Tag Archive for discipline

Parenting Inuit Style

Did you know Inuit adults have an “extraordinary ability to control their anger”? I didn’t either; but anthropologist Jean Briggs spent years living with the Inuit people and reports that it is true. Inuit adults have an “extraordinary ability to control their anger.” That ability begins when parents teach their children to control their anger…and doing so in a rather unique manner. How do they do it? What’s so unique about the Inuit parenting style? An NPR article  entitled How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger describes three parenting strategies used to raise adults with an “extraordinary ability to control their anger.” Perhaps we can learn some important lessons from Inuit parenting.

First, Inuit parents do not shout or yell at young children. When adults yell at their child, it escalates the parent’s heart rate and impedes the child’s ability to think and process. In effect, a yelling parent shows a child what an adult tantrum looks like and teaches them to use similar behavior in solving problems in the future. In addition, yelling demeans the person being yelled at, even if that person is a child. Instead of yelling, Inuit parents focus on modeling calm behavior and calm problem-solving. They work to discover what has upset their child and contributed to them exhibiting problematic behaviors. We can take several positive actions from this lesson: 1) Treat your child with respect, even when you must discipline, 2) look for the underlying cause of their negative behavior (Why Do Children Misbehave?), and 3) model positive ways to control your own anger in the process. (For tips on reducing yelling, read Rewire Your Brain & Stop Yelling.)

Second, Inuit parents also use stories to teach consequences of inappropriate behavior, desired behaviors, and the values underlying appropriate behaviors. Inuit parents often used imaginative stories to teach. In fact, children learn through stories. The story of Pinocchio can teach a child the danger of lying and following the crowd. The story about “the boy who cried wolf” teaches a child the importance of being honest about needs and not creating drama. A story like A Child’s Fish Tale can teach the importance of limits and listening to parents. Stories teach important lessons and we can use them to teach our children about the behaviors we desire, the consequences of inappropriate behavior, and the values undergirding both. These stories can be imaginative stories or “real life stories.” They can be stories you tell from your experience, stories you make up to emphasize a point, stories you read (find stories that help children overcome various struggles and teach important lessons, check out the blog at Books that Heal Kids), or stories you watch through various media streams. Keep an eye out for the lessons you can learn in the stories around you…and tell them to your children.

Third, perhaps the most interesting of the parenting strategies, Inuit parents re-enacted the negative behavior to show the negative results. You may not do this in the same manner as the Inuit parent (How Inuit Parents Teach Kids to Control Their Anger), but you can still utilize this strategy. You can re-enact the negative behavior and results with puppets, stuffed animals, dolls, or even yourself to show the real-life consequences of their behaviors. However you choose to do it, let the parent play the role of the recipient of the negative behavior and the child play the role of the misbehaving party. Throughout the process, ask your child questions to help them understand the consequences of their behavior. Begin by asking your child to act out the role of one engaging in the negative behavior. “Why don’t you pretend to do that to the puppet?” As they do, think out loud with questions and statements like, “That hurts.” “Don’t you like me?” “I’m going to cry because that makes me sad.” “Why are you being so mean?”  This is all done with a tone of playfulness until the misbehaving child becomes bored and stops repeating the drama.

Perhaps we can practice some of the Inuit people’s parenting style and raise a generation of children who have an extraordinary ability to manage their anger…and have some fun in the process.

Alexa, Turn On the Lights?… You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.”  Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer.  What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.?  “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.”  That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.

Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.

Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens?  Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message.  Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”

The Miry Muck of Parenting

One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.

  • We make the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure, there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times, however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
  • Sometimes we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready to do.  Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything. Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching is a hands-on activity that builds connection and intimacy.
  • Too often, we model the wrong behavior. I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read (blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse. Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and words you want them to follow.
  • In exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.  We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
  • We tend to be all talk and no action. Parenting is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or “Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the idea. Less talk, more action. 

Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful action that will promote your childrens’ growth.

