This article could just as easily be titled, “I hate this game!”


Because these are the things kids say when they struggle with what has come to be referred to as being a “good sport.” In other words, they would love any game if they always won.

Not likely to happen.

Most kids struggle with being a good sport at least a time or two at some point in their lives, but are generally able to put their losses into perspective and realize that no one wins them all. Some kids, however, find losing a game (any kind of game) to be a major stumbling block and can become quite unfriendly, and even downright disrespectful, in their response when they realize that they have come up short on the scoreboard.

If you are a parent of that child, this one is for you.

The key ingredient that is missing for the “poor sport,” is flexible thinking. This is the ability to look at the situation in a flexible way that immediately puts it into a healthy and balanced perspective. This keeps a person’s emotions in the right zone, which helps their response be friendly and respectful. Instead, our “poor sport” is momentarily taken hostage by mad thinking, as illustrated below:

SITUATION: Johnny loses a game of checkers. MAD THOUGHTS: I hate this game. I always lose. He (whoever just won) cheated!FEELING: Angry BEHAVIOR: Sulks, argues, refuses to help clean up, throws game pieces, does not congratulate the winner. RESULT: Could earn a negative consequence and is not likely to be asked to play checkers again any time soon.

It is easy to see how mad thinking, and the behavior that follows, can impact not only home relationships, but relationships in school and extra-curricular activities as well.

If this sounds all too familiar, the solution is to help your child learn to be flexible in these situations. One simple step that will get you moving in the right direction is to make a short list of “flexible thoughts” for your child to memorize. You can customize the flexible thoughts for situations that involve games, sports, or any type of activity where your child could “lose.” For example, your list could include:

– It’s no big deal. – I tried my best. – No one wins all the time. – Maybe we will win next time. – You win some, you lose some. – Even though I lost this time, it was still fun. – Maybe I should practice more. – I should say, “Good game.”

Sit down with your child and, depending on his or her age, choose 3-5 of these “Good Sport Flexible Thoughts” and write them down on a piece of paper. Feel free to change the wording or come up with your own. Once you have your list, say them together several times until your child has them memorized.

Then, when your child is about to begin a game or sporting event, gently remind her to have fun, do her best, and to use her flexible thoughts if she (or her team) loses. Quickly review a couple of her favorite flexible thoughts to make sure they are fresh in her mind.

As your child gradually begins to use her flexible thoughts during games, sports, and other activities, she will find it easier to respond in a gracious and friendly way when she happens to lose. This in turn, will have a positive effect on her friendships and she will feel proud of herself for learning how to handle these situations that used to give her a run for her money.

She will be experiencing something that I tell kids in my office on a regular basis: Flexible thinking makes your fun go up!

Here are the steps again (remember, they can take a little time, so stick with it!):

1) Make a list of flexible thoughts with your child. 2) Help your child memorize them. 3) Remind your child “on-the-spot” to use them.

Then, watch what happens!


See if this sounds familiar:

Mom: “Johnny, please put the bag of chips back in the kitchen.” Johnny: “I wasn’t the only one eating them! Why do I have to put them away? It’s not fair!”

Not the response you were hoping for.

Or, consider this:

Mom: “Johnny, please put the bag of chips back in the kitchen.” Johnny: “OK mom,” (and he does it).

Obviously, much better.

Your kids receive many parental requests each day. They will develop some type of habit in responding to those requests. Generally speaking, they will develop a habit of either “fast listening” or “slow listening.”

Fast listening is when your kids respond with respectful words and respectful actions. For example, when you ask them to brush their teeth, they can say “OK” and do it, or they can respond with a respectful question or comment.

Slow listening is when your kids respond by ignoring, arguing, defiance, or any response that is disrespectful.

Bad habits often start small and grow bigger. Occasional instances of slow listening gradually become more frequent. If you let them go unchecked, you can have disrespectful kids on your hands before you know what hit you.

If you want to teach your kids to be respectful fast listeners from the very start, here are a few ideas that will help:

1) Teach fast listening. Sit down with your kids and explain what fast listening is (see above). Give them a few examples of how fast listening will sound and look to a typical parental request. Do some “practice runs” where your child practices fast listening with you in common situations. Do this every few days until your child has it down pat.

2) Require fast listening. When you ask your kids to do something, expect them to respond respectfully, or in other words, to fast listen. If they don’t, remind them in a warm but firm way. I call this “on the spot coaching.” Do what you can to help your kids make the right response.

