Tag Archive for parenting

Parents Learning “Baby Talk”?

If you have an infant in the house and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.” That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%. In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese” continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.

So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.

4 Tips for Communicating with Your Teen

I remember the advice given to me as my children approached their teen years. “Whatever you do, maintain open communications with your teen.” Sure, I thought. Great idea. But, how do you do that? After some research and trial by fire (both my “children” are now in their early twenties) I have a few suggestions, ideas that can help keep those lines of communication open with your teen. I must admit, these ideas were often in opposition to my first impulse, but, when I was able to implement them, they really helped keep those lines of communication open.

  1. When your children or teens come to you with a desire to talk about something, give them your full attention. Put down the paper. Turn off the TV. Don’t check your messages or respond to a text. Don’t google. Just give your them your attention. Look at them and listen. Watch their expressions. Listen to the tone of the voice. Hear what they are saying and understand the emotions behind the words.
  2. Stay calm. They will say things that make you want to jump out of your skin. Don’t do it. At some point they will say something that triggers your core fears. They may even say things that hurt, feel like an attack, or arouse your anger. But, if you want them to continue talking about it and then listen to your response, stay calm. Remember, sometimes our teens just need to think out loud. Let them do it in your earshot. When you overreact, they will shut down. If you stay calm, they are more likely to continue talking, thinking, processing, and even listening.
  3. Listen. When you want to give a suggestion, listen instead. When you want to criticize, listen a little more. When you think you understand, listen to make sure you really do.  Don’t “spray” them with questions. Instead, use your questions wisely and sparingly to gain a greater understanding of what they are saying, what it means to them, and how they think about it. Listen and repeat back to them what you think they are saying until they know you understand. Then you can offer advice. But, even in offering advice, keep your words to a minimum and then…listen.
  4. Show grace. Grace is the willingness to put aside our own agenda to become a present witness to the agenda of our children and teens. Put aside your own fears in order to create a safe haven in which your teen can express themselves without judgment. Put aside your own ego and create a secure sanctuary where your teens can voice their fears and anxieties to someone they know will strive to understand them. Doing so will build a home environment in which they feel comfortable talking to us…and they will talk with us in that environment.

To summarize these 4 tips, I want to share a quote from Kenneth Ginsburg, co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “The parents who know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and support.” Put these tips into action today. They are not easy, but you’ll be glad you did.

A Parenting Assessment

Many parents assess their parenting skills based on their children’s behavior, successes, and achievements. They base their parental identity and parental success on their children’s performance in academics, sports, or the arts. You might be surprised, but these are terrible measures of parental identity and parental skills. After all, children misbehave. That does not mean we failed. As children become adults, some of them make bad choices with lasting consequences. That does not necessarily mean we were “bad parents.” After all, children have a mind of their own. Still, parenting has a huge impact on our children. So, how can we measure our parenting? How can we determine our parental success? How can we develop a healthy parental identity? I have a suggestion. We can ask ourselves a few questions in three basic areas. Our answers to those questions can help us assess our parenting and determine our parental identity. So, assess your parenting. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a relationship with my child? (Realize the relationship you have with your children will change over time. You will also have times in that relationship when you feel closer than others. You will even experience times when they are angry with you. But the question remains an important question: Do I have a relationship with my child?)
    • Am I available?
    • Am I approachable?
    • Am I respectful of their emotions?
    • Do I listen well? Do they know I strive to understand them?
    • Do I express my love for my children explicitly?
  • Do I provide a healthy, age appropriate structure in our home and my child’s life?
    • Do my children know the limits and expectations?
    • Do I allow my children to experience the limits?
    • Do I hold my children accountable for their actions?
    • Can I allow my children to suffer the negative consequences of their behavior?
    • Do I say what I mean and mean what I say?
  • Do I set a positive example for my children?
    • Do I set a good example in self-care?
    • Do I set a good example in accepting limits and consequences?
    • Do I set a good example in expressing gratitude?
    • Do I set a good example in admitting my mistakes and making amends?
    • Do I set a good example in managing my emotions?
  • In all these areas—relationship, structure, and example—am I consistent?

