Studies Show Harsh Discipline and Spanking Are All Harm and No Good – Try This, Instead


Breaking news from Science Daily: The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to act out, defy their parents, engage in aggressive and antisocial behaviors and have both mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

According to a new study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, spanking is associated with the above-mentioned unintentional detriments and is not associated with either immediate or long-term compliance. Long story, short: This meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking proves what we already know – spanking doesn’t work.

You can find the study here.

I’ve worked with countless parents over the years. Sometimes parents come to me because they want to avoid spanking – they remember what it felt like and don’t want to repeat history but they don’t know what to do. Sometimes parents want to stop yelling. Sometimes parents feel they are too permissive and their kids don’t respect them. Others are baffled by the behavior they see and want to figure out what they can change in their parenting style to improve the family dynamics.

One thing I’ve heard over and over again: “I was spanked and I turned out fine.” This is a fairly normal defense mechanism parents use to pack away the hurt and focus on the positive. In many ways, it makes sense. People use these statements to prove that their parents didn’t hurt them – it’s hard to admit that the people you loved the most as a child hurt you in some way.

But the truth is in the research: This meta-analysis included over 160,000 children and is the most complete analysis of the effects of spanking to date.

I find that spanking and authoritarian parenting tend to be generational. This is how my parents did it, so this is how I will do it. When I help parents work through their stuffed emotions about these parenting styles, however, I find that a world of hurt hides beneath the surface.

Side note: New research out of Iowa State University found that “harsh parenting” may increase a child’s risk for obesity and poor physical health later in life. You can read more about that here

We aren’t destined to repeat the patterns of previous generations. You can love your parents and make different choices for your children. It’s okay to move forward and think about what works best for your little ones. 

One of the problems with finding a parenting style that suits each parent is that it’s fairly difficult to find adequate support once the kids are beyond the preschool years. Information and groups are everywhere for those first five years, but then, poof!, it all disappears. Parents are left to sort out conflicting advice found on the Internet.

Honestly? That’s why I wrote THE HAPPY KID HANDBOOK. It’s a resource to help parents cope with the ups and downs that can and do occur along the way.

One of the most frequently asked questions I find in my inbox is this: How do I get started with positive parenting? How do I change everything and start over?

The good news is that if you’re asking that question, you’re already making changes. It takes time, patience and practice to try new parenting strategies. Change almost never occurs in a day – there will be slips and falls and tears and frustration, but the end result will be worth the effort.

Set healthy boundaries.

Kids need boundaries. Chances are, you already set some. When you set a certain bedtime and stick to it, that’s a healthy boundary. When you teach your kids look twice before crossing the street, that’s a healthy boundary. You get the point.

Kids come into this world full of curiosity and questions. They don’t have all the answers and they certainly don’t make the right choices every time, but they do look to their parents to fill in the blanks. It’s up to us to teach them about physical health, emotional health, safety, social interaction skills, problem solving skills and coping skills. Sounds like a lot, I know, but I’m willing to bet that you tackle some of these in small ways every single day.

Start with your expectations. I don’t have a ton of “rules” in my house, but I do expect kindness, respect, forgiveness and empathy. Do we mistakes? Yes. Do we work through them together? Absolutely.

Parent the child you have.

It’s fine to have a blueprint of rules and expectations. We all have certain ideas about how we want this parenting gig to go when we first begin the journey, but we also have to consider the individual needs of the kids we have. If you have a highly introverted child or a highly sensitive child on your hands, yelling and sarcasm will crush that child. Telling and extroverted child to “just stop talking” is akin to telling her to be someone else. Thinking out loud is how she processes her thoughts.

Get to know the individual needs of your child and meet him where he is. When we parent our kids with personality in mind, we help them thrive.

Remain calm.

Kids can really set parents off. Meltdowns, in particular, are a source of stress for many parents. It’s hard to know what to do when your kid is falling apart in the middle of the soccer field, after all.

Remain calm.

When parents meet anger with anger (or frustration with frustration), the situation only gets worse. Engage in deep breathing to calm your own reactions and empathize with your child. Stop worrying about what other people think and stay focused on the little one in your arms.

Be okay with big emotions.

Many parents are triggered by the feelings of their kids. Kids cry and parents want to fix the problem. Kids yell and parents want to hand out time outs. It takes time to learn how to process and cope with emotions, and yelling and crying are simply ways to vent those very big feelings.

