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How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief

Your child can grow through healthy grief.

There’s nothing easy about seeing your child experience grief. It’s hard enough for adults to process losing someone we love. So we often wonder how their little minds are handling something so hard to understand. How can you help our child out? 

First, you need to know a few things about grief and children. 

Grief is usually brought on by losing something valuable, a source of support, security, or endearment. Kids can grieve over all kinds of losses, from the death of a family member to a pet that runs away, a friend who moves, a missing stuffed animal, or parents separating. If it’s a significant loss for them, it’s a big cause of grief. 

We usually associate grief with pain. If that’s all it was, it’d be a terrible thing we’d want to avoid. 

But these feelings are only a part of grief. As a whole, grief is the process of working through the loss. Some call this moving toward “acceptance” or “back to normal.” However, healthy grief moves us beyond acceptance, and things never quite go back to normal. Grief done well causes us to be different than before the loss, perhaps more resilient or having a greater perspective on life. 

Healthy grief helps us grow. We need to keep this in mind when helping our children through grief. 

Here’s another thing to know: the grief process isn’t predictable with kids. There are no steps. Every child (and person, for that matter) grieves at their own pace, in their own time, in different waves and intensities of emotions. This makes it challenging for parents like you and me, who’d love to know what we can expect. You need to walk with your child through the process of grief at their pace. 

Understand that it’s not our job to take the grief away. That’s tough, I know. We often feel what our kids are feeling. We see the pain, the hurt, the tears, the confusion — and we don’t want our child to experience that. But it is part of the process. 

So how can we help our children process grief? 

  • Let your child open up and talk about what they’re feeling or thinking. Kids often don’t have the vocabulary to describe their deep feelings, so you may have to help your child find the words. If you can help them name their feelings, they can start to process what they feel. Another way to do this is to ask them how their feelings feel. Stick with me here:
    • So how are you doing since Grandpa passed away? 
    • I’m feeling sad. 
    • I know what you mean — I feel sad, too. What does sadness feel like to you? 
    • It feels like everybody I know is going to go away. And that makes me scared. 
    • That must be scary. Let’s talk about that some more. 
  • Letting your child know that you are grieving can be reassuring to them. If they know that you also feel hurt, sad, and sometimes cry, it helps them feel normal. They may have intense feelings they’ve never felt before, and that’s hard for them to understand, too. 
  • It’s tempting to try and rationalize the loss with your child. 
    • Grandpa lived a good, long life. 
    • Friends move away sometimes, and we can make other friends. 

There’s nothing wrong with this; it can help children begin to understand the reality of loss and death. However, keep in mind that loss or death is rarely rational to anyone who is grieving. If these kinds of ideas don’t comfort your child, don’t be alarmed. 

As I said, every child grieves at their own pace. However, your child may struggle with grief for an extended time or have dramatic mood or personality changes. In that case, it might be time to get help from a professional counselor. 

All children will experience loss and grief. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s just a part of life. But we can help our kids work through grief in a way that allows them to gain a healthier perspective of life, loss, and themselves. And walking with your child at their pace will help them grow in a healthy way through the process of grief. 

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

Here are two things your child needs from you.

I was 5 and mad at my mom. I forget why. But I do remember I was packing my bags and hitting the road. In a rockstar parenting move, my unshakable mother began packing sandwiches for me to take on my run-away trip. 

“Whhattt?” you may scream. “How could she?? That’s so… mean… insensitive… emotionally unsafe!”

Emotionally Safe. What does that even mean, anyway?

For some, it means parenting so that their kids never think badly of them and try to run away. (Spoiler alert: That’s impossible.

For others, it means they try to never be angry — even when their kid draws dinosaurs on the white couch with permanent markers. (Honestly, if you have children — why have white furniture??) 

So let me offer you a working definition: 

Emotional safety means parenting in a way that your child feels safe enough to be themselves. 

That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Kids who are safe to be themselves may be, well, quirky. They’re encouraged to explore who they are, to formulate their world. They dress themselves (sometimes weirdly). They use their imagination (again, often weird). They’re on the road to discovering their personality, likes and dislikes, sense of humor, fashion, and overall mojo.

Now, emotional safety doesn’t mean parents don’t set boundaries for their child. And it doesn’t mean kids may not experience sadness, or disappointment, or anxiety. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never be angry or hurt by them, or not pack sandwiches when they want to run away. That’s just real life. 

So how can you go about helping your kids feel emotionally safe? 

