Ask questions all the time

As parents, it’s easy to tell our children things, and explain things, and tell them some more things! However, the way to help them think, engage their brain, and motivate them to figure things out by themselves is by asking questions. For example, instead of telling your child they need to pick up their toys because it’s dinner time, ask a question. “It’s nearly dinner time. What do you think I need you to do next?”

Questions instead of directives. Almost everything you ask your children can be turned into a question. So, instead of telling them, ask them a question.

What three things do I need you to do to get ready for bed?
Where does your book bag need to go?
When you’re finished with your chore, how do I want it to look?
We’re going to go outside and play. What do I need you to put on?

Questions to encourage compliance. When it comes to something your child might refuse, try a question in stead of a directive.

When you get ready for bed, do you want to brush your teeth before or after you put your pajamas on?
Which do you want to pick up first, your books or your toys?
As you go upstairs for your nap, do you want to walk up the stairs or crawl up?
Do you want 5 more minutes to play before dinner or 6 more minutes?

Questions instead of reminders. A question is a more subtle way to give a reminder.

How would I like you to act in the restaurant?
What would I like you to say to your friend after the party?
How do mom and dad expect you to act at Grandma and Grandpa’s house?
Is there anything else you need to do to get ready for school?

Questions to encourage self-reflection. Using questions can help your child think about things in a new way.

Why do you think it’s a good idea to look people in the eye when you meet them?
What’s a polite way to tell someone their words hurt your feelings?
What happened today that surprised you in some way?
Who did you help or say kind words to today?

Asking questions is a slightly different mindset from telling your child something. At first it might seem hard to do. But after you try it for a few days, you might be intrigued by how it’s helping your relationship with your child, and how you’re helping your child to think in new ways!


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When Things Go Wrong

The recent wreck of the Costa Concordia got me thinking about dealing with challenges, problems, major issues. Do we as parents spend enough time teaching our children what to do when things go wrong?

Parents, whether they are adoptive, foster, or step-parents, spend lots of time and energy teaching their children what to do right. Use kind words. Be respectful. Pick up your room. Eat your vegetables. And, they spend time teaching them what not to do. Don’t hit your brother. Don’t play with your food. Don’t wait until the last minute to finish your math project. Don’t expect to improve your time if you don’t practice.

But, sometimes bad things happen. A child breaks a treasured antique. Or knocks someone down. Or yells obscenities. A teenager gets in a car accident. Or makes a bad choice that turns out horribly wrong.

Like with the captain of the Costa Concordia… He made a bad choice that turned out horribly wrong. And his first actions and responses were not appropriate. He did not stay with the ship. He did not help the passengers. And he began a long litany of excuses. I suspect he’s not a bad person. Just someone who made a bad choice and then didn’t handle the aftermath correctly.

So how can children be taught to handle challenging life situations? What should they do when things go wrong? Modify the following suggestions to fit your family and the age of your child:

  • Take a deep breath. Now another one. Now one more.
  • Admit honestly to yourself what happened.
  • Is anyone hurt that I need to help?
  • Ask yourself, is this something I can fix on my own, or do I need to ask someone else for advise and help?
  • Is there anyone or anything else impacted by this situation that needs to be contacted or dealt with?
  • Realize there may be consequences and repercussions.
  • Handle the consequences with dignity.

We don’t want bad things to happen to our children. However, teaching them what to do in difficult situations is better than not preparing them for challenges that will occur.

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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Teaching your child


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The Entitled Child

Break the entitlement habit in your child!

Entitlement in children usually makes us feel annoyed or mad! Children expecting to be given things and privileges, without any reason for receiving them is entitlement.

Entitlement in children comes from parents who try to find the easy way out. When the child whines for candy, they give it to them so the child will be quiet. When the child complains and argues about the type of shoes they have, the parent gets them new shoes. They give their children a toy because they were “good” in the store. They give their children a cookie because they were “good” in the car. They give their children a new scooter because they (the parent) is feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the child.

This type of giving creates children who come to understand that life works on the principle of “ask and you shall receive.”

