Public Whining

Q: What do I do in public when my 3 year old starts whining? When I’m home, she goes to her room for a bit, which seems to work, but I’m at a loss as to what to do in public.

Also, she’s started adding, “but…” when asked to do something. Example:

I say, “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt.”

Child responds, “But I need to look at something.”

What are your thoughts?

A: There’s nothing more grating than a whiny voice. I think all parents would agree on that score! But the fact of the matter is, most kids do whine. The key is nipping that habit in the bud and moving on.

So for the whining: Ignore her. Yes, I know that’s extreme. Whenever my kids talked to me in a whiny voice that I’ve told them is unacceptable (usually again and again), I simply act as if I hadn’t heard what was said. A reminder of how to talk in public (not in a loud voice, not whining, not interrupting) is always good, especially when accompanied by silly role playing (like you do what she’s NOT supposed to do and she offers corrections, etc.).

The “but” response is just like the “why” response (or the shrug response, etc.): She’s basically trying to avoid doing what you told her to do. I’ll bet that she doesn’t add “but” when you tell her to get on her shoes because you’re going out for ice cream. If you go back over the times when she says, “but,” I think you’ll see a patter emerge of her “butting” in response to your command that she stop what’s she’s doing and do something else.

So for the “butting”: Raise your eyebrows and stay silent. Don’t respond to her argument (because make no mistake, she’s trying to engage you in an argument as to why she shouldn’t have to obey). A steady, silent stare works wonders and she’ll likely comply (even if she grumbles about it or continues to give reasons why she shouldn’t have to do so).

Or you can shrug and repeat the original command. If she still tries to argue with you, send her to her room and put her to bed directly after supper. You can say that the doctor said she must not be getting enough sleep if she can’t obey on the first instance. That should fix things in a short order because no young child likes to go to bed early..

One final thought: stop giving explanations to your commands. “Get out from under the table” is a command. “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt” is an explanation that invites pushback—which your daughter is happily doing. Keep your commands short and sweet, and that should cut down on the “buts” as well.

Frustration With Frustration

Q: My 9-year-old son struggles with frustration and has for years. He’ll break objects, yell or become disrespectful when he reaches his breaking point. He is otherwise a typical loving boy. What can you recommend my husband and I can do to tackle this issue?

A: All kids deal with some level of frustration—as do all adults. But the biggest difference between adults and kids is that we grownups have learned how to control our frustrations (for the most part), while kids generally have not.

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Image courtesy of stockimages/

The key is to helping him is to avoid his getting to a breaking point. Some things that work—and are easy for kids to do—include breathing exercises, counting to 10, putting his head down on his desk at school, going to a “take a break” corner at home or school, etc. These are ways a child can learn to calm himself down. One of my daughters struggles with frustration–she would often erupt like a volcano and spew lava over all who got in her path. Very messy and not pretty to watch.

So we started talking about her frustration when she wasn’t frustrated. We practiced together some of the calming methods mentioned above. I encouraged her to walk away from situations when she felt herself becoming more frustrated. We talked to her teachers about allowing her to put her head down at her desk for a few minutes to regain composure or go to the take a break corner each of the classrooms have for just that purpose. Those things did help, but it took some time for her to remember to use the calming methods. She still erupts but it’s much less now and she’s much happier and not as down on herself as she was before when frustration got the better of her.

When you see your son start to get frustrated, tell him to take deep breaths. Count to ten. Run a lap around the outside of the house or jump on a mini-trampoline. He’ll need your help in redirection for a bit as he learns when he should “take a break” to avoid the blow ups.

Remember, he’s probably as frustrated with himself for blowing up as you are from seeing his struggles. These tips can help him see that there is a way to break the cycle.

Computer Usage at School

Q: Is there any hope at all of public schools teaching children without the continual use of computers? We refused to sign the computer access papers for two of ours, and yet the teachers are putting the kids on computers every day throughout the day. We will go argue our case. Again.

