I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the three steps to better behavior right now.  Before you do any thing (go to the grocery store, get ready for bed, go to a friend’s house, etc) tell your kids:

  1. What it is going to look like
  2. What are the expectations
  3. What will happen if they don’t do what they are supposed to do


Ok, now that you know the 3 magic steps, let me walk you through some situations and why these 3 steps are so important!

Kids thrive on routine because they know what is coming next.  If you always get dressed right after breakfast, then kids often run to the clothes dresser right after breakfast because they know what is coming.  They know what to expect.  So just take this same idea out into the world.

Are you going to the library?  Tell your kids.  Are you going to let them check out 55 books.  Tell them that they get 55 books.  Do they get to play on the computer for 20 minutes.  Let them know.  Do you only have space in your bag for 6 books?  Then tell them they only get 6 books.  Do you have time to play at the park afterwards or will your parking limit run out of time and you’ll have to head home?  Let them know ahead of time.

Where else could you use this technique?  The store, the doctor, grandma’s house, running errands, a playdate, going out to dinner, flying on a plane, road trip up to the mountains, getting ready in the morning.  The possibilities are endless.

A lot of parents don’t tell children what is going to happen ahead of time with things that are unpleasant like going to the doctor or dropping them off somewhere.  But we need to build trust with children and we do that by preparing them for the good and the bad.   Before we go to the doctor, I tell them whether they are getting shots or not and then we talk about what we’ll do after the shot (go get ice cream or go to the park).   This way they know what to expect and they are actually less nervous than they would be if they were guessing the whole time (Is this the place that hurts?  What’s going to happen? Am I going to be safe?!?)

The second part is to let them know what the expectations are.  This is true for adults as well. I mean, we all like surprises now and then, but what if you signed up for a hiking trip and then found out that it was a hard-core rock-climbing trip or maybe the hiking trip was actually walking a 1/4 mile.  Both of those would be difficult to deal with because your expectations were totally different than what was presented.  So if you are going to a friend’s house and they don’t mind if the kids jump on the couch, let your kids know.  But if there are going to be fancy tables and maybe even a glass vase somewhere in the living room, tell your kids ahead of time, “no running around AT All at our friends house. We can run outside afterwards, but no running while we are there.”   

I once met up with some college friends and their toddlers at a fancy hotel room that an out-of-town friend had booked.  One of the friends walked it and said, “oh jeez, this place is nice, too bad my kid is totally going to tear it apart.”  So the kid looked up at his mom right after she said that and subsequently began to tear the room apart.  That was her expectation for what he was going to do and so he fulfilled that expectation like any kid would.

This works for bedtime too.  If bedtime isn’t what you were hoping it would be and it is a mess of emotions, push-back, fussing and headache, then make a plan of what bedtime should be.  Find a picture schedule online and use the parts that work for you.  Add in other parts and take out what won’t work.  Then let your kids know.  Talk to them about what they need to do.  Do you help them with their pajamas but they need to brush their own teeth?  Let them know what the expectations are.

Finally, let kids know what will happen if they do or don’t do what is expected of them.

On long days with lots of errands or chores, I list the things that need to be done and then the last thing is something enjoyable, something outside, something relaxing or energy releasing.  This way, kids have something to look forward to and know that they need to hold it together for such and such amount of time before they can release it all.  And if there are issues, problems, etc, then the errands stop and everyone heads home.  Now they can still run around at home, you can still take some space in your room if it was really bad, but the last stop at the park didn’t get added into the mix if the kids just couldn’t handle everything.  And it’s ok.  Your kids won’t always be able to run 3 errands in a row.  They won’t always be able to sit while they eat at a restaurant.  And if they can’t sit, then it means it is time to go home, maybe time to go to bed.

Time to start again new tomorrow.

And the next time, let them know ahead of time and chances are, they’ll be able to do it.



Does it seem like all your toddler does is fly off the handle? Do you feel overwhelmed by your toddler’s behavior?  Or is your child pretty awesome, but still has these moments where you just don’t know what to do?

Here’s my top 5 tips to help calm your toddler.


