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How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

You can lay the groundwork for bigger talks in the future.

Our children are exposed to more screens than ever, beginning at a very young age. They are bombarded with digital content and exposure to ads, friends, and family members sharing who knows what. Not to mention the sneaky ways tech experts entice viewers to look at inappropriate images. (Check out PARENTING COURSE | Parenting In The Brave New Digital World here!)

The sexual curiosity of many 6 and 7-year-olds is getting awakened earlier than you ever imagined. So whether porn pops up on their screen or a friend or family member shares something, you want to be ready to have the “porn talk” with your kids.

Talking with your young child about pornography doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, before the teen years, you have some advantages. 

1. At this age, the parent/child relationship is often still the most important influence for your child. 

2. Young school-aged children are probably more open about what they’ve seen, done, heard, or said, especially when they feel supported by their parents. Yes, some kids lie. However, a 15-year-old’s efforts to hide something are very different from a 7-year-old’s. 

3. Parents have more control over where they go, who they spend time with, and what they do. (When kids split time between parents, this can be challenging. But, if parents work together, they can both be more aware.)

Keep these things in mind as you consider how to talk to and protect your child. Perhaps they’ve already been exposed to porn. Or maybe you have a reason to think you should talk about what porn is with them. If you find out your child has seen stuff you don’t want them to see, try not to show them you’re overwhelmed.

Remember, they’re still young. Still forming right and wrong mentally. Learning the world outside of their bubble. Your child’s life isn’t ruined. 

What Not To Do:

  1. Don’t fly off the deep end. It’s disappointing when your young child has been robbed of a certain innocence. But if they’ve seen it, they can’t “unsee” it. If you’re overly emotional, it will make it harder for them to talk to you in the future. 
  2. Don’t dive super deep into the details. The goal is to help your child do the right thing if they see inappropriate content. 
  3. Don’t solely rely on parental controls on devices. Your parent-child relationship plays the biggest role in dealing with this issue and reducing the risk of exposure. 

Language

Don’t assume your child knows what the word pornography means. It may not mean what they think it means. How does your child identify inappropriate content? 

Try asking:

  • “Have you seen pictures or videos that you don’t feel comfortable looking at with me?” 
  • “Are there sometimes pictures on your screen of people without their clothes on?” 
  • “Has anyone shown you pics of things that made you feel weird or uncomfortable?” 
  • “Have you looked at stuff you don’t think we’d want you to see?” 

The word porn may not trigger the type of awareness for kids that it would for you. They will, however, know when they’ve seen something that’s not OK to you. 

Find out what they’ve seen and where.

Look at the internet browser, YouTube history, and some of the video games they play. Gently ask questions to gather info. Ask to see what they look at with friends. 

Set the standard of what’s OK and what’s not.

A 15 or 16-year-old clearly knows what they’re doing when looking at porn. A 5 or 6-year-old is learning about the outside world. You have to set the standard for appropriate and responsible technology use. You may say, “It’s not OK for you to look at anything online that we can’t look at together. That includes people who aren’t wearing clothes or who are doing things that only adults should be doing.” 

Try, “Anytime we go to someone’s house, doesn’t everyone have their clothes on? It should be the same way when you’re looking at a screen. Everyone should be dressed.”

Clearly say what you expect.

Ask your child to tell you (and the adult in charge) if someone shows them something inappropriate. Tell them it’s important to be honest with you, even if someone asks them to keep secrets or threatens them concerning what they are doing or showing him. 

Be a safe person he or she can come to without fear of getting in trouble, and don’t be shocked by what they show you. You want to encourage them and make it easy for them to talk to you. On the other hand, let them know they will get in trouble if they see something wrong and hide it. Make sure they understand the difference.

Standards and expectations don’t work without consequences.

If your child continues to view inappropriate content and fails to meet the standards and expectations you’ve set (see above), be consistent with consequences. Maybe they lose screen time. It may mean no sweets or an earlier bedtime for several days.

If the consequences don’t work, consulting a professional may help. If your child insists on looking at porn, something else may be going on.

Often the key to steering your child is the approach. Your kids need you to be gentle and supportive. Look for ways to appreciate and reward their good decisions. This will lay the groundwork for being an ally as they move into the teen years and beyond.

Other helpful blogs: 

When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography

Boys and Porn

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

Talking now can help you talk more as they grow.

