Category Archives: social skills

Guest Post: Teaching the Art of Sharing

I’m so happy to be writing as a guest at Simple Kids again today!  Slide on over and check it out!  I’m also happy to be *this close* to finishing up with my ebook on  Parenting with Positive Guidance.  Make sure you’re subscribed to this blog so you won’t miss out on early purchasing discounts!

All kids love sharing….as long as that means you have something to share with them! But when it comes time for these little ones to part with some valued treasure of their own, they quickly set aside their passion for equal divisions.  Here are a few reasons why sharing can be such a struggle, and some simple steps that we as parents can take to ease the way…

Read the full post here.

Photo by Bart Hickman.
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Curbing Computer Time: Using Choices Within Boundaries

It started quite simply really.  Showing my son a few educational videos I found online.  Then some educational games.  Now my oldest son has become rather adept at using the computer to find his favorite games and sites, and  would gladly play all day long if he were allowed.  I’m sure there are some benefits to his new-found love: he learns some educational concepts and has some technology proficiency I suppose.  He may even have more computer know-how than his grandmother.  But I just don’t like letting him have too much computer time.  (Ironic I know, given the fact that I probably spend more time on the computer than anyone else in the house.)

Regulating the playing time was becoming a power struggle, and so I decided to go with a system that would allow my children to make their own choices within boundaries I could live with. 

We had already set some boundaries.  In our home, computer games are out on Sunday.  On the rest of the days certain responsibilities have to be taken care of first.  And obviously, we had also set some ground rules on what makes a site or game appropriate for our home and for them as children as well.  The boundary we were struggling with was the amount of time.  It seemed to fluctuate from day to day, and the inconsistency was creating a constant state of negotiations.

I finally sat down and decided how much time I could feel comfortable with my son playing on the computer each day.  (I know this doesn’t sound new yet, but hang on.)  Then, I multiplied that times six to give me a total amount of time for the week.  I broke that time down into 10 minute increments, wrote “10” on a craft stick for each increment, and then labeled two empty juice cans with “Time Spent” and “Time Saved”.  I placed a small timer by the computer and told my son that we would set the timer each time he played computer.  For every ten minutes that he played, we would move one stick from the “saved” can to the “spent” can.  He could choose how much to use each day, but once they were gone, they were gone until the first of the next week (“payday”).

This may have sounded like a risky move.  Free access to a whole week’s worth of time?  I’m sure you’re wondering, and yes, he has had a few times where he burned right through every one of his sticks in one day.  WAY too much time on the computer, right?  But the thing is, he spent the rest of the week without any time.   I had set my limits.  There would be a finite number of minutes each week and once they were gone, they were gone.  How he used them was up to him.  I would still be involved to monitor content and make sure the timer had been set and the sticks moved, but the control — and therefore the responsibility — had been moved to my son.

This system has worked better than my daily timer because I was no longer arbitrarily arguing that he had spent “too much” time the day before and mentally adjusting his alloted time for the next day.  He was now bound by his own choices.  It wasn’t about me choosing for him each day, he was the one who had that power, within the boundaries I had set.

It hasn’t taken long for my son to begin to plan out his computer time.  He often counts up his remaining sticks and the number of days left in the week and plans out how to use them.  Not bad for a little guy!

I prefer this week-long allotment over the daily timer because it has allowed him more choice and (as usually happens when you offer choices within boundariesit has taught him about so much more than just obedience.  With this system there are the monetary principles being taught like spending, saving,  the opportunity cost principle, and budgeting.  It creates a future orientation and the delay of instant gratification.  It also teaches very clearly about choice and consequence.  Who knew you could get so much return on a few craft sticks and some empty juice cans?

It may not be the best system for everyone, but for us, it has been the perfect balance of boundaries and choices.

Top photo by Jakub Krechowicz.
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When It Comes to Challenging Child Behaviors, Do You Take the Time to CARE?

Thank you so much for your comments on challenging child behaviors.  I’m currently working on an eBook based on  Positive Guidance, and hope to incorporate your input.  Here is one aspect that will be addressed in the book.