Toddlers are learning about their world and asserting their independence and the easiest way for them to assert their independence is to throw a fit.  So to help them navigate their world, you can help them to be in more control by giving your children some control.   When you give control, they don’t need to take it by way of a tantrum.  So give your child little bits of control throughout the day, and they will be more calm.  Let them choose which shoes to wear to the park.  Give them control over how many necklaces they want to wear.  Allow them to choose their snack.  Ask them which pajamas they want to wear.  This will lessen the amount of time that they are battling you and will create calmness in the house.

Get outside

Nature is Therapeutic.  If you are feeling at the end of your rope, or if you child is losing it; head outside!  Nature will raise your spirits, it will help you breathe, it will calm your nerves.  Once you are outside, you will probably get some exercise and if you get some exercise you will sleep better and if you sleep better, you will be more calm.  This works for your kiddos too.

Check sleep routines

On of my mantras to my children is “when I’m tired, I get pretty fussy.”  They see this in action as I can be short with them when I am more tired.  The same is true for my kids.  If they are getting fussy, it probably means that I need to move bedtime sooner or get a nap in.  If tiredness is a constant, then looking at how much sleep kids are getting and how the routines are working is a must.

Teaching calming down techniques

It’s hard to calm down if you don’t know how to do it.  So, what are some techniques? The first technique is taking a deep breath.  Teach this technique all the time and do it when everyone is happy and calm.  When is the best time to do that?  Right before dinner or right before bed or during a bath.  Say, “Smell the roses” as you breath in deeply.  Then say, “Blow out the candles” and release your breath.

Another technique is taking space or taking a break.  When children are very little, just a change of scenery will be enough to calm a child down.  Read a book, look outside or go to a different room.  Sometimes they will need more space and will need to be alone for a little while.  Also known as a “time-out”, if children are taught this technique in a calm way, it can be very effective.

Model behavior

I hear over and over again how parents feel bad when they get upset with their children.  But getting upset isn’t a bad thing.  It is totally normal.  It is also a perfect time to model calming down techniques.  You get upset at something.  You yell.  Then you say out loud “I am really upset right now and I need to find a way to calm down!!” (If you can identify your behavior, your children will learn how to do the same.) Then you say (or yell!) “I’m going to take some deep breaths right now and I hope that helps!!!” or “I’m going to take 5 minutes in the bathroom or my bedroom right now and try to calm myself down!!”.  Your child will be staring at you in disbelief but will be watching and learning about how to calm down.

Once you are calmer, you can talk about what worked and what didn’t.  You can also apologize if you did something that you wish you hadn’t.  That is also a great learning experience for children and better in the long run for children than to have parents that never make any mistakes at all.



Is your child fussing up a storm right now because you told her that she can’t have the one thing that she wants?  That sounds about right.

And as parents, we need to set limits so we keep telling her no.

And that just makes her fuss more so we want to give in so that the fussing can end.  But here’s what you can say,

You can’t have that one thing that you want, but you can have lots and lots of love.

Tonight was tough because everyone was tired and when papa came to give good night kisses, one of my boys refused.  So we said, that’s ok if you don’t want a kiss and a hug, now it’s time to go to bed.

Ten minutes later, when I was laying with the boys, a quiet voice said, “I want a kiss and hug from papa.”  Who in their right mind would refuse that?  Oh man, how sweet.  So there I was, smack in the middle of every parent’s dilemma.  Do I just give in and let him have this that will help him fall asleep? Or do I hold my ground?

I said,

You can’t have a kiss and hug from papa now, but you can have lots and lots of love from me.

Trust me, this wasn’t the first time that this has happened.

My boys are typical toddlers and they fuss about what they want, then they change their mind and then they fuss some more.  And as parents, we need to set limits but we also want to parent in a positive way.   So as soon as we tell them that they can’t have what they want, they start to fuss.  They start to yell, cry, kick, scream and throw themselves on the ground.  We want to follow through and not let them get whatever they ask for, but we also don’t want to yell, kick and scream back at them.

So we hold our ground, follow through, and still give them all the love that they need.