A Television in the Bedroom

I have to start this blog with a caveat, a confession. I love TV. So, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against televisions. I enjoy a good show or movie as much as the next guy. In fact, my wife and children would say I even enjoy a bad movie more than the next guy. But, a television in our children’s bedroom?  Bad idea…for children of any age. A study published in December, 2018 revealed a link between having a TV in the bedroom at the age of 4 and higher body mass index, more unhealthy eating habits, and lower levels of sociability at the age of 13 years. A TV in the bedroom of a 4-year-old was also linked to higher levels of emotional distress, depressive symptoms, victimization, and physical aggression at the age of 13 years. This study found these results true regardless of any pre-existing individual or family factors that would predispose such problems. A TV added to these problems on top of any other family or personal issues.

“But,” you might be saying, “I wouldn’t put a TV in my 4-year-olds room?” Dartmouth surveyed 6,522 children between the ages of 8- and 18-years of age in 2003. 59% of these youth had TV’s in their room. The researchers surveyed them again two and four years later. They found that those who had TV’s in their room were more likely overweight two years later. Two and four years later they continued to exhibit a growing body mass index. In other words, they were getting more overweight over the entire time of the study.   

Another study involving 781 adolescents found that older adolescents who have a TV in their bedrooms watched four to five more hours of television per week (over those who had no TV in their bedroom). That’s four to five hours they could be doing homework, playing outside, or helping around the house, making friends, or reading a book! They were also less likely to exercise, enjoy family meals, or eat fruits and vegetables.  

As these studies suggest, whether your child is 4-years-old, between 8- to 18-years-old, or an older adolescent, a TV in the bedroom leads to problems in health, mood, and social interactions. Like I said, I’m not against TV’s. I love a good show. But these studies give me pause; they make me think. Even more disconcerting, these studies focused on television prior to the age of smartphones and iPads. Perhaps we need to exercise even more caution with the extra options for show viewing available to our children and teens today. Take the screens out of the bedroom. Design your children’s bedroom as a safe haven for rest and relaxation, a place to sleep rather than text, binge watch Netflix, post on Instagram, or watch videos. Let them charge their phones outside the bedroom in a public area. Keep all electronic screen devices in a common area rather than the bedroom. Make the bedroom a place of rest, relaxation, and sleep.

Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned

Parenting is full of surprises. Sometimes the biggest surprises involve catching myself doing the absurd. For instance, my daughters were having an argument upstairs. They kept getting louder and louder. Their comments became harsher and harsher. I could just imagine balled fists and reddened faces. So, I walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “We don’t yell in this house.” Did I just do what I think I did? Yes, I did. I yelled at them to stop yelling…and I did it with a rather harsh tone. Surprise! I surprised myself and learned a lesson that day: to discipline effectively, don’t yell across the room (or into another room). Walk over to your children. Let them see your presence next to them. Get down on their level and talk to them rather than yell across the room. You might even touch them gently on the shoulder as you remind them of the expectations. Your presence next to them speaks volumes more than your voice from across the room. That wasn’t the last time I surprised myself though. There was the Battle of the Red Jello, too. 

We were enjoying a family dinner at a small restaurant. My daughter had eaten her chicken and her broccoli. She had even eaten two helpings of broccoli.  We now prepared to order dessert. But my daughter still had a small square of jello on her plate. “Eat your jello.” “I don’t like red jello.” With that short exchange, the stand-off began. I cajoled, demanded, and even offered minor threats. Still, my daughter stood her ground. “I don’t like red jello.” After a short, but epic battle in which I sustained great damage to ego, a realization dawned. I’m arguing with a 7-year-old to eat her jello even though she has already eaten her chicken and two helpings of broccoli. Hmmm…surprise! Lesson learned: make sure the battle really is worth the fight. Make sure it really matches the priority your trying to teach. The Battle of the Red Jello just wasn’t worth the time and energy. Let it go.

One more surprise…I can only embarrass myself three times, so I’ll have to quit after this one. It all happened when I couldn’t find a piece of sheet music. I wanted to play it on the guitar and I knew I had the music somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. I remembered hearing my daughter playing it earlier, so I asked her where it was. “I don’t know.”  Convenient, I thought as I began to scold her for being careless and losing things that don’t belong to her. “Why do you always take things? I wish you’d learn to put things back where you got them from!” “Hey Dad,” she politely interrupted. “Didn’t you have it in the kitchen at lunch?” Oh yeah…now I remember. I had put it on the table after showing it to my daughters. Oops. Surprised…and embarrassed. Another lesson learned: Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t cast blame when you don’t know where blame lies. And, “never” use words like “always” or “never.”  You might have to eat them sooner than you think. This incident taught me another lesson, too, and this one was hard to swallow. Sometimes I have to apologize, even to my children. “I’m sorry I accused you and yelled at you.” “It’s OK.”   “Thank you for being understanding.” “Why wouldn’t I? You taught us that way.” What? Another surprise?! We taught our daughters to show grace and forgiveness. Forgot about that. Cool.  I guess the surprises aren’t all bad after all.

