conversation encouragers and discouragers

In the process of googling something else, I stumbled upon a list of rather commonly used expressions that may come across as invalidating of someone's right to feel how they feel.

I'm sure many parents who say this type of thing have very good intentions. (Although some may be in such pain or confusion that they actually do intend to shut their kids down.) And since most of us are also very interested in having our children talk to us about their thoughts and feelings, I thought it might be helpful to know that even well-intentioned words can shut down the flow of communication.

talking to your teen about romantic relationships

Not that I believe the subtleties of love or relationship need to be reduced to a magic formula, but I when I discovered this checklist in The Tao of Negotiation: How to Resolve Conflict in All Areas of Your Life, which I found on the business shelf of my local used bookstore, it struck me as both pithy and succinct wisdom that I'd like to pass on to my kids.

night weaning while co-sleeping

If you are a co-sleeping family that wants your older baby or toddler to stop nursing at night, I highly recommend the sensible and compassionate approach described in this article by Dr. Jay Gordon:

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

my ex does not support my relationship with my teenage daughters

Q: Here is an excerpt from e-mail that I received from my ex-wife. As you can tell by the tone of this message, she is very angry, for some reason. And it is obvious that she has no inclination to help me with my relationship with my children. I appreciate anything you could suggest...

A: The email in question, which I did not include in order to preserve confidentiality, was about trying to schedule time with his older teenage daughters. His ex is refusing to facilitate this, and his daughters are not responding to the messages or texts he sends directly to their cell phones. Below is my reply:

my parenting book recommendations

Parents often ask me for book recommendations, and I'm sometimes at a bit of a loss because I rarely come across a book that I can endorse without reservation. (I'm very, very picky!)

So before I suggest a title, I typically issue the disclaimer that I hope parents will see books and other parenting resources not as instruction manuals to be followed rigidly or blindly, but rather as sources of ideas to contemplate, experiment with, and customize.

That said, here are a few resources that have been inspiring and informative for me: (Which is obviously not a book, but a website with lots of great articles, plus some inexpensive pamphlets that can be ordered.)

Becoming the Parent You Want To Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser

Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children By Ross Greene

Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Mate

Please Stop the Rollercoaster!: How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride by Sue Blaney

Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex, A Hands on, practical guide to coping with custody issues that arise with an uncooperative ex-spouse by Ross and Corcoran (and I have to go on record as saying I REALLY don't like this title, but the content is excellent. I recommend using a book cover because it pains me to think of a child thinking that one parent considers the other to be a jerk!)

I have posted a rather extensive list of recommended resources on many topics, including parenting, on my other website: I haven't updated it to include my up-to-the-minute favorites, but there's enough there to keep you busy for quite a while.

I'd love to hear your recommendations, so please let me know about your favorites by posting a comment, so others can enjoy them as well!

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

a little parental silliness can save the day

Learned something interesting from a client today. When her kids are frowning, she tells them that's great, because she's making frown soup and she could use another frown to throw in the pot.

What to do when your child whines, "It's not fair!"

Q: My kids whine that it's not fair when one of them gets something the others don't, like a goody bag at a birthday party. What do I say to them when they tell me that I should buy them a treat, too, to make it fair?

A: Ah, yes. This one is a classic! Although we parents know that life isn't always fair, a whining child is not exactly receptive to that lesson in that moment.

So first, give empathy -- perhaps by saying, "You really wish you could have a goody bag, too."

sifting through contradictory parenting advice

There's certainly no shortage of both solicited and unsolicited parenting advice these days, much of it contradictory:

Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Never hit a child.
Set more limits and boundaries.
Let go of more control.
Loosen the reins.
Tighten the reins.


How is a well-intentioned parent supposed to sort through all of this discrepancy?

What should I do when my kids hit or pester each other?

Q: Sometimes my son gets ornery, and just won't leave his sister alone. He'll poke or hit or verbally harass her, and it drives both me and his sister crazy! I tell him over and over again to stop, but he just keeps going until I get really angry and blow up at him. There's got to be a better way!

A: My hunch is that when your son is hitting, his cortex is probably not online. The cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for compliance, self-restraint, logic, and reasoning, and it is not well developed enough in children to act as a consistently reliable behavior inhibitor.

what to do when your child yells at you

Q: When my child yells at me, I tell her she can't talk to me that way, and that I won't listen until she can be sweet. But rather than calming down, she often just becomes more upset at me. What is going on? I don't want to reward her lack of self-control by responding to her when she is yelling, but I don't think what I am doing is working, either.

