How To Announce a New Baby to an Older Sibling

May 18, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

It’s important to be highly in tune with your existing child when you share the news of a new sibling. That’s because when a child goes from being an only child to being one of two or even one of several, the emotional possibilities can be pretty extreme. That’s why parents may need to consider multiple options when announcing a new baby.


In fact, it may help to have two plans going into the big reveal: One for an excited big brother or sister. And one for a grumpy, upset or confused child, says Alyson Schafer, a family counselor and the author of Honey I Wrecked the Kids. The third potential reaction, one of ambivalence, just doesn’t often last, she says.

“We must always take the attitude that it’s a positive thing,” she says. “The more we say it in a way of excitement, the better it is. You’re pitching it.”

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Think Shark Tank, but higher stakes.

Parents also have to consider avoiding the creation a rift if they have multiple kids already. “Kids need to be told at the same time in order to lessen sibling rivalry,” she says. “Gather everyone together. You don’t want to tell them one heard first.” No matter how parents feel, it’s critical they focus on their current kids and adapting to them. “God knows the infant isn’t going to know if anything exciting happened, so adapting to your existing children is far more important.”

If They’re Excited

Then go with it. Involve the child in decisions and help fuel the excitement of being a sibling, Schafer says.

How parents express that has to align with who they are as a person. Having some fun games to play along the way is great for a Pinterest Parent who likes to turn simple things into creative ventures, she says.

But if those who aren’t one of those parents, that’s OK.

“You can have a lot of fun, but don’t force it,” she says. “You need to be authentically you. Kids can sense insincerity.”


Three Fun Ways for Kids to Track The Baby’s Arrival

  1. Count backwards on a wall calendar to the due date. Schafer says a calendar can help make the long pregnancy more tangible time-wise for a child as they see how long it takes to cross off each new day.
  2. Count out a Hershey’s kiss for each day of the pregnancy. Put them in a glass vase. Each day you can count down “to baby kisses.”
  3. Use the grocery store. When you go grocery shopping each week, find the item one of the pregnancy apps will reference for the size of the baby each week. Ask your child: “What’s the size of this chocolate chip?” Have them guess. “It’s the size of your baby brother or sister RIGHT NOW!”

If They’re Not Excited

Going from the only child to one of two can be really scary for a little one, Schafer says.

There’s no way to predict or alter that reaction beyond framing it well from the start. So if that’s the reaction, parents need to be sensitive to it. Reassurance is vital rather than trying to change a mindset.

“Depending on the attitude, you don’t want to make it out like a prince or a princess is coming,” she says. “If a child is already feeling threatened, then you don’t want to add to the stress.”

She suggests keeping things calm and simple. Reassure that life is going to be mostly the same. In other words, decorate the baby’s room, but don’t invite friends over to ooh and ahh, she says. At least not with the kid around.

“If you have a baby shower, consider getting a sitter,” she says. “Don’t include your child in situations that will further fears or feelings of resentment.”

Be Ready

Discussing a baby in mom’s belly can lead to an obvious question: How did it get in there? “It’s usually not the first question, but it may be a question that comes down the line,” Schafer says. Be ready to respond. Parents are more uncomfortable about it than kids.

Books can be a great help.

How Long Should Parents Wait?

Some parents are really excited to share the news, as evidenced by the number of peed-on pregnancy tests that show up on Instagram.

But when there is another child to think about, the advice to hold off on sharing good news is even more important.

“There are so many miscarriages in the first trimester,” Schafer says. “We don’t need to be making big announcements to siblings because then you’ll have to explain loss of life.”

The one exception might be a particularly rough first trimester where a child is fearful of why mommy is spending so much time puking in bushes. Sharing the news and explaining facts may be necessary then, she says.

Whatever parent’s do, the existing child’s best interest should drive those decisions.

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How to Get an Older Sibling to Help with a Baby

May 16, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Children can do most chores sooner than parents imagine, and helping out with a new baby is no exception. A new baby necessarily changes the balance of a family, but involving an older kid in childcare does more than just help a dad out. It can assist with the cognitive development of the newborn, have a positive influence on sibling relationships down the road, and ensure that the older sibling feels he or she plays a role in the new dynamic.


“Building those relationships very early on sets the stage for what is happening cognitively later in terms of children’s language development,” Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of early child development at the University of Toronto, told Fatherly. “It also affects their ability to be empathetic towards other people.”

How to Get an Older Sibling Involved in Baby Care

  • Involve them from the start. Even if they aren’t ready to get their hands dirty with diaper changes and bottle feedings, younger kids can still play an important role in soothing and stimulating baby.
  • Utilize their current skillset. Toddlers aren’t going to be much help carrying up loads of laundry, but they are excellent at making silly faces—which is arguably more important for cognitive development.
  • Highlight their capabilities. Framing a sibling’s contribution as being about what they can offer rather than what the baby needs helps them feel recognized and involved in the baby’s care.
  • Create a balance in the family. If older kids feel sidelined when a new baby arrives it can lead to sibling rivalry later. Ensuring they are constantly involved can help mitigate this.

