The Needy Parent Test

We all know that children need their parents, online but did you know that some parents NEED their kids too? In fact, some parents need their kids so much that we might call them “needy parents.” Such parents depend on their children to make them feel loved, successful or otherwise happy. The fact is, however, that when children sense their parent needs them in order to be happy, they feel pressured and resentful. Children need independent parents – parents who take responsibility for building their own successful lives. Independent parents give kids the space they need to develop and grow to their own potential and to step into their own adult lives.

Is it possible that YOU are a needy parent? You can find out by asking yourself if the following descriptions pertain to you:

You Desperately Need Your Child to Succeed
How important is it to you that your child succeeds? How would you feel if your child somehow failed or did less than you would be satisfied with? Parents can be over-invested in the outcome of their child’s efforts. Of course, every parent delights in his or her child’s success and happiness, but sometimes a child just doesn’t succeed. Sometimes it’s because a parent can’t tolerate a child’s feelings of disappointment, finding it hard to handle emotional pain. Or, the parent may want the child to be successful in order to be able to brag a bit, to be proud – seeing the child as an extension of him or herself. It’s as if the child’s successes are the parents’ successes and the child’s failures are the parents’ are the parents’ failures. Whatever the reason, if you NEED your child to succeed and can’t tolerate his failure, you may be too needy.

You Need Your Child to Be Around
Some parents need a lot of contact with their child. While mothers and babies are meant to be symbiotic for the first couple of years, they are meant to gradually grow apart more and more until they are two completely separate (but loving) human beings. The ultimate expression of this occurs when the child leaves home to make a life of his or her own. However, some parents need the child even more than the child needs them. There are parents who need their kids to talk to them in depth daily, sharing all the details of their lives. Some parents need their kids to call home frequently whenever the child is out with friends. Some parents need their grown children to visit daily or call several times a day, wanting them to continue sharing the details of their lives well into adulthood. Of course, the desire for closeness also varies between cultural groups with some cultures promoting closer relationships and others promoting more independence or distance. However, if you tend to find very temporary loss of contact with your child painful, you may be too needy.

You Feel Possessive of Your Child
Does it bother you when your child develops close friendships and relationships? Sometimes a parent resents a child’s closeness to another relative – even if that relative is the child’s other parent. Sometimes a child has a special relationship with an aunt or grandparent and the parent feels left out, discarded or insignificant. On the other hand, healthy parents feel secure in their relationship with their child and are happy for the child to have lots of other sources of support, companionship and love. If you feel threatened when your child becomes very close to someone else, you may be too needy.

Your Child Needs You to Do Everything
Parents have a special role in their child’s life, guiding them from totally helpless tiny beings to full grown independent people. Along the way, they must give their child opportunities to develop all sorts of competencies – the ability to cook, make appointments, manage money, drive, travel and do every other task that adult life will require. Step by step, the child takes on more and more independent tasks according to his increasing levels of maturity. However, some parents like to do almost everything for their child at every age – long past the time when the child could actually perform the task by him or herself. This may happen because the parent has no patience for the child’s learning process, or because the parent is a bit too nurturing, or because it makes the parent feel needed and important. Whatever the reason, the child becomes excessively dependent on the parent. If your child is very needy and very dependent, it may be because you are a needy parent!

Your Child Needs You to Solve All His or Her Problems
Kids turn to their parents for help of all kinds – practical help as well as emotional support. The younger the child, the more the youngster depends on the parent. However, as kids grow they normally find other sources of support and assistance in addition to or instead of their parents. If your child absolutely depends on you to solve all of his or her problems, it may be that you have needed to be a bit too involved for too long. Your child’s dependence may be happening because you have needed to be needed – you are a needy parent!

