Plan B

I'm disappointed that Plan B won't be available over the counter to girls under 17. Birth control failures happen. Often. I know children who were conceived while their intelligent, responsible, adult mothers were using almost every type of birth control available to women, including tubal ligation. 

It seems very head-in-the-sand-ish to deny sexually active teens access to this low risk, highly effective backup method to prevent unintended pregnancy. Especially since time is of the essence - the sooner you take it after unprotected/not-adequately-protected sex, the more effective it is.  Every hour counts. And after 72 hours, it probably won't do any good. I know this from experience. I have taken it myself.   

So although our government has decided not to empower the other young women in our communities to prevent a pregnancy that may result from a birth control failure, there's still something we can do to protect our own daughters:  keep Plan B in our medicine cabinets, and let our girls know where it is and how to use it.

It's not cheap - fifty bucks or so. On the other hand, having it available to your daughter as soon as possible if she needs it is, in my opinion, priceless.

And hey, while you are at the drugstore, pick up some condoms, too, ok? Keeping our teens well-stocked with birth control and STI protection is just common sense. It can be kind of excruciating for teenagers to wait in line at Walgreens holding a package of condoms while all their neighbors are coming and going through the door that is five feet from the register. Let's make it as easy as possible for our adolescents to stay safe.

ps:  here is some practical information that will help your daughter learn her body's fertility signals. I wish this was being taught in every health class!

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when kids don't respond to your request to stop playing

Q: An ongoing thing for us has been when the kids are involved in playing and it’s dinner time (or bedtime, or time to leave the house) and we say something to them and there is no response. We say it again and again, and it is as if they are deaf. If we lose it and get mad and shout at them, no one is happy (the kids start crying, we are stressed). If we go over to them and pick them up and remove them from their play, they are not happy either (understandably). How can we get them to pay attention to us in a way that doesn’t cause stress or tension?

A: Ah yes, the age old "time for dinner" dilemma.  Here's something you might try:

Give them a countdown.  Whenever you will be asking kids to stop a game or activity that they are engrossed in, give them time to wind it down.

Fifteen minutes before you need them to stop, go over to them (don't just call it out from the other room), touch them on the shoulder or back gently, and say, "It will be time to stop playing in 10 minutes.  I will come back in 5 minutes to see if you need any help wrapping things up."  Don't force eye contact, but if you can look them in the eye while saying this, that's even better.

Then go back in 5 minutes, and offer warm, playful connection and your help wrapping things up.

If they refuse your help, tell them warmly that you'll be back in 5 minutes to let them know playtime is over.

When you come back, if they are not yet finished, you still have five more minutes to mess around with, because you started this process early.  So you can decide how you want to handle it. Depending on your energy level and patience, you may choose different things from one time to the next.

You may just playfully scoop them up and transport them to the next activity.

You may just batten the hatches and turn off the game or activity and keep them company while they release their upset about it. 

You may make your hand into a puppet or speak for the toys they are playing with and whine a little bit (not in mocking, but in play):  "Oh, no, here she comes and I'm not ready to stop yet!  I hate stopping in the middle of my game!  I'm not even hungry and I don't care about dinner! Oh nooo, she's probably gonna scoop me up and make me eat green beans!  Nooo, I hate grean beans! Don't make me doooo it!" 

This will probably crack them up, and break their concentration.  It will also probably be more compelling than whatever game they are playing, and therefore allow their attention to shift more easily to the next thing.  

The idea is to make it funny and playful and light, acknowledge their desire for play, and maintain your position that it's dinner time without resorting to anger or yelling.

If you decide to scoop them up they may be unhappy, but that's okay.  There's no rule that says we have to make our kids happy all the time.
We do them a big favor when we warmly keep them company while they release their upset about being held to a limit.

It's amazing how quickly kids can release their upset feelings when they have our loving attention - no words are necessary, and no convincing that things are fine. Just our loving and caring ears are all we need to provide.

If transitions are often challenging, then some family brainstorming at a time when everyone feels connected and is thinking well could help.  The question to present for consideration is:  "What can we do when it's time to stop and you want to keep playing?"

Write down everyone's ideas, no matter how wacky.  In fact, to make it fun, you might make some wacky suggestions yourself, like:  "I know, let's just never eat dinner again!"  Or, "I know, we could hire a plane to buzz really low over the house every day at 5:15 and drop a parachuter who can remind you that it's dinnertime!"

