Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Teenager Lacking Motivation? Not Really!


I have a 19 year old son, who was fired from his job and just stopped going to community college twice. He was fired because instead of going to work, he stayed at his friend's birthday party. He spends his days at home in front of the computer, has no responsibilities except to take out the trash, which he does WHEN I ask him too. I just ordered your book on Positive Discipline for Teenagers and am hoping to find some answers because I'm quite concerned about his lack of motivation. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!




I'm going to give you a big hint. Your son does not lack motivation. He is totally motivated to continue living a life of luxury with out having to work for it or take any responsibility--because he can.

You will find a lot of help in Positive Discipline for Teenagers. You will learn how to stop enabling your son and start empowering him.

Jane Nelsen

Monday, December 24, 2007

Is Something Tougher than Positive Discipline Needed?


I am the mother of a 3yr old boy (his birthday is actually tomorrow) and he is also a student in my Montessori school. Over the year he has been at school we have had many challenges with me being "around" a lot and never really having that separation from me that other kids get. (I don't teach anymore but still sub sometimes in his class.) He recently turned a corner, seems to be doing well and is settling down. He is also very bright. He has a fantastic vocabulary and wonderful memory retention. He is independent and capable.

My question really is about Positive Discipline. We have practiced PD since he was born and have adjusted as needed based on his development. I wrote to you a while ago because he was biting and hitting. You suggested he is seeking attention and we followed your advice and the behavior stopped. (Thanks!) My problem is that sometimes I feel like he needs something tougher than P.D but then I know that the traditional ways don't work. He is just so wild sometimes I get really frustrated. (Is that just typical lack of impulse control?)

He usually does "annoying” things when he is very happy or likes someone a lot. We will be cuddling and suddenly he will head-butt me or he will be with a friend and out of the blue he will grab their work and make them cry. He seems like he is constantly seeking attention from everyone but he gets so much attention to start with!

I can't ignore him sometimes because I have to help solve the conflict with the other child. He has now taken to saying "sorrrrry" if he does something to me and I ignore the behaviour. Interestingly I always said to him, "Ask your friend how you can make him feel better" instead of insisting he apologize. He would reply" I don't want to; I just want to say sorry" As you can tell I am conflicted and frustrated! Please advise.


You bring up a trend that concerns me a lot lately. I get so many questions about children wanting too much undue attention, and about children who are behaving disrespectfully. Some of this is normal and developmentally appropriate, but what I’m hearing seems to go beyond what is normal. So I wonder what is going on. Some questions I’m asking:

Is there too much “over-parenting” going on—where children get way too much attention and never learn self-sufficiency? Are parents acting like “helicopter” parents who hover over every move and think they need to control every move, over-protect, rescue, fix?

Are children watching too much TV and learning too much violence?

Is some of this over-parenting due to a misunderstanding of Positive Discipline where people think that no punishment means permissiveness? Do they misunderstand the “kind” and “firm” foundation?

I want to talk more about kind and firm. I think that many parents think that kind means giving children everything they want. This is not kind to children at all. It teaches them to be demanding, spoiled brats. Kind might mean:

Saying, “I love you, and the answer is no.”

It could mean validating feelings, “I can see that you are very upset that you can’t have this right now.” Period—nothing more needs to be said or done.

It could mean simply allowing them to have their feelings while you provide energy of support without doing anything else.

It could mean being kind to yourself by kindly walking away and ignoring the behavior. (It is helpful if you let children know, in advance, that this is what you will do.

Kind could mean saying, “I have faith in you that you can handle this.” Then let them have their feelings of upset until they learn from experience that they can survive disappointment.
It could mean kind and firm action: taking a child who is misbehaving in a public place to the car and sitting quietly reading a book while he or she has a temper tantrum before trying again. (Again, let them know in advance that you will do this, adding, “You can let me know when you are ready to try again.)

It could mean sharing your anger without blaming the child. “I’m so angry right now, I can’t talk about this. I’m going to take some time-out until I can feel better before discussing this. And then leave.

I could be action without words. Taking a child by the hand and leading him or her to what needs to be done. To avoid a power struggle, use the see saw method. This means that when ever the child resist, instead of pulling, you keep hold of his hand but let him pull you. When he stops pulling, start moving again until he resists and repeat as above. The kind part is to keep a friendly attitude while being firm about what needs to be done.

Actually, I can see that all of these examples include the firmness part along with the kindness part.

If I got a head butt, I would say, “That hurt and makes me very angry,” and would then leave the room. Or, I might take the child by the hand and say, “Let’s go sit in the car (or your room) until you are ready to be respectful.”

When he makes another child cry, I would hold him on my lap and say, “What do you need to do to fix that?” If he said, “Sorry,” I would say, “I appreciate that, AND, what do you need to fix it.” If he resists, I would say, “We’ll just sit her until you figure it out. Let me know if you need some ideas.” Give him some time to calm down. Most of us can’t think of anything rational when we are upset and are accessing the fight flight part of our brains.

I hope this helps.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dethroned 5-year-old won't let baby nap

I absolutely love the Positive Discipline 5 CD set. I feel that if I can do some of the things that are on your CDs that it will change our family's lives. I have been so passionate about this new way of parenting that I actually got my husband to listen to them.
My favorite thing you say is to get excited about a mistake, so that we and our kids can learn from it. Thank you so much for making me fell empowered as a parent. Now if we can only get this thinking into the public school system.

I do have a question. I have a 5-year-old son and three-month-old daughter. My son seems to have adapted fairly well to the new addition but there is one major problem. Every time he sees her napping he will scare her to wake her up. She gets absolutely hysterical, so he gets the reaction that he wants. I do not know what to do. We live in a small 1927 home so the only room that has locks is the bathroom, otherwise, I would just lock her in the room, although, I still think he would find a way to wake her up.

Thank you, Tanya


Hi Tanya, I think you are experiencing a classic case of "dethronement." I'm sure your son loves his baby sister—with mixed feelings. He also sees her as a threat to his place in your heart and isn't sure how to handle this. He isn't even consciously aware of the confusion he is feeling. It goes something like this:

Children are constantly making decisions about how to find belonging and significance in their world. Typically, first born children subconsciously decide that they belong when they are "first" and "best." When another baby is born their world gets turned upside down because, from their perception, the newborn is being treated as first and best. That is how they interpret all the time and attention given to the new baby.

When children "believe" they don't belong, they choose one of the four mistaken goals of behavior (taught by Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs) of Undue Attention, Misguided Power, Revenge, or Assumed Inadequacy as a mistaken way to find belonging. (Mistaken goal behavior is covered very thoroughly in Positive Discipline.)

It looks as though your little guy has chosen power because he is showing you that you can't make him stop waking her up. It could be "revenge" ("How could you be so mean as to bring another baby into my world to take my place?") Your feelings are the first clue to your child's mistaken goal—as you will see when you study the mistaken goal chart in the books.
What to do? I have several suggestions.

1. Get into his world just to understand. You would probably feel the same if you were in his shoes.
2. Read the following "Candle Story" and then use candles to represent your family and do the same thing with him. (You can see a video of me doing the candle demonstration by going to

Using Candles to Deal with the Belief Behind the Behavior

There is a belief behind every behavior, but we usually only deal with the behavior. Dealing with the belief behind the behavior does not mean you don't deal with the behavior. You are most effective when you are aware of both the behavior and the belief behind it.

The following is a classic example of the belief behind a behavior. Suppose you have a five-year-old boy whose mother goes off to the hospital and brings home a brand-new baby. What does the five-year-old see going on between Mom and the baby? -- Time and attention. What does he interpret that to mean? -- Mom loves the baby more than me. What does the five-year-old do in an attempt to get the love back? -- He may act like a baby himself and cry a lot, ask for a bottle, and soil his pants. Or, he may decide to get attention, power, or revenge by waking her up from naps and upsetting the baby and Mom.

Wayne Freiden and Marie Hartwell Walker have created songs Family Songs,  that help adults get into the world of children and understand the beliefs they could be dealing with based on their birth order. Their songs include seven different birth order positions. Following is one verse from the song, Number One:

Oh it's hard to be number one.
And lately it's just no fun at all.
Life was so nice, when there were three,
Mommy and Daddy and Me.
And now there's another.
And I don't like it one bit.
Send it back to the hospital
And let's just forget about it.

Four-year-old Becky, who could identify with this song. Becky was feeling dethroned by the birth of a baby brother, and was experiencing confusion about her feelings for the baby. Sometimes she loved him, and other times she wished he had never been born because Mom and Dad spend so much time with him. She didn't know how to get attention for herself, except to act like the baby.

One evening, when the baby was asleep, Becky's mom sat down at the kitchen table with her daughter and said, "Honey, I would like to tell you a story about our family." She had four candles of varying lengths. "These candles represent our family." She picked up one long candle and said, "This is the mommy candle. This one is for me." She lit the candle as she said, "This flame represents my love." She picked up another long candle and said, "This candle is the daddy candle." She used the flame from the mommy candle to light the daddy candle and said, "When I married your daddy, I gave him all my love--and I still have all my love left." Mom placed the daddy candle in a candle holder. She then picked up a smaller candle and said, "This candle is for you." She lit the smaller candle with the flame from her candle and said, "When you were born, I gave you all my love. And look. Daddy still has all my love and I still have all my love left." Mom put that candle in a candle holder next to the daddy candle. Then she picked up the smallest candle and, while lighting it from the mommy candle, said, "This is a candle for your baby brother. When he was born I gave him all my love. And look -- you still have all my love. Daddy has all my love. And I still have all my love left because that is the way love Is. You can give it to everyone you love and still have all your love left. Now look at all the light we have in our family with all this love."

Mom then asked Becky if she would like to use her candle to light the other candles, so she could see how she could give all her love away and still have all her love. Becky was excited to try this. Mom snuffed the flame on all the candles except Becky's, and then helped her pick up each candle and hold it over the flame of her candle until it was lit. Becky's eyes were shining almost as brightly as the flame of the candles.

Mom gave Becky a hug and said, "Does this help you understand that I love you just as much as I love your baby brother?"

Becky said, "Yes, and I can love lots of people just the same."

What happens to us is never as important as the beliefs we create about what happens to us. Our behavior is based on those beliefs, and the behavior and beliefs are directly related to the primary goal of all people -- to feel that we belong and are important.

Mom had learned to deal with the belief behind Becky's misbehavior.

3) Set up a special time with him for at least 10 minutes a day that he can count on. Your daughter's nap time might be a good time. During this time you can do whatever you would both enjoy. Then when he asks for your attention and you are too busy, you can say, "Honey, I can't right now, but I sure am looking forward to our special time at 2:00." Of course you will spend much more time with him during the day, but there is a psychological bonus to having "special time."

4) Start having regular family meetings with him so he can use his personal power to brainstorm for solutions to problems—thus developing a sense of his capability. (The fifth CD of the Positive Discipline Workshop you purchased contains an eBook on Family Meetings). One of the first problems you can get him to solve is how to help you have some special time for yourself after spending special time with him when the baby first starts napping. My guess is that he will feel motivated to follow a plan he helps create.

5) Let him have his feelings. There is a difference between what children do and what they feel. Feelings are always okay. What they do is not always okay. "I can see that you are angry, and I really need your help with the baby's naps." (If his mistaken goal is misguided power, this gives him an opportunity to use his power in useful ways.)

6) Help him identify his feelings. There is a feelings poster that can be downloaded. This poster can be used by asking your son to see if he can find a face that represents what he is feeling.

7) Your attitude will help a lot. Hopefully, understanding what he is going through will help you engage with him with self-confidence and encouragement.

A new theme for Positive Discipline is "Connection before Correction." All of the suggestions I have given you help create a connection (so he will feel belonging and significance) before you attempt correction in ways that respectfully involve him to redirect his behavior in contributing ways.

