Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Child Alienating Friends



My daughter will soon be 8. We have a great relationship and are very close. She is having difficulty at school. Sometimes with her friends she is like a different person to how she is at home, she becomes very bossy and sometimes possessive of her best friends. Unfortunately it is making some of the other girls dislike her and leave her out, not inviting her to parties etc. I don’t know how to deal with the situation and how to stand back in a positive light rather than feeling like I want to tell these kids off for being so mean. It’s a difficult situation as really she is being over enthusiastic and I feel misinterpreted. I don’t have any problems at home and the flip side is that my laid back 6-year-old girl is Miss popular in her class. Help how can I help her to be liked?


Hi Vanessa, One of the most difficult things for mothers to do is just step back and allow children to learn from their experiences. But it is usually the most effective. You might find the following excerpt from Positive Discipline A-Z helpful.

Friends (Choosing)

“I have one child who complains that she doesn’t have any friends. Another child keeps choosing friends I don’t like. How do I help my children make friends with children I approve of?”
Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

We often forget to honor the different styles and personalities of our children and try to make them all fit one mold. This tendency can be most blatant when it comes to the secret dream of most parents--to have popular children. Some children are quiet and passive, some are active and assertive, some choose conventional lifestyles, and some choose unique lifestyles. The following suggestions focus on meeting the true needs of the situation--to help your children honor the uniqueness of each individual and feel comfortable with who they are.


Allow your children to choose their own friends, but help your kids have contact with others their age by signing them up for after school activities and driving them to sleep-overs and play dates. When your kids are young, arrange play dates for them at your house, too.
If your child chooses a friend you don’t like, invite that person into your home often and hope that the love and values you practice will be beneficial to him or her.
If you are afraid a friend you don't approve of will have a negative influence on your child, focus on being a positive influence through a good relationship with your child. It is okay to express your concerns as long as you are sharing ideas and not giving orders.
When your child has a fight with a friend, listen empathetically, but do not interfere. Have faith in your child to handle the fight. (See Fighting, Friends.)

Don’t worry about whether your child has the right number of friends. Some prefer just one best friend; some like to be part of a large group of friends.

If your child complains that he or she has no friends, practice your listening skills. Try rephrasing your child’s complaint using feeling words, such as, “You’re pretty upset right now because you don’t think you have any friends. Did something happen today between you and your friends at school?” Often children will catastrophize and speak in absolutes, when what they are really trying to say is that they are having a problem with one of their friends. Be a good listener to help your child think through the situation out loud.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

Help children who have difficulty making friends by exposing them to many opportunities, such as trips to the park, Scouts or other youth groups, and church groups.
Do not expect your children to enjoy the children of your friends or insist that they play together if your kids don’t enjoy their company. Find time to spend with your friends without subjecting your children to feeling stuck having to play with kids they don’t like or with whom they don’t have anything in common.

Go along with your child’s wishes about clothing styles so he/she won’t be embarrassed about not fitting in.

Make your home a place where kids love to come because they experience unconditional love, safe and respectful rules, and plenty of fun, child-oriented activities.

If you have issues about having enough friends yourself, don’t worry about your child having the same problem or project your experience onto your child. Be careful not to put your judgments about friendships on to your children. You may think friends are forever while your child may enjoy moving in and out of different groups of friends. Be a good observer and see how your child handles friendships.

Children don’t like to bring friends home when one or more of their parents is chemically dependent, because they are embarrassed and fear what they might walk into with their friend. If someone in your family suffers from chemical dependence, get help, because your children will be missing out on a lot if they are afraid to bring friends home.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that their parents are their best friends because they love them unconditionally, value their uniqueness, and have faith in them to choose friends that are right for them. Their friends can feel safe around their parents because they offer guidance without lectures and judgments.

Parenting Pointers

If your child is consistently choosing friends of whom you do not approve, look at your relationship with your child. Are you being too controlling and inviting her to prove you can’t control everything? Is your child feeling hurt by your criticism and lack of faith in her and trying to hurt back by choosing friends you don’t like?

