Friday, July 25, 2008

Lazy Child or Normal Child?


Dear Jane,

I am an American living in Germany and have been buying your books. They are great books with wonderful ideas, and I have had some success using the suggestions. Unfortunately real life cannot be completely covered in a book, and so I have a question. I have browsed through the previous questions but have not found anything to help.

I have two boys. My older son Jason is seven and has just completed first grade. We should have named him Calvin after the Calvin and Hobbes comics because Jason also has a very active imagination. After reading my first book of yours when he was about four, I agreed that discipline is not the best way (it just doesn't work on Jason), and wanted to try natural and logical consequences, but it just isn't working.

Jason is basically a very good child and doesn't "misbehave", but due to his energy and imagination we sometimes need to keep his activities in check. Whereas most children are glad to help when asked, or are eager to learn how to do something "correctly" like the adults, Jason is only interested in having fun, being creative and trying things out. Therefore our attempts at involving him by having him vacuum (for example) did not work because he would vacuum the sofa for half an hour because he likes the little nozzle attachment, and then quit, or at the most do a swipe or two across the floor.

The current problems are that he throws his clothes on the floor, or even hides them in corners or under the bed, and that he constantly "forgets" to flush the toilet. I have tried gathering his clothes and storing them in the laundry room until he doesn't have anything more to wear. When that time came he asked me to give him a chance and promised to be better. That lasted a week. Now we do the only thing that works - we say he can't watch TV until his room is picked up. TV is the only leverage that really works. He is only allowed half an hour each evening because he is so obsessed and would like to watch all day.

As for the toilet, we tried locking the door for 24 hours with the key up high so that only my husband and I could reach it. That meant that Jason had to use our bathroom in the basement, which was an inconvenience. That also helped for about a week, and after the second time it helped longer, but he keeps slipping back into old habits. My husband and I are tired of constantly having to remind Jason of things which should be routine by now. Either we must check each time he leaves the bathroom, or we get a nasty surprise later.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can encourage and empower our "lazy" child?

Thanks and best regards,



Hi Evelyn--all the way in Germany. Isn't the Internet amazing!!!

I'm going to skip way to the bottom and start by saying that your son sounds normal to me--not lazy. I have not encountered many (if any) of what you say: "most children are glad to help when asked, or are eager to learn how to do something "correctly" like the adults." This is why we need many different tools to encourage children over and over. This is called "parenting."

You are correct in saying that "real life" can't be covered in a book, but a basic philosophy and principles can. I often tell people to "hear" the principles behind the "Positive Discipline parenting tools." Otherwise, the tools will seem techniquey and they won't work. And, principles can be applied in many different ways when you take them into your heart and your own wisdom.

I'm not sure which version of the Positive Discipline books you have, but the latest versions avoid logical consequences in favor of focusing on solutions, because most parents try to disguise punishment by calling it a logical consequence. Please go to and read the article No More Logical Consequences--At Least Hardly Ever. This article is now incorporated into the lastest edition of Positive Discipline, but you can read it here in case you don't have that edition. While you are on the website, go to the free podcasts and listen to  "Focus on Solutions". You'll enjoy hearing how Marianne solved her problem. However, I must warn you that some people have tried Marianne's suggestion in a techniquey way and found it did not work. Kids smell techniques and resist them. And, you'll note that Marianne incorporated many of the other Positive Discipline suggestions to create an atmosphere of the family working together to focus on solutions. "Focusing on Solutions" is now a huge theme of Positive Discipline--as is "Connection before Correction."

Also, we now have Five Criteria for Effective Discipline as follows:

1. Helps children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
2. Is kind and firm at the same time. (Respectful and encouraging)
3. Is effective long-term, (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.)
4. Teaches valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
5. Invites children to discover how capable they are? (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy)

Punishment does not meet any of these criteria, but all of the MANY Positive Discipline parenting tools do. Now that you have some background, here are two suggestions. (Remember there are many more possibilities--but that would require a whole book. :-)

1. Have regular weekly family meetings. This is a very powerful tool the helps children feel belonging and significance while using their personal power to focus on compliments for every member of the family and then of brainstorming for solutions to problems. These are skills that will serve them throughout their lives. When children are involved in the solutions they feel more capable and are more willing to follow the guidelines they create--for awhile. That "for awhile" is very important for parents to understand. One mother shared with me that the kids came up with a plan during a family meeting to get the chores done. She said it lasted only a little longer than a week, "so that didn't work." I asked her if she had found anything else that got her kids to do their chores for a whole week. She admitted that she hadn't, so I encouraged her to keep having family meetings so the family could keep coming up with new ideas for getting chores done.

