Movies, Violence And A Parent’s Responsibility

Last week, just before I found out about the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colorado, a friend shared an article with me about the increase in violence in today’s movies and the fact that people tend to protest vehemently (and violently) when ratings boards give a movie a rating intended to keep children away. This article came out four years ago. Has anything gotten better? No.

media violence

In fact, I would hazard a guess that it’s actually gotten worse. But Hollywood isn’t completely to blame. Yes, of course they keep churning out these action films that seem to need to top the last one in terms of its action scenes, and degree of nauseating violence. But they obviously wouldn’t make them if people didn’t spend millions and millions of dollars seeing them.

As I have written before, the ratings system here is a joke. According to Jenny McCartney’s 2008 article in The Telegraph, the British system is equally as bad:

“In 2002, the BBFC took a stand on Spider-Man, a hugely hyped Hollywood release: it decided that it contained unsuitable levels of violence for under-12s, and therefore awarded it a “12” certificate, meaning that under-12s should not be allowed into cinemas to see it.

A public storm erupted; children and many parents were furious; and a number of councils announced their intention to defy the ban. At first the BBFC stoutly defended itself, saying that “Hollywood has carried out an aggressive worldwide marketing campaign aimed at young children when the film is not suitable for them.” And then, fed up with being everyone’s most hated Aunt Sally, it invented the 12A certificate, which translates as a fed-up, institutional shrug of the shoulders.”

A shrug of the shoulders. That’s what these parents and the ratings board and the makers of these films are doing. Each one puts the blame on the other, each one shrugs off the responsibilities we all have to create the kind of world we want our children to have.

shrug shouldersSince the attack on theater goers in Colorado, authorities are just beginning to piece together connections between that horrendous event and the specific movie the victims were seeing (“Batman: The Dark Knight Rises“).

I don’t have any idea why this man did what he did, other than that he is obviously mentally ill. But what always comes to my mind when horrible things like this happen, is where on earth someone would get an idea like booby trapping their apartment, heading out dressed in full body armor, throwing tear gas into a crowded theater and opening fire with multiple weapons killing 12 and injuring 58 others?

“Little boys have always played with swords and guns. But they did not always play at beating a prisoner’s genitals with a rope, or stitching a live bomb inside a man’s stomach. For that innovation we must thank Hollywood, the industrious factory of dreams, now frequently devoted to churning out nightmares.” ~ Jenny McCartney

Two years ago I wrote in a post called The Superhero and Princess Epidemic, about how our children’s preschool had told parents that characters were no longer allowed at school. No Spiderman T-shirts, no Cinderella lunch boxes, no Incredible Hulk toys. The level of violence and agression among the boys dropped almost instantly. The clique-ish behavior and obsession with physical appearance amongst the girls dissipated as well.

Our family might be exceptionally cautious about what our children are allowed to see, and I’m fine with that. My children would never, in a million years, be allowed to see Batman no matter how many times they see the movie poster and ask about it. I know my children can’t handle seeing something so frightening, gory and beyond their developmental ability to comprehend.

And yet…there are parents who think it’s fine that their young children see this and many other films I would never consider. I generally am of the mind that you each know your children better than any “expert”. But I think I might have to draw the line here. Yes, different children can handle different things. But really, what is the harm in waiting to show your children movies that might have elements they won’t be able to understand? Is it so hard to sit with your children when showing them a film so you’re there to discuss things that might confuse or scare them?

scared childNo, my idea of fun is NOT watching “Toy Story 3” ten times in a row. But we have to remember that things that seem lighthearted and funny to us, can be absolutely terrifying for children. Do you have any idea how many times my son asked me why Lotso only pretended to be friends with Woody and Buzz? That’s not a concept a 5 year old should be aware of yet, but I certainly want to be there to explain it to him if he is going to be made aware of it!

Yes, movies about superheroes blur the boundaries between “adult” and “child” entertainment, and movie makers do it often on purpose to draw in bigger crowds. But, it’s not just that type of movie I’m talking about. If you think about it, how many of you have been in a movie obviously intended for adults and seen small children sitting nearby?

I remember going to see the Mel Gibson movie, “Ransom“, years ago. It’s a highly suspenseful movie about a man whose son is kidnapped and held hostage for ransom. I very clearly remember a couple who brought their young son to this movie and he (shockingly) cried through most of it. Seriously? Are you trying to give him nightmares?

That movie came out in 1996 with an R rating. Again, Jenny McCartney’s article points out that the last “Batman” movie which came out in 2008 was rated 12A in Britain (basically the equivalent of the United States’ PG-13 rating):

“But the greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.

I will attempt to confine my plot spoilers to the opening: the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown – The Joker – stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth.

After the murderous clown heist, things slip downhill. A man’s face is filleted by a knife, and another’s is burned half off. A man’s eye is slammed into a pencil. A bomb can be seen crudely stitched inside another man’s stomach, which subsequently explodes. A trussed-up man is bound to a chair and set alight atop a pile of banknotes.

