Tips for Step-Parents

Given today’s divorce rate of 50%, cheap a lot of new families are created out of remarriage. In addition, many children become step-children after one of their parent’s has died and the other has remarried. Sometimes step-children also inherit step-siblings, meaning that the parents in such reorganized households have a lot of new family dynamics to deal with. Even if blended families are now a social norm, creating and living in one always comes with certain challenges. For a new step-parent, the road is far easier when preparations are made; it is helpful to learn about common step-parenting issues and strategies for managing them.

Honoring the Previous Family
Being a step-parent is harder than being a regular parent. Not only must you  build a new family, but you also have to do so without nullifying the original family your step-children come from. On the contrary, the more recognition, validation and honor you can give to the children’s original family, the more comfortable your new children are likely to feel around you. In cases where the other parent of your step-children has died, you can certainly ask the children about their past experiences in the family, their special memories and even their relationship with that parent. You want to show the kids that you aren’t afraid of the topic and that you aren’t trying to pretend that they didn’t once have a whole different home. Your unspoken message is “that was a precious part of your life and this new life with me in it is a different chapter of your lives. Both parts are valid.”

Step-children who come to you through the process of divorce may or may not have pleasant memories of their previous home. There are many types of divorce and in any case, the children’s experience of the dissolution of a home is normally very different from the experience of the adults involved. Again, you don’t want to pretend that the children did not have a previous life. In fact, acknowledging that all this change is difficult and must feel awkward, uncomfortable and unsettling can only help. Remember that children can feel intensely angry that they now have to live with a parent who is not their natural parent and siblings who are not their natural siblings. Acknowledging their grief and their right to anger shows that you are an understanding and trustworthy adult. “I know it’s strange having a whole new family in this house. It might make you feel upset or uncomfortable at times. We just want you guys to know that we understand and we’re here to help in whatever way we can. It isn’t easy. We don’t expect everyone to just start loving each other. That may come with time but it may not. All we ask for from everyone in this household is mutual respect. We talk to each other nicely. That will help all of us get along. If we later learn to like each other too, that will be a huge bonus!”

You May be Dealing with Trauma
Step-children have usually experienced some sort of traumatic loss, whether that was caused by death or divorce. Because of this, they often carry layers of grief, anger and anxiety – feelings that they don’t necessarily talk about. Their behavior, however, may be affected. As a step-parent you might see something that looks like an attitude problem, whereas it is much more likely to be an emotional problem. Sometimes it can be helpful to arrange for psychological counseling for kids who are being thrust into a blended family; counseling can give them a venue to work through their painful emotions far more quickly and efficiently than just waiting for “time” to do its magic. It is important to note that “time” does not necessarily heal these kinds of wounds at all. Therapy is a far better option. If therapy is out of the question, step-parents can accomplish much by being knowledgeable and utilizing resources such as books (books that can offer education and an opportunity to explore the issues in the reorganized family), pastoral services, community services and family services.

Because of all these emotions, step-children are rarely ready to give their hearts over to some new adult. It’s best if you don’t expect them to do so. Over the years, your patient, kind and understanding character will leave a strong impact, helping these youngsters to eventually open up to you and form a positive relationship. This process cannot be rushed, so just sit back and read some good parenting books (such as Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) and wait.

Establish Expectations
As a new step-parent, you will want to avoid engaging in disciplining your step-children. Let their natural parent do this – unless the children are pre-schoolers. However, you can establish some basic expectations and rules just by living them yourself and using plain language to ask the children to abide by them. Work with your new spouse to create a set of basic rules and expectations that you are both willing to endorse. Suppose your new spouse never asked his kids to take their plates of the table after eating. You feel that since they are already teenagers, they should certainly be doing this for their own good as well as for the good of the household. In your home, you raised your children to do this task routinely. You have no intention of taking the step-children’s plates off for them and it irks you to see their father do it. Discuss the issue with the children’s father. If he sees the value in changing his previous philosophy and strategy, then the two of you can ask the kids to remove their plates from now on. If he doesn’t, however, then you remove your plates, you continue to ask your children to remove theirs, you express once only how you think and feel about the issue and then you let their Dad take care of it. If the problem gets out of hand, you can enlist the services of a family counselor.

Keep in mind that when you are pleasant, rather than strident, step-children are more willing to learn from you. When you keep the tone of the relationship positive, when you are willing to lead the way by your warm, kind example, you can accomplish a great deal over time. Don’t rush. Trust the process. Step-children are willing to learn more from warm, gentle step-parents than from strict, rule-oriented, authority figures.

Having said this, there is no reason for  you to accept any sort of abuse from a step-child. Read “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice to learn how to establish respectful communication between you and the step-children. This is one area that you should really work hard to bring the children’s parent on board since establishing and maintaining basic standards of respect will help your new family remain healthy and caring rather than dysfunctional and destructive to its members.

Take the Lead
Don’t wait for your step-children to warm up to you. YOU warm up to them first, even if they don’t “deserve” it. Children need adults to take the lead. Pay attention to their preferences and their feelings and aim to respect both. Go ahead and “buy their affection” by getting them little treats, making favorite foods or doing special acts of kindness. By tuning into their preferences this way, you help the step-children feel safe and seen – prerequisites for a healthy relationship. You can get to know the kids better by opening up discussions stemming from issues in the news or articles you’ve read. Listen to their thoughts and opinions on all topics and accept what they have to say without judgment. Keep criticism very low – both about what they say and what they do.

Your Spouse’s Children
Your relationship with your spouse is the glue that holds your new home together. Try your best NOT to argue about your kids. Allow your new spouse to love his or her kids more than he or she loves you. Doing so helps your spouse come to love you more LATER ON. Parents have an intense, instinctive, protective love for their kids – a different kind of love than the one they have for their partners. You are NOT in competition with your spouse’s children, but if you feel you are, then accept the fact that the KIDS win and you lose. Then move on from there. Once you stop struggling, your partner will ironically love you more.