When you've got a good-sized list created, with funny and practical ideas on it, go back through and sort out your options.  Some will get tossed out because they aren't practical (awww, there goes the parachuter -- too expensive and too many tall trees in the backyard) or don't work for everyone involved (and there goes the never-eat-dinner again option).  But something on that list is likely to be worth experimenting with.

Be sure to work out in advance how everyone will know if this new plan is working or not.  And then check in after trying it for a few days to see if it needs any adjustments, or if you need to try something else because it's just not working.

Also be aware that even when everyone agrees to a great new plan, there will be some times that the kids don't comply with it.  So it can be a good idea to also discuss what will happen if they don't stop, so they know what to expect.  Make Plan B funny if you can.  "Ok, and if you still don't stop, what should we do then?  Gosh I sure hope I don't accidentally trip on that cord and yank it out from the wall!"  This is not meant to be punitive or sarcastic, but to lighten the whole thing up and make room for
some spontaneous and random behavior on your part.

For more ideas like this, you might like to check out the book Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen.  I think it's a really wonderful resource. 

Let us know how it goes!

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collaborative problem solving

Many of you already know that I am a huge fan of Dr. Ross Greene's parenting model as described in his book The Explosive Child.

I've mentioned before that I think the title is a bit unfortunate, because the strategies for collaborative problem solving that he teaches apply equally as well to non-explosive kids, and even to adults, businesses, and nations. 

I just heard about two websites which are chock full of free resources -- articles, worksheets, and videos about how to implement this approach.  I am thrilled beyond words to share these with you: 

If you find yourself frustrated with traditional parenting techniques based on behavior modification - time out, consequences, loss of privileges, etc - either because they simply don't work for your child, or because your child is complying but you are not satisfied with extrinsic motivators that require constant vigilance on your part to maintain, please check these out!

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teaching your child the joy of giving

Have you heard about the anonymous couple that made a New Year's resolution to donate $52 each week for a year (52 weeks)?  They started a blog to chronicle their experience and encourage others to join them:

Each Friday they choose a different recipient. If you read only one of their posts, I recommend this one.  And have kleenex handy.

This idea completely delights me.  Even if your family can only afford to give $5 each week, can you imagine how wonderful it would be to sit around the dinner table and decide together who will receive your gift?

It's such a simple act with such powerful implications. What a fun way to teach our kids so many valuable lessons:
even small contributions can be significant
little amounts add up over time
no one is too young to participate in helping
it is fun and feels good to give

which all adds up to an empowering sense that I can make a difference!

Even simply discussing who should receive the gift and why would be so enriching and expansive.  What a lovely way to get kids thinking compassionately about good citizenship, current events, and global issues!

Each member of the family might find themselves paying attention to their daily surroundings in a different way, scanning for needs and causes to bring to the family table for consideration.  It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it ...

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Why should I let my co-parent walk all over me?

Yesterday I posted a response to a mother who asked this question in a specific context, and I realized I have a bit more to say on this subject that may apply more broadly.

To refresh your memory, here's the part of her question I want to address in more detail:

I read your post "Ten Strategies for Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex" which really hit home. I strive to do all those things, but do not believe my ex does.  Why should I keep letting him walk all over me? I believe that teaches our daughter bad self-esteem. 

There's so much to this issue that I'll probably have even more to say down the road.

But for now, I want to start with how children really learn to treat other people.  It's not primarily by being taught.  It's by watching what we do. 

Children pay attention to the little day-to-day behaviors that we think (hope?) they won't notice:  how do we treat the bank teller?  the waiter?  our loud neighbor?  our whiny or recalcitrant pet?  the door-to-door solicitor?  the elderly person taking forever to cross the street in front of our car while we have the green light at an intersection? 

We may think that we can teach our kids what we haven't yet learned ourselves, but this is rarely the case.  And this can make many of us squirm under the pressure of being role models.

Am I saying we have to be perfect ourselves to raise decent kids? Goodness, no.

Since our kids will inevitably witness us at our worst, and there will be plenty of times when we demonstrate behavior that we hope they will not emulate, our best approach is to be honest about the gap between where we are currently and where we are heading, and transparent about what we are learning and working on.   

How does this look in real life?  After a particularly high conflict phone call, it might sound like this:

I'm sorry you had to hear me talking to your dad that way, honey.