A plainly terrorised child is threatened at gunpoint by a man with a melted face. It is all intensely realistic. Oh but don’t worry, folks: there isn’t any nudity.”

Uh…PG-13? Really? Would you want your under 13 child to see that, even with you beside him? I am all but certain a lot of children saw that film.

Yes, Hollywood needs to take more responsibility for the images they put out into the world. These images affect adult behaviors (particularly the behaviors of mentally unstable people). The way adults behave affects their children. And all these behaviors affect our world as a whole. But we parents have to do more as well. We have to consider how our parenting decisions will affect not only our own children, but also the other children they come into contact with.

I can keep my children from seeing movies I feel they are not ready for, but I can’t stop their 5-year old friend from seeing “The Avengers” and wanting to re-enact battle scenes until my son cries. I can’t stop another friend of theirs from seeing “Star Wars” at age 4 and becoming, as a result, so freaked out by it that he expressed it by becoming overly aggressive at school.

Children’s brains aren’t equipped with the ability to process these images and separate fact from fiction. They don’t understand the subtleties. In order for them to process the images they take in, they often need to act them out…over and over.

As a way to process something like seeing a villan get pummeled by a superhero, children (most of them boys) may play bad guys, be rough with each other or renact scenes many times with other children who may not fully understand what they are doing. And while our society frowns upon boys behaving in this aggressive manner, many parents do not seem to see the correlation of this “acting out” with exposing their children to movies that have themes and scenes that are beyond a young child’s ability to comprehend.

As Dr. Jenn Berman writes in her book, SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years:

“Dr. Joanne Cantor, an internationally recognized expert on children and television and author of Mommy, I’m Scared!, refers to movies and television as ‘the number one preventable cause of nightmares and anxieties in children.’ In fact, most children have been frightened, sometimes very seriously, by something they have seen on TV. A random sampling of parents in Madison, Wisconsin, whose children were in kindergarten through the sixth grade, found that 43 percent of those parents reported that their children had been frightened by something on television and that the fear had outlasted the program.

These fears can raise a child’s level of anxiety and increase nightmares. In a survey of 150 college students, 90 percent reported experiencing a fear reaction from media during childhood. These students reported trouble sleeping and eating after watching shows, and over a quarter of the respondents said the effects lasted for more than a year. The younger the respondents were when they viewed a scary movie and TV program, the longer-lasting the effects.”

jasonI was 13 the year “American Gigolo” came out. I remember my parents writing me a note so I could go see it with my best friend. Yes, in those days a note was all you needed. That same year I saw the original “Friday The 13th” at another friend’s birthday party (of all things). Guess which one gave me such bad nightmares that I had to have my dad in the room before I could fall asleep? Guess which one has disturbing images that I can still vividly recall?

I’ll give you a hint…it wasn’t the one with Richard Gere.

So where does blame lie? Is it in the ratings system that seems to believe that more trauma is caused by seeing a flash of a bare breast than a decapitated head? Is it in the Hollywood machine that seems to have no moral concerns about what it greenlights just as long as it’s a money maker? Is it parents who let children see movies they’re not ready for? Is it a little of everything?

As with anything else, we can only control ourselves and hope that our actions will affect those around us. I know I feel physically ill and depressed if I watch even a few minutes of violence, brutality and gore. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I don’t think I need to see more darkness. I want to experience things that inspire me, lift me up, enlighten me and enhance my life. And I want the same for my children.

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons

This summer I’ve asked a few of my fellow bloggers and parenting experts to chime in on some reader questions that I felt were pretty universal in their subject matter. I thought this would not only allow you, my dear readers, to see that we all struggle with similar issues, but it would also introduce you to some really amazing people who in my online circle of friends.

Today’s guest blogger is Katie Hurley. Katie is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist, Parenting Expert and the author of not one, but two blogs. In her first blog, Practical Parenting, Katie shares her beautifully written stories and straightforward advice for being the best parent you can be. She recently launched Clomid and Cabernet which is an advice and support blog for anyone dealing with the struggle of infertility. In addition to all of this, Katie is a married mom of two and writes weekly parenting columns for and Mommy Moment.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Katie in person and she’s as lovely and real as she comes across in her blogs. She pours all of herself into helping families so they can raise happy, joyous children and I am truly honored to have her guest posting here today.

“I’m at my wit’s end and need some advice. My twins are almost 2.9 and we’ve had our ups and downs. I really want to parent positively but sometimes feel like I just hit a brick wall. Today as we were driving home from daycare the kids started yelling. They were having fun and singing, but not using their “quiet voices” (loud voices are for outdoors only). So I asked them/told them in a “quiet voice” to use theirs. And I asked them again. They continued, so I told them I needed to take away their loveys, which usually works, but this time they just handed over and laughed. I was still keeping calm but racking my brain for what to do. Then they started taking shoes off and just doing everything that was “against” what we normally do. This is where I failed and what I am completely embarrassed to admit; I was so angry, so I just pulled the car over, yelled at them and popped their legs. Not hard, but enough to get their attention. It doesn’t even matter, I did it and I am beyond mad at myself.