Needing Less
There are plenty of reasons why parents become needy of their children. Sometimes the parent has a dependent nature. Other times the parent has lacked close relationships with his or her own family of origin. Sometimes, it’s just a cultural thing – everyone in the whole community behaves the same way! However, if you want to give your child a bit of breathing space there are some steps you can take. Keep in mind that if you step back, you give room to your child to come forward. Often parents who don’t NEED their kids end up having the best relationships with them. Here are some things that you can do that might help you stop being a needy parent:

  • Get busier with your own life and schedule – take on some new, interesting activities and projects
  • Get more involved with people – attend to your current relationships and build new ones
  • Seek personal counselling
  • Take a course, learn a new skill, start a business – get busy with personal development

In general, the more a parent works on his or her own life, the more balanced his or her relationship will be with the children.

It’s all right if your child is the center of your universe. All children are the apple of their parent’s eye. But having a child doesn’t mean that you stop being your own person. While you’re responsible for your child’s happiness, your children are not responsible for yours. You need to love them for who they are, not because they are the only thing that completes you.

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.

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.

How to Discipline without Anger

Parents frequently feel angry at their kids – especially when those kids engage in behavior that is destructive, dangerous, mean, foolish, messy, illegal, immoral, thoughtless, selfish and otherwise… childish.  But given that unrestrained displays of anger can traumatize children, parents have to learn how to discipline without rage, upset or even irritation. While anger is an emotion, it is NOT a parenting tool. Discipline is a parenting tool and it has nothing to do with anger. In fact, discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is nothing more than a form of teaching. As such, it should have nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The following are some tips on how parents can keep the big A in check during discipline:

Don’t Discipline “In the Moment”
There is no reason to discipline the moment some inappropriate behavior occurs. Both you and your child must be in a calm frame of mind in order for discipline to be effective. Therefore, step back and allow YOURSELF to calm down (this also gives your child time to re-boot!). Start thinking about what the child did incorrectly and what you want him or her to do instead in the future. Do some research, if necessary” talk about your child’s behavior to your spouse, a friend or a professional counselor. Take the time to think things through and make a plan to prevent misbehavior in the future. Check out parenting resources on the internet and in books in order to see how others have dealt with similar situations. Taking the time to do your homework will pay off in the long term. Instead of quickly releasing destructive anger, you’ll be able to develop a constructive, effective intervention.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. We have about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. Hours, days, or in very rare cases – even longer – are fine.

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. In anger, the parent might choose something too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent communicates in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Follow a Structure for Discipline
No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see details in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule as described in the book.

Speak Softly and Slowly
A simple way to reduce anger during discipline is to force ourselves to speak in a low, quiet, even tone. Use non-inflammatory language: talk about the behavior but NOT about your child’s character traits! Refrain from using any negative label, even if the label fits perfectly (i.e. don’t call your child a “liar” even if he clearly is one!). Instead, just talk about the fact that he sometimes lies. If speaking in a normal tone of voice is too difficult at the moment, then it’s time to take a break. Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something hurtful.

Provide a Model of Self-Control
When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it any old way, without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching kids how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset (like in a moment of discipline!). The consistent parental model is very, very important in making lessons stick!

Take Specific Steps to Calm Yourself Down
If you notice that you are feeling very angry at any point in the discipline process, take specific steps to calm down your nervous system. For instance, take a break – tell the child that you are feeling too upset to continue and that you’re going to go calm yourself down. The child will have a chance to SEE how a person is supposed to manage angry feelings. Take some space. SIT DOWN and DRINK WATER SLOWLY. Or, like Grandma said, take 10 slow, deep breaths. This will help you turn off adrenaline. Learn EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique – a form of acupressure that can turn your anger off in a couple of minutes. Try Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower Remedy used to help turn off adrenaline, panic and rage – available online and at health food stores everywhere) – put a few drops in water or drop it straight on your pulse points.

Discipline YOURSELF for Losing Control
Wanting to not use anger is a good beginning, but not enough. Follow up your good intentions with actual negative consequences for “losing it.” For instance, if you express anger, send a certain amount of money to charity (make it large enough to discourage future blow-ups). Or, discipline yourself by having to write out an essay after an explosion, outlining the extremely destructive effects of parental rage. Or, make yourself do a large number of push-ups or other physically taxing exercise. Ask a family member to video you in the midst of your rage and then sit down and watch it over and over again – you’re not going to like what you see. If these measures don’t completely cure your tendency to express anger in the home after a three month period, get professional help. Your children deserve it. Plus, you’ll be happier as well!