I know he loves you so much and is doing what he thinks is best for you, and sometimes it's not the same as what I think is best for you.

I want to treat your dad with respect, and sometimes big feelings come up in me that get in the way of me doing that.

I bet a good cry will help those feelings come out and make me feel better, so I am going to go cry and rake some leaves for a little while and let some of my upset pour out in my tears.

And when I am feeling better and thinking more clearly, I will try talking with him again.  I know we can figure something out.  
So .... Why should I let my co-parent walk all over me? 

The question itself contains a part of the answer.  If you see a co-parent "walking all over you", your vision is most likely not quite clear at that moment.  Big feelings may be clouding your perception.

If your perception was clear, you would see a father doing the best he can at that moment to take care of himself and his child.  Please note, this does not mean you will agree with him!

Nor does it mean he's doing the best he's ever done, or that you have to 'give in'.  It simply means you do not attribute negative intention to his actions.

If you truly can find no common ground with him in your mind, not even one tiny little square inch, then you have some inner work to do before you are ready to engage in another conversation. Because there is always some common ground, and it's usually pretty easy to identify with co-parents:  You both love your child and want the best for her. 

What's the inner work?  Releasing the feelings that are clouding your vision.  Divorce triggers a whole bunch of 'em:  anger, abandonment, grief, rejection, insecurity, fear, spite, shame, and yes, rage. 

For some, venting verbally to a counselor or friend who will not judge or try to fix anything is the key.  Finding someone who will listen while you spew out everything you wish you could say to your ex, as well as any feelings that feel unacceptable within you, can be incredibly cathartic and healing. 

For others, a good workout or physical activity will help the feelings to release their blinding grip.

Whatever strategy you decide to use to facilitate emotional release, you will know it is working if you find yourself feeling kinder and more tolerant and maybe a little bit worn out afterwards.  It will probably feel like the calm that comes after a storm.  

Parenting is hard work even under the best of circumstances; within the context of a loving partnership.  Remove that container and replace it with a divorce that triggers conflict and intense emotions, and it gets messy real quick.  I get that.  I really, really do.

But the primary place to intervene here is with ourselves, not with our children.  We need to figure out how to get the emotional support that allows us to process these feelings so we can see life and each other through clearer eyes.

We need to build that support in on a regular basis, because things will come up over and over again that will trigger us.

And when we get that support, we see things differently.  We no longer fear that our daughter will learn to be a doormat.  We instead trust that our child will observe us learning some skills to deal with messy situations -- which we will sometimes do gracefully, and sometimes not so gracefully.  We know that she will learn how to take responsibility for her feelings, her responses, her words, and her actions.

We trust that she will learn to cool down before acting, to disengage and take a break when she's upset.  She will learn to monitor her own clarity and take steps to restore it before engaging in negotiations.

She will watch and learn that things don't always happen perfectly, that we don't always act like our very best selves, but we can apologize, make amends and move forward.  She will learn to communicate her position with confidence and respect, and listen while others do the same. 

And yes, she will learn to say no when it is truly necessary.  She will learn to say it kindly, with respect and compassion, from hearing your side of the phone conversation with her father:  "I hear that you really want me to change the pickup time on Friday, and I'm sorry, I am not able to do that.  Let's look at some other options."

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When a Co-Parent Has Addiction or Mental Health Issues

Q: I read your post "Ten Strategies for Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex" which really hit home. I strive to do all those things, but do not believe my ex does.  Why should I keep letting him walk all over me? I believe that teaches our daughter bad self-esteem. Where is the line between negotiating (or giving in) and standing your ground, especially with a co-parent who has addiction and mental health issues?  I tend to think my situation is different than what you were writing about, but part of me thinks maybe it isn't. 

a great article about crying after an injury

love this. have seen it happen exactly this way. staying close and providing loving attention for as long as the crying takes to run its course is a very powerful way to help our children build resilience.

and it's not always easy - we parents often have unexpressed tears of our own that we need to shed within the loving attention of another adult before we can be present in this way for our kids. but every little bit helps!

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prevention is more effective than punishment

While doing some research online I came across this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

I think there's some wisdom in this for parents. It's not uncommon for us to notice the telltale signs that our child is about to act out -- the arm slowly rising, the fist clenching, the tight-lipped frown or furrowed brow, the verbal and manual attempts to clear a space around himself that often precede a bite -- and yet instead of stepping in to help by restraining him from committing the injurious behavior, we expect the child to stop himself upon our request or reminder.

