Tag Archives: Positive Guidance

Time-Outs are for Coaching

As I was filling out my bracket for this year’s March Madness, I was reminded of this post from last year, which has also been incorporated into a part of my ebook, Parenting with Positive Guidance.  (PS, my Aggies got the shaft this year.  Here’s hoping for an upset!)

I know it’s unbecoming to be a braggart, but there is one thing, about which I must boast.  I won the March Madness bracket competition in my husband’s family this year.  Now, I’m no bracketologist.  I tend to make my picks based on which state the team is from, or who has the cooler sounding name, and I like to pick the underdog as much as reason will allow.  I missed a lot of picks in my bracket, but the one pick that put me over was when I chose Duke.  That pick I made based on the fact that I knew who their coach was. 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski (that’s not a spelling error)  or Coach K as he’s referred to (for obvious reasons) is one remarkable man.  He’s the “winningest” active coach in the NCAA.  He’s coached Duke to 4 national championships and multiple final fours.   The team has become a fixture in the tournament.  He also coached a struggling United States basketball team to gold in 2008.  I knew Coach K was a transformative coach.

Great coaches can make all the difference.  We as parents and teachers act as coaches as we help children prepare for, and navigate, the social world.

Practice Makes Perfect  Permanent

Coaches don’t just show up at game time.  They must prepare their players.  They run their athletes through hours of drills and training so that the skills they need in those critical minutes of play will be a natural response.  Likewise, we as parents and teachers can help children practice social skills so that they can become habit.  Practice might come in the form of role-playing, practicing scripts for challenging situations, even playing games.  We can prepare children for situations before they arise by clearly explaining expectations.  (“We’re going to go to the library.  In the library you need to use a soft voice, and make sure your feet are walking.“)  

Whether it’s a sport or social skills, a big part of coaching takes place before the critical moments.  All great coaches know that preparation leads to success.

Game Time

The coach could hope to do such a wonderful job preparing his players that he can just sit back and enjoy the game.  However, coaches know that the actual game often presents challenges that are different from those they had prepared for, or that the players get caught up in the intensity and forget their basic skills.  Sometimes players need reminders from the sideline.  Sometimes, the team gets so off-course, the coach has to pause the game, and have a serious discussion.  So he calls a time-out.

Parents and teachers coach in much the same way.  Sometimes we give reminders from the sideline (“Remember to ask if you can have a turn when he’s done.“).  Sometimes we have to “call time-out” and have a more serious discussion. 


Imagine a coach like Coach K calling a time-out and saying, “You guys aren’t playing very well.”  Then he just sits all his players down on the bench while he leaves to make a phone call or clean up some spilled popcorn a few rows up.  Then, when the 30 seconds alloted for that  time-out have expired, he walks back to the team and says, “OK, you can go back out now.  I want you to play better, OK?”  Any spectator would say, “He’s not doing his job!” 

Too often, the traditional time-out looks much like the ridiculous scenario I just described.  We sit a child in “Time-Out” and somehow expect that the child’s behavior will change when she returns to play.  Without coaching, the child is returning to play with the exact same set of skills she had when she went into time-out.

When Coach K calls a time-out, he gives his players a chance to catch their breath and refocus.  He gives clear and concise directions and expectations.  Then he sends his players back out with a plan.

When we call for a coaching time-out with children, we do much the same.  We first give them a chance to step out of a charged situation, calm down, and refocus.  Then we need to teach.

We have to be specific and clear as we socially coach children.  If we don’t say what we need to see, children will have a difficult time making that conceptual leap on their own.  In general, I encourage people to verbalize the thought process they would hope the child would follow.   It sounds like a long process, and you will often feel like you are stating the obvious.  But obvious to an adult is not always obvious to a child.  Just like running basic drills, this coaching helps that internal process to become natural.

The skeleton of the social coaching process might look like this:

Describe what happened, and label feelings involved.  “Karen, I noticed you’re throwing that playdough.  I know you’re excited, but we can’t throw the playdough.”

Ask/Describe what would be a better choice. “When we throw the playdough, it gets smashed into the carpet and ruins the floor and the playdough.  Where do you think we should play with the playdough?  Yeah, the table is the best place to play with the playdough.”

If necessary, help the child make retribution.  “Ok Karen, let’s get this playdough picked up and back onto the table where it belongs.”

Remind again about that better choice.  “Remember to keep the playdough on the table this time.”

Return the child to play.  Believe she can succeed.  Be there to support.

