Tag Archive for teach

Step Back Momma Bear

You see your child and another child fighting over a toy. What’s a parent to do?

Your teen daughter comes home talking about an altercation with one of her friends. Should you step in and mediate?

Your son starts off playing with another boy but you see it slowly escalate into aggressive wrestling and even some fighting. Does the parent need to intervene to stop the fighting?


Does your “Mamma Bear” or “Papa Wolf” jump up to protect your child in the scenarios brown bear - femaleabove? I can feel my protective tendency rising up. But, let me suggest that sometimes the best approach to such situations involves “nonintervention.” That’s right. Nonintervention is an effective tool to use in parenting. Of course a parent must practice wisdom when using nonintervention. Specifically:

  • A parent needs to know his children well enough to anticipate when and where a conflict may get out of control or become dangerous. We don’t want any child to get hurt. So, plan to step in if you see the potential for someone to get hurt.
  • A parent must remain observant of his children and any conflict that arises so he can assess if and when he does need to step in to mediate. Times will arise when a parent will need to step in to mediate, teach, and facilitate a resolution.
  • A parent also needs to focus on teaching the importance of relationship and the corresponding respect for others. Our children learn this in our daily interactions and conversations with them. They learn it by observing our actions and listening to how we talk to others. When they see us valuing relationships and showing respect to others, they will more likely do the same.
  • A parent must model healthy anger management and conflict resolution skills in relation to their spouse, friends, and children. Once again, children learn the most by watching how we act and what we say in relation to them and others.


Keep those four caveats in mind and nonintervention will prove itself a very effective parenting tool. As children work out their own disagreements and conflicts, they will learn how to manage contentious relationships. They will gain the strength to handle quarrels graciously. They will increase their ability to endure in healthy relationships, even in the midst of inevitable conflict. Learning to resolve differences independently will allow children to learn the art of compromise, to seek the greater good of community, and to respect one another in spite of transitory antagonism. Resolving conflict independent of adult intervention teaches our children that relationships can grow stronger through times of strife and disagreement. They will discover that community brings pleasure and pain. Perhaps more important, they will learn that pain, like pleasure, can produce intimacy when managed properly. So, take a step back Momma Bear. Slow down Papa Wolf. Give your kids a little time and space to work things out on their own. You might be pleasantly surprised with their creative resolution and their growing maturity!

I’m Afraid to Discipline

I was speaking to a young father about parenting and discipline. He knew his children often misbehaved even when he was present; and, he wanted to learn how to “be a fun guy” while remaining an authority. As we spoke, he made a telling statement. “I have a Disobedient boyproblem being stern,” he said.


“I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid my kids will get mad and not like me anymore. They need my love more than my discipline anyway, right?”


This young father verbalized something many parents believe and feel but fear to say. Discipline is hard work. It takes effort. It can easily arouse our fears and insecurities. Here are a couple of fears we might experience as we discipline our children.

  • The fear that our children will get mad at us and, as a result of that anger, our relationship with them will somehow be damaged.
  • The fear that our children will rebel even more because we have set a firm limit on certain behaviors.
  • The fear that our children will no longer like us and we will “lose them.”
  • The fear that our children will not recognize how much we love them.
  • The fear of experiencing our own emotional pain when we witness our children in distress and discomfort, even if discipline is deserved.


If we allow these fears to control our parenting, we have abdicated our parental authority and influence. We have relinquished our authority to guide our children. We have renounced our influence to help our children learn what is right and wrong. We have abandoned our children to make life decisions for which they lack sufficient experience and knowledge. We vacated our role as an authority to constrain their dangerous behaviors and protect them from negative influences. We have lost the opportunity to help our children struggle with life values and beliefs. We have surrendered, bailed out, left our children high and dry with little to no protection or guidance.  Our children will ultimately realize that vacuum that we have left unfilled and seek out a way to fill it with the opinions and beliefs of peers, other adults who may hold different values than we do, or misguided behaviors that will make them feel accepted by someone. Ultimately, they recognize our fear to discipline as a lack of love.