Research can give us a little insight into this. (Hang with me here — I promise it won’t be a term paper.) 

Psychologist Don Catherall says a person (like your child) needs two things to feel emotionally safe with someone (like you, the parent): 

One: To feel a healthy sense of connection to the person. 

And two: To develop a healthy sense of security in themselves. 

In other words, your child needs to feel close to you and (at least to be developing the skills) to feel good about themselves

This means developing an appropriately close relationship with your child while giving them opportunities to build self-confidence. Ironically, building self-confidence often involves doing things without you. Notice the balance? 

Here’s another way to look at it: 

Some researchers say the healthiest families strike a balance with a couple of tensions: 

1. Constant over-attachment versus total disconnection.

The need to feel overly-involved in every single aspect of their child’s life can quickly become what researchers call “enmeshment.” Parents can’t separate their child’s emotions from their own. Boundaries are unclear. It’s a false sense of emotional safety which, in reality, focuses on the parent’s unhealthy need to be connected or overprotective. Disconnection is the polar opposite, of course. Neither extreme fosters real emotional safety. 

2. A rigid, overly-structured family environment versus one that is absolutely chaotic without rules or boundaries. 

Too many parents buckle under the need for their kids to like them. As a result, they compromise rules and structure in an attempt to offer emotional safety. On the flip side, others go overboard with stringent rules, consequences, and schedules. Unfortunately, either extreme tends to have the opposite outcome. 

The main point: Emotionally safe kids thrive when there’s a balance. 

Want to be an emotionally safe parent? 

Be the parent, not the friend. Stay connected, but don’t smother. Build confidence in your child. Challenge them to go beyond what they think they’re able to do. Set boundaries. Own your emotions and let them experience theirs

Fortunately, my 5-year-old self didn’t make it past the mailbox with my bologna sandwiches. And my mom never faltered with her parenting techniques, even if I wasn’t happy about it. She was savvy enough to understand that it was okay for me to be upset. She didn’t need to overreact, and I would eventually make my way back, knowing a little more about my weird self, emotionally safe and all. 

Other helpful blogs:

I Think My Child Is Cyberbullying… What Do I Do?

You can help them navigate the world of online relationships.

Take a deep breath. You may have just realized that your child might be a cyberbully. Ugh. And now you’ve got to a) Find out if it’s true, and b) If it is, try to address it so that it stops.

Whether you read a social media post, heard from another parent or teacher, or overheard a conversation, something has made you wonder if your child is cyberbullying. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent if your child is being aggressive online. While it’s healthy to think through anything you may have done that could contribute, it’s essential to focus on helping your child, because cyberbullying harms young people. Addressing it and dealing with it can promote the safety and wellbeing of your child and those they come in contact with.

So, what even is cyberbullying? It’s using an electronic device to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. This most often involves being aggressive online toward people from school or the neighborhood. 

What are some warning signs that your child may be a cyberbully?

While there’s no substitute for ongoing conversations between you and your child, this list from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may be helpful.

  • Dramatic changes in technology usage. Yes, some kids seem to be glued to their devices. Keeping an eye out to see if they are on their devices more than usual or suddenly seem to not care if they are on an electronic device could raise some red flags. They may be super interested in seeing how others respond to them or even feel some guilt and not want to know. Either way, this may be a sign of bullying behavior. 
  • Are they jumpy, hiding devices, or changing screens when you enter the room? Savvy kids can try to hide behavior and screens from you. Learning how to look up search history and digital usage can unlock their electronic behavior.
  • Unwillingness to talk about what’s on their screens. Maybe they give one-word answers; they avoid the topic or ignore the question. Pay attention when they’re unwilling to answer questions about what’s on their screens. This could indicate involvement in harmful online behavior.

Let’s be honest. Most of these bullet points probably sound like normal teenage behavior on a regular basis. It’s difficult to accuse your child of cyberbullying when you’re not 100% sure.

However, these tips can help you address the issue whether you just suspect it or want to prevent it from happening.