I was so impressed when I heard Toni Morrison say, "Do your eyes light up when you children walk into the room?" What could be more encouraging? Remember, a misbehaving child is a discouraged. All of the suggestion I have given you can be very encouraging.

Hoping this helps,

Jane Nelsen

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Toys: Overindulgence or an Opportunity for Effective Parenting

by Jane Nelsen, Author and co-author of the Positive Discipline Series, from the book Parents Who Love Too Much

Every Christmas, advertising creates a shortage for the latest toy rage. Remember the year it was Furbys? (That was the "good old days, when a popular toy was $29 to $59. Now they cost iPods, xBoxes, iPhones —items that cost hundreds of dollars.) And what do parents do? Anything they can to make sure their little darling is not deprived. They get up at 4:00 a.m. to stand in line at a toy store with a limited supply, or they pay 10 times the retail price to scalpers who advertise on Internet auctions or in local newspapers.

Parents to stop and think about the long-term results of what they do. What happens when they want and all-terrain bike or a new sports car convertible? When parents are indulgent and satisfy every demand, what are they teaching their children?

1. If you want it, you should have it — now.
2. Let materialism control your life.
3. Don't evaluate advertising commercials. Just do whatever they suggest.
4. You can't deal with disappointment in life — and I'll make sure you don't have to.

When parents overindulge, children are not deprived of the toy, but they are deprived of an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons. When parents avoid over indulgence, children can learn:

1. What I feel is always okay, but what I do is not always okay. I can learn to feel what I feel, and then to evaluate what can be done.
2. It is okay to want, but I don't "have" to have.
3. I can deal with disappointment. I may not like it, but I will survive.
4. When a goal is worth pursuing, I can help create a plan to achieve the goal that involves my participation: to save my allowance, to do odd jobs to earn money, etc.
5. My parents will listen to me, but they won't indulge me.
6. My parents have faith in me to deal with life problems and opportunities.
7. I am capable.

There are several parenting skills parents can use to help children learn these important life lessons. The first is reflective listening.

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening means to listen without fixing. Validate your child's feelings by reflecting back everything she says until she feels understood. You can avoid sounding like a parrot by reflecting the feelings you are hearing as well as the words.

Child: "I want a Furby."
Parent: "You would really like to have a Furby."

You might be surprised how often this is enough, especially with younger children. The older children get, the longer the conversation might last.

Child: "Furby is so cute."
Parent: "You really like this toy."
Child: "Everyone is getting one."
Parent: "You think all your friends and everyone else will have one."

If reflective listening doesn't seem to be enough, you might try asking curiosity questions. This can help your child enhance her thinking and problem-solving skills; and can leave her with the feeling and belief, "I am capable."

Curiosity Questions.

What, why, and how questions are "curiosity questions" and should not be asked unless you curious about what your child thinks instead of using the questions to manipulate your child to think like you think. Your attitude and tone of voice are the keys to effectiveness with this parenting tool.

Child: "I want a Furby."
Parent: "Why do you want one?" (Children are very suspicious of "why" questions unless they perceive that you are really interested in their answer.)
Child: "Because they are cute and everyone is getting one."
Parent: "How do you know that?"
Child: "I saw one on TV, and everyone is talking about them."
Parent: "Lots of toys are cute. What do you think has made this one so special?"
Child, after a pause to think about it: "Maybe because of all the advertising, or maybe because everyone says they are so hard to find."
Parent: "What is the purpose of advertising?"
Child: "To make people buy things."
Parent: "Can advertisers 'make' people do things? Can they control people?"
Child: "They can't control me."

Of course, this conversation could go as many directions as there are children. One child concluded, "Last year Tickle Me Elmo was hard to find. Now they are lots cheaper. I think I'll wait til next year to get a Furby."

Brainstorming for Solutions that Involve the Child

Another child concluded what and how questions with, "They can't make me buy one, but I still want one." His father then engaged his son in a brainstorming session to help him figure out what he needed to do to get one. After brainstorming several possibilities, he decided he would find extra jobs to earn the money and then get his 23 year old aunt to stand in a line with him.
It would not be helpful for a parent to say, "If you want this toy, get a job and buy it yourself." Brainstorming is effective only when the child is very actively involved in the process and then chooses the suggestion that would work best for him.

Decide What You Will Do and What You Won't Do

Too many parents have forgotten how to use this very important tool. They act as though they should feel guilty if they aren't willing to spend more than they can afford, or feel guilty about saying no when they can afford it. In either case, they make the mistake of overindulgence.
Considering the negative long-range results, it is important to avoid overindulgence. It is important to decide what you will and won't do and then to kindly, firmly, and respectfully inform your children of your decisions. If they get angry or disappointed, use reflective listening to validate their feelings. This may be more difficult for you than it is for your child.

In many ways it is much easier for parents to just buy the toy (over indulgence). This is usually done in the name of love. Most parents don't want their children to "suffer." It might help if you remember that they will suffer even more during their adult lives if they believe they should have everything they want —now. Overindulgence is a very unloving thing to do to children. When parents overindulge their children they are choosing ease instead of an opportunity to help their children learn important life skills and develop important self-esteem concepts such as, "I am capable, self-reliant, a good thinker, and a good problem-solver."

Monday, December 17, 2007

3 ½-year-old Tantrums


I just entered the world of Positive Discipline and I love it. I feel like I can be a really great mother-even more than I already am.

I feel challenged with my 3 ½ year old! He is very specific about things. If he gets something in his mind, it must be that way, or he cries, sometimes until he falls asleep (up to an hour of crying)! For example, if I walk off the sidewalk to get somewhere faster, I get a tantrum. If I flush the toilet-not him–tantrum. If I get a spoon for breakfast–tantrum.

 Even more is when he wants me to do something a specific way, like picking up his shoes; he will stand 2 inches from the shoes and cry for me to get them while I’m holding the baby, a bag and we’re standing in the rain! This is so frustrating because I know he can do it. Is it right for me to be strict and expect him to do these things (my way)? How do I get him to want to do it himself? Is this just a phase because I have even looked up OCD online?

Am I right in understanding the only ways to help calm tantrums are Sympathizing, Ignoring and Hugs? Ignoring and sympathizing cause a tantrum to last even longer. Hugs work, but what if I’m driving, do I pull over? And will they work every time? I know you can’t answer that, but what I mean is if you use hugs all the time, does the child catch on and think, “I know what she’s doing and it isn’t going to work this time? Or do they just love the extra love.

Thank you for a new outlook to parenting. I am really excited to be a more loving mom-all the time, not just when we’re laughing. J


Dear J,

I’m getting a lot of questions with this theme, so I have to wonder what is going on. Not that it hasn’t always been a theme. I know that my seven children all wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. It just seems to me that the persistence is stronger in children today. I have a hunch that it is because their persistence works.

I keep wondering if parents are just a little too child centered these days. As you know, I believe that children should be treated with dignity and respect, but I think it is easy to go to extremes. For example, I think it is very sad when adults cause children to suffer through punishment, guilt, and shame. On the other hand, I think it is sad when parents don’t “allow” children to suffer.

There is a huge difference. When adults cause children to suffer, they impose punishments or guilt and shame. When they don’t “allow” children to suffer it is because they rescue, over-protect, or fix every problem. This robs children of developing their disappointment muscles. It robs them of learning that they can survive upset and end up learning resiliency and feeling capable. Allowing children to suffer doesn’t mean to be mean. Parents can be very supportive when a child is suffering. They can validate feelings, “I can see this is very hard for you.” They can hold a child on their lap for comfort, without saying a word. They can show faith in the child to handle problems—even when it is difficult. Sometimes showing faith is shown in your energy, not in anything you do.

Now, let’s see how this applies to your question. Here are some suggestions:

Let him have his feelings without thinking you need to rescue him or make him change his feelings. This can be difficult, but it will show in your energy even if you don’t do anything.
Validate his feelings. Try to mirror what he is feeling. “I can see that you are really angry.”

You know how much I like hugs. If he is willing, just give him a hug. The purpose is not to take away his feelings, but to give support as long as he needs it. Listen to a podcast on this theme The Power of a Hug.

Use your sense of humor. “Eeeeeek. I made a huge mistake when I flushed the toilet.”
He may be old enough to create his own positive time out (which is nothing like the naughty chair). You can also create a positive time out plan for yourself and let him know in advance when you will use it.

I am now working on a new theme for Positive Discipline that I think will take it to new levels. That theme is “Connection before Correction.” There is so much research that shows that we can’t really influence children is a positive way until we create a connection with them. Punishment does not create a connection, nor do lectures, nagging, scolding, blaming or shaming. So what does?

Before sharing effective way to create a connection with children, I want to point out that it is a mistake to think that giving children whatever they want is a good way to make a connection. Rescuing, fixing, and over-protecting are not good ways to make a connection. Effective connections are made when both child and adult feel belonging and significance--even though it is the adult who takes the first step.

Some of these steps to connection have already been mentioned in the suggestions above. I’ll repeat them here for this context:

  • Listening. Really listening—giving a child your full attention
  • Validating feelings.
  • Sharing your feelings when appropriate. Remember that children will listen to you AFTER they feel listened to.
  • Focusing on solutions WITH children after a cooling off period.
  • Taking time for respectful training during calm times.
  • Asking curiosity questions to help children explore the consequences of their choices instead of imposing consequences on them.
  • Teaching valuable life skills that help children feel capable. Just one example is helping them create their own positive time out space and creating routine charts with them, not for them.
  • Having faith in children to handle their own problems. (Offering support through validating feelings or just giving a hug, but not rescuing or fixing.)
  • Spending special time with children.
  • Hugs.

Now to discuss correction. It is very important to understand that correction the Positive Discipline way is very different from conventional correction. The biggest difference is that conventional correction usually involves punishment (punitive time-out, grounding, and taking away privileges being the most common). In other words, conventional correction consists of adults doing something TO children. Positive Discipline correction consists of the many tools presented in all of the Positive Discipline books that show parents and teachers how to do correction that respectfully involves children whenever possible. It is interesting to note that all of the steps for connection also work for correction. They are things adults do WITH children, not TO or FOR children.

Other methods for correction, to name just a two, are family and class meetings and joint problem-solving. These are very powerful tools that respectfully involve children to learn and use their personal power in contributing ways. As you learn about the many Positive Discipline tools, notice that they are all designed to create a connection before respectful correction.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cries at Preschool



I have a 4.5 year old boy and he refuses to go to school. Actually it's a day-care program that's run by 2 of my best friends so I know it's a safe and loving environment. I enrolled him for 3 afternoons a week to socialize with other children his age and also to prepare him for kindergarten in the fall. He's never had issues with leaving us or being on his own until day-care. I am now attending day-care with him in order to help him feel safe and hopefully make it his decision to stay but this is costly because on top of the cost for school I am paying for a sitter for my other son at home.

I don't know which direction to take this. My concern is him becoming overly dependent on me— somehow stunting his independence and social skills. We tried forcing him to go and just dropping him off at the door and it was horrible for everyone involved. He cried and screamed for the entire time —which was disruptive for all of the other students and so traumatizing for us and him. It made him even more clingy and needy then I've ever seen before.

I just want to know what the best approach is for him. Should I just drop him off and hope that eventually the screaming will stop? (We tried this for 2 weeks of hell.) Should I invest the time and money to go with him and hope he'll do it himself? Should I pull him out all together and Just start all over in Kindergarten.

Please him me help my child.

Thank-you Susan.


Dear Susan, This is a tough one because it is so difficult to know what is going on with him. Have you asked him? You could make some guesses and he'll let you know if you are right or wrong. For example, "Are you afraid of something at school? Are you worried that I won't come back? Do you miss me? Are you trying to show me that you are the boss and that I can't make you do anything?" (This last question will make more sense if you have read any Positive Discipline book about Mistaken Goals of Behavior.) "Has someone hurt your feelings?"