Basically, I don’t know what to do. Maybe taking things they love away was never the right thing to do but it used to work. What do I do now? I try to talk to them and redirect, but it seems as though nothing I do works. Losing my temper, yelling and hitting are far from me being the best mom I can be to them and it breaks my heart when I do that.”
~ Tired Mommy

Dear Tired Mommy,

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Few things are more difficult than trying to drive a car with screaming toddlers in the back, happy or sad. At least that’s true when it comes to parenting, anyway. Truly, it is nearly impossible to drive when you can’t catch your breath from all of the screaming behind you. Believe me, we’ve all been there.

Did you know that studies show that the sleep deprivation that moms of young children experience can put them at risk of car accidents? It’s true. Research shows that exhausted moms are not much better on the road than adults driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Add screaming children to mom exhaustion and it’s only natural that you hit your limit.

kids fighting in carI also want to point out a positive: modeling a quiet voice for your children shows them exactly what you expect of them. Children learn by watching those around them, and you started by modeling what you needed from them. I would suggest doing some role plays at home (which kids just call pretend) in a calm moment to really get the point across. Pack for a pretend road trip and line up your kitchen table chairs to create a car. Use quiet voices while “traveling”, and maybe even throw in some car friendly games (looking for letters, colors, etc), and stop at “rest stops” to let the energy out. Sounds silly, I know, but never underestimate the power of play when it comes to learning appropriate behavior.

It seems as if you already know that yelling and physical punishment are not healthy. But please, don’t let this incident eat you up. The fact is that we all have our breaking points, and yelling happens when we feel a complete loss of control. And it seems clear that you are aware of the ramifications of hitting or “popping” them in some way. You don’t want to model behaviors that you don’t want them to repeat, and studies show that children who are spanked tend to end up with anxiety, depression, and/or problems with drugs and alcohol.

Above all, forgive yourself for one small moment of frustration and commend yourself for reaching out for help.

What to do:


A lovey is meant to be a special blanket/animal/object that helps children feel safe during times of stress, when they feel sad or lonely, and when they sleep. I do not recommend using a lovey as a punishment. While I understand that it worked in the past, it can be very upsetting to have your safety mechanism taken because you made a bad choice (imagine if someone took something very important to you every time you said a bad word or drove too fast?).

If you want to use removal as a strategy, I would caution you to choose something that fits the incident (although I know this is difficult in a car). If my three-year old throws a car, he loses that car for three minutes. The removal should make sense to the situation, otherwise they will become immune to it and fail to understand the meaning of the consequence.

Pull over the car immediately.

In a very calm and boring voice repeat the following, “I can’t drive the car until we all use our quiet voices. It’s too loud in the car for mommy to drive.” They will probably call your bluff for a little while, but they will want to get home (or wherever you’re going), and eventually they will get it.

Pick your battles.

The screaming is stressful and makes for dangerous driving…but the shoe removal? As long as they’re not throwing them at you or each other…maybe that’s not worth fighting in the moment.


Create a list of car rules and tape it to the seat in front of them. Use visual cues and go over the rules each time they get in, until the behavior is extinguished.


I don’t often recommend specific parenting books, with one exception. Particularly with toddler twins, you need an easy system that doesn’t require endless stickers, checks, and rewards. Pick up 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan, read it, and use as directed. When you use a counting system for toddlers and you use a very boring voice…it works. They like to get reactions, good or bad. They will repeat behaviors for the sake of the reaction…even if they do lose a lovey for a moment.

Remember developmental considerations.

Sometimes we expect kids to remember and abide by rules the minute they hit 2-3, but they are still very young. Added to that, they probably hold it together fairly well in daycare for an extended period of time each day. So you have toddlers with pent up energy who are excited to see mom and a tired mom who really just needs to get home. Consider a quick walk around the daycare neighborhood before the ride to get some energy out or a few minutes of check-in time before you start driving. Keep it simple when it comes to rules. Create a list of house rules and keep it in the kitchen. Review it daily. But no more than 4-5 rules…they can only remember so much at this stage.

Use stickers.

Sticker charts are great, when used correctly. For a 2-3 year old child, you want to work on one behavior at a time and reward intermittently so that you don’t end up with performances for rewards. I repeat, one behavior. If car behavior is the most difficult right now, then stickers are earned for using quiet voices in the car. After every 3-4 stickers, award a small prize. Keep a prize box in the house with very inexpensive prizes in it (super ball, squishy frogs, etc). Try to avoid food as prizes. The party aisle at Target is great for stocking a prize box…also I recycle the prizes at times (shhhhh….how many bouncy balls does one kid need??).

Take care of you.

