Do Lies Make You See Red?

August 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

seeredMany times a year parents come to me for guidance about dealing with their child’s lying.  Usually the situation is that the child has been involved in some activity that she knows her parents disapprove of.  It could be sampling the frosting on a birthday cake before the occasion, or talking to strangers on line or downloading songs on iTunes without permission to use the parents’ credit card.  Parents are very upset about the problem behavior and about the lie.  Often they are somewhat surprised when I recommend that they focus on the behavior the lie was covering up rather than the lie.  I sound like one of those touchy feely psychologists who lets anything go.  Well, not really.  Here are parents’ worries and my responses.  And let me clarify that I’m talking about grade school age children here.

“I told him that if he would just tell me these things, I wouldn’t be so angry.  It’s the lie that makes me mad.”  Really?  You wouldn’t be mad to find out that your child was disobeying you?  We can’t know for sure because you can’t go back and have your child do it differently. I think that the problem started when your child decided or got tempted into engaging in forbidden behavior.  From that point on she had a secret to keep and the lie was a given.

“Why does she do this?  Is she going to be a criminal?”  I encourage parents not to  “jump into the future” about these lies.  In this situation a lie is really what we call “denial.”  Psychologists say that adults use denial when they do things like keep smoking even when they have heart disease.  Part of them is pretending there’s no problem.  Your child’s mind is essentially saying to her, “Let’s pretend this never happened.”  It’s an immature response, but what do we expect from a child?  In addition, when tempers run high, children are more likely to fall back on immature strategies.

In fact, I find more lying in families where parents are likely to fly into a rage about misbehavior and to punish harshly.  In those situations children become more angry and sneaky and they try mightily to avoid being found out.  Hence, they lie.

The lies I worry about happen with older children who might make detailed fabrications to cover up behavior that is planned, not impulsive.  Younger children who are caught in the act, or who are tempted by very attractive online options are in a different situation.

“So do I just let this go? That doesn’t seem right. I’ll always be worrying that she’s lying.”  Well, no, you can’t just let it go.  It’s very important to emphasize that you need everyone to be truthful in your family.  Just don’t make it the main issue.  Focus more on the behavior that your child is trying to hide.  Find out why this behavior was so appealing (not too difficult with the cake).  Explain what your concern is and come up with some ways to deal with it in the future.  Maybe you need better internet controls to protect your child.  Maybe you just need to get your child to help you patch up the frosting or apologize for spoiling the cake.  Those are the real problems.

I’m very interested to hear responses to this piece as I expect that some will disagree.  Let me know what your experiences are with lying in your household.

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Photo credit:  Visual Artist Frank Bonilla on Flickr

Still Time for Summer Fun, But It’s Running Out!

August 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

fatherandsonIt’s almost the middle of August, and in my part of the country school will start in three weeks.  I know that in many areas school is already underway, and you have my sympathy (or congratulations, depending on how your summer has gone).  Here in the Northeast we are having perfect summer weather.  It’s a good time to think about what you wanted to do his summer and what you can still fit in.

I know that it’s also time to prepare for the school year—shopping for clothes and supplies and anticipating the demands of school with your children, especially with your special needs children.  I’ll cover that last in my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, next week.  Right now let’s think about fitting in the best of summer fun.

Does your family have particular summer outings that you all anticipate every year?  You probably have to consider what kinds and how much fun (stimulation) your children can enjoy.  Check in with the kids to find out what they thought they’d get to do this summer.  Have a discussion about what’s realistic in the family budget and what isn’t.  Consider what’s realistic for your kids to enjoy as well.  Here are some that have been big in my family and others that I know.

  1. A trip to a favorite ice cream shop.
  2. A day at an amusement park.
  3. A day (or many) at the beach.
  4. A camping trip.
  5. Lobster (or fried clams) on the shore (I’m in New England, after all—plan to cover this one this weekend).
  6. Camping in the back yard.
  7. A trip to the mountains.
  8. Here in New England a trip to Storyland and Clarks Trading Post in the White Mountains.
  9. Canoeing or kayaking on a local lake, river or bay.
  10. Miniature golf.
  11. An afternoon on a local bike trail.

I like the fact that so many of the pleasures of summer cost so little. What are your family favorites?  Let me know.  And plan some relaxed summertime with your kids before we all get back into the rush and crush of the school year.