A: What an insightful question! A little bit of brain science might illuminate what is happening.

don't overreact to teenage drama!!!!!!!!!!!

(hee hee hee - did you like all those exclamation points in the title up there? that's my idea of a real funny joke...)

But seriously, folks. Teenagers can be SO dramatic sometimes. All the parts of their brain are not yet reliably wired together for optimal synergistic functioning. The brainstem, which is in charge of the instinctive fight/flight response; the limbic system, which governs emotions; and the cortex, which is responsible for logic, reason, and learning, sometimes operate together as a well oiled machine.

New York Times article on parenting

I was thrilled to read an article in the New York Times which cites research on the harm caused by using parental love and approval as either a carrot or a stick in an attempt to control our children's behavior. Here's an excerpt:

What these and other studies tell us, if we’re able to hear the news, is that praising children for doing something right isn’t a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong. Both are examples of conditional parenting, and both are counterproductive.

Read the article here:

To read about parenting strategies that work within the framework of unconditional love and approval, check out these posts from my blog, or click on the discipline category in the sidebar to the right of this page:

If you'd like support as you learn to apply these techniques in your parenting, I'm available for private or small group consultations. For more information, click here or visit

rethinking crying

When I look back at my early years of parenting, I realize I had a really hard time letting my children cry or experience discomfort, even when the thing they didn't like was for their highest good. There were times that I turned myself into a human pretzel trying to keep them from feeling distress. (Weaning comes to mind.)

Many parents are much better about this than I was, and if you are one of them, you probably won't find any benefit in reading further.

But if this is a growing edge for you like it is for me, perhaps it will be helpful for you to eavesdrop on a realization I had today.

joint custody and money problems

Q: I have been divorced for over a year now, and share joint custody of my four teenagers. Aside from losing almost everything in the divorce because I could not afford a lawyer, I am having trouble with disrespectful kids.

My ex gets angry when things don't go his way. My children are beginning to treat me the same way. They get mad at me if I can't do what they want. It usually has to do with money. They never ask their dad for things they need or want, so they ask me, when I say I can't afford it they get mad and make me feel like I'm a bad mom.

never hit a child

I saw something that broke my heart last night. Some friends and I were dining on the patio of a restaurant that overlooked a plaza. A man was pacing around talking on his cell phone, which is nothing unusual, when several of his children came out of a store. One of them, a girl of about 7, blasted through the door with her face twisted in a grimace and emitted a loud wail.

In the blink of an eye, the man flew into a rage. He grabbed the oldest boy, who was about 10, corralled him in a headlock, and started punching him very hard in the shoulder while yelling in a whisper through clenched teeth with so much intensity that his face flared red and his veins popped out. The girl and the other children immediately disappeared back into the store.

My son runs away from me in public

Q: My son is an energetic and lively 6 year old who literally hits the ground running each morning. I have some physical limitations that make it impossible for me to chase him. He does not have many friends, and because he has some behavioural problems, he is not welcome in clubs or organized sports.

He loves running away from me, no matter where we are going or what we are doing. I do not enjoy embarrassing him , but I have a backpack with a strap which attaches onto me that I have threatened to put on him if he keeps running away from me, because I am worried that he will get run over by a car or collide with strangers in the street, which is something I would have to live with for the rest of my life! He has no sense of danger or fear for the consequences of his actions, and at times he tends to blatantly ignore my verbal commands.

Can you come up with any hints, tips or advice for me as I am a single parent and I do not know where to turn.

happy father's day

I stumbled upon this article online today, and found myself getting all teary-eyed while reading it. A teenage brother and sister who are orphaned by their mother's sudden death are adopted by their mom's ex-boyfriend, and he steps up to unexpected fatherhood in every possible way. I just love happy endings.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

My preschooler starts to cry out of the blue!

Q: My four year old son is the sweetest child when he's in a good mood, but it can change so quickly! Here's an example:

The other morning we were getting ready to go to the park. He was so excited that he started telling me which park we were going to, and I was agreeing to everything he was saying.

Within seconds, he suddenly changed. He could not put his shoes on, so I asked him if he needed help. He replied, "No, Mommy, I can do it." He kept trying, but with no luck, so I asked him again, "Would you like Mommy to help?" Again he said no.