Conflict and Competition Between Siblings

Siblings fight. They compete, they argue and they love each other too. In fact, siblings often have complicated relationships. Unfortunately, parents cannot control how siblings will feel about each other, much as they wish that they could. Just like kids hate to see their parents fighting, parents hate to see their kids fighting; everyone’s ideal is a home filled with harmony and love. Although it’s not practical to expect perfection, parents can certainly do their best to help foster a civil, respectful and even caring relationship between siblings.

To help minimize conflict and encourage a cooperative and pleasant family atmosphere, consider the following tips:

It’s Normal for Kids to Fight
Kids are not born mature. They are likely to fight over toys, clothing and other belongings, as well as property and space. Fighting involves yelling, name-calling, pushing, grabbing and other aggressive or unpleasant communication strategies. It’s up to parents to gradually teach kids to express themselves in more civilized and polite ways: speak in a normal tone of voice, use normal language, ask for what you want, negotiate respectfully. Expect kids to fight and expect to have to TEACH them how to resolve conflict respectfully.

Teach in a Teaching Moment
Provide education only when everyone is calm. Have a curriculum and present it in “teaching moments” – times when you and the kids are not upset or roused up. When the kids are fighting, your first goal is to end the fight. Break them up, send them to different rooms, ask them to calm down. When they’re feeling a bit better, help them resolve the particular issue they’ve been fighting about. Later that day or even the next day, sit them down to teach them how to resolve conflict. Choose a time when everyone is alert but calm – right after a meal for example.

Give Them a Strategy
Lay down the rules: no name-calling, no violence, no rough stuff. Yes normal tone of voice, yes listening to each other, yes asking for what you want.

Offer a strategy for stopping a fight in mid-air. For instance, if one child is yelling or name-calling, show how the other one can help turn the volume back down to normal by speaking calmly and slowly in response instead of responding in the same hostile and emotionally volatile way. Show that them that each child has the power to determine the “flavor” of the communication – each one has the power to set the tone.

When they’re calm enough, they can begin the problem-solving process. Teach the kids to take turns listening to each other’s point of view. Teach them to negotiate – work out a deal that brings some benefit to each of them (i.e yes you can use the computer now if you give me 15 extra minutes later tonight). You might look at some negotiating books yourself in order to get some good ideas for the kids. If they’re old enough, ask them to read up on negotiating skills and then discuss what they’re learning at the dinner table each night for a couple of weeks. It can be a fun discussion for everyone. You can also look at marriage books to get ideas, since you are likely to find rules for fair fighting and constructive negotiating in those books as well.

Be sure to let them know that if they get stuck in their problem-solving attempts, they can call parents for assistance.

Encourage and Carry Through
After teaching children how to negotiate and cooperate, you can reinforce positive sibling behaviors using the CLeaR Method (for details, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The letters C, L, and R stand for comment, label and reward. When you see the kids getting along, working out details, sharing nicely and engaging in other desirable sibling behaviors, make sure to comment on this. “You guys figured that out really nicely,” “I like the way you two are playing together,” “You spoke in a very respectful way – good for you!” Tell them what KIND of behavior they did, using a label: “That was very cooperative/respectful/patient” and so on. Once in awhile, actually reward the behavior: “I think you both deserve an extra story at bedtime for that.”

Use positive attention only for the first while after you’ve taught the kids how to get along. However, if fighting is still going on after some time, use discipline as well, in the form of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice). Tell the kids that name-calling, hitting, yelling and other unacceptable behaviors will be penalized with a negative consequence each time they occur. You don’t care WHY they occurred – you’ll look into that AFTER the consequence is finished. Your rule will be “there is no excuse or justifiable reason for abusive behavior in this house.” After the consequence has been given, you can certainly sit down with the kids to see what went wrong with their negotiations and try to improve your protocols so that the problem can be avoided in the future. For instance, maybe you forgot to include instructions as to what to do when a sibling starts getting physical. Add in the new considerations (i.e. call Mommy or Daddy/leave the room quickly/call for help).

Be a Role Model
Show them how mature people resolve disputes! Don’t let your kids see, hear or discover that you and your spouse are fighting destructively. They are likely to copy your style. Instead, disagree respectfully and negotiate fairly. Show your kids what you want them to do in similar situations.

Celebrate Each Child
When each child in the family feels seen, loved and appreciated, there tends to be a little less sibling conflict. Highlight the special qualities of each child out loud, helping the whole family to recognize the special strengths of each member. Try calling the kids by the family last name to reinforce positive group identity (i.e. “Calling all little Goldhars for dinner!”).

Teach Your Kids to Support Each Other
When a child has succeeded in some undertaking, encourage the whole family to celebrate (“Let’s all take Ginger out for dinner for getting that great mark on her difficult science test!”). When every child benefits from the other child’s success, competition is reduced. Instead each one is genuinely happy for the accomplishments of the other. “How about making a card for your brother to tell him how proud you are of his winning team!”

In addition, when a child is in need of support, encourage the others to give it. “Cindy isn’t feeling well. Would you like to make her some cookies to cheer her up?” “Brian is feeling sad after losing the game; would you like to cheer him up with a game of chess?”

Although it’s not fully within the control of parents to determine how siblings get along, parents can encourage, teach and facilitate skills for healthy sibling relationships.

Child Wakes Baby

Picture this scene: You’ve just finished spending 45 minutes of gentle rocking and singing to put your baby to sleep. But the effort is well worth it. Finally, you can get some well-deserved rest. You may even be able to catch up on your reading. Except… your thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a loud and demanding cry on the baby monitor. Your older child has just woken the baby up! Beyond frustrated, you get up, drag your feet to the nursery, and start the bedtime ritual all over again.

Why does this keep happening? Why can’t your older child just let the baby sleep? Consider the following:

Your Child is Bored
Sometimes, your child disturbs your sleeping baby out of simple boredom. With nothing interesting to do, kids look for diversions (the baby is an excellent distraction!) and even company. They may even want to play with their sibling, but don’t have the patience to wait until their brother or sister is awake. If this is the case, the best thing for a parent to do is find ways to engage their child while the baby is sleeping.