A: Probably not. With four kids of my own in Virginia’s public schools, we have stood firm on some things related to computer usage, such as not sending in devices with our kids (they don’t have tablets or smartphones—even my middle schooler—and share an old computer in the main area of our home with strict time limits on usage). We’ve also asked that assignments for those in the younger grades be turned in handwritten rather than typed/printed from a computer (believe me, they need the practice in hand writing!). We even have a set of encyclopedias that we send the kids to instead of allowing them to look up stuff on the computer.

Image courtesy of supakitmod/
Image courtesy of supakitmod/

And yet, we’re not Luddites. We do see the value in computers (hey, my husband and I are on them constantly for our work), but we also see the dangers from overuse. The problem today is that many educators have jumped on the electronic devices bandwagon whole hog without waiting to see if the benefits outweigh the pitfalls (including shorter attention spans and less reading ability). A more cautious approach would benefit our kids, but with many parents clamoring for their children to have the latest and greatest educational tools (and let’s face it, many times, computers and tablets are more sexy than old-school methods of learning that have a more proven track record).

So I think we as parents must shoulder some of the blame for the current atmosphere of any-learning-done-on-the-computer-is-good, so let’s do more of it. Perhaps one day the pendulum will swing more toward the middle and there will be less of a push for screens in education, but that day is not today.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel completely. There are small things you can do, but unfortunately you are not going to win the bigger fight to keep your kids off computers completely at school. In my opinion, it’s smarter to have your own rules at home, enforce them, talk with your kids about Internet safety, help them navigate computers/Internet in a safe way, and stop worrying about it. If it still really bothers you, you can always homeschool your children and limit access as you see fit.

How to Prepare Your Kid For College

My kids are still years away from college, but recent articles in a December 2014 The New Yorker and in September 2015 The Atlantic have made me wonder what the parents of today are doing that’s giving kids such fragile minds. College used to be a place that challenged your intellect, that let you spread your wings and soar to heights unknown. College forges our initial career path or steers us in a different direction than we anticipated.

What “The Coddling of the American Mind” points out is how today’s university student wants more, well, coddling, than challenges. More of the same rather than expanded horizons. Bland and safe rather than different or slightly dangerous. “A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense,” writes Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic cover story.

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Image courtesy of stockimages/

Frankly, that’s not the type of education I hope my kids would get at any college they attended. But I realize that the problem is not with the academics or professors—it’s with the students themselves. They are the ones demanding sanitized, non-offending speech (and by non-offending, they mean they don’t want to “feel” bad or uncomfortable about anything). Part of growing up is to learn how to be around others who don’t think exactly the way you do, to learn when to compromise and when to stand your ground, to figure out how to express your opinion without denigrating the other person. College should be an environment that allows you to try those things out, but it seems to be fast-becoming a place where no one wants to grow at all.

There’s still a chance for this to change in the years between now and when my oldest heads off to college. So for the sake of my future college students, here are four ways to prepare your child for university—and for life itself.

Share. Giving to others keeps the focus off you and onto the other person. That in turn helps you to think more about others than yourself, which means you’re not constantly looking out for number one and what might offend you.

Learn. Kids should develop a love of learning and the desire to improve themselves. Learning in and of itself should be a good thing, something to be embraced even when the subject matter might not be what makes you comfortable (an example would be studying genocide in history class or dissecting a frog in biology).

Open-mindedness. Kids need to be taught to think about new ideas, to hear new thoughts or to consider different points of view. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t cling to core values but it does mean that hearing contrary ideas shouldn’t scare them—it should invigorate debate and discussion.

Kindness. Being kind to your enemies and friends alike, to those who like you and those who don’t is the hallmark of a good citizen—and a good college student. Guiding your children toward compassion gives them the foundation to build a good life.

These are just a few tools that I want my kids to have when they go to college in that sooner-than-I-think day in the future. What are some things you think a potential university student should know?

 How to Handle a Toddler Who Bites

Q: My 26-month-old son has started biting me. It happens when he gets upset, frustrated, or impatient. His dad is currently away on a military assignment, although even when he’s home, his schedule isn’t regular.