Dad: “Hey bud, how was your day today?”

Son: “Fine.”

Dad: “Was it a good day?”

Son: “Yep.”

Son: “Can I go play now?”

Have you had this conversation? We have… too often. After a couple of these, it was time to regroup and rethink how we created conversation with our kids. 

To get the most engagement from your little ones, ask them questions that interest them. Ask questions that spark their imagination. If you want to know how their day is, invite them to do something with you and ask questions while doing something together. If kids feel like they are being interrogated, they will resolve to one-word answers.

Conversations with your kids can be informative and entertaining. When we engage our young children in healthy conversation, we lay the groundwork for deeper conversations as they get older. I want us to be the first people our kids go to when they need to talk about a challenging topic or have big questions about the world. 

There is so much opportunity to have fun conversations with your kids if you start with the right questions. We have learned from experience not to ask questions with one-word answers. Open-ended questions are where it’s at.

Here are some of our favorite conversation starters for kids and parents.

For check-ins and deeper conversations:

  • What is the most fascinating thing you learned today?
  • What is your favorite part about today?
  • Who did you eat lunch with? Or play on the playground with?
  • What is the oddest thing you did today?
  • What’s a new experience you had this week?
  • What is something you have recently done that you are proud of?

For mealtime or drivetime:

  • If you could only eat one fruit for the rest of your life, which would you pick and why?
  • Would you rather live in an igloo or a treehouse?
  • Would you rather be able to walk on the moon or breathe underwater?
  • What’s something new you’d like to try this year?
  • What’s your favorite memory of the last year?
  • If you could go back in time and change your name, what would you choose?
  • What do you think the clouds feel like?
  • What’s your favorite color in the rainbow?
  • What’s the best thing about being the exact age you are right now?
  • If you were deep-sea diving, which creatures would you like to see?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do when it’s raining?
  • If you could fly, where would you go?
  • If you had one superpower, what would it be?
  • Who would you like to get a letter from?
  • What do you most wonder about the future?
  • If you could hang out with anyone in history, who would it be? And what would you do?

To get the most out of any conversation starters, you have to be all in. Be willing to answer any questions you ask and have fun with the answers.

Remember, these conversation starters can help you lay the foundation for the more challenging conversations that are coming. If your kids can rely on you to answer the crazy questions, they’ll be more willing to ask the challenging ones. Have fun and be ready to laugh a lot!

Other helpful blogs:

What You Need to Know About Positive Parenting

5 Ways Positive Parenting Creates a Lifelong Connection with Your Child

100 Conversation Starters To Increase Your Family’s Connectedness

Five Simple Things You Can Do To Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child

Seven Things Your Toddler Wishes You Knew (Plus a Bonus)

Knowing these things can make a HUGE difference in your parenting.

Parenting toddlers* can test your courage as a parent, adult, and otherwise mannerly person. As the parent of 5 retired toddlers, a current toddler, and an aspiring toddler, I’ve been tested quite a bit, and I’ve struggled. But, as billions of parents and I have learned, toddlers somehow make it to preschool age, sometimes despite their parents, which is comforting to know. In order to make it past that toddler stage, current and future parents of toddlers might want to know a few things.

Here are seven things your toddler wishes you knew:

1. I like screens, but I like you more. 

Screens are colorful and lively. They move and make funny noises. What’s not to like? Programmers are good at designing screens to make me happy, but they can’t make me happy like you can. I’d prefer you and the screens together. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s best to look at screens with me so you can help me understand what I’m seeing. Believe it or not, I’d pick you over the screens any day. 

2. I like being with you, but one day I’ll wish you had given me unstructured playtime without you and the screens. 

The AAP says that toddlers need unstructured time alone. Entertaining myself with blocks, dollhouses, and funny gadgets helps me grow and develop. Sometimes I need you to show me how and then step back. I’ll be better for it.

3. Emotionally and mentally, I’m a toddler. 

I may talk a lot and say clever things, but I don’t know the language or possess wisdom like you do. When I yell “No!” 40 times, throw a tantrum, or act jealous when you hold another kid, remember, I’m a toddler. I may even spew out hurtful phrases like, “I hate you.” “I wish you weren’t my parent.” “You’re ugly.” 