Basketball coaches are given more than one time-out per game.  Similarly, when a child stumbles again socially you might need to call another time-out again and repeat the process.  Very young children usually need multiple learning opportunities to create independent skills.  However, just as a coach will eventually make adjustments to help his team run more smoothly, if problems continue you may need to redirect(“Karen, we’ve talked twice about keeping the playdough on the table and you are still choosing to throw it.  It looks like you’re going to need to find another area to play for a while.  Let’s go build something with the blocks.”)

Coach K says, “Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you are supposed to do it.”  With time, coaching, and practice, we can hope to be transformative coaches as well, and instill that same discipline in the children that we love and teach.

For more on Positive Guidance, click here.

Whistle photo by juliaf.

Soccer photo by je1196.
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How Do You Build a Positive Culture?

In my ebook, and in Monday’s post, I wrote about the importance of creating a positive family culture.  Christensen’s quote is obvious, yet powerful to me.

“Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.”

It makes me stop and wonder: What kind of culture is likely to evolve inadvertently in today’s world?  In what ways am I consciously building a positive culture?

Fueled by beliefs and behavior, culture is a powerful tool for creating the overall mood and conduct in a home, in a classroom, or in any other social grouping.  A culture is more than rules.  We obey rules because we “have to”.  We follow culture because “that’s just what we do here”.  A culture is what we do, who we are, what we value, and what we believe collectively as a group. 

I remember as a young teenager, going to church one Sunday with my high school-aged siblings while my parents were out of town.  I still vividly recall someone mentioning that they were surprised to see us there when our parents were gone.  The idea that we could just skip church because Mom and Dad weren’t there to “make” us go had not even occurred to me.  And whether or not it had occurred to any of my siblings, it certainly wasn’t anything anyone had discussed.  There we were, four teenagers sitting in a row on a Sunday morning because that’s what we did, that’s what we believed, that’s what valued.  It wasn’t about what our Parents’ rules were, or whether or not they were there to enforce them.  It was about our family’s culture.

As Christensen stated, a culture is not something we should leave to chance.  We should build intentionally.  It’s something worth thinking about and planning.

As I mentioned, I wrote about building a positive family culture in my ebook, Parenting with Positive Guidance, but I want to hear more from you.  How do you build a positive culture in your homes, classrooms, and centers? 

Here are a few ideas that I’ve gathered from my own experience and from others.  I’d love to add your ideas in the comments section as well!

  • My husband’s parents instituted nightly talks with their little ones.  It was a ritual where everyday each child knew they would get one-on-one time with Mom or Dad and could really talk about their day — the good, the bad, and the ugly — uninterrupted.  And that really meant something, as there were 8 young kids in that family!  It was a tradition they followed faithfully, with the preschoolers and the high-schoolers alike.  My husband has brought the tradition to our family as well.  As he points out, you can’t expect your kids to suddenly open up and talk about all the pressures and life-changing choices of adolescent life if you haven’t created a culture of open communication in the early years.


  • In a recent training meeting, a colleague of mine mentioned that when she was the director of a large child-care center she made a point of greeting each teacher every day and checking in with them at the day’s end as well.  It was something she scheduled in her planner.  Other items on her to-do list had to wait.  She would walk down the halls and chat with each teacher, not just about school, but about life.  Her teachers knew that she wasn’t just an administrator at a desk, she was someone who cared enough to ask about their kids and who was familiar enough with their classrooms to step in and lend a hand.  She reported an amazing difference when she created that culture of caring and communication by building those relationships each day. 


  • My mom makes amazing home-made bread.  I think my brother’s friends in high school could smell it from five miles away!  On bread-baking days our kitchen counter was covered with as many as 14 golden loaves (several of which would disappear soon after the school bell rang).  I remember often being sent with a warm loaf of bread in hand to take to neighbors.  Not because it was Christmas or someone’s funeral, but just because.  Because my mom was creating a culture of service.


  • As a teacher in the university preschool, it was expected that the head teachers, including myself, would make home visits to each and every child entering their classes each year.  It took time, but it was an incredible tool for building a positive culture.    Each child arrived at school with a sense of belonging, knowing they were valued enough for their teacher to make a visit.  It also established an open line of communication with parents and established a reference point for us to understand each child’s home life and background. 

 So what do you do to build a positive culture in your setting?  What do you value, and how do you share that value with the children you love and teach?

{By the way, don’t forget that your discount code – NotJustCute- is valid on my new ebook until Monday!  Don’t miss out on a bargain!}

Top photo by Jason Nelson.

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Parenting With Positive Guidance: Ebook and Discount Code!