Use Stress Management Tools Regularly
Parenting is hard and frustrating work. Most parents experience plenty of stress, anger and rage along the way. However, when parents have a good support system, a stress-reduction routine, a balanced lifestyle and a terrific sense of humor, they survive it all in good health. Do what you can to stress-proof your life. Be nice to yourself every single day. Try to get the right amount of sleep, exercise, quality nutrition, fun and other mood-boosters that can help you take parenting in stride. Consider giving yourself little breaks throughout the day.

Use Anger-Management Strategies
If you’re a person who is prone to anger, whether at home or at work, perhaps it’s best to look inwards first. Your children aren’t the cause of your anger; they simply trigger the anger that is always close to the surface. Use self-help and/or professional help to reduce your own build up of stress and anger. Techniques and interventions like psychotherapy, EFT (emotional freedom technique), Bach Flower Remedies, anger management courses, psychotropic (antidepressant) medication and bi-lateral stimulation tapes are all effective ways to help reduce chronic irritability, negativity and rage.

Helping Your Child Deal with Death and Loss

Facing death is one of life’s biggest challenges. Inevitably, many children encounter experiences with death – ranging from the loss of a beloved pet to the loss of a beloved parent. How can parents help their child deal with death and loss?

Consider the following tips:

Children Handle Death Differently from Adults
Your child may act like everything is fine – he or she is playing with friends, chatting online, engaging in hobbies and after-school activities; everything looks “normal.” This is just the way children deal with trauma. In fact, traumatic events like life-threatening illness and death can be so overwhelming for children that they sometimes bury it deep inside themselves where it is locked away for later review – often decades later. Meanwhile, they carry on with life. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of psychic energy to keep deep feelings of fear, loss and grief buried inside. The child may become depressed, anxious, poorly behaved or highly distracted (see below). It’s much better if some adult can help the child deal with the feelings and let them out, little by little, so that there is no “pressure cooker” inside.

Types of Reactions to Loss
Some children react to death by “acting out.” This means that their behavior deteriorates. Again, they may seem to be unaffected by the death in that they’re not crying, they’re not acting sad or depressed, and they’re not wanting to talk about the death. However, they are getting into plenty of mischief at home and at school. If you notice this sort of behavioral change in your child, then professional counseling can help. Although the counselor may recommend cutting the child some slack for a short time, make sure that you do so ONLY for a short time (i.e. a couple of weeks). It is important to impose regular standards and normal structure for the child, including reasonable limits on behavior. Accept all of the child’s emotions, but not any of the child’s destructive, disrespectful or dangerous behaviors. Just because a child is distraught it is not O.K. for him or her to swear at people or destroy property or disregard the rules of the house. As parents step in to gain control of the situation, the child will actually begin to feel more in control as well. The limits can be reassuring, communicating that normal life does go on and the parents themselves are O.K. enough to do normal parenting. All of this helps the child to return to a normal baseline.

Some kids kids become very anxious after a death, suffering from bad dreams or nightmares, having trouble sleeping, developing fears of the future and phobias in the present and obsessing about the death, the dying process or the person who died. If your child develops intense fears that don’t clear up within a month, seek professional help. Sometimes these signs may be symptoms of a post-traumatic stress reaction that requires specialized treatment.

Children May Become Withdrawn After a Loss
Instead of acting OUT, they act IN – becoming sad and isolated. It’s fine to allow children some quiet time, a time in which to lick their wounds and slowly recover. However, if a child is still turning away from life several months after a loss, seek professional assessment. It may be that counseling can help speed the mourning process along and help the child return to his or her life.