There are many individual games – available in toy stores and online – designed to challenge a child’s intellectual and motor development. Have these games or activities handy; they can be used to entertain bored children so that they don’t become disruptive while you are busy trying to settle the baby. Sometimes, you may be able to arrange play dates to time with your infant’s regular sleeping schedule. If you’re fortunate, there may be another adult around who can spend time with your child while you are occupied.

Your Child Doesn’t Understand Why the Baby Must Sleep
It’s tempting to reprimand or punish a child for waking up the baby, especially when he or she ends up creating so more work for the parent. But it’s important for parents to remember that the younger a child is, the less likely he or she understands why the baby’s sleep is so important. Try to explain to your child what sleep does, in a manner appropriate to his or her age. For example, parents can share with a toddler how babies become healthier when they sleep because their tiny cells grow and become stronger. If you can inject your explanation with a lot of visual imagery (you can even draw a cell growing bigger and bigger), your child will likely develop a healthy respect for sleep. Who knows, your little talk might make it easier for you to put them to bed as well!

Your Child is Acting Out
A new baby can be threatening; your child may be feeling jealousy and resentment against the infant and, out of that anger, WANTS to disturb the baby’s peace. Perhaps you’ve been accidentally giving the youngster too much negative attention which can lead to more misbehavior. In this case, carefully reduce the amount of negative feedback you are giving him (like telling him “no” or “don’t do that” or “you’ll be punished if you continue to do that,” etc.). Instead, use the CLeaR Method of positive guidance, filling your conversation with positive comments, positive labels and even positive rewards (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information about the Clear Method). Use the CLeaR Method to specifically reinforce your child’s patience at letting the baby sleep – give PLENTY of positive attention whenever your child manages to walk by the sleeping infant without waking him.

Keep in mind, too, that your child may be seeking your attention simply because he feels a little lost in all the fuss over the new family member. Indeed, you may be too tired to give him as much time and attention as you did before the baby was born and the mischievous child is just trying to reclaim his place in your heart (albeit the wrong way). He or she may feel that the only time you pay attention is when the baby is awake, which is why the baby must be awake all the time. If you think that this could be the problem, redouble your efforts to talk to this youngster during the day (just give him a little more eye contact and a little more verbal contact) and try to do something to make him feel special at least once a day (i.e. make chocolate milk “just for him” or play a short game with him or draw a funny picture for him or sit down and read him a story in the middle of the day, etc.) Keep in mind that if your new baby has made you feel more stressed than usual, your child may be reacting to your increased stress level with his own brand of misbehavior. Perhaps you need more household help,more time out of the house or something else in order to put YOU in a better mood. This might indirectly help your child stop seeking negative attention in the form of waking the baby.

You Have Not Yet Established Your Parental Authority
It is possible that the one who wakes up the baby is really old enough to know better. No matter how many times you tell him to let the baby sleep, he ignores you. He may even think it’s funny to defy his parents and get a reaction from the baby. In this case, it is possible that you have not yet established your authority. Review the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) – a quiet, respectful, firm method of discipline that helps reduce misbehavior. When the child wakes the baby, he receives an appropriate  negative consequence. You have to be consistent with this, making sure that the child receives the consequence over and over again. However, if after 3 or 4 consequences he is not improving, then continue with the general structure of discipline, replacing your ineffective punishment with a different one that might be more effective. Use each consequence 3 or 4 times and monitor your results. You will eventually find the punishment that motivates this youngster to let his new sibling sleep! When using the 2X-Rule, make sure that you are careful to maintain a high ratio of positive attention at the same time (use the 80-20 Rule in order to ensure the effectiveness of discipline).

Your Child May Have A Defiant Nature
It could be that there’s nothing more that you can do behaviorally – your child is simply unresponsive to normal interventions. If this is the case, consider Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach remedy Holly for jealousy can be helpful along with Vine (for being strong-willed and doing what he wants to do no matter what), Chestnut Bud (for being unresponsive to discipline and guidance and Walnut (for adjusting to changes in the home). Using the remedies for a few weeks or a few months can help ease the child out of his stuck and unhappy place to a more cooperative, happier one! Put all the remedies in one mixing bottle filled with water – 2 drops of each. Add a bit of brandy (1/2  a teaspoon to prevent the growth of bacteria) and give your child 4 drops in a bit of liquid (milk, chocolate milk, juice, soup, water, soda etc.) 4 times a day with or without food. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Seek Professional Guidance
If nothing seems to work and the child is still waking a sibling, consider consulting a mental health professional who can take a closer look at what is going on and help design a uniquely tailored intervention.

Planning the Size of Your Family

Have you always dreamed of having a large family? Maybe you grew up as an only child, and remembered how lonely it can get without siblings around. Or perhaps you always envisioned a sweet smaller household with one or two children. No doubt your spouse also has an ideal image of family size – and not necessarily the same as yours!

Planning a family is an exciting undertaking for every couple. While a welcoming attitude to “whatever will arrive” is one way to go, planning family size is another equally option. If you are the type that prefers to make a conscious choice about the number of children you will try to have, there are lots of factors for you to consider.

Here are some tips to help you in planning the size of your family:

Plan!
It’s best to set a specific time and place to discuss this issue with your partner. This is not a “passing in the kitchen” type of discussion, but rather an important, life-altering conversation. Take your time over coffee, maybe even bringing pad and paper so you can jot down thoughts, ideas and things to consider. You want to be able to sort through all possible factors the number of children you want to have, how you want to space the births, methods of birth control, financial considerations and so on.

Decide as a Couple
Whatever decision you come up with, make sure that it’s born out of consensus. Parenting is a partnership, and family size is a critical area couples need to see eye to eye on. Ideally, family planning should be a topic that was explored even before you decided to marry, but if you didn’t happen to do that, don’t worry: just do it now! If the topic is difficult to talk about calmly, enlist the aid of a therapist to help tease out the issues in a more peaceful and productive way.