Let’s say that your child wants the green shirt.  So you give him the green shirt.  Then two seconds later, he spills juice on the green shirt.  This is a recipe for disaster.

I probably don’t have to go into describing the following scene which then gives you three choices:

  1. You can clean the juice off the shirt, run it through the dryer, and move on with your day
  2. You can take the shirt, prepare for the tantrum storm, deal with the tantrum in whatever way you can for that day or
  3. You can take the shirt and give a big hug with lots of kisses and snuggles (which probably won’t be taken) and say:

You can’t have that shirt, but you can have lots of love and hugs from mama.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about positive parenting and time outs and this is where we set limits and clear and consistent boundaries in a positive way.


Time in time out


Let’s make a plan.

If you have ever been on the internet, then you have heard that giving a time out is a horrible thing.  It is not.

You have heard that connecting with your child during a fit or a tantrum is a better thing.  That is correct.

So let’s make a plan:

When we are calm, we have had good sleep and we have lots of patience in our hearts, let’s plan to stop when our child starts to tantrum.  Let’s plan to get down on their level.   Let’s plan to check in with them and try to figure out what need is not being met.  Let’s plan to do this for at least one tantrum or fit per day.

But then let’s let reality in. Let’s realize that maybe we didn’t get enough sleep last night.  Let’s remember that we might also be arguing with our spouse when the child melts down.  Let’s remember that we are in the middle of making dinner, we are hungry and crabby and let’s have plan B set in place.

Because the reality is that although we want to always connect with our children, it isn’t physically possible and we don’t know what to do when we are at our wit’s end.

Plan A: Time -In (Stop, breathe, connect with child until need is met or tantrum subsides)

Plan B: Time – Out (Stop, breathe, give child 2 warnings in a calm voice and then remove child from the situation until they are calm)

This type of parenting is positive parenting with limits.  It lives in reality.  Even though we want to connect with our child every time they act up, it just isn’t possible.

This is similar to so many aspects of parenting:


-Plan A- natural birth with lots of skin to skin contact

-Plan B- Epidural, emergency C-Section and skin to skin contact as soon as possible


-Plan A- exclusive breast-feeding until child self-weans

-Plan B- Breastfeeding with pumping and formula until child is a year old

Attachment parenting:

-Plan A- Never let child cry, carry everywhere

-Plan B- When child A is crying, feel bad for child B who is crying, Carry as much as possible


All of Plan A’s are based on what is best for the child and what we should do when everything is going right.  I always plan for A.  I always want what is best for my children.  There is a ton of research behind Plan A.  But when Plan A falls through, we cannot shame for Plan B.   I feel so lucky that I have been able to do Plan A for about half of my parenting goals, but I do my best everyday to not shame myself when it switches to Plan B.

The same thing is true for tantrums.  Whenever I read an article about Time-In or connecting with your child during tantrums, 90% of comments say “What a great reminder!”  “I’ll have to remember this!”  “Thanks so much for writing this- it’s beautiful!”  So far, I have yet to read a comment that said, “I do this 100% of the time with my children.”  Because you can’t.  Because it is a reminder.  It is a shout-out for Plan A.  Now if we could only have the article stop after they tout the benefits of Plan A and not allude to ruining your children with Plan B (because you won’t).

So let’s make a plan:

Let’s plan to meet as many of our children’s needs as possible.

Let’s plan to teach them calming down techniques when they are calm and happy (breathing, taking space, etc)

Let’s plan to make clear limits and boundaries that everyone is aware of.

Let’s plan to stop, breathe and connect with our children during a tantrum at least once per day.

Let’s plan to understand that at some point during the day, we will not have any more patience.

Let’s plan to have a safe space in the house where the child can go when they are upset and they can practice calming down.

Let’s plan to calmly give them 2 warnings before removing them from the situation (ie giving them a time out)

Let’s plan to calmly bring them to their safe place (most likely bedroom, but plan ahead if that space isn’t ideal) when they are unable to calm down and you are unable to connect.