Why is it so difficult to change my parenting?

Q: I wholeheartedly agree with your advice on collaboration vs. consequences. Yet sometimes I still find myself issuing consequences, threats and ultimatums, even though I know they don't work! I wish collaborative parenting came more naturally to me ... any suggestions?

A: Oh gosh, it's that way for all of us when we try to break old habits. There's sort of a progression that the process of personal change moves through.

What to do when your toddler is angry about the new baby

Q: I have two sons. One is 2 1/2 years old and the other 7 months. After I gave birth to the baby, my older son's personality changed. I remember him coming to the hospital, and bursting into tears as soon as he lay eyes on his brother. Ever since then, he has been less cooperative and very distant with me, and it has caused alot of tension in our relationship. He has changed from a very loving little boy, to one who often pushes me away. There have been a few occasions where he has reduced me to tears with his behaviour. On a couple of those occasions, I have said some mean things to him, much to my disgust! Since then, I believe this has caused him to further alienate himself from me, often hitting me and shouting. He has since become much closer to his father as a result, which is something I am glad for. I just wish there was a way for he and I to become as close as we once were and for me to make up for the things which I said.

-mum of two

look for the good

I just found this while cleaning up some archived emails. I wrote it back in 2005 ...

I am all aglow this morning, having just spent 30 minutes over at the middle school with my son.

Each month, the teachers there are encouraged to nominate a student who quietly, day in and day out, makes the school a more positive and fulfilling place to be. These students receive an award for their leadership at a celebratory breakfast, which their parents also attend.

internet safety for girls

interesting article from CNN about how teenage girls can minimize the risk of receiving unwanted sexual advances online:

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

grounding and curfew violations

There's an important distinction between grounding for protective or punitive reasons.

Punitive grounding is intended to apply uncomfortable consequences and restrictions which can be avoided in the future by complying with parental rules. It may appear to work in the short term, but rarely triggers permanent changes in high risk behaviors. In fact, punitive grounding often simply inspires teens to find creative ways of not getting caught. (Such coming home on time and then sneaking out their bedroom windows later ...)

Protective grounding is intended to maintain safety; to scale choices and privileges back to the zone where teens can handle their freedom without risking harm to themselves or others.

My son is so hard on himself!

Q: My son sets impossible standards for himself and then gets upset when he can't meet them. I try to tell him that it's okay to make mistakes because that's how we learn, but he still gets so down on himself for "failing." I know how painful it is to be a perfectionist because I'm the same way. How can I help him lighten up?

A: Yes, perfectionism can be painful. And it can also be a gift. I suspect that you've achieved some amazing feats in your life because of your visionary idealism and your drive to improve upon whatever you can. No doubt your family has also been blessed with many gifts because of the kind of parent your inner drive has motivated you to become.

brain 101

this is sort of a user's manual for your brain, written by a self-proclaimed 'grumpy' scientist who is scrupulous about his research and sources. I think you'll find it illuminating, and I bet you'll learn something new about how your child's brain functions. ( and yours, too!)

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

a sweet story for mother's day

You might want to have some tissues handy when you read it. It's about a Boulder woman who offers to give birth to her best friend's child.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

Parenting a high school senior

Q: During the past 3 months, my straight A daughter, who is a senior in high school, has become a C student. Her grades started slipping when she started dating -- before then she had no real interest in boys. She says she is 18 and can do as she likes. We have always been a close family and are just worried, not about our daughter growing up, but about her future. If you have any suggestions about how to take care of this I would appreciate it greatly.

-Concerned Dad
(note from karen: this question was edited for brevity)

A: It can be really painful to witness our offspring learning from experience ... even excruciating at times. We can feel so powerless -- like our children are slipping from our grasp and there's nothing we can do about it. It's easy to fear for their future. We've seen so much more than they have, and we worry that a few poor choices now can irrevocably change the course of their lives.

Helping your athlete deal with poor sportsmanship

Q: My daughter pitches on the Little League (LL) softball team. Last night, the coach of the traveling team, who is also the father of another pitcher, stood a yard from my daughter when she was doing her pitching warm-up. He then stood at the fence next to her dugout during the game and tried to intimidate her by staring fiercely at her.

I didn't say anything to him, but am really angry. My daughter said that it bothered her having him stand there, but that she finally was able to ignore him. However, she played worse than I have ever seen her play. It was so frustrating.

What should I do, if anything?

