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Help For Your Picky Eater

  • Do you end up preparing three meals every night, and tire of being a short-order cook?
  • Are there endless negotiations over food, and battles have exhausted you?
  • Do you worry about health concerns because your picky eater is so stubborn, and only eats junk?

If so, then you likely know that you share this struggle with millions of parents.  And yet, the situation is almost always easily resolved…with clear guidance and a firm commitment to build healthy patterns of eating.  As a Licensed Psychologist, I have witnessed the most stubborn of picky eaters surrender their habits in just a matter of days.

However, because you are changing a pattern of behavior…the change is not always easy.  In fact, many times you will have to overcome your own personal struggles with false ideas…such as, “I can’t let them go to bed hungry.”  Well…yes you can.  IF…you realize that they are choosing to go to bed hungry after you offered them wonderful, yummy food.  They have to learn from their choices.

If you decide that you will feed them junk food, in response to their refusal to eat healthy food…you set up a pattern where their resistance is actually “fed” and rewarded by you giving in…and letting them eat junk food.  This is a recipe for disaster…no pun intendedJ

Anyway, here’s my quick-start version of what you must to do to start getting a handle on your picky eater.


  1. Adjust your mindset.To expand the foods your child eats, it is essential to let go of the idea that you can (or should) force or demand your kids to eat healthy food.  Please notice my choice of words carefully, as we must drop the idea of “demanding” our children to eat.This is not to say that you relinquish the goal of healthy eating.  We do not.  It simply acknowledges that forcing or demanding your children to eat healthier will not work.
  1. Start out by assertively cleaning out your pantry.Get rid of all the junk food, sodas, potato chips, ice cream, candy bars, etc.  Simply do not have these foods in your house as an option, and instead substitute healthy alternatives…such as an abundance of fruits and vegetables.Many folks want to make these changes slow and easy.  My suggestion is to take the opposite approach.  If it’s junk food…it’s JUNK.  So throw it away.  You really don’t need to read another article, or take another week to talk about it.

    For some, you can be methodical and consistent…and you can take out a food a week.  But for most, that’s just not reality.  One food gets deleted from the pantry, and within a month, another one or two substitutes find their way back ‘home.’


  1. Announce: “I’m no longer the short-order cook.”Now…you must walk your talk.  Prepare healthy meals with a variety of foods.  After you prepare a meal, let the kids know that this is the meal for the evening.  There will be no additions or changes, depending on the preferences of anyone in the family.Yes, I know that sounds radical for many of you who believe your children won’t eat the good stuff you prepare for everyone, but it’s just not true.

    It is true that they will continue to demand that you be their personal on-demand chef…as long as you are willing to do it.


  1. If children complain or resist eating the healthy food, use this very simple formula for communicating with them:”You have a choice.  Eat what’s here…and you will feel good.  Or…don’t eat, complain, pick at your food and you will feel hungry.  You choose.”  Now…just leave them to decide.
  1. If any of your children refuse to eat, simply do not resist or battle with them. Don’t argue with them, and don’t allow them to get alternative food.  Just stick to your guns about the food that is available, and that they are free to walk away hungry.If children complain and pick at their food, do not talk to them during these times WHILE they are complaining.  Instead, engage with someone else at the table, simply ignoring their complaints and criticisms of the food. When your child begins to talk without complaint or begins eating, engage and talk to them freely.
  1. Don’t worry if they go to bed hungry a few nights. All will be okay. They will readily survive an occasional night here and there without an evening meal.Instead, you must trust that the natural learning processes of nature will begin to take hold in the days ahead.  When your children learn that there will be no fights over food, and that no other options are available after a meal, the hunger that they experience eventually becomes a powerful teacher and instructor. They will learn to eat what is offered MOST of the time.  Simply don’t sweat the other times, as they will grow fewer and farther apart.

As a reminder, the guidelines outlined in this article will eliminate and reduce symptoms of picky eating.  If you son or daughter is exhibiting more serious symptoms consistent with a possible eating disorder, it is imperative that you obtain a professional evaluation and possible intervention.

Children Need Clear and Consistent Limits

Limits are important for children because they teach kids what to expect about reality. As they go through the educational system, get jobs, have friendships and romantic relationships, there will always be limits.

Life sets limits on all of us, and learning to live happily and effectively within them is a skill we acquire through our childhood experiences. But many parents are unwilling or unable to set and maintain limits.  Here are a few examples:


Recently, I counseled a single father whose six-year-old son regularly goes to bed between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, falling asleep in front of the TV set with his dad. Dad says, “Ryan just doesn’t want to go to bed, and I can’t stand for him be mad at me.”