Have faith in your children and honor who they are. Try to make the people your children choose as friends welcome at your home, even if they are not the friends you would choose.
Your children may be making decisions about friends based on how you treat your friends. Are you acting how you would like your children to act?

Booster Thoughts

Peers don’t make children what they are. Children choose their peer group as a reflection of where they are at the time. Drop a skater into a high school, and he’ll find the other skaters by noontime. The same is true for cheerleaders, jocks, and brains. (And even as adults, when we go to a party, we tend to seek out people who have similar interests and avoid those who don’t.)

Sometimes teens think their lives are over if they don’t have a friend. Often we overemphasize the importance of having friends, so that children who choose to be alone feel uncomfortable with that choice, because they “should have friends,” rather than learning to be a friend to themselves.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Defiance: Where does it come from?


Dear Jane:

My daughter is 7 3/4. This morning, she left the house and walked to school without saying a word. What is an appropriate disciplinary action for this? I feel that the issues are:

1) Anxiety: in me & her Kindergarten Brother - every morning we walk to school as a family, she snuck out the back door and headed to school. Meanwhile, my son and I were calling around the house, and looking around our property for her. We walked to school hoping that she would be there. My son was worried that Madison would be afraid if we're at school and she was still home. I knew she would be there, but in the back of my mind I did have worry about her safety.

2) Defiance: I believe part of her sneaking out without saying anything was an act of defiance. Earlier she had hit her brother and taken his Pokemon cards away. I had previously told her not to touch his cards while they were getting ready for school - we have a rule about no playing with toys while getting ready or they get taken away and put in my room. After the incident I asked her to give me her Pokemon cards - which she said were lost. I then asked her to think about what else of hers I could hold on to until she figures out how to stop hitting her brother and playing with cards while getting ready.

I was thinking that one angle might be to talk to her about what it means to be in the family, including the privileges; pack up some of her "things", and give her the opportunity to act like a part of the family and earn her things back.

Looking forward to your insight. Jill


Hi Jill,

A new theme of Positive Discipline is "Connection before Correction." The first thing you need to do is make a connection with your daughter. There are several ways to do this.
  1. Make sure the message of love gets through: Honey, I really love you and I need your help to figure out how to solve this problem.
  2. Validate her feelings: Sweetie, I'm wondering if you are feeling angry about what happened this morning? I wonder if it hurt your feelings when I yelled at you and you wanted to hurt me back by leaving without telling me.
  3. Name what is going on and take responsibility for your part: I think we are in a power struggle or a revenge cycle and I'm wondering what I have done to create this. Maybe I'm being too bossy and focusing on punishment instead of having faith in you to work out solutions.
  4. Try a hug.

Okay, you may be wondering, after the connection--then what? After a connection has been made, children (and adults) exit their mid brain mentality (fight or flight) and enter their rational minds where positive learning can take place. During this time you can focus on a solution instead of a punishment (even if it is called appropriate disciplinary action): Honey, I really would like to hear your version of what happened this morning. I saw you hitting your brother and I'm wondering, and I'm wondering what happened before that. This is where it is important for you to just listen. Don't interrupt and give your explain your point of view. Don't tell her she shouldn't think of feel this way. Just listen and then validate her feelings. Then you can ask, "Would you be willing to hear what happened for me and why I was so upset?"

Children will listen to you AFTER they feel listened too--so long as you don't get into the lecture mode that include blame and shame.

This could be followed by focusing on solutions where both of you can figure out what will work. You might ask if she would like to brainstorm together for solutions right now, or put the problem on the family meeting agenda where the whole family can brainstorm for solutions.
First let me teach you about some preventative methods. If she is feeling defiant, are you willing to take a look at your part in creating that defiance?

It sounds to me like you are talking too much. You do a lot of telling instead of asking. Please look at the two lists below and decide which one might invite defiance if you were a child, and which one might invite cooperation and the opportunity for you to feel capable and responsible?

