This question was asked last week and I had to smile because it is the best question I have ever heard.  

I feel like this question sums up parenting in a nutshell. 

What is the line between holding a limit and being firm versus letting things go and not stressing about everything?

Unfortunately for all of us, there is no answer.  That is parenting.  That is the fine dance of following through but also being there for your child.

There are essentially two rules in parenting- don’t stress over everything and be consistent.  Unfortunately those two rules cancel each other out.  If you aren’t stressing about every little thing, then you’re probably aren’t following through with things.  AND if you are being consistent and following through with every infraction, then you aren’t letting anything go and there is probably a lot of strife in your house.  

SO… maybe we can make a new rule:

Hold the line maybe about 80% of the time and let things go maybe 20% of the time.

Notice how I used maybe twice.  That is because you’ll have to play it by ear.  But in order to build the consistency that your child craves; the consistency that will help them feel safe and will help with behavior; you need to hold the line even when you don’t want to.  But at the same time, remember that that you can let things go too.  

You will probably want to have a list of when to follow through and when to let go but unfortunately that doesn’t exist.  So what could the rubric for deciding what to do look like?  Well, maybe it comes down to maintaining sanity.  Now I’m not saying give in for the sake of sanity because then we would be giving in every single time to save our own sanity.   

Let’s say it is close to bedtime. You have had 15 meltdowns during the day and you have held strong for all of them.  You can just let this last one go and have a good last ten minutes of the day even though the rest of the day was rough. Let the last one go.  Let it go. 

Parenting is an art.  There may be a ton of books out there that act like manuals but after you read all of those manuals, you will need to use your skills to make last minute decisions.  And not all of your decisions will be the right ones.  Many of them will be the wrong decision and that is part of parenting too.  

Parenting is the ultimate test of holding the line and letting things go.

Your kid is yelling at you and every thing you try to say just makes things worse.  Before you know it, you are yelling back just as much and the whole situation has dissolved into a horrible horrible day.

This situation is quite common although you won’t think it is common because this type of behavior is usually reserved for parents and usually happens in the house. So you might feel like you are in a boat all by yourself, but let me tell you, anger is normal, anger is part of life and you are not alone.  There are several things we can do to help deal with anger: 

Food and Sleep

This is true for everyone including adults: when we are hungry or tired, we are more prone to anger.  If you are dealing with more emotions than normal, start working on a better sleep plan and a better eating plan.  These are both big tasks so don’t expect changes overnight but good sleep and full bellies will help a lot with big emotions. 

Make a Plan

When everyone is sitting at the dinner table, talk about a plan for the anger.  What are some strategies? Have everyone go around the table and talk about what helps them feel better when they are angry.  It won’t be the same for everyone so any idea is welcome as long as everyone is safe.  So taking space is a great idea but running away doesn’t feel safe and shouldn’t be considered an option.  

The Brain Can’t Function During the Anger

There is a great podcast called brains on that has an episode about anger and they talk a little bit about the science behind anger and that it is part of our evolutionary survival.  They talk about how your brain goes into fight, flight or hide when you are angry.  This means that the brain isn’t in the problem solving part of the brain and can’t listen to mom or dad trying to fix the problem.

So when your brain is in the fight, flight or hide part, don’t try to talk or solve the problem.  Let the feeling run its course and be there to keep everyone safe.

Circle Back

So we all lose it at some point.  Maybe we decided that we were going to take a deep breath when we got angry and that didn’t actually happen.  Maybe your kiddo said that they wanted to take space when they got angry and instead they went and hit something.  It happens.  But circle back after everyone is calm again and talk about it.  Why was it so hard to take a deep breath?  If we feel better when we hit something rather than taking space, maybe we should set up a soft place where we can hit pillows?  Keep the dialogue going and don’t worry that there was a setback.  There will be millions of setbacks.  Debriefing about them afterwards is where the learning happens. 

Anger is a Normal Part of Life

Although it is important to find ways to calm ourselves, we don’t need to punish ourselves or our children for getting angry.  I see this as a common reaction to anger- getting even more upset and then yelling at children for getting angry.  But that doesn’t make any sense.  We all get angry.  Anger is a normal part of life.  

