Monday, March 31, 2014


It is much easier to take responsibility for a mistake when it is seen as a learning opportunity rather than something to be ashamed of. If we see mistakes as bad we tend to feel inadequate and discouraged and may become defensive, evasive, judgmental, or critical of others or ourselves. On the other hand, when mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, recognizing them will seem like an exciting venture. "I wonder what I will learn from this one?" Self forgiveness is an important element of the first R of Recovery.

Have you ever said you were sorry to a child? If so, how did that child respond? I ask this question during lectures all over the world, and the response is universal. When adults sincerely apologize, children usually say, "That’s okay, Mom" (or Dad, or Teacher.) Children can be feeling angry and resentful in response to disrespectful behavior one minute (and adults probably deserve it) and switch to total forgiveness when the adult says, "I am sorry."

The first two Rs of Recovery—(recognize and reconcile)—create a connection before the third R, working on solutions. Trying to work on solutions before creating a connection is totally nonproductive.

None of us are perfect parents, so not only do we need to teach our children that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, we need to practice this skill ourselves. As human beings it is common for us to become emotionally hooked and lose our common sense (revert to our reptilian brains). We then thoughtlessly react instead of acting thoughtfully. One thing I love about the Positive Discipline principles is that no matter how many mistakes I make, and no matter how many messes I create with my mistakes; I can always go back to the principles, learn from my mistakes, clean up the mess I made—and make things better than they had been before the mistakes.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Close your eyes and remember the messages you received from parents and teachers about mistakes when you were a child.  When you made a mistake, did you receive the message that you were stupid, inadequate, bad, a disappointment, a klutz?  When hearing these messages, what did you decide about yourself and about what to do in the future?

Remember, you were not aware that you were making a decision at the time; but when you look back it is usually obvious what decisions you made based on what you now believe and what you now do. Some people decided they were bad or inadequate.  Others decided they should not take risks for fear of humiliation if their efforts fell short of perfection. Many decided to become approval junkies and try to please adults at great cost to their self-esteem. Some are obsessed with the need to prove their worth. And some decided they would be sneaky about their mistakes and do everything they could to avoid getting caught.

When parents and teachers give children negative messages about mistakes, they usually mean well.  They are trying to motivate children to do better for their own good.  They haven’t taken time to think about the long-term results of their methods and how the decisions children make stay with them for the rest of their lives.

So much parenting and teaching is based on fear. Adults fear they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t make children do better. Too many are more concerned about what the neighbors will think than about what their children are learning.  Others are afraid that children will never learn to do better if they don’t instill them with fear and humiliation.  Most are afraid because they don’t know what else to do—and fear that if they don’t inflict blame, shame and pain, they will be acting permissively.

There is another way.  It is not permissive, and it truly motivates children to do better without paying the price of a lowered sense of self-worth. Teach children to be excited about mistakes as opportunities to learn.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear an adult say to a child, “You made a mistake. That is fantastic. What can we learn from it?” And I do mean “we.” Many mistakes are made because we haven’t taken time for training and encouragement. We often provoke rebellion instead of inspiring improvement.

Children need daily exposure to the value of mistakes—and learning from them in a safe environment. Many families have found it helpful to invite everyone to share a mistake of the day and what they learned from it during dinnertime. Children can truly learn the courage to be imperfect when they can laugh and learn from mistakes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Jobs: Why Teenagers Don't Do Chores And How To Use Follow-Through

By Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (Adapted from Positive Discipline for Teenagers)

How many times has your teenager broken a promise to mow the lawn, clean the kitchen, pick up towels on the bathroom floor before leaving for school, or to rinse his bowl before the cereal becomes glued to the surface?  If you didn't answer, "Many times!" you don't have a normal teenager.

Teenagers do not break promises to do chores because they are premeditating con artists.  We believe teens fully intend to keep their promises when they are made. So what happens?

They forget!  Why do they forget?  Because they are busy being teenagers, and chores are not priorities for them.  Their priorities are friends, cars, zits, clothes, music, texting, trying to figure out what to do about grades, sex, drugs, individuating (finding out who they are separate from their parents) and getting a date for the Prom six months in advance.

Chores are not even in the top 100 of their concerns.  Does this mean they should be excused from doing chores?  Absolutely not.  Kids need to participate in chores to learn responsibility, cooperation, give and take, and many other life skills. It does mean that parents can be much more effective in achieving the goal of teen participation in chores with dignity and respect when they "get into the teens world" and understand the life tasks and priorities of teenagers. Then use follow-through.