Another client complained about the money she was spending on her two children, both in elementary school. She explained that she couldn’t go anywhere without having to stop at Wal-Mart or the mall to buy something for the kids. If she didn’t, they’d “throw a fit.”


Still another recent example comes from an executive mom who works 60 to 70 hours a week, leaving almost all the childcare to an au pair. To lessen her guilt, she does whatever the kids want on weekends.  Now…three years later…Mom says, “My daughter thinks she’s my boss. How did that happen?”


What could you learn from these examples?  Well, perhaps it’s clear to you that kids need limits, and yet, like many parents, you struggle to hold the line on the limits you set.


What might cause you to be reluctant or unable to set and maintain firm limits?

  • Anxiety about repeating your parents’ mistakes, so you overcompensate.
  • Fear that the consequences of your kid’s choices will traumatize them.
  • Afraid that they will be harmed by their upsets.
  • Fear that your kids won’t like you when you stick to your decisions.
  • Guilt about feeling that you haven’t been around enough.
  • Fear (in a divorce) that you’ll lose your connection to your children.
  • Fear of embarrassment over the tantrum you can’t control in public.


Such fear-based parenting decisions will not prepare kids for the reality of life.


There’s a different way. Children need and benefit from limits. It’s not just Dr Cale’s theory here.  This is well documented with lots of research, and we all know…it’s just  “common sense.”


What if kids don’t get experience realistic limits?  They grow up thinking that there are no limits set by society (when there are) and they falsely believe there is no consequence for many of their actions (when there will be).  They also learn dangerously inaccurate expectations, particularly when minimal efforts on their part are rewarded with significant returns.


It can be remarkably seductive to get caught up in the loving responses young kids give to parents when parents soften the limits they have set.  It can make you all warm and fuzzy inside, if you aren’t paying attention.  If you are paying attention, then you see how you have just destroyed the integrity of your word.  When this is repeated over and over…then the real damage begins to unfold as you see that your word is not respected with your kids.


YOU CAN AVOID THIS!  It’s essential to keep your focus on the long-term vision of what you want your children to learn. Make your decisions with that that vision, and your values, clearly in min.  If you abandon that vision to avoid pain or fear, you’re relieving your immediate anxiety rather than making healthy parenting choices.


Is it easier to buy the toy than deal with the tantrum? Yes! Is it easier to let them watch one more TV show than struggle over turning it off? Yes! Is it easier to do those chores yourself than make sure the kids do them? You bet!


All of these are short-term solutions to anxiety and fear…and they produce long-term problems of growing complexity.  It may seem easier in the short term, but in the long term, you’re better off setting limits and sticking to them. If you don’t, there’ll be more trouble down the road.


  • If you say “no” and then give in to a tantrum, your children learn that “no” is simply a signal to have a tantrum. They know they can get what they want.


  • If you say it’s bedtime and then allow them to stay up for another hour because they whine, your words are a signal that it’s time to whine.


  • If your teen keeps calling and asking to stay out another hour, and you repeatedly negotiate, then your words are only a signal for negotiation. Eventually, your words demand no respect.


Bottom line:  For your kids to learn about reality, you must set limits for them to experience.  For your words to have meaning, you must stick to the limits you set.  Not just on your good days, but every day.


Stop the Kids from Arguing

One of the most consistent drains on our energy and our enthusiasm is to live in a world where kids are constantly arguing.  They argue about bedtime.  They argue about eating their vegetables.  They argue about homework.  They argue about which show to watch.  They argue about who owns what toy.  They argue about whether it is going to rain or not.  They argue about whether it is too cold for gloves.

Sometimes, as children get older, many of us might be inclined to see these arguments as signs of good negotiators or attorneys.  Don’t be fooled!


Such Arguing Children Do Not Become Good Negotiators or Attorneys.


Children who are constantly negotiating and arguing over every daily responsibility or necessity learn to waste much of their life energy and ability on useless arguments.  You see their time is wasted arguing sometimes for hours over a task that would take them ten minutes.


They become ‘conditioned’ to invest themselves in these worthless arguments, and over time, you see their energy and attention evaporate from those tasks that are more important.  If not careful, some of these same children learn to argue with teachers, peers, and coaches in the same manner.


These Children Argue in Ways That Empower False Thinking.


This is what is really dangerous.  When children grow up arguing over every little thing, they come to believe that their faulty arguments are worthy of attention and validation.