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Photo Credit: Lisa Jacobs on Flickr

Getting Through the Dog Days of Summer

August 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

dogWe’re at least halfway through summer, more than half in many parts of the country.  For many families I know it is a daily challenge to keep their children engaged in activities other than electronics.  If your child is not signed up for a camp for the whole summer, you and your child need to work out how to spend time.  Earlier this week I posted a link on my Facebook page to a study that showed that children with autism spectrum or  ADHD tend to spend more time playing video games than other children.  If you are one of those parents, know that you are in good company.

Here are some strategies that families I know have found helpful.

  1. Make a schedule that you can use most days.  Kids are more cooperative when they know what to expect.  Get your child’s suggestions for what should be on the schedule.  Be sure to include video games or whatever electronic past time your child enjoys.
  2. Plan some activities that get you and your children out of the house.  This could be as simple as going to a local park to kick a ball around, a trip to the (air conditioned) public library, or it could be a trip to a science museum.  Getting out of the house for part of the day offers a change of scene and guarantees that your child won’t be using electronics for that time.
  3. Arrange play dates.  In fact, see whether you can swap off with another parent.  Your child comes here one day and mine goes to your place another day.
  4. Have some new games or materials at home that you can pull out  when it’s a long rainy day or a play date falls through.  Novelty can generate a lot of interest.
  5. Rent movies that you would like to watch with your child.  I know this involves a screen, but family movie watching can be a pleasant activity.

That’s all that I have in my bag of tricks today. I know these aren’t rocket science.  Sometimes we just need a reminder to get out of our routine.  What else have you found to help your children pass the summer with enjoyment and without excessive reliance on electronics?


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Photo Credit:  Sandor Volenszky on Flickr

Getting By With Your Family in a Crazy World

April 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

springtimeI knew soon after I heard about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that I wanted to post a blog about helping parents help their children cope with it.  Then I began to cope, and that took much of my energy until this afternoon. Many of you know that I live and work just outside of Boston.  The marathon route goes right through my home town and often we join the thousands of other onlookers cheering the runners on from the sidelines.  This year we were walking our dog in the arboretum in another part of Boston on Monday afternoon.  We heard many sirens, but we imagined that this is just life in the city.  Not until we got home and found a message on the phone from our son did we realize that something was amiss.  He wanted to know that we were all right.  Happily, we all were all right.

There is something about having a senseless act of violence and mayhem in your own neighborhood that is more unsettling than having it far away.  The marathon is a delightful rite of Spring and celebration of people’s health and ability to surmount tremendous obstacles.  Every year there are moving stories in the news about the remarkable “ordinary” people who train to run after they have recovered from cancer or in honor of a loved one.  They run alongside (well, far behind) the elite runners who come from all over the world.  When you go to cheer the runners along the route or at the finish line you are only a few feet away from them.  I thought to myself that if I still had a teenager at home, I would have no hesitation in letting him or her take the train into Boston to watch from the finish line.  It’s a community event.

That has changed for now.  Someone or ones reminded us that we are never totally safe.  We will regain our sense of safety because we need it in order to exist, but for now, Boston and it surrounding towns are shocked and mourning.

How do we help our children cope with this terrible event?

  1. First, limit media exposure.  I grant that this advice is a little late, but it is still important.  The scenes of bloody wounded people and caregivers are frightening.  And the repetition of the details inflicts another trauma.
  2. Tailor your explanation to your children’s age. One can tell children that an explosion took place and that people were hurt, but they do not need the literally gory details. For younger children you might be able to keep the event from them, and I would support that.  If you cannot, keep the details spare.
  3. Emphasize the true and moving stories of the many people who helped the wounded and got them to our fine local hospitals.  There’s a Mr. Rogers quote going around on Facebook that I like very much.  He says that when he was young and a disaster happened, his mother told him to look for the helpers, because they are always there.  The helpers in Boston were heroic on Monday.
  4. Take care of yourself.  As they say when you are preparing for takeoff in an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first before you help your children.
  5. Limit your own exposure to the media.  Decide when you’ll tune in to get an update (preferably after you children go to bed).  Some people find it easier to listen to the radio because they don’t get the repeated video of the bloody aftermath.
  6. Get your rest.  You might find that it is hard to sleep because an event like this can make you and your children more anxious in general.  But you are much better able to manage your anxiety if you are rested.  If you can manage your anxiety, you will be less likely to communicate unnecessary upset to your children.
  7. Find some special time with your children.  Time together doing something pleasant reaffirms that you are all together looking after one another.  It is reassuring to young and old.
  8. Having said that it is also helpful to children to maintain their regular schedule.
  9. Older children will want to talk about why such things happen, the big existential questions that come up with disasters.  Engage with them. It’s a great opportunity to have a talk about your world views and values.
  10. If a spiritual or religious practice is part of your family life, use it at this time.  There are many vigils and prayer services happening throughout the area.