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When handing off childcare responsibilities to your children, it’s important to be sure all tasks are age-appropriate. “I don’t think I’d have them doing diaper changes,” Jenkins says. “Tiny babies are too vulnerable.” Jenkins suggests parents save tasks like laundry and bottle-feeding for older siblings, and ask their younger children to help with soothing and stimulating the baby—no small task. “With parents being there and then doing all the necessary caregiving, siblings are good for play and stimulation,” she says. Indeed, studies have shown that singing, making faces, and playing peekaboo can be beneficial for even very young babies.

Early involvement in a newborn sibling’s day-to-day care can also help mitigate sibling rivalry, Jenkins says, and contribute to developing a healthy family culture. “Probably the most difficult thing parents do… is having to recognize all of the kids… and create a balance between all of them,” Jenkins says. If there is too much focus on the baby and the older child feels left out, this can sow the seeds for jealousy and rivalry as they both get older. “It’s very important that parents of newborns are also giving to their older children,” Jenkins says.

This is where involvement in baby care can have a positive effect on a parent’s relationship with the older sibling. “If you’re saying, ‘you’re so fantastic at singing songs… can you sing to the baby?’ then you are really making them feel that they are recognized, and its not just all about the baby,” Jenkins says. “That’s different than saying ‘sing them a song,’ because you haven’t put that bid in.” This frames the sibling’s involvement as an extension of something they can already do well and makes them feel recognized and involved.

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6 Myths About How and When to Give Children Chores

May 16, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Household chores help children learn responsibility and develop good work ethic. Studies have even suggested that chores are correlated with better outcomes in school and future employment. But the subject of chores can get downright emotional. For instance, parents who ask too much of kids may become frustrated by unfinished work. On the other hand, some parents worry that chores  could be an undue burden on their precious angels.


But between too many and too few chores, there is a goldilocks zone. In order to get there, parents need to find their way through these common myths that may be holding the whole family back from the benefit of chores:

Myth #1: Little Kids Can’t Do Chores

Children as young as 3-years-old can start doing chores, which will likely come a shock to parents who believe their preschoolers are only adept at making messes. But it’s absolutely true, as long as the chores are age-appropriate. A 3-year-old isn’t going to have what it takes to mow the lawn, but he or she can pick up sticks before you start mowing. They can also run a damp cloth along a shelf or pick up their toys and clothes. In starting early, children begin to see helping around the house as a normal part of being a family member.

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Myth #2: Kids Should Be Paid For Chores

Research shows that children who are not paid for chores benefit more from the chores they do. That’s because children who do chores without pay understand the reward is the feeling of contributing to the good of the family. Incentivizing chores with money sends the message that every good deed should have a price.

That’s not to say that children shouldn’t have an allowance. But allowance should not be tied directly to household chores. Doing work for people you love, to contribute to a household you benefit from, should be enough motivation to get things done. And if a kid is started early enough, it will be.

Myth #3: Kids Should be Forced to Do Chores

Forcing kids to do anything is generally not the best way to go about parenting. Forcing means conflict. Conflict often leads to resentment. And resentment is the launching pad for disrespect and disruptive behavioral issues.

But that doesn’t mean that parents with reticent kids should give up on chores. It may just require a little creativity. A parent might frame the chore as a game, or an opportunity to learn a new skill. Parents may even ask their kid to try out a variety of tasks, or smaller parts of larger tasks, until they find something they enjoy.

Myth #4: Chores Should Not Be Fun

There’s no rule that says chores need to feel like chores. Try adding songs, music, or dance breaks to the task at hand. Turn the chore into a game, especially if your children have a competitive edge. The bottom line is that kids need to know it’s quite okay to whistle, laugh, or otherwise make happy noises while they work.

Myth #5: Children Should Do Chores Without Help

Children learn best by example, which means you may need to get your hands dirty. Parents should work alongside their younger children at first, to show them the proper technique. As the kid gets older, parents can step away or kids can be sent off to do a well-rehearsed chore on their own. But even then, there tends to be more motivation and a sense of teamwork when the entire family is involved. This might mean that everybody does their chores at the same time, pitching in as a unit to make their household a cleaner, better looking place.

Myth #6: Parents Should Demand Perfection

The quality of a child’s work should be judged based on his or her age and ability. If you’re asking your four-year-old to dust the shelves, there will be dust left behind. If you’re asking a second grader to fold the laundry, do not expect retail-level creases. You certainly aren’t assigning chores because you can’t do these things yourself—you’re doing it to teach your children work ethic. So does it really matter what the clothes look like going into the drawer? Remember to manage your expectations, and focus on why you handed out chores in the first place.