Remember: There is No Such Thing as an Ideal Family Size
An ideal size of family is only what is ideal for you and your spouse. That an “only child grows up a spoiled brat” is a myth; conscious parents can always surround the sole apple of their eye with friends and situations that would give the child a balanced view of life. The same can be said about the argument that children tend to lose individuality in a large family. Supportive sibling relationships can actually be a blessing and children with a built-in group of playmates may thrive on less parental attention. Although there are lonely only children and lonely kids who grow up in large families, there are no rules for which size of family can lead to loneliness; there are so many factors involved, many of which have to do with parental skill and competence.

When you are thinking about the number of children you’d like, also think about how close or far apart you would like them. Always keep in mind of course, that what you’d “like” and what you might “get” could be very different. Human beings are not totally in charge of their reproductive capacities. People have unexpected periods of infertility or ultra-fertility, miscarriages and stillbirths, twins and triplets. There is a saying, “Man plans and God laughs” which certainly applies often when it comes to family size. However, assuming that things went the way you were hoping they would, consider the impact that close spacing might have on your lifestyle, career, health and emotional well-being.  Do you think you can handle it? If you put generous spacing between each birth, how will family life be later on when part of your family is young and part is in the teens and how do you feel about that picture of family life?

Factor in the Logistics
When you plan, it makes sense to thinking about finances.  Remember that there are hospital bills for childbirth, school tuition expenses, and the basic necessities of life like food, clothing and shelter. Will you want to send your kids to camp or private schools? Will you want to have family vacations? If a child has crooked teeth, will you want to provide orthodontics? What if there are special learning needs requiring special tutors, therapists, schooling – would you be able to handle whatever comes your way. No one knows the future – keep in mind that family “planning” will always have to leave an open door for last-minute adjustments and changes based on what develops along the way.

Do you have the time and energy to invest in your kids? If you and your partner are both working full-time to catch up on bills, can you really provide a new baby the attention he or she deserves? Are you physically healthy and strong enough to raise a new child? Do you need lots of time to recuperate after childbirth?

You might also consider your home and community environments. Does your home have enough space for kids? Does your neighborhood have resources available to assist you in parenting? Would you be raising your kids in a community of like-minded values? Or, will you be making a move to a different home and community? Can you afford to do so?

There are lots of things to talk about and dream about. You don’t need to know everything or plan everything down to every detail. You just need to get on the same page with your partner and work together toward building a family. Discussing things openly helps give you the best start in raising your family.

How to Make the Blended Family Work

Blended families occur when divorced or widowed adults with children form new relationships with other adults with children. Today’s high divorce rate has vastly increased the number of blended families. While parenting is always challenging, blended-family parenting presents additional issues that require extra skill and sensitivity.

Typical Challenges of Blending Families
The challenges of the blended family often have their roots in children’s relationship with their own parents. A parent’s re-marriage can take its toll on children, especially if the separation blindsided them. While parents may know for months or even years that their marriage will be ending, kids are often left out of the loop. They are more likely to be shocked by the time the information is presented to them. Sometimes conversations sound like “Your mom and I haven’t been getting along so I’m moving out and we’re getting divorced.” While this plan may have taken the adults a very long time to formulate, the kids may experience the dissolution of the marriage as an overnight affair. This could be true even if the parents were constantly fighting and threatening divorce within earshot of the kids. Children have no idea of what is happening behind the scenes – the marriage counseling, the lawyers, the long talks. In most cases, they just hear the final sentence. This shock aspect of the family breakdown can make the adjustment period harder. Even if the children long suspected that their home would dissolve, they are more likely to have suffered wishful thinking and serious denial. It can take them quite awhile just to come to terms with the fact that their home, as they once knew it, will exist no more.

Kids have to adjust to not only to the loss of their family, but sometimes to many other losses as well. Sometimes one parent becomes very scarce. Sometimes new caregivers enter the scene. Sometimes, they have to move to another home, school and community. Sometimes, they have to incorporate new people into their lives right away – such as the parents’ new partners and others. All of this change leaves its mark on children – many become emotionally overwhelmed, angry and/or sad. Many develop academic or behavioral problems. Moreover, while their parents want to move on quickly and establish new relationships, children can be resentful or fearful. It is common for them to be totally opposed to the idea of living with a new parental figure, as well as stepbrothers and stepsisters. It doesn’t matter how lovely these new family members might be; children are thrown together with people they don’t choose. They just want their old home and life back. If they actually have reason not to like the new parent-figure or new siblings, their pain is intensified.

But even if all is well, combining two different families in one household can be stressful. Conflicts between step-siblings are bound to arise, just because they were brought up differently. They may have different values and ways of doing things. Furthermore, there is the pressure of having to create a “new” family structure. New customs, new routines, new responsibilities, new roles and new relationships all have to be navigated within the blended family unit. In addition, the new husband and wife have to begin their relationship with a house full of children! And while people have high tolerance for their own kids, it is much harder to tolerate other people’s children. Marital conflict over parenting issues is common even when husband and wife are raising their own children; parenting conflicts in re-organized families can be even more intense.

Strategies for Your Blended Family
Although these challenges are real and unavoidable, caring parents can adopt “success strategies” that will enable them to move through the initial adjustment period to create stable, loving blended families.

Below are some techniques that may help:

Accept Your Children’s Feelings
Don’t insist that your children like or love your new partner or their new siblings. In fact, if they tell you they hate these people, just accept their feelings. Say things such as, “I hear you” or “I see.” Don’t argue with them or try to talk them out of their feelings. If you just accept the feelings, the feelings will become a little lighter, and move on a little quicker.  Accepting a feeling is like opening a door – the feeling can exit through the opening. On the other hand, if you shut the door on the feeling by saying things like, “You have no right to feel that way; these are lovely people who are here for you, etc.” then the feeling STAYS stuck inside. To help feelings leave, remember to open the door to them by letting your child express them.

Don’t Accept Poor Behavior
On the other hand, you must make it perfectly clear that everyone has to behave respectfully toward each other. While there is no need to like the new parent or siblings, rudeness will not be tolerated. If your child cannot control his hostility, consider accessing the help of a mental health professional. It is possible that the child’s pain is too much for him to handle and he needs therapeutic intervention.