May we all live in peace and safety.  But when we cannot, may we support each other and offer comfort.


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Photo credit:  Scyllarides on Flickr

Investing in Relationships With Your Children

January 22, 2013 by · 11 Comments 

Last week I gave a talk to a group of elementary school parents about ways to decrease nagging their children.  The talk packed in the information from three or four parent coaching sessions.  It was full of specific suggestions for behaviors for parents to try.  I know that this approach works because I have used it on many occasions with all sorts of parents.

When you sum up the steps it really comes down to cultivating a better relationship.  In fact, it works with anyone in your life.  You try to communicate clearly with others in ways that they can understand.  And you appreciate whatever people do that pleases you or helps you out.

People are most likely to be cooperative in a family or a business when they feel appreciated.  In a family we all need to feel cared for.  This really comes before looking for cooperation, and it is an aspect that can be lost in very busy lives.

I like to give people specific recommendations, so one suggestion I often give parents is to spend some time each day (maybe only fifteen minutes) with your recalcitrant child.  In those minutes you do with your child whatever she would like (within the bounds of behavior in your home).  So, if your child wants to watch a TV show with you, that’s what you do.  If your child wants help with a new lego set, that’s what you do.  Parents are often surprised to see the results of this simple change.  The hard parts of it are being regular, and resisting the temptation to use the time to pursue your goals.  This is a way you cultivate the relationship so that you can be more successful in eliciting cooperation later.

There is a second way to cultivate a relationship in which your children will be more cooperative.  That is to offer empathy when your child is frustrated or upset. Here’s a lovely blog post on that topic. Let’s face it—we all like to feel understood.  It is a gift we can give our children and family members.  When we feel understood, we are more likely to want to work together.

I am not saying this is easy.  It isn’t.  But these steps are investments in relationship that pay back very well.  Furthermore, these investments cost no money.  They have nothing to do with material gifts.  They have to do with the gift of your presence and your understanding—the most valuable gift.


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Photo credit:  dgcohen23 on Flickr

Things are Going Well—Now What?

January 15, 2013 by · 10 Comments 

Maybe you have been through a rough patch with one of your children.  Perhaps she was not doing her homework.  Or perhaps another child was always late in the morning.  Or maybe your child was arguing with his siblings a lot.  Or whatever else you can think of.  You’ve been there.

Now, say you have worked hard with this child to improve her behavior.  You’ve talked with her and found out that she needed more help with math.  Or you worked out a good schedule for the morning and used some incentives to get your child moving better in the morning.  Say you found ways to spend special time with each child and you also praised them both any time they were playing well together.

Your efforts have paid off.  Things are better.

When I am working with a family and we get to this point, I usually ask, “What could mess this up?”  That’s right, after spending a little time enjoying the success, I start anticipating problems.  Just like a psychologist, right?

Well, I find that people can avoid problems if they can anticipate them.  It is likely that in the process of working through the last bump in the road that you learned something important about this child and how she copes in the world.

Perhaps she gets discouraged easily by new topics in school.  This is good to know.  You can anticipate with her that there will be more new material that might seem overwhelming, and you can talk with her about asking for help.  This would be so much easier than fighting about homework.

Perhaps you have learned that your child doesn’t do very well at stringing together a long series of tasks to be done (that’s what a morning routine is, after all).  You’ve found that she benefits from a checklist.  Some people also benefit from a visual—a photo that shows the child all ready for desired activity, such as school, soccer practice or a sleepover.  You can anticipate that there will be difficulties when setting up new routines or series of behaviors.

Lastly, perhaps you’ve learned that your children can play together very well in some situations, but not in others.  You might learn that it is best if both have a friend over at once to decrease the competition.  Or you might have learned that each needs some one-on-one time with you regularly.

Asking yourself what could go wrong gets you to go back to notice what caused the last problem and what you learned by solving it.  In this way you can anticipate the bumps in the road and smooth some of them out before you get there.

Good luck!


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Are you resolving to get your children to listen? 

Watch for my upcoming webinar that tells you how to stop nagging!


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How to Make Your Resolutions Work

January 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Learning from the Past

Last week I encouraged people to look back to see how far you and your children have come in the past year.  And just as important I recommended that you consider how you made the progress that you did.  The first step was to encourage you by noticing that you have made some progress.  If nothing else, child development is often on your side as your child grows in cognitive ability and ability to manage feelings.  The next step was to help you notice what works in your family.