Follow-through is an excellent tool for parents who understand the world of teenagers, and the importance of their participation in chores. There are four steps to follow-through, four traps that defeat follow-through, and four hints for effective follow-through.

Four Steps for Effective Follow-Through 

  1. Have a friendly discussion where everyone voices his/her feelings and thoughts.
  2. Brainstorm for possible solutions and choose one that is mutually agreeable.
  3. Agree on a specific time deadline (to the minute.)
  4. Understand children well enough to know that the deadline probably won’t be met and simply follow through with your part of the agreement by holding the child accountable.

The concept of follow-through is simple unless you make the mistake of falling into one or all of the:

Four Traps That Defeat Effective Follow-Through

  1. Wanting kids to have the same priorities as adults.
  2. Getting into judgments and criticisms instead of sticking to the issue.
  3. Not getting agreements in advance, which include specific time deadline.
  4. Not maintaining dignity and respect for child and self.

Once you have the four steps for effective follow-though and the four traps that defeat effective follow-through under your belt, you will still run into trouble if you don’t follow the four hints for effective follow through:

Four Hints for Effective Follow-Through

  1. Keep comments simple and concise. (“I notice you didn’t mow the lawn. Would you please do that now.”)
  2. In response to objections, ask: “What was our agreement?”
  3. In response to further objections, shut your mouth and use nonverbal communication (point to your watch, smile knowingly, give a hug and point to your watch again).
  4. When the child concedes to keep the agreement (sometimes with seeming annoyance), say, “Thank you for keeping our agreement.”
Some have objected that if follow-through doesn’t work, the teen should experience a consequence. What they really mean by a consequence is some kind of punishment such as extra chores or missing time with friends.
Those who are familiar with Positive Discipline know that we don’t advocate any form of punishment. Some believe the only alternative is permissiveness—which is another “no, no” in Positive Discipline. We advocate kindness AND firmness, connection before correction, and focusing on solutions “with” your teen. There are many Positive Discipline tools that meet these criteria. Follow-through is just one tool that is very effective when parent and child have a good relationship and are not engaged in a power struggle or revenge cycle. If follow-through doesn’t work, it might be your clue to stop all “discipline tools” and focus on making sure you have a good connection with your teen.
One way to do this is to acknowledge what might be going on. “I’m getting the feeling that we are engaged in a power struggle, and I can see what I’m doing to create that. I apologize. You mean too much to me to let that hurt our relationship. Let’s take some time out and then start again.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Positive Time-Out

A Positive Discipline Tool Card

Imagine you are an employee who has made a mistake, and your boss comes to you and says, “You go to time-out and think about what you have done. And don’t come out until I say you can.” Or, if you are married, imagine your spouse coming to you and saying, “I don’t like your behavior. You are grounded for a week.” In either of these scenario’s what would you be thinking, feeling, and deciding. Is there any chance that you would say, “Oh, thank you so much. This is so helpful. I’m feeling so encouraged and empowered and can hardly wait to do better.”  Not likely.

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that we have to make children feel bad before they will do better? This crazy idea is the basis for punitive time-out. It doesn’t work for children any more than it would work for adults.

Children are always making decisions about themselves (am I good or bad, capable or not capable, etc.), decisions about others, (are they supportive, friendly, etc. or not), and then decisions about what they will do in the future. These decisions help create a child's personality (even though many are made at a subconscious level).

When children are sent to punitive time-out, they are likely to be thinking, "I won't get caught next time." "I'll get even." Or, worst of all, "I'm bad." This is why the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) is very much against time-out.

Positive Time-Out

Positive time-out is totally different. A child (or students in a classroom) designs a "positive time-out area" filled with pleasant things to help him calm down until he can access his rational brain and "do better."

After he has designed his "positive time-out area." he gives it another name such as "my space," or my "my cool off spot." Giving positive time-out another name helps eliminate the negative feelings of punitive time-out.”

Then allow your child to "choose" to go to his positive time-out instead of being sent.  During a conflict you might say, “Would it help you to go to your ‘feel good place?” If your child says, “No,” ask, “Would you like me to go with you?” (Often this is encouraging to a child and helps increase a connection, as well as calming down.) If your child still says, “No,” (or is having such a temper tantrum, she can’t even hear you,) say, “Okay, I’m going to my time-out place.” What a great model for your children.