Ways to break the entitlement habit include:

  • Having your child help out at a local shelter or other community volunteer project that helps others
  • When your child asks for something, be positive and say, “Yes, I bet you’d enjoy that toy. What do you think would be a good way to earn it? Or are you going to save your money?”
  • Let go of whatever guilt you may feel when your child asks for something. Smile and thank them for sharing about what they like, and let it go.
  • Instead of rewarding your child with “stuff,” give hugs, high fives, or extra time with you doing a joint activity or game.
  • Start the one-thing-in-one-thing-out rule. When your child gets new toys or games for Christmas or a birthday, have them pick out an equivalent number of old toys and games to give to a local charity.
  • Develop new parenting strategies for dealing with a child who whines until they get what they want. Instead, give them a hug, distract them, give them something to do to help you out, or give them a time-in (a few quiet minutes sitting next to you).

You won’t break this entitlement habit right away, so be patient. And, remember, demanding things and expecting to receive them is developmentally appropriate for two-year-olds. After that, it’s inappropriate and just plain annoying!



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Therapeutic respite: questions to ask

If your adopted or foster child is aggressive, destructive, violent, or non-compliant, they may need motivation to change. Therapeutic respite for a few days (or longer!) with a trained respite provider may nudge your child in a new direction. Therapeutic or motivational respite provides children with a structured routine that gives them opportunities to practice being compliant, respectful, and responsible. This is usually done through chores, often combined with exercise, writing activities, and apology notes to those they’re hurt.

If you’re considering therapeutic respite, there are several questions you need to ask the respite provider:

How much opportunity will there be for my child to interact with other children?

The appropriate answer is none or very limited and always in line-of-site supervision. Children struggling with compliance and respect should be having a boring time at respite–not playing with other children. Also, since many adopted and foster children have issues of hurting or abusing others, you want to keep your child safe from other children, and away from the temptation of hurting another child.

What kind of fun activities will my child have when they stay with you?

The appropriate answer is none or very little. You want your adopted or foster child to dislike respite in order to keep from going back. If they have fun at respite, there’s no motivation to behave at home since going to respite is not a negative consequence. Fun activities should be limited to playing with blocks, Legos, or similar building toys, or reading, and only for short periods of time.

Do you hug and nurture my child when they’re with you?

The appropriate answer should be no. Smiles, encouragement, and positive words are appropriate. Hugs, kisses, back rubs, rocking, or similar bonding activities are reserved for moms and dads, not respite providers.

How much training and experience do you have as a respite provider?

Somewhere in the respite provider’s answer you want to hear the words, “difficult children.” You want a respite provider who, as a parent, foster parent, or teacher, has worked with challenging children. Their training may have come from foster parenting classes, adoptive parenting classes, training with another respite provider, or working with therapists.

And the most important question to ask yourself after your child comes home from therapeutic respite is, “Did my child work hard, or have fun?” If they came home happy about their time away and mostly dis-interested in being respectful and compliant at home, then the respite experience was not the right fit. You want your child to return home feeling or showing one or more of the following: glad to be home, ashamed at previous negative behaviors, and willing to follow the family rules. Keep in mind, however, the positive effect of respite may not last indefinitely, and your child may need to return to respite when their behavior escalates in the future.

For more information about therapeutic respite, go to:

Intensive Therapeutic Respite

Therapeutic Respite Plus Blog

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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Respite, Structure


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Helping your child to heal

It's like sewing...

Children arrive into adoptive or foster families with various challenges. They may need to learn to adjust to living in a healthy family. They may need to heal from early-life trauma. They may need to overcome attachment and bonding issues. In all these cases, parents need to provide guidance, support, and tools to help their children heal, but parents can’t make a child heal. Parents have to allow their child to choose to heal.

Keep in mind, the kinds of change and healing you’re hoping will occur in your child is not just about behaviors. You want deeper change to happen. You want your child to change the way they think about themselves, the family, and their world. Ultimately, these changes will generate new ways of behaving and interacting with others.

