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.

Even if you don’t have kids or ever thought of having kids, you have still heard of the “terrible twos” which has now expanded into the “threenager” and the “F- you fours”.    I love all of these descriptions because it really helps parents navigate these ages and it says, “You are not alone.”  “These ages are tough!”

But after spending some time outside of the good ol’ USA, I started to wonder if the “terrible twos” were an American fabrication.

Basically the terrible twos are children exploring independence.  It’s not a bad thing as I explain in this post about independence. But we have interpreted the constant “no’s” as terrible rather than as an opportunity for learning and responsibility.

So what happens in other countries that doesn’t happen in the states? Or vice versa; what doesn’t happen there that does happen here?

Good question.

I think the answer is two-fold:

Parents don’t put up with s#*$t in other countries

In the USA, we want to take such good care of our children, that we let them run the show.  Parents want to support their children, they want to nourish their children and they don’t want to squelch their children.  This desire for their children to bloom can co-exist with setting limits and letting children know what is allowed and what isn’t.

But unfortunately (often due to social media, but also other cultural factors) it manifests itself into never wanting the child to cry or be distressed, so sometimes we as parents backtrack until everyone is happy again.  But this just creates more strife and more terrible behavior.

Parents allow their children independence in other countries

We all grew up with stranger danger and it is so strong that even though it has been proven that most child abductions and child abuse come from people that children already know, we are still scared of the world.  It is OK to give our children some independence.

Even if it takes twice the amount of time, we need to let them put their shoes on.  And they can wear shoes that don’t even match and are on the wrong feet.

We can let them help us cut vegetables without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.  They can climb trees, they can dig holes for our garden, they can choose a cereal box off the grocery shelf.   This is a gift that only you can give them.

They deserve the chance to be more independent and you deserve the respite that it brings when they fuss less.

How can we learn from other countries?

Get your little ones a passport and book a flight to learn all the different ways to raise a child.  Then start setting some limits on what behavior is allowed in your family and what behavior isn’t allowed.  Then open the door to your children.

Let them explore the world.

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 constant, then look at how much sleep kids are getting over all and then get some good sleep routines in place.

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.

I was talking with my husband about kids last night and how difficult it is to raise children with drugs, media, violence, diseases, addiction and all the other bad things out there in the world.  We were starting to feel a bit depressed when I remembered that there is one thing that you can do to guard your children against all that.

The Family Dinner

Here are the top 5 reasons why you need to have a family dinner with your children this week:

1) Connection

When you sit down at a dinner table, all facing each other, there will be conversation, questions, and connection.  You will build memories, vocabularies, world knowledge and just know more about each other.  This connection will be with your family through the thick and thin.

2) Screen-free

An important part of the family dinner is to turn off all screens.  Not only does this set a precedent for how to eat with others, it will carve out an automatic screen-free time where everyone can be in the present and not connected to something else.  

If there is just one change that you make to create a stronger family, more resilient kids and a better world (corny, I know, but it’s true) then have at least one family dinner this week!

3) Nutrition and picky eaters

Do you have picky eaters?  Family dinner is one of the many ways that you can help them, but the most important thing to remember, is no pressure.  When food is presented in an attractive way, everyone is eating it and everyone is happy and comfortable, children are more likely to try it.  That doesn’t mean that they will eat it, or like it, but if a child just tries a bite of food, science shows that after 20 tries, they will like the food.  So don’t pressure them, just enjoy the food yourself and over the years, your children will be less picky.

4) Family stories

One of my favorite New York Times article talks about how children who have more of a foundation can weather trauma better.  So if they have heard more stories about their family and know more details about their parents and their lives, then they have more tools in their toolbox when things get rough.

5) Routine

With routine, you build trust and create rituals that will ultimately build a foundation on which your child can grow.  One of my favorite routines is to have everyone take a deep breath before everyone starts eating (or once everyone is sitting at the table).  “In through your nose” *breathe* “Out through your mouth” *breathe* “Smell the flowers” *breathe* “blow out the candle”.  This daily exercise will not only help you as a parent to relax and ground yourself, but it also teaches your child essential calming skills.

Right now, I’m reading No Drama Discipline by Daniel J Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson and I can recommend it for all the parents who have a little bit of free time.  For all the parents who don’t have a ton of free time, I will write about some of the most important concepts that I got from the book.

First of all, the authors don’t actually recommend using consequences because positive parenting and attachment parenting have been moving rapidly away from that word. However, they explicitly state that limits need to be set and boundaries need to be made.  So instead of using the word consequence, they talk about problem solving, and natural consequences (which don’t include the parent having power over the child).

Both problem solving and natural consequences are great ways to set limits, but as I talk with many parents, the reality is that they use those when they can and when they can’t, they need another tool that is quick and already at their fingertips.  

This tool would be first connect, then consequence.

This technique allows you to parent in a positive way because you are connecting with your child when they need you.  But you are also setting limits and letting them know that their behavior isn’t OK.  And that is where the balance is.