Let your kids express their emotions. Let there be tears. Let there be foot stomping. Let there be yelling when times are tough. You can work on coping skills when they’re calm but shushing their feelings in the moment (or distracting them with candy) will only lead to a bigger meltdown later on.

Find the hidden picture.

All behavior is communication. Most kids don’t have the sophisticated social skills to say, “I’m feeling really jealous of Johnny right now and I would like more 1:1 time with mom, too,” so they hit Johnny, instead. Or they yell at Johnny. Or they hide Johnny’s toys and tease him while he tries to find them. Kids need help communicating their feelings, and it’s up to us to teach them

Look for clues to identify the underlying problem and talk to your child about how he might be feeling. Hunger, exhaustion, jealousy, anxiety, anger and loneliness can all result in behaviors that seem defiant on the surface. Dig beneath the surface to help to your child uncover his hidden emotions and learn to cope.

Try family meetings.

A weekly check in to talk about how things are going can be a great strategy for families. It’s a time to discuss what’s working, what’s not and how all family members are feeling about the current family dynamics.

When families communicate and listen to one another, they learn to work together for the greater good. Take the time to check in and engage in open and honest communication as a family. Your kids will benefit from having a voice, and you will find ways to improve the family dynamics as a result.

Image via Pexels

How to Deal With Explosive Temper Tantrums

How to deal with explosive behavior

Josh* was seven-years-old when his mom reached out to me. I will never forget the phone call. Two minutes into her description of her son’s temper tantrums that occurred frequently and seemed to last “forever”, she broke down into tears. Feeling alone in the situation, the family quietly dealt with Josh’s tantrums behind closed doors and didn’t seek advice from anyone. They were exhausted, embarrassed and frustrated. The tantrums, which I later discovered lasted approximately 45 minutes in duration and occurred about three times per week, were negatively impacting the family.

Mom and dad were out of energy and out of ideas. They fought constantly and lost their patience with Josh regularly. His sisters, both older, began to shut down. They avoided him and pulled away from their parents. Nothing seemed to work.

This family felt very alone in their struggle to help a child with explosive tantrums, but the truth is that tantrums aren’t just for toddlers and many families face very similar situations.

Tantrums can and do occur in the school age years. As parents, we tend to reframe big kid tantrums as “meltdowns”. Many school age children have difficulty coping with their emotions and lack the ability to verbalize their feelings. Meltdowns occur when emotions build up and kids need to release their feelings. It’s common for kids to direct these pent up emotions toward their parents or care givers. The good news, if you choose to see it, is that this expression of misdirected frustration is actually a sign of trust.

What makes a tantrum “explosive”?

Tantrums shift from average to explosive based on a number of factors.

  • Length: Explosive tantrums tend to be long in duration
  • Aggressive behavior: Can include hitting, biting, throwing things
  • Excessive screaming (can include cursing and verbal threats)
  • Behavior that can be considered dangerous for the child or the bystanders (ex: jumping from a moving car)
  • Can occur across multiple domains (ex: home, school, baseball practice, etc.)

Note: All children are different and you should always evaluate your child’s behavior against his own baseline (his average daily behavior).

Why do children engage in explosive behavior?

It’s important to remember that behavior is a form of communication. A child who is so overwhelmed that he lashes out is distressed. There is no one reason that triggers explosive tantrums, but there are a few things that explosive children tend to have in common:

  • Difficulty managing emotions
  • Poor (or no) coping skills
  • Lack effective communication skills
  • Poor impulse control
  • Lack problem-solving skills

There is a tendency to view explosive behavior as “manipulative”. Children who experience explosive tantrums tend to run high on emotion and low on coping skills. They aren’t trying o manipulate – they are trying to communicate.

What can parents do?

Remain calm.

When parents yell, command and/or criticize kids during explosive tantrums, the aggressive and explosive behavior increases. These tantrums are very difficult for parents to manage. Practice deep breathing techniques when you’re calm so that you can calm your senses when your child engages in explosive behavior.

Use calming phrases (on repeat) and don’t give in.

It’s tempting to give in the moment an explosive tantrum begins, but giving in won’t necessarily stop the behavior and it certainly won’t help long term. Giving in reinforces the behavior.

When your child is calm, talk through some calming phrases that you can use when he’s upset. “I know you’re upset; I will help you calm down” works for some kids, but many kids are specific in what words actually calm them (versus inflame them).