3) Reward fast listening. When your kids respond respectfully to a parental request, let them know that you noticed and appreciate their effort to be respectful. Warm, encouraging positive feedback from a parent can go a long way in helping your kids develop good habits.

4) Respond to slow listening. Finally, when your kids slow listen, respond immediately. Your response should clearly communicate that slow listening is not acceptable. You may give them a chance to correct their response, as I described in #2 above. You may use a Time Out or other negative consequence. But respond you must, if you want your kids to learn the lesson that slow listening is a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Fast listening is simply a respectful response to a parental request. It is a habit that you definitely want your kids to develop. The fact is, your kids will develop many habits as they grow up. Make sure fast listening is one of them.

They’ll thank you for it.


So, you think nightmares only happen at night?

Not according to Becky, mother of three, who says that school mornings are all too often a nightmare of sorts at her house.

How does a perfectly good school morning turn into a nightmare?

Start with a child who won’t get out of bed, no matter how many warnings you give. Then add a touch of arguing about which cereal to have for breakfast, all of which she liked yesterday but none of which she seems to like today. Follow that up with a dash of “I hate all of my clothes,” and you have a morning that makes mom want to crawl back into bed.

There are a variety of reasons that mornings can wreak havoc on your sanity, including kids not getting enough sleep, having tactile sensitivity (results in clothing challenges), a lack of morning structure, inconsistent discipline, and just plain old bad habits.

If mornings are making you think that bedtime can’t come soon enough, here are some tips for regaining control of your mornings and turning them into a pleasant start of a great day.

1. Clear expectations. Sit down with your kids and let them know that mornings need an overhaul. Make your expectations simple and clear. For example, you expect your kids to:

-Get out of bed when asked (a big part of a good morning is getting a good sleep) -Do their morning tasks properly -Be friendly and respectful to each other -Listen to mom and dad -Have a great morning.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to print this list out and place it on your refrigerator for easy reference.

2. Simplify. One key to a better morning is to simplify it. If there are tasks that can be done the night before, then make that happen. For instance, I know kids who get their backpack entirely ready (zipped up and placed by the front door), make their lunch, and set out their clothes the night before. This leaves much less to do and argue about in the morning.

3. Create a simple routine. You can design your mornings any way you want to, but design them you must. Sit down with your kids (elementary aged and older) and get their input in designing your morning routine, however, you have the final say. There really are not that many fundamental morning tasks, so the routine does not need to be complicated. Having a routine helps establish a sense of order and predictability, which, in case you forgot, is the opposite of chaos. Here is a sample school morning routine:

1) Get up (go to bathroom). 2) Get dressed. 3) Eat breakfast (put dishes away). 4) Brush teeth/hair and do other bathroom tasks. 5) Put backpack by the door (could be done the night before). 6) Quiet free time activity (if there is time).

4. Set a fun morning goal. I’m a fan of making positive behavior fun. Set a goal for five good mornings. Every time you have a smooth morning, mark a star on a calendar. When your kids reach five stars, reward them with a fun activity, such as a special breakfast or a fun family activity. Let them know that you are proud of them for their great effort and then set a new goal for another fun activity.

5. Enforce the morning rules. Just as positive rewards are helpful in building new habits, negative consequences are often needed to break bad habits. One of my favorite negative consequences for inappropriate morning behavior is the adjustment of bedtime. If your child is too “tired” to make good morning decisions, then he or she clearly needs an earlier bedtime. This can be done in several ways. One is to make an overall bedtime adjustment (30 minutes earlier) which can be revisited if she displays consistently improved morning behavior. The other is to have your child earn 10 minutes of early bed for that night each time she behaves negatively in the morning.

Morning times do not have to be a nightmare for your family. Try these ideas and start turning mornings into the best part of your day.


“Bobby, please turn off the T.V. now.”

Ten minutes later . . . somewhat more aggravated.

“Bobby, I thought I told you to turn off the T.V. Do it now!”

Bobby made a bad choice here to be sure. However, mom did too. About nine minutes and forty-five seconds ago.

It’s called a slow response.

Now, I’m not advocating turning into a parent who can’t be flexible now and then. But when you make a direct request, keep in mind that there are appropriate child responses and inappropriate ones.

We like the appropriate ones.

Ignoring you is not one of them.

When you ask (I mean tell) your kids to do something, the first part of an appropriate response is for them to say something. Now, there are a few things they could say that are appropriate, such as, “OK, mom,” or they could ask a question or make a comment in a respectful way.

Great. But what if they don’t?

You have two choices: A quick parental response or a slow parental response.