It will get better.

Things will improve.  

But it WILL get worse before it gets better.

I was saying this to a couple of parents just about a month ago.  Not about a virus but about behavior and sleeping.  

“Things will improve, but they will get worse first.”

Those were my parenting words but they now they have a new meaning as well.  But we can learn from the parallels.  We can be OK with the getting worse part.  We can breath into the difficulty and know that it won’t last forever.

So if your child isn’t getting good sleep and you know that putting a stricter routine into place is actually going to make the behavior worse. You are correct! But don’t let that stop you!  It will get worse, but then it will get better.

If you know that staying at home and not getting a fun coffee or visiting the park will make the whole pandemic shorter and fewer deaths- then do the hard part now because it will get better and it will get better faster, the more work we put in now.  

Do the hard part now, knowing that it will get better faster, the more work we put in now.

I know this is hard.  Parenting is hard and your children will learn so much from this experience.  They will learn that we sometimes do things for our community and not for ourselves.  And that we take care of each other and that we can do hard things

Do you want a quick fix to help behavior?

Try this!  Be curious!

How does this work?  Ask a lot of questions; in your head and out loud.

Most behavior problems are learning opportunities so it will help minimize anger, frustration and short fuses if you start asking questions and start being curious.

Here’s a scenario:

Your child smeared poop all over the bathroom walls.

If you are not curious at all, you would get mad and start yelling and punish your ridiculous child for smearing poop everywhere. Why in the world would he do such a thing?!?

But then if you are curious, you would actually ask; Why would he do that? You can ask your child directly if they are verbal and say, “Hmmm.  That is interesting. How did poop get on the walls?”  Or you can be curious, look for clues, try and see what might have inspired him to do art with poop.  Did he have poop on his hands and didn’t know what to do?  Was he trying to be independent and didn’t have the motor skills to do things on his own and therefore accidentally got poop on the walls?  Was he wondering what would happen?  Did he just see some cool art and wanted to recreate it?

Chances are that he didn’t do it with the intention to make you mad (although that option does exist and shouldn’t be ruled out in all cases) but that he did it in a way to learn something.

So talking with your child and having him help you find a solution (“We can’t have poop on our walls- how should we clean it?”) will help immensely with behavior.  When children feel heard, when they have some part of problem solving and when they have a little bit of control, they don’t need to take control through temper tantrums.

I just read a post this morning about asking people to “Guess the Good Reasons” and it was in reference to rude people out in the world.  It was talking about the back story of why someone cut you off in traffic or why their child was melting down in the checkout aisle.  We don’t know what is happening in their life and we shouldn’t judge.

It is the same with our children.  We need to Guess the Good Reasons for their behavior.  What is their back story?  Being curious will not only help our children’s behavior but it will also help us manage our frustration with them.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how to raise a grateful child. Or how to not raise an entitled child.

Is this even possible if you have family that shower them with gifts all of the time?  Is this realistic when their friends get everything they ask for and more?

Does your child whine when they don’t get the toys they want or whine for more?

Does your child expect things to be handed to them even if they aren’t appreciative?

Do you want them to be more mindful about taking care of others?

How can you create gratitude where there is none?

Model it

When you are feeling frustrated and at your worst, think about what you are grateful for and say it out-loud to your kids.

When you feel like the world is against you and nothing is going right, think about what is going right and tell your children.

When your children are being pain in the necks, stop and give them a hug and tell them how grateful you are that they are your children.

Your children will learn that not everything is perfect and that we can still find appreciation in our lives.


Do you ever feel different after you volunteer your time?  Do you feel energized or appreciative?  This will be true for your children too.  They get to do something productive that doesn’t have any concrete results for themselves, it is simply to do something for others.  This will help create empathy which then can translate to not being entitled.

When children are surrounded by people like themselves, then they tend to think that everyone is like that.  So if all of your children’s friends have everything that they need and more, then they might believe that they should also have everything they ask for even more.