Talk about It
Very often, kids will not initiate conversations about the loss. This does not mean that they don’t need to talk. It often means they don’t know HOW to talk about it or they’re afraid of causing the parent upset. Parents, therefore, need to try to initiate talk. If the child doesn’t want to join in, then give the child space. However, some kids will be very happy to have the input of their parents. You can talk a little (not too much, so as not to overwhelm the child) about your own sadness and loss, but be sure to show interest in the child’s feelings. “We’re all sad and missing Grandma. I used to talk to her every day and now I really miss that. How are you doing with it? It must be hard for you too.” This sort of sentence gives the child an opening. Some kids will take the opportunity to express anger. “Why did she have to die? I want her to be here with us!” Acknowledge the child’s pain BEFORE answering questions. “Yes, we’re all upset about it. We all want her here. I know how much you miss her. No one really knows why people have to die – it’s all part of God’s plan. For some reason we don’t understand, we can’t live forever here on earth. But when the body dies, the soul still lives and in that sense we never die… (explain death in whatever way you understand it).”

When you support your child through a grieving experience, your child learns that he or she can turn to others in times of crisis. This is a very important life lesson that helps to stress-proof your youngster.

Other Healing Strategies
Some children will cope better by drawing their feelings. In fact, there are art therapists who can help your child process grief and loss through artwork and this can be a very gentle and helpful process. Or, just have drawing time a couple of times a week and ask your child to draw his or her feelings on a blank page. It doesn’t matter whether the picture is “nice” or not – it is simply a channel for the expression of emotion.

Making a “memory book” of the lost person or pet can also be a helpful exercise. You can help the younger child and the older child or teen can do it independently. Stories, pictures, thoughts, photo’s – anything about the person or pet may be put in the pages of this special book designed to honor the departed one. It is common to cry and laugh while making such a book –  many feelings are released. The exercise is very healing and helps the mourner move forward, taking the positive aspects of the loved one forward with him or her.

Be Aware of Your Impact
Although grieving adults are often in too much pain to parent well, it is important to remember that your children are always watching you. Your reactions – at least the ones they can observe – teach them a lot about life and stress management. If you are too overwhelmed to function well, show them how you access professional help or family support. Let them know by your model, that you needn’t go through pain and deep stress alone. If you are so sad that you find yourself crying all the time, let the kids know that the tears are temporary and that they are your way of letting the sadness out of your body. If you are crying in front of them for more than two or three months, get professional help. Your intense emotion can alarm your kids and give them a feeling of helpless despair. Ideally, after the first few weeks, you can cry when the kids are in school or asleep or at other appropriate times. Keep in mind that people go to work after the death of a loved one and they are able to refrain from crying eight hours a day when they are being paid to function well. Functioning well at home is equally important as children are sensitive to and affected by their parents’ mood.

Consider Professional Support
If your child has changes in behavior that are of concern like chronic loss of or increase in appetite, intense behavioral problems or new behavioral problems, nervous habits, bedwetting, a new set of “bad” friends, suspicious behaviors, sleep disturbances, fears, low mood, new academic problems or any other behavioral or emotional symptom that worries you, get a professional assessment. Sometimes intense stress can trigger latent mental health concerns or cause complicated grief reactions that benefit from professional help. The sooner you can help your child, the sooner your child will return to normal functioning.

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.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Help Your Child Deal with Criticism

Where would the world be without constructive feedback? While criticism may sting, it is necessary to help us grow and improve. If we’re not willing to be criticized, we can go on for a long time thinking we’re doing well, when we’re actually moving in the wrong direction. In short, painful as it may sometimes be, criticism is good for us and our children.

It is important that parents teach their kids how deal with criticism in a healthy and positive way. While all parents want to protect their child’s ego and self-esteem, the reality is that no one can ever really avoid appraisal. When a child wants to join the football team, he’ll have to face the coach’s assessment. When he wants to be a performer, he’ll have to deal with the auditions and the performance reviews. And of course, any child who wants to survive school for twenty or more years is going to need to know how to comfortably handle negative feedback from teachers and peers. On the home front criticism is rampant, coming at a child from all sides (Mom, Dad & siblings). The over-sensitive child will suffer excessively and may become an adult whose over-reaction at work, in marriage and in parenting brings painful consequences.