  • Dig deeper to get a feel for what’s going on in your child’s heart and mind. Look at pictures, posts on social media, text messages, etc. Try to find out what’s happening behind the scenes in their life. Many times, the digital trail will give you quite a bit of insight and greater understanding.
  • Think through what it takes for you to be open, honest, and vulnerable with someone. Then think through what it takes for your child to be open, honest, and vulnerable with you. Be that person when you talk with them. This will increase your chances of working together to overcome the situation and form an open, honest relationship of accountability for the future.
  • Don’t be surprised if your child gets defensive. Children can be persuasive when it comes to avoiding “trouble.” They’ll say things like, “I can’t believe you’d think I would do that!” Focus on ensuring that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable by anyone in your home, but also look for the “why” behind the behavior. Your relationship with them is about so much more than punishing them. Your goal is to guide them where you’d like to them be and lead them to make healthy choices.
  • Discuss cyberbullying with your child. Learn more about it by using reliable websites like Cyberbullying Research Center and stopbullying.gov, powered by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Look at examples. Watch stories of bullying victims. Ask them what they’ve seen on gaming sites, social media, or text messages between friends.  
  • Ask your child if they’ve ever done something that might be considered cyberbullying. Or if someone has cyberbullied them in the past. Help them think it through. You may talk about how easy it is to take things (especially in a text) the wrong way. Sent a message that made someone feel uncomfortable? Made fun of someone and hurt their feelings? 
  • Help your child think from the other person’s perspective. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand what they may be feeling can build empathy.
  • Talk about your family expectations regarding online conduct and how to treat people at all times. Set the standard. Your children must know precisely where you stand regarding any kind of bullying by them or toward them. Discuss and enforce consequences for engaging in any type of bullying behavior.

Many forms of cyberbullying violate schools’ zero-tolerance policy and may be addressed by a school counselor. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to encourage your child to do as they’re asked at school and use the situation as an opportunity for growth instead of a form of punishment or unfairness. Let them know you’re on their team and you’re there to work through it with them.

Oh, and one more thing. 

Many bullies target others because of something they have experienced themselves, and they may have never told anyone else about it. Professional counseling may help your child work through issues that trigger the cyberbullying behavior. Your child needs to know you are there for them, and that you will do what it takes to support their growth as they navigate the world of online relationships. They won’t get it right every time, but they can move forward with your help.

Other helpful resources:

5 Ways Dads and Daughters Can Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Use this day to connect and make memories with your daughter.

Okay, just between us dads, let’s be real. For some of you, Valentine’s Day is, well, kind of enjoyable. That’s alright—no judgment here! 

But many guys see V-Day as a high-pressure hassle. Do I have to actually read the entire V-Day card before I buy it? Can I get away with carnations (the cheaper option) instead of roses? (They’re just going to die…) And so many different boxes of chocolates… sooooo many…

For those of us who are girl-dads, I wanna give you a different way to view and celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s an opportunity to:

  • Have some fun with your daughter. 
  • Show her how special she is to you. 
  • Connect and have a stronger relationship. 

With that, I give you 5 fun, unique ideas to have a special Daddy-Daughter Valentine’s Day. Here we go…

1. Two words: Dessert Day. 

Like, make this day all about desserts. Have dessert for every meal. Take your daughter on a dessert tour of your town. Pick a few places to go during the day. Think coffee shops, bakeries, crêperies—and sample some sweets. Choose desserts that are more out of the ordinary. Share a banana split. Try out a crêpe. Munch on a macaron (it’s a cookie). Nosh on gelato. Stop in between treats to wash the sugar down, take a stroll, and have some great conversation. That’ll be a Dad-daughter Valentine’s Day she’ll always remember!

2. V-Day Goodies Scavenger Hunt. 

Does your daughter like chocolate kisses? Or books? Or little toys? Hide some throughout your house and yard. Write down clues for your daughter. Make it like an Easter egg hunt, except with Valentine’s Day! End the search with a “big-ticket item” like a stuffed animal, box of chocolates, or even better… a pizza and movie night in a homemade fort with you. What a great memory to make! 

3. Over-the-Top Daddy-Daughter Date. 

I mean, Over. The. Top. Dress to the nines. Leave the house, then come back to “pick her up.” Bring her a corsage. Open the car door for her. Take her to a fancy dinner. (Okayyou don’t even have to spend a lot of cash. Drive her around the block, back home, and surprise her with spaghetti, pizza, or her favorite meal!) Be sure to decorate the table and play her favorite background music. And if you seriously want to go over the top, have someone be the server. 

Dance. 

Take a stroll. 

Then, hop back in the car (yes, open the car door again!), drive around the block, and drop her off at her doorstep. (Yes, you’ll go around the block, like, three times, but you’re making memories here!) 

