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If you see a difference in your parenting styles (and you will), let’s go ahead and throw out the “bad parent” moniker. This would be an inaccurate appraisal, and it’s much easier to work through parenting differences than it is to make a “bad” parent “good.” 

To helmet or not to helmet?

My wife wants our kids to wear helmets no matter when they bike. I, on the other hand, don’t feel strongly about helmets. Does that make me a bad parent?

Let me explain. This had been an ongoing dilemma in my family when it came to bicycling around the neighborhood. My wonderful wife, who is an equally wonderful mom, comes from the camp of parenting that prepares for the worst. She can just picture one of our daughters sailing like a dart over her handlebars and crashing into something much harder than the human head. Obviously, helmets are a thing for her

I, on the other hand, come from a different philosophy of safety all around. I grew up trying to take my bike over and through things where it wasn’t exactly designed to go—and I don’t remember a kid in the neighborhood who had a helmet. Heck, I still have the scars on my knees from road rash. And so, I tend to think, if they aren’t jumping over ditches or trying to break the sound barrier, why wear a helmet? 

This was an obvious disagreement in our parenting. And it would have been very easy for one of us to think, I can’t BELIEVE she makes them/he doesn’t make them wear a helmet! I’ve never seen such bad parenting!

Maybe this is where you’re at—about helmets, discipline, what your child eats, how late they’re allowed to stay up, who they can hang out with, how long they can play video games, how they are allowed to speak to you, what “good” grades are or a “clean” room, or you-name-it. 

So what do you do if you suspect that your spouse is a bad parent? 

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

🔎  The first question you need to ask is, “What is it that makes me think they are a bad parent?” Is the reason truly something that warrants the label “bad?” 

Or, is it a matter of their parenting style being different from yours?

I’ve worked with youth and parents for many years, and one thing I have come to understand is this: the vast majority of parents out there aren’t bad parents; they are simply doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. 

We all parent through the filters of our past experiences: the way we were raised, what we’ve observed in other parents, what we’ve read, and learned. This means that there are inevitably going to be at least some differences between how you and your spouse parent

Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offers some very helpful steps in working through what to do when you disagree on disciplining your child. And I believe these translate well to all disagreements on parenting. Here are a few: 

1. Find (Any) Common Ground.

What aspects of parenting do you agree on? Look for parenting strategies your spouse uses that you appreciate. Are they good listeners with your children? Do they devote quality time to them? Are they calm in the face of parenting chaos? 

Even if all you can say is that you appreciate how much your spouse loves your children, that’s a positive you can recognize and work from. Identify these common parenting values and build on your commonalities. 

2. Explore the Underlying Reasons Why You Disagree.

Talk together about your disagreements and try to understand where each of your parenting styles come from. Understanding the origins of our parenting styles helps us to better appreciate these differences. Ask: 

  • What were the parenting styles used in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change from how each of us was raised?
  • Which healthy patterns do we want to be sure to repeat? 
  • What parenting information have we each learned that affects how we parent our kids? 

3. Select a Signal.

Establish a non-verbal signal between the two of you that says, “We clearly don’t agree on this and should talk it out away from the kids.” This helps you to avoid disagreeing in front of the kids about your parenting decisions. McCready says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot, and the signal gives parents a chance to take a breather and figure out a course of action a little later.

4. Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop.

It’s important for your kids to understand that you and your spouse are a united front when it comes to parenting. Even if you disagree on how to parent in some respects, you never want to undermine your spouse’s parenting decisions in front of the kids. 

Don’t set your spouse up to be the “bad guy” by saying things like, “Well, your mother wouldn’t like that very much” or “When your dad gets home, he’s going to be very mad that you…” These phrases communicate to your kids that you each think differently about the situation and therefore you don’t support each other. Children need the security of knowing that both of their parents are a team in their parenting decisions. 

5. Seek Support.

Disagreements are going to happen because your and your spouse’s parenting styles originate from different places. So, finding common ground in your parenting will be an ongoing process. Seek encouragement from more seasoned parents who you respect and that have had obvious success with their own children. Consider taking a parenting course or share books or articles on parenting with each other. And if disagreements persist and become worse, consider seeking the advice of a therapist that specializes in parenting and family

Just in case you were wondering, our kids wear helmets when they bike. I still don’t know if it’s completely necessary (you may disagree—that’s okay). But it’s important to my wife, and so I support her feelings for that. And as much as it goes against my nature, I still remind my kids to wear their helmets when they go biking (without, of course, saying “because your mom wants you to”). 😉 

It is possible to come together and be on the same page with your parenting. But it does take work, some compromise, and plenty of discussions. Commit yourselves to constant communication regarding your parenting decisions, and understand that working out disagreements doesn’t happen overnight. But the process is worth it for both your kids and your marriage.

Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child grows up to make emotionally healthy decisions? 

Would you like to increase the likelihood that your child will perform well academically in school?

Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child will have healthy relationships?