When kids are arguing over bedtime, it is as if they believe that they know what is best for them — when it comes to bedtime.  This is not true.  Parents know better.


When children argue about whether or not they should do their homework, they think they know best about homework.  They do not.  Parents know best.


When kids argue over whether they should eat their vegetables or not, the argument empowers the belief that they should not eat vegetables.  Kids do not know best about which food is good for them.  Parents do.


If not careful, you will find them arguing as if they know best about absolutely everything.  As they move into middle school or adolescent years, you will see that the negotiator has now decided that they truly know more about everything!  And…they are willing to tell you about it!


Over and over again, most of the arguments that are driving you crazy have no basis in a valid or meaningful position.  While the argument itself is enough to drive you crazy, it is important to realize that these arguments present more risk to your child’s future than it appears.  They are not learning to become good attorneys; they are learning to believe arguments that will only waste their life and time.


Stop It Now…While You Can.  You have the power to turn off these arguments in your home.


The Secret to Ending All Worthless Arguments and Negotiations


I have always found this to be true:  Children never argue with parents who don’t argue with them.  It’s that simple.


Your children will only argue if you are willing to stay in the ring with them.  So step out of the argument.  Not after trying to have the last word, but as soon as the argument begins.  Just step out of it.  Don’t explain it.  Don’t try to get them to understand or agree.  Just don’t argue.


When your children say, I don’t want to do my homework…don’t argue.  When they say they don’t want to go to bed, or eat their veggies, or take out the trash…don’t argue.  When you say no, and they want to argue…just don’t do it.


Hold your ground with your decision, but DO NOT argue about it.  (Remember:  you never win anyway…and it usually just ends ugly!)  So stop it now…while you can.


When you do so, the wise choice to NOT argue will require you to learn how to manage your children’s behavior using your action—not your words.  I encourage you to invest in gaining the parenting tools that support your strength as a parent, rather than continuing in these worthless arguments wasting your time and theirs.


Take Control of Your Home … Not Your Kids

The title of this article might seem a bit strange to you.  Yet, it’s not strange at all, once you understand where I am going here.

When dealing with children who are moving through those preadolescent and adolescent years, our tendency is often to end up responding to them in very controlling ways.  We speak to them as if we have control over them, and we don’t.  We make the same mistake with younger children, but often we get by with it for years.


The bottom line is that we don’t control our kids.  The more that we end up falling into the trap of trying to control them, when we don’t have control, the more we end up in feudal battles and constant struggles.  It’s frustrating to think we have “control” when we don’t.


In many ways, when you open to this truth, you also open to an enlightened way of parenting that gives you tremendous power to teach your kids critical life lessons.


First, however, let’s review what it sounds like when you’re really trying to control your kids, and it’s not working.  It could sound like…


  • “Cut off that TV now.”
  • “Stop hitting your brother.”
  • “Eat those vegetables.”
  • “Clean up your room.”
  • “Do your homework.”
  • “Get off the phone.”


You notice the theme.  These parents are responding to their children as if they did have control.  Do you like to be talked to in this way?  Of course not!  And neither do your kids.  More importantly, it doesn’t reflect reality.  We simply don’t control their behavior with our words.


So what’s the alternative?


The alternative is to shift your focus from controlling your kids to controlling the environment.  This is a critical distinction that shifts your focus from the illusion of having control over your kids (because you don’t) to the reality of what you do control:  your home environment.


In fact, you control everything that your kids really care about.  You control whether or not there is a TV or cable in the house, whether the car goes to soccer practice, whether the phone works, and even what food is in the refrigerator.  You control everything that they care about.


How does this work on a practical basis?


  • Tim doesn’t want to eat what is on his plate.  You control whether there is desert, a snack or relief from his hunger two hours later.  Let him know that he doesn’t have to eat, but that there will be no snacks until the next meal, and that he might go hungry.  The choice is his, but the control is yours.
  • You ask Abby to turn off the TV.  She ignores you.  You control whether the TV remains on or off.  You could turn off the TV, and disconnect the cable for the next 24 hours.  She chooses how to respond to your request, but you control what she cares about…more TV.
  • Caroline remains on the telephone after you’ve asked her to get off.  Again, you avoid repeating yourself, and looking foolish by demanding she hang up…while she ignores you.  Instead, you take control of your home by unplugging the phone and letting her know that she has no telephone privileges until the next day.
  • Joey refuses to do his homework.  You have tried to force him in the past, but he gets very obstinate.  So, focus on what you control.  Shut down all the toys, TV and video games before Joey gets home.  Let him know he can take as long as he wants…but there’s no fun until the homework is done.