THE HAPPY KID HANDBOOK is packed with great strategies to deal with big feelings!

Log it.

Keeping a tantrum log helps. I know that writing down the event is probably the last thing you want to do once it’s over, but keeping a log helps you establish patterns and find the triggers. When you know what sets your child off, you can make a plan.

You don’t have to fill a page. Start with this:

  • Time of day
  • Length of tantrum
  • Behaviors that occurred (screaming, hitting, breaking things, etc.)
  • Possible triggers
  • Interventions that worked
  • Interventions that didn’t work
  • Baseline status: Where it occurred, last time child ate and what, how much sleep the night before, what was coming next

Create a daily discharge plan.

Kids need to vent or discharge their emotions. In addition to the fact that kids are sitting for longer periods and expected to learn and even play (sports) at an accelerated pace, many kids spend the day in survival mode. They stuff their emotions to avoid a meltdown in front of peers and save it for home.

Create a safe space for venting emotions. Some kids respond well to venting while drawing, some need to yell it out and some like to write it down then tear it up. Find a strategy that works for your child.

Set clear limits and expectations.

As parents, we have a tendency to provide stern reminders of our expectations and limits when we’re under pressure, but many kids fail to internalize those limits and expectations and need reminders. Make your behavioral expectations and limits clear when kids are calm. You don’t need 100 house rules, you simply need to talk about your expectations and provide frequent reminders.

Structure is essential for kids who tend to have explosive tantrums. Keep to a consistent bedtime, have consistent meals and snacks and factor in downtime.

Increase 1:1 time.

Sometimes explosive kids struggle to relate to or bond with their parents. They often feel sorry after their tantrums and carry around feelings of guilt. Plan regular 1:1 time with your child to spend time bonding with him and getting to know him better.


Deal with your feelings.

Many parents experience frustration and resentment as a result of their children’s behavior. Some also feel sad and anxious. Work through your own feelings about your child’s behavior so that you don’t bring those feelings into the mix when your child experiences a meltdown.

Many parents benefit from their own therapy or parent education to work through these feelings.

Be aware of possible underlying issues.

Explosive tantrums can stem from other underlying issues. A few to consider:

  • Anxiety
  • Learning differences
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder

If your child experiences explosive tantrums more than twice a week (on average) into the school age years and fails to improve, seek an evaluation. If your child displays any suicidal behavior (thoughts, actions, plans) or is a danger to others, seek immediate help.

This article does not replace an evaluation from a licensed mental health professional.

*Names, genders, ages and other identifying features changed.


How to Help Your Anxious Kid Avoid Avoidance Behaviors


Avoid avoidance? I know, sounds like I missed something there, but stay with me. In the past few weeks, my inbox has been overflowing with questions about helping anxious kids who have a tendency to avoid all possible anxiety triggers. Should parents push kids to “face their fears”? Should they encourage the avoidance because the anxiety seems to “disappear” as long as the child avoids the triggers? What’s a parent to do?

Parenting an anxious child is hard work. Just when you think you have the problem solved (nine night lights to clear up the fear of the dark later), a new trigger emerges. That’s because anxiety isn’t just about the triggers. Irrational fears and intrusive thoughts have a way of snowballing, and kids confront a lot of new information on a daily basis. For a non-anxious child, new information is fun and exciting. For an anxious child, however, new information can lead to new fears.

Add the new fears to the old fears (you can install all the night lights you want, until kids learn to cope with anxiety those Band Aids can come off at any moment!) and you have a big mess of fears.

Avoidance is a common strategy used by anxious kids. Honestly, it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap (been there). When kids avoid their triggers, they tend to appear calm and happy again. The problem is that it won’t last.

What are avoidance behaviors?

Avoidance behaviors are things kids (and by kids I do mean all ages – even the tweens and teens!) do or don’t do to reduce their feelings of anxiety. There are different levels of avoidance. For example, true avoidance behaviors occur when a child goes to great lengths to completely stay away from a trigger. If a child is afraid of reading in front of his classmates, for example, he might either try to stay home “sick” when he has to give a book report or invent reasons to leave the classroom during book report time (I need to see the nurse).