2. Stop "telling" and start "asking." I cover this much more thoroughly in the Positive Discipline books, but will give a brief overview here. How would you feel if someone was always telling you what to do and when to do it? Kids usually resent and resist so much parental control. It is much more effective to ask. Following are some examples of what "telling parents" say and what "asking parents" say. In our Positive Discipline Workshops we ask for 9 "telling parent" volunteers line up on one side of the room, and 9 "asking parent" volunteers to line up on the other side of the room. We then give each of them a statement from the lists. Then we ask for a parent to volunteer to role-play a child who first stands in front of a "telling parent" to listen to the first statement, and then walks across the room to hear the first statement from an "asking parent." The "child" continues back and forth until she has hear all 18 statements.

It is very funny and revealing to watch the body language of the person role-playing the child. The "child" becomes more and more resistant to going to the "telling" line and "interested" in going to the "asking" line. Participants watch the child thoughtfully process the messages from the "asking" parents.

Telling Parent

1. Go brush your teeth.
2. Don’t forget your coat.
3. Go to bed.
4. Do your homework.
5. Stop fighting with your brother.
6. Put your dishes in the dishwasher.
7. Hurry up and get dressed or you’ll miss the bus.
8. Stop whining.
9. Pick up your toys.

Asking Parent

1. What do you need to do if you don’t want your teeth to feel skuzzy?
2. What do you need if you don’t want to be cold outside?
3. What do you need to do to get ready for bed?
4. What is your plan for doing your homework?
5. What can you and your brother do to solve this problem?
6. What do you need to do with your dishes after you have finished eating?
7. What do you need to do so you won’t miss the bus?
8. What words can you use so I can hear you?
9. What do you need to do with your toys when you are finished playing with them?

When we process with the "child" about what she was thinking, feeling, and deciding, she shares how resentful and resistant she felt when going to the "telling" parents and how thought and more likely to feel cooperative when going to the "asking" parents.

It is important for parents to understand the "education" comes from the Latin word "educare," which means "to draw forth." Too often parents try to "stuff in" and then wonder why their "telling" goes in one ear and out the other.

I hope this helps.

Jane Nelsen

Monday, July 7, 2008

When are Children Old Enough to Participate in Family Meetings?

Jane - How old do you suggest children be to start family meetings? My boys are 3 1/2 and 5 years old. I'd like to start family meetings to discuss issues that need to be addressed and get the boys involved, but I'm thinking they may be too young. Thanks.



Hi Julie, Your 5 year old is definitely old enough. Only you will be able to tell if the 3 1/2 year old is old enough--can he participate? The magic age seems to be 4. It is very important to start family meetings as soon after 4 as possible so children start learning to use their power in useful ways and to develop the belief, "I am capable." This will eliminate many power struggles--and 4-year-olds are so good at problem-solving when given the opportunity.

You might find the following excerpt handy for getting started:

Why have Family Meetings?

An excerpt from Positive Discipline and from Our Family Meeting Album, an e-book By Jane Nelsen available at
Holding regular Family Meetings is one of the most valuable things you can do as a family. Why?
Family Meetings provide an opportunity to teach children valuable social and life skills for good character.

They will learn:
  • Listening skills
  • Brainstorming skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Mutual respect
  • The value of cooling off before solving a problem. (Problems are put on the weekly challenges pages so a cooling off period takes place before focusing on solutions to the challenge.)
  • Concern for others
  • Cooperation
    Accountability in a safe environment. (People don’t worry about admitting mistakes when they know they will be supported to find solutions instead of experiencing blame, shame, or pain.)
  • How to choose solutions that are respectful to everyone concerned
  • A sense of belonging and significance
  • Social interest
  • That mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn

Family Meetings provide an opportunity for parents to:

  • Avoid power struggles by respectfully sharing control
  • Avoid micromanaging children, so children learn self-discipline
  • Listen in ways that invite children to listen
  • Respectfully share responsibility
  • Create good memories through a family tradition
  • Model all of the skills they want their children to learn

If parents really understood the value of family meetings, it would be their most valuable parenting tool–and they would make every effort to schedule 15 to 30 minutes a week for family meetings.

Family Meeting Agenda
Evaluate last week’s solutions
Focus on solutions for this week’s challenges
Special Event
Meal Planning
Weekly essentials such as events, who needs rides, etc.
Family togetherness event planning
Family Fun

Each component of the agenda is important. Start with compliments for several reasons:
Compliments create a positive atmosphere

Children learn to be “good finders” when they look for and verbalize the things they appreciate about family members.

Children usually fight less when they participate in regular family meetings beginning with compliments.

It is important to have each member of the family give a compliment to every other member of the family so everyone feels a sense of belonging and significance.