I’m guessing your answer to each of those questions is yes. News flash. This doesn’t happen by getting little Johnny to walk by age 1, read by age 2, and play the piano by age 3. 

A secure relationship between you and your child is one of the most significant factors contributing to your child’s development.

Your child, even as a baby and a toddler, experiences and learns a thousand new things about their world every day. They are learning what to do when they get hurt, don’t get their way or get mistreated by someone. They’re also finding out how to handle it when they make mistakes and encounter something that’s too hard for them. 

Secure relationships help children develop emotionally.

The environment that parents provide for them is significant. It helps to determine whether they will have positive growth experiences or develop unhealthy emotional coping skills. Harvard researchers tell us, “The single most common factor for children and teens who develop the capacity to overcome serious hardship is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.” 

The trust they have for you as a parent and for the relationship is vital for their development. 

Being available to listen, encourage and comfort them when they experience frustration and disappointment can help them learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and stress. When the positive and secure relationship of a parent is present in your child’s life, they are less likely to develop poor relationship skills and unhealthy emotional responses. Feeling secure gives them the ability to develop a true sense of self, develop emotionally, and cultivate strong relationships.

Secure relationships allow kids the freedom to be kids.

Establishing yourself as the parent who values relationship and sets and follows through on discipline, is the loving leader, and is in charge, is actually comforting for children. Children have the brain development of… you guessed it, children. When children don’t feel like their parents are in control, they struggle.

For example:

You tell your child to pick up their blocks and you leave the room. You come back in the room and they haven’t picked up their blocks. Then, you tell them, “Unfortunately, we will have to put the blocks away” because they didn’t do what you asked them to do. They then throw themselves on the floor and throw a temper tantrum. You respond by saying, “Okay, you can play with the blocks,” because you don’t want them to be upset with you. This creates confusion in the mind of the child as to who is actually leading or in charge. When parents do the parent “stuff” like set boundaries to keep kids safe and establish routines to help them grow and develop, then the security of the relationship allows kids the freedom to be kids.  

Secure relationships give kids a sense of belonging.

In addition to having a true sense of self, every child wants to know they belong. A secure relationship with their parent(s) reinforces that they belong to the family and that they can’t fail bad enough to change that fact. As researcher John Bowlby has shown, a secure relationship with the parent sets children up for healthier interactions with other children, better grades, and great self-confidence as they grow and explore the world.

Secure relationships give kids the confidence to try new things, explore, and make mistakes. 

Children make all kinds of mistakes. It’s how they learn. They try to pour their own cereal and milk and spill a full carton of milk on the floor. While you may be freaking out because money is tight and you really can’t afford to lose a gallon of milk on the floor, your child is doing exactly what they are supposed to do—try new things. However, what you do as a parent sends a message as to whether this relationship is safe and secure. If you scream and yell, and act like they committed an unforgivable act, then you may be sending the message that trying new things and making a mistake when you’re doing something new isn’t acceptable. 

You could also be sending the message that you’re only happy with your child when they “do right,” but “I don’t really like you when you make mistakes.” That doesn’t make a child feel like their relationship with you is secure. It can make your child feel like they must earn your love and approval.

A Different Approach

However, what if you came alongside your child after they’ve spilled the milk and recognized that they were simply testing their own capabilities? They are trying to learn and do new things, and since you know that, the approach is different. Simply teaching them how to carry out the task, setting boundaries so they understand authority and permission, and helping them clean up their mess in a calm manner sets the stage for your child to feel secure in their relationship with you. They learn that their mom or dad’s love and care for them is not dependent on being the perfect child.

That relational security gives them the confidence to try something else that they couldn’t do before without fear that if they make a mistake, they may lose their parent’s love. It provides them with an assurance that the next time they experience frustration, there is someone (the parent) who can help them overcome their emotions. They also begin to recognize the need for boundaries and permission to help them not end up in situations they aren’t prepared for.

We want our children to be willing to discover new things, and solve problems. We also want them to recognize and build positive relationships, and learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Providing a secure relationship in the home is a great way to give your child the best opportunity to develop.

Other Related Blogs:

How do I make my child feel secure?

Is anyone else having issues with their kids and getting them on schedule or getting them to do the things around the house the first time you ask? I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would change our lives for a few weeks, but  I never considered that it would stretch into the summer. As a result of the “new normal,” I have noticed changes in the behavior of my children as well. Some of those changes include:

Backtalk From My Kids

Arguments About Bedtimes, Chores, Hygiene 

Too Much Screen Time (Games, Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

What is really going on? How am I contributing via my stress, anxiety, or mood? In essence, how do I stop fighting with my kids? What are the things that I can do?

1. Remember That You Are The Parent

I recognize that my responsibility to my children is to be their parent. Even though I want to develop a close relationship with my child, being the parent means that I will have to do things that are not popular. In fact, because I love my child and want a close relationship with them, as a parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. The first time that my youngest son said to me, “Mommy, you are not my friend,” I took a deep breath and replied, “You are right. I am not your friend, I AM your MOM.” I want my kids to know that they are loved, accepted, and can always come to me, but I can’t always be their “buddy.” I can’t make decisions based on a popularity contest—I have to do what’s best for them knowing that they won’t always understand that this is real love.