Hear me. I’m frustrated. I’m experiencing these crazy emotions. I have no idea how to get what I want. As a baby, all I had to do was cry. Now I have words, but I don’t know how to use the millions of words out there to express myself. So it’s “by any means necessary” until you teach me and hold me accountable. Even then, it may take some time. 

It’s not OK for me to say hurtful things, but it’s a normal part of my development. Please help me to learn the right boundaries and show me some empathy. When you try to help me understand instead of getting equally frustrated, it teaches me how to express my emotions. You may not be able to stop the tantrums, but I need you to teach me through them. 

4. I know I’m cute. I’ll use it to my advantage if you let me. 

Please don’t let me use that to control the house. Boundaries are necessary for me. It isn’t cute when I hit someone, talk disrespectfully, and abuse my siblings or their things. I may not be able to speak well, but I can understand what you’re saying. Please don’t let me get in the habit of using my cuteness to be mean. 

5. I know I just said I’m a toddler. I’m also a person, and I have something to give. 

The quicker you give me things I can do to help the family, the less likely I’ll feel entitled. I can help you take spoons out of the dishwasher, pick up toys, and take clothes out of dryers. All this stuff has to be done, and I can do it. That way, you can do the stuff that only adults can do. Everybody wins. I don’t want you to do everything for me, only what you have to do. I can understand more than most adults think I can. Harvard researchers say that having responsibilities will help me be a more caring person

6. Stability and consistency help me settle into this world. 

I’m seeing so many new things, and I don’t know how to act sometimes. Predictability at home helps me not be anxious all the time. You may not realize it, but the routines of eating dinner together and talking about the good and bad in my life, reading a book to me at night, or just knowing you’ll hug me when I’m hurt helps build trust and security.

7. I don’t need a perfect parent. I need a present parent. 

You’re gonna make some mistakes with me. Who wouldn’t? I’m a lot to handle. Just because I yell out a cuss word at church that I heard you say when you were upset doesn’t mean I’ll grow up and be unruly. Not everything I do is about you. And even if it were, who cares what everyone else thinks? I’m not worried about what other parents say about their kids on social media. That’s their life. They aren’t telling the whole story anyway. 

I think the world of you. Even when I test the limits and yell something crazy, you’re the one I want to roll with, mistakes and all. Please don’t be scared — it’s harder to ruin my life than you think. 

Bonus: I love you. 

You don’t have to prove that you love me; I know you do. That’s why I keep looking back to see if you’re there when I’m testing my independence.

Your presence, consistency, and care mean more to me than your perfection, knowledge, and skill as a parent. If I say you’re mean, remember, I’m 3. What do I know? My world centers around me. I’m closer to being an infant than I am to having a fully developed mind. The tests we go through together will make us stronger. Just stick with me, and don’t stop showing me the right way. I’ll grow, develop, and mature in due time. 

*The CDC considers toddlers to be ages 1-3. Ages 4 & 5 are considered preschoolers.

Note: This message is veteran-tested and toddler approved.

Other helpful blogs:

How a Parent’s Emotions Can Affect Their Child

How to Help Children Handle Their Emotions

6 Fun Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Toddler

How To Handle Public Toddler Temper Tantrums

4 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Anger

You can help them express themselves in healthy ways.

Eight years ago, my wife and I embarked on a journey. A journey with no map, no guidebook, and filled with mystery and surprise. A journey of blazing our own trails. You may know this journey… it’s called parenting. 

Now, here we are with two curious, fun-loving adventurers, one 8 and one 5. Both of them are full of life and laughter and a full range of emotions. This stage of parenting brings a new element: navigating those emotions. The dirty diapers and potty training are gone; we live in a world of attitudes. Any other elementary-age parents out there feel me? I wasn’t ready for this.

One of the more challenging emotions to address has been anger. How do I help my child navigate being angry? How do I help them express their anger? Do I want them to be angry?

Before I go further, let me say this slowly and clearly: Anger is normal. There is nothing wrong with being angry. It’s what we do with anger that matters. Anger often reveals our passions and sense of justice. We just can’t let it control us. [Read Why Anger Isn’t Good or Bad for more on this]

Now that we’ve got that clear, here are four ways you can help your child deal with anger:

Teach them about their feelings.

