Behavior is an Iceberg

August 11, 2014 at 7:48 am (Attachment Parenting, General, Positive Discipline)

What you see is only a small part of what’s really there.


Like an iceberg, the bulk of behavior’s “mass” is found below the surface; it is what gives rise to the part that is visible.  Behavior is triggered from feelings, which stem from the more deeply rooted needs of a person. These are not needs like, “I need candy/ I need a new toy/ I need to play video games.” Basic human needs consist of things like autonomy, safety, security, trust, empathy, understanding, adequate sleep and nutrition, a sense of belonging and inclusion, competency, respect, and love.

When a child’s basic needs are met, he feels satisfied, connected, secure, confident. The behavior looks “good.”

If a child’s needs are not met, he may feel insecure, afraid, angry, or detached. The behavior that shows, then, looks to be what we might call “unacceptable” as the child reaches out to try to satisfy these unmet needs. This occurs subconsciously, of course; a child is not able to articulate: “You know mom and dad, I have not felt included in the family since the new baby arrived, nor have I felt respected when I speak, so I’m going to be whiny and belligerent for a while.” His needs are valid; his feelings are valid. But he is misguided in his attempts to rectify them.

What we must do as parents is, in the face of misbehavior, remember that 90% of what is going on is below the surface. We must look deep to ensure the child is getting everything he needs, for behavior builds from there.

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Have Kids? Have Technology? Here’s a New Ebook You’ll Want to Read

May 5, 2014 at 7:27 am (General, Positive Discipline)

SCreen Time_2

One day I wrote a post about a time in which my children and I were struggling with screen time. I wrote about how we detoxed. Then one day soon after that post came out, Jane Neslen, author of the Positive Discipline series, contacted me, said she loved the post and wouldn’t it be great if we could put together a resource for parents on this very important topic? I said absolutely yes and started to get to work on what would become our ebook collaboration.

The irony was, every time I sat down to work on the book, I was tempted to either turn on a movie for my kids or hand them an iPad so I could get work done on it. I remember thinking, “Do I really want to write a book about the value of reducing screen time while my kids sit in front of a screen so I can get it done?” I decided no. I couldn’t do that.

So the book had to wait. Wait a bit until my kids were a little older and our schedules aligned and I had some uninterrupted work time…without the assistance of screens. Since that day a few years ago, we have had even more chances to work through additional challenges with our use of screens…adding to my growing understanding that there was certainly no cut-and-dry answer for every family and their screen time dilemmas.

It would be easy to declare, “Go screen free! Here is why, here is how, and here are the alternatives.” To give families ONE simple answer for their media use. The truth is, there is no ONE answer that works for everyone. Viewpoints on the topic of screen time range from 100% unlimited access to disowning TVs completely and avoiding video games like the plague.

Though, there is much in between.

That’s where our new resource comes in. For the families in the in-between…Those who fall somewhere in between full access and total banishment for their kids’ media use. I was thrilled when the ebook started coming together and we finally had a pub date. That date was last Monday, so the ebook is now available to everyone!


Don’t think I missed the irony of publishing a book about screen time in (only) a digital format. I noticed. I wondered about that. Realistically, this is how we live. Like the opening line of the book says, “Screens are everywhere.” So many aspects of our lives have been infiltrated by electronic gagets….and that’s not always so terrible. Tablets? Pretty handy. Smartphones? Helpful. eReaders? Awesome. I happen to love our gadgets. The danger–and where I think many parents struggle–lies in not finding balance of your family’s screen use. Of forming strong habits and depending on those devices too much.

It becomes easy to lose track of time when kids play on the computer or xBox. It becomes easy to fall into routines that involve screened entertainment when it may not be necessary–when there are alternative forms of engagement  we could be having with our kids.

So keep your iPhones, keep your TVs, and keep your video games. Keep reading ebooks (especially this one!). The key lies not in banishment, but in balance. This resource is meant to help parents understand the value of interpersonal connection, as well as the enjoyment of our devices, and to help you find a balance that works for your family.

In this book you will learn how to….

  • Be proactive in managing your media use
  • Set your family up for success with appropriate amounts of screen time
  • Set limits effectively
  • Solve problems when problems arise

You will also find a section of questions from parents just like you and answers from Positive Discipline experts and educators. How do I get my son off Minecraft? What are the best rules to set for Xbox use? What guidelines do you suggest for getting a child a cell phone?

There is also a template for a phone contract you can use with your kids that follows the principles of Positive Discipline. When your kids are ready for their first phone, this is  a great agreement to use to help everyone in the family get clear on the expectations and responsibilities that come with owning a phone.

The book is on sale now and available at these retailers:



Positive Discipline Store (downloadable as a PDF)

If you’ve read it already, we’d love to hear your feedback! Please let us know what you think.

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How to Encourage Kids to Try New Things

March 31, 2014 at 8:57 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)


“How can I encourage my child to try new things?”

There is collective agreement among many parents that this can be difficult depending to a child’s temperament and overall outgoing-ness. Some children have no problem trying a new activity (like our children’s recent introduction to parkour, above), while others are just never quite up for it.