In that particular situation, I chose to respond versus react. Reactions are automatic, without thought and usually driven by emotions. When I respond, according to the author and licensed marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, “I take a pause before I do something.” In other words, I think, control my emotions, and move forward as the parent.

2. Become A Student Of Your Child

Learn what your child likes and what interests them. Talk with and listen to them, find out what shows they watch, what music they like, what are they feeling (e.g., fear, concern, anger, sadness). Creating a healthy relationship with them gives you insight into their world. Remember that the pandemic and all that is going on has had an impact on your child as well. Take your child’s emotional temperature by asking questions to find out how are they are feeling and what is on their minds. They may be acting out because they feel insecure, afraid, or anxious. They may be trying to get your attention

3. Create Structure And Boundaries And Consistently Enforce Them

It is important that our children feel a sense of routine, structure, and boundaries in the midst of all the chaos and confusion going on in the world. Structure and boundaries provide safety for children. They see and hear news about COVID-19 and racial unrest. They may feel afraid and concerned as a result. You can create structure and boundaries by: Making one-on-one time with each child to talk, Having dinner together as a family, or Family Game Night. These family interactions can develop connectedness between the members which hopefully can decrease the argumentative interactions.

Your children should have routines in the morning and evening and bedtime that place structure around their day. Give them a daily to-do list like: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Read For 20 Minutes, Exercise/Play For 1 Hour, Eat Dinner, Screen Time (as prescribed by parents), Bedtime Routine, Lights Out. Put the schedule somewhere at their eye-level. Even kids that can’t read yet can follow a list using pictures to know how to get ready for bed. These routines provide expectations for what the day will look like and there will be less to fight with your kids about.

Power struggles and arguments seem like they will always be a normal part of parenting. However, you don’t have to normalize fighting with your kids. When you recognize your role and responsibilities as a parent, it gives you a focus point. Creating a healthy parent-child relationship helps your children learn and respect boundaries. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be your best self and respond, not react. One of the best lessons that I have learned on my parenting journey is, “Rules (structure) without relationship leads to rebellion.

We pull up to the little league baseball field where I’m about to have three different kids with three different practices on three different fields. There are only two parents. But before I can barely shift the van into park, my 11-year-old son darts out of the van, grabs his baseball equipment and sprints to his field. 

Why does this make me as a father smile every time it happens? It’s not because he’s a future major leaguer or that he is so happy to get away from us. It’s because he used to be an insecure kid, insecure about his baseball skills.  He was unsure of himself, his ability to make friends on the team, and didn’t always handle the disappointment of striking out or misplaying a ball very well.

A child that feels secure feels loved and free to make decisions, form relationships, and solve problems. They also react well to emotional stress. How do you help your child to feel secure?

Be the Parent

As a parent, you are in charge—you are the authority. You set the structure and the rules in your home. You also demonstrate what love and relationship look like, but you don’t look for your child to validate you as a person or as a parent. Children feel more secure when they and the people in their lives have clear roles. When their parent is acting out the responsibilities of a parent, there’s clarity and order in your child’s life. 

Set Limits and Boundaries

I have seven kids and they all seem to read from the same book that tells them to test the limits. Children are hard-wired to find out how far their parents will allow them to go. When a child doesn’t have any limits or boundaries, it may seem as though they are getting what they want. The opposite is the case. 

Family experts agree that children feel safer when limits and boundaries are established and knowing that there are consequences for going beyond the boundaries. Your child learns what behavior is expected of them. A child who knows what to expect is better able to enter in and out of relationships with non-family members because they’ve learned to recognize what is appropriate.

Routines and Consistency

Predictability is great for children. This may come in the form of regular morning, evening, and bedtime routines. This also may be through family mealtime or family rituals. Your children will experience lots of change in the world they live in. Being able to look to the home for consistency provides security in what can be a chaotic world. Click here for great information on establishing routines and structure in the home.

Time and Affection

Laughing, playing, being silly, hugging, saying “I love you,” and just hanging out are key to helping your child feel secure. This helps your child know that they belong and have a place in this world because they have a place in their family. It reinforces that they are loved, that they have value, and that they are worth spending time with. Click here for ways to show your child affection.

Availability

My son has experienced a range of emotions playing baseball. There are times where he and a teammate didn’t get along and other times he has been frustrated because he was not hitting the ball well. We’ve talked. Sometimes, I’ve just listened. We’ve discussed solutions. But more importantly, as parents, we have learned to be available to help and support, not necessarily solve the problem. One of my favorite questions is, “What do you think is best and why?” The freedom to solve his own problems builds self-confidence. 

We always aim to be available to help him think through the issues he encounters. And sometimes he makes the wrong decision—which gives us the opportunity to help him learn and grow. Your children will experience failure, stress, and a host of other emotions. You want them to feel safe to experience life and have the confidence to respond in a positive and healthy way. 