Our kids are constantly learning. From day one, they are discovering a new world with new sights and sounds. Feelings and emotions are no different. They learn happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and joy. Our job as parents is to help them learn these emotions and name them. They may not know how to express what they feel, but we can give them the words.

When they’re mad or upset, help them investigate why they feel that way. As you both discover the expressions of their emotions, name them. Give them words like sad, mad, happy, disappointed, maybe even hangry (my kids get angry).

Model how to handle anger in a healthy way.

Kids are sponges. They watch and listen. You may have heard it said, “More is caught than taught.” That’s parenting gold right there. Researchers have found that much of what we learn comes through social interactions. This is called the social learning theory.

What it means is, how you handle anger directly influences how your child handles it.

If someone cuts me off in traffic, I get mad. Just being real. I often don’t want to say nice things about said person. (Confession is good for the soul; glad I got that out there.) I’m conscious of this in myself, so when it happens and my kids see me mad, I tell them that I’m frustrated and why. And I own my actions or feelings.

It’s healthy for us to express what makes us angry so our kids can learn how to handle the same emotions. Now, we don’t have to express all of our frustrations to them. There are plenty of adult problems that our kids need to be protected from. But we can define some of our frustrations, how they make us feel, and why.

They are watching and listening anyway, so take the opportunity to teach.

Help them communicate their feelings.

When we help our child name their emotions, we are helping them communicate what is going on inside. If my kids are angry, I don’t want them to throw a tantrum or become overly upset because things didn’t go their way. I want them to be able to express what they’re feeling and act appropriately. This goes back to modeling. Remember, they’re watching.

Make a plan to handle anger.

Anger is normal, but what we do with anger matters. If you want to help your child manage their anger, it might be a good idea to make a plan before they get angry. Trying to make a plan while they’re dealing with the emotion won’t work. Here are some thoughts on what could be part of your plan:

  • Engage in a calming activity (coloring, reading, taking a walk).
  • Take a “time in.” When they feel frustrated, take a few minutes to calm down. Reflect on what they think or feel and calm down before speaking or doing something. Remember, this isn’t a punishment. 
  • Take deep breaths or count to 10.

Once they have calmed down, talk through the situation and their responses. Acknowledge and applaud them for handling the situation. It’s important to recognize what goes well. A wise man once told me, “What gets recognized gets repeated.” 

It’s healthy for children (and adults) to express and feel their emotions. It’s our job to teach them to do this in a healthy way.

If you feel your child’s anger is increasing despite your best efforts, consult their pediatrician. We want to do everything in our power to help our children be successful and develop into extraordinary adults.

Other helpful blogs:

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:

3 Reasons To Let Your Child Have More Screen Time

How they spend their time in front of a screen matters.

You’re a good parent. You wouldn’t call yourself one. You’re truly humbled by how much you don’t know about parenting. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed. Often, it’s like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. But you care. You’re trying hard at this parenting thing. 

So, you invest time in reading about health, nutrition, and child development. As a good parent, you’re concerned about the effects of technology and screen time on kids, especially for your child. There’s alarming but also alarmist info out there. So, let’s set the record straight. Maybe this can clear up some confusion or lift lingering guilt. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) released their lengthy GUIDELINES ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, SEDENTARY BEHAVIOUR, AND SLEEP FOR CHILDREN UNDER 5 YEARS OF AGE.

Their conclusions regarding screen time:

  • None for kids younger than 2 years old.
  • Just 60 minutes per day for 3- to 4-year-olds.

In an NPR interview, Fiona Bull, the chairperson of the WHO team that created the guidelines, said, “We’re concerned — and the evidence shows — that extended periods of time passively watching screens is detrimental to health, particularly for very young children.” 

Case closed, right? It’s easy for parents to read such edicts and come away with the idea that screens are a radioactive toxin.

But there are two phrases here that need to be unpacked and examined::

  • “Extended periods of time.” (The report uses qualifiers like “hours,” “sedentary,” and “restrained.” Translation: A child lying around or being strapped into something, in front of a screen for over an hour.)
  • “Passively watching.” (This is in contrast to “actively engaging.” Especially engagement accompanied by a parent.)

Maybe the case against screens isn’t closed. Let’s focus on case management instead. Here are three types of screen time the WHO report is NOT addressing. 