Communicate with Your Spouse
The parenting partnership is important in all families, but especially so among blended families. It is vital that you come to an understanding regarding parenting style and discipline strategies. While some differences are expected to arise, what is important is that all children will be treated fairly and loved equally. Reaching a consensus with your partner on key parenting issues can help in anticipating the problems common in a blended family structure. This can be accomplished by reading a parenting book together, taking a parenting class together or going together to a mental health professional who deals with parenting issues and blended families.

Show the Children Love and Respect
You may have your own set of rules in your previous marriage, but you have to provide allowance for step-children to understand and adjust to your beliefs and values. Similarly, you also have to be open to their way of doing things, and allot time to adjust to their idiosyncrasies. And never speak ill of their biological parent! Doing so is the fastest way to harbor anger and hatred in the hearts of your stepchildren. Let your partner do the heavy discipline of his or her own children, while you do the same for yours. The first few years are relationship-building time; just be nice to your partner’s children. Of course, you’ll have to be pretty nice to your own as well, or they will quickly become jealous and resentful. However, everyone in the family knows whose children are whose. If a step-child misbehaves, you can let your child know that the child’s parent will be dealing with that behavior. The exception is when your step-children are very young (5 or under) in which case you can step in right away as a (benevolent) authority figure. Another exception occurs when your step child is rude to you directly. Since you must establish healthy boundaries in every relationship in your life, you can also do so with members of your new family. Do not give or accept any form of disrespect. Discuss with your partner what appropriate steps can be taken to effectively set boundaries against disrespect with his or her children (and the same for yours in relationship to your partner, of course).

Accept the Feelings of Your Step-Children
It’s not your fault that your new children don’t automatically love you (unless, of course, you mistreat them or treat them harshly). It can take years for your new children to open their hearts to you. Your patience and understanding will help speed up the process. Don’t take their rejection personally, but rather understand it as a form of their own pain that they cannot help. They have lost a home and they are hurting. Sometimes they have lost a parent. They cannot just open their heart to new love relationships – it is too dangerous. They have loved and lost. Therefore, don’t push them and don’t push yourself upon them. Instead, strive to make your stepchildren comfortable in your presence by being calm, gentle and caring. Unless the child is very young, refrain from disciplining (see above). Be positive. Offer acknowledgement and praise but skip the criticism and complaints. Let the other parent raise his or her children while you concentrate on making them feel safe and comfortable in your presence.

Be Fair!
Do not take sides, even if you want to stand up for your own children. Don’t make step-kids feel like they have to vie for your attention, or that they have to fight you too when they disagree with your own children. As the parent in the family, always stand on neutral ground when the siblings fight. If you can go out of your way to empathize with your stepchildren, even better (without being unfair towards your own kids, of course!). Even if you know that the step-children are being mean to your own kids, take it as an expression of their hurt rather than as an expression of their inherent “evilness” – try to guide them gently. Ask the child’s parent for help. Consider that your own children are also in pain and may not exactly be angels either!

Be Gentle and Patient
Expect a lot of bumps and challenges along the way; these are normal. If possible, get a mental health professional on-board to help provide support and guidance for you and your new partner. Why re-invent the wheel? Professionals can show you the quick road to successful life in a blended family. Short term support in the early months of your re-negotiated family may save you and your loved ones years and even decades of pain and suffering later.

Lastly, Embrace Your New Role
Show your stepchildren that you are striving to be a good parent, without the intention of taking their biological parent’s place. This may mean defining your new role in their life. It can mean establishing a partnership with your spouse’s ex. It can be striking a friendship with kids, and leaving all discipline issues to your spouse. Unless your “new” children are babies, toddlers or pre-schoolers, accept that you will never be a true parent to them. What you can hope to be is a wonderful step-parent, an excellent role model, an awesome source of support and love and eventually (when the kids are grown up), and a marvelous grandparent.

Sleep Routines While Travelling

A holiday or vacation with children is not always completely relaxing. One of the challenges in travelling with kids is their reaction to the disruption of their normal sleep patterns and routines. Children are often even more sensitive than adults to sleep cues – like their own room, their own bed and their regular times for lying down and getting up. All of this is gone once they leave the comfort of home and many kids find it very hard to settle down to sleep as a result. Add to this the normal challenges of travel such as change in diet, the stress of travel itself and adjusting to changes in time zones and you often find yourself with a crew of cranky, sleepless kids!

How can parents help their babies, toddlers and children adjust to sleep disturbances during holidays and vacations?

Minimize the Changes in Their Sleep Routine
In all situations, adjusting to change is easier when change is kept to a minimum. If they nap in the afternoon, then plan activities around their afternoon nap. If they sleep until 10 am, then don’t travel until ten. If they like to sleep with lots of pillows and toys around them, make sure you pack those extra pillows and toys. The less change, the better.

Prepare Them for the Change
Infants can be gradually desensitized to changes in routine, so that the vacation or holiday is not a shock for them. For example, if your destination has a warmer climate than where you live, then turn the temperature in their room a fraction of a degree higher in the days before your trip. If they will be sleeping in a large bed at a hotel instead of a crib, then transfer them to your bed the week before the holiday. If your children are old enough, show them pictures of the place you are travelling to including the city and the place where you will be staying. If you have a picture of the bedroom you’ll be using, all the better! Sometimes you will be able to provide actual photos (for example, when you pick a hotel on an Internet travel site or when you are staying with relatives and you have photo’s of their home and town), and sometimes you’ll be able to use pictures of the city garnered from computer or travel books.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
The Bach Flower Remedy Walnut can be given to a child 4 times a day starting the week before traveling in order to help the child adjust more easily to changes in routines, foods, and environment. Walnut is the transition flower, increasing a person’s flexibility and making change easier on the body and mind. Bach Flower Remedies are available at health food stores and on-line. Two drops in a small glass of liquid, given 4 times a day, is the optimal dosage. You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online, in books, and throughout this site.

