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How to Respond if Your Child Messes Up


How we react to mistakes may dictate whether our kids come to us with a problem.

Suppose you discover your child deliberately kept you in the dark about a bad test grade or a concerning note from the teacher.  Before concluding that your child is untrustworthy, here’s an important question to consider:  How are mistakes handled in your home? In other words, what reaction has your child come to expect if he had shared that grade or note?

For example, did your child anticipate (correctly) that he’d get a speech laced with disappointment, exasperation, and irritation, followed by some kind of punishment? If so, maybe your child’ reaction was more about self-preservation that dishonesty.

Ironically, we may be concerned about our child’s trustworthiness because he no longer trusts us to respond in a way that’s helpful when he’s messed up.  So here’s how we may avoid that from happening.

1. Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes.

Tell your child that you’re glad he makes mistakes—otherwise, that would mean he’s not human . . . and then that would mean he’s an alien from another planet!

2. Tell your child that you’ll stay calm whenever he approaches you with a problem.

Since that may not have always been the case, establish that if you do not stay composed, your child gets something that he likes.  That helps ensure you don’t revert to old reactions. And if you do, then your child figures at least he’s still going to get something good by coming to you.

3. Ask questions that prompt reflection and positive action for the future.

In lieu of giving a speech, ask questions such as: Why do you think you reacted that way? What other options could you have explored? What will you do differently to avoid this from happening again?

If there was another person involved, you might ask: How would (name of that person) describe what happened? That open-ended question then becomes a non-threatening way to hear a different perspective of what happened without anyone confirming that the other person’s account is correct.

4. Avoid “prosecutor-type” questions.

You’ll get immediate feedback if you start doing this because your child will become defensive, rather than reflective. Note that our tone often dictates whether we’re coming across as a prosecutor drilling a witness or a concerned parent who wants to prompt some insightful thinking.

5. Ask your child how he’ll accept responsibility for whatever happened.

With a generic knee-jerk reaction (“You’re grounded for a week!), there’s little chance that our child reflects and learns from any particular mistake. So it’s important that we also ask our kids what they think might be a good “natural cause and effect” for whatever transpired.  For example, a child may conclude, all on his own, that he’s spending too much time playing video games instead of studying. If so, it’s going to carry a lot more weight if he decides to limit video games to the weekends until his grades improve.

So yes, we all mess up.  That in itself is not newsworthy.  But how we deal with our mistakes may actually define us.

Five Ways to Quit Arguing with Our Kids

It’s possible to end arguments in the home.

It’s possible to end arguments in the home.

How much time do we waste arguing with our kids?  And more importantly, how many of those arguments are just rehashed versions of what we argued about yesterday, last week, and last month?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ideas on how to end the arguing.

1. We establish non-negotiable subjects.

For example, safety issues were never open for discussion in our house. From the get-go, we made it clear that our parental perception of safety trumped everyone else.

2. We make sure our kids know which topics are open for discussion.

Initially, my sister said no when her thirteen-year-old daughter approached her about going on Facebook. But she also said she might change her mind—if convinced otherwise.  And that’s what happened. My niece wove her mother’s concerns into an impressive Power Point presentation that explained how Facebook would not be a problem in their home.

3. We hold back on unsolicited advice.

We may not even realize how many times a day we’re throwing out suggestions and opinions. So while our initial reaction might be to tell our kids to redo a homework paper that is messy and ripped on the edges, we don’t start with that. Instead, we’d ask: Would you like some feedback on your homework?  And if our child says no, then we really need to honor that (unless we want to start an argument).

4. We post a chart of repeated argument lines with our responses to such statements.

Suppose our kids always say, “Everyone else gets to . . . .”  So we’d write that line on the chart with something such as the following below it: No one in this house is named Everyone Else.  :-)

Then we don’t ever say a word (we just point to the chart) whenever our child says one of those lines. With no dialogue, a potential argument never even has a chance to get started.

5.  We ask our kids for their input on ways to prevent recurring arguments.

When my daughters were pretty young, clean up time potentially triggered an argument. So I challenged them to come up with a way that I could ask them to do this without sounding like I was nagging. They thought about it for a few minutes, and then told me I just needed to say “please” at the beginning of the request. Worked for me!  And now (since they thought of the solution), they were locked into complying whenever I would say, “Please clean up your toys.”

Guess what? When arguments no longer dominate our parent-child interactions, we get to enjoy spending time with our kids.  That alone truly makes it worth trying new ideas.

Parenting Tips from an Unlikely Expert


Some of the best parenting advice comes from none other than . . . Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

I’m serious. No, I’m not inferring that your child is a pit bull or Rottweiler.  But listen to what he says, substituting the word “dog” with “child,” and you may be amazed at how his advice also applies to parents.

Cesar Milan has great advice for dog owners . . . and parents.