“New things” is outside their comfort zone and there are many reasons a child might not be enthusiastic about heading down that path. It means doing something unfamiliar or uncomfortable. It means not knowing what the outcome will be and that it may very well result in failure. It means a child might not be “good.” All of which are reasons to be scared.

But we adults know that some of the best things in life have come from stepping outside our comfort zones–trying new activities, learning new skills, and having different experiences. Pushing ourselves just a little bit is how we learn and grow and become oh-so-well-rounded. Of course we want our kids to become just as experienced and diversified. But this means they must be willing to try new things even when that seems daunting.

How can we teach this? When considering how to encourage your children to try something new, keep in mind a few of their most essential needs that must be met in order for a child to feel comfortable enough to agree to try it:

Children need a strong sense of autonomy–a realization of their basic skills and capabilities in taking care of themselves. A sense of, “I am capable,” and “I can do this.” Help your children develop autonomy by stepping back and allowing kids to take the lead in taking care of themselves. Teach them how to choose their own clothes, get themselves dressed, start their own baths or showers, make their own simple meals and snacks, fix things, build things, clean things. Feeling autonomous is the first step in being able to try anything different.


Children need a sense of confidence. This is different from autonomy in that instead of a sense of, “I can do this,” confidence is more a sense of, “I CAN do this!” and, “I am successful.”

Help kids develop this by celebrating successes when they occur. Wow! You did it! Look at what you’ve accomplished! That was hard. Congratulations! Thank you! You’re a huge help to this family. Remember: it’s not heaps of superficial praise from a parent that builds a child’s confidence, but regular encouraging words that draw out a child’s own thoughts on the experience. We want a child to be able to pat himself on the back, to praise himself and say, “I did a good job!” Confidence comes when one doesn’t have to look to others for praise and validation, but finds it within oneself.

When encouraging children to try new things, start with small challenges. Everyday successes. Build up confidence with the small things and he’ll be ready to tackle bigger “new things” in time.


Children need a sense of security. It’s a comfort that comes in knowing, “I am safe,” and, “I belong.” Strengthen your child’s sense of security on a daily basis by making time for them and paying attention during those times. Talk to them, but…mostly listen to what they have to say. Constantly aim to get to know who they are. Accept them wholly. Meet their needs regularly for nutrition, sleep, and physical connection. Have family routines. Play together. Get into the habit of empathizing and validating their feelings. Make sure to communicate to children that they are more important than anything else in the world…let them know, “I’ve got this; I’ve got you.”


Children need a sense of resilience. They must know that they can survive life’s challenges and hardships. That not everything will go their way, but they are capable of handling frustration and disappointment and moving forward. They must know: “I can survive this.”

Help kids learn that mistakes are OK by disciplining with problem solving versus punishment. Instead of looking for what to do to a child to teach a lesson, look for ways to work with a child in finding a solution. This teaches children that mistakes are a part of life and they’re fixable; mistakes are not anything to be feared.

You can set a powerful example of resilience by trying new things together with your child. Take a new art class together. Try a new activity. Go somewhere you’ve never been, or do something you’ve never done before…together. When you make mistakes, acknowledge them and figure out together what to do next. Talk about that you might not be good at this new skill yet, but you’re learning and having fun anyway. You can model resilience by allowing your child to see and be a part of challenges in a cooperative way.


When you first work on meeting these needs of children–autonomy, confidence, security, and resilience–you will be able to encourage your child to try new things with greater success. She’ll be ready to step outside that comfort zone because she’ll be well-equiped to know she can handle it. It won’t seem quite so scary out there.

If your child is having a hard time wanting to try whatever new activity you’re suggesting, take a step back and wait. Revisit some of the tools above. Suggest and encourage, but don’t push or insist. Encourage them through their small successes and make sure your relationship is secure.

Encouraging children doesn’t mean finding the right incentive or prize (I’ll give you $20 to try the rock-climbing wall). It doesn’t mean using your relationship as a bargaining tool (It will make mommy so happy if you play T-Ball this year). It doesn’t mean taking whatever means necessary to lure your child out of his comfort zone and try a new experience. It means strengthening a child’s inner senses of autonomy, confidence, security and resilience for him to be able to step out there on his own. To help him want to.

When children have this inner strength they know that they can try any new thing, and despite the discomfort, they will survive the mistakes as well as master the challenges.


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Managing the Media Monster? We Can Help With That.

January 29, 2014 at 10:17 am (Positive Discipline)


I’m excited to be in the final stages of putting this resource together! Working with Jane has been an enjoyable experience as we commiserate on the ways electronic screens creep so easily into our families’ lives. (iPotty anyone?) We’ve had a great time putting together personal stories, practical examples, helpful language, and of course the best Positive Discipline tools when it comes to managing media. The release date is estimated for the beginning of March, and I will definitely share when it becomes available!