Resolutions Usually Don’t Work

Now you are ready to set some goals for the coming year, in other words, New Year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions are notoriously unsuccessful.  I just did some quick research on Google and found that while 45% of Americans make resolutions, only 8% are successful in their resolutions.  Another piece of research says that 88% of people who make resolutions fail, though 52% are confident that they can achieve their goals at the start.  That is discouraging news.

What Does Work?

Yet there is good news.  Researchers have found that people are more successful in making changes when they set small, manageable goals.  They are also more successful when they share their goals with others.

Setting Small Goals in Your Family

What does this mean for your family?  What would a reasonable goal be?  Say you want your children to “listen.”  When parents say this, they mean, do as I say when I say it.  If you are reminding and reminding with no success, there is no way to wave a magic wand and get your children to comply today or this week.  You could break it down by situations.  For instance, you could work on getting your child to get up in the morning on her own.  When you get that problem solved, move on to the next—maybe getting dressed in a timely manner.  Slow, yes, but more effective.

Another way to think about setting goals is to ask yourself, “What can I do differently today?”  If you want your child to do better in math this term, you can’t wait for report cards to help him with that.  You can begin by talking to his teacher and to him.  You can find out whether he needs help with homework. And if homework is a struggle, you can work on reducing the conflict about it.

Get Everyone On Board

The good thing about family goals is that in the best of all worlds they are shared.  If you are in a two parent family, you will definitely have better success if both parents agree that the goal is important.  If you can engage your child in the goal, you will really be on your way.  Most children would agree that they would like to have fewer fights in the morning, less struggle around homework, or better grades.

Good Luck!

Good luck to you in setting your goals.  When you meet the first one, you can set the next.   And please, let me know what your goals are and how you do with them!

New Year’s Resolution Statistics.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 12/13.12
Blame It on the Brain: The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach.  Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2009
Ra, Frank.  A Course in Happiness. 2011.
Photo credit:  John Brennan on Flickr


Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report, “Living With and Loving Your Disorganized, Impulsive, Forgetful, Yet Delightful, Funny Child.”


Are you resolving to get your children to listen? 

Watch for my upcoming webinar that tells you how to stop nagging!


How Did You Get To 2013?

January 3, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

It’s that time of year again.  It seems quite natural to survey one’s life at the beginning of the New Year to consider what needs changing.  Many of us look at the way things are and see only those places we would like to change or improve, hence, New Year’s resolutions.  I would like to turn that idea on its head today.  If you look back on the past year, what can you say has gotten better?  How is life better in your family than it was one year ago?  How did it change?

Now I realize that some people will have to say that things are really worse—like people who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy, or people who have been afflicted by terrible diseases.  Yet just before Christmas I met a woman whose home had been flooded by the hurricane who said with honesty that the outpouring of support she felt from friends and strangers had enriched her life.  Pretty neat.  I think that ability to find something for which you can be honesty grateful, even in the midst of disaster, allows people to go on.

What were your challenges?

First, consider what hurdles your family had to confront in the past year and consider how things have turned out.  Chances are you can see that there are some challenges that you met and got past.  Can you call that a success or are you considering the fact that you had to face a hurdle a failure.  Every family faces challenges.  A child comes to a new stage of development and his needs change and often we as parents are unprepared for the transition.  This can happen with the first homework, with the first request for a cell phone or with the introduction of a new electronic device.

Congratulate Yourself!

All of these bring unforeseen challenges in my experience.  Did you get through it?  Did you find a new way to manage new responsibilities for your children?  Then congratulate yourself!

What Worked?

Now, think about how you got past those hurdles because that will help you plan for the year ahead.  Did the disorder get to a point that you were really angry and unhappy?  OK, that probably means that you should be more proactive in the future.

Did you eventually come to some agreement with your partner about how to handle an issue, say bedtime, screen time, whatever?  OK, put that one down.  It always helps to present a united front.

Did you involve your child’s concerns in the solution?  With older children you probably had to.  If it worked, put it down.

Did you consult with an outside helper like a parent coach or child psychologist?  And was that helpful?  Great.  Remember that.

Resolutions, Maybe

Now you might move on to resolutions if you wish, but you have actually already set out an action plan because you have found what worked in the past.  More about planning for the year ahead next time.


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Photo credit:  Jeff Moser/ on Flickr

Enforcing the Rules Leads to Better Behavior (There’s more to it than that!)