Sleep, hydration, and exercise will help fight off the frustration that you’re experiencing in response to these triggers. And me time: a book, a bath, a cup of tea….make time for you so that you can remain present for them.

Hope this helps. And again, remember to pat yourself on the back for reaching out to Gina for help. It only gets better when we seek the help that we need…

Motherhood And Parenting Are Shame Minefields

Have you ever had the experience where a stranger shares something and it sparks a change in you? They probably have no awareness of their impact, but they have created a ripple effect in that act of opening up and sharing their own pain or questioning.

I’ve noticed this happen when I share my own struggles; somehow it gives others a sense of relief to know that there are others who have the same troubles. But it’s hard. It’s hard to open up, it’s hard to let others know your weaknesses, it’s hard to confess to not doing things as well as you wish you could.




Those are really difficult emotions to overcome, and they can keep you locked in a box of loneliness and isolation. But every time you share what you see as your weakness, you find that there are so many others who reach out in relief to say that they so needed to know that they weren’t alone in their struggle. And in their reaching out, you find yourself both relived of this burden of shame and uplifted in knowing you have helped someone else.

new mom shameAnd yet, being the one to share first can be so incredibly hard. As Brené Brown writes:

“Research shows that we judge in areas where we feel vulnerable to criticism and shame, and we pick someone who is doing “worse than we are.” This is why motherhood and parenting are shame minefields.

The biggest lesson for me? Stop comparing and don’t take someone’s decision to do it different than me as a criticism of my choices.

I hate that parenting has become a competitive sport. It’s tough enough without the eye-rolling, whispers and self-doubt.”

I feel at ease with my parenting choices. I know not everyone would agree with all of them, and there are things I wish I had known more about when my kids were younger, but I am confident that I am doing the best I can by my family.

I am also aware that I put a lot of value in that sense of knowing I am doing things well and that I am able to manage even the most difficult of situations. This pride in my capabilities can be a double edged sword, however. What it does is allow a little voice to creep in when things are tough which says, “You’re just a fake. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re failing at this.”

Asking for help has never been a strong suit of mine. I never judge others who need help. I love giving helpful advice and making life easier for other people. That’s one of the main reasons I do what I do. But when I am the one that needs help, I make that need mean all sorts of things. I worry about what people will think. I feel like I have given up.

courageous motherBrené Brown again:

“The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic.

We certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.”

I have never been comfortable being “seen”, yet I (like everyone else), long to be truly understood and accepted for who I am. Despite the discomfort, something compels me to keep sharing, to keep peeling back layer after layer to expose myself. Perhaps I do it because it helps you, but I know it also helps me. And yet, with each decision to share more, I do it with trepidation.

In the last year and a half, I have moved from being a mom who tended to be a bit neurotic and anxious, to being off the charts frustrated, can’t get out of bed depressed, angry at everyone and everything so much so that in my rages I would scream, slam doors and fantasize about escaping from my family.

How’s all of that for a shameful confession?

I plodded along, thinking that more therapy, more time with the kids, more time without the kids, more help from a nanny, more exercise, more classes, more information, more, more, more would make things better.

depressed_womanBut it didn’t get better. It just got worse. I cried constantly. I wasn’t functioning at all, let alone functioning like the mother I knew I could be. But I was afraid of my husband’s suggestion to take some kind of medication. I was afraid it would make me into a zombie. I was afraid it would take away my ability to connect and read my kids. I was afraid of what it would mean about me. In my heart of hearts, it felt like a defeat.

In the end, I went to see Dr. M. She talked to me for a while about things like how mothers of multiples are actually more prone to postpartum depression, how my husband’s heart attack a year and a half ago must have been very stressful, about my difficulties with my daughter’s behavior, about family history, about changes in the body’s chemistry as one gets older, about how the fact that I don’t even take aspirin makes my accepting the need for pharmaceuticals a really big deal.

But you know what? That tiny white pill I started taking has changed my life. I don’t say that to recommend taking a medication as a way to fix your problems, but it really has given me my life back. I am not screaming any more. I am able to pause when something happens with the kids and consider my response. I no longer cry inconsolably in my car for no reason. I am once again the connected, empathetic, mindful mama that I once was.

Of course I am not perfect. I still have moments of irritation and losing my temper. But it is a world of difference from the way I was a few months ago.

I wasn’t planning on sharing this because it felt so incredibly shameful that I would need a pill to help me be a better mom. But I got an email the other day from a reader who was asking for help in a way I related to so deeply. I realized that it was possible that there were parents out there who, like me, had read everything and knew everything they were supposed to be doing, but somehow just couldn’t be the parents they wanted to be!

And maybe, like me, those parents were beating themselves up and calling themselves failures when really, it could be that on some level, it was something impossible to control.

Brené Brown is right, motherhood and parenting are shame minefields. Everyone feels that they are an expert and won’t hesitate to make you feel bad for your choices. Especially if they are insecure about their own.