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How to Soothe Baby Indigestion

May 15, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Babies tend to throw up dramatically, and big emotions call for big questions. Is vomiting a normal part of development, or linked to larger health issues? How does one soothe baby indigestion?


Fortunately, intervention is usually not necessary. “What commonly happens is that families start thinking this is an allergy or related to reflux and want to go on medications for it,” explains American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson and pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Anthony Porto. “Most of the time it happens in the setting of normal growth and happiness with feeding.”

How to Soothe Baby Indigestion

  • Wait it Out: Sometimes what seems like indigestion is spit up or gas related to the way a a baby’s body is naturally growing. It will end soon enough.
  • Look for Pain: A child that is happy before, during and after feeding is likely fine. A child that archer their back, cries or refuses to eat may have more going on.
  • Look at Weight: Children who are gaining weight appropriately are likely fine. Children who seem in pain and are not gaining weight may have medical issues.
  • See the Pediatrician: Before giving a child any medication, talk to a pediatrician. They can prescribe a medication that works or give guidance on over-the-counter remedies.

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In any case, before parents even think about potential interventions, they need to understand what’s going inside their kid’s digestive system. Turns out the answer is “a lot.” During the first couple of weeks of life, a baby’s body is actually still figuring out how to get things done: tubes are shorter and sphincters are looser. There’s the possibility of reflux, spit up, and colic, all happening around the same time. But, as long as the baby is latching normally, eating happily and gaining weight appropriately, there’s seldom cause for concern. “Even if they’re spitting up 7, 8, 9, times a day and they’re growing well, parents should be reassured,” Porto says.

Concerns come, however, with signs of pain. “We think about disease if they are turning away from, arching their back or unhappy or crying during our after feeds,” Porto says. “In those cases, if there is poor weight gain, or they’re not getting enough volume in, then we may think of putting them on some antacids.”

In most cases, the antacid pediatricians will prescribe are liquids that coat the stomach and contain calcium or magnesium bases that neutralize acids. In rare circumstances, doctors may prescribe what are called proton-pump inhibitors. But these medications can have serious side effects, so they are only used in for the worst cases of indigestion.

It’s important that parents not attempt to diagnose and treat indigestion on their own with over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies. “Speak to your pediatrician just make sure your talking about dosing and whether or not there have been recalls and side effects in kids,” Porto says. “A lot of these medicines can be safe, but we don’t have adequate knowledge of dosing for children.” As a rule, Porto adds, parents should avoid preemptively medicating their kids.

“Infancy is a tough time for moms and dads,” he says. “Sometimes we want to do something to help when it’s just a normal developmental thing they’ll outgrow on their own.”

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How to Teach Small, Short, and Skinny Kids Confidence

May 14, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Kids who lag behind their peers in terms of height, weight, or strength often struggle with confidence. Physical prowess may not be critical for adult success, but it is often a boon for children. Those that look markedly different or struggle with sports can feel left out or somehow less-than. Self-esteem is a complicated thing, but parents can absolutely help. By talking to children about their gifts, parents can teach children how to play to their strengths, which turns out to be more important later in life than the ability to do pull-ups.


“There are different issues for school-age boys and girls, but I think the key is working with your child to see what they are really good at,” says Dr. Roseanne Lesack, a licensed psychologist, board-certified analyst, and director of child psychology unit at Nova Southeastern University. It’s important, after all, to establish that a child can be good at things. Once that premise is accepted, it’s easier to have conversations about goals, specialization, and role models. “You can find an athlete who isn’t as tall and point out that out then talk about how fast he is or how precise he is,” Lesack adds. “Every sport has figures of unremarkable size who are successful and who can perform at a high level because they have such amazing technical skills.”

That might mean spending more time looking at Allen Iverson highlights than LeBron James highlights. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s still important to know if a kid is frustrated because they have a very specific desire to do something that requires size or feels locked out of opportunity in some way. What kids want to do is as important as what they can do.

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“Ask kids what they really like, because it’s okay to like things even if you aren’t good at them,” advises Lesack. “We don’t have to be good at everything. Tell them what you like, even if you aren’t good at it. It might be dancing. It might be golf. It might be guitar.”

How to Give a Physically Smaller Kid More Confidence

  • Find appropriate heroes – people of all sizes in all pursuits can do great things. Parents can help kids find the heroes they identify with and that inspire them.
  • Help kids identify their strengths – very few teams are composed of identical skill sets. Kids can find their natural talents and develop them.
  • They don’t have to be masters – it’s okay to love something and be mediocre at it.
  • Promote the inner attributes over the external – kids can’t help if they’re tall, but they can sure decide to be excellent people.