One guess we can make is that he is feeling "dethroned" by "your other son" at home. If you get into his world, can you imagine that he may think that he is being "shoved" away from Mom while his little brother gets to say home with Mom? In his mind, this could mean that you love his little brother more than him. Sometimes it is best to deal with the "belief behind the behavior" rather than the behavior —remembering that beliefs don't necessarily represent the truth, nor are they rational. Go to and click on " Video excerpt of Keynote address. "The belief behind the behavior." to see how one mother used candles to demonstrate her love for everyone in the family.

Once you have helped him understand your unconditional love, get him involved in working on a solution that works for both of you. It is true that he may be becoming dependent on you, so you need to find ways to help him feel more independent and capable. One way is getting him involved in solutions. Let him know why you want him to go to school--so he'll be ready for Kindergarten. Then ask him for some ideas to accomplish this goal? You might be surprised at his ideas. Brainstorm with him and write down all the suggestions. You can also make some suggestions and put them on the list. Then go over the list and choose one that works for both of you. I do not advocate forcing him. Get him involved in deciding how much time he needs before he will be ready to try again. Have faith in him to work this out--with your help and understanding. It is possible that he will be more ready by Fall.

Meanwhile, start having regular family meetings so he can learn to focus on solutions to problems--helping him feel more capable. There are many other things you can do that will help. Have you listened to some of my podcasts. I think you would especially enjoy the last one called "Workshop Results". Go to and scroll down the left side to free podcasts.

Also, you might enjoy my new 5 CD set, "The Positive Discipline Workshop: How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be while Helping Your Children Feel Capable, Confident, and Competent." The 5th CD includes many podcasts, an activity/resource book, and the Family Meeting Album with many tips and printable pages for having successful family meetings.

I want to end my telling you a personal story. When I was six-years-old, I went into the First Grade. I didn't get the teacher I wanted (the one I had loved so much in Kindergarten). I'm not sure if I was being a spoiled brat or what, but I remember becoming very fearful that we would get locked in our partial basement classroom. When the teacher would close the windows, I would start to cry. It might have helped if my teacher had held me on her lap and simply comforted me. Instead she sat me on her lap and shamed me--calling me a baby. I just cried harder until she put me in the hall. I just walked home (after playing in the park until school was out). My mother was called. She handled it so well that I overcame my irrational fear. All she did was come and sit in the classroom with me for a day--and she had me give the teacher a rose. I don't remember any feelings of shame, just loving support. I'm sure this memory is not completely accurate, but it is what I remember--and I know my fears disappeared and I was fine from then on.

I don't tell you this story to imply that this is what would work with you son. I know you have already stayed with him. My point is that children often develop irrational beliefs. Even if adults can't figure out what is going on, gentle support and encouragement is the best way to help a child overcome whatever is going on.

I wish you the best.

Jane Nelsen

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Son Prefers Cookies


Hi Jane,

My son has decided that he really likes cookies and prefers them over a lot of other foods. We often serve him his normal, healthy food and tell him that if he finishes it or eats a few more bites, he can have a cookie. The power struggle between us and him is getting more difficult and time consuming. It is frustrating because it is hard to communicate to a child why he should eat food that doesn't taste as good as cookies, I can definitely understand his view!



Hi Brad,

You don't say how old your son is, but in any case I would have the same advice. Stop buying cookies. This reminds me of a true story I tell in Positive Discipline about a woman who told me her daughter didn't want to eat anything but potato chips. I asked her where her daughter got the potato chips and she said, "I buy them because she won't eat anything else." I don't mean to be disrespectful, but, "Duh!"

If you stop buying cookies, your son may have temper tantrums. Kindly validate his feelings of disappointment and don't say anything else. Allow him to have his feelings, but remain firm about not buying cookies. This is one example of the foundation principle of Positive Discipline--to be kind and firm at the same time.

If you get the principle of what I'm saying, it will expand into other situations. For example, put good food on the table and have healthy snacks available in a drawer or in the fridge. Then don't say a word about what he eats. When dinner time is over, clear off the table and throw away or store anything he hasn't eaten. When he complains that he is still hungry, smile and say something like, "I'll bet you are. I love you and I have faith in you. I'm sure you can figure out what to do about that." Then keep your mouth shut. He'll figure out that he can get the healthy snacks, or eat more at the next meal.

I have started emphasizing the importance of "connection before correction." For an excellent example go to the podcast where I interview Marianne McGinnis #49 and the supporting article on my blog at

I hope this helps.
Jane Nelsen

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Connection before Correction

by Jane Nelsen

"You have to reach the heart before you can reach the head." I first heard this statement while reading an article about Carter Bayton in a September, 1991 issue of Life Magazine. Carter Bayton was asked to work with thirteen 2nd grade boys who were considered so disruptive that they couldn't make in it a "regular" classroom. After six months of working with these boys they were doing so well that they challenged the "regular" class to a math contest and won. Carter found many ways to be effective with his charges, but said the foundation was to reach their hearts before he could reach their minds.

Connection matters. Adolescents do better when they perceive caring (connection) from either their home or school. The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which surveyed 90,000 teens showed (even controlling for income, race, and parental status) that students who report feeling connected to a parent or the school have less emotional distress, fewer suicidal thoughts, use less cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, have less violent behavior and have a later debut of sexual activity.

Adlerian/Dreikursian psychology embraces the theory that children will move toward cooperation when they sense that the adult cares about them and treats them with respect and dignity. Connection before correction has been said many ways in Adlerian/Dreikursian psychology and in Positive Discipline.

Make sure the message of love gets through.
(For teachers, start with a message of caring.)
Create closeness and trust instead of distance and hostility.
Children need encouragement like a plant needs water.
A misbehaving child is a discouraged child.
Make sure children know you are on their side.
Children do better when they feel better.
When in doubt, try a hug.
The primary goal of all children (and all people) is belonging and significance.
Children need to feel needed.
Treat children with dignity and respect.
Children will listen to you after they feel listened to.
Focus on respectful solutions that involve everyone concerned.
Be kind and firm at the same time.
Win children over instead of trying to win over children.

The list could go on and on. All of these suggestions help create a connection. When children feel connected they are more open to kind and firm correction —especially when they are involved in creating a solution that is respectful to everyone.

One of my favorite stories in Positive Discipline in the Classroom is about Dave Nelson, a 5th grade teacher who was not having any success with Todd —no matter how much or how often he punished Todd for his behavior. Mr. Nelson tried making Todd write sentences saying, "I will not lose my tempter in the classroom." Todd refused. Mr. Nelson tried making Todd stand outside the classroom for a punitive time-out. Todd continued to be disruptive by looking through the classroom windows and pulling faces. Mr. Nelson tried sending notes home to the parents, who wrote back and said, "If you can make him control his temper at home, we'll come to the classroom and see what we can do."

Finally, Mr. Nelson tried the Four Steps for Winning Cooperation:

1. Express understanding for the child's feelings. Be sure to check with him to see if you are right.
2. Show empathy without condoning. Empathy does not mean you agree or condone. It simply means you understand the child's perception. A nice touch here is to share times when you have felt or behaved similarly.
3. Share your feelings and perceptions. If the first two steps have been done in a sincere and friendly manner, the child will be ready to listen to you.
4. Invite the child to focus on a solution. Ask if he has any ideas on what to do in the future to avoid the problem. If he doesn't, offer some suggestions and seek his agreement.

Mr. Nelson invited Todd to stay after school. Todd was expecting the usual lectures. Instead, Mr. Nelson said, "Todd, I've noticed that you often get very angry and lose your temper."
Todd gave him a defiant look and said, "So."
Mr. Nelson said in a friendly manner, "Have you ever noticed what happens in your body when you are angry?"
Todd just gave him a disgusted look.
Mr. Nelson said, "I get angry sometimes."
Todd snuck a glance with a look of surprise on his face.
Mr. Nelson continued, "I've noticed that I can feel my anger in my neck and shoulders if I'm paying attention."
Todd still gave him a look that indicated, "So."
Mr. Nelson asked, "Would you be willing to notice what you feel in your body the next time you get angry."
Todd just shrugged his shoulders.
Mr. Nelson said, "Thanks for being willing to come see me, Todd."

This scene may look like nothing happened, but that isn't true. Mr. Nelson made a connection with Todd. The proof is in what happened next. Todd didn't have a temper tantrum for four days. So let's look at the scene again and dig beneath what it seems. Many things are very different. Mr. Nelson did not lecture or punish. He was kind when he got into Todd's world by voicing what may be going on with Todd. (A connection is made when kids feel understood.)
Mr. Nelson then shared something of himself—how he sometimes felt angry too. (Connection) He then invited Todd to notice what happened to him the next time he got angry. He didn't force the issue and didn't ask for a commitment —just made a suggestion and allowed time for the connection to percolate.

Now let's go to scene two: Todd had another temper tantrum in the classroom. Mr. Nelson went to him and whispered, "Todd, did you notice what happened in your body? Come see me after school and tell me about it." (Connection)

Todd was so surprised that he settled down. When he went to see Mr. Nelson after school, he told him that he felt his fists clench when he was losing his temper; and he felt like hitting something (which he usually did).

Mr. Nelson had created a close enough connection that he could engage Todd in the last step for winning cooperation —brainstorming for solutions.

Mr. Nelson asked, "Todd, the next time you feel your fists clenching, can you think of something that would help you calm down?"

Todd: "I don't know."

Of course he didn't know. Todd had spent his life in a vicious cycle of losing his temper, being punished, losing his temper, being punished. His method of operation was to get defensive and rebellious. How would he know anything else? Mr. Nelson knew it was time to teach brainstorming for solutions. He said, "How about if we brainstorm together until we find a solution that would work for you? One idea would be to count to 10."

Todd showed that he had a sense of humor and said, "Or 100."
Mr. Nelson laughed and wrote down count to 10 and count to 100.
Mr. Nelsen then said, "Another possibility would be to take deep breaths. Can you think of anything else?"
Todd said, "I could just leave the classroom for awhile."
Mr. Nelsen wrote it down. Then he asked, "Which of these suggestions would work for you?"
Todd said, "I would like to leave the classroom."
Mr. Nelson said, that sounds like a good idea. However, school rules wouldn't allow you to just roam around. Would it work for you to leave and stand outside the classroom door until you are ready to come back in?"
Todd agreed.
Mr. Nelson said, "I have faith in you to handle this. You don't even need to let me know when you need to leave."

Mr. Nelson reported that it was another six days before he saw Todd walk out of the classroom and stand outside the door. When he came back in Mr. Nelson gave him a wink and thumbs up. Todd smiled. (Connection)

According to Mr. Nelson, Todd did not become perfect. He still lost his temper once in awhile and forgot to step outside the classroom. However, as Mr. Nelson put it, "He used to have several temper tantrums a day. Now he has one or two a month. I'll take it."

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to get children to do better, first we have to make them feel worse? When we stop to think about this statement, it really doesn't make sense, yet it seems so difficult to change the minds of some parents and teachers who hang on to the idea that the only way to change behavior is through punishment (which is often poorly disguised by calling it logical consequences).

Instead create a connection and then gets children involved in respectful correction that leaves everyone feeling encouraged, confident, and capable.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Workshop Results

Hi Jane,

As far as I am concerned, the workshop is far from over! I've been reading all my books, Understanding Serenity, Positive Discipline for Teenagers, Positive Discipline A to Z, the main Positive Discipline Book.—as well as listening to your CDS. Your philosophy on living and parenting, your principles about living and parenting—your way of living in general—give me more hope than anything else I have ever come across. I am truly inspired, and am already incorporating many of the tools—family meetings, remembering that mistakes are opportunities to learn, asking what and how curiosity questions, looking for solutions instead of blame, sharing encouraging messages (I have faith in you, is my fav.) and always getting the message of love across.