Go to your own Positive Time-Out

Of course it is a good idea for you to have your own positive time-out area so you can model this self-regulation skill. Going to your own positive time-out may be the best place to start during a conflict. Instead of asking your child if it would help her to go to her feel good place, just go to your own. Your time-out could be a physical place. It could also take place by taking deep breaths, counting to ten (or 100), meditating on how much you love your child, etc.

Not for Children under the age of Three to Four

If a child isn't old enough to design his own positive-time-out area, he is not old enough to understand any kind of time-out—even positive time-out.

Choose another Positive Discipline Tool Card

Remember that even positive-time-out is not always the most effective parenting tool to help children learn self-discipline, responsibility, problem-solving skills, and other valuable social and life skills.  That is why there are 52 tool cards.

Listen below to an excerpt from Building Self-Esteem Through Positive Discipline.

Positive Time-Out

Introducing Jared's Cool-Out Space (Children's Picture Book)

Children, parents, and teachers will enjoy this beautifully illustrated book that teaches the value of "positive time-out" to help children learn self-soothing skills. Co-authored by Jane Nelsen and Ashlee Wilkin, and illustrated by political cartoonist, Bill Schorr. Click Here for More Information.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

VALIDATE FEELINGS - A Positive Discipline Tool Card

Billy is sad because his friend doesn’t want to play with him. Susan is angry because she doesn’t want to pick up her toys. Tammie hates her baby brother and wants to hit him.

Billy’s Mom tries to comfort him by saying, “Don’t feel sad, Billy. You have other friends, and I love you.”

Susan’s Dad tries to squelch Susan’s anger by getting angry at her, “Don’t act like such a spoiled brat. Do you expect me to do everything?  Can’t you be more responsible?”

Tammie’s mother tries to deny Tammie’s feelings, “No you don’t hate your baby brother.  You love him.”

No wonder many adults have trouble expressing their feelings. As children they were not allowed to feel what they felt. Next time you feel like fixing, squelching, or denying feelings, try to just validate them—through a question or a statement. “How are you feeling about that?” “I can see that makes you very mad.” “Little brothers can be so annoying.” Sometimes it can be encouraging to validate feelings, with your lips together, "Mmmmm." (Of course that “Mmmmm,” should convey empathy.) This allows children to discover that they can work through their feelings and learn from them.

Avoid over-validating. I have seen some parents validate, and validate, and validate. It is as though they think that lots of validation will “fix it”—help their children feel better.  One of the hardest things a parent can do is watch their children suffer, but it is important to allow your children to feel what they feel so they can learn how capable they are when they work it through.

Teach Children the Difference Between What They Feel and What They Do

Feelings give us valuable information about who we are and what is important to us. Children need to learn that it is okay to feel whatever they feel. We can then teach them that what they DO is a different matter.  Feeling angry doesn't mean it is okay to avoid chores or hit someone. Feeling sad isn’t a permanent condition, but is an important life experience. How can children learn to understand the difference between feelings and actions when we discount their feelings? Once children have their feelings validated, and have an opportunity to calm down, they are usually open to appropriate actions.

Billy’s mom could say, “I know how much that hurts.  I felt the same way when my friends didn’t want to play with me.”

Susan’s dad could say, “That’s how I feel sometimes when I have to go to work. The toys still have to be picked up.  I’ll bet you can come up with some good ideas about how to get it done with quickly.”

Tammie’s mom could say, “I can see that you are very upset with your baby brother right now.  I can’t let you hit him, but you can draw a picture about how you feel.

We help children understand the difference between feelings and actions when we start early to teach children that feelings are okay.  When your child says, "I'm hungry."  Don't say, "No you aren't. You just ate twenty minutes ago."  Say, "I'm sorry you are hungry.  I just cleaned up from lunch and I'm not willing to fix any more food right now.  You can either wait until dinner or you can choose something from the healthy snack shelf." This is respectful of the child's feelings and needs and your own.

Children learn resiliency when they have the experience of working through their feelings and learning that they pass—eventually. Many times they can work through their feelings on their own. Other times you can involve them in problem-solving—after everyone has calmed down.

We help children understand their feelings and deal with them effectively by taking them seriously and then helping them work it out or trusting them to work things out after they feel validated and have a little time. And, it is amazing how often children do work out solutions to their problems when they are simply allowed to do so in a friendly atmosphere of support and validation.