Our children deserve parents who know that there is no shame in admitting they need help. And there is no shame in sharing that the help has made life so much better for everyone involved.

Seven Steps to Help Children Cooperate Joyfully

Over the last few weeks I have been sharing some guest posts from a few writers whose work I admire. Shelly Phillips of is among those people. I “met” Shelly originally through Twitter and I love the passion with which she writes about parenting. Every time I read one of Shelly’s posts I feel her happiness radiating through. When she offered to write a guest post about joyful cooperation, I was honored to be able to share her work with my readers. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

I’ve worked with children and parents for the past thirteen years and one of the biggest challenges I hear from most parents is that they’re not sure how to encourage internally driven and consistent cooperation from their young children.

About two years ago my daughter was born and I got an opportunity to put my education and experience with child development and parenting strategies to the test with my own daughter. I’m not afraid to tell you, some of the strategies I used in my preschool classes or as a nanny just don’t work with my own child. Luckily, it wasn’t all for naught. I do still have some tricks up my sleeve and they’re working wonderfully with my little one. I hope they help you to experience more joy, cooperation, and ease with your young children.

So, here are my seven steps to help children cooperate joyfully:

1. Observe and narrate.

Before you jump in, interrupt his play, and ask your child for his attention, take a moment to observe the situation and narrate what you see or hear. “I see that you’re playing with your animals right now and the clock says it’s 8:30am. That means we need to leave in ten minutes.” Or “I can hear your voices from all the way in the garage!”

But be aware, sharing observations is easier said than done. We often put our evaluations and judgments into our observations without even noticing it. One good rule of thumb is that if it can be argued, it’s not a pure observation. I like to imagine I’m a video camera and I can only reflect back the sights and sounds I’m noticing. For instance, in the above example, you’ll see that I didn’t say, “You are yelling so loudly!” because a child could simply retort, “No we weren’t! We were just talking.”

2. Get Curious.

By asking a child what’s happening inside her or what her preferences are, you can gather more information about how receptive to cooperation she might be. “Are you guys having SO much fun playing in the water?!” or “What would you like to do after we’ve cleaned up the puzzle?”

Children are very sensitive to our energy and if we’re trying to force them to see things our way, they will resist. However, if we can take the time to see things from their perspective, they really appreciate it and are often much more willing to do as we ask.

3. Direct, invite, and request.

Stop forcing, coercing, and bribing & direct, Invite, and request instead. If you’re in the habit of forcing your child to do things against his will you might have some work to do to repair your connection before cooperation will really be voluntary.

Children, like the rest of us, are wary of a big change in the status quo, so if you’re ready to encourage an internally driven desire to help out, you first have to acknowledge and repair any damage from your former tactics.

You could say something like, “I know that in the past I’ve forced you to get into your car seat, but I don’t want to do that any more, so I’ll need your help to get places on time. But if you decide you’re not ready to go, I won’t make you do it, instead I’ll ask nicely and hope you’re willing to climb in all by yourself.”

Eliminating bribes is one of the biggest challenges to encouraging true cooperation. When children learn that they can get something they want by putting up a fuss, they’ll choose resistance every time. On the other hand, if you have never used bribes, often your joy and gratitude are incentive enough for a child to choose to cooperate. If you occasionally resort to bribery, cut it out quickly! You’re undermining your own efforts to encourage teamwork.

This doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your child to jump into her car seat by reminding her of the fun books and toys you keep in the car for her. Just don’t use it as a, “If you get in your car seat, then I’ll give you a toy.”

Directing, inviting, and requesting are far different from bribing, coercing, and forcing a child. When we direct a child to do something, we’re clear and concise and yes, we are telling them what to do, but we’re the parent and ultimately, young children sometimes do need help deciding what to do next. When I direct my daughter I usually say something like, “It’s time to clean up now.” Using the phrase, “It’s time” is really useful because it’s completely clear to a child that you mean right now. On the other hand, if you were to say, “I think it might be time to clean up soon, OK?” A child has no sense of when to act, and it seems like you’re asking for their permission.

I usually direct and then follow up with an invitation and request, “Would you like to clean up this book or that animal first?” And, “Will you please put this book back now?” If the answer is “No.” I completely respect that. I don’t want my child to do something she doesn’t want to do. I want her to clean up because she wants to! But that doesn’t mean I stop directing, inviting, and requesting what I want. I might come right back with, “OK, well would you be willing to put the giraffe away instead?”

4. Give a warning, wait patiently and then play a game.

Giving children a head’s up about what’s about to happen can reduce melt downs to a minimum. Much of the time tantrums ensue when children are caught off guard by a transition they’re unprepared for. So, get into the habit of giving your child a ten, five, two and one minute warning before a major transition, like leaving the park or museum. I will often extend the time in one-minute increments until my daughter is ready or until we really do need to leave. “Are you ready to go or do you need one more minute?” She will often ask for one more minute, but amazingly, most of the children I’ve worked with will be willing to go after a couple of “one more minutes.”