So how can you help your child deal with criticism? Consider the following tips:

Establish a Culture of Assertive Communication in Your Home
Training a child how to handle negative feedback should begin at home. Make a habit of offering each other constructive criticism — feedback  that is well-intentioned and geared towards building a person up instead of putting him down. When a child handles other people’s opinions on a regular basis, he or she will be more open to criticism from other people. Don’t be afraid to give the child helpful guidance. It’s O.K. to say things like, “Thank you for setting the table Honey. I’d really appreciate it if you could make sure to put the napkins by each plate next time.” Offering negative feedback respectfully helps children learn that criticism is safe and not harmful. When parents criticize harshly, however, children become “allergic” to negative feedback of any kind. This is why we see adults who cannot tolerate any criticism at all from their spouse. They have been scarred by too much and/or too harsh criticism during childhood. Keep criticism in its place within the 80-20 Rule (see Ch. 3, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

One Person’s Point of View Doesn’t Make a Fact
Let your child know that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not all opinions should be taken as being valid and true. Each criticism should be taken as a mere suggestion; you can accept it or refuse it. When kids know that they are not obliged to internalize everything that other people say, they will not be beaten down by unsolicited and undeserved negative feedback. Indeed, clarify that they can always respond assertively to an unfair criticism — a critique need not define their person. It is equally important to help children identify abusive forms of communication. When children hear harsh criticism that they recognize as abusive (too loud, too insulting, too long and so on), they can recognize that the fault is with the communicator (the one who is doing the criticizing) rather than with themselves. In this way, they are spared from absorbing the negative judgments of the speaker and internalizing self-hatred and low self-worth.

Help Them Process the Criticism That They Receive
Distilling the good and the areas of improvement in a criticism takes skill — you need to teach it to your child as it is unlikely to develop on its own. So instead of merely agreeing or disagreeing to a critique, help your child learn to analyze: is there merit to this critique? And if so, what were the things that I did right? What are the things that I should not do again? Criticism can be a motivating factor if you and your child know what to do with it.

Showcase People Who Have Successfully Bounced Back from Criticism
Negative feedback may feel like the end of the world. But the reality is, many people have successfully bounced back from the many negative things that people say about them. The key is to analyzing the feedback without taking things personal. If you can separate the message from the feeling the message elicits in you, you can make the most of a criticism. Your local librarian can help you find age-appropriate novesls and biographies for your kids to read that will demonstrate how others have handled criticism. Learning that most great writers, inventors and accomplished business people had to deal with plenty of rejection and negative feedback before they finally hit success, can provide an inspirational model.

New Baby in the Family

The arrival of a new baby can be threatening to an older sibling. After being the sole apple of parents’ eyes, a new “creature” suddenly taking all the attention can trigger jealousy, anger and sadness. Younger children may fear that parents will no longer love them once the new baby settles in. They may also develop resentment over having to give up certain things, like sole use of a a bedroom or a particular game or activity.

What can parents do to help their young children adjust to the arrival of a new baby? Consider the following tips:

Prepare Your Children
The best way to buffer a child’s anxiety is to not blindside them with the changes that are coming. In the last trimester of pregnancy, inform your children what to expect. Show them pictures and videos of infant development – your library and the internet are great resources! Emphasize that babies are helpless, and therefore will need a lot of mommy and daddy’s care (just as they did at that stage): they need to be fed, held, changed, burped, dressed, bathed and all the rest. Let them know that it won’t always be that way because babies turn into toddlers and kids who can feed themselves, dress themselves and use the toilet.

Give Your Children Responsibilities
Kids may feel less left out, if they know they have a role to play in the new family structure. New responsibilities can make children feel needed – indispensable and appreciated –  unlike the baby who just cries and cries! Kids can assist in many ways; during feeding, bathing and dressing the baby. Just remember to thank and compliment them for a job well done! Also, if these “helpers” are little guys themselves, make sure to allow them to continue to be little in their own right. A two year old, for instance, is not a big girl! She is “Mommy’s best little helper.” When a toddler or pre-schooler is allowed to enjoy the benefits of littleness even though a baby has entered the family, the young child suffers much less. She is not “de-throned” or promoted beyond her stage of life. She continues to be loved and coddled as the little person she truly is, even though there is now an even littler person in the house as well.