Girls can certainly feel the sting of gym class rejection (and enjoy the benefits of bringing other skills to the field or court), but social media is exposing them to the brutal gristmill of popularity and body image even earlier than before. Lesack has noticed it can be uniquely frustrating for a girl entering into middle school to be smaller than her classmates.

“For girls, it can often be predicated on appearances – taller girls may seem prettier, or more mature,” observes Lesack. “It’s very different when it’s based on appearance instead of skill set, but even those ideas can be explored. A girl’s not prettier because she’s taller, and she’s not mature because of her height. Maybe it’s the way she speaks. Maybe it’s the way she holds herself. Maybe it’s her composure. Those are all traits someone can practice and cultivate.”

Ultimately, teaching kids how to navigate these feelings are important. Things aren’t always going to work out for a kid. They’re sometimes going to feel less popular than they would like. The trials of childhood don’t just shape the kind of person a kid grows into, but the kind of citizen, the kind of problem solver, and the kind of parent. It’s worth teaching them their inherent value.

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Don’t Worry if Your Kid Plays Alone

May 11, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Seeing your kid playing alone, especially when his or her peers are playing together as a group, can be disappointing. You may feel an instinct to intervene, and work to help your child gain friends at all costs. But butting-in may not always be the best option and, in most cases, you probably just need to chill.


“Parents should try really hard not to transpose their own fears and feelings onto their children,” says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of the book Gentle Discipline. “I tend to find those who struggle the most are parents who are naturally very extroverted, the life and soul of the party with a wide circle of friends, who are raising naturally introverted children who prefer to play alone, or with just one close friend.”

This is especially true if your child has not yet entered kindergarten. Kids under the age of four will often engage in parallel play. That’s when two kids may be in the same room playing in proximity to each other, but really playing alone—like two adults sitting at the same table, but each staring at their phones.

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Parallel play is crucial, because it’s how children socialize before their sense of social etiquette kicks in. Over time, “children begin to understand that not everybody thinks and feels the same way,” Ockwell-Smith says. But before that, “when they are incredibly egocentric, a young child will believe that the toy they are playing with is theirs—even if it isn’t and others want to play with it too.” This is why some toddlers come off as real jerks. And nobody wants to play with a jerk.

The upshot is that parents need to make a judgement call, and determine whether their children prefer to play alone, are not developmentally ready to engage, or are incapable of engaging. “Difficulty with social relationships can be an indicator of an Autism Spectrum Disorder and children with other special education needs, such as ADHD, may struggle to form relationships with their peers,” Ockwell-Smith explains. “But often the issue is more adults expecting children to behave like adults.”

But introversion in and of itself is not a problem that needs to be corrected. “Some adults prefer to be alone—I’m an introverted only child and, at 41, still generally prefer to be me in my own company,” Ockwell-Smith says. “Allow them to be themselves—even if it’s very different to how you were as a child, or think they should be. The worst thing you can do is try to change them—try to make them more sociable, or play more with others—this almost always backfires!”

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How to Prepare Kids to Spend Time Alone

May 10, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Parenting is the fullest of full-time gigs. But there comes a time, however, when a kid’s ability to entertain themselves becomes developed enough for dad to enjoy an entire cup of coffee uninterrupted or to complete a workout. Still, it can be difficult for parents to understand what age can kids stay home alone. Eventually, they are old enough and independent enough for parents to leave the house to run a 20-minute errand or make an hour-long trip to the grocery store — but that takes a while. Still, moments of independence can help kids get comfortable with the idea of solitude and even teach them to be comfortable in their own company, a critical life skill.


“It depends on the safety of the environment that you’ve set up. It’s really easy to leave a non-mobile infant — who can’t go anywhere — for ten minutes at a time, as long as they are entertained, they are not upset, and they are happy,” says Dr. Claire Vallotton, Associate Professor in the Human Development and Family Studies department of Michigan State University. “With a toddler, it’s harder because they’re mobile. They’re going to come and get you.”

Younger toddlers are very social, and really need a connection with a caregiver and a lot of stimulation, Vallotton says. At this stage, parents can expect to only have a few minutes alone before they are reunited. With advancing toddlerhood, however, comes increasing levels of cognitive development, and once toddlers are able to sustain play that is driven by their imagination, time away from Dad can increase. This time alone is good for toddlers too, Vallotton says, as it gives them space to be immersed in goal-directed play.

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“If they are of a temperament to sustain their own play, and they have the cognitive skills to do that, it’s really good for them to have the opportunity to have uninterrupted time,” Vallotton says.

Construction games, art projects, and imaginative play such as pretending to cook or playing with figures and creating scenarios are ideal activities that allow toddlers to control their own play and elaborate on it themselves.