December 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This morning I came across a brief report of research done by psychologists on helping parents set limits with their adolescent children.  The headline was that kids whose parents enforce rules are less likely to get in trouble or use alcohol outside the home.  My initial response was, “Duh, of course parents who can enforce rules have kids who get into less trouble.”  All parents know that it’s a good thing to have rules and limits for their kids, but for some the issue is very difficult. What about the parents who have great difficulty enforcing rules?

The Talking Makes the Difference

A closer look at the abstract showed me that the researchers know that good parenting is more than having rules and telling teenagers to follow them.  In the study one group of parents was taught to talk to their children about drugs, alcohol and sex.  They were also told to enforce a curfew.  The results showed that the group with this training had less family conflict, their kids used drugs and alcohol less, and they got into less trouble.

I think that the critical piece of the training was helping parents talk to their teens about difficult topics.  In my experience when families come to me with kids who don’t pay attention to basic rules like curfew, no one is listening to anyone else at home.  There might be a lot of lecturing or yelling and slamming of doors, but very little listening.

Listen, Show Respect and Expect Respect

The first step is always to help parents lower the emotional temperature enough that they can listen and speak respectfully to their kids and ask their kids to do the same.  This is not easy.  It takes commitment and a belief that good things will come of a process that takes time.

Listening to teens is not the same as giving in.  It means hearing the teens and answering their questions.  However, the answer might still be, “I want you to be in by 9 on school nights.”

Now You Can Talk About the Hard Stuff

Once people are treating each other with respect and listening, they can begin to address the very scary topics that come up in adolescence:  drugs, alcohol and sex.  Kids don’t want parents to know this, but they do value what their parents say.  It is always a good idea to take the time to have a talk about these issues.  Talk facts and values, not hysteria.

Good luck improving your relationship with your teen so that you can help him or her deal with the scary stuff.  Believe it or not, but they are scared too.  You can help.


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Also get the first details on my webinar on stopping nagging,coming out in January.


Photo credit:  Chloe Chaplin on Flickr

Avoiding Holiday Overwhelm

December 4, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

Now we are into December, and the holiday season is officially underway.  How can you help you and your quirky kids focus on the enjoyment and minimize the overwhelm that can come with this time of year?

Self Care

The first step begins with parents because if you run out of positive energy, you have nothing to give your children.  This might mean different things for different people.  In general, I recommend that people keep doing all the things they normally do to help themselves manage stress.  If you exercise a few times a week, stick with it.  This is when you need it most.  If you need eight or more hours of sleep a night (as I do), make that a priority.  The same goes for regular meals, and so forth.  When you try to keep up your healthy habits, you will set a good example, and likely you will set a good framework for your family.

Maintain Children’s Routines

Most children with ADHD, learning disabilities or Asperger Syndrome do best when they live in a predictable routine.  The holidays are full of special occasions that interfere with the routine.  Of course, you will want to make some choices—don’t be a total Grinch about this, but consider what changes from routine your child can handle.  Mix the joy with the routine.  This will help avoid meltdowns due to being over-tired or over-stimulated.

First and foremost routine for children means regular meals and enough sleep.  Along with that go time for homework and time to relax at home.  Like adults many children really need some down time.  You probably know what that looks like for your child.  It could be time watching television or playing a video game.  For others it could be time to read or just to play quietly.  Be aware that if these times disappear for days on end, you could be headed for a meltdown.

Let Your Children in on the Plans

Once you make some decisions about changes in routine, be sure to let your children know.  For instance, you’ve decided that the whole family will go to your middle school child’s chorus concert, and this means that the fifth grader will miss his guitar lesson.  Be sure he is in on the plan.  And if he objects, consider some way to sweeten the deal for him.  Some children get anxious about changes in routine even when they very much want to go to the special event. As much as possible let your children know ahead of time about changes to routine so that they have time to and you know how they feel about  the circumstances.

Find Out What’s Important

I have been amazed at how very young children will remember events from a year ago very clearly.  They may believe that what they remember is the essence of the holiday.  It is likely that you do not remember these details.  It’s worth finding out what your children look forward to in the holiday.  Is it a special food you make or a concert you go to?  Perhaps it is a gathering with extended family.  You might find out that one child has his heart set on an event that won’t happen this year:  Uncle Charlie is going to your cousins’ for the holiday.  You can’t change Uncle Charlie’s plans, but it will help if your child knows ahead of time that he won’t see him this year.


The best holidays happen when all can join in happily.  This can mean skipping a community event in order to have time home as a family.  After all, aren’t we all looking for moments of connection at the holidays?  If you program for it, it is more likely to happen.


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Photo credit:  strawberryindigo on Flickr

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