I’m the Boss Around Here Mom

Do you have a “bossy child”? You know the type. They like to be in charge. They don’t just play with their friends, they direct their friends. At times you might even cringe at how they speak to the adults in their lives. If this sounds familiar, you probably have a “bossy child.”  No fretting though. It’s not all bad. We want our children to mature into assertive young adults who can take on leadership roles in their home and community. Your “bossy child” has already acquired some of the skills necessary to do so. They are naturally assertive. In fact, it is probably a good idea to stop labeling them as “bossy” and start calling them an “assertive child,” a “take charge kind” of person. Talk about their leadership qualities rather than constantly scold them about their bossiness. Just by changing the label you have begun to change how you view them…and how they will view themselves. Rather than scolding them for being “bossy,” you can teach them how to treat others with dignity while being assertive. Rather than squelching their natural ability to “take charge,” teach them how to lead with grace and politeness. Instead of getting upset that they demand their way, teach them the proper times to comply. Rather than fight against their natural ability, work with them to shape that ability into a mature strength. (Read Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline for more on how our labels impact our parenting.) Here are some ideas to help you do this on a daily basis.

  • Offer your children choices, lots of choices. When we offer our assertive child a choice, we are acting in authority. Our child has to comply, but they also get to remain in control and decide how they will comply. You can make many choices available to your child every day. They can choose whether to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt, either way they wear a shirt. They can decide whether to take a bath before or after dinner. They can choose the vegetable for dinner—”corn or green beans,” “cauliflower or mixed vegetables.” They can control the order in which they pick up their toys. You get the idea. Give your children lots of choices.
  • Give your children chores over which they can practice control. Give them a job and let them do it independently. Teach them one way to do it but let them do it in their own way, as long as it gets done. For instance, you could let your children separate the laundry, fold the clothes, run the sweeper, clean the living room, or load the dishwasher.  They may choose to do it in a different order than you. But they still will have grown in independence. (Remember, Chores Are the Gift of Significance.)
  • Acknowledge times when they accept authorities and follow the directives from adults. Strong-willed, assertive children may struggle to do this. Acknowledge that struggle. Talk about the benefit of accepting authority in life. Let them know there are times when all of us follow the directives of others.
  • Don’t be afraid of giving consequences. There will be times when they push against the directive no matter what you do. As an authority, you need to give a consequence at such times. A consequence could be as simple as losing a privilege or having their toy or game placed in a “time out” where they cannot play with it. You know what consequences impact your children the most. Don’t be afraid of giving appropriate consequences in response to defiant opposition or extreme bossiness. (If the thought of giving a strong limit & consequence arouses fear in you, read I’m Afraid to Discipline for some insight.)

If you have a “bossy child,” rejoice. Celebrate your “assertive child.” Take joy in their ability to “take charge.” Admire their “leadership quality.” Then practice the four ideas above and you’ll watch them blossom into an assertive leader who gives those who follow them dignity and respect.

4 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid

Let’s face it. Parenting is hard work, an emotional and mental endurance workout. It comes with great hopes and joys as well as difficult challenges and struggles. Unfortunately, it does not come with an easy-to-do manual.  Each child is different…and each child demands something different from their parent. Although I can’t tell you the one perfect thing to do as a parent to assure your children becomes healthy and mature adults, I can tell you about four common parenting mistakes to avoid. Avoiding them can help you enjoy more of the hopes and joys of parenting than the struggles and disappointments. So, here we go…four parenting mistakes to avoid.