When you respond slowly to your child’s negative choice, it sends a message. The message is that you are not really paying attention to their negative choice so they can probably get away with it. This allows negative behaviors to continue and grow into bad habits.

On the other hand, when you respond quickly to your child’s negative choice, it sends a different message: You are paying attention to their behavior and you expect them to make respectful choices. A quick response stops negative behavior from turning into bad habit and helps your child foster good habits in their place.

For instance, when Bobby’s mom (above) asked Bobby to turn off the T.V. and he did not respond, she could have clearly and firmly repeated her request after about ten seconds of silence. If Bobby still did not respond, she could have walked over to him, positioned herself in front of the T.V. and made it clear (in the nicest of ways) that she expects him to respond to her when she talks to him. If for some strange reason (e.g., the alignment of the planets?) Bobby finds himself unable to do this while watching T.V., then he will have to refrain from watching T.V. until he finds the inner strength to fight off the gravitational pull of the television and answer his mother more respectfully.

Simple. A quick parental response, complete with clear choices, will teach Bobby that a respectful response is the only response that will bring a good result.

So, if you find that your child is starting to develop a few bad habits, take a look at your response speed.

It may be a big part of the solution.


“OK Johnny, that’s enough computer for now. Please turn it off and find something else to do.”

To the untrained ear, this common parental request seems harmless enough and more than reasonable. However, in this day of seemingly never-ending electronic activity (computer, video game, smart phone, DS, television, etc.), these words from Mom or Dad are powerful enough to render Johnny temporarily immobilized, his face wide-eyed and panicked, as if his mother had just asked him to cross the Grand Canyon on a unicycle.

I don’t have a problem with video games in general, as long as their use is kept in balance. However, I have noticed an increasing number of kids who become utterly paralyzed when they are asked to find something to do that does not have an electrical plug in a battery power source.

This is usually a sign that electronic activities are getting out of balance.

One of the best solutions to this problem comes in two steps:

1) Explain the need for a healthy balance. Kids need a healthy balance between many positive and necessary activities. These can include family activities, non-electronic games, electronic fun, time with friends, homework, helping around the house, inside activities, outside activities, sports/hobbies, and so on. Just as you need to eat a variety of foods to stay healthy (e.g., not just ice cream), a healthy variety of activities helps your kids develop the many skills needed for a successful life.

2) Make a “Things to Do” list with your child and write it down. Put it in a page protector and keep it in a easy-to find- location. List a wide variety of activities that your child enjoys. The list may include activities that she can do with others or by herself. The list may include activities like: building with LEGOS, reading a book, coloring, playing with a sibling, calling a friend, practicing an instrument, shooting baskets, doing a craft, doing a word search, playing with favorite toys, roller-blading, etc.  Take a few days to complete the list so you have plenty of time to make it as comprehensive as possible. By the time you are done, you should have a pretty good list.

3) Refer your child to the list. When your child follows you around the house in a zombie-like manner, complaining that there is absolutely nothing to do, just tell her to look at her list and choose and activity from it. The more she shows you that she can enjoy non-electronic activities without throwing a fit, the more balanced she will be and the more relaxed you can be.

There is something to do after all.


“You forget everything!”

“You are so irresponsible!”

“Why are you always ruining things?”

Harsh words that hit home. Especially when they are about your child and are coming from you, the parent.

“I would never say those words to my kids”, you may be saying to yourself right about now.

I want to remind you that in a moment of frustration, it is easier than you think to find those words coming out of your mouth.

I have heard it on several occasions. Often from very responsible parents who were very frustrated with their child’s behavior and were having a venting moment.

Understandable? Perhaps.

Acceptable? No.

We all need a reminder from time to time of the incredible power of a parent’s words. Your words are filled with power simply because they come from you.

That power can work both positively and negatively. Here’s how it works.

Your words show your kids who YOU think they are. They give your kids a glimpse into your brain to see the picture that you have of them. Because you are their parent, this picture has great weight and it influences how your kids see themselves. The way your kids see themselves will influence their behavior and choices. Over time, their behavior and choices will shape their future.

That is why this is a big deal.

When your child displays challenging behavior, steer clear of using words that describe your child’s character in a negative way. Instead, use words that describe his/her behavior.

Do this: “You lied to me about _____.” “You forgot to bring your homework home.” “You did not turn off the video game when I asked.”

Not this: “You are a liar!” “You are so irresponsible!” “You never listen!”

Help Your Kids Turn the Corner

Most importantly, let your words communicate that even though your child has made a certain negative choice and may even need to experience a negative consequence, you have confidence that he/she can learn a good lesson from the experience.