And when he almost inevitably fails to do so, we search for just the right consequence to teach him the lesson that We don't hurt each other.

What many parents don't realize is that when a child is in overwhelm - tired, hungry, overstimulated, frustrated, etc - his brain typically does not do a good job of inhibiting his body from acting on impulse. He needs our adult brains and bodies to take the burden of self-control off of his immature nervous system by stepping in to prevent him from doing harm.

We won't have to intervene physically forever. Our children mature with each passing day, and their brains become more skilled at inhibition. As we provide external restraint, we help to wire in the internal restraint that will serve them well someday. But it takes a LOT longer than we think/wish/hope for this wiring to become consistent and reliable.

Some studies suggest that our children will need us to be an external source of preventative intervention well into their teen years, especially when they are under emotional strain. Teens who can think fairly rationally and restrain their impulses under the best of conditions can still come unglued under duress.

For example, new teen drivers in my state cannot carry teenage passengers for six months after acquiring their driver's license, and then only one passenger at a time for another six months. We try to minimize distractions to set them up for success.

The younger the child, the more often we will probably need to step in to prevent him or her from doing harm. Of course sometimes its fine to let kids learn from experience -- i.e. when they forget their gloves their hands get cold -- but we don't do them any favors when we let them inflict harm to themselves, us, or others.

So we stay close when our toddlers are playing together; near enough to step in when we see the signs of impending aggression. We gently catch the hand that is poised to smack a playmate, and we say lightly and warmly, "I gotcha. I am here. I will help keep everyone safe." We read the aggression as a sign that something needs to change in the situation - it's time to end the playdate or blow bubbles or have a snack.

It is much more effective and educational to prevent a child from doing harm than to punish or impose a consequence after the fact.

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10 year old who cries at everything

Q: My ten year old daughter cries at everything and is not very good at sharing. She's not as emotionally mature as her 8 year old sister. Every time they are in a conflict, my younger one gives in so that her older sister won't cry. 

Also, she has friends but is always being left out. Every time there is a group activity, she is the one without a group and has to be assigned. She is very sad about it.

Do you have any suggestions?

A: With just this little bit of info to go on, the best I can do is offer a hunch for you to consider, and perhaps some ideas for you to experiment with.

It's kind of interesting how aversive crying can be for us. We may find ourselves giving in a lot more than we'd like just to avoid the noisy, messy discomfort of someone crying in our vicinity. This can get sort of tricky, because in a certain way, this gives 'the crier' a bit too much of a handle on the situation. If a child senses that the people around her would like to avoid upsetting her, a few things can happen for her internally.

One, she may wonder what is so scary about her emotions, and may start to become worried or fearful about having big feelings.

Two, she may wonder who's really in charge here and where she can find the safe container she needs to release all this big stuff without freaking anyone out.

Three, she may start repressing those big feelings because they seem unwelcome or unsafe. And of course, the repression leads to an eventual explosion, which scares her and everyone else all the more when it finally comes, and the cycle begins again.

Four, the built up backlog of unexpressed emotions may start to leak out sideways, and make her sort of generally unpleasant to be around. (Not being included by her peers can be one of the consequences of this ...)

So what's the solution?

Whenever you can manage it, let her cry.

Don't try to avoid upsetting her. Let her experience the natural flow of emotions - intensity builds, peaks, is released through a good cry, and then dissipates.

When we see crying as a problem rather than a solution, and try to smooth things over so crying doesn't happen, kids miss out on the relief of the fresh, clean, connected feeling that comes after the storm.

There's an important caveat to this 'let her cry' thing. A few caveats, actually.

One, crying alone is not nearly as productive as crying in the presence of someone who loves us. The most helpful support you can give her is to stay close and calm while she sobs and rails and does whatever else she needs to do to purge the emotional static from her nervous system.

This leads naturally to the second caveat - it's VERY hard for us as parents to be that calm, close, attentive, loving presence for our kids until we've dealt with our own unexpressed emotions! There are lots of ways to do that - counseling, therapy, lots of venting and uncensored talking with friends, etc. But it's pretty critical that we do whatever it takes to offload the gunk that crying stirs up in us, including our fears about what it means when our child is crying.