Parents will recognize this stage when their kid begins asserting some independence, which comes at around age two. “Parents will know their child is getting to this stage when their child starts insisting on doing things on their own begin hearing words such as ‘no!’ or ‘I do it!’” says Dr. Tricia van Rhijn, Assistant Professor of Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph in Toronto. “Having some unattended time allows children to begin developing their independence and self-efficacy beliefs as they will work through challenges.”

ALSO: How to Teach a Kid to Get Dressed Alone

Parents should work up to longer and longer periods where they leave their child unattended, van Rhijn says, and they should keep younger kids well within earshot. A trip to the basement gym might be OK, so long as the child can still be heard. “Parents should check in occasionally to ensure their child’s well-being, and to make sure they’re not getting into something they shouldn’t,” van Rhijn says. “These check-ins should occur more frequently when their children are younger”, as parents gradually increase the time.

How to Leave Your Kid Alone So You Can Get Stuff Done

  • Follow their cues. If your toddler wants to complete a project alone, let them—use the opportunity to check some items off your to-do list.
  • Remain within earshot. Young kids do an excellent job of destroying things, making messes, and getting into peril, so remain vigilant.
  • Wait until they are engaged. When your kid is absorbed in an activity, they don’t need interruptions from you—but don’t force this engagement with TV.
  • Check in often. Make sure they know where you are, how to get you, and that you are close.
  • Codify some ground rules. If you’re leaving an older kid home alone, make sure they know exactly what is allowed and what isn’t, and who to contact in an emergency.
  • Check the laws. Most states leave the decision on when is the right time to leave a kid home alone but be sure to check the laws in your state before venturing out.

It’s important that parents follow their kid’s lead and not enforce time alone.

“Parents should always tell their child where they can be found,” van Rhijn says. “This is not only about meeting their child’s need, but also about respect.”

If a parent needs a window of time to do something important, they should explain this to the child and give a reason why they shouldn’t be disturbed, van Rhijn says. “Having a specific reason some of the time that you share with your child teaches about being respectful and allows them to begin differentiating times when you can’t be disturbed and when you can,” van Rhijn says.

MORE: The Case for ‘Precision Parenting’

As kids get older, parents can continue to allow them more and more independence, leading to periods of time out of earshot and then, eventually, out of the house.

“Many children are ready to be left alone for brief errands around 10-12 years of age [but] it really depends on the child,” van Rhijn says. Another factor to consider is state laws, which can mean legal implications that trump paternal instinct.

When kids are ready to be left alone for longer periods of time, parents should lay down some clearly defined rules. And there should be some guidelines regarding television and devices as well.

“Children do not need to have everything laid out for them; let them find their own activities,” says van Rhijn. “There is lots of information out there about the importance of allowing children to become bored and the connections to creative development.”

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8 Words and Phrases Parents Should Repeat to Their Kids

May 10, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Children learn how to be people by watching and listening to their parents, which means that parents rewrite the social contract one decision or statement at a time. That’s a lot of pressure so it pays to have a strategy or, to go one better, a list of words and phrases that parents shouldn’t say to their kid and a list of words to say all the time. Words are powerful and sticky. They need to be repeated or omitted with intention.


When their children are little, parents have an opportunity to lift them up with language. Using the right words can help a kid become thoughtful and kind, not only with themselves but with peers and strangers as they grow older. These, then, are the magic parental words, including the one most already know, but sometimes forget to use.

“I Love You”

Using the phrase “I love you” might seem obvious, but there are plenty of parents who are slow to profess their love and use the phrase too infrequently. This has traditionally been the case for the strong silent father who believes that emotions are best kept inside and actions speak louder than words.

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But that’s not true. Actions can carry myriad interpretations, but without speaking the reason for action it remains a mystery, particularly for kids who often need stuff spelled out. Saying “I love you” is unambiguous. It is a statement that has weight. And contrary to popular belief the weight does not diminish with “overuse.”

RELATED: The Secret to Talking to Kids About Mistakes

The phrase “I love you” should be used loudly and often, and not just when a child has done something that a parent might deem worthy of love. In fact, saying “I love you,” often has the most power when a child is feeling most in danger of losing their parents love.

Say, “I love you,” after a time-out. Say, “I love you,” before they walk out onto the Little League field and then first thing when they walk off, whether they were triumphant or not. Say “I love you” when they leave for school and say it again when they come home. Say it when they cry and when they laugh. Just say it.

“I Don’t Know”

Parents feel like they should know everything though they rarely do. And there’s nothing wrong with a parent acknowledging to their child that they do not have an answer. It’s certainly better than making something up, which could backfire as they get older.