First connect, then consequence:

There are three main ways to connect:

1. Give an explanation

This is more for younger children who don’t have as much language, but can be for older children as well.  An explanation is more respectful than “Because I said so.”  The explanation shouldn’t be long and drawn out.  You set the limit and then add just a couple words to explain why we are setting the limit.  

2. Ask for input

This is the best technique for keeping a balance of control.  You set the limit and then ask them for a little input.  Would they like to do something instead or would they like to do what they are doing in a place or way that would be appropriate.

3. Check emotions

This is a great technique to teach empathy.  After setting the limit, you can suggest a possible emotion if the child is younger, or you can ask about their state of being if they are older.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

You are making breakfast and your husband is rushing out the door asking for you to help him with something and your child throws something or hits something and starts screaming.

You need to set a limit and let your child know that hitting, throwing and screaming aren’t OK.  You don’t have time to problem solve so to set the limit, you first connect and then consequence.  

  1. Give an explanation

“No hitting or throwing, that isn’t safe.  I need to help your papa and make breakfast now.  If you do that again, I’m going to have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

2. Ask for input

“We don’t hit or throw things. Would you like a soft ball to throw instead? (for younger children)   Do you want to help me make breakfast or what would you like to do instead? (for older children).  If you do that again, I’m going to have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

3. Check emotions

“You may not hit or throw things.  You may be upset that I can’t help you right now. (for younger children)   Are you hungry?  What’s bothering you? (for older children).  If you do that again, however, I will have to find a place for you where everyone will be safe.”

As families move more towards using positive parenting and attachment parenting, setting limits and boundaries becomes increasingly more confusing if you aren’t allowed to use consequences.  So in order to remain positive and build your relationship with your child rather than tear it down, while still setting limits you:

First connect, then consequence.

I love this book, because it is very clear about setting limits and I really feel like that is the part that parents struggle with the most.  But it is also very clear that if you go right into setting the limit and giving a consequence then you are losing out on building your relationship with your child and helping them learn.


Perhaps some people will disagree with me since learning to live a more mindful life is to not lose your stuff all the time (which is partially true), but if you have young children, I don’t know how you can get through a day without either you or them losing their s*$t.

So in my life, it isn’t about whether you lose you s#%t, it is about how you can calm down afterwards.

Part of our job as parents is to teach children how to control their emotions.  Toddlers can lose their stuff over just about anything.  We often think that we have failed when our children lose their s#*$&, but we haven’t; it is totally normal.  Our job isn’t to keep them from going off the deep end, it is teaching them how to come back.

As parents. we too, are often pushed to the emotional edge with our toddlers and we need to practice working on our own emotions.   Lots of parents practice “not-yelling” at their children and although I succeed at not-yelling the majority of the time, there are times when I lose it and I yell.  Loud.

That’s OK.  Just like it is OK for your little one to go off.

This is a great teaching moment for everyone.  Once you lose it, how do you calm down?

Do you:

  • Leave the room?
  • Take some deep breaths?
  • Ask for a hug?
  • Go outside for a minute?
  • Go for a walk?

These are all acceptable ways to deal with losing your s#$t and it is perfectly acceptable to talk about it with your children.  In fact, it is encouraged that you process what happened to you with your children so that they can learn how to deal with their s%$t.

This is how children learn to calm down, by watching their parents lose their s#$t and then calming down themselves and talking about it afterwards.

“I was pretty upset this morning wasn’t I?” (This is you talking to your toddler not the other way around, although wouldn’t that be pretty awesome?!?)

“I felt overwhelmed by all the things that needed to happen in a pretty short amount of time and I got upset and I yelled.”

“But then, once we were all in the car, I took some deep breaths and I was able to calm down.”

This is part of the problem solving process, identifying the problem (I lost it) and then finding solutions (taking some time, breathing deeply, getting a hug).  This is also part of the process of self-care.  Acknowledging that it is OK to lose it and then taking steps to bring your emotions back into balance.

We can’t expect our children to not get upset and we can’t expect ourselves to never get upset.  So when it does happen, it is really important that we have the tools to be able to calm down and that we can pass those tools on to our children.

mindful 1

If you are like me and have visited Pinterest for great parenting ideas, you have probably had the same impression I did, that children should be busy or entertained with activities pretty much all the time.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love to have fun activities with my kids but I also think it is super important for children to have absolutely nothing.

In other countries around the world, children don’t have many toys, they don’t have scheduled sports or art workshops, they don’t even have activities planned by their parents.  And when I watch little kids sitting on a bus, or waiting somewhere, they don’t need to be entertained, they just sit.

We spend a huge amount of our adult lives trying to slow down our minds.  We do yoga, we meditate, we go on vacation and amazingly, children already have that ability to do nothing and often well-meaning parents erase that important skill.

And yet, every time I go onto Pinterest, I see at least 10 pins for “How to keep your toddler busy during road trips” (or  waiting in line, or on an airplane, during quiet time, or sitting at a restaurant, etc).

Here’s the thing, I understand.