Telling Parent
Go brush your teeth.
Don't forget your coat.
Go to bed.
Do your homework.
Stop fighting with your brother.
Put your dishes in the dishwasher.
Hurry up and get dressed or you'll miss the bus.
Stop whining.
Pick up your toys.

Asking Parent
1. What do you need to do so your teeth will be squeaky clean?
2. What do you need to take so you will be warm 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 when you have finished eating?
7. What do you need to do so you catch the bus on time?
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?

I hope you did find Positive Discipline A-Z so you can look up "Fighting" for many more ideas on how to deal with sibling rivalry. Please keep one thing in mind. You don't know what your son may have done to provoke your daughter. By taking sides you engage in victim/bully training. You son gets to feel loved by being the victim (and will master this role and learn more ways to provoke so he can get sympathy) and your daughter gets to feel like a defiant bully (and will master this role). Instead, try using the words "kids" or "children." "I have faith in you kids that you can work out this problem. Let me know when you have found a solution."

I hope you will start having regular family meetings so your children can learn many valuable social and life skills that will help them develop a sense that they are capable and have a lot to contribute with their good ideas for solving problems.

My best to you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Demanding Child


I am a mother of 5 children aged 8, 7, 5, 4 and 8 months old. There are many things I could ask about but I have gained so much just through reading as much as I can through your website. As well as this, we plan to order at least one of your books when we can afford it.

However, something I have not come across yet and am desperate to have answered is this. My (just turned) 4 year old son is very difficult to live with and hard to figure out at the moment. Briefly put, firstly, he will speak over someone else in the family or try to override their will with his without paying any attention to what they need or want no matter how reasonable. For example, when I am talking on the telephone, (which isn't that often), he will talk to me or yell and demand for what he wants even though he knows I'm talking to somebody else, it's very embarrassing. If he wants his own way he will fight or make a scene to get it no matter who's around or where we might be at the time! We sometimes give in to him because it's just easier, more peaceful or if in town, less embarrassing than to fight it. But other times, I stand my ground with him and have to calmly and kindly carry him out of the room to gently hold him and calm him down. The second problem is this, lately he has taken to hitting me whenever he perceives that I am being "mean" to him which is usually over the slightest little thing, like me kindly correcting him with a lilt in my voice or asking him not to annoy his sisters or brothers. But worse than that, he is verbally abusing me at the same time. He repeatedly says he "hates" me, that I'm being "mean to him", that I don't love him, that I'm a "disgusting" mother, when all I've done is tried to love him by setting boundaries for him. He totally overreacts and misunderstands me and my intentions.

I've always had a strong bond with him as a baby and he's normally a very joyful, delightful, social, outgoing, gregarious child who loves to be the center of attention! He's always known I love him and when he's happy he's been the one child who'll always tell me how much he loves me and so forth. I'm sad and concerned as he's miserable and his behavior is such that I getting to the stage of feeling anxious when we are around other people incase he behaves in any one of these totally inappropriate ways mentioned above. Or sometimes, it will be overtly rude or foolish behavior like saying rude or inappropriate words or annoying, repetitive noises where I have to ask to be quiet or leave the room, which is always to no avail.

Any advice to help and understand my son is so welcomed and much appreciated! Thank you.



Hi Jody, I can "hear" from you email what a good mom you are (and a busy one with five children) and how difficult and frustrating it is to deal with a challenging child. I can also tell that there is a lot going on that will be too difficult to explain in an email--it would take a book, but I will try a few concepts and suggestions.

As a mother of 5 children, you know (as do all mothers) that every child is born with different "temperaments" and little personalities. In the book, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, we discuss temperament. Following is a brief summary:

Temperament and Development1[1]

Why Do They DO That?