See how simple this can be!  Instead of trying to control your kid’s actions, you focus on controlling the environment in response to your children’s choices.  This enables your kids to learn from their choices, and releases you from trying to force or demand behavior.


Notice how this reflects the reality of life.  No one stops us from speeding, but yet there is a consequence when we do.  No one stops us from going over our cell phone minutes, but we pay a price when we do.  No one says you can’t show up late for work, but when you do, you may find yourself looking for a new job.


Reality:  Life doesn’t control our actions.  We do.  And yet, life does give us consequences for our choices.  You want the same for your kids at home…so that they are prepared for life.


When you really get this approach, you expand your power as a parent.  You move into a world where you focus on teaching your kids rather than controlling them.  This will revolutionize how you deal with your kids, and get you out of the world where you use endless words to try to manage behavior.  Words will not teach the lessons you want to teach.  Consequences will.  And you control all the consequences that are really important to your kids.


Be willing to take control of your environment, and create daily opportunities for your kids to learn from their choices.  When you stick to this fundamental, many of your normal parenting challenges are eliminated within weeks.


Teens More Frequently Bullied Online

When socializing on the Internet, many teens are exposed to “cyber-bullies.”  Cyber bullying occurs when highly negative or abusive language is used, or there are threats of violence or assault.  Over the past five years, researchers have seen a 50% increase in the amount of cyber bullying that teenagers experience.

Surveys of teens Internet behavior reveal some disturbing trends.


Typically, cyber-bullies represent no real threat.  In the wide majority of circumstances, this takes the form of ugly comments about looks or friendships or boyfriends.  For most, this has relatively little consequence.  However, some teenagers are deeply bothered by the conversations they experience.


Teen discussions online often use harsh language.  If you allow your teenager to chat freely on the Internet, without monitoring their conversations, it is likely that you are missing a very disturbing trend.  Absent any parental limitations, teenagers often end up using harsh, and profane language.  In my parent coaching practice, I see more and more examples of teenagers whose parents do not model such language, and the adolescent does not use such language at home.  However, on the Internet, they become “one of the crowd” and ultimately end up using very abusive and ugly language.


Internet chat rooms become very personalized.  Another growing trend is for chat and instant messaging (IM) sessions to take on a highly personalized quality.  As if no one is watching, teens (and particularly teenage girls) will open up and share the most intimate thoughts and feelings.  In doing so however, they then open themselves up for ridicule and attack.  These can get very ugly.  Many parents are appalled when they discover the true nature of the dialogue that goes on in their homes!


The teenagers who are most vulnerable are the newbies, who are not particularly Internet savvy.   When new to the Internet chat world, adolescents are often not prepared for the harsh language they experience.  Many feel traumatized, and deeply hurt, by how quickly conversations deteriorate into personal attacks.


Those who are quite savvy, and who use the Internet frequently for socializing, express fewer incidents of cyber-bullying behavior.  This appears to be the result of learning not to take the conversations personally.   However, very few parents would view these discussions as healthy.


What can parents do?


  • Use parental controls on your browser. Then monitor. Monitor. Monitor.


Most parents will affirm that they do monitor their child’s activities.  However, your teenager is likely much more savvy than you are.  It is not enough to occasionally walk by and look over their shoulder.  You need to make sure the parental controls are always activated.  You don’t need to know more about computers, but you must know more about monitoring the computer than they do!


  • Purchase “ghostware” to know what your teenager is doing when you aren’t looking.


It is relatively easy to install software on your computer that will allow you to monitor what your teenager is doing.  Unfortunately, you may be able to trust your teenager, but you can’t trust everyone that they are meeting online.  It is essential to carefully monitor communications, to ensure that your teenager is following guidelines that you can support.  This also gives you a tool for keeping track of their language, and the quality of the exchanges.   You can see every keystroke made when they are online, or writing an email.


They won’t like it…but…the Internet is the gateway to the entire world…the good and the bad.  In my opinion, it is fair game to warn your teenager that this is not a confidential form of communication, and that you will be watching over their shoulders.  They don’t need to know exactly how you are doing this.  You just need to keep an eye on things, and have integrity by letting them know you will be watching.


  • Keep the computer in a central area of the home.


There is a growing trend for teenagers to have a computer in their bedroom.  With several teenagers in the home, this makes monitoring computer usage difficult.


It is much easier if you establish a ground rule that requires the computer to be within eyesight.  In this way, your presence serves as a significant deterrent to behavior and conversations that you would not approve of.