There have been times when I was sure a tantrum was inevitable as we left the park, but when young people decide they are ready, they can transition really quickly. “One minute is up, are you ready now?” You’ll be shocked how often the answer is yes.

Waiting patiently for a child to do something is an under used skill that can produce amazing results if you’re willing to try it out. Sometimes when Julia refuses to clean up her “work” (toys or activities if you prefer), I’ll say something like, “OK, well it’s time to clean this up, so I’ll just wait right here until you’re ready to put this back on the shelf.” And then I’ll put my attention on a book or look out the window.

Children don’t like to be scrutinized any more than we adults do, so hovering over your child as you pester them to do something usually doesn’t produce cooperation. But if instead, you stay nearby and let them know that you expect cooperation, but won’t force them to do anything, you’re giving them the space they need to be able to choose to cooperate and retain their sense of autonomy and dignity.

If giving warnings and waiting patiently aren’t working, I usually kick things up a notch and turn it into a game. I might pretend to be the giraffe and talk to my daughter in a silly voice saying “Oh, Julia, I sure do hope you’ll put me back into the basket with my friends. I’m so lonely here on the carpet and my buddies are all snuggled up in the basket. Please won’t you put me in the basket with my friends?” Or with the car-seat example I might invite a child to race to the car, or I could talk in a southern accent and we could pretend we’re cowboys and cowgirls out on the range and we need to saddle up the horses and go for a ride. Using imaginative play is a great way to encourage cooperation!

brushing teeth5. Anticipate and appreciate cooperation.

When children know what’s expected of them, it becomes much easier for them to fall into line willingly. And when they receive your gratitude for their team spirit, they’re encouraged to continue to work together with family members. Now I’m not suggesting excessive, over the top praise for every tiny little hint of cooperation. Instead try sharing your heartfelt gratitude at the end of a great day together. “I felt so happy when you jumped into your car-seat and buckled yourself in today. And I loved your idea about pretending to be firefighters rushing to a fire, that was really fun!”

6. Get excited about what’s next.

“Come on, let’s ___ so we can ___” Kids are so funny, they don’t always seem to understand that step A comes before step B. My daughter loves her bath but she gets really frustrated with trying to undress. So if I just ask her to take her clothes off, she’ll refuse. But if I include the reason I want her to take her clothes off, she’s happy to cooperate! “Come on! Let’s take off clothes so that we can get into the bath!”

This phrasing is very specific and useful. Beginning with “Come on!” lets a child know that you’re in this together and that it will be fun. You can’t fake this one though, you really have to be able to enjoy the bath or else your invitation comes across as insincere. Adding the word “let’s” reinforces the fact that you’ll be doing it together as opposed to “You need to take your clothes off” which can leave children feeling overwhelmed and alone.

7. Help them out.

Modeling cooperative living is a huge key to encouraging an internally motivated desire to cooperate. When the culture of your home is one in which everyone helps everyone else out, a child can easily get on board and join in. Children like to do things by themselves, but sometimes they do need our help. Rather than pointing out the fact that they were able to tie their shoes yesterday, just lean down and give them a hand.

This doesn’t mean you’re doing everything for your child. It just means that if they are frustrated with a task or asking for help, you’ll make yourself available. And hopefully they’ll be willing to help you straighten up, put away the groceries, or whatever else you want help with. “In our house, we help each other,” can be a great mantra for the whole family!

Wow, this turned into a LONG article! I hope you’ve found it useful and I would be happy to share more if you have any questions. Helping children cooperate is something I feel so passionate about. Please leave a comment or question below so we can support one another further! And have a fantastic day!

9 Essential Gifts For New Parents

Receiving gifts when you’re about to have a baby (or babies) is exciting. Being able to give gifts to friends and family is sometimes even better. For me, this mostly has to do with sharing items that have helped so much or have been really useful. I love to pass on wisdom and as a mom of twins, often that wisdom has come through a trial by fire. I like to spare others some of the learning-the-hard-way that I had to go through!

By far, the greatest gifts I’ve gotten over the years turned out not to be material things, but rather wisdom gained and lessons learned. I threw myself into this job of mothering with great passion, but without a lot of planning. I made a number of stumbles along the way, but slowly I am figuring it out.

I threw myself into writing this blog in much the same way. And my purpose for doing it has always been to share what I’ve learned in order to help others. I want to pass on some of the gifts I wish I had received and embraced early on. I truly believe had I been so lucky, the first few years would have been a lot easier on my whole family. So, I share these gifts with you in the hopes that they will provide you with greater insight, connection and peace.