4. Musical Car Ride. 

Create a favorite-song playlist. Ask your girl to write down her favorites and add some of your own fun tunes. Take her on a car ride and jam out. Open the windows and sing as loud as you can. Dance at red lights like no one’s watching. Grab some dinner in the drive-thru, but be sure to crank up the volume while you’re in line. Drive past some places that are special to you: the house you grew up in, your first apartment, where you went to school. She’ll love hearing stories about you before she came into the world in between songs. But… don’t forget to keep on singing… loudly

5. Making Valentine’s Special for Others, Together. 

Find out who needs a pick-me-up on V-Day. Deliver flowers, candy, or Valentine’s notes to family members. Bake cookies for your neighbors. Write cards to folks in the hospital or assisted living homes. Explore how you can brighten someone else’s Valentine’s Day together and extend the good memories to them. 

Oh, sure, you can see Valentine’s Day as a hassle. But you can also see it as an opportunity to make memories with that special girl in your life. Your daughter will cherish those memories for the rest of her life, and your relationship will be stronger because of it. 

So from one girl-dad dude to another… Happy Valentine’s Day! 

How to Talk to Your Child About Black History Month

Deepen your parent-child relationship as you learn together!

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are better together. 2020 exposed the continuing racial divisions we have in our country. But we can move forward and come together to learn about each other’s history and experiences.

As parents, we’re in the best position to help our kids learn values, understand experiences, and build relationships with those in our community who are not the same as we are. We can model how we expect our kids to treat people who are different from us by showing respect for them.

How do you even begin to talk to your child about Black History Month?

Well, there’s no right or wrong way to begin. So, let’s get started!

Who created what we know as African American History Month, and why?

Harvard grad, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, found that African Americans’ accomplishments weren’t written in the history books. As a result, students didn’t learn much about African American contributions to the United States. 

So in 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week to highlight African American contributions to U.S. history. Every U.S. president has designated the month of February as Black History Month since 1976.

Now that you know the origins of Black History Month, you’re ready to research African Americans’ accomplishments! You can also recognize and appreciate the beauty in the differences and diversity in our country as a family. 

You’ll benefit the most if you keep these 4 principles in mind.

1. Be willing to ask questions.

Take a personal (mental) inventory of what you do know about Black History. Then, find out what your child already knows and has experienced. Being curious and asking questions lets them teach you a little bit. They may know way more than you think!

Also, ask your child what they’re interested in. For example, if your kid’s a baseball fan, studying Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, or the history of the Negro Leagues would keep them engaged. If your child is into science, learn about Garrett A. Morgan or Lewis Latimer. 

Ask questions like:

  • Have you ever heard about Black History Month? If so, what have you heard?
  • Are you interested in a specific topic?
  • What do you want to learn about?

4. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

It’s ok to acknowledge that you may not know a whole lot about Black History. Parents have to be willing to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” This tells your child that you are open to learning new things and don’t know everything. There are some ugly and uncomfortable facts in the history of Black people in America. If learning about them causes you to react emotionally, that’s fine. Teaching your child how to identify emotions, whether it’s anger, frustration, embarrassment, or confusion, sets a beautiful example of how to process your feelings.

3. Be open to learning with your child.

There are tons of resources for exploring Black History with your child. 

4. Be open to explore and experience Black culture.

There’s so much to learn and read about the richness of Black History. Exploring and experiencing some cultural practices can enhance what you learn, for sure. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cook a soul-food dinner at home. Or, get take-out from a soul-food restaurant.
  • Listen to music by African American artists.
  • Take a virtual tour of or visit an African American museum near you (follow all governmental guidelines).

Whether your child has a Black History Month project or they’re genuinely curious, you can be your child’s go-to person for information. You have a prime opportunity to help them learn about Black History Month, but you don’t have to stop there. You can deepen your parent-child relationship, and your relationships with others, as you discover Black History together all year long.

We’re told there are two things we don’t talk about in life: politics and religion. The only problem is, this “rule” sets us up for failure when these topics come up in conversation. Inevitably, most of us don’t know how to talk about them in a healthy way. 

Children are exposed to endless amounts of information in our connected world. As parents, it’s our responsibility to prepare our kids to be good citizens. We can help our kids learn how to talk about sensitive topics like politics.

My wife and I have done a lot of research, trial, and error to figure out how to productively approach the conversation about politics with our elementary-age kids. Here are 6 tools we’ve used along the way and would like to share with you: 

1. Decide your children’s intake.

With younger children, parents play the role of gatekeepers. While we can’t control what they hear at school, we can shield them from much of what the media shares. They haven’t entered the world of social media yet. When it comes to parenting and politics, we can choose how much information our kids receive.

Remember, kids are sponges. They hear everything and will repeat what they hear even if they don’t have the facts straight. 