Your kids need parents who can see more in them than they see in themselves. They need a parent who can look past the dirt (and there may be plenty of it) and see the gold nugget that is inside.

Because if you can see it, your kids will see it too.


“How close are you with your dad?” I asked 15-year-old Brian as we talked in my office one afternoon.

“Not too close,” was his matter-of-fact response.

“Why do you think that is?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” Brian pondered. “I guess I don’t see him much and when I do, he usually just seems mad at me.”

“Hmmmm,” I said in my best psychologist voice. “Is that how you want it to be?”

“No, not really,” Brian replied.

“Would you like to be closer with your dad?” I asked.

“Yeah, I would,” Brian said, looking me straight in the eye.

Over the years, I have talked with many kids who did not feel close to their parents. And with few exceptions, they have all wanted to be closer. Similarly, when I have spoken with the parents, they also were usually aware that their relationship with their kids was not as close as they would like.

That is both bad and good news. The bad news is that these kids and parents have somehow drifted apart. The good news is that they both want the same thing: To restore a close relationship.

What caused the drift? I have heard many answers to that question, including:

-Parents being busy with work

-Not enough time together as a family

-Negative family communication

-Other stressors occupying the parents’ minds (such as finances, marital issues, work stress)

-Challenging childhood behavior

No relationship stays 100% on course all the time. So, if your relationship with one or more of your kids has strayed either a little off course or has grown tense and conflicted, here are a few ideas for getting things back on the right track.

1) Warm physical touch. Regular moments of light, affectionate touch, such as a gentle squeeze on the shoulder, go a long way. They communicate that you want to be close to your child and make them feel loved and important to you.

2) Communicate your intentions. I have found it helpful to simply tell my boys on occasion that I want to make sure we are staying close and to enlist their help in doing so. Together, we can think of ways to stay close, whether it means checking in or planning some fun activities.

3) Clear the air. If there is tension between you and your child, have a private conversation to address it. If you have handled something with too much anger, for instance, a genuine apology can go a long way as well as set a great example for your kids to see. Communicate your confidence that no matter what the problem, you both can handle it in a way that keeps your relationship strong and close.

The challenges of life will pull your relationship with your kids off course now and then. When you notice this, take the time to reconnect, even if your child does not fully reciprocate. Your consistent efforts to strengthen your relationship and connect with your kids will not go unnoticed.

To finish Brian’s story, his father followed the steps above and before long he and Brian reported feeling more connected than ever.

Now, it’s your turn.


SON: “My mom always is yelling at me.”

MOM: “I don’t yell at him. Well, maybe occasionally. But if he listened better then there would be no yelling at all.”


DAUGHTER: “I’m not too close with my dad. He’s at work a lot and we don’t talk much, except when I get in trouble.”

DAD: “I think we’re pretty close.”


Every parent I have ever met wants to have a close relationship with their kids. They don’t start their family with the goal of having distant or damaged relationships. They want their kids to be able to talk to them about anything.

Or so they say.

If you really want your kids to be able to talk to you about anything, then I have a suggestion for you: Become an easy-to-talk-to parent. I always find it rather odd when a difficult-to-talk-to parent complains that their kids don’t want to talk to them. I have seen close parent-child relationships and I have seen damaged ones. The closest ones all have one thing in common: The kids feel very comfortable talking to that parent.

Ask yourself this question: If you were a kid, would you like to talk to you?

If you are a little uneasy with your answer to that question, here are a few ideas that will help you become the kind of parent that your kids WILL want to talk to:

1) Look for opportunities. Jump on chances to talk with your kids about their life and activities. Driving in the car, bedtimes, mealtimes, and one-on-one activities are great times for showing that you care about what is happening in their life.

2) Listen first. When you listen first, you give your child a chance to share her perspective and feelings. This communicates that you really value her perspective and feelings, gets her involved in the discussion, and sets the tone for a productive and caring conversation.

3) Learn to pause. When you insert pauses into a more serious or difficult conversation, it creates a slower, more relaxed pace, which gives everyone time to digest what is being said and helps prevent negative knee-jerk reactions. A pause communicates that you are taking your child seriously and are being thoughtful in formulating your response.

4) Listen to yourself. As you talk to your child, ask yourself, “How do I sound?”; “Am I being respectful?”; “Would I like to talk/listen to me if I were a kid?”; and “Am I making this conversation better or worse, easier or harder?”

You can be the kind of parent that your kids love talking (and listening) to. It all has to do with your communication style. And there is only one person in charge of that.


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