We need to have a plan, because when we don’t, we can’t be consistent and the behavior only gets worse.  We need to follow-through with our plan, but we can only do that when we have one set in place.  So make a plan today with your spouse and cover all the angles so that you know what to do when the poop hits the fan.  This is the way to help your child and help their behavior.

Let’s have a plan in place.


Plan A: Time In– connect with your child

Plan B: Time- Out– give space to everyone



wrong answer

I know, this sounds completely counter-intuitive, but it works and here is why:

Children want to find limits.  They want to know what is right and what is wrong.  So at some point in raising a child, you are going to say, “If you throw your food one more time, I will take your food away”.  Instinctively, you want the child to stop throwing food, but for discipline’s sake start chanting in your head, “Throw the food!  Throw the food!”

If your child throws the food- then they learn that there is a consequence.  The food gets taken away.

If they don’t ever throw the food, then they haven’t learned anything.  They don’t know what actually happens when food is thrown and so they will be more likely to throw it in the future to find out how we react.

Here’s another example:

Situation 1:

My son doesn’t want to get out of the bath.  I totally understood that.  I say, “If you want time for a story before bed, you’ll need to get out of the bath now.”  Perfect, that should get him out.  It didn’t.   I say, “OK, I’m going to give you one more chance to get out…”  Then 30 seconds later say, “This is your last chance.”  I start to walk away saying, “OK, no story then…” and my son puts down his bath toys just in the nick of time and gets out of the bath.  Hooray!  He gets a story!!

But he didn’t learn anything except that he can probably get away with about 4 more minutes of playing once I say it’s time to stop.  He will continue this behavior for the next 100 baths.  And I will be asking myself why my children never listen to me.

Situation 2:

My son doesn’t want to get out of the bath.  I totally understood that.  I say, “If you want time for a story before bed, you’ll need to get out of the bath now.”  Perfect, that should get him out.  It didn’t.   I say, “OK, I’m going to give you one more chance to get out…”

This moment in time is the perfect moment in discipline time.  I then chant in my head while getting the toothbrushes ready,Don’t get out!  Don’t get out!  Don’t get out!”.

I take one look back at the bath and then walk out the door. If you have other children, you can then start their bedtime routine up until the story part, and tell your child, “Sorry, you don’t get a story tonight because you used up your story time in the bath.”  If this is your only child, then wait about 5 minutes (or however long story time is) and then do your bedtime routine then skip the story part with the same explanation.

Your child will get upset, because it is difficult not to get your way.  We want our bath and our story too! But your child has also learned something.  That your words have meaning.  That choices have consequences.  That there are limits.

All of this is done in an empathetic and calm way.  There was no yelling.  I was never angry.  And I truly felt sorry.  I really did want him to get the story, but more than that, I wanted him to feel comfortable in that there are limits and that my words are meaningful.

This article could also be titled, “Follow Through”, but I think as parents we know that we need to follow through, it is just hard.  But when we think, “Make the wrong choice!  Make the wrong choice!  Make the choice that will facilitate learning!!”  then we are more likely to follow through and instead of getting frustrated, we will actually enjoy it because we know that we are teaching our children.


I talk a lot about tantrums, mostly because they are the center of toddler-hood, but also because they cause a lot of unwanted stress.

So here are two things to never do during a tantrum:

1) Give in.

2) Get mad.

Most likely in your journey as a parent, you are going to do both, but you should do differently starting tomorrow and here is why:

1) Don’t give in.  You child is looking to see where the wall is.  Where the limit is.  As soon as you give in, he has to keep looking.   This is very hard on children and very hard on parents.

For example, your toddler wants the crusts off his sandwich.  In the midst of cutting off the crusts, you cut the sandwich in half which is what he usually likes.  You give him the sandwich.

Toddler: “NOOO!!” Tears start streaming, face turns red.  “Put the sandwich back together!!!!”

You (not giving in): “I’m sorry, I thought that was how you liked it.”

Toddler (potentially throwing the sandwich, hopefully not): “NOOooo!! Put it back together!!”

At this point, you could give in and make him another sandwich.  It would diffuse this situation, but it would only create future situations where your child has to learn what the limit it.  DO NOT GIVE IN. Do not make another sandwich.   Your child can either eat the sandwich you made or not eat the lunch.  