1. The Gift Of Understanding

Have you ever struggled to explain to yourself, to your partner or to childless friends just exactly how life changes when you become a mother? When I read this beautiful post by The Sage Mama, entitled Rebirth: What We Don’t Say, I felt like she had given voice to the wordless emotions I had and made sense of the confusion and turmoil I felt after letting go of a career to become a mother. It’s so worth reading in full, but here’s just a taste of it:

“When I did get back to me, I was gone. This is the thing that women don’t tell each other about motherhood. That you will never be who you were. That you will not see anything the way you used to see it, you will never hear language the way you used to hear it, music, color, photos, friends, family, career path–nothing or no one came through my transition from single woman to mother unexamined. Least of all myself”. ~ The Sage Mama

2. The Gift Of Perseverance

Close-up of antique keysI often joke that once you have figured your children’s patterns out, everything changes and you have to start all over again. Understanding the best way to reach your children takes more than just reading all the right books and having a bunch of catch phrases. It’s an absolute art to be able to understand what a person needs in any given moment – especially if that person isn’t able to fully understand or communicate their needs.

I loved this recent Facebook status update from Kimberly of The Single Crunch (a wonderful blog, by the way). She beautifully makes clear why it is so worthwhile to try, try and keep trying to connect with your children:

“You’re standing in front of a locked door. Someone has told you that there is definitely a treasure inside, let’s say a check for 10 billion dollars. You are given a key ring that holds 5,000 keys and told that one is definitely the key to open the door. You could break the door down if you want but in doing so, you forfeit the prize. Are you going to say, “Forget this” because you don’t have the time? Probably not. You want the treasure. It’s totally worth the effort. You’ll try for days and days, and most days you won’t find the key. Some days you will tire and you maybe won’t try as much. But you’ll always go back, because the treasure is promised.

Children are similar. There are SO MANY ways to connect with them, gently. The advice we are given or the words that may work for some families may not work for us. What works one day may blow up in our face the next. Many children are much harder to reach than others. So hard that some days we lose it and don’t respond the way we wish.

But we don’t give up, because there is a treasure in every child, and we can access it with our love and patience. Spanking is the quick way. It’s breaking the door down instead of opening it. If you have a high-needs child please don’t give up parenting peacefully. Keep seeking until you’ve found the key. Remind yourself that your relationship with your child should he of paramount importance. And give yourself credit for your hard work. No one is perfect, no one is close, and our children don’t need perfect. They need peace and compassion. Much love to all parents who’ve vowed to raise our children free of intimidation and violence, because, as I love to say… Children ARE valuable people, too.

And so many of us are outside that door with you. ♥”

3. The Gift Of Observation

giftsWhen my children were first born I often felt so unbelievably exhausted. I chalked it up, then, to the usual lack of sleep a mother of newborns has. But now I realize that I was certainly sleep deprived, but more than that, I was mentally exhausted from trying to entertain my babies constantly.

I was so sure they needed this constant stimulation to reach their milestones and full potential that I was pulled in a hundred directions at any given moment and was, more often than not, frustrated and burned out (and probably my children were totally overwhelmed by the constant activity).

This terrific post from Janet Lansbury (titled aptly enough “How To Stop Entertaining Your Baby”) would have given me so much relief in those early days. Instead of concentrating on their reactions to my antics, I would have realized I could sit back, relax and see that these little beings were in fact learning more from being observed than they ever were by being “stimulated”!

“Most babies do love it when we stand them up, carry them around and otherwise entertain them. What’s not to love? When these ways of interacting become the norm, they are desired and expected. This wish to repeat the familiar can become a distraction that makes it difficult for the child to engage in the slower paced, self-created and self-designed activities that are profoundly beneficial and vital to learning.

It isn’t that your baby feels “restricted” playing on the floor; it’s just that it is such a new and foreign idea to her. (In fact, she is far more restricted and dependent when you are holding her up). And she may not yet believe that she has your attention when you are quieter and more passive, so you’ll have to prove it. The key is to gently wean your baby from expecting entertainment while providing her the trust, space and time to create her own.”

4. The Gift Of Self-Control

angryThose of you who read my blog regularly know that understanding and controlling my own temper is something I have been working on for years. The few posts I’ve written about it are among the most popular posts on my blog which says to me that a lot of you struggle with the same issues.

I think for many new parents the realization that they can feel such intense anger at their own children is very overwhelming and upsetting. Dr. Laura Markham’s post, How To Handle Your Anger At Your Child, is one of those wonderful articles that makes you see things so clearly without ever feeling judged. And in those early days of parenthood such clear advice can make a huge difference to overwhelmed parents.

“But no matter how aggravating we find our child’s behavior, that behavior doesn’t cause our angry response. We see our child’s behavior (“He hit her again!), and we draw a conclusion (“He’s going to be a psychopath!”) which triggers other conclusions (“I’ve failed as a mother!”). This cascade of thoughts triggers a run-away train of emotions, in this case fear, dismay, guilt. We can’t bear those feelings. The best defense is a good offense, so we lash out at our child in anger. The whole process takes all of two seconds.”

5. The Gift Of Knowledge.

The one thing I did decide before the kids were born was that there wouldn’t be any television for them before the age of 3. I had read enough here and there to convince me that it wasn’t good for their brain development, but I had trouble convincing others who thought there was really no reason to worry about how much television kids watch.