I have twin toddlers and it’s not like they want to sit still for all of these activities.  But if you don’t offer any kind of toy or screen or distraction, you eventually teach them how to “be” in a world without distractions.  They can already calm their minds.  They can already be aware of their surroundings and soon (SOON!) they will just be able to sit and watch the world around them or entertain themselves.

Just like what we are striving for as adults.  The ability to just sit and quiet our mind.  We have so many opportunities for that all day long.  Waiting at a red light.  Standing in line at the bank.   Sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive.  These are times when we can just sit and quiet our minds and yet these are the times that we feel we need to “entertain” ourselves and pull out our phones.

So if one of your goals is to quiet your own mind and find awareness in the daily moment, then allow your child to do that as well.  Let them sit in the car on the way up to the mountains with nothing but conversation.  Allow them to watch the people in the restaurant without a distraction.  Bring an emergency toy on the airplane but have it be a goal to use only the environment and surroundings as your toys and see if you don’t even need it.  Let them play for an entire snow day without one planned activity.

In my head, I am thinking:

All of this sounds good and all, but the reason that we distract children is to keep them from fussing and tantruming.  If I don’t distract them when they are losing it, then I will lose it too.

Yep, so the shift here isn’t to not distract them, it is to distract them with their surroundings, rather than with objects.  This is how to build a mindful childhood.

So what does that look like?

When you are at the doctor’s office, walk around and look at the art that they have on the wall.

When you are on the airplane, play with the buttons on the seat, walk up and down the aisle if they let you, look out the window if you have a window seat and talk about the clouds.

When you are in the car, look for different things out the window.

All of this can be exhausting, super exhausting if you are doing it for hours.  But here’s the thing (and every teacher knows this) if you put in more work now (exhausting work when you are already exhausted) then you (and especially your children) will reap the benefits later.

Your child already has the skills to be aware of their surrounding, and we as adults are constantly working towards that type of mindfulness and being in the moment, so resist the urge to distract your child with a thing and give them the gift of a lifetime!

Brotherly love 1

Sometimes in life, we are just feeling a bit off.  Often we know why- a bad day at work, car broke down, didn’t sleep well the night before; and sometimes we have no idea why we aren’t feeling that great.  Sometimes it is just a “wrong-side-of-the-bed type of day.”

This happens for kids and for adults and it is important to remember that sometimes we just need a hug.

This past week I was feeling sick and I was very grumpy.  It meant a lot of fussiness in the house from me and by example from my kids.  So I was reminding myself daily to sometimes stop the grumpiness by hugging.  No one was doing anything they shouldn’t, it was just a whiny week.

My husband was also there to just give me a hug.  He made me tea at night and we got through the grumpy week all in one piece.  Then he got sick this week and I forgot where I put my patience.

I realized this morning when everyone in the house was grumpy again that sometimes we just need a hug.  There wasn’t anything specific causing the gripes (other than maybe the full moon) and so it felt like the grumpiness was unfounded and shouldn’t be there.  But it was. And all we needed was a hug.

Patience and love for our kids and patience and love for the adults in our lives.  Sometimes we just need a hug.



It’s not really.  Taking turns and sharing are two different things but in the world of toddlers and parenthood, we need to put the focus on taking turns and take the pressure off of sharing.

Let’s look at this from an adult point of view:

Taking turns is: I’m using the computer right now and when I’m done writing emails, you can use it to watch youtube videos.

Sharing is: Let’s split this chocolate brownie in half so we can each have some.

In both of these cases, both adults are satisfied with the results and everyone is happy!

Now let’s look at this from a toddler point of view:

Taking turns is:  There is one toy that both children want.  One child gets a turn and when that child is finished, the other child gets a turn.

Sharing is: play-dough that both children can use at the same time so one child gives a piece to the other child so that they can each have some.

In both of these cases, both children are satisfied and their needs are being met and everyone is happy!

Now let’s take a look at what sharing isn’t: Telling a child that they must give something up in the name of “sharing”.  This only creates frustration.  If your husband or wife came up to you while you were writing emails and said, “You need to share the computer” and then took if from you, you would be frustrated.  Children feel the same way.  

Don’t make them give up their toy in the name of sharing!

Children have difficulty waiting their turn for the toy but they can do it!  This is a great time to introduce the sign for waiting which is wiggling your fingers.  

So the interaction might look like this:

Two young children:  (screaming and grabbing toys!)

Adult: It looks like it is Maria’s turn.  Max, would you like a turn after Maria?

Max: No! It’s my turn!

Adult: So you don’t want a turn after Maria?

Max: Wait, yes!  I do want a turn.

Adult: Maria, can you give Max a turn when you are finished?

Maria: No, It’s my turn!

Adult: Yes, you are using it now; can Max use it when you are done?

Maria: Um, ok.

Adult: Max what would you like to do while you are waiting? Do you want to read a book with me?

This is written for two toddlers who have vocabulary, but works just as well for children who are non-verbal as children can understand this at much younger ages.  

The idea is to teach them the language so that eventually they can manage themselves.  This is particularly important for siblings.   This takes a lot of work in the beginning but eventually your children will be able to play together because they will be respectful to each other and not take each others toys in the name of “sharing.”

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