Remember that compliments may sound awkward in the beginning. They get better with practice.

You will create a positive atmosphere in your family when everyone learns to look for the good in each other and to verbalize positive comments. Please don’t expect perfection. Some sibling squabbling is normal. However, when children (and parents) learn to give and receive compliments, negative tension is reduced considerably. Of course, a positive atmosphere is increased even more when families have regular family meetings to find solutions to problems.

Family Meeting Jobs

Recorder: Be sure to have someone write down all the ideas that are brainstormed. It is so much fun to look at these ideas later – as much fun as looking at old family picture albums.
Circle the solution that works for everyone. Consensus is important in family meetings. If you can reach consensus, table this item and try again next week.
Chairperson: Rotate this job so everyone has a chance to be the “person in charge”. The Chairperson calls the meeting to order, asks for compliments to begin, and handles the Weekly Challenges page by announcing the next challenge to be solved and following the rest of the agenda.
Timekeeper: A timekeeper can keep everyone on track so the meeting doesn’t go on and on and get boring.

Do's and Don'ts for Successful Family Meetings
by Jane Nelsen
1. Remember the long-range purpose: To teach valuable life skills.
2. Post an agenda where family members can write their concerns or problems.
3. Start with compliments to set the tone by verbalizing positive things about each other.
4. Brainstorm for solutions to problems. Choose one suggestion (by consensus) that is practical and respectful and try it for a week.
5. Focus on solutions, not blame
6. Calendar a family fun activity for later in the week – and all sports and other activities (including a chauffeur schedule).
7. Keep family meetings short 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ages of your children. End with a family fun activity, game, or dessert.
1. Use family meetings as a platform for lectures and parental control.
2. Allow children to dominate and control. (Mutual respect is the key.)
3. Skip weekly family meetings. (They should be the most important date on your calendar.)
4. Forget that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
5. Forget that learning skills takes time. Even solutions that don't work provide an opportunity to learn and try again—always focusing on respect and solutions.
6. Expect children under the age of four to participate in the process. (If younger children are too distracting, wait until they are in bed.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Aggression and TV—or NOT

Positive Discipline Associates share concerns and information on a list serve. Laurie Prusso, a Certified Positive Discipline Associate, shared the following that I thought was so informative and useful for parents that I asked if I could share it on my blog. So, with Laurie's permission:

Aggression and TV—or NOT

©Laurie Prusso, M.Ed, Instructor of Child Development at Modesto Junior College and popular trainer and public speaker.

This letter was written in response to a teacher of young children who was concerned and a little upset about little boys coming to preschool and playing Power Rangers and other kinds of "aggressive" games.

My Response

My personal belief relative to the findings that children are more aggressive now is that it has more to do with a lack of positive relationships with and an increase in punitive reactions by adults, and too much time too early in group care--kids are having to "fight" for their rights and haven't learned respectful ways to do it. TV and the media only exacerbate those things that are lacking in their lives and reinforce relationships that support disrespect.

But when children demonstrating typical behavior (like Power Rangers, Spiderman, Indiana Jones, etc.) are prohibited from this type of play, and when we call it "violent" when little boys pick up a fallen twig from a tree and say "On Guard", something has gone wrong! When I was a child all of the boys played the very politically incorrect Cowboys and Indians! No one called it "Aggressive" or "Violent" and these boys did not become aggressive or violent.

I'm doing some research this summer on "rough and tumble play", which is often mistakenly (because of our current beliefs and societal trends) referred to as "aggressive" play. There is a trend in all educational institutions to label any kind of pretend play that includes pretend fighting, good and bad guys, weapons, or super heroes, as "aggressive" and to prohibit it with a zero tolerance response. We have to be careful because the words we choose to describe something applies our values and belief system to it. Yesterday, a three-year-old in a local early childhood program was expelled because he said, "I'm gonna get a bomb and kill you," to the teacher when he was mad at her. She considered it a terrorist act and expelled him on the spot! We are missing the big picture and over-reacting to a violent world and applying adult thinking abilities to very young children. If I were the teacher, I would wonder if this child is being hurt. I would wonder if it was just something he heard someone else say and he was trying it out on me. I wonder if he was reacting to her meanness (which was also reported to me)? I wonder if he feels powerless in her classroom because she rejects children, discourages them, and is harsh. We will not know, because he was simply dismissed for his "violent outburst". No one sought to learn what he needed.

Power play, and rough and tumble play is often related to things children have seen on television or in the movies, however, the value of this kind of play is well documented and is universal. Adults today are often uncomfortable with the themes (weapons, violence etc.) children seem to gravitate to, but we need to look under the "media context" and see what the children are really saying and doing. You may recall your young friends playing Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles. These kids have graduated from college and are raising their families now--they are not in jail and they are not violent. My kids even turned their pretzels into guns and then pointed them at each other at the lunch table. They made Chinese stars out of my aluminum foil!