Give Children Responsibilities

Children who contribute to the daily life of the family learn that they have something to give. The Center for Parenting Education says that children who have family responsibilities gain a sense of pride from knowing that they are capable of contributing to their environment. My 4-year-old has the responsibility of making sure everyone has silverware for each meal. It doesn’t have to be much and it can grow over time. My 11 and 13-year-olds are responsible for washing the dishes. They know that without silverware or clean dishes, the family doesn’t eat. They are contributing to the life of our family. 

Know When to Seek Professional Help

If your child continually expresses an inability to feel safe and it is impacting their ability to cope,  then it may be time to seek professional help. As a parent, sometimes we need the assistance of an objective professional to help us tweak our parenting to meet the individual needs of our children. It certainly is not a sign of failure to ask for help. Parenting to your child’s uniqueness can be challenging for sure. 

As a parent, you can provide your child with a safe and stable environment to help them feel secure. Your child picks up on the cues you send based on how you respond to the stress of a pandemic like COVID-19 or the anger you may feel when someone you love is mistreated. Working to feel secure as a parent will only help you as you aim to help your child feel secure.

I knew you cared and you always made me think.”

It was my wife that pointed it out. After 25 years of being in schools, I frequently run into former students or they drop me a message on social media. They usually say the same thing: “I knew you cared and you always made me think.” 

When it comes to having conversations with your teen about race, those are great goals to have. You want your teen to know you care and you want to make them think.

In the past few weeks, the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has outraged many in our nation and many protests have been sparked across the country. Once again, the conversation, especially on social media, has turned toward racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, police use of force, and whether everyone in America truly and equally enjoys the benefits of justice.

Having conversations with your teen about race and these subjects can be hard for many reasons.

Sometimes our teens bring the conversation to us and we may feel:

  • Attacked—they may accuse us of being hypocrites or not doing enough, or being on the wrong side of important issues. Don’t get defensiveand keep your cool.
  • Fearful—of disagreements escalating into full-blown fights or that we are ill-informed about the issues involved. It takes two to fight, so keep your cool. Get informed if you aren’t and recognize that this is a real opportunity to show what it looks like to disagree, have strong feelings about something and still be able to love through it and continue to have conversations.
  • Disappointed-—that we haven’t passed down our beliefs and values to our kids the way we hoped. You’ve probably passed down more than you think, but understand, this is the age that teens begin to think for themselves and form their own beliefs and opinions. You can still speak into their lifeas a role model and active listener.
  • Overwhelmed—by all the information that they may have to share with us. It’s okay to say, “Hey, slow down… I’m trying to keep up!”

Sometimes we try to bring the conversation to our teens and they may be:

  • Close-minded because their mind’s already made up.
  • Dismissive and think our “generation doesn’t get it” and is out of touch.
  • Apathetic and don’t share our concern about these issues.

1. We want our teens to know we care:

  • Listen, but don’t lecture. Make sure they feel heard, even if we don’t agree. Let them take the lead in the conversation and allow them to fully explain their ideas and opinions.
  • Show respect for them by respecting their thoughts and opinions. For many people, teens especially, the personal and the political are intertwined. If we dismiss or minimize their opinions, we have dismissed or minimized them. You don’t have to agree to show respect. In fact, you are modeling showing respect for differences.
  • Support their activism where you can—on social media and in the real world. If your teen knows you don’t agree with their cause, yet you are willing to stand with them at a protest, you have demonstrated how much you care in a powerful way. Conversations will flow out of that…

2. And we want to try to make them think:

  • Help them understand that we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. All of us see the world through the tinted lens of how we were raised, our life experiences, our friends, and what we’ve been taught. We can choose to simply look through that lens, or we can choose to look at that lens and question it or even try to look at the world through someone else’s lens.
  • Help them to distinguish between facts and opinions. Most of what your teen is exposed to are opinions. The most reliable opinions are ones supported by research, facts, data, and logic. Opinions based only on feelings, personal experiences, and anecdotes should be viewed with healthy skepticism. In the past, being educated meant knowing information. Now, it involves knowing where the information comes from. Is it biased or trustworthy, and reliable? Does it have an agenda? Do you believe whatever you read or do you fact-check it? Challenge them to be a critical thinker.
  • Help them understand the role that the news and social media play. The news and social media don’t simply report reality; they have the power to create it and manipulate it. And they are looking for ratings and clicks to make money.
    • As a teacher, I didn’t use my lectern as an opportunity to lecture teens on my opinions. I had to remain neutral in a room full of kids from various backgrounds with varied opinions about all the “hot button topics” that frequently flared up. My role wasn’t to photocopy my beliefs and opinions into the teens that occupied my desks. It was my responsibility to help them be critical thinkers. My mantra was, “You don’t have to think like me, but you have to think.” I asked questions and I listened. I especially tried to help students understand where their classmates were coming from and how to be respectful of each other.
    • Sure, I have values and character traits that, as a parent, I wanted to pass down to my children, but I wanted my kids to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and to be able to civilly articulate why they held that opinion—even if it was very different from my own. I encouraged them to seek out and be courteous when they navigated conversations with people holding different opinions and perspectives or didn’t look like them. Our dinner table was a classroom where ideas and opinions flew around. I tried to play the role of questioner, not a lecturer.
    • In the last few weeks, our family of five from 14 to 25 have had some great conversations about racism, protesting, rioting, the role of the police and the government, social media activism, and how to do things in the real world that make a difference. These aren’t conversations to shy away from as a parent, but they can be hard and sometimes get lively and passionate. That’s okay.
  • Be a role model. We should respect and continue to have relationships with people who don’t believe exactly the same things we do. Our teens are watching. We should cultivate relationships with people who look different than we do. Welcome them into your home. Have a meal with them. Even little things can send a big message. I took my kids to see Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel because I wanted them to see that superheroes aren’t just white men.
  • Teens often feel strong emotions associated with their perceptions of current events. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Make sure they feel heard. You can encourage them to stay off social media for a while or to channel their emotions into doing something productive, legal, and positive in the real world. You could even do it with them. This will give your conversations more credibility.