For example, if we think that when our child cries, we have somehow failed as a parent, that's probably a pain we will jump through a lot of hoops to avoid. But when we've faced that fear and looked it right in the eye, our child's upsets no longer hurt us. We can see crying for what it is -- simply a purge -- and we don't take it personally anymore. We can allow the river of emotion to flow freely without trying to dam it up. The water stays a lot sweeter and clearer that way.

So job one may be to talk and vent and share your own fears and feelings with a supportive adult until you feel more comfortable being present with your daughter's upsets.

Job two might be to say to both of your daughters something like this: It's okay to cry. It's normal, and we feel better afterward. So we aren't going to try to stop that from happening anymore. If any one of us needs to cry, that's fine.

This will take the pressure of the younger sister, which will be a relief for her. And it will discharge some of the power of the tears, which will be a relief for all of you.

There's so much more to this topic, and I really admire the way it is addressed on the site. Here are a few links to get you started:

please feel free to keep in touch and let us know how things unfold from here!

take care,

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

on the radio

I was interviewed on The Stacey Stern Show today! We discussed how to communicate with angry or defensive people, including our children and teenagers. Here's the link to the archived recording if you'd like to listen or share:

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a few thoughts on truth, lying, and teasing

A conversation with a friend today inspired me to search the archives of my old website for an article I wrote about ten years ago after seeing a father teasing his young son. Here it is:

Do you tell your children the truth, and model congruence between your words and behavior?

In other words, are you trustable? Examples:

Not trustable: Telling a toddler "No more . . . juice is all gone. All gone," as you are hiding a half full juice pitcher behind your back.

Trustable: "We're all done with the juice for now. I'm going to put it away and you can have more at snack time."

Children are biologically programmed to look to their parents and elders as reference points. Ideally, they will have their perception and experience of the world validated.

What happens in their circuitry when they see a half full pitcher of juice, and a person they trust is telling them it's all gone?

They learn not to trust their own perceptions.

They learn to locate their reference point for truth outside of themselves and their experience.

When push comes to shove, the young child must acquiesce to the authority of the ones they depend on for survival. To do otherwise jeopardizes his health and safety.

Children are wired to create a bond with their caregivers. Betraying their truth seems like a small price to pay to preserve that bond, since their lives depend on it: Ok, daddy, there's no juice. My eyes must be deceiving me. Ok, mommy, I'm not hungry yet, because I just ate an hour ago, and these signals from my stomach aren't as trustable as you and the clock are.

Children need to maintain a relationship with their caregivers more than they need to tell the truth. And at the same time they are laying down the gridwork for their future interactions with the world. What will be the foundation?

When inner and outer truths align, children learn to trust their perceptions and their world.

When inner and outer truths conflict, it's a crap shoot as to which reality they will ultimately choose to align with; their own experience, or external authority . . . and how they will feel about the betrayal.

Humans are resilient, and most of the time our kids do eventually come around to forgiving our ignorant blunders in raising them. (Some take longer to do this than others.) Ignorance, while not an excuse, is understandable.

But what about intentional betrayals? Teasing is an extreme form of manipulating the sacred bond between caregiver and child. In my opinion, it is totally inappropriate for an adult to tease a young child in any way, shape or form.

Children take our words at face value, and the kind of humor used in teasing is beyond the reach of most kids. (Maybe even most adults...) Teasing is bullying, pure and simple.

It is not funny to bring a child to tears by telling him that his blanky is gone forever just so you can be the hero later and produce it out from under your chair. Teasing is a power trip, and is not the kind of humor that leads to bonding. It leads only to defense and shielding, and teaches your child to be skeptical of you. And then we wonder why our kids don't obey us immediately!

When you tease, you lose credibility.

(time out; I need to acknowledge that I'm carrying a lot of intense energy on this topic. It really does push my buttons. Ok, so now let's move on to...)

The flip side -- have you made it safe for your children to tell you the truth?

When the truth is that your child hates the dinner you just spent hours cooking, what happens when she tells you?

When the truth is that your child was afraid of the consequences and so told a lie, what do you do when you hear the confession?

When the truth is that your child really misses his noncustodial parent, how do you react?

If you really value honesty, you must be able to hear your child's truth as an expression of their state of mind/heart, not as an attack on you personally, or an indication of tarnished moral character.