Not only are my boys responding with more love and helpful behavior—I can see how encouraged and inspired they are! I'm not shutting them down anymore. My husband also loves my new attitude.

I used to be so busy and would feel so helpless about "getting my kids to behave." I was the classic controlling, punitive, nagging parent—until I'd feel so mean that I'd run out and get my kids a present. I also used to do everything myself because I could always do it faster and better—now I realize how I was taking away the opportunity for my kids to be involved and to learn valuable lessons about being contributing members of society.

I could go on and on.

I hope to see you again soon! Take care,

Marianne McGinnis

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Grandson Crying at Preschool


Dear Jane,

Please help me to help my grandson! He is only 26 months old and his parents decided to take him to a nursery although I personally think that he is not ready yet to deal with this experience, the way that is usually given to all children by the nurseries here in Cyprus.

The reason I am saying this is that he is a lovely content boy (not spoiled), who is raised on Positive Discipline, with lots of love and affection by all of us, including his nanny who adores him. He has no other young children around to share his time with, so he is used to have lots of fun in a safe environment, and sometimes he plays with other children at birthday parties or on the playground , having an adult who is known to him always around. He is a happy, encouraged 2 year old who does not need to misbehave.

Now the nursery rules are for parents to stay with the child for an hour the first day and then go home together. The 2nd or 3rd day the mother will pretend that she will go somewhere for five minutes and leave him there with a teacher (a stranger). The following day the mother must leave him for ten minutes and then leave him at the doorstep in the hands of the teacher and say good bye (whether he is crying/screaming or not).

So my grandson went to this nursery for three days now and he was really scared and crying a lot when his mother went back, after leaving him for five minutes following the rules!!! Next week he will have to suffer more and more until he gives up.

I believe that this is a very dramatic experience for any child, because all these feelings of being abandoned all of a sudden will be stored in his subconscious mind and will always be part of his program!!!

Please Jane share your wisdom with me and advise me how to deal with this situation before we turn an encouraged child into a discouraged child because of Nursery Rules!!!!!

Thank you very much in advance, Elenitsa


Dear Elenitsa,

Oh my goodness, you sound like a grandma. (You may know that I now have 20 grandchildren, including my 11 month old of my youngest daughter. I'm so devoted to him that I purchased a house in San Diego so I can spend lots of time here.) I tell you this so you'll know I understand. In fact, they recently tried to put Greyson in a 3 hour morning program (at 10 mos.) and he cried so much that they gave up. I definitely thought he was too young.

However, I think your grandson may be just fine. The big question is how does he act after his parents leave. I use to have a morning preschool (many years ago) and I could hardly wait for the parents to leave because the children would be just fine soon after they left.

Actually, the schools rules that you describe, sound good to me. Elenitsa, I don't know for sure if he is ready or not, but I have a hunch that he could be. I don't believe he will suffer feelings of abandonment (he is loved too much). It is very possible that he will learn to feel more confident and capable. A big part depends on the energy he feels from his parents (and on how he is once they leave.)

Following is an excerpt from Positive Discipline for Childcare Providers. At the end is my story of what happened when I felt so guilty about taking Mark to a Preschool when he was 26 months old. Keep in mind, that I knew this was a very good preschool and I had even trained the staff.

Crying (See Clinging and Separation Anxiety)

Child Development Concept

Crying is a language. In fact, it is the only language infants and very young children possess Adults would not be so nervous or annoyed when children cry if they accepted this fact. Children cry for too many reasons to elaborate here, but a few of them are frustration, fear, pain, or an effort to manipulate adults. No matter what the reason, the best way to deal with crying is with an attitude of dignity and respect.

It is never a good idea to tell a child to stop crying (never mind that it rarely works). It is even worse to tell a child, "Big girls/boys don't cry." We know adults mean well when they say, "Don't cry," but that is the same as saying, "Don't communicate. It makes me uncomfortable."

Use your intuition (and/or the mistaken goal chart on page X) to give you clues about why the child is crying. The child may be crying in an attempt to find belonging through undue attention. He may be using "water power" as a misguided way to seek belonging. The child may feel hurt (possibly because he has been dethroned by a new baby at home, or because he feels abandoned) and feels his only option is revenge (which he takes out on whomever is in his path), or perhaps he feels inadequate and just wants to give up. Each of these goals would be handled differently. Check the mistaken goal chart for specific ideas.

If you sense the crying is due to fear or frustration, do your best to offer comfort. If a child is experiencing separation anxiety, it may help to hold her for a while. Every childcare environment should have a rocking chair. Sometimes an older child can help comfort or rock a younger child.

If you think the child is frustrated, validate her feelings. "You are feeling angry right now." "You wish you could do what the older kids are doing."

Sometimes it is okay to simply allow the child to have his feelings. You might say, "It is okay to cry. I hope you feel better soon."

If the child has been involved in creating a "Positive Time Out" area (see page X), you might ask, "Would it help you to go to our 'feel good place' (or whatever your children have decided to call it) for awhile?"

If you feel the child is crying in an effort to manipulate you, state what you are willing to do or what needs to be done. "I know you want me to put your shoes on for you, but I have faith in you to do it yourself. I'll come back in a few minutes so you can show me what you have done." Or "I know you don't want to help clean up, and now it is cleanup time."

Communicate with parents to stay informed about what might be going on at home that is affecting the child's behavior.

Tips for working with parents

Parents will feel differently about crying when they understand it is a language. They will be more effective when they learn to understand (not speak) the language. They can also take time to teach skills that many help the child learn other ways to behave and communicate, as in the example below.

After following all the guidelines to find a good child care situation for twi-year-old Mark (and knowing that the preschool she picked was excellent), Mrs. Nelsen was distressed when Mark cried every morning when she left him there. Parting was very difficult and Mrs. Nelsen would leave with a heavy heart. However, she noticed that when she came by to pick him up at the end of the day, Mark didn't want to leave. He was having a great time.

Mrs. Nelsen thought, "Hmmmm. What is wrong with this picture?" Then she remembered hearing that children know their parents' "buttons" and how to push them. She had a "working mother guilt button," and Mark was pushing it with great skill.

That evening Mrs. Nelsen said to Mark, "Let's play a pretend game. Let's pretend you are the mommy and I'll be Mark. When you take me to school, I'll cry and tell you I don't want you to go." Mark thought that was great fun. I cried and held on to his legs. He laughed and laughed. Then Mrs. Nelsen said, "Okay, now you pretend you are Mark and I'm the mommy and you can cry and hang on to me when I take you to school." Of course, Mark already knew how to do this very well, but he had a hard time crying when it was just pretend. He ended up laughing as he held on to Mrs. Nelsen's legs.

They were both laughing as Mrs. Nelsen said, "Well, I know you know how to do a crying goodbye, because you have been doing it every morning. Now let's practice giving a hugging goodbye. You be the mommy first and I'll be Mark. Pretend you have just taken me to school." Mark took her by the hand and walked her to the imaginary school. Mrs. Nelsen gave him a hug and said, "Bye Mommy, See you later." Then it was Mark's turn and he repeated the scene with a goodbye hug. Then Mrs. Nelsen said, "Now you know how to do both a crying goodbye and a hugging goodbye. Tomorrow you can decide which one you want to do."

The next morning Mrs. Nelsen reminded Mark that he could decide to give her a hugging goodbye or a crying goodbye and said, "I wonder which one you will choose?" Mrs. Nelsen wasn't surprised when Mark decided to give her a hugging goodbye, even though either choice would have been okay with her. Later she shared with a friend that she thought she knew why he chose the hugging goodbye. First, she had given up her guilt button. She felt very confident that Mark was spending his days in an excellent environment. She said, "I don't know how he knew that I no longer had a guilt button, but I know he knew." Second, she had taken time for training so Mark had the skills for a hugging goodbye as well as a crying goodbye – and he knew it was his choice.

Elenitsa, I hope this helps. Remember, I don't know the whole picture, but I do believe there is a lot of "extreme" parenting going on these days. Let me know how it goes.

Dear Jane,

"Thank You" is such a small phrase that cannot express my gratitude for your wise thoughts and suggestions!!! Yes, I sound like a grandma (perhaps a little bit overprotective, which I try to overcome!!!).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Positive Time-Out—You First

Create a positive time out plan for yourself. It could be a soak in the tub, getting in the shower (where kids can’t follow), going into the bathroom, locking the door, and turning on the stereo, taking a short walk (if your kids are old enough), sitting on the floor in the lotus position and chanting—whatever works for you. Let your kids know your plan and that you will use it when you need to calm down. Be sure they know this is “for” you, not “against” them.

Does this seem like a novel idea—for you to take some time-out instead of sending your children to time-out? We all know that example is the best teacher. Sachiko Jordan, a member of the Southern CA Positive Discipline Mentor group, shares how effective it was for her to use time-out for herself.

When I read “Positive Discipline,” I liked the idea decide what you will do instead of what you make your child do. So, I decided to take a break (time-out) when I am not able to talk to my 3 ½ year-old son, Kazuya, with respect. I talked to my son and told him what I would do next time I got upset instead of sending him to punitive “time out.” I told him that I would go to my office (extra bedroom) to calm myself down and that I would come out when I was ready to talk to him nicely. I also told him while he was waiting for me to calm down, he could play or he could knock on the door when he was ready to talk to me.

The time came! We had a conflict and I was very upset. I told him that I would go upstairs as I promised. He looked at me and said, “NO!” I ignored his comment and briefly said, “See you in few minuets,” and went to my office. I heard him sobbing and I did not feel comfortable. I was anxious about whether or not this would work. Well, 5 minutes later he knocked on my door and said, “Mommy, I am ready to talk to you.” He was not crying anymore. I opened the door and gave him a big hug and said, “I am ready to talk to you too. Thank you for coming to let me know you are ready.” Then, we took turns talking about how we felt at the time of the conflict. We went through this process several times.

One day, Kazuya was not in a good mood and started whining when he was told to get ready to go grocery shopping. We were not in a hurry and I did not want to say anything to him. I gave him a hug and said, “I will take time out.” He did not say anything and did not seem upset. When I got upstairs, I noticed he was just behind me. I thought he would try to get me. I was wrong! He was walking towards to his room. “Mommy, I take time out, too. I play with my race cars.”

When I heard that comment, my time-out was technically over. I had big smile on my face. I wanted to say, “Forget about time-out! Let’s play.” However, I didn’t do it because I knew he was not ready and needed some time to calm down. I knocked on his door after five minutes to see if he was ready to play with me for 10 minutes before we would be ready to go. He was very happy to play with me for 10 minutes and had fun with grocery shopping.

I knew time-out was not really recommended for children under the age of 4-years-old. However, when I read Positive Discipline, I instantly felt that positive time-out would work for my son. I learned the value of modeling positive time-out by going to my time-out instead of sending him to time-out. I spent a lot of time explaining PTO to him and allowed him to knock on my door when he was ready to talk to me. I also decided not to lock myself in the bathroom. I chose a PTO place next to his room where my son knew it would be unlocked all the time. I am very happy that PTO is one of most effective Positive Discipline techniques for my son—to teach him self-control until he is ready to interact lovingly and joyfully!!!

Sachiko’s story so beautifully illustrates several positive discipline concepts.

1) Modeling. Sachiko was able to communicate that positive time out is not a bad thing since she is so willing to do it herself. Children love to follow our lead—much more than being pushed to do what we want.

2) Combining positive discipline tools. Sachiko combined modeling positive time-out with “deciding what you will do.” Sachiko couldn’t make her son give up his temper tantrum, but she could decide to take care of herself until he was ready to interact cooperatively.

3) Being kind and firm at the same time. Sachiko provides an excellent of kind and firm when she hugs her child while remaining firm.