  • Establish clear consequences for violating your guidelines.


Establish guidelines about the kind of language that you approve of.  Also, make it clear that your teenager is not to have their profile on websites such as or  Furthermore, make it clear what types of websites are off limits for them, such as sights containing adult language and content.


Once you have established these guidelines, then make sure that your teenager understands that there will be a consequence for violating the guidelines.  If you make clear that they’ll lose the computer for a week, and then follow through with that consequence, your teenager will learn to honor the guidelines that you put into place.

If you follow these simple principles, I think that you’ll find that you can keep a handle on your teenager, and make sure that they are not a victim of cyber-bullies, or other negative influences online.  Read more about this on my new blog, at









What are the most important components of good parenting?  I invite you to consider the power of the calm, caring and consistent parent.


  1. Calm. 

    This is, of course, about remaining calm in the face of difficulty and struggle.  It’s not about remaining calm when things are easy.  Most of us can do that.When life isn’t giving you what you want, this commitment is about keeping your cool in the face of challenges.  You may often find that your children don’t give you what you want (in terms of behavior and emotion).  When you can stay calm in the face of parenting struggles, you can begin to use reasoning, intellect, and the skills that you’ve learned throughout the years to solve the problem in front of you.  However, when you lose your cool, none of those resources are available to you.  The tools you have learned about all go flying out the window!

    Staying calm in the face of turmoil provides an additional benefit.  You provide a healthy model of how to walk through the world.  Our children will often find that the world doesn’t give them what they want…and keeping our cool is essential for success.

  2. Caring. 

    This may seem obvious, as I have never met a parent who has stated that they didn’t care about their children.  That would be crazy!  Of course we care!The secret here is about HOW and WHEN we show that we care.  It’s not about unconditional love for our children, as that is a given.  It’s about the caring behavior that flows from that love, and learning to master HOW we offer our caring.

    For example, nurture lots of caring and attention for the moments that you value.  If you care about kindness, be attentive to it.  If you care about hard work and effort, notice it.  If you care about cooperation, give your attention to it.  If you care about healthy eating, nurture it.

    Give lots of caring to the things that you really care about.

    On the other hand, make sure that you don’t show lots of caring for things that you don’t value.  If you don’t want more drama, whining, negativity…then don’t show lots of caring attention.

    Thus, the lesson here is to learn to care with discretion…when it comes to specific moments and behaviors.  Care in a way where you give your energy and caring to that which you really care about…and make sure that you’re not caring about the things that will not serve your children.

  3. Consistency. 

    Let’s imagine you put up some fleas in a jar and put a metal lid on the jar.  After doing so, you would hear this “ticking” sound as the fleas where jumping up against the lid of the jar.  The fleas are quite literally bumping against the limits of their reality at that moment.


Within just a few moments, the ticking noise calms to a complete quiet, and we would see the fleas jumping in the jar, and coming within a half an inch or so of the lid.


Even with their tiny “flea brains” they have learned to respect the limits imposed by the lid on the jar.  Every now and then for a few minutes, you might hear an occasional tick, but then it is eventually it is completely silent.  The learning is complete.


You can then do a magical thing.  Take the lid of the jar off, and you’ll see that the fleas keep jumping, but stay within the limits they just learned moments ago.  They don’t jump out!


How did the fleas learn to honor this limit so quickly…with just a little flea brain?  They learn because there was a consistent limit.


This “metaphor” is remarkably important as you consider the role of consistency in your parenting.  Just think about it…a flea learns to honor the limits when limits are consistent.  But lets imagine for a moment that that lid on the jar kept changing…moving up and down when the fleas would jump.  Would they ever learn with an inconsistent limit?  Doubtful.


The same is going to be true for your children.  If you place limits on their behavior, and the limits keep changing from day to day, or from parent to parent, children have trouble learning where the limits are.  If bedtime is at seven thirty, but it moves to eight o’clock when you have a “good day” then you are going to be in trouble.  The same is true for homework routines, healthy eating and all the rest.  Your children will be constantly negotiating and pushing the limits…if you are inconsistent.


The three C’s set a solid foundation.  When you remain calm, you show discretion in your caring, and you’re impeccable in your consistent setting of limits, you will undoubtedly establish a solid foundation for your children.








What Parents Model: The Often Over-looked Secret To A Better Home

We all understand that life can be remarkably challenging, and that raising a family makes it more challenging, and having a  strong-willed or difficult child multiples the struggles.  In all situations, we still have to remember the vital importance of maintaining the most impeccable model as parent we can be.  As a parenting coach, I am fond of reminding my clients that “You can’t expect your children to act better than you do.”