When volunteering, sometimes I say to my children that I help out now because someday, I might be the one needing help which leads me to the next one:

The tables can turn

Without creating anxiety in my children, I tell my children that sometimes we are able to help and sometimes we may need help.  Obviously, we are planning for the future and we don’t expect anything to happen to us but I create hope with my children that if things were to change and for some reason we were to lose our house or we weren’t able to have enough money to buy groceries one week, there are people out there that will help us and we’ll be OK.

But since we are able to buy groceries right now, we’ll buy a couple more groceries and donate them to the food bank just as someone would do that for us if the tables were turned.

One of my kids has a bit more of a tendency towards anxiety and he really does well with this message because it is part of the “We take care of each other” message that I’m constantly teaching and instead of feeling overwhelming to him, it actually feels comforting.


When your children are 5 years or older, you can use allowance to help children from becoming too entitled. If your children are asking for more and more things you can tell them that they can use their allowance for whatever they want.  If they get 2 dollars a week then they can buy whatever they want for two dollars and that will drastically reduce the consumption of toys and goods.  If they want something that costs more than 2 dollars then they will have to start saving for that larger item or ask for it for their birthday.


Last but not least, you can travel to other countries and to other cultures. This one is a little tricky because going to an all inclusive resort in Mexico probably won’t create gratitude in your child.  It may only say, “Oh look at the have-nots. Aren’t we glad that we are part of the ‘have’s’  instead of the ‘have-nots?'” Don’t set it up as a look-at-them-versus-us situation because that can be damaging towards building community and creating understanding.

Instead, try a different approach where you are able to interact with other families on a beach or maybe through a homestay.  Learn about what similarities your families have.  Create a connection where your children can see how other people live and can find happiness through means other than possessions.

Practice Every Day!

Make a gratitude journal.  Ask each other at your family dinner what their favorite part of their day was.  And also ask about their challenges or their failures because being grateful doesn’t always mean being happy!

This is your new mantra:

‘We take care of each other.’

This isn’t just for parents with more than one child because parents of only children can benefit from this phrase as well.

Wondering how to keep your kids from hitting each other?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to get your child to help with the dishes?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to have less squabbling?

We take care of each other

So here it is in practice:

It’s morning. Your kids ask what papa is making for breakfast. “Papa’s taking good care of us and making eggs and toast for breakfast”.  As you are getting ready for work and they need your attention you say, “I can’t right now because I’m getting ready for work. I work so that I can take care of you and provide food for all of us.” Your child goes over to pet the cat, “You take such good care of Felix.” Then one child grabs another child’s toy. “Uh oh, did you want a turn with the toy? Let’s take good care of each other and ask for the toy instead of grabbing it. Say, ‘Can I have a turn after you?'”

So on and so forth.

Why would we do this?

Families are units.

Families are important.

Families take care of each other.

If we keep this as a mantra, then the children realize that their siblings aren’t their worst enemies, but rather someone on whom they can rely. 

What you hear becomes your inner voice.  When children hear that they are a valuable part of a unit or a pod, then they feel more secure and become more responsible.

So then this translates into chores and keeping the house nice. 

Children should never be paid for chores (chores and allowance can start at the same time, but one is not dependent on the other). Children do chores for the same reason adults do chores.  To take care of each other.  My husband helps with the laundry so that we all have clean clothes.  He is taking care of us.  I make dinner so that we are all taken care of.  My children bring in a bag of groceries from the car because we all take care of each other. 

What do you do when your child grumbles? “I don’t wanna” or even just “NO!”

Bring it back around to taking care of each other, and say, “I would love to put away the utensils for you and then you can make dinner for me.”  They will end up choosing the easier job (until they don’t!!!) and then you get them to make dinner for you.  I would be lying if I said I never had toast for dinner.  

Because toast is what they made.

Oh my goodness. If you haven’t seen this book yet, go check it out.

The Little Tree by Loren Long is about a tree that wants to hold on to its leaves.

There are a lot of things that we want to hold on to and it shows up in our bodies in a not great way.