I realize that you want to make another sandwich.  You don’t want the tantrum and the new sandwich will calm everything down.  But if you do give in, then your child has to test the limits again later and will have to see if it is OK to tantrum about something else. 

Don’t give in!

You (still not giving in): “So sorry, but sandwiches don’t go back together.  Do you want to eat or are you all done?”

2) Don’t get mad.  Again, your child is looking to you to see what is ok and what is not ok.  Is it ok to start screaming about sandwiches?  If you start screaming too, then the answer is “Yes.”  If you remain calm then the answer is “No.”

Toddler: “NOOO!!” Tears start streaming, face turns red.  “Put the sandwich back together!!!!”

You (remaining calm): “So sorry about the sandwich, do you want to eat it or are you all done?”

You are going to want to say, “What?!? Are you effing ridiculous? You always want me to cut it up and now you want me to put it back together?!?!?”

Toddler: “No no no no no. put it back. put it back. put it back. put it back.  put it back TOGETHERRRRRRRR!” 

You (remaining calm):  “Are you all done then?”  

You are going to want to say, “If I hear one more word out of you, you are going straight to time out!!”

But if you escalate the situation, two things happen, 1) your child doesn’t learn any skills to calm down and 2) that he can get a lot of attention out of one sandwich and that if he escalates more, then you will as well.  Empathy and calmness will shut the tantrum down (not immediately, but much more quickly).

What to do instead?

Just shut down the whole tantrum by saying “I’m sorry, but no”.

So, instead of giving in, hold strong and say, “I’m sorry, but no”.

And instead of getting mad, say, “I’m sorry, but no”.

I’m sorry, but no.


I have found myself having this conversation a lot lately and noticing that there are different ideas and descriptions of whether a parent is “strict” or not.

Are you a strict parent?

In the past, the term “strict” generally referred to parents who used such parenting techniques as spanking, isolation, yelling and punitive punishment.  

Because of this, a lot of parents who don’t want to use those techniques have turned to more permissive parenting thinking that if they are doing the opposite of “strict” then they will have a happier, more loving family and therefore, happier, more loving children.

But what we have realized over the years, is that permissive parenting doesn’t necessarily create happier children.   We have a generation of entitled children who don’t believe that there are rules to live by, because no rules were imposed on them when they were children. 

I hear a lot of backlash of the permissive parenting movement with people saying that if they could only spank their children, then we would all be a lot better off.

But the key word here is “strict” and not spanking.

These days “strict” can be synonymous with “consistent“.   It can be very loving.  It can be empathetic, but it needs to follow through

The argument that someone is strict because they are harsh is outdated and the argument that children don’t thrive in strict households is also outdated. 

Strict is loving.

Strict doesn’t have to be harsh.

Strict can involve kisses and ‘I love you’ as you give the consequence. 

Strict isn’t wobbly.

Strict is firm.

Strict is comforting for children.

Strict is unwavering.  It is always there. 

Are you a strict parent?


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Thanksgiving came and went and of course was delicious and relaxing.

We were still at my mother’s house a couple of days later when my boys were still having difficulty going to bed.  There was so much going on during bedtime, that every night it took an hour or more of them wanting mom or dad before finally falling asleep.  After three nights of this, we had a little talk.

“I know that it is harder to go to bed with so much going on, but Mama needs to help clean up so I can’t spend too much time in here with you guys.  So tonight I can lay down with you for ten minutes, and then I need to go and there won’t be any fussing. Ok?”


So I laid down with them for about ten minutes and then I got up to go.

“Mama no go! Mama lay down!”

“I’d love to lay down with you longer, but I need to finish cleaning up the kitchen.”

“Ok.  Mama clean up kitchen and then mama come back and lay down.”

So I said “Ok, I’ll clean up and then I’ll come back to check on you but I won’t be able to stay”.

I left and they didn’t fuss at all.  I went back to the kitchen and of course, everything was cleaned up already so I just put a couple of toys away and sat down and relaxed for a minute.

