While this is the age where teens need the most support, parents are not always clear on how to best support their teens online.

Researchers at Penn state looked at the ideal parenting style for teen online safety by evaluating several different styles of parenting including parents who focused on preventing problems by restricting Internet use and parents who allowed more freedom and offered support when teens ran into trouble. The researchers concluded that parenting teens online worked best when taking some preventative measures without being too restrictive and taking reactive measures when teens put themselves at risk online.

To protect their teens online, parents need to be aware of their teen’s online world. By having on-going conversations, parents can help teens learn how to spot potential trouble and overcome mistakes online. Parents can help their teens navigate the digital world by:

Talking with them about their online lives. Teens do not separate online and offline, and neither should parents. Parents should incorporate online safety in all aspects of their teen’s life. When teaching them to drive, talk about not texting while driving. When talking about relationships, mention sexting and inappropriate online content. When talking about online dating scams, discuss appropriate online behavior and signs of digital abuse. Parents will find short, relevant conversation will keep teens engaged.

Joining them on social networks. By being there, parents can see what their teen is doing and what they are seeing online. By joining and participating in social networks, parents will know how the privacy settings work, understand the limitations of these settings, see how to find friends and the type of content teens are sharing. By being in these spaces, parents can create age appropriate rules that make sense and that can be enforced.

Finding opportunities for them to step away. Constant connection can be overwhelming. Teens need time offline, even if they do not realize it. This does not mean confiscating the phone. Families should look for positive ways to take a digital break. Taking a hike outside of cell coverage or shutting off the phone for dinner can allow teens a chance to decompress and relax.

Using parental control software. This allows parents to stay present in their teens’ online life while also placing boundaries. For example, with Familoop Safeguard, parents can see what apps their teen is on and learn about these apps with Familoop’s App Guides for Parents. Families can use these guides to make informed decisions about access. By being open with their teen, families can use parental control software not to control their teen but provide a space to engage and mentor their teen.

AnneAbout Anne Livingston
Anne Livingston, author of Talking Digital: A Parent’s Guide for Teaching Kids How to Share Smart and Stay Safe Online, currently works with Familoop as its Digital Parenting Expert. During the school year, she speaks to PTAs and parents about online privacy and offers parenting tutorials on managing social media.

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This post sponsored by Familoop.

The Garden of Disrespect

Q: I need some advice on what to do with my 13-year-old son. We have tried several consequences in the past for his disrespectful behavior but they are never successful for long. We’re considering full-room restriction without anything meaningful (i.e., stripped down room). How long should he be on “kicked out” before he can start earning back privileges? During this period, can I ignore any disrespectful talk or do I need to start the clock again for even one disrespectful comment utter under his breath? Sometimes he tries to talk with us they way he talks with his friends and he is having difficulty knowing when that is/is not appropriate. Thanks for any info/guidance you can provide!

A: What is it about teenagers that drives us crazy? Their attitude, for one. But all too often we expect perfection and are too quick to take offense when we should ignore.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

When addressing disrespectful attitudes, first, define exactly what you mean by disrespectful behavior. I don’t recommend things like “tone of voice” because that’s so subjective (and sometimes that can depend on how we’re feeling on a given day too!). Be very concrete. Is it a particular phrase that’s uttered, such as “whatever”, etc., or is it him not listening to you (such as looking at his phone or device while you’re talking to you), or does he not participate in family time?

Second, given the longevity of this problem already, you’ll need to make a big impression. I’d do the garden kick/full-room restriction for at least 60 days with a very targeted list of three to five specific behaviors. If an eyeroll isn’t on the list, ignore it–that’s how you determine whether or not the behavior warrants a restart of the 60 days or a pass.

Before you implement this, though, you might also want to consider having him come up with a solution to overcoming his disrespectful attitude. Say that you’ve noticed these particular things (list them), and ask him to come up with a way to stop doing those things. Maybe you have a particular way of phrasing things that’s a hot button for him. (I remember that my mom had a way of commenting on my outfit that made my blood boil as a teenager, and I heard her using the same language with my younger sister with the same result). Sometimes we can assist our kids in changing by modifying our way of talking too.