Even my husband thought I was nuts about refusing to let him have it on, even in the background, when the kids were around.

I wasn’t able to back my intuition up with research I could pull out of my back pocket. And listening to friends or acquaintances tell me about how much time their babies were spending in front of screens made me insane. But then I read this wonderful article from Teacher Tom’s blog called Watching Television Is Relaxing and at last I had something that would make people take notice. In the post Tom discusses the powerful research that shows that television actually has a similar effect on our brains that narcotics do:

“In college (30+ years ago) we were already talking in our journalism classes about the narcotizing effects of television. It’s a real thing. I’m not saying that you should keep your child away from TV, but you need to know, it’s no different than putting them on drugs. It’s an effective, but not a harmless way to buy yourself a little peace and quiet.”

6. The Gift Of Peace Of Mind

One of the hardest things for me when my children were new to me was looking at those charts that lists what your children should be able to do by each stage in their lives. Were they sitting up at the right age? Were they using multi-word sentences by the right age? Were they playing with other children or still doing parallel play? What did this all mean? Were they OK? Would she ever learn to “play nice” or would she always be the child who hit other kids?

As children begin to get a little older this fear morphs into “Kindergarten Readiness”. You begin to hear the constant refrain of “what does my child need to know to be ready for school?” and while many parents will list their child’s number counting or ability to spell, this often serves to stress people out because it sets up a competitive energy among parents.

I have always loved this post from A Magical Childhood called What A 4 Year Old Should Know:

“She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.”

7. The Gift Of Simplicity

Along the lines of getting caught up in whether or not our children are experiencing every advantage and reaching their potential, comes the idea that we want to encourage, but not praise mindlessly. But in our efforts to encourage, do we actually end up making our children not feel good enough? Does all of the narrating and extensive detail used (while avoiding the pointless “good job”) actually make our children focus too much on their accomplishment or lack thereof? Do they feel the pressure of living up to our words of encouragement?

Rachel from Hands Free Mama wrote a post recently that made a really big impact on me (and on many thousands of others judging by her Facebook page’s explosion of popularity): Six Words You Should Say Today. These 6 simple words can change the way you see your family immediately. Try it…it might make a huge difference.

“It went against my grain to not elaborate, but I said nothing about the dots, nothing about the notes, and nothing about her pitch. This was a time to simply leave it at that.

My child’s face broke into her most glorious smile—the one that causes her eyes to scrunch up and become little slices of joy. And then she did something I didn’t expect. She threw herself against me, wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”

[…] In some cases, less is more.

Less can be exactly what they need to hear. No pressure … just love, pure and simple.”

8. The Gift Of Cooperation

In the few years that I have been organizing parent ed meetings for our multiples club and writing this blog I have noticed that one of the main topics of interest is how to get children to cooperate. I think what people often mean by cooperation is “how do I get my children to do what I want them to do?”

As a new parent it can be incredibly frustrating to feel that you’re spending your whole day stopping your children from throwing food on the floor or from jumping on the couch or any number of other things you don’t want them to do. To make things worse, you get so many conflicting pieces of advice from different “experts” that you may end up feeling paralyzed.

I have learned a lot about relating to children from Lisa Sunbury and had a hard time choosing just one of her posts to include here. But What To Say Instead Of “NO”! 6 Ways To Gain Your Child’s Cooperation is one of those light bulb moment posts that I wish I had read when my children were toddlers.

“Did you know? The average one year old hears the word “no” an unbelievable 400 times a day!

The problem with the word “No” is this: when it’s used too often, toddlers tend to tune it out after awhile.”No” alone doesn’t help your toddler learn what to do instead. Also, saying “No!” in a louder and louder voice (as you may be tempted to do when your toddler all but ignores you the first five times you say it), is not going to help him hear and heed your message any better. It may just lead to frustration for both of you.”

9. The Gift Of Remembering

tv is bad for you“There was a time when you were five years old,
and you woke up full of awesome.

You knew you were awesome.

You loved yourself.

You thought you were beautiful,
even with missing teeth and messy hair and mismatched socks inside your grubby sneakers.

You loved your body, and the things it could do.

You thought you were strong.

You knew you were smart.

Do you still have it?

The awesome.”

This is the beginning of one of my favorite posts ever. It’s called Waking Up Full Of Awesome and it’s from a blog I love called Pigtail Pals. It’s part of my gift list because I think there’s nothing more powerful than remembering what it’s like to be little and feeling like everything is a possibility and that you can do anything.

Every one of us once felt that way…and some of us lost our awesome along the way. I don’t ever want your kids to lose theirs. That’s why I want you to always remember what it was like waking up full of awesome.

I hope you enjoy these gifts. There were so many others I wanted to share with you, but they’ll have to wait for another time. Take your time with these, try things on, see how they feel for you and if you want to let me know what you think, I always love your comments!