Here are some of the main points he makes on his site and during his weekly television show:

  • A dog’s behavior will change only after the owner’s behavior changes.
  • Owners must establish themselves as the   pack leader.
  • If the pack leader is not clearly established, the dog will try to fill the vacant role (but with disastrous results).
  • There are no part-time pack leaders; in fact, inconsistency triggers confusion and anxiety.
  • Pack leaders gain control of a situation before it escalates.
  • Pack leaders remain consistent in their body language and signals.
  • Pack leaders know what they want from their dog, and they set  clear goals.
  • Dogs thrive on structure and boundaries or they feel lost and confused about their role in the pack.
  • Pack leaders help their dogs learn to problem-solve on their own since doing so keeps their mind busy and builds confidence
  • Dogs respond to a calm-assertive demeanor—not emotional arguments or negotiations.
  • Pack leaders always end a training session with success.
  • Dogs cannot survive on love alone.
  • Pleading, cajoling, and offering treats have no lasting effect on changing the dog’s unwanted behavior.
  • Unwanted behavior is viewed as an opportunity for change, growth, and learning.

On Cesar’s show, the dogs and personal stories change weekly, but the ending is always the same.   Lo and behold, the owners discover that once they change their behavior, the dog’s behavior also changes.

In other words, the dog is never the variable. While viewers watch various owners go through a process before they arrive at this “amazing” realization, Cesar and his fans always know how it’s going to go right from the start.

We’ve been working with families for over 11 years at the Brain Highways program, and we, too, find that once the parents change their behavior, their kids’ behavior also changes.  While we use more people-friendly terms (we talk about parents reclaiming their castle since they’re the kings and queens who rule it), we have the same philosophy for kids as Cesar does for dogs.

So, if you’re not sure that you always rule your own castle, try watching The Dog Whisperer.  Often, it’s easier to take information in and reflect when examples are a few steps removed from our own personal situation. If you find yourself sighing and shaking your head since you know the poodle’s owner is contributing to or even causing the existing problem, ask yourself if anything in the show might apply to your own home.  Sometimes, the answer is very humbling.

How to Stop Kids’ Whining – Part 2

There is a lot more smiling when the whining ends.

There is a lot more smiling when the whining ends.

On a 1:10 scale, how badly do you want to end whining?

If you paused or said anything less than a ten, then the tips below probably won’t be useful to you.  No whining is an all-or-nothing deal.  However, if you’re game, here’s how you can end whining today.

First, we gotta chuck prior advice. How many times have you tried to ignore whining–only to have your child’s endurance outlast yours?  Second, no more telling kids: “Use your words.”  That’s about as effective as telling someone who’s upset to calm down.

Some parents may also need to do something overt. For example, families can bury all their (imaginary) whining in a hole in the backyard, or parents can post Whine-free Zone signs around the house.  Most of all, parents need to tell kids it’s not in their best interest to clutter prime cortical real estate with a whining brain map.

With the above in place, here are three effective ways to respond to whining:

1. Make the situation worse if the child whines.

Suppose a child is told to clear the table, and she responds with:  “Why do I have to do it? It’s not fair. I did it last night.”

The parent responds: “Now you can also sweep the floor. Was there anything else you’d like to add?”  If the child whines yet again, the parent says, “Great. Now you can also take out the trash.”

2. Teach the child to explore options.

Suppose a child complains he’s too tired to get his homework done on days he has soccer practice. Help the child start thinking in terms of solutions by asking questions:

“What are your options? Could you go to bed earlier and do your homework in the morning?  Could you talk to your teacher to see if there’s any flexibility in homework deadlines? What else is possible?”

3. Use humor.

We’re all cranky at times.  When my girls were little and we took long car trips in a jam-packed car, they’d sometimes start to complain about being so cramped.  So my husband and I would start whining with each other over who would end their whining. That made the girls smile, and the whining ended.

If we believe we can eliminate whining, we really can make it go away. And then . . .the  only “whine” in our house is the kind that comes with cheese.

How to Stop Kids’ Whining-Part 1

We Can End Kids' Whining.

We can end kids' whining.

In Vegas, 30:1 odds are not considered good.  But to a kid who’s known to whine?  Hey, those odds are great.  That kid doesn’t care if 29 out of 30 times his whining falls on deaf ears. It’s that one time when it works—that keeps whining alive on a regular basis.

But there’s a downside to the occasionally effective whining.  It gets registered in the brain as being useful, so the child tries it again and again.

However, I don’t think people aspire to have whiners in their lives. Ever heard of someone looking for a spouse or boss or in-law who whines?

The truth is . . . whining children often evolve into whining adults.

It’s not just the bleak prospect of whining kids becoming whining grown-ups that should make us pause. Whining is the polar opposite of a cortex response, which is the kind of answer that we actually want our children to give.

For example, when our kids perceive something as unfair, we hope they’ll communicate in a way that shows reflection and thought.  When our kids are frustrated by something troublesome, we hope they’ll explore options and creative solutions. That’s a cortex way of looking at a situation or problem.

In contrast, whining skips over all that cortical thinking and leaps right to holding someone else responsible for the present misery.  And when that person doesn’t respond in kind?  Well, more whining (of course).

The good news?  Whining is not related to some neurological underdevelopment of the lower or higher centers of the brain.  Whining only happens because we allow it.

Interested in eliminating whining from your life?

How to Stop Kids’ Whining-Part 2 will appear in the next post.

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