Keep the Conversation With Your Teen About Race Going

Talking to your kids about the latest headlines isn’t that different than talking to your kids about sex, dating, pornography, or drugs. Just know that these aren’t one time monologues but ongoing conversations. Also, know that the average teen spends about seven hours a day in front of a screen and has at least two social media accounts. This is where they see corporate messaging, news and information, and the opinions of their peers. You might not watch much news or engage in many controversial conversations in your day to day, but your teen steeps in it for hours a day, day after day, for weeks. And these past few weeks have been heavy.

Don’t miss these excellent opportunities to help your teen develop their empathy, learn from people different from themselves, and hone their critical thinking skills. You can help them process complicated and controversial topics even if you don’t agree with each other. Be their role model for how to handle disagreements! Be their role model of loving and empathizing with people of other races. 

Then you can keep the conversation with your teen about race going.

The last couple of weeks have found us having more conversations with our 7-year-old about what being diversity aware means. We have discussed what has happened in our nation over the last few months as well as what is currently happening in our city and state. This was not our first conversation about diversity. It has been an ongoing theme in our household since he was born. We have the same conversations with our 4-year-old daughter as well. 

Diversity is important to us as we are a multicultural family. But the conversations over the last couple of weeks have taken a different tone, a more urgent tone. We have had some deeper conversations about recognizing and appreciating diversity. Our language has changed, too. More clarity has entered the conversation to ensure that our son understands what words like racism, diversity, and prejudice mean. 

So how can we help our children become more aware of the diversity around them? We, as parents, play an invaluable role in teaching our children how to respect and appreciate differences. Here are some of the ways we have taught diversity to our kids.

1. Acknowledge Differences

We are all unique. We represent different cultures and ethnicities. There is beauty in our differences and we should celebrate them. This makes the world a more interesting place, it would be kind of boring if we all were just alike. One thing you can always count on with kids is that they will ask questions. Sometimes they ask the hard questions. When our children ask why someone has a different color skin, different hair, or speaks a different language, we need to take the opportunity to discuss the visible differences that we have. Reinforce that regardless of the color of one’s skin or the language they speak, every person has equal value.

2. Model Diversity

If we want to teach our kids about diversity, we need to make sure our circle of friends is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms—ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic are just a few examples. I’ll never forget the last Christmas we lived in South Florida. My son was two and we had a group of friends over to celebrate. These were people we worked with and did life with. The group makeup was myself, my Latin wife, a Jamaican, a Haitian, a black friend from Florida, and our friends who are white. This was a unique blend of cultures and these were all people that our son had the opportunity to spend time with during his first two years of life. I share this to say that we need to surround ourselves with diversity so our kids see how important it really is.

3. Introduce Diversity

One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez. Why? Because this book is a conversation between a young girl and her grandpa about why she looks different than her friends. Children’s books offer a vast array of diversity. Take a look at what you have in your child’s library and see if there are books that represent people of different races and cultures. You can find some ideas by clicking here. Another fun way to learn more about diversity is to attend culture festivals in your area. These are fun, interactive events that introduce a variety of cultures… and great food is a bonus. Also, look at the children’s movies that you watch with your kids. Point out the differences in the ethnicities of the characters and have a conversation about who those characters represent. 

4. Teach Empathy

What does it mean to have empathy? It means that we can sense and understand the feelings of others and share in those feelings. Many of us have heard the saying “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” We may not be able to fully identify with someone else’s reality, but we can choose to share their feelings. Jimmy Rollins explains it this way: “Do we have the capacity to love someone else’s reality that is not our own?” As parents, we can have conversations with our children to help them understand what it means to identify with the feelings of another and walk alongside them. We can help our children identify their own feelings and label those emotions. This will give them the tools to have a conversation about the emotions of others and how we can walk alongside someone who is different than us.