2. Frame the political discussions within your family values.

As you discuss politics with your children, frame the conversation within your family values. Some of our values are kindness, humility, and honesty. Ask your kids questions that reflect your values. 

  • Does this feel true to you?
  • Was that a kind thing to say or do?
  • Do you think that person cares more about themselves or others?
  • Do you think this person is a good leader?

I’m astonished at the way my 5 and 8-year-olds think. They see the character traits of others and are quick to call them out. They keep us on our toes, for sure. 

3. Teach your children about citizenship.

As citizens, we have a responsibility to be engaged in government. This is the foundation of our government system. Talk to your kids about what it means to be a good citizen. Start with the local level. Teach them about what the city council, school board, and mayor do. Help them understand how citizens can be part of the political process.

4. Talk about the issues, not politics.

Focus on the issues. What’s important to your family? I have a newfound interest in who is on the school board and their decisions since I have kids in elementary school. Help your children identify the issues and see where each side stands. Discuss the pros and cons together. 

5. Avoid the ugliness of politics.

Let’s face it; we all celebrate when elections are over because we’ve been overwhelmed with endless political ads. While election season can be especially ugly, it doesn’t end there. Remember, you control how much exposure your child has to politics. Be diligent in keeping them away from the name-calling. With the internet and social media at our fingertips, we have a full spectrum of news sources (not to mention family and friends). Remember—you’re the gatekeeper. 

6. Help your children form their own opinions.

As parents, we have the responsibility of raising adults. I want my children to contribute to society and influence others. Present the facts to your kids and help them form their own opinions. 

We’re often heavily influenced by our parents’ views and beliefs. This isn’t bad, but we have the opportunity to help our kids process what’s important to them. 

Remember to focus on values and issues. A lifetime of decisions and information influences your political stance. Your children don’t have that wealth of information, but you can help them decide based on values. 

Don’t fear talking about politics with your kids. It’s a part of everyday life, whether you’re talking about your mayor and city council or the President and Congress. The conversation is ongoing. Give them room to ask questions as well. Encourage their curiosity.

Marvin Marinovich thought he knew how you pass down your values to your kids. 

He may have tried harder than any parent in history

Recognized as a training guru in the 1960s, he became the NFL’s first strength and conditioning coach. He opened an athletic training research center and pioneered training methods still in use over fifty years later. If you’ve ever done “core” training, you have Marinovich to thank. He invented it. Impressive resumé.

His parenting resumé? Not so much.

On July 4, 1969, Marvin became the father of Todd Marinovich. Long before Baby Marinovich was born, dad determined that his son would be the greatest quarterback of all time. “The question I asked myself was, ‘How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?‘” This obsession made Todd less a son and more a lab experiment.

Training Todd began before he was born. (Really.) It continued from crib to college, earning Todd the nicknames “Robo QB” and “Test-Tube Athlete.” His entire upbringing revolved around being a quarterback. 

  • Dietary restrictions before he was born. 
  • Daily training before he could walk. 
  • A team of football tutors was soon in place. 

Sports Illustrated ran a story titled “Bred To Be A Superstar.”

✱ Todd Marinovich’s unremarkable eight-game NFL career ended abruptly after a series of interceptions and failed drug tests.

Passing down your family values is a tricky business

Many parents dream of their children being doctors, lawyers, or taking over the family business. Some dream of Johnny being a scholar, an athlete, a world-class cellist, or graduate from their alma mater. But what about their kid’s dreams? What about the values and character qualities parents want to instill in their children? How do parents pull that off? (One way that Marvin Marinovich was successful was demonstrating that our kids can’t be programmed.) 

How do you go from desiring values to developing them?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re already doing it. As the saying goes, “More is caught than taught.” The life you live in front of your children is the best tool you have as parents for passing down values. Ask yourself, “What did I pass down today?” If we could rewind today and watch it, what would be today’s life lessons?

Kids are sensory sponges. They see and hear everything and soak it all up. Your kids watch where you put your energy, efforts, and resources. They pick up on your attitude. They hear how you talk to people. Your children watch dutifully to see how you fulfill your duties as spouse and parent. It’s not a question of “if” you are passing down your values; it’s more a matter of “what” values you are passing down.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a perfect parent.

Trudi Marinovich, a collegiate swimmer, and athlete in her own right, was also an art lover. She exposed her son Todd to jazz and classical music, art-house movies, and regularly took him with her to art museums. She simply lived her love of art.