4) Planning in advance, including children when possible, and/or informing children in advance what you plan to do. Sachiko applied these tools when modeling positive time-out, and in her next story.

Sachiko wanted to involve her child in finding solutions to challenges. One challenge they faced was her son’s resistance to leaving the park when it was time. She involved him in a plan to use her cell phone as a timer. He could choose the ring tone that would indicate when it was time to leave. She would give him a 15 minute warning before the ring tone would sound the alarm that it was time to leave. When the alarm rang, he son told his friend it was time to leave.

This illustrates how powerful very simple tools can be. They are powerful because they are respectful and help children use their power to cooperate instead of feeling the need to engage in power struggles.

To hear a discussion of these concepts, and to hear Sachiko share her success stories, go to to listen to the podcast.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Taming Temper Tantrums

Taming Temper Tantrums

by Aisha Pope

I was in a mall store with my son who was about 16-17 months old and was a pretty talented tantrum thrower. He didn't have a problem walking around the mall; he just hated going into the actual stores; so I could count on him to get upset when we walked in. We went into one particular store, and he started the tantrum and fell out on the floor kicking and screaming. I had been doing some reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Harvey Karp, MD, about coping with tantrums and learned that I needed to validate his feelings, and since he would not be likely to understand my verbal validation, I needed to show him with my own tone and affect that I was hearing him. So, I sat on the floor (in front of God and everyone) and said, "Jayden, you're mad. You're mad, mad mad! You're so mad." I used a tone that mirrored, but didn’t mock, his tantrum tone. He stopped, looked at me as if to say, “She gets it,” and then crawled into my lap and gave me a big hug! We sat there for a few minutes, and to my surprise, he was patient for the rest of the short time we were in that store! After that, I guess to show him that I respected his feelings; we cut the shopping trip short.

Comments from Jane:

I love this story for so many reasons. First, Jayden’s behavior is so developmentally appropriate. What child doesn’t have a temper tantrum to show his displeasure when he or she doesn’t have any other skills for self-expression. Too many parents don’t understand how helpful it can be to simply allow children to have their feelings and have faith in them to handle their upset and calm down. In a very subtle way, dealing with their feelings in, a supportive atmosphere, helps children develop the sense that they are capable. Instead of trying to talk children out of their feelings, or calling it “misbehavior,” do what Aisha did. Just validate them.

Most adults haven’t learned to understand their feelings language. As children, many of us were told we should feel what we felt. Even worse, we might have been punished. In Positive Discipline the First Three Years, and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, we discuss the importance of helping children develop their “feelings” language by understanding that what they feel is always okay—even though what they do is not always okay. Once you help children calm down by simply validating their feelings, you can then help them figure out what to do that is respectful for everyone concerned if follow-up is necessary. In Jayden’s case it wasn’t.

I so admire Aisha’s courage that she cared more about helping Jayden deal with his feelings than what others might think. In the process, she provided an excellent example for any parent who was watching. I wish we all could have watched the second success story shared by Aisha.

To Bed using his Own Power
by Aisha Pope

When Jayden was around 15-16 months old, we had never done any formal sleep training, and he still needed to be rocked or nursed to sleep. I decided to work on breaking him of this, and started by setting up a good bedtime routine. That routine would end with a story, nursing in the rocking chair. So he wouldn't fall asleep nursing, I would stand up and walk around the room carrying him while we said our prayers. We would end at the crib where I'd lay him down. As soon as I laid him down, however, this peaceful scene would change. He'd stand right up and start screaming. The next hour to hour and half would be spent with him standing up, me laying him back down, him crying, me wanting to cry, and so on.

One night I decided to change the routine just a little. When we were pacing and saying our prayers, I put him down and let him walk. I said, "Time for bed," and he walked himself over to the crib, holding my hand. He reached to be picked up, and I picked him up, gave a kiss, and set him down on his feet instead of laying him down. He immediately laid down. Ever since then, when it's time for him to go to bed, I have him walk to his crib instead of carrying him. I set him on his feet and he always just lays down on his own. Now that's not to say that every night he drifts peacefully off to sleep with no protesting, because the going to sleep part is still a challenge some nights; but we no longer spend half the night just fighting with him to stay in the crib at bedtime.

Comments from Jane:

I would love to hear if this works for other parents. Your child may not respond exactly as Jayden did, but your chances will increase if you understand some key concepts—which can be used to solve many behavior challenges is many creative ways.

1) Sleeping is a natural bodily function that babies are born knowing how to do. Too often loving parents don’t understand that babies know how to sleep and “train” their babies to believe they can’t sleep without being rocked, nursed, given a bottle, walked around in a baby carrier, or taken for a drive in the car. (I know. I’ve been there.)
2) Weaning is never easy for the Weanor or the Weanee, but it helps to have faith in both of you that you can handle this weaning process and both feel more capable once it is done.
3) Everyone has personal power and we feel capable when we use it constructively, and rebellious or defeated when someone takes it away from us. Toddlers aren’t consciously aware of their personal power, yet they often rebel when parents are overly controlling. In Positive Discipline the First Three Years, we call this the “Me Do It” stage of life—that starts with toddlers and never ends. Aisha figured out a way to incorporate Jayden using his personal power to “fit the needs of the situation.” In other words, he used his personal power for cooperation and to feel capable instead of the rebel and/or demand undue service.
4) Too often, parents train their children to use their personal power to manipulate others into giving them undue service. They may start to develop the believe, “Love means getting others to take care of me and give me whatever I want.” This does not instill a sense of capability.

Putting all this together means understanding that the best way to help children develop a healthy sense that, “I am capable,” is to find ways to let them use their personal power in ways that help them experience being capable. This could be something as seemingly small as letting Jayden walk to his crib, and then letting him lay down himself instead of laying him down. As Aisha pointed out, it may not always work perfectly, yet it is working perfectly when you have faith in your child (and yourself) to handle the ups and downs of life.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Toddler Demands Constant Attention

Question:Hello Jane,

I have just ordered Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and Positive Discipline the First Three Years but while I wait for the books to arrive I could really use some advice. I am a single mother of a 16 month old girl. Her father has her occasionally but I am with her more or less 24/7 and sometimes I get really stressed out. My main problem is that she wants my attention all the time and if I don't give it to her she starts to cry and cry until I do something about it. I don't seem to have 1 second to myself and sometimes I get really frustrated.

For example when she is in her high chair she throws her food on the floor and screams to get my attention: I have tried to reason with her, I have shouted, smacked her hand, ignored her, fooled around but nothing seems to work. When I am trying to cook or get ready to go out she follows me around crying and pleading that I pick her up. How do I get through to her? How can I communicate with her effectively so that she realizes that I still love her even if I am not giving her my undivided attention.

She is still breastfeeding although I have just stared to wean her slowly. I wear inaccessible tops so that at least when we go out she cannot just grab titty when she wants and I offer her alternatives. She still needs to breastfeed to go to sleep and to soothe her when she wakes up during the night and I feel I am still months away from weaning her off completely.

Maybe its the fact that we are on our own that has made her so demanding. She is a very sweet, loving and happy child but when she is so clinging and demanding I find it very hard not to feel angry towards her and frustrated at myself for not being able to get through to her. What should I do? I don't want to be an angry, sad mummy I hope you can help me.

Kind regards, Isabel

Answer:Isabel, Your question is so typical of so many I'm receiving lately. Children needing "undue attention" seems to be epidemic. I say "undue" because everyone needs attention. Undue attention crosses the line into needing attention all the time. I'm thinking of writing a book about this called Extreme Parenting, because I believe parents train their children to demand undue attention by giving it to them "in the name of love."

I want to make some very important points that relate to your question.

1. You can't reason with children under the age of 3 1/2 to 4. Their brains have not developed enough to understand reasoning. Fully developed reasoning doesn't suddenly kick in at 3 1/2 to 4 years of age, but gradually begins. You'll read much more about this is the books you have ordered.

2. This is one reason it is NEVER a good idea to use any kind of punishment--no shouting or smacking. This instills a "sense of" doubt and shame that only leads to a sense of discouragement and thus the need for more attention.

3. The one thing you mention doing that could be effective is ignoring. However, you have to ignore consistently. Ignoring isn't the only parenting tool you can use, but let I'll give you some important components of this method.
a) It is not okay to ignore ALL the time. I know you don't do that, but it is important to point out that children need attention and a sense that they are loved.
b) Allow your child to have her feelings. Crying is the biggest part of her language right now. If she has trained you to be her "royal carriage" (carrying her around a lot), she isn't going to like it when you stop. Again, let her have her feelings. She'll learn that she can survive and at a subconscious level will start feeling more capable.
c) Choose the things you are going to ignore, or the times of day, and then be consistent. If you ignore for awhile and then give in, you have trained her that crying works to get you do do what she wants. For example, if you decide to put her in her high chair for 15 minutes while you cook dinner, let her cry if that is what she chooses to do.
d) Have faith in yourself and in your child. Show confidence that you are doing the right thing to help her learn self-reliance and a sense of capability, and confidence that she can do it. She will pick up you energy. Children sense when you mean it and when you don't. I know how hard this is, so you might want to talk to her (knowing that she can't understand your reasoning, and that your talking is really for yourself), saying things like, "I love you, and I know you can handle this. I need some time for myself right now, and I'm looking forward to our time together later."

4. Create a routine and stick with it. Plan plenty of special time when your give your daughter your full attention, and as much time as you need for yourself, and then follow the above suggestions.

5. Allow time for training. Some habits have been created that aren't easy to break. Weaning is never easy for the weanor or weanee. Know that it will not be easy and do it anyway because ultimately it will be good for both of you so your daughter will feel capable and you’ll be a happy mummy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Children Lie

When I first read the following question, I felt so upset about how this mother treated her child. Unfortunately, my upset was followed by remembering times I got into my fear and treated my children very disrespectfully. Isn’t it a wonder that children survive with any feelings of self worth at all???? Hopefully, our messages of love will always be stronger that the craziness we engage in when we come from fear. You’ll get an idea what I mean by reading the following Q & A.


Ok, so I have already flipped out on my 7yr old daughter. She lied to us about another disturbing act of having made up and participated in the "I’ll show you mine if you show me yours". So we were angry that she lied about it saying it was someone else's idea not her own. My husband punished her for 1 week. And I was so angry about the lying not the fact she played that game since I remember doing the same thing at that age. Anyway, we told her we didn't trust her since she has been lying to us and need her to be honest with us with everything and that lying is worse then the bad act itself. She said she understood. Then today she lied 2 times in 1 hr to me about her day at school. She got a warning for talking in class and said everyone else was talking then after I kept questioning her on it she said it was only her. So I said that was a lie. Then she said she got in trouble on the bus but she said she stood up and then sat down. But her brother who rode the bus said she did something different and I questioned her about it further and she said she lied. So I flipped out. I said we hate liars. That she is a liar and all the bad things that I am feeling about her and were wrong to say. What do I do now?

Please help



Start with an apology. Because of your fear that she’ll be a liar for life (and, she isn’t a liar; lying is something she did, not who she is), you have not created a safe place for your daughter to tell the truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if she heard something like, “Honey, do you know that I love you no matter what? I’m sorry you feel the need to lie to me. I wonder what is going on for you. Are you scared you’ll get into trouble, or that I’ll be disappointed in you? Maybe you feel embarrassed about your behavior and haven’t learned that making a mistake doesn’t mean you are a bad person. What could we do to create a safe place for you to tell the truth?”

Following is an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z, by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (a book you would find very helpful)

Lying or Fabricating
"I don't know how to get my child to stop lying. We have tried very hard to teach high moral standards. The more I punish him, the more he lies. I'm really worried."