Saying “I don’t know” is perfectly reasonable, but should also be followed up by an effort to find out. That’s not crazy hard to do. This is a world in which the answers to almost everything a kid would want to know can be found on the supercomputers found in most everyone’s pocket.

The power of “I don’t know” is that it is a launch pad for showing kids the power of research, learning and curiosity. It’s a gateway to developing a shared understanding of the world, one Google search or library trip at a time.


Parents sometimes default to an attitude that children are little servants bound by duty to just do what an adult says, when they are told to do it. That’s a serious power trip, and speaks more to a parent’s desperate need for control than it does to reality.

Saying please may seem like perfunctory politeness but there’s much more to the word, particularly for children. There is a reason please is the magic word. It denotes a request, and acknowledges that the person receiving a request has free-will to say no. Please also confirms the effort and inconvenience that might be inherent in answering a request. In short, please is a word the champions agency and humanity.

MORE: Four Things I Always Tell My Kids When I Say Goodbye to Them

Far from decreasing a parents power, saying please can actually increase the respect a child feels for their parent as they themselves feel respected. More respect means more compliance.

And even if saying please were simply a matter of politeness, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Parents who want a polite kid should use the word as often as they’d like to hear it. There are enough power trips in the world. Everyone should be on board with kindness.

“Thank You”

All of the reasons to say please are also all of the reasons to say thank you. There is a reason that conjoined in our lexicon. They are the verbal bookends of respect. And kids who feel respected give respect in turn.

But thank you can be used without please, too. And when used on its own can be a vehicle for surprise acknowledgment. A thank you given without a please is a prompt for a kid to say “for what?” That means parents have their undivided attention for some well placed praised. And everyone knows it’s hard to feel more proud than receiving a praise and a thank you out of the blue, just for doing something natural.

Thank you is the key tool for positive reinforcement. It should be used often.

“I’m Sorry”

Every parent wants a kid who has some humility because a child who refuses to accept they are wrong is a nightmare. A kid who can’t apologize is a kid who struggles with empathy. They fail to see the trouble or hurt they’ve caused. They are a few steps away from being a straight-up bully.

Parents can help a kid with empathy by apologizing for their own wrongs. Of course, that means a parent has to be cognizant of their own wrongs and admit to not being perfect. But saying “I’m sorry” for an accident or a bad decision that affects a kid is a great way to show a kid how to express empathy. When a parent says they are sorry, they are also saying that they recognize the emotional (or maybe even physical) pain they’ve caused. They’re showing that it’s important to take another person’s perspective and begin reconciliation.

Saying “I’m sorry” is a much better way for parents to have children willing to apologize. At any rate, it allows parents to be a good example, rather than cajoling and forcing a child to apologize.

“I Hear You”

Sometimes the reason kids act out or have tantrums is because they feel it’s the only way to be heard. The simple answer is for parents to tell them they are heard before it gets to point of being a serious behavioral issue.

But the phrase must go beyond a curt, “I hear you.” It’s best used when paired with a recognition of their emotions: “I hear you’re sad because you don’t want to go to bed.” “I hear you’re frustrated because you want to watch another show.”

This is another way to help a kid understand empathy while feeling like their point has been received. Why get loud and crazy if they’ve already got their message across?

“Is That True?”

The question “Is that true?” is not necessarily common for parents, but it should be. It is the one phrase that can help a kid get past their constant negative thoughts.

It’s super easy for children to build a narrative where they are the victim. That narrative results in a downward spiral of “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, might as well go eat worms.” But kids are also smart enough that if you challenge their perceptions they will take a moment to think critically about what they’re saying.

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Asking a kid who says something like, “I never get what I want,” if what they’ve said is true is a great way to disrupt a negative thought process. It opens the door for a little bit of nuance and makes problems that seem huge and intractable a bit more easy to tackle and conquer.


Parents should say “yes” more. It’s that simple. The default is too often “no”. And the reason the default is no is that parents want nothing more than to assert their power.

But the problem is that no is a roadblock. It is a brick wall. It’s a great way to keep kids and parents from actually having a good time.

A surprising thing happens when parents say yes more often. Not only do their kids behave better, they reveal themselves to be fairly reasonable creative individuals. That’s an insight that can be truly extraordinary. In other words, saying yes is one of the best and surefire ways for parents to get closer to their kids.

Does that mean parents shouldn’t say no at all? No. Obviously, there are times that for health and safety reasons a kid should be stopped dead in their tracks with a loud and unambiguous “no.”

But saying “no” should not be a parental default. Does it take work to get to yes? Absolutely. It’s a matter of reprogramming the parental brain so that instead of coming from a place of dominance, decisions are made from a place of collaboration. It isn’t easy. But the rewards of yes are sweet.