Expect Over-Excitement at First
Many adults have trouble sleeping in a new environment and travelling kids usually have more trouble. They are often overstimulated by the new experiences they are encountering and overexcited about the trip. This affects their brain chemistry, making it much harder for them to relax their little bodies and minds enough to settle into a quality sleep. If they’re too “wide awake” the first night or two of travel, don’t insist that they go to bed; they’re just going to lie awake for hours waiting for their adrenaline to settle! Let them stay up a little later, but wake them at the regular time in the morning. After a couple of nights, they should be good and tired and more able to sleep despite continued feelings of excitement.

Bring the Usual Gear
The place may not be familiar to your child, but the bedding, pillowcases, blanket and huggable toys can be the same. If you can bring stuff that kids associate with their sleep routine at home to your holiday or vacation, it won’t hurt and it just might help!

Be Flexible
If your very young children wish to sleep with you (in your room or in your bed) while on a short vacation, it’s fine to let them do it. They’ll be home soon and you can get them back into their normal routines in their own rooms. However, vacation stays can be so disorienting that small children really need the comfort and stability of their parents near by. This isn’t the time to insist on independence. Try to provide the kids with the security they need. You can (and should be) firm, once you get home.

Gradually Ease Them Out of the Holiday Routine Upon Getting Home
Kids don’t just need to adjust during your holiday proper; they may also need to adjust upon returning home! This is especially true if the vacation is bit long, like the entire summer. Upon getting home, be flexible. If your child is still attached to the vacation routine, just try to wean him or her out of it slowly. It helps to allow a week’s transition time between the vacation and daycamp or school, just so that the child can get used to going to sleep and waking up on a stricter, probably earlier, schedule.

Parent Has Depression

Clinical depression is a debilitating disease. It significantly affects a person’s internal life, ability to work and accomplish things, and relationship with loved ones and friends. When a person is depressed, his or her whole world is affected.

How Does Parental Depression Affect Children?
Parents who are depressed have a hard enough time coping with their emotional pain – it can be overwhelming to also have to worry about the feelings of spouse and children. The tendency is to hope that at least the kids don’t notice their parent’s emotional distress – the hope provides some relief and comfort. Unfortunately, scientific research does not substantiate the hope; it turns out that it’s almost impossible to hide a parent’s depression from children. Studies show that even infants can tell if their mother is depressed; infants with depressed mothers tend to display more symptoms of insecure attachment than infants whose mothers have no depression. Some get more anxious than other infants their age when separated from mothers, while some show signs of unusual indifference to separation. In either case, they relate differently to their depressed parent, indicating that they are sensitive to the mother’s mood and affect.

If infants can sense depression in their parents, imagine how much more easily the condition is recognized by children and teenagers. While it is tempting to believe that older kids are too busy with their own lives to really notice what’s going on with parents, nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, children are sensitive to all the emotions and feelings happening in the household— whether spoken or unspoken. They may not always talk about what they experience, however. In fact, sometimes the only way a parent can tell that the child has noticed that something is wrong is through the youngster’s misbehavior. Misbehavior – often referred to as “acting out” – can be a child’s way of asking for help. He or she may not be able to articulate the source of the problem, but when invited to sit down and talk about what’s going on, may suddenly blurt out a pile of fears, concerns, worries and upsets. A depressed parent and/or his or her spouse, can help children understand what is going on and thereby help prevent pain and confusion from building up and spilling over into behavior problems (see strategies below).

Being proactive in reaching out to children can help reduce the chances that the children will suffer depression themselves. Although there are biological factors that predispose one to depression, these are open to influence by environmental factors: in other words, parents can make a difference. A study released by Beardslee and colleagues, found that a child whose parent has a mood disorder, is about 40% more likely than other children to develop major depression before they turn 20 years old. There are different possible reasons for this: vulnerability to depression is likely passed on through the genes; it may be that a depressed parent is unable to give as much attention to the emotional needs of his or her children, increasing the chances that their emotional health may be compromised; it may also be possible that the children lack a model of good emotional health (particularly if growing up in a single-parent home with a depressed parent or if living with more than one parent with a mental health issue). Whatever the reason, ensuring that the children are educated about depression and are receiving appropriate intervention (see below) can help them be more resilient.

Seek the Best Possible Care
An accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and speed recovery. The earlier one seeks treatment, the better. However, any time is a good time for assessment and professional support. Too many people try to tough it out on their own, failing to realize that there are some very good treatments for depression nowadays. There are both medical and alternative treatments, medications and therapies. Most people who experience depression can be helped back to a life of joy and productivity once they’ve received the help they need. Seek that help for your sake AND the sake of your children!

Explain the Situation
It’s best to explain to your children what is happening, rather than leave things up to their imagination. When children don’t have the facts, they can concoct the strangest explanations for events. For instance, they may think that a depressed parent who is in bed a lot of the time is lazy, or is dying or doesn’t love them enough to get up. Or, they may think that it’s THEIR fault that Mom or Dad isn’t happy a lot of the time. They may feel that they are bad and that is why Daddy is always irritable or Mommy is always crying. As you can see, their explanations tend to be destructive and unhealthy. Just tell them the truth: Mommy or Daddy has an illness that makes them feel (list symptoms such as tired, nervous, grumpy, sad, etc.). Tell them that the doctor is helping and hopefully Mommy or Daddy will feel better soon.

Be Real
There is no need to try to pretend that everything is fine and in fact, doing so might cause confusion for the kids. Acting super-happy one minute and dissolving into tears the next may cause the children to feel that they’re living in an unstable environment! Nor should the healthy spouse work too hard to overcompensate for the depressed partner. Being too happy is also unreal and therefore destabilizing to kids. Everyone should just be what they normally are while being aware of their need to be as respectful, loving and attentive to the kids as possible. Not all depression is the same; some people can actually carry on with their careers while being depressed while others are housebound. Those who can get dressed and take care of the kids should continue to do so as much as possible. Those who are too ill to do this are simply too ill to do this and others must take over.