Perhaps if he comes up with a good list of things he can do to avoid being disrespectful, you can say you’ll try those for a set time period (maybe two or three weeks). Then re-evaluate and see if you need to do move to a full-room restriction.

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/
Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield/

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,

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
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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

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/
Image courtesy of kdshutterman/

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.

A Clingy, Demanding Child

Q: I am at my wits end and my husband to lesser extent in how to deal with our increasingly difficult, defiant, disobedient, demanding and clingy three-year-old daughter. I no longer feel confident that I know what I am doing because nothing seems to work. Ironically enough, the issues that my husband and I now have with our daughter did not occur during her twos but instead slightly before she turned three, which also coincided with our announcement that we were going to have a baby and she was going to be a big sister.

Our daughter is bright, intelligent, funny and extremely verbal. She is also extremely needy and demanding at times. I feel that my husband and I spend more time dealing with her than engaging with each other.

She recently started preschool two days a week and loves it, but she’s still rather monstrous at home. She wants to do what she wants, but she doesn’t want things taken away nor does she want me to be angry with her. How can I establish that my husband and I are the center and she is to what we say when we say so?

Image courtesy of arztsamui/
Image courtesy of arztsamui/

A: First of all, please relax. I know that’s easier said than done sometimes, especially when you’re pregnant. But this is very normal behavior in a three-year-old–truly it is! You had easy twos and now you have a child who has decided she wants to be the boss at age 3. As a side note, I found the twos to be truly delightful in my own children…and then they turned 3 and things went downhill fast.

You covered a lot of ground in your question (which was edited for space here) that I can’t address fully in this question. However, there are some things you can do to lessen your stress and help her improve her behavior.

Focus on one or two misbehaviors and work on correcting those. Let everything else go while you’re working on one or two of her top misbehaviors. Room confinement and early to bed work well with this age as ways to curb misbehavior. Once you see improvement in those two areas, focus on the third misbehavior, and so on.

Right now, you’re trying to tackle too many things at once, and it’s driving you and your daughter crazy! By narrowing down your list, you will be able to focus and see more results too.

Finally, set aside a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon each day to interact with your daughter. She really doesn’t need more individual attention than that from her mother. She should be entertaining herself, napping/resting, eating, etc., in the other hours.

My book Ending Sibling Rivalry has tips on how to integrate the new baby into your home.

School Struggles

Q: I am really struggling with my child’s grades (a fifth-grader). Each week they are getting worse. His reading grade average has now dropped to a D-. I am trying to stay un-involved. But obviously his grades mean more to my husband and me. I really dread when his test papers come home each week and it’s difficult for me to bite my tongue. How do I keep my sanity in all this?

A: Unfortunately, until you can give this problem completely to your child, you are going to have angst about it. To keep your sanity, you have to be prepared to live with the worse that can happen: Namely, your child fails his grade and has to repeat that grade. I suggest you and your husband write down all your fears about this potential failure on a piece of paper to get them all out in the open. Then wait a day or two, revisit the page and note which ones are actually realistic (he’ll repeat X grade) and which ones are not (he won’t get into college!). The reality is that repeating a grade in elementary school would be tough, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world, either. So get those fears out there and then let them go. Until you can do that, you won’t be able to release this problem completely to your son.

Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy/
Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy/

A follow up…

Q: I have since found out that there is more to the story. He has always struggled with reading. His fourth grade teacher tutored him during the summer. When he started making mostly A’s in reading in fifth grade I thought it was a result of the tutoring. But I just found out that his fifth grade teacher was helping him answer questions on his reading tests. She’s a first-year teacher and I think she didn’t realize that there may be a bigger issue going on. I spoke with his teacher at length and she is going to work with him one-on-one a couple of mornings a week. As a result of all of this, I think his self-confidence may be down because other boys in his class are shunning him because of his struggles (he’s in a small private school). How can I help him?