- Her Number One Fan
(note from karen: this question was edited for brevity)

A: Yuck. No wonder you are frustrated! Bullying is hard enough to deal with when it comes from another kid, but from an adult? And a coach, no less? That's out of line!

consequences vs. collaboration

How many parents have ever heard their young children issuing ultimatums? Playmates may hear If you won't play Barbies, I am leaving. Toys and dolls are ordered to Stop crying or go to your room. Even parents are not exempt: Mommy, I'll only eat these green beans if you give me two cookies for dessert.

Where does this stuff come from? I have a theory. (Of course ... don't I always have a theory?) The Top Down model of parenting teaches our children that big people are in charge of little people, and can therefore unilaterally impose their will on them. Remember that story where the boss yells at the father, who comes home and yells at his wife, who then yells at their children, who in turn kick the dog? It's a big long chain of pain.

Watch out for this major parenting pitfall

Don't expect your offspring to serve as evidence of your intelligence, hard work, or value as a person.

Sooner or later, all kids will assert their autonomy. If your self-esteem is contingent upon your children in any way, or if you fail to acknowledge that your child is an independent being with his or her own preferences and path in life, the growing up process is likely to end up being painful for both of you.

If we need our children to be Mini-Me's or behave according to our standards all the time in order to feel like we are good/smart/worthy people ourselves, we have anchored our self-esteem on shifting sands. We may find ourselves using desperate measures -- threats, punishment, bribes, and guilt trips -- in an attempt to force our children to behave in ways that we think reflect well on us. It will be hard for us to allow them to make the mistakes they can learn so much from, or to explore new possibilities.

my beef with tough love and logical consequences

Huge disclaimer: I am feeling tender and sentimental today. This will affect what I write, for sure!

Okay, so here's what got me started on this. As I headed down to the kitchen for a bite to eat this morning, I noticed that my teenage daughter's bed was unmade. Downstairs I found a wadded up sweatshirt on the kitchen table, a half eaten muffin on the counter, yesterday's lunch box with a smashed sandwich still in it, and tennis shoes blocking the basement door.

A disaster area, right? Some parenting experts might say that I should make her clean up the mess the second she gets home, or make her pay me for cleaning up after her, or make her do other chores for me in return. They might say I need to make a chore chart for her, or ground her until she starts taking responsibility for her things, or call a family meeting and set clear expectations for morning routines.

You know what I did instead? I just smiled, and cleaned it all up. It was obvious she had overslept this morning. If my best friend or husband overslept, I would not punish them or call them irresponsible. I would help them. And it would feel wonderful.

My child is stealing things ...

Two similar requests for advice came in recently:

Q: My teenage daughter has occasionally "borrowed" secretly from her older sister for the past 10 years. When confronted and forced to return the items, she is sheepish and never offers an explanation. Her sister gets quite angry and wants me and her mother to "do something." Any suggestions?

Q: I just found out that my daughter and some friends had been implicated in several thefts from classrooms at her elementary school. She admitted taking things, but can't seem to explain why she did it. I've talked to her for hours, taken away privileges, and imposed consequences. What else should I do to make sure this never happens again?

A: I volunteer for our local Restorative Justice (RJ) program, and I find several of the RJ principles to be very useful in parenting. More likely than not I have distorted these concepts for my own purposes by now, so you may want to google Restorative Justice to learn about them in their purest form ...

a free resource for parents of teens

My colleague Sue Blaney , a highly respected source of grounded and practical information for parents of teenagers, has just released a new free e-book: Secrets to Success in Parenting Your Teen.

I've facilitated parenting groups based on her book Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride and recommend it regularly in my parenting consultations.

It's perfect for book discussion groups, and even includes tips and questions for those who want to use it that way. No special facilitation skills are necessary. You can order the book here:

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

Joint Custody: Should I force my kids to go with their other parent even when they are crying and screaming?

Q: I'm a stepmom of two wonderful kids, age 9 and 12. Their mom has "episodes" because of her bipolar condition. She will yell and scream at them, and say ugly things about their Dad and me and other family members. When the episodes are over, she is a very loving person and just does not understand why the kids cannot or will not just forget what has happened. The kids are both at a point that they are afraid to go with her for her visits.

We do understand that she has the right to see the kids, but we are very worried about their emotional state if we physically force them. How far do we go without jeopardizing our own relationship with them because we are forcing them to see her? How physical do you suggest we get with the kids? Should we pick them up and force them into her car? She has already called the police when they would not get in immediately.