So far he only bites me and gets very upset and cries if anyone else scolds him or tells him not to do it. However, if I tell him to stop, he generally just laughs as if it’s funny or pinches/hits me instead. Some advice I’ve read said to put him in his crib for an hour when he bites or create a “biting necklace” for him to bite when frustrated. Should I try either of these or both? What about when we are out in public like a store or water park? Should I head home for his punishment or do something like take him to the car for X amount of time?

—Bruised and Sore

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/

A: At 2, your son doesn’t equate cause and effect–i.e., I bite Mommy, I get punished. That kind of memory and association doesn’t start to solidify until age 3, so delaying punishment isn’t an option (such as when he does it in the store). What you need is a solution that would help him break this habit.

At home, you could put him in his crib immediately after he bites for a few minutes. That would give both you and him time to cool down. But I would recommend using a biting necklace because it gives him an outlet for his frustration other than you.

Redirection at this age is what helps to break the habit. Try a biting necklace (really just a sturdy string through something that’s biteable, like a wooden bracelet. Best of all, remember that will steady redirection and calmness on your part, he will stop biting!

July 2015 Practical Parenting: Drop the “Smart” Label for Kids


Chances are, you think your kids are smart—and you probably tell them that, thinking it will boost their self-esteem and spur them to do well in school. However, research has found that labeling a child as “smart” can set that kid on a path toward avoiding risks and making mistakes.

“Mistakes grow your brain,” is how Jo Boaler described it during the Aspen Ideas Festival co-hosted by The Atlantic magazine. Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, pointed out that labeling a child gifted or smart at an early age makes that child less likely to stretch or challenge himself. In other words, such a label—whether it’s an official one by a school or used by teachers or parents—hinders a child’s ability to step outside of their comfort zone. Essentially, a “smart” designation stunt’s a child’s growth.

Research supports this idea of a fixed mindset—in which you’re either smart or you’re not—follows a child throughout his life. This is in stark contrast with a growth mindset—in which you can gain knowledge and intelligence by working. A growth mindset allows people to try things, to fail and to go on until they overcome that mistake.

Or, as Boaler put it in The Atlantic: “When we give kids the message that mistakes are good, that successful people make mistakes, it can change their entire trajectory.” This is especially true with math, as the thought of someone either being a “math” person or not has implications in how that person tackles hard mathematical problems.

I’ve always considered myself not a “math” person, and struggled with mathematics throughout my academic career. Lately, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably would have been more successful had I not felt “stupid” about math (in fact, my ninth-grade algebra teacher would frequently call me that for not immediately grasping simple algebraic equations).

Today, as my own children excel—and struggle at times—in math, my husband and I try to encourage them rather than label them as either “smart” or not a “math” person. For ways to skip the “smart” label and foster a willingness to fail in order that they might succeed, sign up for my monthly newsletter!


Discouragement With Discipline

Q: I am trying to discipline my 8-year-old and 9-year-old girls using the 8-day Strike method as outlined in John Rosemond’s The Well Behaved Child book. Basically, that means the first four strikes are warnings, and there are no consequences. The last four strikes have consequences, with the final strike being confinement to their room.

It’s been working but my issue is my girls seem to only do what they are supposed to do when there is a consequences or if I’m around to make sure they do it. I’m discouraged. I want them to obey because it’s right—not because someone is making them. I’m afraid when they go off to college, they’ll just do whatever they feel like. You know the saying, “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.”

Am I expecting too much of them? Am I being too hard?

—A Discouraged Mama

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

A: Ah, you’ve expressed one of the biggest concerns parents have today—that their children won’t learn to be obedient simply because it’s the right thing to do. So we get discouraged and feel our discipline efforts are not working, and then we switch to something else because we want to reach down into their hearts and make them want to choose right for its own sake.

But we can’t. In this situation, the only person who can make the choice to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do is the child. We as parents cannot change a child’s heart, no matter how much we want to or how much we can see the path they’ve chosen isn’t a good one.