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
We have searched and searched and can't find a single adult who never told a lie as a child. Actually we can't find many adults who never lie now. Isn't it interesting how upset parents get when children have not mastered a virtue they have not mastered themselves? We do not make this point to justify lying, but to show that children who lie are not defective or immoral. We need to deal with the reasons children lie before we can help them give up their need to lie. Usually children lie for the same reasons adults do--they feel trapped, are scared of punishment or rejection, feel threatened, or just think lying will make things easier for everyone. Often lying is a sign of low self esteem. People think they need to make themselves look better because they don't know they are good enough as they are.

1. Stop asking set-up questions that invite lying. A set-up question is one to which you already know the answer. "Did you clean your room?" Instead say, "I notice you didn't clean your room. Would you like to work on a plan for cleaning it?"
2. A slight variation of saying what you notice is to say what you think. "That sounds like a good story. You have such a good imagination. Tell me more about it."
3. Be honest yourself. Say, "That doesn't sound like the truth to me. Most of us don't tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn't safe to tell the truth? Why don't we take some time off right now? Later I'll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you."
4. Focus on solutions to problems instead of blame. "What should we do about getting the chores done?" instead of "Did you do your chores?"
5. Deal with the problem. Suppose your child tells you he hasn't eaten when you know he has. Why would he say he hasn't eaten? Is he still hungry? If he is still hungry, what does it matter if he has eaten or not? Work with him on a solution to deal with his hunger. Does he just want some attention? Deal with his need for attention by working together to find some time you can spend with each other. Does he just want to tell a story? Let him tell a story. Identify it for what it is, "That sounds like a good story. Tell me more."
6. Another possibility is to ignore the "lie" and help your child explore cause and effect through "curiosity" questions. When he says he hasn't eaten all day, ask, "What happened? Anything else? How do you feel about it? What ideas do you have to solve the problem?" These questions can be effective only if you are truly curious about the child's point of view. Do not use these questions to "catch" him in a lie. If at any time you think it is a fabrication, go back to suggestion No. 2.
7. Respect your children's privacy when they don't want to share with you. This eliminates their need to lie to protect their privacy.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
1. Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn so they won't believe they are bad and need to cover up their mistakes.
2. Set an example in telling the truth. Share with your children times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a lecture.
3. Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents.
4. Show appreciation. 'Thank you for telling me the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."
5. Stop trying to control children. Many children lie so they can find out who they are and do what they want to do. At the same time, they are trying to please their parents by making them think they are doing what they are supposed to do while they are doing what they want to do
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children can learn that it is safe to tell the truth in their family. Even when they forget that, they are reminded with gentleness and love. They can learn that their parents care about their fears and mistaken beliefs and will help them overcome them.

Parenting Pointers
Most of us would lie to protect ourselves from punishment or disapproval. Parents who punish, judge, or lecture increase the chances that their children will lie as a defense mechanism. All of the above suggestions are designed to create a non-threatening environment where children can feel safe to tell the truth.

Many children lie to protect themselves from judgment and criticism because they believe it when adults say they are bad. Of course they want to avoid this kind of pain.

Remember that who your child is now is not who your child will be forever. If your child tells a lie, don't overreact to the behavior by calling her a liar. She is not a "liar", but a person who has told a lie. There is a huge difference.

Focus on building closeness and trust in the relationship instead of on the behavior problem. This is usually the quickest way to diminish the behavior that you find objectionable.

Booster Thoughts
As a four-year-old, Harold was afraid of the dark. His three-year-old sister used to tease him about it and put him down. One night they were staying in a place where they had to cross an outside porch to get to a toilet. The wind was blowing, and the night seemed quite frightening to Harold. Finally his fear of wetting himself overcame his fear of the "journey" to the toilet, so he set out for the other end of the porch. Halfway across the porch he stepped into the light from a streetlight and was startled by his own large, "powerful" shadow.

In Harold's childish mind it dawned on him that if he was large and powerful like his shadow, he would always feel secure. From that point on a life long pattern developed where Harold tried to appear bigger than life in order to feel secure and accepted. When people became annoyed by his fabrications he would feel more insecure and develop another fabrication. Finally someone looked beyond the fabrications to see what they meant to Harold and helped him see that he is much better than any shadow--no matter how large.

Remember the octopus, when threatened, releases an ink cloud bigger than it is to hid and escape behind. A skunk believes that the bigger stink it can create, the safer it will be -- so fabricators have some company in the animal kingdom

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Communicate with Kids about Drugs

This will be a very long blog, because it includes a huge portion of Chapter Eight from the book, Positive Discipline for Parenting in Recovery by Jane Nelsen, Riki Intner, and Jane Nelsen. Since we just did a podcast on this book, I thought you might find it helpful to have this section on talking with kids about drugs—whether or not you are in recovery.

Communicate with Kids about Drugs

Recovering parents know first hand the realities and dangers of using drugs and alcohol. The last thing they want is for their kids to go through the living hell that they went through. They want to break the cycle of addiction.

The pressure of that responsibility and the fear that your kids are at a high risk could motivate you to over react in counterproductive ways. You may be tempted to make sure your kids don't even start using drugs by employing parenting methods that are extremely controlling. But the more you attempt to control your kids, the less effective you are. It is equally ineffective to ignore or neglect dealing with your kids about drugs. Going into denial and pretending drugs don't exist is more devastating to young people than any over-reactive control measures you might take.

The Four Essentials for

Effective Communication about Drugs

You help your kids learn about drugs and their uses and possible abuses through communication that is honest, informative, open and non-judgmental.
  1. By honest, we mean "telling it like it is." If you have a feeling or a belief, it is important to share it as your opinion, but not as the only way to look at things. (Review chapter two, on emotional honesty, at this point.) Some parents hesitate to talk about their own problems with drugs for fear that it will lower the kids' opinion of them or give the kids ideas. We've discovered that honesty opens up real communication. Kids don't have to worry about or try to hide their own imperfections when they know their parents are real people who have made their share of mistakes
  2. The word informative means that the information you share is accurate and not just your opinion. (Use the web for up to the minute information about drugs and their effects. You’ll find many different opinions, which makes for good discussions with your children.) Telling kids that if they try drugs they'll become an addict (or other such threats) is a way of losing your credibility. The first time kids try drugs and nothing bad happens, they often decide their parents didn't know what they were talking about. Scare tactics with kids may be effective to stop them from using drugs when they are young, but once they become pre-adolescents or teenagers, they have the opposite effect. Some kids feel obligated to prove how "stupid" and "wrong" adults are. When kids get accurate information, it helps them consider the choices they are making and what the possible consequences of their choices might be.
  3. The phrase open communication means that you invite discussion as opposed to shutting it off. People to whom others feel comfortable talking are usually non-critical and not controlling. They seem to care what others think, even if they don’t see it the same way. They feel free to tell others their own opinion without expecting conformity.
  4. By nonjudgmental we mean not seeing issues as "right" or "wrong." Nothing closes down communication quicker than talking to someone who always has to be right. No one likes to be told he or she is wrong or stupid. It helps curb your judgmental tendencies when you ask questions from sincere curiosity and then listen to draw your kids out about what they think.
You cannot stop your kids from trying drugs, or even from abusing them, if that is what they decide they want to do. What you can do is practice honesty, equip your kids with accurate information about drugs, keep the doors of communication open by letting your kids know your love for them is unconditional, and remain non-judgmental by creating a relationship where your kids feel safe to talk to you and get your input about their choices. When you abstain from judgments, your kids know that if they get into an abusive situation with their own experimentation, you will be there with honesty, with love, and support, that is empowering instead of enabling.

We cannot provide a script of exactly what to say when talking to kids about drugs. The important thing is to establish a close relationship where there are opportunities for continued dialogue and growth. It is much easier to establish close relationships when you understand about separate realities.1

Separate Realities

We have stressed many times in this book that it's not only what happens to people that is important but also what they decide about it. Separate realties explain why each person involved in a situation may interpret the situation differently and make different decisions. The separate reality of each of your kids will affect his or her separate decision about drugs.

. . .

In the following dialogues, some of the parents followed our four guidelines of honesty, information, openness, and a nonjudgmental attitude. Others did not. Notice the varying results of their choices.
Talking to Pre-School Children about Drugs

The first time toddlers get sick and need medicine can be the beginning of their "drug education." The following dialogue demonstrates how a parent uses this opportunity to teach some important messages about drugs.

Toddler: (with runny nose and flushed cheeks) Owwie, Mommy. My throat hurts.
Mom: Let's take your temperature and see if you have a fever. You look sick to me. Yup, you have a fever and we need to get your fever down. We'll get you a children's aspirin and a glass of orange juice for your hurt throat. Then we'll sit on the couch and read stories together so you can rest. When we don't feel well, there are a lot of different things we can do to feel better. Sometimes we need an aspirin, sometimes a nap, and sometimes we might need to check with the doctor. We'll check your temperature later to see if this is helping.
Toddler: Can I have a lot of ice in my orange juice, Mommy?
Mom: Sure, sweetie. Now let's go to the cabinet and get you an aspirin. Remember, aspirin is something that Moms get if their little girls and boys need them and not something for you to take. Too many aspirin could make you very sick. That's why we keep them in a safe place.
This mother is beginning to give information about drugs. She is not saying drugs will make you better or that drugs are the only way to fix a problem. She doesn't want to start her child in the habit of thinking that pills are the only answer. She assures her child they can help, but too many could be dangerous. The important thing is to teach kids that there are some drugs (medication) that may help us get better, and that there are many ways we can heal which do not call for drugs.
At the same time, it's important for parents to watch their chemical intake and model what they say. At this age, kids are great observers and copy what parents do. If Mom or Dad take a nap or walk to feel better as opposed to taking a pill, the child registers that message.
Talking to Toddlers about
Family Members Who Abuse Drugs
You may need to talk to preschoolers about relatives who are acting different because they are drunk or under the influence of a drug. Instead of saying things like, "Grandma is sick today," or "Daddy doesn't feel well," it is important to be honest and use words that say what is happening.
Four year old: Why does Grandma act so funny when we visit?
Dad: Grandma has had too much alcohol to drink and she is drunk. Sometimes people do things that are not good for them, and Grandma is doing that right now. Are you scared of Grandma?
Four year old: I think Grandma is funny.
Dad: Grandma may be acting funny, but it's not healthy for Grandma to drink so much and I wish she wouldn't do that.
As children get older and spend more time away from the family, there are some new messages about drugs you want to make sure they get.
Talking to Children Ages Five to Ten about Drugs
The five to ten age group needs preparation for what could happen to them when they are "out in the world" away from their families. You want to encourage them to question information and think about what they are doing instead of going along. At this age, kids usually think in black and white terms, tend to agree with adult warnings, and become very opinionated about what they have accepted. You help prepare them for the future when you create open communication by asking questions that help them learn how to think instead of telling them what to think.
Many kids are approached to use drugs at school in the primary grades. Even at this early age, they may be encouraged to try or buy drugs. Kids need skills to deal with people who tell them drugs are good for them. Role-playing is a fun way to teach skills. Ask kids to think of some things they could do or say when they are approached to try or buy drugs. Then role-play with them so they can practice their ideas.
Sample Dialogue with a Nine-Year-Old
Here’s a sample of how to talk to a child about drugs at school.
Mom: I got the school paper home and there was an article about some kids who were caught selling drugs at your school. Are you aware of that?
Son: Yeah, Mom. Kids are always trying to get us to buy stuff.
Mom: Has anyone ever approached you?
Son: Sure, but I say "No way!"
Mom: I'm sure glad to hear that. I feel sad and scared to think that you have to deal with that at your age. What do you think about drugs?
Son: I think they're stupid and I'm never going to take any. One of our teachers told us about a kid who licked some stickers and they had PCP on them. The kid almost died. I don't want anything like that happen to me.
Mom: I'm sorry, honey, that there are people in the world who would try to talk you into doing something dangerous for you, but I'm so glad to know you care enough about yourself not to risk hurting yourself. I feel much better now that we talked.
Look for the Teaching Moments
You can encourage open communication with kids in this five to ten age group by helping them question media messages. Discuss TV commercials and other advertising with them. Sometimes it helps just to bring to their conscious awareness how they are being bombarded with "do drug" messages, including prescription drugs to modify or "fix" feelings.
Dialogue with a Seven-Year-Old
A parent was watching TV with his son one night. Every commercial was for some kind of sleep, cold, fever or pain remedy, anti-depressant drugs, along with the beer commercials. Dad noticed his son humming the commercials and repeating the dialogue. He started to think about how much TV his son watched and how unconscious his son was about the messages he was getting. He decided to talk about this.
Dad: I notice you've memorized all the commercials. Do you ever think about what they are saying?
Son: What do you mean, Dad?
Dad: While I've been sitting here with you we've had about twenty people tell us if we can't sleep, have a sniffle, an ache or a pain, or feel sad, we should take some kind of a pill. Even the beer commercials are telling us if we drink beer we'll have friends, have fun, look good and enjoy life more. I feel angry when I listen to this.
Son: Why are you angry, Dad?
Dad: Because I think you might believe all this stuff, instead of realizing that this is an ad designed to talk people into buying things. I don't think we have to take a pill if we can't sleep. Sometimes we have a lot on our mind or we're just not tired and that's okay. We'll probably catch up on our sleep another night if we are tired enough. And the people I see who drink beer act rude and impolite. Some of them don't know how to have any fun unless they get high. We don't need to drink to have fun.
Son: Dad, I don't believe all that stuff on TV.
Dad: I'm glad to hear that, but I really want you to start thinking about what you are hearing and remember that commercials are meant to get people to buy things and not necessarily help people feel better.
You also have the opportunity to practice honesty by talking about your own drug use or that of another parent. The more you use drug-specific language (such as "pot," "crack," "loaded," or "wasted") the more prepared your children are to make sense out of what’s happening in their world, as the following story shows.
Kids this age can be extremely curious and open to learning. In the following dialogue, one which might seem very scary to some of you reading this book, an eight and a ten-year-old demonstrated their curiosity and ended up with a lot of information about drugs.