When children present us with their most challenging behaviors, it is easy to fixate on what they’re doing that gets under our skin.  We claim the behavior as the source of our frustration: he throws tantrums, she won’t listen, they don’t shareBut change rarely comes by focusing only on the symptoms.  We have to care enough to get to the source.  Using the acronym CARE can help you do just that.  CARE stands for Cause, Action, Reaction, and Expectation.  If I really want to get to the root of a behavior, I would it using these four aspects.  Let me walk you through each one.


I’ll sometimes hear parents or teachers comment that a child behaved a certain way “for no reason”.  That’s just an answer I won’t accept.  The reason may not be apparent, but there is always some type of motivating force for behavior.  Some may want to attribute it to “spite” or the child just being “naughty”, and while that’s not entirely impossible, there’s usually still more to uncover.  If you aren’t willing to examine behavior for its source, you can only respond in generic ways, which won’t do much to effectively change behavior.  It’s like slapping a band-aid on a sore finger, when all the while there’s a sliver still there, festering.

I wrote previously about sources of behavior in more depth here, but to sum up, any single difficult behavior may be a response to a variety of factors.

  • Environmental factors like music, room arrangement, number of people in the room or general chaos may influence behavior.  (A child may not be listening because he is distracted.)
  • Physical needs like the need for sleep, movement, or food.  (The same child may not be paying attention because you have expected him to sit still for too long.) 
  • Behavior may be an indicator of a lack of social skills that need to be taught and developed.  We have to ask ourselves if the child has been taught proper behavior, as well as whether or not that desired behavior is appropriate to the child’s age.  (The child may not have been taught how to pay attention.) 
  • Challenging behaviors may also be the result of emotional influences like feeling rushed, insecure, unwelcome, or frightened.  (A child may have trouble paying attention because he may not feel engaged or connected with the speaker.)
  • Children may misbehave as they seek power or attention.  (The child may not be giving attention because he is still seeking attention.)

Taking the time to discern the cause of behavior allows us to address the behavior in a more effective way.  While the cause is the first thing listed– the antecedent to the action– it is sometimes the last thing we can decipher.  If you’re filling out a CARE form, you may need to start with a question mark in that category and move on to the others.  Sometimes, it is the process of filling out the other aspects that causes you to uncover the root cause.


This is where we usually fixate, but it is really the simplest part of the equation.  What is the behavior?  The answer is purely objective.  Avoid inserting interpretations and simply describe the facts.


Next comes the reaction.  This is another objective aspect.  What happened next?  How did the child react?  How did the other people involved react?  How did you react?  Particularly when a behavior is repetitive, the payoff often comes from the reaction.  Whether it is a playmate’s scream or a parent’s bribe, the reaction may be the reinforcement.  This can give you some insight into what is feeding the behavior.


Challenging behaviors are only challenging within the context of relationships.  Our expectations are different.  As Fernanda pointed out in our last discussion, “when talking about difficult behavior, the big question is, “difficult” for whom?”  We can take a look at this relational factor by examining the child’s expectations (what we interpret their behavior to be communicating), as well as our own expectations (how the behavior is different from what we expect them to do).  As we consider what the child’s expectations are, we can find ways to teach them to get what they desire in a more appropriate way.  We can also look at what we expect of them so that we can first check to see if our expectations are developmentally appropriate, and also clearly define what skill or behavior needs to be taught and encouraged.

Let’s look at how this applies to specific scenarios.

First Scenario :  Emily is frequently stubborn and openly defiant.  You observe her and fill out your CARE sheet this way:

C: Need for power

A: Emily was told to put on her shoes and she responded with “No! I don’t want to!” She sat with arms folded, staring at her mom.

R: Mom forced Emily’s shoes on to her feet which Emily responded to by throwing a fit.

E: Mom expects Emily to comply.  Emily expects to call her own shots.

Once you’ve collected the information, and considered that Emily’s needs and expectation are for power, you can make a more informed decision about how to address future situations.  If Mom needs compliance but Emily needs power, give Emily fair warning before the transition, and then allow her to make some of the choices.  Rather than”put on your shoes“, the child seeking power may respond better to, “We need to leave in five minutes.  Do you want to wear these shoes or those shoes?”

Here’s another scenario: Tommy consistently struggles with sharing and frequently takes toys from others.  An observation may look like this:

C: Hmmm.  Let’s put a question mark here for now.  Why isn’t he sharing?  Let’s look at the rest of the picture and see if that helps.