5. Encourage Conversation

Helping your child become diversity aware is not a one-time discussion. This is an ongoing conversation that will last for years. Take every opportunity to help your child continually learn about diversity. Encourage them to ask questions as well. Kids are curious—they want to constantly know more. I can attest that my kids never stop asking questions. We can be intentional about creating an environment that promotes curiosity and learning. 

6. Take A Stand

If we have done all these things, then we need to help our kids understand when and how to take a stand. If my son has a schoolmate who is bullied because of their race or culture, we have taught him to take a stand for them. Sometimes taking a stand is as simple as including people of different ethnicities. Ask your child what their friend group looks like. Look for ways that they can include people who look different than them into their group. Taking a stand can be as simple as showing kindness, compassion, and love. And when your child does take a stand, affirm and celebrate them. This will encourage them to continue.

Helping your child become diversity aware is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay in the race and help our kids continue to change the world.

Short answer: Show affection as much as you can. 

Often, we use the words “affection” and “love” interchangeably. While understandable, and they can certainly overlap, I’m going to make a distinction between love and affection. Affection is adoration, fondness, liking someone. So our question would change to: 

How much should I show my child that I adore them, I am fond of them and that I like them? 

See the difference that makes?

Or let me put it this way—a baby doesn’t understand the self-sacrificial love that you have for them deep in your heart, but just holding them and cuddling demonstrates affection. And they pick up on it. And it has long-term developmental consequences.

Or how about this? How would a teen receive an “I love you” if there was never any affection shown toward them? Those words would be meaningless.

Showing your child affection communicates security, belonging, acceptance, and that they are liked.

Sometimes as parents we stumble over the simplicity and the importance of showing affection. I hope my kids know and trust that I love them, but I also hope they know that I really like and enjoy them, too.

I have five kids. As babies, they were all held, snuggled, and rocked. There is no better feeling in the world than having one of my little babies asleep on my chest. My youngest is now 14. He was my only “snuggly” little one. 

Wow. Things are a lot different now. Showing affection evolves at different ages and stages as our kids grow up. My 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be “snuggled” and he definitely isn’t going to fall asleep on my chest. (Even hugs, if his friends are around, are kinda iffy.) But he appreciates a pat on the back after he mowed the yard or a hand on his shoulder if we are waiting in line. He really loves hearing that I noticed the heel-kick he did in a soccer game.

Each of my five children is a unique individual. Even when they were little, each had their own personality. One of the first parenting lessons I learned was that what one child needed in terms of affection from me was different from another child. I also learned that the ways I showed affection to them that seemed meaningful to me and came naturally to me did not necessarily translate into affection from my kids’ point of view, so I had to learn what they needed.

I had to spend time with each of them and learn about their individual hearts.

Some of the things I learned over time that have helped me figure out the best ways to express affection to my kids are:

Pay close attention to what they ask of you.

This can provide insights into how they receive affection. Do they ask:

  • You to come and play with them? Quality Time.
  • If you think the picture they drew is pretty? Affirmation.
  • If you can help with their hair? Touch.

Pay close attention to how they express affection to you.

This also provides insight into their heart and what means affection to them. Do they:

  • Want to sit in your lap and give you hugs?
  • Like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? 
  • Tell you they like hanging out with you while you work on the car? 

★  Spend Time With Them.

  • Learn their “affection language.” When my daughter was about 5, I took her to a movie and put my arm on the back of her seat. She immediately asked me to move my arm. Point noted!
  • Let them set the agenda for what you do together. Get on the floor and play with their toys together. Watch them play video games. If you are present and engaged, you are saying you like them and like spending time with them. (Put your phone away.)
  • Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on stuff. Show that you just enjoy their company. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
  • Notice and express gratitude for the little things they do. Don’t reserve praise for big things. “Thanks for telling me a little about your day.” “I appreciate you helping bring the groceries in.” This communicates that you notice and like them.

Spend time with your child and become a student of their heart. Tell them that you love them but also tell them that you like them, you enjoy spending time with them, how proud you are of them, and that you believe in them. This all translates to affection to your child.

Many kids today don’t think their parents even like them, let alone love them. You are communicating how you feel about your kids all the time. And they are watching.

Staying calm in the face of a screaming or irrational child having a tantrum is no easy task. (Especially if it is in public or around friends & family. You feel like everyone is watching and judging. And they probably are. You just gotta get over that. It’s hard.) Let’s start with you.

We often find it hard to handle our emotions when our children have meltdowns. That often gives them power over us.

★ I’m gonna say one kinda harsh but true thing, give you a parenting principle that kept us sane, and then list a bunch of practical tips to help you hold on to your sanity.