Honesty Satisfies Curiosity
Zoe (eight) and Christopher (ten0, had just completed a unit on drug education at school. Coincidentally, their Aunt Joanne came to visit from back East. The kids knew she had taken a lot of drugs in the 60's and they wanted to ask her all about her experiences. They wanted to know what Joanne took, how it felt, what was the effect, whether she still used drugs, and if not, why and how did she stop.
Joanne answered their questions honestly and didn't glorify or downgrade her experience. It was clear that she was speaking about how it was for her, not how it was for everyone. Joanne practiced honesty, and openness while giving a lot of information in a non-judgmental way.
Joanne: I'm surprised that you kids are asking these questions, because you're so young. Do people talk about drugs in your school?
Christopher: Yeah, kids use drugs in our school. Sometimes they try to give us drugs or sell them.
Joanne: What kind of drugs are kids giving you?
Christopher: Lots of kids smoke marijuana and sometimes they have PCP. One kid in our school has a lot of different kinds of pills to try. Did you use any of those drugs?
Joanne: I used marijuana, hash, speed, acid and mushrooms.
Zoe: What does it feel like to get high on Marijuana?
Joanne: For me, marijuana heightened my awareness, but it also made me tired. I always got hungry and felt like I wanted to eat. It was strange in a way, because when I was high on marijuana I had a clearer perspective, but at the same time, it slowed me down a lot. When I first started using marijuana, I spent a lot of time talking about my new awareness and how different things were.
Zoe: Where did you get marijuana, Aunt Joanne?
Joanne: In the 60's it was easy. My friends brought it back from California. Later some of them started saving the seeds and grew their own marijuana. Some of my friends traveled to Mexico, Afghanistan and Turkey and they would bring drugs back from those places.
Christopher: Where did you use it?
Joanne: I'm a very social person and I only used drugs in social situations, like at parties. Everyone in our generation was down on alcohol and we all thought marijuana was better than alcohol. We saw it as a consciousness-raising, mind-expanding thing. My friends never got addicted, but lots of people did.
Zoe: Do you still use it or have you stopped?
Joanne: I used marijuana off and on all through college and a few years after college, but only occasionally. If I was at a party and someone had some, I would have a little. We would share a joint between four or five people. I had a rule for myself that I would never spend money on drugs, so the only time I tried them was if someone else had them. After awhile, drugs got more expensive and harder to find. People started buying drugs from strangers and we weren't sure what was mixed in with the marijuana. That got scary, because some people would mix marijuana with dangerous materials to make it look like more. The drug didn't work the same either when it was less pure.
Christopher: Is that why you stopped?
Joanne: I got tired of it. You don't get the same experience after you use a drug for awhile. I built up tolerance and had to smoke too much to get high, and still didn't feel as good as it did at first. I realized it was a waste of time to sit around smoking dope, so I quit. I wanted to enjoy life. I knew people who started using marijuana for a different reason. They didn't want to feel their feelings. They started using the drug all the time to avoid feeling. They stopped dealing with their problems and used drugs instead. I never used drugs for that reason.
Zoe: Why did you use drugs?
Joanne: All the drugs I used were to expand my mind and create a different consciousness. My use was only experimental. When I was done experimenting that was it for me.
Christopher: Did you ever get addicted to any of the drugs you used? In school they tell us that drugs are dangerous because we might start off experimenting and then get addicted.
Joanne: I think what leads to addiction is denial of your feelings and a lack of information. The only drug I ever became hooked on was tobacco. I never had a fear I would be hooked on any drug because I knew drugs were addictive, so I used them socially or experimentally, but never regularly. I didn't know tobacco was addictive, so I didn't pay attention to how many cigarettes I smoked. Before I knew it, I was hooked.
Joanne went on to answer the kids' questions about other drug use with the same style of openness and honesty. When they asked her if she knew anyone who was an addict, Joanne continued, "I have a friend who became addicted to hash and alcohol. He wanted to slow down and numb out. I hated those drugs for the same reasons he liked them.
"The one drug none of us ever wanted to use was heroin. I think that was partly because you used a needle and put the drug straight into your blood stream. Also, we believed it was highly addictive. When you start getting into drugs, you hear about heroin and all the horror stories, how expensive it is, how people sell everything they have, and lose their dignity and self-respect. We heard these stories from people who used drugs, so if they were saying it's dangerous, we believed them."
Christopher: Our teacher told us that if we used cocaine only one time, we would be addicted. Do you think that's true, Aunt Joanne?
Joanne: The people I know who have become addicted have desperation. They are looking for something to take away the pain and stop feeling. I was never afraid of an addiction because I never wanted more than an adventure and a new experience. How about if we go out for a walk? That's about it for me on drugs for one day.
Zoe and Christopher said, "Thanks, Aunt Joanne. That was really interesting."
Christopher and Zoe didn't run out and experiment with drugs. Neither of them had any interest in using drugs, just a lot of curiosity for information about them. We can only guess at what they were deciding about what was presented to them.
As they grew up, Zoe went through a period of experimentation and social use of drugs. Christopher's approach seemed to be more of an all or nothing style. As a teen, he used marijuana daily for a summer and then stopped completely. In college he experimented with alcohol for a few weeks and then decided it was more fun to go to classes alert than hung over, so he quit drinking large quantities of alcohol and found pleasure in trying out foreign beer on occasion.
We have talked to kids who said they made better decisions when they were given honest information. They tell us they discount adults who are moralistic and make statements they don't believe. As one teenager said, "Why should we believe adults who told us we would get sick if we didn't eat our vegetables? We learned to discount those statements. We tend to discount most of the things they say about drugs, too."
Talking to Early Adolescents Ages Eleven to Fourteen
With kids eleven to fourteen, it is even more important to communicate by asking instead of telling. Kids this age do not respond well to orders. In fact if you would like to invite your kids to use drugs, you might just as well tell them, "Don't do drugs. If I find out you have, you'll be grounded." Too many adolescents see this as an invitation to a power struggle where their only choice is to win or to lose. They want to win without getting punished. They go "underground" so they won't get grounded.
At this age, nonjudgmental communication works best. A young teenage girl who was sent to therapy because of her drug use told her counselor: "Sometimes adults act so stupid. You would think they want kids to use drugs! They're always telling us, 'don't do drugs!' Don't they know that only makes us want to do them more?"
Her counselor asked, "What would you recommend parents who are worried about drugs tell their kids?"
She responded without hesitation. "I wish they would have told me that drugs could be dangerous and that they could hurt me. That would have helped a lot more."
Her counselor asked, "Didn't they tell you that?"
She looked surprised and said, "Yes, but it sounded more like a threat than information."
Overreacting from fear is not helpful to kids. In the next story, you’ll see how Art's fears, based on his past drug experience, drove a wedge between him and his daughter. Art was unable to trust her because he was so sure she was out doing what he used to do at her age. He made a mistaken assumption that his daughter was exactly the same as he was as a teen.
Art went into recovery when his daughter Kim was nine years old. Kim attended Alateen meetings and learned a lot about chemical abuse. At this age she became clear that she was never going to use mood-altering chemicals.
Art was comfortable talking to his daughter about his using days and about his recovery and felt certain that Kim would never want to use chemicals. This began to change when Kim got into Junior High. Art started to feel scared. Kim was in a larger world now. She was making new friends and getting involved in school activities.
Art started to lose faith in his daughter and act out his scared feelings. He questioned Kim about what she was doing and who she was seeing. At first Kim told her Dad about her new friends. When he began criticizing them and suggesting that she not hang out with them, Kim began closing down and talked only if she were pressed.
Art felt Kim pulling away. This scared him even more, so he questioned her more. One day Kim was late coming home from school. When she walked in the door Art began his harangue. "Where have you been? Let me look at your eyes. Have you been smoking pot?"
"What are you talking about?" his daughter asked. "Will you get off my back? I told you I don't smoke pot. I probably should since you already think that I do."
"I know those kids you hang out with smoke pot. Several people have seen them," her Dad retorted.
"Just leave me alone," Kim screamed, and ran to her room and slammed the door.
Art wasn't respectful of his daughter. He didn't like what was happening and decided to get help. He found a counselor who was knowledgeable about drugs and teenagers. Art was able to maintain respect and act responsibly instead of fearfully with Kim when he learned more about drug use.
Not everyone who uses drugs becomes dependent. Some kids may choose abstinence. Others may choose to experiment with drugs to see what they are like. There are kids who use drugs socially, but would never consider using drugs on a regular basis.
Signs of Dangerous Drugs Use
When drug use becomes a regular or daily pattern, young people are inviting serious problems. Problem use occurs when the use of drugs creates difficulties in their lives. Instead of stopping, they use more. These kids are trying to change their feelings and solve their problems with chemicals. Drug use is no longer social or experimental. It’s become a way of life. These young people need help to break their addictive pattern.
Not all kids who get into problem use become addicted. Addiction occurs when a chemical becomes their primary relationship. They are willing to suffer any loss (school, family, job) except their drug of choice. When your kids exhibit problem use or chemical dependency, you need to reach out for help from counselors, treatment programs and/or recovery groups.
Not all parents of pre-adolescents have to deal with serious problems, although some act as though mild use and brief experimentation is serious. At some point, however, most parents will be presented with opportunities to deal with the "party" issue. In the next dialogue, a parent shows how to use this as an opportunity to invite their children to think ahead and plan for consequences.
Help Kids Think Things Through
by Asking Instead of Telling
In the next dialogue, a father helps his son explore the possible consequences of planning a party without adult supervision while his parents are out of town. Notice that the father is using questions to help his son consider different possibilities.
Son: Hey, Dad, are you guys going away this weekend?
Dad: Yes, Mom and I thought we'd leave you and your sister home and we'd head to the coast for an overnight. We need some time together.
Son: Can we have a party while you're gone?
Dad: I don't think that would be a good idea. We would feel comfortable if you have a party when we're in town, but not when we're away.
Son: Oh, that's tight! My friends don't want a bunch of parents around.
Dad: Mom and I aren't a bunch of parents and I'm sure we can be discreet and well-behaved if you have your friends over. Let me ask you some questions. Have you thought of what might happen if word gets out that we're out of town and you're having a party?
Son: We'd only let kids come who we know.
Dad: And what would you do if a lot of strange kids show up and decide to crash the party?
Son: We'd ask them to leave.
Dad: And what if they said, "No"?
Son: We'd call the police.
Dad: And what would you do in the meantime if they were in the house and destroying property or throwing up on things?
Son: We'd clean up and fix things after they left.
Dad: It sounds like you have a lot of ideas of how you would take care of the situation, but I don't think it's well thought through. If you can come up with some other ideas that would convince me that the situation wouldn't get out of hand, I'd be willing to continue this discussion. Otherwise, the answer is no.