A: Tommy’s classmate is playing with a toy dog.  Tommy walks up and pulls the dog from her without saying anything and begins playing with it in another part of the room.

R: Tommy’s friend screamed.  The teacher returned the dog and helped Tommy choose a new toy.

E: The teacher expects Tommy to take turns and share.  Tommy expected to keep the toy.

So we look at the situation again, and question ourselves about the cause.  The most effective response will only come if we address the right cause.  In situations like this, my first guess is usually that the child hasn’t been taught how to share or negotiate.  So I might start off by coaching Tommy through a script for sharing or teach him how to negotiate a trade

However, if after a series of observations, we find that Tommy always takes toys away from the same child, or always from smaller or younger children, particularly if he’s been taught proper social skills and has shown that he can use them in other situations, Tommy may be seeking a feeling of power.  I would recommend giving Tommy opportunities to feel positive power by giving him jobs and responsibilities, asking him to help you and others (particularly the usual “targets”) and commending him for his helpfulness, and emphasizing that “big kids know how important it is to share” or “now that you’re all four, you’re getting really good at taking turns with your friends”.

You may not always need a CARE form to analyze behavior, it may just be that you consider the four aspects mentally.  But if the same behavior is recurring, it may be helpful to jot down some details over a few instances and then look for patterns.

When we care enough to take the time to really consider what challenging behavior is all about, we can learn to recognize how to best help children overcome it.

Top photo by Heriberto Herrera.

Center photo by Niels Rameckers.
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Kids Not Listening? Four Things You Can Do Right Now To Get Them To Tune In

In my professional life, I’ve consulted and advised a variety of people — parents, teachers, care-givers.  Now and then I even consult myself.  My “mother self” becomes frustrated with something, and soon, the “consultant” part of my brain steps in to remind my “mother self” of what I already know.  Such has been the case this week.  I have found myself, time and time again, wondering why I’m not getting the response I want from my boys.  Too often, I feel like they’re just not listening to me.  And then the consultant in me steps onto the stage in my mind and let’s me know why. 

Listening is a skill that involves two parties: the speaker and the listener.  Often, when we feel someone isn’t listening, we look only to that party.  And that seems like a valid response, because listening is a learned skill, and one that needs to be taught directly, and practiced (read more about how I teach kids to be good listeners).  But that ignores the other half of the equation.  Listening is also — at times perhaps more so — about how we talk to themHere are four ways you can be sure to be an effective speaker when talking to young children.

  1. Get Close.  I’ll confess that I sometimes call out orders to my boys from another room, and then wonder why they aren’t “listening”.  While it may be humanly possible for a child to hear you from thirty feet away, they often won’t be able to focus in on what you are saying from the kitchen with pots and pans clanging, as they play with toys on the living room floor, with Raffi playing in the background, and Maggie the dog walking and panting behind them.  They are still learning to selectively attend — meaning to focus on what they intend to focus on and screen out other distracting sources of sensory input.  So if you really want a young child to hear what you are saying, step right up to her, get down on her level, make eye contact, even put your arm around her or a hand on her shoulder.  A child is much more likely to hear you if you come into her sphere, than if you try to drag her into yours.
  2. Keep it Short.  It’s tempting to rattle off the list of morning to-dos: get dressed, make your bed, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, and feed the dog.  But a young child can generally only process and remember one to two commands at a time.  Additionally, a young child is more likely to comply when you give positive feedback with each task’s completion.
  3. Keep it Sweet.  You’ve heard the saying, “You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar“, right?  While I’m not sure why you want to attract flies, the principle is true.  If you engage a child by using his name, keeping a soft, kind voice, and employing enthusiastic and encouraging facial expressions and body language he’s much more likely to be receptive to your message than if you turn it into a power struggle, nag, or threaten.  All that vinegar’s a big turn-off.
  4. Repeat.  There’s this funny thing we do as adults when we feel children aren’t listening.  We keep repeating ourselves in the same way, only with more and more frustration as we know we are “being ignored”.  Repetition helps, but if you really want to be sure a child is listening, ask the child to do the repeating.  You could ask him to directly  repeat what you just said, or you could rephrase the instruction into a question: “Now tell me, what are you going to do when you finish getting dressed?”