  1. Video Chatting. This is the time you let your child interact with a person like Daddy or Grandmom on a screen. This isn’t “passively watching.” Instead, this is engaging and is just as developmentally appropriate as talking, reading, or singing to your child. 
  2. Screen as Pacifier. Yes. Life happens. Your child is wailing with an intensity that has you considering the pediatric benefits of exorcism. Still, you aren’t quite finished with a work Zoom meeting. Or you just need a quick shower. Or it’s a 15-minute car ride. This is real life. Trust your parenting survival instincts. Your phone is no different than a pacifier or toy you would use to occupy your child. Don’t let the WHO guilt you on this. Note: This is a screen as a short-term pacifier, not a screen as a free babysitter
  3. Co-Viewing. Joint media engagement. Anytime you’re interacting with your child and a screen is fine. Point out shapes and colors. Count things. Identify animals in an interactive storybook. Move items on the touch-screen. This is not the sort of thing the WHO is discouraging, so snuggle up. (Academic guilt relief, here and here.)

You’re a good parent. Think of screen time like sweets. Little treats, especially shared, can be just the thing to get your child, and you, through the day.

Other helpful resources:

How to Deal with the Terrible Twos

You can use this magical time to grow together.

From the moment you announce your pregnancy, it seems like everyone offers you parenting advice. You’re inundated with opinions about everything from sleeping and the right kinds of diapers to preparing you for the terrible twos. (By the way, that actually lasts from 18 months until about 3. You’re welcome.)

Actually, I believe there’s no such thing as the terrible twos. I call this age a “magical time” when many developmental leaps take place. It’s a time of significant growth and development for you and your child. 

The time between 2 and 4 is foundational as kids change physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They’re also learning and becoming their own person. It’s a time to look forward to and anticipate because the skill developments in this timeframe benefit you AND your child.  

Here are a few things to remember as you deal with this “magical time.” 

This is a necessary stage of growth and development.

I had a friend who shared that when their child was in this stage, they believed they did something to “break” their child. Gone was the calm, sweet infant they brought home. It seemed to happen overnight. 

I could bore you with all the human growth and development theories, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, this stage of development is necessary and expected. Yes, they have tantrums and cry. But it’s usually because they don’t have the words to effectively communicate what they want or how they feel. Plus, they don’t have the skills to control their emotions. This is when the magic happens. 

As a parent, you get the privilege of teaching your child how to recognize emotions and effectively communicate them to you. 

Choose your battles wisely.

It’s critical to decide what’s truly important versus what you can let go of during this time. Part of the magic is setting appropriate boundaries. Everything doesn’t have to be a fight or power struggle. Remember, you are the authority, so no need to struggle. 

For example, safety is paramount. Things like holding hands while walking in a parking lot are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Other things, you may choose not to fight. Mismatched socks or wearing a Christmas sweater in May shouldn’t ruffle your feathers. 

Try to prevent bombarding yourself with thoughts about how something makes you look to others. This is about you and your child growing and learning together. You may need to create a saying to remind you that this phase is necessary for growth and becoming the person they were made to be.

This “magical time” lays the foundation for your future.

It may be hard to believe that your child will one day be a teenager or adult. You may be wondering, “Why are you talking about the future when I’m struggling in the present?” Believe it or not, your present struggle is preparing you for the future by developing your character, strength, and skills as a parent. 

MAGICAL TIME teaches you skills like:

  • Patience
  • Staying calm in a crisis or the middle of the toy aisle when your child is pitching a fit 
  • What works best for your particular child
  • How to guide rather than dictate or control (because can you really control anyone?)

MAGICAL TIME teaches your child skills like:

  • How to identify and regulate emotions
  • How to make decisions (age-appropriate)
  • Independence and autonomy
  • How to speak for themselves

As you’re learning and growing, your child may still cry, yell and throw tantrums. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

You aren’t the only parent who has gone through this. 

More importantly, you aren’t the worst parent in the world. In reality, you are learning new skills. So, give yourself a break!

Through these words of encouragement, I’m not trying to blow smoke or try to make it seem like magical time is without challenges or some tears from both of you. 

Yes, it can be challenging, frustrating, and feel never-ending. But no matter what, it will be worth it. You’ll learn about yourself and how to be the parent your child needs. You get to choose how to see this time. Will you see it as magical or terrible?

Other helpful blogs:

“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.