A loving parent does discipline. Loving parents risk their children’s anger and endure personal discomfort in order to guide them toward values that can create a healthy and happy future. When you think about it, really good parents love their children too much to not offer stern discipline when necessary. After all,…

  • Stern discipline is one part of our expression of love.
  • Stern discipline protects our children and teaches them to protect themselves.
  • Stern discipline helps our children determine and internalize personal values and beliefs that can bring true happiness. We, as parents, become the sounding board, the “other side of the debate,” during their internal struggle to determine personal values and beliefs.
  • Stern discipline strengthens our relationship with our children. It allows them to see us as authentic people of integrity. They will observe our struggle to discipline while we continue to stand for what we believe is right behavior and interactions. And, our children will respect us for that.


Without stern discipline, I am afraid our children will wander down the path to self-destruction, addiction, disrespect, and arrogant opposition to authority. Of course stern discipline must be balanced with love and acceptance, listening and understanding, grace and respect. Nonetheless, without stern discipline, our love has fallen short…and the consequences are dire.

The Top 6 Reasons for Men to Help Around the House

A recent study conducted by Alyssa Croft, a PhD Candidate in the University of British Columbia, suggests that “girls grow up with broader career goals in households where domestic duties are shared more equitably by parents” (Read review of study here). In other words, girls who watch their father do dishes, laundry, and other household chores Man ironing a pair of jeansbelieve they can pursue a broader range of vocational options, not just “feminine oriented jobs.” The broader range of options includes vocations that range from nurse to doctor, teacher to accountant, librarian to scientist, secretary to lawyer. Girls who witnessed their father engage in household chores were also more likely to envision themselves as having future careers in leadership or management positions.


Interestingly, mothers and fathers had a different impact on their daughter’s future in this study of 326 children between the ages of seven and thirteen years. A mother’s belief about gender and work equality predicted the daughter’s attitude toward gender. But, a father’s actual involvement in household chores seemed to be the key to open the gate for daughters to pursue more career roles involving leadership, management, or professional positions. It seems actions speak louder than words in the case of fathers and careers!


I don’t know about you, but I’d like my daughters to experience the freedom to pursue any career they choose, whether it be a stay-at-home mom, nurse, doctor, teacher, or business owner. If my sharing household chores can help broaden their perceived career options, then I guess I can wash some dishes and help with the laundry. However, I believe there are other, even more, significant reasons for a husband and father to help with household chores. Let me share six.

  1. We already learned that it might help to broaden our daughter’s perceived career options. But, there…I said it again.
  2. A father who helps with household chores is modeling a humble attitude of service. I hear men speak of themselves as leaders in the home. Well, take that role of leadership seriously by leading in the art of service. Show your family that leaders serve.
  3. When a father helps with household chores, he shows the importance of working together. It takes a whole family to keep a household running smoothly. Dusting, cooking ironing, cleaning, laundry, yard work, setting and clearing the table…the list goes on…and it is too much for one person! When a husband models a willingness to join the team and actively participate in the day to day household duties, children are more likely to work for the “team” (AKA-family) as well.
  4. Helping with household chores is an expression of love and appreciations. When a husband washes dinner dishes, he is, in a very practical way, expressing love and appreciation for his wife cooking the dinner. Expressing love and appreciation will grow a more intimate marital relationship and close-knit family. So, show how much you love and appreciation your wife by cleaning the bathroom.
  5. As Kevin Leman said, “sex begins in the kitchen.” Women find men who do household chores somewhat sexy. They are drawn to men who can humbly serve in doing household chores. If you think I’m making this up, check out this short 1-min-51-sec video…unbelievable. Need I say more?
  6. The number one reason for/ husbands and fathers to help with household chores… because dishes get dirty, furniture gets dusty, and laundry needs folded. We like to get things done. If it needs done, “man up” and do it.

There’s a New Teacher in Town…Get to Know Him

I have observed a new teacher in town interacting with our children. This teacher is a pro…incredible, amazingly effective. He actively engages our children to get them involved in the learning process. Children learn under his tutelage without even knowing it; and, even more amazing, they have fun doing it! This teacher gets children to practice skills and thinking patterns over and over again without getting bored. In fact, after practicing skills and thinking patterns all afternoon, the children under his tutelage are still eager and excited to practice some more. They even beg to continue. When the children make a mistake, he dishes out a quick and simple punishment and then offers them another chance before they forget the videogame addictionlesson of the mistake. This teacher also follows each success, each accomplishment, with a swift reward. He really is an amazing teacher…one of the best. His name is Mr. Video Game. That’s right. Video games, whether X-Box, Play Station, I-Phones, I-Pads, or home computers are the new teachers in town. They are teaching our children lessons every step of the way, changing their brains and impacting their thinking in amazing ways…some good and some not so good.