However, that doesn’t mean we simply throw up our hands in despair and leave off leveling consequences altogether. No, it means we come to grips with why we’re disciplining in the first place—and with the limitations of discipline.

We discipline because we want to guide our children onto the path of righteousness. We discipline to ensure our children know—even if they don’t want to admit it by word or deed—that there is right and wrong, that doing bad things is not okay. We discipline to awaken and strengthen the child’s own fledging conscience into becoming stronger and more robust for the future. We discipline because it’s the right thing for us as parents to do.

We also recognize that consequences, no matter how appropriate, have limitations. Consequences can’t stop a child from destructive behavior in all circumstances. Consequences don’t always deter a child from misbehavior. Consequences can’t change a child’s heart.

It’s that latter truth that has parents tied up in knots. The fact that there is no perfect consequence that will make a child have an obedient heart. The most we can hope for, pray for, is that the discipline will make a child think about his or her behavior, that they will become more thoughtful and less impulsive, that they will behave better overall and not worse.

Consequences show the child that there is a price to be paid for wrongful behavior, and that’s a very important lesson. Some children learn it quickly; some children take the roundabout way and require more discipline along the road. Some children never learn it and are undisciplined even as adults.

So keep on keeping on with your discipline, and don’t worry overmuch about the future. You are laying a foundation upon which your daughters will build their lives. How they choose to use that foundation is up to them, but it’s part of our job to provide for them the firmness possible one.

Teenage Love

Q: Our 17-year-old son has his first girlfriend. He’s always been a respectful and compassionate person, who is the outwardly sensitive. But since he started dating this girl (which we do like), he’s eating, breathing, sleeping, dreaming about this girl. They’ve been dating half a year now and of course have become closer.

During the school year, he’d drive half an hour one way to see her a couple of times a week. But now that school is out, he wants to spend time with her every day. He does yard work for gas and fun money, but now he spends it all on her and their relationship.

We’ve raised our son to know right from wrong, and taught him what God has to say about sexual intimacy. We’re also trying to be understanding of their relationship, but our son also needs to understand he still has curfews and other duties at home. Any advice on navigating this would be appreciated.

A: Ah, “the course of true love never did run smooth!” That Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about young love (the quote is from A Midsummer’s Night Dream), but for many parents of teens who fall in love for the first time, that relationship can test the bonds of family.

A few things can help you navigate your son’s first serious love relationship. First, remember that his feelings are very strong—and unfamiliar—which gives the relationship a different feel from other crushes. His feelings are as real as your love for your spouse, although you know from experience that he’s in the infatuation stage. You also know that his age means the relationship will likely not last the summer. All that means is that you should tread lightly when discussing his feelings. Try to stay on the balance beam between too harsh or realistic comments and too empathetic ones.

Second, you are still the parent! You can set limits on how often he sees the girl in person, regardless of who’s paying for the gas. Yes, he should have freedom, but all freedom comes with limits. Personally, I would make sure he has plenty of household chores to keep him occupied at home some days, as well as spending time with friends.

Third, get to know the girl. One of your limits could be that he must bring her back to your house at least once a week to spend time hanging out there. Talk to her, find out what makes her tick, have your son and his girlfriend cook dinner for your family one night, etc. Invite her family over for a barbecue. That way, you’ll have develop a relationship with her as well, and provide opportunities to discuss some of your values in the course of natural conversation.

Finally, talk to them about God, but don’t preach. Pray for them both. You could also think about starting a youth Bible study in your home once a week this summer. Ask your pastor for a good book for that, not necessarily one related to relationships, but one that would spark good discussion and consideration about spiritual things. Have your son invite his friends, and she can invite hers. But you should provide the location and the snacks, then let the kids do the study. Be available for questions, but allow them to tackle things on their own.

Remember, ultimately, your son is responsible for his own actions. It sounds like you’ve done a good job guiding him and showing him the path of righteousness. Now it’s time to step back and let him go on his own. Yes, he might make mistakes. Yes, he’s liable to have his heart broken. But that’s all part of growing up.