The word that Loren Long uses over and over again is, “tight,”

That’s how it feels.  Your back? tight.  Your neck? tight.  Your body? tight.

We know that it isn’t healthy for us to hold on to this and to create this tension so teaching this idea at a young age is genius. We can show our kids how tight feels and how letting go feels.

When you get to the part where little tree lets go, watch your child.  Watch how things float away.  Watch their body and watch how it melts.

It’s magical.

Get this book and read it.  It will help you as well!

It happens, our children are driving us up the wall and to be totally honest, we don’t want to be around them.  We don’t want to hear their voices.  (We don’t really like them) and it feels horrible.

We react differently when we feel this way and we want to get out of this cycle but they are just so annoying.

So practice gratitude around your child.

We know this makes a difference.  In another one of my favorite articles in the New York Times, the author talks about how a bad situation is flipped upside down when he invokes gratitude.  It can work with your kids too.  When you add in gratitude, your whole perspective will change. 

  • So while you are making breakfast, think about one thing that you love about your child.
  • Before you go to bed, write down one thing that you enjoyed about your child during the day
  • Your children may be pain in the necks, but remember what you do have, food on the table, a safe place to sleep, clean clothes to wear.  When we put things into perspective, it is easier to practice gratitude.
  • Volunteer at your local homeless shelter or a group that works with refugees.  When you give, you are also practicing gratitude and if your kids are old enough, have them participate too.

This is real.

When our kids are complete pains, we can really turn things around by practicing daily gratitude.

For the longest time, I never knew that people actually traveled with young children.  In fact, for most of my life, I thought that it was something that everyone avoided.

But then I started traveling as a young adult and I saw all of these people traveling with their young children and I started asking questions.  I started thinking that someday, I might have children and someday, I might want to travel with them.

Which is exactly what we did.  So after traveling with our little ones for a year and a half, I have compiled my top ten list of why you should also travel with your young’uns

1) To show yourself that you can.

I’m not going to lie and say that it is easy, but it is something that you can and should do.  Before we traveled with our young children, I would lie in bed at night and think of all the reasons that we shouldn’t.  What if the boys fuss?  What if they don’t sleep?  What if we don’t sleep?  What if our car breaks down?  Things can and do happen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel.  You survived sleeping on the airport floor.  You children got through three days of not-so-appetizing food.  You realize that you can do just about anything.  

2) To get out of your routine

In pretty much every other post I write, I talk about routine and how important it is.  That is still true.  But traveling gets you out of your routine and in a good way.  If you are stuck eating sugary snacks every day, traveling can get you out of that routine.  If you are in a routine of late bedtimes, it’s possible that traveling will get you out of that routine.  Either way, you are changing stuff up.

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3) Mindfulness

It is so tempting to bring along technology and screens to entertain the young ones, but traveling with young children is a great way to instill and teach mindfulness.  Once you are out and about in the world and you see young children sitting on buses for hours on end, you realize that this is possible and yes, your child can do it.  It requires more work up front talking to your child about all the things around them (“Oh wow, those trees look different than all the rest.” “Whoa! I just saw another white bird!”) but the payoff is huge once they are doing it themselves.

4) To get along with less stuff

When you travel, you can’t bring it all with you so you really have to pare down.  That means not as many toys, not as many gadgets and not as much stuff.  After a short bit, you realize that you didn’t need it in the first place.  And when you children start playing with dirt, sticks, string and rocks, you realize that the best toys are the ones you don’t need to buy.

5) To try new things

If you are like me, you don’t always jump into things head first.  So trying new things doesn’t always come easily.  But when you have no choice; you just do it.  It builds character and it builds your child’s character as well.

6) No school issue

Once kids are in school, planning gets a little bit more difficult.  Some schools don’t mind if you miss a lot of school to travel and some schools won’t allow it at all.  To avoid the headache completely, travel while they are young.

7) To build brain pathways

I remember my uncle asking me why we were traveling when the boys were 3 and 4 years old. “They won’t remember any of it”, he said.  He’s right in a way, but the travel will make an imprint.  The new languages, the new people, the new experiences.  They will affect how they grow and how they experience life even if they don’t remember it.