So if you find that the children you love and teach don’t seem to be listening, think about what you could be doing on your end, as the speaker, that might help them be more successful!

Top Photo by Simona Balint.
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Putting a Stop to the Potty Talk


I have three boys.  Two are between the ages of four and six —  prime specimen for the potty-talking stage.  The other is still just babbling but has already been coached by his older and wiser brothers as to the comedic value of words like “toot” and “poop”.

Why is it that young children have such a giddy fascination with all things scatological? 

The question has probably been around since the dawn of time, and you could likely find more answers than there are rest stops on your next family road trip.  In my opinion, most difficult behaviors in young children are driven by one or both of two motivators: Power and Attention. 

Here are a few ways Potty Talk fits the mold:


  • Young children have fairly recently tackled the task of toilet training.  Laughing at something is one way to show complete superiority.  Like a hero laughing in the face of danger.
  • Vocabularies grow at lightning speed for young children.  They are constantly acquiring new words.  They are also quick to note that some words are used with greater emphasis and sound powerful.  Those words go to the front of the line for language acquisition.  (Take note the next time you hear someone use a swear word or vulgar langauge.  If you didn’t understand the meaning, would you be able to pick out the taboo word just by the way it was said or the reaction it got?  Kids often can.)
  • When children know a word is taboo, defying that limit is a display of power.


  • Humor is a developing frontier for these young ones, and they’ve noticed there is one topic that never fails to get results…
  • Even if you don’t find this restroom raillery to be funny, if you respond with dramatic shock or exaggerated displeasure, your child has still secured your attention.

So aside from waiting for adulthood (which doesn’t always cure the fascination with the foul) what can you do to curb the crudeness?

As is often true of behavior, the answer lies in the causes.


  • Feed your child’s power by casually commenting that he is too smart/polite to use those words that way.  Offer better words — whether they better communicate the desired emotion, or are silly enough to get the laugh.  Make up your own silly words together!  Play up the fact that these words are better, smarter, or more polite. 
  • Knowledge is power.  Often, matter-of-fact discussions demystify questions like “Where does poop come from?”  “Where does it go?” and “Who else toots?” and the topic begins to lose its comedic allure.
  • Teach that power comes from polite words.  Particularly if the behavior is becoming obviously habitual, teach your child that using inappropriate language leads to less power through consequences.   Be matter-of-fact about it however.  Over-reacting only feeds the second factor.


  •  As difficult as it may be to keep from snickering at your child’s silliness or delving into an intense lecture, attention usually only fans the flames.  Particularly if it is a first offense, ignoring is one of the best ways to go.  My son once uttered something I could not have even imagined coming out of his three year old lips.  As I was two words into a scathing reprimand, it occurred to me that he was simply playing with sounds, and had absolutely no idea that he had said anything of meaning –obscene or otherwise.  Instead of “That’s NOT something we say in our home!” I made a mid-sentence lane-change into “That’s not even a real word!”  My shocked tone slid into a silly tone and a discussion on other silly words diverted the rest of the attention.  I haven’t heard the word since.  (Though I have a sneaking suspicion that my first impulse would have led to more experimentation.)
  • Walk away, continue on without missing a beat, or reprimand simply with a stern look.
  • Provide better attention-getting tactics by teaching “smarter” “funnier” jokes and give your full attention (and full belly laughs) when he uses those avenues instead.

You also must acknowledge your child’s developmental level.  Young children are learning about language and social rules.  You may need to teach these rules explicitly.  (“I know your friends laugh at those kinds of words, but they aren’t polite when they’re used that way.  You might hurt someone’s feelings or get in trouble when you use them.”) These lessons are often more effective away from the howling laughter of his peers.  Try initiating them at bed time, story time, or while doing chores together…. perhaps while scrubbing the toilet.

How do you react to “Potty Talk”?

Top photo by sskies.

Center photo by Jonathan Hillis.
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No More Tears…an Unfair Request

Kids lose it.  They cry.  And that can be a stressful thing.  Especially when you were already on your last nerve sometime yesterday.  But there’s something I hear parents say that makes me cringe a little.  It comes in many forms: “No tears,”  “Big boys don’t cry,”  or the many other variations of “Stop crying now.”  It’s understandable to a degree.  The crying is stressful.  But there are a few things we have realize. 