  • Enabling. Parents enable their children by indulging them, satisfying their every desire and “bailing them out” in an effort to save them from discomfort.  Saving your children from consequences and discomfort only leads to children who avoid challenges and hard work. It contributes to entitled children. Ironically, enabling our children in this way also contributes to lower self-esteem.  So, instead of enabling your children, begin to empower them. Teach them personal responsibility. Let them experience the consequences of their behavior. Let them “suffer” the reality of not having every need satisfied. Let them grow strong. (Three Simple Steps to Discipline Children)
  • Inconsistency. Consistency provides predictability and security in family life. Children thrive when they feel secure. Inconsistency, on the other hand, leaves them guessing and frustrated. They begin to second guess themselves and feel inadequate to meet demands that they can’t even quite figure out.  In other words, inconsistency hurts our children. Consistency, on the other hand, leads to growth. Children grow more mature and experience more happiness when we strive to maintain consistency in our homes—consistency in rules, consistency in routine, consistency in love, consistency in attention, consistency in expectation…consistency. (All Parents Fail Without This Ingredient)
  • Invalidating their feelings. Everyone has feelings. Feelings give us important information about priorities, needs, and concerns. They energize us to meet those priorities and communicate our needs. We invalidate our children’s feelings when we minimize them, contradict them, or lecture them rather than empathizes with them. When we invalidate our children’s feelings, they feel misunderstood at best and possibly even feel like there is something wrong with them for having feelings. As a result, they may become more defiant or experience mood problems like depression or anxiety. Empathize with your children’s emotions. Listen. Understand. Empathize. Then, and only then, discuss and problem-solve.
  • Phubbing. Phubbing is snubbing someone by looking at your phone: phone snubbing or phubbing. Multiple studies reveal that cellphones interfere with relationships. They make the person being “phubbed” feel invalidated, unimportant, and disregarded. Our children whither when they feel disregarded and unimportant in their parents’ lives. They begin to “act out” to gain attention when they feel ignored. Quit “phubbing” and start loving. Give your children healthy attention. Interact. Play. Engage. Enjoy…and they will realize their importance and significance. (A Sense of Belonging Phubbed & The Power of Your Thumb)

Avoiding these four common mistakes will not assure a perfect child…but they will help you a better parent.

Children Misbehaving? Give Them a Seat

I remember it well. Days of rolling easy as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse, we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased.  The change was mysterious, a painstaking step off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.


  • Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
  • Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
  • Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
  • Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together. 

As you go through this process with your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T. and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in the future.

Your Toddler’s Impression Management & You

I love children’s research…and how it applies to our families. For instance, a recent set of four studies out of Emory University involved 144 children 14- to 24-months-old and a remote-controlled robot.  In the first experiment, an adult showed the toddler how to use the remote to operate the robot. Then the adult either watched the toddler or turned away to read a magazine. The toddler showed more inhibition playing with the remote when the adult watched them. No real surprise, I guess. Let’s move on to the second experiment.

In the second experiment, one adult had two remotes. When using the first remote, the adult smiled and said,”Wow! Isn’t that great?” But, when using the second remote, the adult said, “Uh-oh! Oops, oh no!” The adult then left the remotes and stepped away. He either watched the toddler or turned away to read the magazine. The toddler pressed the buttons on the remote that seemed to elicit apositive response from the adult when the adult watched him. However, when the adult looked at the magazine, the toddler pushed more buttons on the remote that was associated with the negative response! Hmmmm. Starting to get a little more interesting.

The third experiment was similar to the second. However, the adult simply gave the neutral response of “Oh, wow” to both remotes. Now the toddler did not choose one remote over the other depending on whether the adult watched. This “control experiment” reveals that the adult’s initial response has an impact on the toddler’s later response to the remotes.

Finally, the fourth experiment used two adults sitting next to one another sharing one remote. One adult smiled and gave the positive response “Yay! The toy moved” when pressing the buttons of the remote. The second adult frowned and said, “Yuck! The toy moved” when pressing the same remote. Now, both adults stepped away to watch the toddler or read a magazine. The toddler played with the remote significantly more often when the adult who gave the positive response was watching.

Think about what the toddlers did in these experiments.

  1. The toddlers modified their behavior to please the one watching them…but only when the one watching had given a positive response to the toy.
  2. The toddlers explored the remote that elicited a negative response when the adult was not looking but used the remote that elicited a positive response when the adult was looking.
  3. The toddlers didn’t change their behavior for the adult who simply gave a neutral or negative response to the remote.