Despite Trudi and Marvin’s divorce when Todd was a teen, her influence on Todd was indelible. Although Marvin only had football aspirations for his son and tried to program him from before birth to be a quarterback, Todd surprisingly chose a Fine Arts major when he enrolled at USC—not a major you would expect for the NFL’s “next big thing.”

Todd Marinovich made ESPN’s list of “Top 25 Sports Flops.” Marvin Marinovich was listed #2 on ESPN’s “Worst Sports Parents In History.” Trudi (now Trudi Benti) is reduced to a footnote in stories about Todd, but which parent successfully passed down their values?

Today, Todd paints. 

And plays bass guitar, loves concerts, and runs an online art gallery. 

Listen, there is no formula. There are no guarantees. But there is the life you live in front of your kids. You may not be passing down the values you think you are, but you can be sure your example speaks volumes. Forcing your dreams onto your kids may backfire. Live out your values and passions. Leave room for them to dream their own dreams as you love and support them.

“NO!” Do you remember how you felt the first time your child dead-eyed defied you? As a parent of very strong-willed sons, I remember the first time my oldest said, “NO!” when I asked him to pick up his toys in the living room. I was so taken aback I said to myself, “I must have misheard him.” I repeated, “Please pick up your toys.” He matter-of-factly repeated, “NO.” 

As a parent, I had just entered the Wild West. Gone was my compliant, sweet child. He was replaced with this toddler-gunslinger who shot down everything I said. 

How do I make sure I keep my sheriff’s badge during a power struggle with my child?

Remember, you are in charge.

As a parent, you have the authority in your home. You wear the badge. Remember, you also have the life experience and emotional control that your child doesn’t have. Engaging in a “power struggle” with a child gives the power to the one who can least handle it. To remain in charge, you have to keep your cool. Take a few deep breaths and relax that trigger finger. 

No one knows how to push your buttons like your child. It may feel like they are trying to wrestle control from you. (And they are.) But they are also trying to become their own little person. This is an ongoing and sometimes painfully frustrating process, but keep in mind, you are laying the foundation for those tween and teen years when the stakes are much higher. 

Choose your battles wisely.

Everything is not a big deal. Stop. Say that with me. Everything is not a big deal. Keeping your child safe and healthy as they grow is the priority. Worrying that their clothes are not color-coordinated is just wasted worry. A friend of mine created stickers that said, “She dressed herself.” She placed them on her child’s back so she wouldn’t feel judged as a terrible parent whose child didn’t have on a matching outfit. (But why are we even worrying about what other parents think about us?) Ask yourself, “Is my child safe, healthy, and happy? Then, is this the hill I want to die on?

Give your child choices.

The non-negotiable might be getting dressed, but you can say, “Would you like to wear this outfit or this one?” You just shifted the issue from “getting dressed vs. staying in jammies” to “this outfit vs. this outfit.” Your child gets to exert their little will, but only within the options you gave them. 

As your child grows, they are trying to figure out who they are. Allow them to make age-appropriate choices and decisions. You end up with a win-win situation. Your child feels empowered, and the job gets done with little to no conflict. You’re running this town, but the on-the-job stress is manageable.

Be specific and make it fun!

You have to be specific when giving your child a task. They might not be ready to process, “Clean your room.” Break the job down into smaller tasks. Pick up all your books and place them on your bookshelf and report back to me when you’re done. Make chores a game when you can. Use a hula-hoop and place it on their floor; then grab a kitchen timer. Let’s see how fast you can put away everything in the hoop! Then move the hoop to another section of their floor. Can you beat your last time? You no longer have a power struggle with your child. Instead, you have created a fun game!

Don’t be afraid to deputize the universe.

You read that right. Use natural and logical consequences with your child. Let the universe do the heavy lifting. Consider the following:

Parent: Hey, it’s chilly out. You might want to put a hat on.

Child: No, it’ll mess up my hair. I don’t want to.

Parent: Okay, that’s your choice.

✦ Now, one of two things is gonna happen, but neither involves a power struggle with your child. Either your child will be chilly and will want a hat next time, or your child will be completely comfortable without a cap. Either way, you get to sit back and watch your child interact with the universe and learn a life lesson. You avoided conflict with your child. You were the guide to the side, letting your child learn about choices and consequences while the stakes were small.

This “growing-up” process for your child may feel like a roller coaster for you. The ups, downs, and loopty-loops can take your breath away and stress you out. That badge is a privilege and a responsibility. If you are upset and yelling—you’re losing. As the parent, you are the law in these here parts.