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It’s the Little Things That Have the Biggest Impact

January 16, 2014 at 9:08 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

It’s the little things that will often become our children’s most cherished memories. Those small moments of how we spend our time together are what have the biggest impact long-term. Added up over the course of a childhood, those occasions shape our children’s values, habits, and relationships. Lately I’ve been noticing these small things–habits and practices that I feel play a big role in our family’s well-being. These may or may not be the moments our kids will remember years from now (although I probably will), but I know they matter today, right now. Here are some of the little things we do that have a big impact…


We have hot breakfasts together. I used to get up early to work before my kids went to school. In the midst of my work, I’d run upstairs to get everyone up and out of bed, then head back down to the office to continue. My kids would get themselves ready, grab a quick breakfast from the pantry and at the last minute I’d turn my computer off, throw on some shoes and take them to school. It took me a while to realize how this was setting the tone for the day–one of hurriedness and disconnection. I had very little contact with them each morning, and the good-bye hugs at school were never long enough. Mornings became tearful and primed for battles.

Now I don’t get up early to do work, I get up early to be with my kids before we part for the day. I get up to make breakfast. Instead of working and not really getting much done because of all the interruptions, I “work” on collecting our family each morning. We sit down together and have oatmeal, eggs, pancakes or homemade breakfast bars before school. We wake up together and start the day on the same page. We’re reminded of what matters most–each other. Plus, hot, delicious food makes getting up early much more bearable.


I regularly read out loud to my reading-capable children. I know they can read. I’m super proud of their literacy skills. But when one of my kids comes to me with anything from a colorful picture book to a dense chapter book and says, “Mom, will you read to me?” The answer is always yes. Yes, come sit by me. Yes, lean right up into my arms. Yes, let me touch your your skin, your hair, your hands. Yes, let me take care of you. Yes, let’s go on this journey together. I’m always here for you.


We have physical playtime every night. Well, I say “we” but I mean “they.” This is 100% my husband’s realm. I really enjoy watching everyone roughhouse, but I usually do not participate as I don’t like being assaulted with pillows and pokes and loudness. (Though, John made up a tennis ball game that I admit looks pretty fun. Since it does not involve bodily contact, I’m up for that one.) What works especially well with John’s games is that they require the kids to be on a team–working together against him. Whether it’s Sleeping Giant (they must successfully steal a precious object (rock, Lego) from the sleeping giant (Dad) who is apt to wake up at any moment and “get them”) or Secret Ambush (which is pretty much just what it sounds like), the kids come together in ways that they don’t normally. Last night, Secret Ambush involved an actual battle plan. Our two children who might normal be seen bickering and annoying each other worked together for an hour on their encoded positions and attack strategy. Despite an unsuccessful “secret” ambush against Dad relaxing on the bed, the evening ended in fits of giggles and laughter-infused, if not slightly worrisome, exclamations of, “You’re squeezing my pee out! You’re squeezing my pee out!” and a mad dash to the bathroom.


We accept their thoughts, words and perspectives. We don’t laugh, we don’t get sarcastic, we don’t belittle, we don’t make fun. We take what they say seriously, even if their comments surprise or amuse us. Like this comment from my son in the car the other day:

JJ: Why does the bank say Wells Fargo?
Me: That’s the name of this bank. There are other banks around town.
JJ: Oh, like what?
Me: Umm…I can’t think of any names right now, but as we drive I’ll point out others I see.
JJ: Yeah, and prisons, too. Point those out when you see them.
Me: Of course.

Or this comment that my daughter made at Red Robin after the waitress delivered our food and handed over her cheeseburger:

Elia: Ohhhh, my bun has seeds on it! I love that. I love the way they feel on the bun. I LOVE seeds; they are SO nice to touch!

Which is interesting, because I never knew she felt so strongly about seeded buns or seeds in general. But she is a texture girl…sensitive to touch, dislikes tags, loves deep pressure massages and heavy blankets. So it totally makes sense that she would notice and appreciate the way a bun feels in her hand. Another small window into who she is. Just as I know my son would naturally be interested to see any and all prisons we might drive past between the bank and the library (FYI: none). My children’s words sometimes bring a smile to my face, but I would never want them to feel bad about sharing bits of who they are. These are the things I need to know most of all.

We give the the sibling a small present on the other child’s birthday. It’s hard to be a little kid and see your sibling get presents and attention and overall specialness and not totally understand why none of it’s for you. Even if you do understand what’s going on, it’s still not easy. John and I have continued this tradition that my grandparents started with my brother and me when we were kids, and we’ve always had one thing for the non-birthday kid to open at present time. (Now that they’re older, though, they’re more capable of handling each other’s birthday with grace and acceptance. So this will most likely be the last year for the sibling gift).


We sit with our kids when they do their school work. If they so choose. They usually don’t need us to, but sometimes the assignment is hard, or uninteresting, or they just want some company. I know that sometimes, it helps to simply not feel alone in the work that you do. When they request our presence, sitting together is one small way we support and encourage our children in their academic endeavors.

These are ways in which we communicate our values to our kids. It’s how we live them.

Make time for the little things.

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