First, here are some good lessons learned and mental skills enhanced by playing video games:

  • Following instructions is a must for playing video games. Break the rules of the game and your game ends quickly.
  • Problem solving. Many video games encourage the player to devise creative ways to solve puzzles and problems or to get around various obstacles.
  • Dexterity. Video games require the player to use fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to manage their character and manipulate virtual objects.
  • Attention to detail and spatial relations. Video game players must keep track of their characters position, movement in space, speed, and aim as well as the details of the objects, friends, and enemies in their environment. Interestingly, at least one study suggests that video game experience is related to better surgical skills for adults (read it here).
  • Planning and use of resources. Successful players learn to plan ahead in order to make the most efficient use of limited resources in games like Minecraft.
  • Quick thinking and decision making. Many video games demand that a player quickly analyze a situation and decide on a plan of action. The more accurate their decision, the more successful the game. This is a useful skill in today’s fast-paced world (read about it here).
  • Studies have also shown that video games can be used to successfully reduce anxiety (read a study here) and reduce cravings (read abstract here).
  • Video games can also result in increased gray matter in parts of the brain associated with memory, strategic planning, and working memory. This increase may help reduce the risk of dementia (read about it here).
  • We could list other benefits like providing the opportunity for parent and child to play together, perseverance, memory, teamwork, fun, etc.   Many of these benefits can be had outside of video games as well.


On the other hand, video games can teach negative lessons as well. For instance…

  • Social isolation can result from spending too much time playing video games and not becoming involved in other face-to-face activities.
  • Video games can become addictive (read more here). Kids who appear addicted to video games often exhibit more anxiety and depression. They fight more often with peers and argue more with teachers.
  • Video games can contribute to obesity and muscular issues when played too often.
  • Academic achievement decreases as video game playing increases. Children will skip homework to play and play instead of reading or engaging in an educational activity (read study here).
  • Video games can teach negative values. Some video games include violent behaviors, sexually provocative characters, and inappropriate language. Many video games also reward vengeance, aggression, and violent solutions.
  • Research also suggests that children who play more violent video games are more likely to engage in aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The video game allows the player to repeatedly view violence from the perspective of a perpetrator and then experience a reward.


As you can see, video games teach our children a lot…some good lessons and some dangerous lessons. Ultimately, parents are responsible for their children’s education. We need to monitor this new teacher in town, make some hard decisions and establish some firm boundaries. Here are some suggestions to help monitor the impact of video games in your child’s life.

  • Keep the video game console in a common area of the home. This way you will know when your children play, what game they play, and the content of that game.
  • Animated family playing video game lying down on bedPlay the video game with your children. You do not have to play every time they play. However, playing sometimes when they play will establish your “presence” as part of the game just as going to visit their school helps to establish your presence in the school.
  • Check the game ratings. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has established ratings to help parents know the age appropriateness of game content. For instance, a “M-Mature” game is rated by the ESRB as a game for 17-years-old and up.
  • Set limits around video game playing. Limits can include: the amount of time your children play video games, what games they play, when they play, expected behaviors during and after game playing, and other tasks that take priority over game playing.
  • Educate your children about internet safety and protocol. Teach them to not share personal information with other players. Watch for “cyberbullies” or other inappropriate materials that your children might encounter. Monitor your children to assure they do not engage in cyberbullying or the sending of inappropriate materials. Children often do things without thinking through the consequences. So, even if you have generally well-behaved children, monitor their activity to prevent immature, but dangerous, mistakes.
  • Learn how to use the parental controls on your video game system to monitor activity, block players if necessary, limit inappropriate material, etc. ESRB and the PTA offer an excellent brochure that can help in each of these areas (download it here).

Bake Your Way to a Family Fun Night

Baking together is a great way to celebrate family.  Gather your family into the kitchen to bake a pie, a cake, cookies, bread, or all of the above. Decide ahead of time what you would like to bake and gather the ingredients. Let each family member participate in “the mixing of the ingredients” and “taste-testing” along the way (my job in the family bake off is often that of taste-tester!) When it is all put together, pop it in the oven.