There is one caveat, however: showing children strong negative emotions or destructive behavior can have devastating effects. For instance, children will inevitably be overwhelmed by watching a parent harm herself, fly into out-of-control rages or engage in screaming or crying spells. Finding a parent in the midst of a suicide attempt is one of the most traumatizing experiences a child can ever have – second only to discovering a successful suicide. However, any form of parental breakdown will usually scare – even traumatize – young children who can’t yet fully grasp the nature of the illness. If you feel that you are on the verge of a breakdown, ask someone to take you somewhere private, or somewhere that you can rest for awhile or, if appropriate, to an emergency medical center.

Help Your Children Understand What is Happening
Keep the doors of communication open. You may be able to find some children’s books on depression or parents with depression – reading them to your young kids can be helpful and spark questions and dialogue. Ask your local librarian for help. Alternatively, search out the internet for resources. Allow kids to express their frustration and anger – greet their feelings with Emotional Coaching (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice”  for details). That is, accept their feelings without trying to change them. When a child angrily shouts to a depressed parent, “YOU’RE ALWAYS TOO TIRED. YOU NEVER TAKE US ANYWHERE!” the parent can actually respond with Emotional Coaching: “I know you’re upset. You have a right to be. It’s frustrating and maddening that I can’t take you on outings like everyone else. It doesn’t feel fair. Why should you have to have a mother who suffers from depression? Why can’t we be like all your friends?”  Interestingly, when the parent responds with acceptance, understanding, compassion and validation, the child almost always changes his mind – if not right in the moment, then perhaps a few minutes or hours later. “I’m sorry Mom. I know it’s not your fault. I just feel sad about not being able to go out with you.”

Kids Need to be Kids
Although children can certainly cheer their parents up, they cannot handle the responsibility of making parents happy. Children who need to be too quiet, too “good” or too anything so that their parents won’t be too stressed, too challenged or too depressed, inevitably suffer. Kids need to be kids. It’s their turn to be looked after. Although they will certainly be willing to try, there is no way they can look after their adult parents. If your illness renders you vulnerable, weak and/or needy, turn to other sources of support besides your kids. Don’t share too many thoughts or feelings with them; use family, friends and therapists for that. You may not always have the energy you need to be “present” for your kids – that’s just part of the illness. If possible, see that others can step in to provide much needed attention and positive feedback. Your spouse, your parents or siblings, your friends and neighbors as well as the children’s teachers, coaches, babysitters and other helpers may all be able to step up to the plate. Ask for them for their help. Taking the time you need to fully recover is the best thing you can do for your kids. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle afterward in order to prevent relapse is equally important. Take good care of yourself because your kids are dependent on your well-being.

Provide Professional Support
When possible, help your children by providing professional counseling for them. Although it’s not your fault at all, your (or your spouse’s) depression presents a developmental challenge for your kids. Counseling can help children grow and thrive through this challenge. There may be children’s groups for family members of depressed people in your area.  Check with your doctor. Also, see if there are other friends, neighbors, relatives or volunteers who might be able to take the kids out or give them extra time and attention inside the house. This helps them get their own needs met when u are in stages of deep recovery.

Refuses to Eat Breakfast

Breakfast is an important meal. For one thing, breakfast provides energy and nutrients for the first part of the day. Secondly, it’s a meal that comes after a long period of not eating (during sleep), so skipping it gives the body the impression that it is fasting and causes it to slow down its metabolism in order to preserve nutrients. This can result in weight gain! Health practitioners have always recommended making breakfast the heaviest and most nutritious serving of the day, instead of lunch, snacks or dinner since a person has time to use the nutrients and work off the calories of this earliest meal. After dinner, for example, many people are sedentary until they go to bed a short while later. There is certainly no need to ingest a large amount of food in order to sit around for a couple of hours and then go to sleep!

So what can parents when their child refuses to eat breakfast?

First, Determine Why Your Child Does Not Want to Eat
As with most things, an accurate diagnosis is half the solution. Could it be that your child doesn’t like the food you are serving? Or maybe he or she rarely feels hungry in the morning? It’s also possible that your child is always running late, and breakfast is a luxury he can’t afford (many adults have this problem too!). Knowing the specific cause of not eating breakfast can help a parent provide a tailor-fit response.

If what you put on the plate is the problem, maybe it’s time for a change in the menu. The good thing is, there are many high energy breakfast choices that a parent can choose from to break the monotony of cold cereal. Tasty muffins, fresh waffles, eggs and bagels, fruit breads, french toast, granola, various puddings, cheese and crackers, hot cooked grains, fresh baked scone, cottage cheese salads, and many other delicious and nutritious treats can be served up. If you bake them at home you can make sure that you use high protein, high fiber “ancient grains,” (like sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, etc.), nuts and nut flours (like almond flour), dried fruits, eggs and milk products. There are many cookbooks available today that offer you a wide range of nutritious options for breakfast. If time is short (as it is for most of us!), you will find many offerings in your grocery and local health food store – fresh and frozen (ready to heat & eat) wholesome breakfast foods – both ready-to-make mixes and ready-to-pop-in-the-oven prepared foods.  Of course, you can also spice up old traditional offerings — perhaps you can add fruit to that pancake, or serve non-traditional breakfast foods such as meat, poultry, salads or whatever else your child might be willing to eat.

If the problem is that your child doesn’t feel hungry in the morning, then you might consider some extra interventions. Waking a child earlier usually helps address this problem, as hunger usually take some time to kick in after rising. Give your child a small drink of lemon-water (water to which you’ve added a bit of lemon juice and optional sweetener) to wake up the digestive tract and stimulate appetite. Eliminating midnight snacks and 3 am kitchen outings will also help. You may also cut back on dinner portions, or take dinner earlier, so as to give more room for breakfast in the morning.

If constant rushing is the reason kids skip breakfast, then the solution is to make sure your child gets up on time and moves efficiently! In the meantime, prepare a packed sandwich or fruit that they can eat on the bus or while walking to school. Taking a meal on the road may not be ideal practice, but it’s better than letting your child skip the most important meal of the day. Alternatively, make a quick, nutrition-packed breakfast smoothie by blending together milk or milk substitute, fresh or frozen fruit, protein powder and optional “extra’s” like chia seeds (for fiber and nutrients), yogurt, kale, flavorings and sweeteners.