How often are we willing to compromise what we know is right to indulge the emotion of the moment?  If we are willing to be reactive like this, then here’s what our children see:


  • When Mom doesn’t get me to do what she wants, she can scream and yell at me.


  • When I don’t listen to Dad, he can throw a tantrum.


  • When Mom and Dad don’t agree, they can fight and yell at one another.


So please understand:  All your child knows is that Mom and Dad can yell, scream and fight with each other if they are unhappy.  In fact, your children may also see you throwing grown-up tantrums; whining, complaining at them and sometimes…even fighting between yourselves (just like siblings).


Inside Your Child’s Brain:  Imagine that there is always a small recording device in your child’s brain.  This recording device is always recording information, and always striving to understand how to handle things.


This recorder is taking notes about how to handle frustration, how do deal with anger, and when to complain and when to react.  It never stops recording, and pays close attention to every comment.


But the recorder is especially designed to record the events that are more intense, more emotional and more memorable.  Those take a special place in your child’s memories, and serve as a guide to handling life.


How does your child understand the rules of life?  For some, it sounds like this:  When you don’t get what you want, you just throw a fit.  It’s okay to yell and scream.  It’s okay to even embarrass yourselves in front of others, in order to try to get what you want by yelling and screaming.  It’s okay to be disrespectful if you are angry.  And it’s certainly okay to fight and yell to get what you really, really think is important.


Do you see how this works?


It is simply impossible to try to coach your children into remaining calm, when they face frustration, if you can’t model this yourself.


It’s impossible to teach your children to remain respectful and reasonable, when they aren’t getting what they want, if you have shown them that loosing your cool is acceptable

when you get frustrated or upset with someone.


What do you do when things get difficult?  What do you do when you had a tough day?

How pleasant are you to strangers who are short with you?  How calm are you in the face of turmoil and stress?


Answer these questions, and you will have a good sense of what your kids are learning to do when they have had a tough day, or when not getting what they want from life.


Helping Your Child Feel Good…Even If They Get Rejected.

There will likely be times when your son or daughter gets rejected or excluded.  They don’t get called for a birthday party, or they weren’t picked to be on the sports team, or someone called them an ugly name.  All of these can be hurtful, and your child will benefit from the right kind of support.

For some of you, these moments will be infrequent.  Your child usually fits in.  That’s fortunate.


For others, your children may not be so fortunate.  They may be a bit awkward…maybe a little “geeky”…or perhaps just very shy.   Sometimes it’s just the clothes they wear.  At other times…it’s about a “difference” that makes your child stand out, and other children make fun or ridicule them for it.


But at one time or another, almost everyone will experience getting picked or rejected by their peers.  It’s going to happen.


You can likely see the consequences.  Your child might be moping around a bit.  For some children, they will talk with you about it.  But, for many children, you’ll pick it up from their behavior.  Other than the obvious emotional upset, there are other consequences of such rejection.


Rejection and exclusion reduces self-control.


Some interesting research suggests that kids who feel excluded or rejected demonstrate a loss in the sense of self-control.  In other words, they perceive themselves to have LESS control over their choices that is true.


For example, when feeling excluded and rejected, children tend to initiate less,  they tend to give up easily, and they are more inclined to over eat, or to eat junk food.


What is clear is that being rejected reduces a child’s normal motivation to control their own behaviors.  With lowered motivation for self-control comes more reactivity and more need for “immediate gratification.”  Your child may show less patience, and want it right now!


Parents: You can do something about this! 


The same research suggests a reason to be optimistic and hopeful.  Researchers found that when we are made aware of the change in behavior, corrections can be made.


In other words, this same research suggests that when parents point out the change in behavior by specifically noting that, “Sweetheart, you seem to be giving up too easily on your math and ask me for help when I know you can figure this out.  Try a little harder, and I will check on you in a few minutes.  I know you can do it.”


That type of supportive coaching by parents will help to turn things around for children.


In specific situations where your child has experienced rejection and you see a change, you can simply comment on the change in behavior, and emphasize that, “I know this isn’t easy, but it’s not good that you are letting it stop you from doing your best.  You can do better, if you try.”


You may notice more impulisivity, or that they are eating more, or that they seem more easily frustrated.  That’s where you gently comment on their behavior, and let them know that mom and dad are absolutely confident that they can do it better.  This seems to be remarkably beneficial in these situations, and it’s very simple.