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4 Myths About Free-Range Kids and the Parents Who Raise Them

May 9, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Despite its questionable reputation, free-range parenting isn’t neglect. It is a simply a rejection of helicopter parenting forceful enough that it makes some people uncomfortable. The core idea is that children should be given a certain measure of autonomy to explore their world and discover their own boundaries. But free-range kids often trigger concerned citizens unaccustomed to seeing a child walk alone in our modern age. Police get called. Social service workers perform wellness checks. Why? Because it feels weird. Also, there are misconceptions.


The inevitable controversy that erupts when a free-range kid is discovered on the subway or between park and home makes for great local news coverage. However, hotly debated topics are rarely the stomping ground of facts. Here then are four alarming myths about free-range kids that should be considered the next time a kid is discovered playing without parents.

Free-Range Kids Are in Danger of Abduction

If a person wanted to take an extreme view, then keeping a kid indoors at all times would be the best way to ensure they are never abducted. But parents know this is a ridiculous proposition. Equally ridiculous? The idea that a moment unattended outdoors puts kids in the crosshairs of child-snatchers.

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National crime statistics tell another story altogether. Consider the fact that in 2011 child abductions affected 0.0000000001417 percent of kids in the United States. Yes, that percentage represents a very real and horrifying reality that 105 kids were abducted in 2011. That should not be glossed over. But the odds of a child being snatched off the street after being allowed to walk to a friend’s house alone are incredibly small.

RELATED: Utah Becomes First State to Pass ‘Free-Range Parenting’ Law

True, for those who watch the nightly local news, it would seem that there is a pedophile behind every tree, just waiting to truss up local children. However, it’s important to remember that news thrives on crisis. If the bad guys weren’t publicised, regional broadcasters would have to rely on water-skiing squirrels. And there just aren’t enough of those around.

Free-Range Kids Are at a Greater Risk Physical Injury

Many parents and non-parent busy-bodies worry that a kid left to their own devices will engage in risky play that will ultimately find them in the back of an ambulance speeding to the nearest trauma center. But the truth is, exposing a child to relatively risky environments can actually improve their physical and psychological outcomes.

It turns out that most kids have a pretty healthy sense of self-preservation. So, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll fling themselves from a great height for the thrill of it. That said, some cautious tree-climbing without a worried parent around can help a kid discover the boundaries of both their mental and physical abilities. The fact is that children are actually safer when they learn how to manage risk on their own because they are better at understanding their limits.

On the other hand, children who test their limits and are nagged by hovering parents at risk of taking on parental phobias. That can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and an indoor kid who is unsure of themselves out in the world.

Free-Range Kids Are Basically Being Neglected by Parents

Just because a child is away from their parent does not mean that the parent has shrugged off responsibility for their kid. Parents who espouse a free-range parenting lifestyle, in fact, are often very aware of where their kid is in the world at any given time. The parenting ethos is not one built on the idea that kids are let loose with zero oversight. It’s more based on a sense of managed.

ALSO: The 7 Times It’s Okay to Judge Other Parents

That’s why, in cases where free-range parents are investigated after being reported by concerned citizens, the authorities usually do not find parents have neglected their child or placing them in harm’s way. Free-range parents are generally very cognizant of their children’s abilities and take a great deal of care in knowing where their child is going and when they will be back.

This is at least one reason the state of Utah recently changed their definition of neglect. The state became the first in the U.S. to exempt activities like letting kids play alone in the park from as being unlawful and neglectful.

There’s Nothing Wrong with leaving Children Totally Unsupervised

On the other hand, it’s important to note that free-range kids are not simply left to fend for themselves. The operative word in free-range parenting is “parenting.” That specific verb indicates that parents are engaging in the actively rearing their kids.

Free-range parents are there when kids leave and are the anchor point that the children return too. And free-range kids are not simply left at home to scrounge their own food, provide for their own hygiene and waste away in front of the television. That is indeed neglect.

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When Do Parents Need Professional Help for a Child’s Behavior Problems?

May 9, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

All kids misbehave. Every child acts out. There isn’t a toddler today who doesn’t throw tantrums, hit and kick, or scream “butt” a hundred times just to egg their parents on. Bad behavior, testing boundaries, and pushing limits is a natural part of childhood development. And managing those emotional outbursts is one of the hardest parts of a parent’s job. But what happens when those seemingly normal tantrums start to feel decidedly abnormal? When disruptive behavior persists, gets aggressive, or crosses a line? At what point does a parent acknowledge that this may be more than just pre-school acting-out and that their child could use some help control their impulses and emotions?


Unfortunately, knowing when to contact a behavioral expert isn’t easy. Differentiating between what’s normal kid behavior and what’s a behavioral disorder, unless you’re a trained professional, can be difficult. Sure, your toddler’s repeated outbursts may be frustrating, but are they any worse than their classmates’? And what if you and your partner disagree on what actually constitutes bad behavior? It’s not uncommon for one parent to view an especially prolonged tantrum as a serious problem while the other thinks it’s business as usual.