A: That sheds a bit different light on the situation than was originally posed. If he’s having that much trouble with reading, you might consider testing him outside of the school to ensure he’s not been hiding a learning disability, as it appears that something other than not wanting to read may be going on. If this was my child, I would want to rule out anything that might be hindering his learning.

But whatever the outcome from the testing, I would seriously consider changing schools or even homeschooling him for the rest of this year. It sounds like he might need more than a few mornings a week one-on-one assistance to get back on track. Your state would likely have a very active homeschool community and state-wide organization that would provide assistance in this area.

As always, while it’s important for our children to stand on their own two feet, when the evidence points to a bigger problem than laziness or lack of motivation, we should investigate further.

5 Surefire Ways to Prepare Your Child For the Future

Over the past six months, a few parents have expressed to me their concern that their elementary school age child isn’t going to be fully ready for middle school. These parents, like most of us, want their child to succeed and to have a smooth transition to seventh grade. But what struck me as odd was what these mothers said they were doing to assist their child in making that transition: Having the child “do” extra homework each evening.

For example, one mother she assigns her son 45 minutes of additional busy work to prepare him for seventh grade, in which he’ll have more homework. Another mother lamented that her sixth grader didn’t have “enough” homework now to prepare for the significant increase in workload in middle school.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that more homework wasn’t the right approach to that preparation. Essentially giving a child busy work that has no other purpose except to get her acclimated to longer time spent at a desk after school will not achieve the stated aim. This type of work can easily backfire and create a child with an intense dislike of school work in general.

However, there are some ways we can assist our children in preparing for the major transition from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Here are five alternative suggestions on how to accomplish that.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
  1. Assign chores–and lots of them. What are these parents attempting to teach their children with the extra work? Increased responsibility. But this character trait can be learned in other ways besides more busy seat work. Give your child daily and weekly chores with an end time, rather than a start time, such as “all Saturday chores must be finished by noon. This helps a child learn how best to manage his time to accomplish those chores, plus gets him used to doing work that has a purpose and a level of satisfaction when completed.
  2. Stop checking homework. As long as you the parent are invested in a child’s homework, the child will never take full responsibility for that work. Checking the backpack for work, riding the child to complete the work, checking the work’s accuracy and completion all rob the child of managing his own homework. Elementary school is the place for a child to make mistakes, to miss assignments and to figure out how he best works (immediately after school, after dinner, in spurts, etc.). The stakes are low, so a few missed homework pages won’t hurt an overall grade, but learning that homework is his and his alone will help him embrace the added responsibility of middle school and beyond.
  3. Expect the best, not perfection. Make sure your own expectations are reasonable in relation to your child’s grades. Praise effort overall results, and help a child see beyond the grade to the learning. Don’t fawn over A’s, but also don’t melt down over C’s. Help your child see what his potential is and how to reach for it, even with a few mistakes along the way.
  4. Allow for fun, lots of it! Don’t underestimate the power of play in a child’s development. We shouldn’t be so focused on academics that we forget that kids need time to be kids, to have free play and down time. Give them that gift in elementary school, because they will need to grow up soon enough to meet the demands of being a teenager.
  5. Applaud their passion. Some kids love baseball cards, some love dinosaurs, and some love to write or do math equations. Whatever your child enjoys, help her to feed that passion with books, imagination, and space to explore new ideas. Let the child guide the amount of time and effort spent on what strikes their heart chords. It may change and fluctuate from year to year, and that’s okay. A child should have the freedom to try on many different hats and consider many different careers from the safety of her own bedroom.

Overall, keep in mind that you are preparing your child not just for the next academic level–but for life. A child who loves to read and think and imagine will be an adult who values those things too. There is more to life than homework, so let’s be sure our kids know that and embrace it, too.

Until next time