Apple Pie

Let anticipation build while your masterpiece bakes. After all, the best part of this family fun night is yet to come. Enjoy the aroma of freshly baked pie. Watch the cookies melt into shape. Stand in awe as the bread rises. Let your mouth water and your stomach growl in anticipation of my favorite part of this family fun night. Finally, when everything the baking is done, slice up your treat and eat it warm, fresh out of the oven. Nothing is better than warm cookies that bend when you pick them up…or bread that steams when you slice it and melts the butter immediately…or hot pie that melts the ice cream. The anticipation of this treat is matched only by the satisfied taste buds that prompt smiling faces!


For a real adventure, double the recipe and give half of your family project away. Give a loaf of bread to a local shut-in. Take a cake to a local nursing home for the staff to enjoy. Plate up a dozen cookies for your mailman. Not only will you have a great family fun night but you will teach your children a wonderful lesson in generosity and kindness as well.  And, truth be told, nothing is more fun than giving to others as a family!

8 Ways to Teach Children to Be Kind to Others

  1. Model kindness. You didn’t think I would start anyplace else, did you? Whatever we want our children to learn, we have to practice ourselves. So, be kind to your children. Be kind to your spouse. Be kind to friends. Be kind to strangers.
  2. HandEncourage children to think kindly about others. Here are three ways you might consider doing this include: Pray for others. Take turns with your children recalling kind deeds you observed during the day. Take turns with your children recalling kind deeds you engaged in during the day.
  3. Let your children take personal responsibility for the acts of kindness they engage in. Instead of giving your child money to donate to a charity, let them earn the money through chores and give a portion of their choice to the charity they choose. Be creative coming up with ways your children can take personal responsibility in their show of kindness.
  4. Teach your children to consider other people’s feelings. You can do this by acknowledging their emotions—“That seems like it really makes you sad” or “Wow, you really look happy.” Acknowledge other people’s emotions as well.  Perhaps a friend was mean because “he doesn’t feel well” or a friend was crying because “she gets sad when people tease her.” You get the idea. Help your child look beyond the outward behavior to see the underlying emotion.
  5. Expose your child to need. Of course, we need to do this at an age appropriate level, but do not shelter your child from the needs around them. Depending on their age, they might understand the need for water in some countries, an elderly person’s need for friendly interaction, or a friend’s need for a hug.
  6. Along with exposing your child to need, give them the opportunity to volunteer and meet the needs of others. This can range from helping an elderly neighbor with yard work to working with an inner city food bank to raising money for a mission to taking a mission trip. When you child sees a need and expresses a desire to help, assist them in volunteering.
  7. Create giving traditions. As a family, develop traditions that involve giving to one another and to those outside your family. You might give toys to a charity each year or a financial donation to some charity. Maybe you will give gifts to friends and neighbors at special times throughout the year. Be creative and develop some giving traditions.
  8. Encourage small acts of kindness. Teach your child to pick up trash rather than simply pass it by. Encourage your child to hold the door open for others, speak politely, offer to pick up something they see another person drop, give a hug to a friend in need…the list goes on. Encourage small acts of kindness.


What are some ways your family has carried out these 8 suggestions? What other suggestions would you add? How have you taught your children to be kind?

Get Your Child’s Head in the Game with MEATT

Parents like to see their children perform well. Who am I kidding? I like to see my children perform well. In fact, if you are like me, you may get more nervous than your children do when they get out on the field for the big game or up on stage for the first act. We want pianothem to experience success. That success, however, begins long before they walk onto the field or stage. It begins even before practice starts. Our children’s performance success begins with their mindset…and their mindset begins with us! How we encourage and praise our children helps develop a mindset that promotes success or a mindset that promotes fear and anxiety. Praise that focuses on innate, natural talent promotes a fear of failure. If our praise voices a belief that genetics or natural talent made our child the excellent performer, we have raised the ante on performance anxiety. I know it sounds paradoxical; but, if I think my talent is inherited, “just who I am,” or a natural ability, I may believe that failure simply shows the limit of my ability. Rather than face that limit, I might underperform. I might stick with what I know I can already do and not risk reaching the limit of my ability and the start of my failure. Praise that focuses on natural talent creates anxiety and teaches our children to underperform. When they experience failure (which we all will) or finds themselves struggling (which we all do), they may believe they have reached the limit of their ability and quit…since other kids seem to have more ability now. Broad, generic statements like “You are really smart (or talented or good)” will have a similar result.