If their communication results in a withdrawal of your attention, affection or approval, you can be pretty sure they will think twice before being honest about that topic again. Children will trade their truth for your approval and love in a heartbeat.

This is not to say that confessions of wrongdoing are without consequence. But we must realize that a confession is a gift given in trust, and treat it as such.

Of course a child who confesses to stealing will still be required to return the stolen property. But we can help ensure she feels relieved of the burden of maintaining the lie, and is then supported in making restitution and restoring her integrity. We need to preserve open channels of communication, and make sure that the act of speaking the truth creates a team rather than leading to banishment.

If we wish to assist the next generation in building upon a foundation of integrity, trust and honesty, then we need to honor the truth in all its manifestations. We need to offer them our truth congruently, and receive theirs with an open heart and mind.

Our children need to know that we love them, value honesty, and will be on their side helping them learn from the necessary mistakes that go with the territory of growing up.

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food for thought from The Atlantic

interesting article about the potential consequences of over-protecting our children from life's little rough spots; losing at a game, not having a choice, not getting what they want when they want it. Helicopter parenting does not make it easy for our kids to learn resilience and trust in their ability to move through difficulty.

I can't say I love the title, but there's some fascinating food for thought here, including this:

“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?
I must admit, I recognized myself in this article at times, and it had me squirming. Good stuff.

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worried about going to college and leaving my siblings with an abusive mother

Q: My mother has what seems to be an awfully long history of mentally and physically abusing us. It's clear that she has mental health issues that she refuses to admit exist. I'm eighteen and am going to college in the fall and I don't want to leave my younger sisters unable to protect themselves, at least from her verbal abuse. Can you help?

A: Bless your heart! What a bittersweet position to find yourself in - finally able to leave a violent and abusive situation yourself, but carrying deep and lingering concern in your heart for those you love who must remain.

the truth behind your child's lies

Patty Wipfler over at posted an absolutely fantastic article clarifying what's going on for a child who decides to lie, and what parents can do about it. I highly recommend the other articles on her site as well.

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it's alright to cry

Parents almost always have good intentions when they tell an upset child, "Don't cry."

We are usually trying to soothe the child, although if we are painfully honest with ourselves we may admit that we want it to stop for reasons of our own, often some combination of the following:

Your tears and emotions freak me out because I feel so powerless to help you or make you feel better.

I feel so agitated when I witness strong emotions being displayed that I don't know what to do with myself.

This is embarrassing - what must other people be thinking?

This is not enough of a big deal to warrant such a noisy and emotional display.

However, crying serves as very important discharge of accumulated tension and stifled emotion. It's not a problem, it's a solution.

So please don't tell a child (or anyone else) not to cry. Instead, just keep them company while they clear out some static from their system.

You don't need to intervene, help, fix, smooth anything over, or convince them to look on the bright side. Just stay close, and offer gentle, respectful, comforting contact if that feels appropriate.

Keep your words to a minimum, maybe just a few quiet soothing murmurs. Your loving attention and acceptance during the release is a very powerful and nurturing gift.

The crying will stop all on its own, even without intervention. No storm lasts forever.

When you can stay lovingly present with your child throughout the process, you'll get to see that after a good hard cry, your child is usually thinking much more clearly than before, and feeling much more connected and affectionate and kind.

When you see the outcome of letting it run its course like this a few times, your confidence in the effectiveness of the natural process of discharge and release grows. Soon you will start to welcome the tears because you know your child will feel so much better afterwards.

For further wisdom and inspiration on this subject, look no further than former football player and all around big, cool dude Rosie Grier:

PS: it's alright for adults to cry, too ... being present this way for a crying child can bring up "stuff" of our own, so it can be really helpful to find another adult who can be lovingly present with us when we need to discharge with a good cry.

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Nine year old stealing without remorse

Q: I googled what to do if your 9 year old daughter steals from someone and shows no remorse and stumbled upon your blog. I was touched by the compassion you showed when you answered the question, since most of the other sites I had visited went from one extreme to another showing little regard for the child and the "why".

no credit, no blame: the tao of parenting a high-need child

A good friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who seems to be at the high-need end of the spectrum for now. Hearing about her adjustment and experience reminded me of an article I wrote for a local parenting newspaper about fifteen years ago:

When I was in college, I came down firmly on the side of nurture in the nurture vs. nature debate. Tabula rasa and all that. It was so obvious . . . good parenting produced good children. Simply hold firm to a schedule and baby will adapt. Oh yes, I knew all about raising children.  Until I actually gave birth to one!