In my early research, one of the very interesting things I found is the value of power play and rough and tumble play in helping children develop an internalized sense of self-discipline and self-control. Of course, with three-year-olds, it has not clicked YET, and they often flail themselves around and bump into others with their Karate chops and so forth. What they learn from these powerful movements and from these accidents is how to be careful and throw your punches without really touching anyone.

We can gently guide children to appropriate spaces where there is enough room for them to move about safely, or invite them to do a demonstration while other children watch. Another surprise from the research, and something I had not thought of at all, is that boys develop empathy and concern when they are permitted to play in these powerful ways. You can observe this easily by watching any group of boys playing on their own. When they find themselves getting too rough, or when someone gets hurt, they talk about being more careful and they comfort the injured child or go and get an ice pack on their own, without adult direction.

The research has demonstrated that when this kind of play is prohibited boys are not developing these very important self-regulating behaviors and demonstrate less empathy than boys who have played exuberantly and powerfully. Vygotsky called it "acting a head taller" in play. They demonstrate higher level learning than they can when we ask to perform for us--like stand still in line!

There is a difference between aggression or aggressive play and rough and tumble and power play. The difference can be noted by the expressions on the children's faces. If they are happy, smiling, and seeking each other out, then you can relax--even if they are "running away from" each other, if it is happy running and silly shrieking, then the play is appropriate and children are choosing to participate. If, on the other hand, they are scared, look angry, or are acting out in revenge, that is a different thing and, of course, Positive Discipline is the answer.

One of the things that we know about early childhood play is that children initiate and play with the themes and actions that express the context of their lives--we believe that they do what they "need" to do. Sometimes a young child has older siblings who are rough with him, and preschool is a place to practice having some personal power. Sometimes a child is dealing with family transitions and using his whole-body to be expressive and work out strong feelings. Teachers can listen attentively, support, and encourage appropriate powerful play that enhances development. We can also teach all of the children how to navigate--to tell others that "I don't want to play", that they can say "stop" or "I don't like that" and we can teach the "rough" kids to listen and respond appropriately.

Be careful about labeling this as "aggression". Aggressive behavior is very different from powerful or rough and tumble play. Children who demonstrate aggression really need our help and nurturing so that they can express their pent up anger and often, their hurt. They need our support and teaching so that they can learn the skills that they need to be able to make friends and sustain play. They do not need prohibition or sterile environments.

Unfortunately, aggressive children are often treated with aggression. Caregivers punish them, put them on time-out, withhold pleasurable activities from them, and give negative reports to their parents. None of these is helpful to the child. If we want to help children—all children, then we will learn to listen and help the child heal and be able to do better next time.

Our world is not friendly to young boys anymore. We do not let them climb trees or go up the slide. They can't twist in the swings, or swing on their bellies like we did. They can't climb up the slide and slide down the pole like we did because, "That's not what slides are for!" Where will they learn to take risks, to be careful, to be gentle, to demonstrate concern, and to internalize self-control?

One final thought. When we introduce storytelling and good literature in the classroom, and invite a little "theater" at circle times, we see children changing their play themes to reflect the stories we present. Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Three Bears, the Three (is it always three?) Pigs and so forth, allow children to act powerfully in ways that we "prefer". Rainbow Fish is a story that teaches about kindness and generosity. King Bidgood's in the Bathtub is about a nutty king that won't get out of the bath. They love to act these out.

Please do not condemn little boys to a categorization of "aggressive". Whatever the case, children need us to be their allies, their co-learners, and their teachers--in the true sense of the word.

Children who become violent are consistently children who have witnessed violence, been treated violently (physically, psychologically, sexually), and had that violence reinforced by adults who do not understand their behavior as a plea for help! TV and movies only reinforce what these kids LIVE. If we put the blame on TV and not on the absence of caring relationships, we miss the big picture and parents and teachers alike believe that if we can just control television, we will solve all of the problems in the world. Relationships are the solution to the problems.

I am hoping that your little 3-year-old is not a victim of violence, but rather an energetic little preschooler who is simply adopting a theme that is exciting and interesting to him right now. We can help bring about peace in the world when we apply our good adult thinking skills to what we really know about children. When we model kindness, respect and peace to them, and when we teach--really teach them. He will not become violent because he plays power rangers! I promise you that.

My sons don't play Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles anymore. I think they wish they could. But they still know how to play. Better than that, they know how to be kind and helpful to others, and they learned that from playing.

Good luck to you!