Here are a few more examples:


“John, you keep throwing down your pencil today.  That’s just not like you.  I know

it’s frustrating to not make the team, but I also know that you can do better with your

homework.  Why don’t you take a few minutes off, and then come back and get that

done while keeping your cool.”



“Alicia, that’s the third time that you’ve yelled at your brother today.  I understand your friends were mean to you today, but you can handle this better, and I expect you to do that.  The next time that you lose your temper, you will need to take a timeout.”


Or …

“Stephen, you seem to be eating like a mad man today.  You can slow down, and       finish what you have in your hand…but that’s all.  I know that you are upset about the teasing today, but eating like this will not help.  We can talk about it more if you want, but eating more is not the answer.”


The strategy here is that you comment on their behavior, affirm that it’s okay to be upset, but also insist that they have more control and that they can do better.


Isn’t this simple?  And yet the preliminary research suggests a powerful effect on short-term choices with you children.


Try it out and see if it doesn’t make things better for your kids.  Rejection is a tough experience, and we can all get ‘hooked.’  If your child gets too caught up in the feelings, their behavior will reflect it.  This strategy gives you a tool to help pull them out.  Let me know how it works at


Three Secrets for Success and Happiness This Year

With the New Year underway, many of us pause to consider how we can enhance our children’s happiness and satisfaction.  Yet, we are often somewhat disabled from taking the kind of action that can really make a difference…because we simply don’t know what to do.


In this article, I want to introduce three simple, yet practical ways that you can begin to make this the best year ever for your family.


Recent research from brain-behavior studies provides wonderful guidance to help us understand how the brain works.  We know, for example, that most of our decisions occur quite literally “in the blink of an eye.”  The brain seems to work at almost light speed, and most of our decisions are made without our conscious awareness.


Furthermore, many, if not all, of our day-to-day choices are activated (or de-activated) by some external event.  It could be a question from a parent, a friend, or a co-worker.  It could be an alarm clock.  It could be someone’s voice in the background.  It can also be activated by an internal thought, which turns our attention to a preexisting belief or conclusion.  So…how can you use these findings?


  1. You Can’t Nurture What You Want By Focusing On What You Don’t Want

    In the world of parenting, we would all like to “activate” thoughts and behavior that lead to happiness and success.  You play a major role in activating healthy patterns by how you invest your energy and attention.

    One powerful mistake that we make is a very common one.  We have a natural tendency to focus on what we don’t want…rather than focus on what we do want.  Think about how easy it is to notice what’s not working in your relationship with your children, rather than build on what is working.  Consider how often the bickering pulls you into the lives of your children playing, while you ignore moments of cooperation when things are going well.

    So…here’s the critical distinction to hold:  Notice how often you want to point out behavior you don’t want, people you don’t like, moments you don’t appreciate, and situations you can’t stand.  Instead, quickly drop these in your mind, and turn your attention to what you do want, and notice all that you do appreciate in your children and in your life.  This is a critical first step to helping to shape an amazing year.


  1. Avoid Negatively Biased Questions

    Another subtle, but powerful, way you shape your children’s thinking is through the questions that you ask.  Almost every question contains some form of an assumption or bias.  Some assumptions are bigger than others.  Some are skewed positively and others are skewed negatively.  Some contain bias that is harmful, pointing your children in the direction of pessimism and helplessness, while other assumptions bias your children toward optimism and success.

    For most of us, there is little awareness to the nature of the questions that we ask at home.  Let’s look at a few questions that “prime” your child’s brain for failure and unhappiness.


  • Why didn’t you pick up your room?
  • Why are you always so grumpy?
  • What did the coach say when you missed that foul shot?
  • How many did you get wrong on your spelling test?
  • Why did you lie to me?
  • Why do you keep making the same mistakes?
  • What’s wrong with you son…you don’t seem to listen?

    Notice where these questions direct your child’s attention.  They direct your child to a thought or belief that includes a “presupposition” that is negatively skewed.  It’s critical to eliminate these types of questions as a daily practice, and instead…


  1. Use Positively Biased Questions to Prime for Success and Happiness.

    Let’s imagine you took a few moments to consider what positive and healthy presuppositions you would like to build into your conversations with your kids.  I must assume it would include positive experiences such as:


  • Listening in class.
  • Learning, excitement.
  • Enjoyment.
  • Thoughtfulness and kindness.
  • Skills.