The Kinda Harsh Thing

Your kids aren’t driving you crazy, you are. Don’t take offense. Someone had to tell me that same thing and it was a game changer for my wife and I. At one point we had 4 kids 5 and under. I get it. But kids are just busy being kids with their little kids’ brains. We have to be the adults. Sometimes kids act out to get our attention or affection, but sometimes they are feeling things they aren’t equipped to process. Sometimes they are just tired. You “lose it” or are driven “crazy” only as much as you allow. Let that sink in.

Here’s a little something about your (fully developed) parent brain. When you are stressed to the max, totally about to lose it, and highly emotionally triggered, your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that does all the higher-order important brain stuff– like logic, predicting outcomes of words and actions, decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, processing feelings of empathy, compassion, shame, and guilt –that part of the brain gets “flooded” with the same stress hormones that put us into “fight or flight” mode. 

At this point, your nervous system has kicked in and you are no longer the “normal” you. To your body, it’s the same as being charged by a bear. You will not think, act, or speak, like the “normal” you. It’s not your best self, it’s your biology. This is the “driving me crazy” feeling that you feel. Under stress, we regress. We either shut down or lash out. (Sometimes at our kids, sadly.) You will accomplish little to no parenting good in this state and you may do harm.

Parents need to recognize when they are being “flooded” and call a “Time-Out.” This might mean asking your partner to step in. This might mean getting the kids into the car and just going home. This might mean asking your kids to go sit on their beds. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to recover from flooding. During this time, do what soothes you and calms you down.

Now think of a 4-year-old brain. They are not even close to fully developed. They can be flooded just by saying “no” to a piece of candy in the check-out line or simply being tired. When they are flooded, they throw tantrums, melt down, and act out. They need time for the floodwaters to recede from their little brains, too. Sometimes they can’t calm themselves down or soothe themselves. You might have to take an active part in that. That doesn’t mean condoning misbehavior. You can address it later after they have calmed down. It means they are not going to learn any “lesson” while flooded.

We have to be the adult, the grown-up, the parent, the one with a fully-developed brain.

The One Parenting Principle That Helped Us Keep Our Sanity

Kids need routines, rituals, structure, and boundaries.  This makes their young lives predictable, secure, and safe but it also provides them with the freedom to be kids. Oh, and these things can also help mom and dad to stay sane. It might take a little work upfront, but it will save you from so many tantrums, meltdowns, plus lots of time in the long run. You need a morning routine and a bedtime routine for sure, minimum. Post them at your kids’ eye-level. Use pictures if they can’t read yet. A structured day is a less stressful day.

Practical Tips! 

(Whether these are helpful may depend on you and your kids’ ages & maturity levels.)

  • Separate the child and the behavior. Be careful how you say things.
  • Sometimes kids need to go outside and burn off energy.
  • The Art of Redirection: “Instead of jumpin’ off the deck, why don’t you see who can run around the house the fastest?” (Notice: You didn’t say, “Don’t jump off the deck!”)
  • Sometimes we had to pretend we were watching other people’s kids. Seriously.
  • Enforce Quiet Time—Even if they’ve outgrown naps. Kids can sit on their bed and read or play for 30 minutes quietly (maybe longer) while you catch a breather.
  • Include them in what you are doing—cleaning, cooking, etc. Give them a little job to do.
  • Rotate toys. We would pack up some of their toys and put them in the attic. Less clutter, and when you bring those toys back, it’s like Christmas. Rotate out some other toys.
  • Read to them. Seriously, this should be a top priority at any age.
  • Try to do something new every week or so—puppet show, art exhibition, dance-off.
  • Have one of their friends over. (Take turns with another parent.) 1 Kid + 1 Friend = 0 Kids. I don’t know how that math works, but it does.
  • Take advantage of reading days at the library or bookstores or a “Parent’s Night Out” at your church or YMCA. [When things open back up.]
  • Get up before they do and you are ahead of the game. Don’t play “catch-up” all day. Have your own morning and bedtime routines. Take care of yourself.
  • Structured playtime— “It’s 1:30! That’s Lego Time!” Unstructured playtime—“It’s 1:30! Time to play whatever you want in your room!” (Or outside, if that is a safe option.)
  • Teach kids not to tattle-tale on each other and learn to work out their own differences. (Tattle-tales got in trouble at our house unless there was blood involved.)
  • Have some “special things” they don’t always have access to. Then when you break it out, it is an INCENTIVE & EVENT. “Play-Doh! Just after we clean up lunch!
  • Break bigger tasks down into smaller tasks—“Clean your room” = “Put the books back on the bookshelf, then report back!” “Okay, now put your stuffed animals up.” And so on.
  • We learned that each of our kids had what we called “Pressure Points.” Learn them. One child hated standing in the corner for “Time-Out.” Another kid loved it, but hated being sent to his room. Yet another child loved being sent to their room, but hated chores. They are all unique individuals. What gets one’s attention may not get another’s.
  • Use a hula-hoop for cleaning their room—“Clean up the part of the floor in the hula-hoop!” Then move the hoop to the next area.
  • Time chores—make them a race, game-ify things. “Let’s see if you can get ready for bed before the timer goes off!” See if they can top their best time.
  • Don’t just say, “Time to get out of PJs. Get dressed!” Give them choices: “You can choose between this outfit or this one.” Trust me, this solves a bunch of problems before they become problems.
  • Charts on the fridge are your friend (but only if you are consistent with it).
  • If any behavior gets a “big reaction” from you, you will see it again. And again. And again. Choose wisely what you react to…
  • Have older kids help with younger kids. (But be careful not to put adult responsibilities on them. That can breed resentment.)
  • Sometimes you just have to put a kids’ movie on and chill for 90 minutes. It’s okay.
  • If you have more than one child, try to get some one-on-one time with each of them doing what they like to do. It can be 10-15 minutes twice a day.
  • SNACK TIME!” Diffuses many chaotic situations. Ah, the power of some fruit, cheese and crackers!
  • Do some exercises with your kids. It lets you blow off some steam and gets them moving and sets a good example. Plus, it’s just fun.
  • Try to see situations through their eyes. Cultivate empathy.
  • Know your triggers. Be prepared for them and prepare your children for them.“We are going grocery shopping. Please do not ask for any candy. The answer is already ‘no’ so remember not to ask.
  • Love your child unconditionally. Let them know that you like and enjoy them too.