On top of that, one of the biggest impediments parents face when it comes to seeking help for their kids is their own insecurities. Many view having a child with discipline issues, and seeking help for them, as a reflection of their parenting and conclude that they have somehow failed. In addition, there’s the worry that their child may actually have a behavioral disorder ⏤ be it autism spectrum disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ⏤ and dealing with the stigma that is often attached.

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But how can frustrated parents whose attempts at discipline consistently fall short ⏤ but who are open to help ⏤ tell if their child’s inappropriate outbursts are out of whack? What warning signs should they look for? While there are red flags for identifying certain behavioral conditions, says Dr. Elizabeth Harstad, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, warning signs for general bad behavior are less pronounced, other than obvious ones like a child putting themselves or others at physical risk.

Still, she says, there are questions a parent can ask themselves about their kid’s tantrums or disruptions: Are they getting worse or increasing in frequency? Are the problems happening in multiple settings like home and school? And are your discipline strategies working? If the answers to any of the questions are ‘yes,’ or even ‘maybe,’ it’s time to seek the advice of experts. In fact, if you’ve ever even thought your child might benefit from some help then they probably would. It’s as simple as that.

“If you feel the behavioral strategies you’re trying at home just aren’t helping and the behaviors are worsening or escalating,” says Harstad, “If the tantrums seem to go on longer 30 minutes, or if they are happening in multiple settings ⏤ in daycare or school, as well as home ⏤ I don’t think there is a downside to seeking input or suggestions. Even if the experts or the specialists recommend you continue the current strategies, there’s no downside to asking.

“It’s never too early to seek outside expertise,” adds Harstad. “If the child is in school, talk with the teachers about what they’re seeing ⏤ are they the same issues the parent is seeing at home ⏤ and what strategies are working at school. Talk with the child’s pediatrician about their concerns and get some strategies about how to move forward.”

The most significant benefit of early intervention is that doctors can screen for developmental problems, which tend to be difficult for parents to identify, but are a major source of discipline issues. By giving an expert the chance to observe your child’s behavior, ask questions, and see your interaction with them, they can get a better picture of what might be causing the issues. As well as offer a plan of attack.

“Does the child have a developmental condition such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD or speech delay?” says Harstad. “That would be important to know and might influence what behavioral strategies you might use or how you best want to interact with your child.

“The most common behavioral disorders in children are neuro-developmental conditions: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism spectrum disorder, and global developmental delays, where their attainment of cognitive, language, motor milestones is slower than their peers, and are more likely to manifest with behavioral difficulties,” says Harstad, “As are children who have language delays because they often experience more frustration and difficulty communicating their needs. I think sometimes it might be hard for a parent to differentiate the two.”

But who should you see to help identify the differences? In addition to a teacher or the child’s pediatrician, there are a number of child behavioral experts out there with a variety of titles and accreditations.

“I’m a pediatrician, an MD, who’s trained in development and behavior,” says Harstad, “So you could see someone like myself. We often help to diagnose so we help to figure out if there’s something diagnostically going on. There are also behavioral therapists who might be trained in psychology or who might be social workers and can provide a range of behavioral supports or strategies. There are lots of different specialists that might provide some support.”

In addition, there are also Board Certified Behavioral Analysts who have expertise in managing the behaviors of children with autism spectrum disorder, including overseeing specialists trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis. While they generally work more with behavioral disorders, their expertise in modifying behavior can be helpful in developing overall behavioral strategies.

No matter where you seek help, though, the key is to find an expert with whom you, as well as the child, feel comfortable.

“The parent has to feel that they have enough of a connection with the behavioral expert that the expert is hearing their concerns,” Harstad says, “And that if the strategies that they’re recommending aren’t successful, the parent feels comfortable to relay that. Communication is really important because you’ll need to try out a few strategies to see what’s working and what’s not.”

And the reason that’s so important is that modifying a child’s behavior falls on the shoulders of the parent, not the expert. An expert can provide strategies and offer guidance, but it’s the parents who are responsible for putting them into action and sticking with them on a daily basis.

“Behavioral supports are beneficial because they provide parent management strategies,” says Harstad. “So, if the child does this, I would respond in this way. And then supporting the parents to help change the child’s behavior. It’s unrealistic to think that a child could just work with a therapist briefly and that would translate to a behavioral change in the home setting. Parental involvement is essential.”

In fact, Harstad offers a final word of warning to parents who might be at the end of their rope and willing to try anything. “I would be concerned about any group that says we’ll take your kid and fix them and send them back to you fixed because,” he says. “That’s not usually a principle of behavioral therapy.”

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