Did you catch the underlying message? Toddlers care about their image, how others perceive them. They modified their behavior in response to the adult watching them and that adult’s enacted values. They wanted that adult to think the best of them. They were concerned with impression management. Let’s apply that impression management to your parenting.

  1. Children want to please their parents, the adult who interacts with them the most. So, if you want to influence your children, engage them. Interact with them. Let them witness what you like, the values that energize you and the people that bring you joy. They will seek similar behaviors.
  2. Children engage in those activities that please their parents, especially when their parents are watching them. Keep an eye on your children. Give them freedom, but build your presence into their lives so they “take you with them” wherever they go.  
  3. On the other hand, children may explore those things they know their parents dislike. The more adamantly a parent expresses dislike in something, the more curious children become. However, a parental neutral response does not elicit the same curiosity (see experiment number three above). So, energetically identify those values and activities you like but use a more neutral, less energetic tone in addressing those values and activities with which you disagree. (Taking Verbal Snapshots can help.)

Our toddlers are invested in impression management. They want you to think highly of them. Use that to help instill positive values and behaviors in your children. 

Parent Like a Jester

I once heard a story about a king who was about to make a terrible decision that would devastate his kingdom. His advisers tried to talk him out of the impending mistake. They pleaded with him to change his mind. They spoke softly and yelled loudly while repeating the same words over and over again. But, no matter how many times they explained the dire consequences of his decision, the king refused to listen. Then a jester came to visit the king. The jester made jokes. He sang a song. He made himself look rather foolish. The jester—in all his songs, jokes, stories, and antics—gave the king the same message as the advisers. But the king listened to the jester with enthusiasm.  He laughed and cried. Then, when the jester left, the king thought to himself, “You know, that jester made a lot of sense.” And with that, the king changed his mind. He would not make the mistake everyone had warned him about.

Why was the jester effective when the wise advisers were not? Because the jester had a bigger toolbox of interventions; he had more options. The advisers could only repeat their admonitions in louder and more urgent terms. The king would hear none of it. The jester, on the other hand, had a larger toolbox. He could sing, tell stories, offer a joke, make the king laugh. He had options…and the king listened.


What does this have to do with parenting? Effective parents are like the jester. They have a toolbox filled with options beyond merely “telling” their children what needs done. Take the challenge of getting your children to clean up their room as an example. How you approach this challenge depends on your children’s temperament and developmental stage, your family values, the environment, and more.  So, you might need more than one idea…and you need ideas that can change as your children grow and change. For instance, to get your children to clean up their room you might:

  1. Sing the “Clean Up Song” if they are younger. (Here is Barney’s Clean Up Song.) 
  2. Turn cleaning up into a game of “who can clean up the most.”
  3. Give the toys not put away a “time out.” Put them away where your children can not play with them for a period of time.
  4. Offer a reward for cleaning up. The reward can be as simple as reading a book together, going to get ice cream, or a chance to watch a TV show.
  5. Tell them they cannot engage in something they want to do (like go out with friends) until they have cleaned up their room.
  6. You might also offer specific directionfor cleaning the room, telling them exactly what needs picked up and dusted. Children need us to teach them the specifics of our expectation before they can complete the chore alone.  
  7. Find a way to make the chore fun (Read Family Fun Theory for more).

Or consider the challenge of getting your children to complete their chores. You might utilize ideas like:

  1. Giving or withholding an allowance.
  2. Give them money up front so they can pay someone else to complete the chore when they don’t want to. They can also learn budgeting skills while “getting chores done.” (Read Should We Give an Allowance to learn how this works.)
  3. Make chores a family activity. Children often cooperate better when everyone is involved.
  4. Reward your children with a currency they care about, such as screen time or time with a parent.
  5. Make chores your children need to complete and chores you need to complete into a competition. For instance,create a Tic Tac Toe board. They can be “X’s” & you can be “0’s.” Whenever a person completes one of their chores, they can place their “X” or “0” on the board. Whoever completes their chores quickly enough can win the game.
  6. Use a sticker chart.

The main idea is to fill your parenting toolbox with options based on your children’s temperament and developmental age. Like the jester, when you have more options you become more effective.

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