Whew!  It’s done!  Parenting with Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out is now available!  And here’s even more great news:  It’s available for the next five days at a discounted price for my favorite readers.  (That would be you, of course!)  Just enter “NotJustCute” as your coupon code and get it for $7.50!  The code is only good  until 12am Monday morning, when the book becomes available for affiliate sales. 

So slide on over to the Parenting with Positive Guidance ebook page to read more, including a sneak peek at the first few pages and what a few reviewers have to say about the book.

Thank you for inspiring me to write!
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Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out

It’s finally finished! 

I’ve been working on an eBook, Parenting with Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out , and as is the case with a labor of love, it took a little longer than I had expected.  But after months of late nights at the computer, I think it’s done.  And I think it’s well worth the wait.  I hope you will too! 

Here’s an excerpt from one of the chapters:

Dr. Clayton M. Christensen, a distinguished professor at Harvard Business School, and father of five, correlated models for a successful business and models for a successful life in a popular article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Comparing managing a company to managing a family, he wrote about a model used in business called “Tools of Cooperation”. I’m no business expert myself, but Christensen’s description of what he calls “power tools” (threats, punishment, and coercion) and its correlation from business to family life seems spot-on. He explains that when managers find too much friction between themselves and the members of their business organization, they turn to these “power tools” to essentially strong-arm their associates into complying. He further notes that we as parents often revert to these tactics as well.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, we have a few tools around our house and we’ve probably had more than our fair share of home improvement adventures. And I’ll be the first to say I would much rather hang shingles with a nail gun and an air compressor than sit on my roof top for six months while I tap in tiny nails with a hammer. At first glance, the term “power tool” seems like a superior alternative, but we soon see that stronger and faster doesn’t always translate into better results when working with children. Christensen goes on:

But there comes a point during the teen years when power tools no longer work. At that point parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture at home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do. Families have cultures, just as companies do.

“Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.

“If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture – and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.”

The tools I’ve written about here are very simple. They may not be easy, but they are very simple. Too often parents resort to using the “power tools” Christensen spoke of as a type of reactive parenting. They get fast results with these strong tools, but they soon find that these tools eventually dull as children quit responding, or they finally realize that they were using a tool far too forceful for the delicate material they were working with and their child’s self-esteem lies shattered in their wake. If you want to change a child’s immediate actions, the power tools may work. But if you want to influence a child’s heart, you need a toolbox full of simple tools and an intentional positive culture.

Building a Positive Culture
A few years ago, my husband and I built a house. For months we were consumed with drafts of blueprints, lists of subcontractors, and so many paint samples I thought I had gone color-blind. Somewhere in that process a thought struck me. Was I putting as much care and planning into creating our home as I was into creating our house? Just as a house cannot be built by happenstance, a home with a positive culture can not be built without thought and careful planning.

When you first think about creating discipline in the home, you may think of the rules you need to enforce. But to build true discipline, the kind that comes from the inside out, rule-setting is not as important as culture-creating. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have rules, but there’s no way to have a specific rule for every decision your child will make. Those must be based on a broader culture of values. Value statements jointly created that help them define appropriate behavior for themselves. What they can do, not what they can not do.

When you create a culture for your family, you set the tone in your home. You define what your family values, what is expected, and what is hoped for. When there is a strong positive culture in the family, children can better choose for themselves based on what they value, rather than looking at a multiplicity of rules for a loophole. It’s the same principle as Tool #3 – Say What You Need to See. Stating clearly and positively what you want children to do will be more effective than trying to list every rule they shouldn’t break.

So how do you create a positive culture?

Well, you can read more about that soon!  Parenting with Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out will be available here later this week, with a special discount for my favorite readers.  (That would be you of course!)

I also have to take a few lines of this post to thank my many wonderful friends who have graciously served as editors, reading, tweaking, proofreading, giving feedback, and building confidence.  This project would not have been the same without you and I thank you.  I’m very lucky to have such great friends!

Top photo by Vangelis Thomaidis.

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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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No Spanking in Sweden

Did you know spanking was outlawed in Sweden in the late 70s? 

That’s right.  It’s illegal in the country of Sweden to spank, slap, swat, or switch a child.  They were the first country to do so, but in the 30 years that have since passed, over 20 other countries have followed suit.

Proponents say that the law protects adults from being hit by others, and so logically it should protect children equally.  The abolishment of spanking is a human rights issue, they say.  It’s about protecting children from violence.

While Sweden has been lauded by many, its spank-free zone is not without its critics.  Opponents say that parents and teachers are unable to maintain proper authority over children, and even claim (though it has been disputed) that child abuse and juvenile crime have both increased since the ban.

While many would think I side with the proponents, given my stance in this previous post, I’m actually somewhere in between. 