My mother was getting the leftover pie ready for our last go at it and I could have left the boys because they were quiet, they were happy and they probably would have fallen asleep on their own at this point.  But I told them that I would come back.   I sat there for a moment, seriously pondering my choices: hang out with the adults and eat the leftover pie or go back in and probably create more of a problem when everything was going just fine.

So I kept my word.  I went back into the boys’ room.  Both of them were almost asleep and I pretty much woke them back up.  But I built trust that evening.  It took another 15 minutes to get out of there again and it took them even longer to fall asleep.  But for that one evening where I missed eating the pie (and my ice cream was mostly melted) I gained many more years of trust.

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We all know it, we have either been there, heard others talk of it, or are dreading the future inevitability of the two plus hour bedtime routine.

It starts out with the parent in charge: 

Put your pajamas on.  Brush your teeth.

And then about 45 minutes in, the children take over:

“One more story.”  “Mom?  Mo-oooom!”  “I need another drink.”  “I’m not TIRED!”  

You end up giving in to each demand because at the back of your mind, you are thinking, “If I don’t give them what they want, it will be two hours of screaming and and I just do this last thing, they will go to bed.”

But we also know in the back of our mind, that they won’t go to bed, they will just ask for something else.

Then we lay down with the children knowing that at least they will eventually fall asleep this way and at 10:30 pm we will finally have some time to ourselves.

But this is no way to live, for us or for the kids.

So what to do?

First, tell the kids that things are going to change.  Talk about the bedtime routine and even make a schedule with pictures and words.  Tell them that this is the only routine that you will have and there won’t be any additions or subtractions.  Then post the schedule somewhere where everyone can see it and everyone is on the same page.

Second, (and this is the HARD part), follow the routine.  Don’t stray like you previously have done.  Whenever your child starts to ask for something more, remind them, “Sorry, it’s not part of our routine.”  Kiss them goodnight, and then close the door and leave.

Will your child be happy about this?  Possibly, but probably not.  They may yell and scream.  They may try to leave the room.  You have some options here depending on your parenting styles.  But you don’t have the option to give in to their demands.  You can rub their back for a minute and leave them be for ten minutes and continue the one minute rub/ten minute break until they fall asleep.  You can close the door and stand guard.  You can lay down on their floor for two minutes.  But whatever you do, know that it will take a couple of days to two weeks for you to see any changes in behavior   They are used to getting what they want and you need to remind them that the routine has changed.

Stick to it!  Consistency is key.

Talk about their good behavior.  If they did really well on one thing (like brushing their teeth, or only asking for one story) then talk about how awesome that was even if they cried for 45 minutes after that.  

Talk about the new schedule with them (again!!) and tell that that they are going to do really well with it tonight.  

Stick to it!  The change won’t happen overnight.  It will take a while for them to get used to it, but they will get used to.  Children can adapt to anything


The one place where pretty much every parent has difficulty is in being consistent.   Children know this, and that is why they behave how they do.  They are looking for the cracks.  They want to know when and how you will cave.  But all you need to do is be consistent.

The best way we could all remember to be consistent is to change parenting to “consistency-ing”.  Then we’ll never forget.

So when your infant is waking and sleeping at all odd hours and you can’t get a schedule, remind yourself that you aren’t parenting, you are consistency-ing and after a week of doing about the same thing everyday and every night, your child will have a better schedule. 

So when you tell your children that this is the last story before bedtime, and then the children proceed to beg for “Just one more.  Pleeease. But mom….!  It’s not fair!!”  You can answer calmly “Sorry, this is part of consistency-ing”.  And after about five nights, they will know that they get two books before bed and that’s it.

And when your toddler is being a little pill and you say, “if you do that one more time then you are going to be removed from this situation,” and five minutes later, they do it one more time.  Then instead of ignoring it (which is “parenting”) scoop him up and remove him from the situation (which is “consistency-ing”). 

The amazing thing about “consistency-ing” is that it makes life so much easier.  All you have to do is be consistent 3-10 times and they get it.   Once they know that you are “consistency-ing” instead of parenting, they won’t need to ask as much because they already know the answer.