Consider an analogy of sewing. You are trying to help your child sew a new outfit which represents creating a new self, a new life. As a parent, you provide the sewing machine, representing a new type of parenting. You also provide the dress pattern, representing structure and rules. In addition, you provide your child with the fabric, representing new family interactions. However, you can’t sew the outfit for your child. Your child has to sew the dress by him or herself in order to create a new life.

Talking, cajoling, and begging are ways of trying to sew the outfit for your child. In order for your child to process things, consider things, and have changes happen in her brain and heart, she needs to be the one that handles the details… and makes mistakes. Your job is to provide the tools, but let him sew, rip out seams, re-stitch, and keep trying. You can’t talk or explain her into change. You need to step back and let him own the changes, at his pace.

The more you explain or try to convince her of why or how she should act a certain way, or follow certain rules, it immediately gives her the opportunity to resist and to want to do it her old way. When we want our children to change and heal more than they want to change and heal, we set ourselves and our children up for failure. Instead, show your child that your life continues happily, and that you hope he’ll choose to move towards you, towards being a strong family boy, towards earning more privileges and becoming more comfortable living in a family. But, it’s up to your child. Develop an attitude of caring curiosity. Be clear on the rules. Give negative consequences when she makes bad choices. Give positive consequences when he makes good choices. Add in lots of snuggles and nurturing. And step back! Give your child the opportunity to make deep, life-long changes!
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Healing, Teaching your child


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Getting mad at little things

Does your child get mad about little things that seem inconsequential? Like someone accidentally bumping into her? Does your child look at a small slight, like someone mispronouncing his name, as if it’s huge? Has your child come home from school steaming mad, and when you ask, you find out that another student accidentally got a spot of glue on your child’s shirt Sometimes, for children who have early life gaps, they struggle to apply the right degree of emotion to an everyday occurrence.

Here’s one way to teach your child about the difference between someone being mean and what I call “just life.” When you’re driving your child to or from school, share little scenarios and ask your child if each one is an example of someone being mean, or “just life.” The mean examples can be someone tripping your child on purpose, or calling him a mean name. The “just life” ones can be when someone has their arms full and they bump into your child in the hall. Turn each one into a mini-story so as to be entertaining. Present these every day for a week, or occasionally over a month. When your child stops acting like everyone is mean and out to get him, then you’ll know you’ve told enough of these mini-stories!

Someone being mean examples:
Pushing your child
Breaking your child’s pencil
Drawing on your child’s paper in school

Just life examples:
Stepping on your child’s toes by accident
Accidentally knocking something off your child’s desk
Bumping into your child as they run to get onto the bus

Remember… don’t tell your child whether each mini-story is an example of someone being mean or life just happening, let her figure it out by herself.


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Talk less!

Sometimes the words just pour out of us! Parents need to talk less!

As parents, we talk too much! We try to explain. We try to motivate. We remind. We lecture. But most of it just flies over our children’s heads. Our goal should be to talk less in order to help them think more. Here are a few things to try…

When giving directions, keep everything to one sentence. “I’d like you to pick up your puzzle and get ready for bed.” Short and sweet is much better than what we tend to say which is, “It’s time to go to bed, in fact it’s 15 minutes late. This morning you said you felt tired because you didn’t get to bed early enough so I don’t know why you’re being slow about going to bed. It’s way past time to start picking up your toys. I want you to pick up your puzzle and put it back where it belongs. Then, I want you to go upstairs and put….” Argh!!! Way too much chatter! Short and sweet!

Don’t… do not… get pulled into whining or arguing. If your child starts to whine or argue or complain, smile, give them a hug, and walk away. Yep! Walk away. If the topic is worthy of further discussion, do it when your chid is ready to be polite and respectful.

If your child begins to meltdown, don’t try and talk him or her out of it, instead, joggle their brain. Give them something physical, but very small, to joggle their brain in a new direction. Tell them to jump and down three times. Have them stand on one foot and pat their head. Suggest they tap their knees as they count to five. You have to catch them before the explosion starts, and it doesn’t always work, but often it does!

Remember… walking away is winning! If your child does start to have a meltdown, walk away. If she or he doesn’t have an audience, it may end quicker.

For more tips or to learn how parent coaching can help your family, go to Older Child Adoption Support

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Techniques


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