We are talking and trying to assure them that they are strong kids and they can handle anything with their mom, and that in time it will be better… but of course we don't know that for sure, and I don't want the kids to think that we are lying to them.

- concerned stepmom

A: First and foremost, let me compliment you on your compassionate insight into the situation. Your kids are very blessed that you understand their desires, their confusion, and their experience. Please don't ever underestimate the power of just one adult in their world who can validate and understand what they are going through.

natural birth control

Just read an article in our local weekly paper about the dilemma some families are facing as the economic conditions intensify: having to choose between buying food or birth control. Talk about a terrible double bind! How sad and ironic to decide that you must risk creating more mouths to feed in order to take care of the children you already have.

I dunno why every single high school health class isn't teaching this most basic and empowering health information: women are only fertile during a few days of their monthly cycles.

There are reliable and simple ways to assess your own fertility signals, and you can use the information to help you avoid pregnancy, even if your cycle is irregular. It also helps you know when you have the best chance of conceiving, if that's what you want.

Using it to prevent pregnancy does require abstinence during fertile days, and is therefore not as convenient or practical as, for example, an IUD, but it is free and available to every woman.

And although it does nothing to prevent STD's, and it's not 100% foolproof (no method is ...), basic fertility awareness education could greatly reduce the odds of an unplanned pregnancy. So I'm doing my part to spread the good word.

Here's a site I like with info about The Two Day Method:

I also recommend the book Your Fertility Signals by Merryl Winstein.

graphic goody

just heard about this today, and thought it was really neat:

You type in a bunch of words and this program turns them into colorful word clouds, which you can then print for free.

I'm thinking it could be a neat gift from parent to child -- a graphic representation of their strengths and wonderful qualities. Suitable for framing, even!

The most frequently used words show up the largest, so if, for example, I want the word KIND to show up big, I would list it more than once. I'm going to make one for my daughter right now.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

Helping children deal with frightening memories

Q: My 6-year-old son has been recently traumatized by viewing a video clip of an extremely scary scene. My older daughter showed him this clip. My son is now extremely upset at night, can not sleep, covers his head with blankets, and can not be alone in any room of the house. He will not even go outside alone. He keeps asking when the images will go away in his head. This has been going on for 3 weeks now. I am worried about his mental health. Should I take him to a therapist?

Thank you,

A: Dad -

I'd better start with a major disclaimer here: I am not a therapist, and do not diagnose or dispense medical or psychological advice. If your gut tells you to take your son to a therapist, please do so.

That said, there are some things you can try at home first that might be helpful:

stroller or sling?

I'm not one to put a lot of stock in research or studies, because in my opinion there are truly too many variables to take into account and it's impossible to delineate a pure cause and effect relationship.

However, I do like to use studies as a trigger for personal contemplation and experimentation. Below is some interesting food for thought about forward facing strollers and their potential impact on language development.

Parental Alienation Q&A continued

Q: My daughter hates and despises me... says she will run away and hide or fight if I try to pick her up at her dad's for my parenting time. I am devastated. What should I do?

- Sad Alienated Mom #2

A: Oh my, I'm sorry. That must have been very hard for you to hear.

Please don't believe her when she says she hates you. What she means is that she feels terribly angry and confused and upset. Kids go to extremes in their emotional expressions. If they say they are so mad they could punch someone, it's their way of describing the intensity of their emotion. It's not an indicator of true intention or premeditated violence.

Parental Alienation Q&A

Q: I read your article, Defending Against Parental Alienation. I seem to be already doing all of these things, but my 2 kids (9 and 12) are not speaking to me. They live out of state, and I have custody of them in summer and on school holidays. Their stepmom is very angry with me because I told someone in confidence that I was concerned that she may be trying to alienate my kids from me, and somehow, word got back to her.

Since then, my kids won't return my calls or text messages, and periodically send me texts saying I am mean and demanding that I "take back" what I said about their stepmom. I am working with my counselor on this, but wondered if you would also have any suggestions (which I would bounce off of my counselor first before implementing) on what to do or not to do? I will see them for spring break, but they don't know that because they think they can just decide not to come.

-Sad Alienated Mom

A: Dear Sad Alienated Mom,

My heart goes out to you. I'm so glad you have a good counselor - this is one of the hardest possible situations for a parent to face, and you'll need a source of support where you can be completely candid and release all of your feelings in confidentiality.