On the other hand, when we send a clear message that we value effort more than achievement, we promote success. Studies suggest successful people, even elite performers, have at least four things in common:

  1. They practice hard and they practice deliberately.
  2. They practice consistently.
  3. They practice consistently over the long-term in spite of any experience of failure or temporary setback. In fact, they come to see failure as a key factor in their growth.
  4. They believe that persistent effort will bring success.


Notice what each of these factors have in common: practice, effort, and hard-work! When we teach our children to believe that hard-work and effort (not simply natural talent) reveals the true extent of their ability, we have helped them get their head in the game. When we let our children know we value effort more than achievement, and practice more than perfection, we help them get their head in the game. So, here are five ways we can send the message (he real “M.E.A.T.T.” of teaching our children the importance of effort) that effort is more important than the final product.

  • Model working hard toward a goal and enjoying your work toward a goal. Children learn a lot by watching us!
  • Encourage your children to persist in reaching their goals. John Hayes, a cognitive psychologist, found great composers, athletes, and artists had a “decade of silence” in their field before reaching success. This “decade of silence” was filled with practice…practice…and more practice. Effort!
  • Acknowledge the effort your children exert in reaching a goal. Rather than simply praising the finished product or performance, let them know you recognize their effort and enjoy watching that effort pay off. “You put a lot of effort into learning that and it really paid off today.” “I can tell you worked hard on that picture/song/pitch. It’s very cool.”
  • Teach your children how to practice deliberately. This might include breaking the final goal into multiple steps, breaking a task into component parts and practicing each part individually. This also includes slowing down, practicing specific skills, and getting feedback.
  • Teach your children to have fun! Add variety to their practice to avoid boredom. Let part of the practice involve aspects your children really enjoy. Work hard and have fun!


Give your children the MEATT of effort and you will find their persistence improves and, as a result, their performance will improve. They will have their head in the game.

Let Your Children Experience the Joy of…Risk?

Many of my childhood memories involve risks I took and the lessons I learned from those risks. Here are some of the lessons I learned: I can only climb so high into a tree before the branches become too weak to hold me; you can only go so fast on your bike on a gravel-Fun on the ropescovered turn; throwing rocks demands great caution; do not keep your acorn collection in the house; make sure people really hear and understand when you ask to destroy their favorite washtub to make a washtub bass; you get burned playing with fire; and seriously, you need to look both ways (several times) before crossing a street. I learned these lessons in response to risks, small risks and big risks. Some of these memories involve minor injuries. Others simply involved learning an important lesson before an injury even occurred. Either way, I grew and learned from the risk.


When I became a father (a risk well worth taking, I might add) I noticed risk-taking begins at a very early age, even before a child learns to walk! In many houses it begins with crawling and the desire to climb the stairs…and various pieces of furniture…or even visiting a relative. Of course, if we never risk falling, we would never learn to walk. Risk-taking does not end when we enter adulthood either. In fact, healthy risk-taking is an important aspect of a successful life. Hopefully, we have learned how to take wise risks, risks with a potential “pay-off” great enough to justify the risk, because of what we learned during our childhood experiences of risk.


It’s true; our ability to take wise risks is honed in childhood and adolescence, built on the foundation of minor risk-taking enjoyed throughout our growing years. Taking risks in childhood prepares us for the very real dangers of life. It teaches us what we can and cannot do, when to approach a situation with caution and when to leave well-enough alone until we have some help. Exposure to risk in childhood builds competence in decision-making and problem-solving. It leads us to develop a realistic judgment of our capabilities. By doing so, risk actually increases our ability to act safely and even avoid injury.