I don’t know about you, but I find these questions both reassuring and convicting: reassuring because I believe I do fairly well in several areas and convicting because I fall short in some areas. I need to work at improving in the areas where I exhibit weakness…which leads me to one last question: Do you love your children? If you love your children, you will continue to grow in the areas listed above and you will remember that when you fall short “Love covers a multitude of sins” (Peter in 1 Peter 4:8).

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.

Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People?

Two people bump into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one bows down and moves aside to let the other go on his way. Which one does a toddler like best: the one who bows and steps aside or the one who got his way?

In another instance, two people bump into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one pushes the other one down and goes on his way. Which one does the toddler like best: the one who uses violence to get his way or the one who was pushed?

In a final scenario, a person is trying to accomplish a goal. One person steps in to help him achieve his goal. A different person steps in to impede him from reaching his goal. Which one does the toddler like best: the one who helps or the one who impedes?  

Researchers have used puppets to explore all three of these scenarios with toddlers.  In the first scenario the toddlers liked the one who got his way rather than the one who bowed and moved aside. However, in the second scenario they did not like the one who got his way through violence and force (read Toddlers prefer winners, but avoid those who win by force for more). In the final scenario, they liked the one who helped the other achieve his goal (Check out Can Babies Tell Right From Wrong on YouTube for more).

Isn’t that interesting? Even toddlers show a preference for certain types of people. Specifically, they like those who win in conflict due to social status without the use of force or violence. And, they like those who help others. They do not like those who are mean or violent. Seems obvious, but think about what this means for parents and families? I think it encourages us to do at least three things for the benefit of our children. 

  • Model kindness in your own life. Be kind to one another within the family and be kind to those outside the family. Not only will this model good values, it will nurture your children’s admiration of, and respect for, you as a parent as well. This, in turn, will increase their willingness to listen, live by family values, and cooperate when family disagreements arise.
  • Accept respect and kindness from others. Let your children see you graciously accept positions of status or prestige while remaining humble. Knowing that you hold a position of some respect can nurture your children’s sense of security…but this is only true if you accept that respect graciously. And, we all hold a position of prestige and respect as a parent. Accept that honor and respect from your children with grace and humility.
  • Do not respond violently toward others. This not only includes physical violence but verbal and relational violence as well. We can become violent in our words, our tone of voice, or our volume just as much as we can through physical stature and actions. We can also show violence in our attitude toward others,  by demeaning another person’s character or undermining another person’s authority in a given situation. Each of these represents violence. Seeing this violence in their parents can reduce children’s respect for, and trust in, them.  Children do not like to be around people who can become mean and violent. It’s scary, frightening. Do not become violent toward your spouse (in how you disagree, talk about them, or talk to them), toward your children (in your discipline, in your words to them, or your descriptions of them), or toward anyone outside the family. Instead, show kindness.

Model kindness. Graciously and humbly accept respect and kindness from others. Do not be mean; do not respond to others with violence of any kind. As you engage in these three practices, you will nurture your relationship with your children and encourage them to grow in kindness and grace. Who could ask for more?

Dads, Daughters, & Loneliness

Did you know girls tend to report a decrease in loneliness between first and fifth grade? It’s true. They report less loneliness as they develop more peer relationships and become more comfortable with their social skills during the elementary school years. There is an important caveat to this trend toward less loneliness though; a subtle factor every father needs to know. Girls don’t all move toward less loneliness at the same rate or to the same degree. Guess what makes the difference in their move away from loneliness? Fathers! That’s right. Daughters who report close relationships with their fathers also report a greater decrease in loneliness over a shorter time period. In other words, a close father-daughter relationship helps your daughter overcome loneliness. Mother-daughter relationships didn’t impact loneliness…only father-daughter relationships! This was revealed in a study of 695 families in which mothers and fathers rated their relationship to their children in grades 1,3, 4, and 5. Children rated their levels of loneliness in grades 1, 3, and 5. The results affirmed the importance of father-daughter relationships in decreasing a daughter’s sense of loneliness. The message: Fathers, you are important to your daughter’s development.

And, if you’re like me, you hate to see your daughters looking lonely or complaining of loneliness. Now you know YOU can make a difference. Spend time with your daughters. Pay attention to your daughters’ crazy emotions. Talk with your daughters. By doing so you will help your daughter feel less lonely! Now that is an important role and a joyous task!

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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