What To Do With Kids in Summer?

Summertime, that magical time and place where kids are released from the fetters of school and tossed out into the wild to while away the lazy, hazy days. We spent many hours exploring our neighborhood, playing with friends, visiting relatives (usually after a long, hot car trip!), and figuring out that you really can’t die from boredom.

These days, kids are more apt to go from one camp to another or one enriching activity after another. Sometimes, that’s by necessity because of work schedules, but more times than not, it’s because parents don’t know what to do with their children when school is out.

Of course, parents don’t need to do anything, not really. I always encourage parents to have as much fun as they want with their children—only as long as it’s as fun for Mom and Dad as it is for the kids. Here are three ways to balance between too much and too little with your kids this summer.

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

Figure out your tolerance level. Rather than feel guilty for not doing enough, work on shelving the guilt and enjoying the activities you accomplish instead. If you love to go places all the time, then load up the kiddies and take off for adventures on a weekly basis. But if you don’t? Then pick a few things to scatter throughout your summer and enjoy those outings to the fullest.

Make learning part of everyday. So many times, parents panic when summer rolls around, thinking we have to whip out the math worksheets or Junior will forget everything he’s learned. I suggest using everyday things instead, sort of “stealth” math and science and reading and writing. A trip to the grocery store is great for practicing math (how much will we save with these coupons? what is the lowest price on dried beans?). Encourage science experiments outside (can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk when the temperature is in the upper 90s?). Make the library a frequent stop for new books and participate in summer reading programs.

Build in “down time.” Give kids plenty of opportunity to utter the phrase, “I’m bored.” Boredom leads to all sorts of discoveries, shores up imaginations and allows kids to dream and wonder about a whole host of things. Studies have shown that letting kids have nothing to do for long stretches of time—nothing formal, that is, like organized sports, camps, etc.—reinvigorates their brains and gives them time to grow and stretch.

Until next time


Blending a Family

Q: We will be blending a family, with a brother (11 years old) and sister (9 years old) soon to be siblings with a boy (12 years old). The boys haven’t been getting along, and we are finding ourselves constantly in the middle mediating between the two of them! What are good ways to spend time with the children all together? And will the fighting ever stop?

Image courtesy of amenic181/
Image courtesy of amenic181/

A: Blending a family is not unlike making a cake—add the ingredients out of order, whip too hard or forget a crucial component, and things don’t turn out so hot. Above all, don’t expect things to calm down right away. Depending on whether you’re moving to a new house to both of you (highly recommended if at all possible–puts all kids on even ground) or to a house one of you currently lives in, you’ll have to navigate these waters carefully. But it can be done!

Here are a few general tips (I cover blended families and sibling conflict more thoroughly in my book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace):

Schedule one-on-one time. Make sure each child spends alone time with his/her parent on a regular basis—and with the step-parent as well. Schedule this time in advance and make it a priority. Seeing it on the family calendar will show each child that this is as important to you as it is to them. It will make the world of difference. On these outings, let the child guide the conversation and try not to bring up the other siblings.

Don’t expect the kids to do everything together. If one boy did soccer, the other one doesn’t have to join his team, for example. Let them have their own area in the home, too, whether it’s their room or a certain part of their room that’s theirs–and help them keep the other siblings away from that place. Having a place of their own, and the time to spend there by themselves, will help smooth ruffled feathers and give each child breathing room.

Spend time together. Let the kids suggest and rotate who gets to pick (let them pick numbers out of a hat to decide the order). Sure, they might grumble about it, but if you ignore most of that, it will soon go away (and allow the kid to start participating without worrying about an “I said you would enjoy it” from a parent). At the beginning, you might have to pick the event or activity, but as long as you make it non-optional to attend, the newly formed sibling group will likely begin to act better.

Treat all kids like yours. You are parents to all three now, so act like it. Don’t play favorites, don’t allow misbehavior in yours and not in “his.” If you go forward like all three kids are “real” siblings and not “step” brothers and sister, that will set the right tone in your home and the kids will likely follow your lead.