8) To deal with the “I-want-this-this-way” in a real way

Young children will throw tantrums for the smallest things.  “I want the red cup!  No! I want the blue cup!”  Well, guess what, when we are traveling, we have whatever cup is available and no other options.   We don’t have the specific bread that they like and nope, we can’t do that one thing that they want to do because it is on the other side of the world.  Children are more resilient than we think and traveling puts that into perspective. 

9) To see how other families live

Perspective is really everything (in raising children and in life).  When you travel and see how simply some people live, you begin to appreciate the small things more.  When you see how other children eat, play and communicate, you get more insight into your own children and parenting.  

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10) To enjoy your family

Kids grow up so fast.  We hear that everyday and it seems like it is taking forever, but it is really gone in a second.  When you travel while your kids are young, you are really spending time with them.  Once they are older, they will be off doing their own thing.  We only have one go at this, so book your ticket and create some great family memories. 


You have probably said your share of “no” before breakfast if you have a toddler (or any age child for that matter..) and you might be wanting to say that dreadful word less, but don’t know how.  You want to set limits, but you also want to parent in a positive way.

Here’s a way that you can do it:

When you want to say “no”, tell the child what they can do, when they can do it or when you can help them.

Here’s a bunch of examples and we’ll start with my favorite one:

When you are at the park and it’s time to leave and your child starts to get fussy, your reaction might be to say, “No more fussing!  Let’s get in the stroller!”

But instead, you can say, “Would you like to come back to this park next week?”

If your child is sitting in their high chair or at the table eating and they start throwing food, your first thought might be to say, “No throwing food, we eat our food.”

But instead, you can say, “Are you finished eating?” and then take the food away.

If you are getting your child ready for bed and they are asking for another book, your instinct will be to say, “No more books for tonight.”

But instead, you can say, “Let’s save this book for tomorrow!”

If your child is saying, “Pick me up, up up up!” you might respond by saying, “No, I can’t right now, I’m making dinner.”

But instead, you can say, (even if the child is fussing), “I can pick you up as soon as my hands are clean!”

If your child hits you or another child or person, you will need to set a limit, but you can do it in a positive way.  You will want to say, “No hitting”

But instead, you can say, “We take good care of each other.  If you need some space, just let me know.”

I find that the majority of the fussing happens when my children are hungry or tired, so many times, instead of saying no, I say, “Do you want a bite to eat?”  or “Would you like to lay down and snuggle for a bit?”  This doesn’t work at first because most children take a while to develop enough self-awareness to know what is bothering them.  But soon, they will be able to answer with a “yes.”

So if you stop saying “no”, you are not allowing the behavior, you are just letting the child know what is allowed.

This is still setting limits, but in a positive way.

The benefits from this type of communication are many:

Increases vocabulary

If you are just saying “no” all the time, chances are, one of the first words your child will say is “no”.  Then the tables will soon turn and they can use that word against you when they get a bit older. But if you are really talking with your child and explaining things, then they pick up on all of those words and will have a bigger vocabulary in the long run.

Helps with problem solving skills

When you tell your child what can happen instead of what can’t happen, you are teaching your child that there are different options.  For example, when you tell your child, “You can throw rocks into the river if there aren’t any people or animals around, but it isn’t safe to throw rocks at people”, you are telling them that there is more than one option or more than one solution to a problem.  What is the problem? Throwing rocks hurts people and animals.  What is one solution?  Not throwing rocks at all.  What is another solution? Throwing rocks only when nothing is around.  What is another solution? Throwing balls or seeds instead of rocks. What is another solution? Going home.

Teaches delayed gratification and waiting skills

It is really hard for young children to wait.  Unfortunately, the best way to teach waiting is to have children wait. Instead of saying “no”, you can tell your children, “Yes, in a couple of minutes.”  Or as they get older and you can start teaching delayed gratification, you can say, “Yes, this weekend we can do that.”

So think about the Conditional Yes when your child’s behavior is unacceptable and instead of saying, “NO!”, say what can happen instead.