Highlight the Positive
It’s fine to talk about the benefits of siblings that will eventually come. Remember – it takes a really long time (especially from a child’s perspective) before a sibling can become a fun playmate. However, it is certainly something to look forward to. “Just think – one day you and little Joe will be able to play ball together! Won’t that be fun?”

Explain Why Rules can be Bent for the Baby
One of the common causes of resentment against a new baby is perceived preferential treatment. A 7 month old baby who accidentally breaks his or her older sibling’s toy is not likely to be reprimanded; after all, what does the baby know? Instead, the older sibling may even get the brunt of the blame, for handing the toy to the baby to begin with! It’s important then for parents to explain to their older children that babies are not accountable for what they do, and it’s up to bigger people to make sure that they do not get in harm’s way.

Spend  Quality Time with Your Older Children While You Hold the Baby
Jealousy can be minimized if parents ensure that they don’t neglect their older children. It’s understandable that parents are overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a new baby into the family. However, the other child or children still need so much parental attention. Put the baby on your lap and invite the others around for storytime. Or, put the baby in the stroller and take the others to the park. Or, wear the baby in a carrier and take the others to the mall. Babies just need to be held, and older children just need to be interacted with – so it can all happen at the same time. There is no need to leave the baby at home while you take the others out. In fact, this can increase insecurity in the other children as they see for themselves that you are willing to abandon your infant. Little kids are more than happy to have the baby come along and be involved in all their activities. They love the feeling of being one big happy family.

New Mothers Need Extra Rest
Sometimes this temporary absence leaves toddlers and pre-schoolers feeling abandoned. One way around this is to invite little ones to lie down for nap time in Mom’s room (if they’re the cooperative types) or to make sure they are with a favorite babysitter or engaged in a special activity while Mom naps. This may be the time to invest in a new toy, craft kit, computer game or video.

Remember to “Gush” Over the Toddlers as Well as the Baby
One way to do this is to talk to the baby “through” the toddler. “Look Tara! Do you see that cute face baby Jon just made? Isn’t he funny?” This is preferrable to ignoring Tara while talking directly to the baby. In the latter scenario, Tara is likely to feel ignored or less important or less adored; her “solution” might be to try to get your attention inappropriately.

Cut Them Some Slack When They Act Out
When there is a new baby in the household, kids may act-out to demand your attention. They may regress behaviorally, and act as if they are infants themselves. They may misbehave at home or school. Understand that all these mini-rebellions are just means of expressing their upset feelings (confusion, fear, sadness and anger); be extra patient and ignore the bad stuff as much as you can for a couple of months. Once the baby has become “old news,” you can return to normal standards of discipline.

Child Lies to Parents

It is very disappointing for a parent to discover that his or her child has lied. There’s anger at having been deceived and also a sense of betrayal; all parents want a trusting bond with their kids. And then there’s the constant doubt: if my child can lie to me about one subject, what other things has he lied about in the past and what is he lying about now? Indeed, a child’s first incident of lying can snowball into many other issues.

The good news is that lying to parents is something that can be addressed. Lying is a behavior, not a character trait. Parents can address this behavior in many ways, helping their youngster to become a more honest human being.