My daughter complains about her dad's girlfriend

Q: My daughter comes home upset about lots of things that happen at her dad's. Lately, the biggest problem is that she does not like his new girlfriend. How do I handle this? Should I tell her to talk to him about her feelings? It's complicated, because sometimes I've seen my daughter be nice to her, so I don't even know what is real here. Should I tell my daughter that she's sending mixed messages?

A: This is a great opportunity to practice your empathy skills, because you have absolutely no control over this situation. Sometimes we are tempted to try to get our children to talk to their other parent about their feelings, but I think it is far more helpful to stay with your child's feelings in the moment than to try to help her solve anything.

Let's listen in on how it sounds to give empathy:

My ex calls too much when our kids are with me

Q: My ex just can't seem to leave our six year daughter alone while she is with me. He calls my cell phone several times a day, and if we don't pick up, he'll call back five or ten more times in rapid succession until he eventually talks to her. Recently he got her an email address and told her to check her email every day. It feels so disruptive and intrusive! How can I get him to back off?

A: Yuck. I don't blame you for feeling irritated!

I'd make a direct request by sending him an email. I wouldn't expect that he'll actually honor it, (although you never know!), but it's important for your own integrity that you are clear in your communication: Please leave a voice message if we don't pick up. She will call you back when we have a free moment. I'd prefer not to receive multiple follow up calls. 

My ex talks negatively about me to our kids

Q: I read your article about parental alienation. I have been dealing with my son’s father for several years now. All along, I've stood my ground, been open to allowing our son to have his own opinion, and somehow not given in to defending myself to my child. It does worry me that constantly hearing these negative comments will somehow damage my son in the future. I follow the guidelines in your article pretty consistently. Is there something else I could be doing to smooth the edges? 

A: Thanks so much for writing. First and foremost, let me commend you for the way you have handled this challenging situation thus far. Your son is lucky indeed to have you as a clear, conscious, and compassionate role model.

free parenting articles - very helpful strategies!!!

stumbled upon this site today, and spent hours reading free articles about an approach to parenting that is very similar to what Robin and I teach in our Inspiring Connections parenting workshops.

It's amazing stuff. Be sure to check out the ones about sleep, whining, aggression, and siblings. Aw heck, just read as many as you can. This approach is truly insightful and effective, and these articles will very likely transform your entire perspective on your role as a parent. I'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

The Magical Power of Empathy

Parental empathy, which is nothing more than simply reflecting your child's emotion and perspective by repeating it back, is the magic wand I wish I'd known about when my kids were little.

The magnificent book and DVD by Dr. Harvey Karp, The Happiest Toddler on the Block didn't exist back then. I muddled my way through to it eventually, and to be honest, I'm still working on making it my default response.

Launching Our Teenagers

Q: How long it will take for my 19 year old daughter to wake up and see reality? Recently she moved to another state with her deadbeat boyfriend and their baby. My husband said that in time, (and it may even take a few years), she will see for herself what kind of guy she is with. In the meantime, I don't want to sit around sulking and dwelling on it. I thought we taught her right from wrong, so why is she making such terrible choices? Where did we go wrong? Can you give me a little bit of advice on how to not let this situation hurt me so much?

Jill from Florida (Mom of 4)

A: You have reached a pivotal juncture that all parents will eventually face:

The Big Letting Go.

I'm glad to hear that you don't want to sit around dwelling on your daughter's choices. You have your own life to live, your own choices to make, and your own opportunities to pursue.

Why ask why?

A helpful question to ask yourself when your child has just done something you find unacceptable or inappropriate is: "What was my child is trying to accomplish with this behavior?"

Why does this matter? Because children use immature strategies to get their needs met or accomplish their "goals". Their social skills are not developed enough to ask nicely, so they grab. They weren't born knowing that we use"excuse me" to ask others to step out of our way, so they just push their way through. What adult onlookers might interpret as manipulation, opposition, or cruelty is often simply evidence that kids don't know a better way to do things yet.

The battle over sports practice

Q: It's a screaming match every time I ask my 8 year old son to get ready for wrestling practice. His dad is passionate about wrestling, and wants our boys to wrestle. But getting him to go to practice is driving me crazy. I told him he needs to go to practice to stay active, but he doesn't have to compete in tournaments. That was ok for a few weeks, but now he doesn't even want to do that. I don't know if this is a power struggle, if he truly hates it, if I should give in or be persistent. All I know is I am so tired of fighting him before every practice. Any advice is very welcome.