What is that saying about parenting? “The days are long, but the years fly by.” It’s so true. My kids are basically grown up now. Somewhere, deep down inside of me, I miss the insanity.

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?” Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting. Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

  1. On a video call… “Hey Dad, I’m hungry!” “But you just ate.” “I’m still hungry.”
  2. The dream of sleeping later every day since I am working from home… then remembering my 7 and 4-year-old don’t know what sleeping late means.
  3. Countless hours of Nerf battles and Lego builds.
  4. Using the parent face when your kid walks in the room while recording a video for work.
  5. Getting on to your child for walking into the room while on a video call but forgetting to mute yourself. Sorry team!
  6. Explaining to your child that show-and-tell is not part of your video meetings.
  7. Family walks all times of the day—just because we are home and we can.
  8. Eating lunch and dinner daily as a family and having great conversations.
  9. 4 weeks into quarantine and my 4-year-old was making her own lunch. Success!!
  10. Dodging Nerf bullets while on a work call.
  11. Apologizing to a work vendor for the loudness of your kids in the background of a call… only to hear “Oh, I get it” in response.
  12. When a one-hour webinar takes three cause you know… kids gotta have snacks.
  13. Your child answers a business call… oops!
  14. My 7-year-old constantly reminds me of his video call schedule.
  15. I might have used bribery just to make it through a meeting.
  16. Watched Frozen 2 so many times you’ve begun to wake up singing “Show Yourself.”
  17. Fully aware that Elsa singing “Into the Unknown” is the song of 2020.
  18. Muted by co-workers during a video call because you ran off to referee a sibling quarrel.
  19. Showed up to at least one video meeting in PJs and bedhead.
  20. Get overly excited to drive somewhere, anywhere… alone.
  21. Stayed up way too late too often to work after the kids go to bed.
  22. When your 7-year-old says, “Dad, you remember when we used to go to school?”
  23. Grocery shopping (alone) is something you get really excited about.
  24. Hiding my stash of cookies so my kids (and maybe my wife) didn’t find them.
  25. When all is quiet, not worrying about why it’s quiet, just accepting it, and taking a nap.
  26. All that saved gas money is not enough to keep up with the increase in grocery spending.
  27. Covid-wear is a real thing… business (or at least presentable on the top), PJs on the bottom.
  28. Having a 3-foot-tall shadow on every call.
  29. Surrendering your living room to be a site for fort building.
  30. Abruptly ended a group video meeting when my oldest ran in and said he got sick in the living room.
  31. Dropped $300 at the grocery store and realized I only bought snacks.
  32. Found all the creative ways to eat Nutella.
  33. The kids declare, “I need to do my work” while playing pretend.
  34. My sweet 4-year-old decided to draw a picture of what she thinks dad loves most during this time… running and Zoom calls. She might be half-right.
  35. Gave into otherwise ridiculous demands from your children in an effort to maintain your sanity and peace.
  36. PJs are acceptable attire for small kids… all hours of the day. Look, we’re ready for bed!
  37. Diligently trying to work on a project and your little one crawls up in your lap and asks, “Can you just come lay with me?” And the project is on pause.
  38. Best investment of the summer… inflatable pool. I can finally get some work done and they are entertained for hours.
  39. Having to constantly remind my kids that it is not okay to sit and talk outside the bathroom while someone is in there. Whatever it is can wait… and I want some peace and quiet.
  40. Realizing that no matter the chaos and stress, these moments will be treasured for the rest of my life and theirs.

Parents, these last few months may not have been what we expected—it definitely wasn’t something we were prepared for, but this time should be cherished. You are doing a great job and your kids see it. Have fun, be crazy, and enjoy the slower pace that still lies ahead for many of us this summer. You’ve got this!! Go make some memories and treasure every moment!