Compiled from Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy

A child’s behavior is the result of
individual temperament
emotional, physical, and cognitive development
what he or she has decided about how to find belonging and worth
Temperament is inborn and appears to remain constant throughout our lifespan. (See Chess and Thomas’s “Know Your Child”)

3. Behavior is a dance between temperament, development, and what your child believes about himself, you, and the world around you.

1. Activity Level
High activity -----------------------------------------------------Low activity
2. Rhythmicity (predictability of physical functions)

3. Initial Response (reaction to something new)

4. Adaptability (ability to adjust to change over time)
Adapts quickly------------------------------------------------------Adapts slowly

5. Sensory Threshold (sensitivity to sensory stimulation)
Very sensitive-------------------------------------------------------Less sensitive

6. Quality of Mood

7. Intensity of Reactions (response to events)
Intense reactions--------------------------------------------------Mild reactions

8. Distractibility (willingness of a child to be distracted)
Highly focused--------------------------------------------------Easily distracted

9. Persistence and Attention Span (ability to stay focused on an activity for a length of time)
Persistent/long attention span------------------------------Gives up/short span
Parents have temperaments, too; “goodness of fit” refers to how well a parent’s temperament matches his or her child’s.

Effective parenting means planning for the child you actually have!
In the early years, a child’s behavior has more to do with development than with “misbehavior”; children are young and unskilled, and need discipline that teaches, rather than punishment.

No matter how old your child is, it is important to know your child!!

I'm sure you will find your little 4-year-old on the scale. My guess is that he also feeling "dethroned" by the new baby. He got to be the "youngest" for quite awhile. To watch a candle demonstration you might want to try to deal with "dethronement," go to

Once you understand all this it is important to understand that you can't change him any more than you can change a petunia into a rose (he may alwyas be an "intense reactor") but you can do things to help him be the best he can be. The worst thing you can do is to give in to him. That teaches him that his methods work so you are engaging in tyrant training.

Some suggestions:

1. Keep doing many of the positive things you are doing--more consistently.

2. Don't worry about what other people think. I know this is difficult, but someone once asked me, "Do you want to be a good mother for the neighbors, or for your children?" That was a huge reminder to me to think more about what my children needed than what others thought.

3. Set up a special time with your son for 15 minutes a day. (It is a good idea to do this with all your chldren.) Then when he is demanding your time when you don't have it, you can say, "I'm busy now, but I sure am looking forward to our special time at 4:15." Then ignore his demands.

4. Ignore his demands a lot. Do the above or simply validate his feelings. "I know you really want that and you are so angry and upset that you can't have it now." Then ignore.

5. Let him have his feelings. Allow him to be upset and angry without thinking you have to rescue him or fix it for him. Children need to learn to develop their disappointment muscles so they learn confidence and resiliency--that they can handle the ups and downs of life.

6. Try hugs. For a great example of this, go to and scroll down to the free podcasts and listen to # 39.

7. Start regular family meetings on a weekly basis so all of your children can learn so many valuable and social lifeskills such as looking for the positive by giving and receiving compliments and by focusing on solutions. All the Positive Dsicipline books have chapters on family meetings. You can also go to and order the ebook on the Family Meeting Album.

I wish you the best,

Monday, October 13, 2008

Morning Hassles and Power Struggles


Hi Jane,

My 4-year old recently started kindergarten and has to wear a school uniform. I tried to prepare her as much as I could over the summer about having to wear it for school. Thankfully we haven’t encountered any major issues in the morning when she has to put it on.

A couple of weeks ago however, we found out that the kids are going to be doing Judo once a week, and last week they were given their Judo uniforms, and the parents were asked to send the kids
to school every Wed in the Judo uniform and pack their school uniform in the backpacks. Again, we talked about it, tried it on, and she seemed to be fine with the idea.