So, with all this benefit from risk-taking, why do we as parents jump in to protect our kids from every risk and challenge? I know we do not want them to get hurt, but some risk actually increases their ability to avoid injury in the future. Nothing teaches us the realistic limits of our body and a healthy respect for risk better than a few minor falls, skinned knees, and bruised egos. It is hard to watch our children sitting on the ground, holding a knee, and crying because they fell off their bike. But, the knee will heal and the crying will stop. The long-term lesson can last a lifetime. The lesson they gain from these experiences will depend on Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetour response. We can let them sit with a friend while we walk the bike back to the car and pick them up after buying them a treat to help them “feel better”…and teach them that any action with the potential of temporary hurt is not worth the risk. Or, we can help them get back on the bike and finish the ride…teaching them that they can learn and grow by persevering through wise risks. To say this in a different way, we can let our response to risk communicate that our children need constant protection…or let our response communicate that they can make age-appropriate decisions over their lives. We can allow risk to teach our children how to cross the proverbial street of life carefully and safely…or we can prevent risk in their life and keep them from ever crossing the street, content to live on one side of the street and never experience the possible growth and adventure awaiting them on the other side. We can use risk to teach our children how to engage the unstructured situations of life boldly, alert to potential dangers as they pursue their dreams…or we can respond to risk in a way that leads them to internalize a feeling of vulnerability, a fear of stepping out and experiencing the immense opportunities of life. We can release them to learn how to address problems on their own, take control of their surroundings, and adapt to the unpredictable experiences of life through their experience of risk…or, we can protect them from risk and keep them dependent, constantly seeking safety, and avoiding the unfamiliar. It all depends on your response to the inevitable risk in their life. Which lesson will you risk?

Sibling Rivalry–The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Siblings argue. They have disagreements that escalate to yelling and screaming…maybe even name calling, pushing, and physical aggression. Not all sibling rivalry is bad. Some of it is good…and some is downright ugly. Take a moment to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of sibling rivalry.

kids arguing 5 and 6 years old

Some sibling rivalry is good. As long as the argument gets resolved and the conflict does not become abusive, sibling rivalry, competition, arguments, and even minor fights can result in positive growth…especially with adult coaching. Consider some of these areas of potential growth:

  • Sibling rivalry and conflict can increase children’s self-control. In the midst of anger and frustration, siblings can learn to stay calm or walk away rather than hit and scream.
  • Sibling rivalry increases effective emotional expression. Siblings learn how to express their emotions in a way that increases the chance of being heard during a conflict.
  • Sibling rivalry teaches conflict resolution skills like listening, negotiation, and compromise.
  • Sibling rivalry accelerates the learning of social understanding—the awareness of other people’s emotions, the ability to “read” another person’s facial expressions, the knowledge of when to quit “pushing” your point and walk away, and the ability to empathize with another person’s point of view.
  • Sibling rivalry provides opportunities to learn positive problem-solving skills, skills that can lead to a “win-win” for each person involved.
  • Sibling rivalry also teaches that a person does not always get their way. As much as I hate to admit it, life is not fair. Parents strive to find fairness for their children, but sometimes it just does not happen. Sibling rivalry is one way in which children learn to cope with the minor breeches in fairness they will experience throughout life.


Sibling rivalry can, however, escalate to the bad category. Once sibling rivalry escalates, parents may need to become involved and teach their children the skills necessary to resolve the conflict.

  • Sibling rivalry becomes bad when the loud, intrusive, and inappropriate behavior of children in the midst of conflict begins to interfere with other people’s life or experience. For instance, children’s behavior in the midst of conflict may interfere with a parent’s desire for peace and calm in a house…or exacerbate an already aching head…or interfere with a parent’s need to complete some task. In public, sibling rivalry may create discomfort for the family or other people in close vicinity to the conflict. You can see this happen in restaurants or parks when siblings engage in loud and intrusive conflict. Public episodes of sibling rivalry can build a reputation of disrespect, selfishness, or poor emotional control. A parent can respond to public incidents of sibling rivalry by removing their children from the public forum and taking them to a more private setting. In addition, parents need to take the time to teach their children to remain aware of those around them and to consider the impact their behavior has on those around them.
  • Sibling rivalry also moves into the bad category when siblings get stuck in the same argument over and over with no apparent resolution. Parents can step into these situations and teach their children problem solving skills. Help the children learn to calm themselves, listen to one another, actively seek to understand each other, identify each other’s needs, and brainstorm mutually acceptable solutions.