Sometimes you get angry with your kids because they don't think through consequences. When you are critical or tell kids what the consequences will be, you alienate them. It is better to help them build thinking skills by inviting them to think things through. It's okay to tell your kids "no" until you come up with something that is satisfactory to all involved. There may be a way to find a win-win situation when you approach your kids with respect and openness.
Teens’ Need for Privacy
Pre-adolescents have already reached the age where they think they know everything, so it is best to stop giving orders and instead, start sharing your feelings. It's okay to tell kids that you probably won't agree or see things the same way, but that they won't be punished for honesty or differing opinions.
One fourteen-year-old said it perfectly in a counseling session one day. His mom was asking why he never talks to her anymore. He looked at her and said, "I wish I could talk to you, but you'd be mad and I might get in trouble."
Mom was surprised. She said, "Don't we have a deal that even if I get upset, you'll never get in trouble for telling the truth?"
"Yeah," he said, "but I'm afraid if I told you some of the things I'm planning to do, you'd change your mind."
Mom replied, "I wish you would trust me to keep my word so I could be your friend and confidant."
Even in the best relationships, it’s still difficult for kids this age to communicate honestly with their parents. Even when parents demonstrate unconditional love, kids have their own beliefs about not wanting to upset or disappoint their parents. You can encourage them (instead of feeling jealous) to have other adult friends they can talk to, whom they know won’t snitch on them or judge them.
Parents who take a controlling, "I know best/I'm right" attitude tend to lose all influence. Parents who act as if everything is fine and handle drugs by closing their eyes and ignoring the situation are even less help. Kids feel scared and abandoned if their parents completely refuse to deal with the situation.
Heart-to-heart and gut-level honest communication is the best path with teens. This is especially true as your kids get older. When you focus on preparing your pre-teens and teens to protect themselves instead of protecting them, you have a lot of influence. This is modeled in the dialogues that follow between parents and teens.
Talking with Teens about Drugs
Teenagers are not kids anymore, but they’re not adults, either. Talking with them abut drugs requires respect and clarity. In their book Positive Discipline for Teenagers. Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott include a chapter on talking to teens about drugs. We recommend reading that chapter in addition to the information contained here.
We have found that a "Just say no" approach is ineffective and disrespectful at this age because it doesn’t teach kids to think. Teenagers tell us the "Just say no" approach helped in elementary school, but that they laugh at it now. Honesty, openness, a nonjudgmental attitude, and sharing information go a lot farther with teenagers, as the following examples shows.
Frank and Emily met in recovery, married and had a son, Randy. When Randy was born, Frank and Emily agreed to be open and honest about their past chemical abuse. They believed Randy would be at greater risk to become an addict or to marry one and they wanted him to be prepared for whatever might happen. They both worked their programs, went to meetings, read and shared, had friends in recovery, and took Randy to meetings.
Randy grew up knowing the language, symptoms and dangers of chemical abuse. He talked often with his parents and seemed clear that mood altering chemicals weren't for him. They supported his decision but also knew, and let him know, that in adolescence he might change his mind. They wanted him to know that if he did, the lines of communication would still be open.
At fifteen Randy still hadn't tried any mood altering substances but he was feeling curious. Several of his friends drank beer and they didn't seem to have any problems. Actually they seemed to have a good time laughing and telling jokes. All his life he had heard about all the terrible problems people had from drinking and using drugs. Maybe it wasn't such a big deal after all.
Randy mentioned this to Frank who replied, "So, you're thinking of trying some alcohol?" Randy said, "I don't know. I'm just curious I guess. The other kids don't seem to have big problems."
His Dad replied, "That may be, but everyone is different. It may not be the same for you even though I hope it won't be a problem. I hope that if you do decide to try alcohol that we can talk about it."
"Okay, but I haven't decided I will." Randy said.
The next Friday night, Randy went out with his buddies. One of them had gotten a couple of six packs. This time when they offered Randy a beer he took it. He noticed a strange feeling of apprehension, and then he felt warm and comfortable. He continued to drink.
The next thing he knew he was at home and it was morning. He couldn't remember how he had gotten home or much of what had happened the previous evening. He was frightened. He called his friend and found out he had a seemingly good time and had gotten a ride home. His friend was puzzled to hear that Randy couldn't remember.
Randy told his parents he wanted to talk with them. He told them what had happened. Emily began to cry. Frank said, "It sounds like you had a blackout. That's a sign that you're an alcoholic. It usually doesn't happen that fast but it can. What do you think?"
"That's what I was afraid of." Randy continued, "It was just like you had described it to me and it scared me. I guess I get to go to meetings for me now. I think that would be best. I don't want my life to have to fall apart for me before I learn. I've learned that from you guys." Emily hugged him and Randy said, "It's all alright, I always knew this could happen. You helped me prepare for this." (This story sounds too good to be true, but it’s based on real life clients whose names have been changed.)
Honest and open communication made a big difference with Randy. In the following story, Babs also experienced getting a lot of help from her mother because her mother was so open and nonjudgmental.
Dialogue with a Sixteen-Year-Old-Girl
Babs, a sixteen-year-old junior in high school liked to go out on weekends. Her mother, Susan had been in recovery for over a year. Although her mother worried about teen drug and alcohol use, she and Susan have worked on honest communication in recovery and have developed a good relationship even though they don't always see things the same.
Babs came home from school on Thursday and told her mother that she'd been invited to a party that Friday night and she wanted to go. "All the kids in her group were going." Susan asked where the party was and did Babs think there would be drinking going on. Babs told her mother which friend was having the party, hesitated for a moment and answered, "Yes, some of the guys are getting a keg."
Susan told Babs she needed a little while to think about it and would get back to her by dinner time. Susan's first thought was "No, I don't want you to go and be around that." She thought about what might happen if she told Babs that she couldn't go. They'd probably have a fight. She knew she could handle that but if her daughter really wanted to go she might sneak out the window. Worse, the next time this came up Babs might lie to her. Maybe she'd tell her mother she was going to a girlfriend's and go to the party. Communication would be shut down, Susan could lose her ability to have input and lose her opportunity to have influence with her daughter. If she sneaked out and something happened at the party, Babs might feel she couldn't call her mother for help. Susan thought about her daughter. She had faith in her ability to make good decisions but she also had concerns. As soon as they sat down at the table, Babs asked if she could go. Susan shared, "It scares me to have you go."
"Oh, Mom," Babs began.
"Please let me finish. Things might get out of control. Some kids might drink too much and get sick or drive. I'm afraid you could get hurt or worse, you might get raped."
"Mom! Really."
"Well, it scares me. It probably won't happen but I'll feel better if you know that at this age your hormones are out of whack and when you add some alcohol to that, guys who usually behave one way may behave another. What would you do if that happened?"
"Mom, you worry too much."
"Do you feel that you can handle being there?"
Babs paused. Then she said, "Yes, I can handle it."
"Okay, I trust your judgment. I want you to know that if it feels unsafe at any time or if you've had enough and need a ride home you can call and I'll pick you up." Babs got up and gave her mother a big hug.
Saturday morning when Babs came down to breakfast, Susan asked her how the party went. Babs said, "It was okay. The guys got sick and spent most of the night throwing up with the girls taking care of them."
"Oh, that doesn't sound like much fun."
"It wasn't," Babs said. "I don't know why people think parties are such a big deal. I'd rather go to a movie."
There is no substitute for open, non-critical communication with teens. When you give teenagers the opportunity to live their lives and to learn from their experiences, they will give you the opportunity to be there for guidance and support.
Parents have more life experience and a broader perspective than their teens. When you have the courage to share your fears, even though your kids might dismiss them, you have raised their awareness of the issues and let them know it's okay to talk about anything.
Dialogue with a Seventeen-Year-Old Boy
Sometimes teens can hear one concern more clearly than others. Here’s an example.
Mom: Alan, I notice that you've been gaining weight. I can guess how much drinking you've been doing by looking at your belly.
Alan: Is it that noticeable?
Mom: Alan, I know that how you look is really important to you. You dress real sharp, you spend hours on your hair, you lift weights and you look in the mirror every chance you get. If you continue to drink as much beer as you do, it isn't going to improve your appearance, and yes, the beer belly is noticeable.
Alan shrugged and walked away. Several months later Alan asked his mom is she noticed anything different? Mom said she noticed that Alan was doing less drinking.
"You mean I don't have a beer belly anymore?" asked Alan.
"I mean, you hardly have a beer belly anymore and I can tell you're working on correcting that. Good for you."
Alan grinned and walked away whistling.
With teens, sometimes you need to say certain things, not because your kids will go out and do what you say, but because they'll think about it, and they need the information. When you present them with another picture, it may stick in their minds. When they're ready, they may hear your words and it could make a difference. The following conversation is from the heart and loaded with useful information that kids will probably remember when they need it.
Dad: I want to talk to you about something because I see you and a lot of your friends ruining your bodies and self-respect over alcohol.
Son: Are you going to start in about drinking again? We just like kicking back. There's nothing else to do anyway. You and Mom drink, so what's the big deal. I wouldn't have any fun at a dance or a party if I'm the only straight person there.
Dad: I notice that a lot of your friends are becoming addicted to drugs, and that's not cool. I think sometimes you think when you're drunk that you're fun and clever and popular. Being around a drunk is really a drag after awhile. I think you kids have a lot of insecurities and fears and you use alcohol to hide them and mask them. All it does is take you away from the life you want to live. When you're using, you show no respect for yourself or other people in your life.
Son: Dad, everyone drinks. You're just being uptight.
Dad: I wish you loved yourself and your body enough to stop using and would work on getting a life instead. Using as much as you and your friends do is extremely risky. You're building habits you may find hard to change. Also, you're developing a tolerance for alcohol. That's very dangerous. It seems like you never have a day without being under the influence. Many people whose lives have become unmanageable because of drugs started off just that way. They didn't sit down and say, "I think I'll become an alcoholic." They did what you are doing and before they knew it, they destroyed friendships, family, morals and self-respect. If I could make you stop, I would, but I know that you're the one who has to decide that. I don't intend to pretend that what you are doing is okay. I hope you'll think about the things I'm saying and consider them.
Son: Well, I'm not going to stop partying. I think you worry too much. It's okay, Dad. Lighten up!
This father knows that what kids do today is not necessarily what they'll do tomorrow. He trusts the delayed reaction that often happens with this age group. As long as the father operates on the principals of mutual respect, he can trust that the lines of communication will stay open and that he can continue to have an influence with his son.
We hope that the guidelines and sample dialogues presented in this chapter will help ease your fears and give you tools for helping your kids learn about drugs and their uses and possible abuses through communication that is honest, informative, open, and nonjudgmental.