Well, this week when she had to put on her Judo uniform in the morning, the drama began. She REFUSED to wear it, so trying to give her a choice, I said she could either put it on and participate with her classmates, or she could put her school uniform instead, but she wouldn’t be able to participate, but that it was her choice. Well needless to say she wanted the best of both worlds. She wanted to wear her school uniform, and still be able to do her Judo class. I always feel like I’m walking that fine line between giving her choices (within limits) and adhering to certain policies (such as school policies). Also, these struggles ALWAYS happen when I’m racing again
st the clock to get to work in the morning, so more times than not, my patience inevitable runs out. I need some advice.

How could I have handled this? Any suggestions on dealing with these power struggles would be GREATLY appreciated!

Thank you,



When you give a choice you need to be okay with either choice and follow-through. Allow her to experience the consequences of her choice at school. When she cries and complains, simply validate her feelings. "I can see how upsetting that was." Then allow her to learn from the experience and decide what she will do next time without any lectures (especially in the “I told you so,” form from you.

You do offer another clue when you say these things happen when you are racing. One possible way to prevent the problem in the first place is to have her create a bedtime routine chart that includes laying out her clothes for the next morning. Is is fun for the kids to have pictures of themselves doing each task. Pictures for the "Laying out clothes for morning" could include one in her regular uniform and one in her Judo uniform. All you would need to ask is, "Since tomorrow is Wed, which uniform do you need to lay out tonight.

I'm sure you can see that helping her create her own bedtime routine with pictures helps her feel capable and allows her to use her power in useful ways so she doesn't feel the need to use it in "power struggles."

Best wishes,

Jane Nelsen

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Is Positive Discipline Permissive?


I love your books! They have taught me so much about parenting in a non putative way, very different from the way I was raised. I have two daughters 12 and 14, and my husband has two sons 11 and 15. He has an authoritarian mindset when it comes to discipline, and I am using the Positive Discipline techniques I learned from you. My daughters are used to the positive approaches I use, and when we blended they were shocked and resentful of their stepfather's approach. I have shown him your book and he agrees with some things, but other things he thinks are ridiculous, that they are too permissive and lets children do what they want. I have expressed my concerns with his approach with my daughters but he feels he should not have to change. I then resorted to asking him to just back off from disciplining my daughters because I am uncomfortable with his methods, and that I would handle the disciplining of the girls, and he refused. I am getting no where. Any thoughts?

I tried to find your book, Positive Discipline for Blended Families, but couldn't find it anywhere. Where can I get a copy?




It is a common mistake for some to believe that Positive Discipline is permissive. In fact, many parents who are so against punishment may become permissive. However, I believe that permissiveness could be even more harmful to kids than punishment. Permissiveness creates weakness in children. They don't develop beliefs in their own capability and resiliency. They develop attitudes of entitlement and are very unpleasant to be around. They seem to think the world "owes them." They don't learn important social and life skills for self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, respect for others, and problem-solving skills. So, I can certainly understand your husbands reluctance to go the permissive route. I'm not sure how to convince him that Positive Discipline is not permissive.

It might help if he read the article titled, "I was punished, and I turned out fine" that can be found at

Julie it might help if he understood that kindness and firmness are equally important in Positive Discipline. It might help if he understood that punishment is designed to make kids "pay" for what they have done, while Positive Discipline is designed to help children "learn" from what they have done by focusing on solutions. Positive Discipline helps children learn to use their power in "useful" ways through family meetings, choices, and focusing on solutions, so they don't use their power to rebel.

Most parents don't realize that even though punishment works short term to stop misbehavior, it has damaging long-term results in that children are left with a sense of doubt and shame or resentment and revenge. Parents don't understand that brain and how much more effective it is to wait until everyone has had time to calm down before discussing a problem. They don't understand how important it is to create a "connection before correction." Many research studies have shown that a sense of connection is the number one predictor of "good" behavior.

One other thing we point out in Positive Discipline for Step Families, is that both parents can feel comfortable engaging in discipline (not just the birth parent), when the discipline they use is kind and firm at the same time with a focus on teaching valuable social and life skills while helping children feel capable with the sense of self work in tact.