Spanking is not good practice and I agree with much of the philosophy behind the ban, but the ban itself is not something I favor.  Simply telling people what they can’t do won’t necessarily cause them to do what they should.  It’s the same when working with kids – you have to Say What You Need to See.

Parents generally use the best tools they know how to use when raising their children.  I don’t think many parents really intentionally settle for anything less than the best for their children.  So, if a parent is using spanking as a parenting tool, it’s safe to say that they feel it is one of the best tools —if not the only tool—they have.  While the claims of more abuse and more juvenile delinquency have been argued, I could see how parents, who had possibly lost the only tool they knew how to use, would either resort to permissive parenting or abusive parenting as a response to feeling stripped of their tools — helpless and powerless. 

In my view, the problem is not best addressed by binding parents’ hands and keeping them from negative parenting, but by teaching them how to effectively parent from a positive approach.  If you teach people how to use better tools, they will likely abandon the less effective tool on their own—without the controversial ban.

What is your “go-to” parenting tool?

Read more about Positive Guidance HERE.

Top photo by Beniamin Pop.

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Spare the Rod: What Spanking Teaches Children

I heard a comedian the other day, who really made a good point.  He said essentially this:  “My friends are always questioning my choice not to spank my kids.  They’ll often say, “Never?  You’ll never spank you kids?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to spank your kids?”  When I say I’ll never hit my wife, nobody says, “Never?  You’ll never hit your wife?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to hit your wife?”  This logic got a good laugh from the crowd, and I think it was spot-on.

I was teaching a group of care-givers recently and was surprised as I realized that while they were each aware that spanking was not acceptable in their professional setting, there was definite support for spanking at home.  And so our training took a sidebar.  We talked about what spanking teaches children, and I thought I’d share the same with you.

“Hitting is Acceptable Communication.”

I heard one proponent of spanking say, “Sometimes you just need that spankin’ to get their attention.”  Do you want your child to get people’s attention by hitting, or by using words, eye-contact, and soft touches?  Whichever you choose, be sure your behavior is likewise.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do.”

We’ve all seen it.  The Grand Pooh-bah of all inconsistencies.  “Stop hitting your brother!” ….followed by a smack.  How can a child make sense of being hit for hitting?  How can an adult say hitting is not allowed, when they themselves will hit?  Spanking, particularly for physical aggression, is hypocrisy and will send confusing messages at the very least.  Very likely, it will also degrade your position as a trusted adult and mentor.

“Might Makes Right.”

For some children, spanking sends the message that it’s not OK to hit…..unless you’re bigger/in charge/ a grown up.  Consequently, many children will feel justified “spanking” other children when they are the older one, the bigger one, or simply want to be in charge.

A Question…

When you spank, are you truly trying to guide the child’s behavior, or are you reacting to your own urges and overpowering anger and frustration?  Responsibly guiding a child can never be done out of anger.  That doesn’t mean we don’t feel angry, but anger can’t be the source of our action.  Guidance has to come from love and respect and a desire to shape positive behavior.  Not a desire to punish with pain.  Some may argue that spanking is not the same as hitting, but a child won’t likely know the difference.

Abuse and Bad Practice

There are two over-arching premises in opposition to spanking.  One is that it can be abusive, and the other is that it is simply bad practice in terms of its effectiveness in teaching children correct behavior.

I was spanked on occasion as a child, and I certainly don’t think I was abused.  But I do know that some people believe they are “disciplining” their children when they resort to abusive tactics in the name of “spanking”.  That line can often be so small it’s nearly invisible.  It’s best not to start something that could easily get out of control.  Something you will inevitably regret.

But even if you are quite certain you would never spank out of anger, never cross that line into abuse, spanking is simply not good practice.  If you’re trying to teach good behavior, can that ever be accomplished by using broken tools? 

Spanking a child does nothing to teach a child good behavior.  It doesn’t build problem-solving skills, or communication skills, or magically instill them with the ability to share.  It teaches them only that they are “bad”, that they need to be “punished” and that your protection and love is conditional.

Better Tools

As the comedian above pointed out, many people are skeptic when they hear a parent will not spank.  They envision a passive, laissez faire parent with an unruly child as a result.  But it isn’t a lack of spanking that causes poor behavior.  It is the lack of tools.  Spanking is a broken tool.  But it’s a tool many people cling to because it’s the only one they have.  Once parents become aware of a full assortment of tools they can use to effectively guide child behavior in a positive way, they can be more confident as they lay their broken tools aside.

Positive guidance posts start here!

Positive Guidance Toolbox can be found here!

Top photo by DAVIDKNOX.
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