I took one look in my son's eyes and knew that this was no blank slate. He came already programmed! Within hours everything I thought I knew had been thrown out the window. Nurse every three hours? Ha! Apparently he had not read the same books I had. He thought he might take a 10 minute break after nursing constantly for three hours.

Sleep several hours at a stretch? I was lucky to get him to sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for at least the first 2 years.

What an awakening. Brutal, as I recall. Especially since most of the babies I had cared for in my home day care business had been easy-going types who just laid down and took a nap at the same time every day. I did such a good job taking care of other people's kids. I thought I was pretty competent. I had even accepted some credit for their good behavior. (yes, it is embarrassing to admit!)

Now I was faced with this kid who would only sleep in my arms and wanted to nurse all the time. Although the inclination was to blame myself somehow, it was hard to do since he was too young for me to have done much damage yet. Maybe I screwed him up in utero?

Thankfully my mom introduced me to her sanity saving motto for parenting: No credit, No blame. What our kids do is not ours to take responsibility for. It is theirs. Take no credit for their 'successes', and no blame for their 'failures'. (Quotes added because often, in hindsight, failures become successes and vice versa. Seems easier just not to label them from the start. But that's a topic for another post!)

Our kids come to us with their own agenda for their life. This does not always correspond to the one we would have selected for them. And it does not always coordinate nicely with the agenda we have for your own lives. As you can imagine, this can be a real pain sometimes!

But each of our agendas is equally valid. The dance of parenting (actually, of any relationship, I think) is to find a rhythm that honors both life paths. This can take some creative footwork! And we can only begin in earnest when we take a step back and see the other as our partner in the dance, not an enemy who must be converted to our life path at any cost.

So, can you make space for the single file path taken by your introverted child even as you travel the superhighway of the extrovert?

Can you allow time for your slow-to-warm up child to adjust even though you are an eager risk-taker?

Can you accept that your sensitive child is not just trying to irritate you when she tells you that she hates the smell of your peppermint gum?

These quirky idiosyncrasies truly do make life interesting once we give up on trying to get rid of them. There is no one right way to be. One path is not superior to all the others, and every spoke leads to the center of the wheel. The temperament of your child is not a reflection of your skill as a parent. Nothing good can come from comparing you or your child to anyone else.

Respect your child's path as your walk your own. Take good care of yourself and ask for help when you need it. Enjoy the places where your journey overlaps with that of your child and you walk together for a while.

As my favorite philosopher, Winnie-the-Pooh, says:

Rivers knows this: There is no hurry, we shall all get there someday.


I've been reading 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch, and I'm intrigued by the transformation this method for decision making could bring to parent-child discussions.

Here's the basic idea: When a decision needs to be made, you consider the potential outcome of each option in the future by looking ahead ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. The author explains that the time frames are not meant to be literal, but to represent Now, In A Little While, and Much Later.

Imagine this scenario: you want your teenager to fill out her college applications, which are due next week, and she wants to spend the weekend with her friends at a cabin in the mountains.

Instead of starting a power struggle by insisting that she cannot go, you sit down together at the kitchen table with paper and pencil, and run the decision through a 10-10-10 analysis.

If she goes, in the immediate future she'll be having fun and you'll be worrying about her deadline. In the near future, when she gets back from the trip, she'll be the one who is stressing out.

Much later, she will have recovered from staying up all night to complete her apps, but since the quality of the essays may be less than she's capable of because she was exhausted when she wrote them, she may not get into the school she wanted. Hmm, now we hit something of significance, because you both know how important it is to her to get into a prestigious university.

She's now faced with a conflict between fun in the moment, and its potential impact on something she values even more. And that's exactly where you want her attention to be -- on an INNER conflict, not on arguing with you!

10-10-10 trains the teenage brain to look farther ahead than usual. The beauty of it is that when your teen sees the potential consequences in black and white, she can take full responsibility for her decision.

It may also lead to some creative problem solving - perhaps she will decided to delay her departure until Saturday afternoon and write a few essays before she goes. Either way, it's not about you and your restrictions, it's about the consequences of her choices. And that's exactly what we as parents want to be teaching our kids to consider, right? Job well done.

Want to learn more about 10-10-10? The author's website is

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