Finally, sibling rivalry can get ugly. Parents must step in for the safety of the children involved.

  • Sibling rivalry gets ugly when it escalates to physical or verbal violence. When either sibling becomes abusive of the other, parents must get involved. To assure that all involved parties are safe, the parent may have to separate the siblings and allow them a “cooling off” period. After the siblings have cooled off, parents can bring them together and help them work to resolve the conflict. In addition, parents can set up some basic ground rules for all conflict–guidelines like no name-calling, no physical aggression, and a “hands-off” policy. Guidelines may also include knowing when to walk away and allow one another to calm down.


Sibling rivalry—the good, the bad and the ugly. A parent’s job is to keep sibling rivalry in the realm of “the good” as much as possible. A parent who does this will eventually enjoy the benefits of children who know how to resolve conflict, listen, negotiate, and compromise.

Why Do Children Misbehave?

Parents often ask me how to change their children’s behavior. There are often several factors that contribute to children’s misbehaviors. And, each of these factors influence how a parent can best respond. Let me list just four factors that might influence children’s misbehavior…and a good response to each one.Exhausted Mom

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to confirm the limits. Children need limits. They will often test the limit or work to confirm that limit in their own mind. They might do this by misbehaving, looking at a parent as they prepare to misbehave, telling on another child, or simply asking for confirmation. These actions either confirm or test limits the parent has already established. Parents often see this behavior as an effort to assert power. However, children need firm limits to establish a sense of safety. Engaging in this “limit testing” behavior is like leaning on a fence. It confirms the strength of the fence and so the ability of the fence to keep us safe.

o    Remember, it is your children’s job to test the limits. Our job is to consistently and respectfully reinforce the limit. Explain the limit beforehand. Remind them of the limit. Explain alternative behaviors allowed within the limit. Allow natural consequences to occur when they break the limit.

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to gain attention. Children need to know that their parents are available to them. They want to know their parents delight in them and watch over them. When they feel threatened in any way or fearful of something inside them or around them, they will seek attention. This could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed and threatened by all the sights, sounds, and traffic of a store…or by watching their parent giving attention to a person on the other end of the telephone. When children perceive a threat or feel some fear, they will often “act out” to gain their parents’ attention and confirm their availability.

o    Remember, your children need to know you delight in them, watch over them, and remain available to them. Respond to their material and emotional needs.  Comfort them in the face of overwhelming situations. Help them understand their feelings and teach them healthy ways of responding to personal fears. Remain responsive to their needs.

  • Children may misbehave out of a desire to feel adequate. Childhood is full of challenges…and comparisons. Children compete with each other. They also get judged by their performance every day in school.  It is easy in the midst of the demands of home (chores), school (classroom behavior, homework, tests), and friends (how to fit in), to experience feelings of inadequacy. In the midst of these challenges, children need recognized and reaffirmed. If they do not receive that recognition they may misbehave to get it.

o    Remember, your children need to know that your acceptance and love is not based on their performance ability in sports or academics. Instead, encourage them to simply do their best. Teach them that achieving to the best of their ability brings personal satisfaction. Allow them to explore their interests and to invest in areas they find most motivating. Take a personal interest in those activities yourself…it will show your children how much you value them and their interests!

  • Angry little girl with beautiful hairstyleChildren may misbehave out of a desire to communicate a priority. This often comes across like anger or revenge. We tend to become angry about those things we find important. The same is true for our children. Perhaps they misbehave because they are angry and feel unheard or unimportant or neglected. If you search under the angry behavior you may find the priority of wanting to be heard, viewed as important, or paid attention to. Of course, the misbehavior miscommunicates this priority and need. We have to teach them how to communicate this priority in a way others, including us, can better understand it.

o    Remember, your children have feelings too. Emotions are not bad in themselves. They are opportunities to connect and learn about one another. We do want to teach our children how to express their emotions in a way that will help others understand and respond. In addition, when our response is directly in response to their need or priority, we take a big step in reducing their anger. When a person feels heard, anger often dissipates.


Knowing why our children misbehave or what influences their misbehavior will give us insight into how to respond to that misbehavior. Look past the behavior into the deeper influences. As you address these underlying factors over time you will see your children’s behavior improve.

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