First, we have to understand that the message we’re sending is, “I don’t really want to know how you really feel.”  We want our kids to talk to us, to share with us.  But that’s not what we communicate to them when we respond to their limited ability to express emotions by essentially saying, “Stop showing me how you feel.”  

It’s not likely we’ll end up with teenagers who feel comfortable sharing their disappointments and hard decisions if we’ve spent a decade sending the message, “I don’t want to hear it.”   Instead, we’ll get answers like, “Fine,”  “Sure,” and “Whatever” after years of teaching apathy instead of empathy.

Secondly, the “small thing” that we believe doesn’t warrant crying, means a lot to the child.  We need to look, now and then, through the eyes of the child.  It’s easy for us to rationalize away little heart breaks as no big deal, but we have to understand what they really mean to the child.  That display of empathy goes a long way in building relationships and really getting to the root of the behavior.  It doesn’t mean we have to cry about it too, but we do need to be responsive and communicate to the child that he is understood.  For example, “Oh, Sam, that must have been pretty disappointing when your Lego tower broke!  You worked on that for a long time.”  Then, when the child knows he has been heard and validated, he’s more likely to calm down and move on from that point.  He doesn’t feel quite so driven to cry when he knows you already got the message.  When he realizes you’re on his side, he’s more likely to go along with you.  “What should we do?  Do you want to try to fix it or build something new?”  Sometimes, it’s simply being understood that will soothe the tears.

Lastly, we need to recognize that children have limited verbal abilities.  So in spite of the fact that they feel overwhelming and powerful emotions like frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and pain, they often have trouble expressing those feelings with words.  So there they are with all of the original emotions festering and then a large portion of frustration is added when they can’t aptly communicate what they’re feeling or what they need.  Crying is a natural reaction to that breaking point. 

When we empathize and talk about those feelings, we not only help the child to know he’s been understood, but we also give him the words to express those feelings later.  If we simply tell him to stop crying, he has gained no tools (other than suppression) to help him in a future situation. 

Showing empathy can go a long way in drying those tears, but sometimes crying turns to a full-scale tantrum.  In those situations, use the same techniques as above— validating and labeling emotions — but also reiterate that “I can’t fix a fit.”  Tell the child that you want to help, but don’t know how unless they use words to help you find out what they need.  Of course, talking is difficult if a child is completely out of control, in which case you may want to try some of the Tools for Tantrums first.

In any case, we need to remember to focus less on the immediate goal of ending the crying, and more on the long term goal of healthy emotional regulation.  (Here’s a great post that makes teaching emotional regulation and expression as Simple as PIE.)  We want to communicate to our children that we do want to hear what they need and how they feel.  When they feel secure in that, and as they learn to communicate more efficiently, the crying will naturally lessen. 

Top photo by yarranz.
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My First Podcast: Preparing Children for Back to School

Life Your Way Podcast

I’m so excited to be featured today on Mandi Ehman’s podcast series at Organizing Your Way!  She has a fantastic site and some exciting things coming up in the future.  I’m flattered to be associated with her!  Today, we’re talking about getting children ready for “Back to School”, specifically focusing on emotionally and socially preparing children for that big day!  Click here to get all the details for the download!

Just for a little “behind the scenes” info on this podcast, I have to share a funny story.  I had spent a good chunk of that morning on the phone with someone in India who kindly instructed me as I fiddled around with the innards of my computer to get it up and running again (a blogger with a broken computer=stress).  Then I had three extra cousins over to play with my little ones, making it six under six for a few hours.  As the scheduled phone call approached, I was finally feeling a little more Zen, until with about one minute to “go time” I poked my head in to where my children were playing, thinking I would quickly let them know that their aunt was here and that I would be busy for a few minutes.  What I found was my four year old  – stark naked!  He was apparently in the process of changing his clothes…in slow motion…and stalled.  All I had time for was to look at my sister-in-law and say, “Sorry!”  So if you hear a bit of frazzled frenzy in my voice, just chuckle to yourself and think of my crazy day!


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