    Most of you would view all of these as positive experiences for our kids to have.  So let’s talk about creating questions that prime the pump in positive ways.  Here are a few examples:


  • Sweetheart what did you learn in math today?
  • How many of your spelling words did you get right today?
  • What did you enjoy about your visit to the museum the most?
  • When you were in school today, what thoughtful and kind thing could you do for your teacher?
  • In soccer practice, I wonder how much you will enjoy learning to be a better player.
  • Close your eyes sweetheart, and just remember all that you learned last year.  Now tell me, how might you possibly use that learning to make a positive difference in the lives of others?
  • Who do you love sweetheart?  Who loves you?
  • When we go to your grandmother’s tomorrow, in what ways could you show kindness and thoughtfulness to her?


Choose your questions carefully, and presume positive responses before you ask the question.  You’ll notice not only through the change of behavior, but by the reports of your children.  They will tend to focus more and more upon the focus of your questions.







Summary: Why wouldn’t you want to make life as struggle free as possible?


While there will certainly be struggles, why not establish a structure and routine that makes life easier?  It can be done!


This is best achieved through creating a world where chores and responsibilities are completed without the need for constant decision making, without the need for nagging or prodding, and without the need for continued monitoring.


Thought-Full Routines:  How to make life a struggle!


First, lets talk about how not to do it.


Here’s how you can make life difficult and create a constant struggle.  This approach generally requires that you also get to “have” incessant nagging, prodding, negotiating, pushing…and sometimes even a bit of yelling, screaming, and threatening of consequences.


Make day-to-day routines flexible…make decisions based upon moment-to-moment fluctuations…and day-to-day routines will be a struggle!


That’s the rule!  You can fight it.  You can argue with it. You can disagree with it. But that’s the rule!


You make these daily routines flexible and changeable, and then you’ll always have a struggle as things go on.


Can I really say “always”?  Well perhaps there are a few exceptions, but I rarely see them.


Why is this the case?


  1. Children thrive with structure.

    Children thrive in an environment where there’s predictability.  Behaviorally, academically, and emotionally, children thrive when there are consistent, clear routines that remain relatively unchanging.


  1. Children thrive on predictability.

    There is comfort and security in knowing when things will happen.  While children involved in chaotic and out of control family systems often rebel at the initial signs of structure and routine, they quickly adjust and their behavior calms.

    With this, adjustment also comes an emotional calming.  Children will often report a sense that life is easier after experiencing a consistent structure and routine.


  1. Consistent routines remove decision-making.

    This is the true source of the magic.  Daily decision-making on all routine stuff is removed, and thus there is no wasted energy.  The energy is reserved for what’s really important!


How many of us actually have to make a decision to brush our teeth in the morning. Very few, I hope!  And as such it presents no emotional stress or challenge.  It’s not really

a chore!


For those of you who buckle your seatbelts on a daily basis, it becomes routine and there is no stress to this.


In the early stages of an exercise program, the daily commitment often involves a decision and, at times, a struggle to make the decision. If you have exercised regularly for years however, there is no decision to be made.  It is a given that you will exercise.  It gets easier…when there is no decision to be made.


In essence, these events have been “pre-decided.”  A level of automaticity then evolves that eliminates the stress of making a decision.  The result: reduced anxiety, and reduced stress and greater harmony.

“Thought-LESS” Routines


By “Thought-LESS” routines, I am referring to a way of parenting that does not involve constant thinking and evaluating about what kids need to do next.


By “Thought-LESS”, I mean that both children and parents fall into a structure and pattern that allows for the basic responsibilities to be addressed without a lot of struggle.  Instead, these occur effortlessly.


By “Thought-LESS” routines, I mean that that you nurture “habits” that eliminate the need to constantly figure out what’s next.  It’s been pre-decided.


What happens when you establish a home with “thought-LESS” routines:  Lots of time is available to discuss things that are of real importance to the family. Little time is put into managing homework behavior, and instead discussion actually occurs about what is being learned.


Little time is spent getting the children to the table to eat, and instead meaningful discussion occurs about life events.  Little time is spent arguing over homework or bedtime routines, and greater opportunity is available for simply spending quality time with children.


Do you have a sense how this works?


When routines become consistent and predictable, there is relatively little discussion and dialogue that goes into the completion of these fundamental responsibilities that we all have to take care of.  If children learn to do this, their minds are freed from the struggle with what’s important to do in life.  They don’t end up wasting their life doing battle with the fact that they have to do homework, even though they may not like to do it. They simply get it done.


This is a formula for success.  This is a formula for making life easy.  This is a formula for staying healthy, emotionally strong, and focused on what’s really important.  Make this the way you do things at home, and watch how much easier day-to-day life becomes.


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