If Possible, Eat Breakfast as a Family
Never underestimate the influence of a family routine. If you establish breakfast early on as a family affair it can encourage life-long breakfast eating – a healthy practice.

Child Hurts the New Baby

It is common for toddlers and small kids to be rough with a new baby.  They sometimes hug the infant a little too long or a little too hard (or both). Sometimes they pinch, squeeze or even hit the poor little baby. What prompts them to behave this way? What can parents do about it?

If your little one is hurting the new baby, consider the following tips:

Don’t Ask Why
Toddlers don’t know why they hurt the baby, so don’t bother asking them why they are being so rough. For instance, don’t say, “Why do you do that? Don’t you love your new sister?”  Your youngster has no insight into the matter. In fact, when your child approaches the baby to touch her soft skin or look at her big eyes, he generally has no intention of hurting her. However, within moments, “something” overtakes him and his arms lash out as if they are running on their own power. When his parents start yelling at him for hurting the baby, he is often genuinely surprised at the sudden turn of events. Why is everyone mad at him again? Why did his arms do that?

Inner Conflict
Since it isn’t the conscious mind that is misbehaving, there is really no point in talking to the toddler’s conscious mind. That is, don’t waste your time telling him to be nice to the baby or not to hurt the baby. Don’t ask him why he is hurting the baby. None of this will help at all.

Instead, it’s more helpful to work with the unconscious mind. The toddler’s behavior is showing what the unconscious mind is feeling: anger. The youngster has been replaced with a special little bundle that is demanding everyones attention. This is making the toddler feel displaced, ignored, neglected, sad and jealous. But it is also making him mad. He wants to get rid of this intruder who is ruining his party.

Parents can speak directly to the unconscious mind by naming the anger. “Oh, I see that there’s a part of you that is mad at Baby Jenny.” (This statement is very true. Only part of your toddler resents the baby. Other parts of your child are both loving and intensely protective of the infant.) After naming the feeling, you can try to help the mad and hurting part: “We can’t hurt the baby. What we CAN do is make your mad part feel better.  Would you feel better if you could sit in Mommy’s lap for awhile? Do you need some more stories or maybe a treat?” and so on.  Acknowledging, accepting and addressing the pain of the hurting part helps the hurting part to calm down.

Avoid Punishment
Interestingly, direct interventions like punishment generally have no positive effect on rough toddler behavior. In fact, the more the parents punish a toddler for hurting a baby, the more the toddler tends to hurt the baby. Sometimes, giving positive attention for GENTLE behavior can be helpful in reducing rough behavior. Try using the CLeaR Method – comment, label, reward (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). “You’re touching the baby so softly. That’s so gentle of you – what a good brother you are. I think that deserves a big kiss/extra story/etc.”

Help the Child Bond with the New Baby
Allowing your older child to still be a baby can help reduce feelings of anger, insecurity and jealousy. Refer to your little ones (the new baby and the other children) as “little ones” – as in, “Good Morning, Little Guys! How are all my little people doing this morning?” By linking the other small children with the baby, the children feel that they haven’t lost out – they are still loved in that special baby-love way. In fact, be careful not to promote the small children to “big boy” or “big girl” now that the baby is here – unless they’re teenagers, they aren’t big yet! Let the whole group be little and you’re more likely to see a strong, loving bond forming between the children and the baby and a little less likely to see physical aggression.

Interestingly, it’s best NOT to give an older child more individual attention at this time because this behavior sends the message that there is not enough love to go around. Instead, try to include the older ones with the baby in one big, happy family. “Let’s take the baby to the park with us,” or “Let’s let the baby read the book with us,” or “Let’s let the baby watch us bake today” are all inclusive statements that show the child that you will not abandon the baby and you will not abandon him. Inclusiveness increases the older child’s sense of security and reduces his feelings of insecure competition with the baby.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies can often help reduce aggressive and jealous behaviors. Just add two drops of this harmless tincture to a bit of liquid (juice, soda, water, milk, chocolate milk or anything else), 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. The remedies are available in health food stores and on-line. Of the 38 Remedies in the Bach system, try  Holly (for jealousy) and Vine (for aggressive behavior). If you like, you can mix both together in a Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty glass bottle with a glass dropper, available where the remedies are sold). Put two drops of each remedy in the small mixing bottle along with water and about a tsp of brandy (to help prevent bacteria in the bottle). From the mixing bottle, drop 4 drops in liquid, 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. Read more about Bach Flower Remedies on this site, online and through self-help books. Alternatively, call a Bach Flower Practitioner to help select individually tailored remedies. Bach Remedies are excellent to try when you are worried that your toddler may really hurt your baby – particularly because toddlers are usually too young for therapy.

What to Do In the Moment
Speak slowly and firmly when correcting your youngster, but refrain from showing real upset. Of course, protect the baby! Try not to allow the older child to be alone with the little one. However, as you probably know all too well, your toddler can hurt the baby even while the baby is being held in your arms! When that happens, stand up and move out of the child’s reach without saying a word.  Withdrawing attention by this quiet move is more effect than looking the little one in the eye and shouting “NO!” Don’t actually ignore your child – just lightly remove yourself and the baby for a few moments. You are trying to keep the infant safe while you are minimizing negative attention to the older one. Make a simple rule and repeat it as necessary: “Gentle with the baby.” Refrain from the negative version (“We don’t hurt the baby”) because this is likely to get translated by the toddler’s highly emotional brain as an instruction TO hurt the baby!

Patience is Required
It’s unpleasant but normal for toddlers and preschoolers to hurt a new baby. Showing your understanding is an important way to help start building your child’s emotional intelligence. Although a child’s rough behavior is very upsetting to parents, it’s important that parents not make matters worse by showing anger or becoming very punitive. Patience is required! With your gentle approach, chances are that your toddler will move through his upset feelings and aggressive behavior much more quickly.

Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.