A: This is a terrific question, and I know many other parents will relate to your dilemma. Thanks for submitting it.

It's only natural, and even a very good sign, that you feel confused about what to do right now. There's still some information that needs to be gathered. Good for you for not jumping to premature conclusions!

Will this movie be too much for my child?

This site can help you make an educated guess about whether a movie might be too disturbing for your kids or not:

They rate movies using "three objective ratings for SEX/NUDITY, VIOLENCE/GORE & PROFANITY on a scale of 0 to 10. We also explain in detail why a film rates high or low in a specific category, and we include instances of SUBSTANCE USE, a list of DISCUSSION TOPICS that may elicit questions from kids and MESSAGES the film conveys."

this makes so much more sense than G or PG ratings based on age. since some kids are more sensitive and susceptible than others, these ratings let parents make better-informed decisions.

this would have been a real boon to have around when my kids were younger. might have spared me several sleepless nights of post-nightmare comforting.

It, uhhh, might even have been helpful earlier than that. I am still anxious about showering in hotel rooms (thank you Psycho) and afraid to swim in the ocean (Jaws). And don't even get me started on The Birds ...

I need this site for myself!

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

book review: Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

The good folks over at asked me to submit a review of my favorite children's book. They wanted an audio file, so I wrote up this script and recorded it on their voice input line. Figured I might as well share it with you, too ...

Worried about teenage drinking

Q: My 16 year old son goes out and drinks too much with his friends. He's a good student, star athlete, and a belligerent and nasty drunk. I'm afraid he may be depressed. We have a good relationship, and I have told him my concerns, but he dismisses me, saying, "Everyone gets drunk, Mom. Back off." What can I do?

A: Sounds like you've been very conscientious about expressing your concerns to him, and so far, he's responded with resistance, defensiveness, and counter-attack. I love that you phrased it "my concerns" rather than "his problem." This tells me you are already aware of the importance of using I-messages and taking personal responsibility in your communication -- and probably explains why you still have a good relationship with him. Good for you!

in the eyes of the beholder

I thought this comment in response to my post about children not wanting to spend time with their non-custodial parent warranted an entirely new post. I have edited it for brevity and clarity:

[to the commenter: please accept my apology for the delay. the email notification of your comment must have gotten lost in cyberspace, and I just stumbled upon this in the 'awaiting moderation' file.]

I am the "current squeeze" in this situation. She's right in saying these are two amazing girls. And I couldn't agree more with the father who also posted his comment. Karen, I appreciated your resistence to jumping on the "ain't he awful bandwagon" as I'm sure you know there are always two sides to every story.

Yes ... and more than just two sides to every story! I believe there are as many perspectives as there are perceivers.

Help, My Teenager Insists on Wearing Only Designer Clothes!

Q: My 16 year old daughter wants to wear designer jeans that cost $100. We live on a very tight budget, and can barely afford to buy clothes at Walmart. When I tell her I can't buy the expensive jeans, she gets angry and upset and says that these are the only jeans that fit and make her "look good and not fat." When I asked her if there was anywhere else we could shop that wasn't so expensive, she just yelled, "No, Dad! Just stop talking about it!" She always thinks I am mad, or that I want her to be mad at me, when I don't -- I just want to be able to talk to her. I always get that attitude every single time, even though I talk very calmly and never get mad at her. Please help.

A: Great idea to look for somewhere that she can get clothes that she likes at prices that won't break the budget! That was one terrific option.

season of sharing

This info came to me a little too late for this holiday season, but it's timeless, so it'll wait til next year.

To encourage philanthropy and take the 'season of giving' to the next level, I heard about some folks who gifted the youngsters in their family with two checks -- one made out to the child, and the other, a share-check, made out for $25 with the pay to the order of line left blank.

The intention is that the child makes the check out to a charity or deserving recipient of his or her choice. Isn't that beautiful? Wouldn't it be fun to spend time with a child talking about whatever cause is near and dear to her heart, and helping her find a related charity to donate to? The possibilities are infinite. Gives me goose bumps.

The share-check is a wonderful way to multiply the joy of the holiday season by sharing the pleasure of giving together. The amount doesn't really matter. When times are tough, it's more important than ever to give a child the power and opportunity to contribute. Even $5 can make a difference.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit