Words are heavy

anvilIt is pretty darn easy for my 14 yr old son to get under the skin of my 11 yr. old. He knows exactly what to say to send his brother into orbit and cause a ruckus.  I think pretty much every family can say the same thing, right? Your kids figure out pretty quickly, even before they can talk, what will get under the skin of their siblings. I honestly think there is some secret joy that siblings get when they do this. I am pretty confident that I did this with my brother when I was younger, but I can’t remember any of it, although I am sure he remembers.

I think the same thing is also true of the things that parents say to their kids. There are certain things that we can say to our kids that will cause a reaction, even if we don’t realize it.

The other day I was in the store getting ready to check out with my items. I saw a mother with her child in front of me ‘discussing’ the finer particulars of why the child couldn’t have one of the candy items conveniently placed at the checkout counter. I won’t dwell on the fact that those people who design the checkout counter aisle are evil and obviously don’t have kids of their own, but instead will focus on the words that I heard.

The child, who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, was quite upset that mom wasn’t going to buy the Snickers and was doing what we in the south call ‘pitchin a fit’. The mother, clearly at her wits end after numerous tries of convincing junior as to why he couldn’t have the Snickers, snapped at her son and said, “You must be stupid. I told you no, now shut up.”  I would have liked to tell that little kid that he wasn’t stupid.  Now don’t misunderstand, I would have wore his butt out for acting like a horse’s tail, but calling a kid stupid can have lasting effects for years to come.

I was reminded at that moment how heavy words can be.

I have been where that mother was. I have wanted to strangle my kids for things they have done, and I am sure just about any parent can relate. I have been so angry that I couldn’t see straight, and I have said things that I regretted and had to apologize to my children for. I think that we as parents have a larger responsibility to see beyond our anger to what our words will do to our children. The same harsh word is different coming from a sibling than it is coming from a parent. I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to discipline our children, but we can do that without calling them stupid.

Blowing Bubbles In Her Milk

My wife Kim and I had a big parenting test the other night.

At dinner, my daughter Lucy got to drink out of a “big girl cup” with a straw. And for the first time ever, she discovered how to blow bubbles in her milk.

In our household, this is on par with first words, first steps, and learning how to dunk cookies in milk.

It’s kind of a big deal.

The coolest part is that she figured it out on her own; we didn’t have to teach her. It was awesome witnessing the moment of discovery, when surprise transformed into delight. However, when her cup had become entirely consumed by bubbles, she actually grew concerned and seemed disappointed when she asked, “Where did milk go?”

“Don’t worry, it’ll come back,” I assured her.

And it did! (One of the perks of parenting is presenting the illusion of being all-knowing.)

Naturally, blowing bubbles in her milk became much more interesting to Lucy than actually eating dinner. And Adultitis strongly encouraged both Kim and I to tell her to cut it out. The inner debate about how to proceed was more crucial than one might expect. For you see, we give out little cards to every person who attends one of our speaking programs, and it features this comic strip:

We’ve handed out thousands and thousands and thousands of these cards. Would we now become the parents who admonish our child for blowing bubbles in her milk? Kim and I exchanged a look that indicated we didn’t want to be.

I stopped the inner conversation in my head and quickly analyzed the situation: What’s the big deal? What are my main concerns? For one, I wanted to make sure she actually ate her dinner. And secondly, I was not especially keen on cleaning up after any milk bubble overflows.

So we made it clear that she needed to keep the straw (and the bubbles) in the glass. And after a few more minutes of bubble blowing fun, we pulled the glass away and told her she could resume after she ate a few more bites of her dinner. I was amazed at the responsiveness we got! Inadvertently, we had turned blowing bubbles in milk into a powerful incentive more powerful than M&Ms!

It’s easy to jump into automatic mode in our roles as parents, teachers or leaders and respond to situations in the same way we’ve seen other parents, teachers, and leaders do it, without ever stopping for just a second to question if there might be another way. That stopping is the hard part, because quite often, the other (better) way is not that hard to find.

And so I think we passed the test by honoring one of the special joys of childhood while avoiding a mess and steering clear of turing into total pushovers. (It’s nice to have some confidence going into potty training…)

Meanwhile, my little personal wish for Lucy is that she never stops blowing bubbles in her milk.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Breaking the Rules: The Best Part of Parenting?

A few years ago, my sister-in-law took her pre-teen daughter to the midnight opening of the first Twilight movie. On a school night. I always thought that was the coolest thing ever. Granted, part of the reason I thought it was so cool is because it was a break from the norm. My brother and sister-in-law run a pretty tight ship. Rules are enforced and the kids are well-behaved.

However, when Kim taught kindergarten, she encountered way too many parents who didn’t seem to think any rules were important. Their kids had no set bedtimes, watched rated-R movies, and pretty much ran the household.

So to be clear, I think setting boundaries is one of the most important jobs a parent has, as unpopular as it can often be.

But it’s easy for the good parents to get so caught up in enforcing rules that they forget that they have permission to break them once in a while.

I was reminded of this fact recently during a short conversation with a guy after one of my speaking programs. He had a gruff exterior, but the story he shared proved that inside, he was all gummy bear.

“A few years ago,” he began, “when my kids were young, I said, ‘C’mon, kids, we’re going to the circus.’”

“We can’t dad,” the kids replied. “We have school!”

“I’m the dad. We’re going.”

He went on to explain what a great time they had at the circus that day. And with a dumbfounded grin, he remembered that the reaction of his kids was as if he had just handed them a million dollars.


What good is the authority of parenthood if all you ever do is make rules?

Don’t forget that the best parents also make sure to break them once in a while.

Photo credit: Jennifer Lamb

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Spare the Sponge, Spoil the Child


I have a seven year old with learning disabilities. She’s a cute kid, and I love her tons, but she has a small problem that challenges me on a daily basis: She’s mentally a five year old with the reach and appetite of a seven year old.

Case in point, I have sugar cubes I like to add to my tea. No matter where I store them, she’ll invariably find them and eat them—every single one. At this point, I may never drink tea again. It’s quite difficult to get out the ladder and climb to the eaves where I’m currently hiding them.

Yesterday, she was on the prowl for some cookies my wife had picked up. When I told my girl that not only had I hid the cookies, but that she couldn’t have them until after dinner, I was met with a classic tempersulktrum. First her spine seemed to liquefy as her body collapsed in upon itself while she simultaneously threw her arms upwards. Then they came down in a masterfully timed descent with the crumpling of her legs. Before hitting the floor she sprung back up while wailing, then repeated the process a few times. It was quite the spectacle.

Spare the Sponge, Spoil the ChildI usually send her to her room and tell her she can come back when she’s ready to behave. This time, however, I was struck with a sudden idea. Grabbing a discarded candy bag, I told her it represented her stomach. Then I took a sponge and told her it represented a cookie. (Ew! A sponge‽) Then I put the sponge inside the bag and asked her if there was any room left in the bag. When she saw there was none, I told her that’s why we want her to eat dinner first—so there’d be room in her stomach for it. The light went on in her eyes and I knew I had won a decisive battle.

I personally know a handful of ladies who can sew up fluffy, colorful, cloth stomachs with insert-able, stuffed snack and dinner dolls faster than I can scratch my armpit, but lacking said skills I did the best I could. Even after some thought, however, I couldn’t come up with a better visual aid. Using real cookies and dinner in a ziplock baggie would look disgusting. For the time being this was one tempersulktrum I managed to simply blot up with a sponge.

How do you teach your children to not snitch treats before dinner? Please share your tips.

Douglas Cootey is a married, full time dad raising four girls in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah who has long ago overcome his aversion to the color Pink. Douglas blogs about overcoming AD/HD & Depression with humor & pluck over at the award winning A Splintered Mind. He also co-produces a podcast with his 17 year old daughter. The random thoughts of his addled mind can be found at DouglasCootey and SplinteredMind over on Twitter.

Photo credit: Look What I Found

How to combat the "Damien" influence

My son lives with his mother, and every weekend I take the two-hour-roundtrip train ride to pick him up and drop him off. I don’t own a car since I live around public transit, so the commuter rail it is.

The ride is a good time to catch up with E when I first pick him up, or to just quietly hang out (well, as quietly as a 10-year old can hang out). It’s the only way I know to get him to take a nap in the middle of the day.

On my way home from dropping E off this afternoon, my RSS feed-reading (thanks to the MBCR’s free wifi) was interrupted by a young voice shouting “I’ll break your hip again!” Up the ramp came a boy, I guessed about 7-years old, followed by his older sister and grandparents. The grandparents just shook their head and tried to corral the boy into a seat.

The boy’s attitude was shocking. He was rude, he knew it, and he was proud of it. He was a badass in the worst possible way.

I had a flash of “Punk kids these days” before I realized I’m bunching my son into that group. Then I thought of what I’d do if E ever said something like that, and it hit me that he simply wouldn’t; ten years of reinforcement of ways to behave by both his mother and me have yielded a respectful little kid – especially to his grandparents!

Then I realized this kid wasn’t that special. There were the badass kids when I was in elementary school, and there were badass kids when my parents were young. This is the kid that other kids avoid. This is the kid that other kids’ dads teach the three tries rule: give him three chances to leave you alone before you lay him out.

Then I got to thinking about how connected we are. Especially in urban areas, we spend more time in public spaces. Compared to when I was a kid, less and less family time is spent inside the house. People count the mall as a place to spend time as a family – complete with amusement parks. Being around other families more and more, we’re exposed to the good and the bad of other people’s parenting.

Then I thought about what I’d say if E was with me to witness this. Would I have to say anything? We have an almost unspoken communication around things like this, where he’ll just look at me with an expression like, “Can you believe he gets away with that?”, and I’ll respond with a look that quite simply says “No, no I can’t, and you’d better not try.”

What about you? Have you ever been in a situation with your child where you’ve observed bad behavior from other kids? How did you turn an awkward moment into a teachable moment?

Gradon Tripp helps nonprofits raise money online, but in and out of the office, has two blogs, and is the father of an awesome son.

Mom and Dad on strike

Four-year-old Lukey got in trouble today.

Hitting at school. This after yesterday’s “pushing game” at school and the day before’s “spitting at school.”

Now his mom and dad are on strike. And we kept him home from school today.

Going on strike

Lukey gets what “going on strike” means. It means he’s drained our energy.

— He has to prepare his own food.

— He has to clean his own dishes.

— He has to put himself to bed.

When Mom and Dad are on strike, we make a clear (and very important) distinction between [Read more…]

"You must change your attitude by the count of three"

Reading Joe’s post about making family first got me thinking about some of the life lesson’s that I’ve been trying to imprint on my kids…    And one of the secrets in our family is having kids who have control over their attitude.

My guess is that most parents can relate to having a two-year old who goes from having a great attitude to a miserable, whining mess in a matter of seconds… But can your child do the opposite? Can you get a two-year old to go from a miserable, whiny mess to a decent attitude in just a few seconds?

So, here’s how we approach changing bad attitudes into good ones in my family:

1) Start young (like the very first time they throw a fit!)
2) Make a threat that has actionable consequences
3) Give them time to get control over the situation
4) Consistently enforce the consequences if they don’t change their attitude

We do that by “counting to three” in my family and being very clear of the consequences if our children don’t change their attitudes by the time we hit three.   To give you an idea, here was an exchange between me and my two-year old after he lost his temper because he didn’t want to wash his hands before sitting down at the dinner table.

Me: “If you don’t change your attitude and start walking to the bathroom to wash your hands by the count of 3, then I’m going to stick you on the couch and you will miss out when we start dinner.”
Result: He continues to flail about like only a two-year old can.

Me: [deep breath] “One… ”
Result: He’s continues to go nuts

Me: [deep breath] “Two…”
Results: Whines turn to sniffles

Me: [deep breath] “Three…”
Result: him: “Okay, dad… I’m okay.”  And then he went into the bathroom and washed his hands.

Had he not taken control of his attitude, he knows I would have sat him on the couch and insisted that he not get up until after we had started dinner and he had a good attitude.  (The consequences of getting off the couch are that he gets sent to his room, which I’ve only had to do once in about 6 months ago)

Climbing a Tree

With a two-year old boy who seems to channel Curious George at every opportunity, these episodes where I have to lay down the law are pretty much a daily occurrence…  And especially early on, I had to consistently deliver on my threats of consequences.  Nowadays, I probably only need to sit him down on a couch until he changes his attitude about once a week.  By comparison, his 8-year old sister is able to get control over her attitude on the flip of a switch and I can’t remember the last time I had to actually enforce consequences.

I’ve got no child-psychology training whatsoever, but from practical experience, I can tell you that having kids who have the self-discipline to take control over their own attitude feels right… and it’s a life lesson I’m pretty sure will serve my kids well into the future.

The "Bad" Words

The “C-word” – it’s one of the worst words in the English language.  Whenever I hear one of my two children utter this word, they know that there will be consequences.  Under no circumstances are my children allowed to say, “can’t.” Here’s how I’ve helped eliminate “can’t” (and a few other words) from the conversation.

In addition to some old favorites like “stupid” (the “S-word”) and “fart” (the “F-word”), words that our family has identified as “Bad” include but, want and can’t.  At one point these words dominated my kids’ vocabulary:

But Dad…”

“I want some apple juice!”

“It’s too hard – I can’t do this!”

While each of these words are common and not usually deemed offensive–when spoken by a child to a parent, they have a different subtext. “But” is disrespectful; “want” is rude; and “can’t” is defeatist.  I do not want to raise children who talk back, don’t use their manners and give up easily.

In order to stop them from saying the forbidden words, I instituted the push-up punishment. Saying either “want” or “but” earns five push-ups; saying “can’t earns ten. If you’ve ever seen a four or seven-year-old attempting push-ups, it’s a little comical, but it’s the effort that counts.

The best part is, it’s working. I can see the gears turning in their heads when they’re tempted to say one of the bad words. The back-talking has decreased. Instances of “may I please” have increased. And rather than throwing in the towel, despondent about what they can’t do, they are focusing on working harder or asking for help to achieve their goals.

The push-ups have also proven to be an interesting form of punishment. While my wife was nervous about equating exercise with discipline, I reminded her that the US armed forces and martial arts teachers also use push-ups to apply discipline while building strength and character. The kids have actually taken to trying to do as many push-ups as they can, and doing them along with me during my morning workouts (if they’re awake).

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