To help your child who has been lying, consider the following tips:

Confront Your Child with an Open Mind
If you suspect that your child has been lying to you, approach the subject cautiously. Don’t just rush up and call your child a liar! This is not the time for drama. Instead, consider the possibility that your child was confused or was given inaccurate information or forgot to give you pertinent information or made a simple mistake. The best approach is to objectively confront the inconsistencies in his story and ask for clarification. “I don’t understand… you’re telling me that you were with Jason at 9 p.m. but Jason called here at 8:45 looking for you. His phone showed a long distance number. Didn’t you tell me that Jason was going to the country with his parents this weekend? Was he calling from there?” This gives your child a chance to straighten things out for you: “Yes Jason’s family went to the country, but Jason stayed here in the end. He was calling from John’s phone which has a long distance number on it because John lives in Idaho but is in town for the weekend for his Aunt’s 90th birthday party. Jason was calling at 8:45 to tell me that he’d meet me at his house at 9 p.m. but I was already waiting for him on his porch by then. He showed up right at 9.” Of course, your child is not always innocent. However, your gentle confrontation will make it easier for him to confess when he has to. For instance, if the child in this scenario had lied about being at Jason’s house at 9, he could now straighten that out: “Yeah, I said I was with Jason because I thought you’d be mad if I told you the truth. I was with Sara. I know you told me not to see her again, but I really, really want to. I don’t want to have to lie about it because I feel crummy when I do that. I want to be able to tell you without you getting all upset.” Because you had been gentle in your approach, the child is not frightened into excessive defensiveness or worse, more lying.

Try to Find the Reason for the Lie
When a child lies, it’s important for parents to try to find out why. Addressing the reason why a child lies is a good way to prevent future lying behavior. Note that not all lying has a malicious intent. Sometimes children lie because they fear their parent’s reaction. Others lie to avoid conflict or confrontation. There are kids who lie to protect a sibling, or save themselves from embarrassment. If you can create a home atmosphere where telling the truth is always preferred compared to telling a lie, then your child will feel less of a need to lie to you the next time. One way to create this atmosphere is to be careful never to show intense anger when a child acknowledges wrong-doing. When the child sees that it is natural for people to make mistakes and correct them, then he won’t be afraid to confess to his own errors. However, when making a mistake in judgment and/or actions leads to parental rage and abuse, the child will be sure to try to avoid admitting errors at all cost. He’ll lie.

Emphasize Why Honesty is a Value in Your Family
It’s important that parents consistently explain to children why they prefer to hear the truth rather than a lie. Doing so can help prevent the “it’s-just-a-tiny-lie” mentality. Explain how your trust is broader than a small incident; for instance, share why saving one’s self from punishment is not worth a parent’s inability to trust a child’s word. Kids need to know that a rule is in place for a reason, a reason that is meant to protect not oppress. All information needs to be provided quietly and respectfully. It has to convey care and love. Do not deliver loud, angry sermons about the importance of truth-telling. All parental anger encourages rather than discourages, lying.

Reinforce Positive Behavior
Younger children are sometimes prone to thinking: “What’s the point of telling the truth? You never believe me anyway!” So reward and praise truth-telling as much as you can. And even if you have to implement negative consequences for misbehavior (for example, your child just admitted that he or she is the one who stole your money), still communicate how glad you are that they told you the truth. When children know that their effort to be honest is appreciated and they can trust that they won’t experience parental abuse or even harsh negative consequences, they are less likely to lie the next time. Instead of focusing on punishment for the wrongdoing, focus on correction or restitution. Help the child do better. If, despite your calm and positive approach, he continues to engage in undesirable behaviors, try to work out negative consequences WITH him – i.e. ask him to suggest what punishment should be in place for future episodes of incorrect behavior. If he still continues to behave badly, make an appointment with a mental health professional for more direction and intervention.

Discipline Lying
Give a penalty for lying. If your child does something wrong, he may require discipline. However, if he has also lied about his wrong-doing, the punishment can be doubled. The child will learn that he can save himself half the punishment by speaking the truth. For instance, suppose your child smoked cigarettes after you asked him not to. The punishment you already had set in place was that he would lose one week’s allowance if he was caught with cigarettes. If, when you question him about his smoking, he admits the truth (“Yeah, I was smoking yesterday”), then he loses one week’s allowance. However, if he swears up and down that he didn’t smoke (and you caught him on your cell phone camera with a cigarette in his mouth), then he loses two week’s allowance. In this way, the child can learn that truth-telling really pays off. Again, if despite your best efforts your child continues to lie, you should consult a mental health professional for further intervention.