Partial avoidance, sometimes referred to as safety behaviors, are things kids do to try to hide their anxiety. Ever notice a kid who always seems to drop his pencil and disappear from sight the moment the teacher starts calling on kids for answers? That’s avoidance. Safety behaviors help kids feel in control in the moment or help limit exposure to the trigger. Other examples include avoiding eye contact when talking to people, leaving the room frequently, daydreaming to check out and even drinking and drugs in older kids.

While avoidance behaviors might give kids some immediate symptom relief, they don’t help them learn to cope with their triggers. In fact, the fears actually have a tendency to snowball when kids engage in avoidance behaviors.

Take, for example, a child who refuses to go to school due to separation anxiety. It feels good and safe to stay home, so the child engages in negative behaviors to avoid going to school. Over time, as the days add up, the child starts to internalize the message that she can’t go to school. School is scary, overwhelming and just too hard. The more she stays home, the more she believes that she’s can’t possibly cope at school.

Avoidance can actually increase the risk of engaging in negative safety behaviors down the line. Drugs and alcohol are used to dull the feelings of anxiety, particularly for those facing social anxiety.

How can you teach kids to avoid avoidance?

Like all things anxiety related, avoiding avoidance requires time, practice and patience. There will be good days and not-so-good days along the way. Try not to view setbacks as failures when your kids are learning to cope with anxiety. Setbacks are simply a call to review what is and isn’t working so that your child can continue to practice adaptive coping strategies.

***If anxiety impacts your child’s ability to go to school or participate in normal daily activities, call your family doctor for a referral to a mental health professional specializing in children and adolescents. 


With that in mind, try these five steps to help your child learn to avoid avoidance:

Unpack the triggers.

More often than not, what begins as an intentional avoidance becomes a habit over time. The kid who hides every time a dog is near no longer has to think about avoiding the dog. she just does it. It’s how she copes.

It can take time to help kids unpack their anxiety triggers and identify their avoidance behaviors. When your child is calm, talk about what it means to feel anxious (your heart races, your brain warns you to avoid something, your palms sweat, etc) and what kids of things might cause those feelings. Share your observations of your child. Ask your child if she ever tries to avoid things that make her feel scared or worried.

I always recommend having the child make a “trigger tracker” list. This helps the child gain some control over the feelings of anxiety.

Challenge exaggerations.

Anxiety is fueled by irrational thinking. What might begin as a small worry (did I leave the stove on?) can quickly snowball when intrusive thoughts take over (my house is burning down!) Experiencing a complete lack of control over the trigger can increase those intrusive thoughts. This sends kids into fight or flight mode, and flight is often the easiest option.

Teach your child to challenge exaggerations by using self-talk. Help your child make a list of the intrusive thoughts that tend to snowball, then practice making logical statements instead. When kids learn to pick apart their worries and ground themselves in logical thinking, the intrusive thoughts shrink.

Start small.

It can be tempting to tell a kid to just get back in there and face his fears, but that kind of statement feels paralyzing to a child struggling with anxiety. Anxious kids often feel overwhelmed on a good day – they can’t just “shake it off”.  What they can do is start small and go from there.

If dogs are a huge source of anxiety, for example, start by reading books about dogs. Next, find a pet grooming place that will let your child watch a dog being groomed from behind the glass. After that, find a friend with a very calm and kid friendly dog and pay that dog a visit. You get the drill.

If social anxiety is the problem, start by attending a gathering for 15 minutes then work up to 25 and 35 and so on until larger gatherings no longer feel overwhelming.

Focus on manageable tasks.

One of the most difficult challenges for anxious kids is that once their anxiety is triggered, everything feels huge and overwhelming. Teach your child to break things down into manageable parts. If test anxiety is a problem, help your child learn to study in specific blocks of time with plenty of relaxation breaks and break down the test material to one focus area per study block. When he actually takes the test, have him use a plain piece of paper to block out the section he’s not working on in the moment.

Learning to break things down helps kids feel in control of their triggers.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

All kids are different and no one strategy works for all kids (except deep breathing to calm the feeling of panic – that always works when done correctly), but there are tons of ways to practice confronting triggers.

Mirror, mirror: Have your child role play anxiety producing situations while facing a mirror. The more kids practice confronting their triggers, the more mastery they gain. Join your child to help him work though difficult situations.

Put on a social play: Writing, directing and starring in a play about your own worries can be quite empowering! Encourage the whole family to get in on the action, as directed by the anxious child. Play truly does help children gain mastery over the fears, and this is a great way to get started.

Sing a silly song: As silly as it sounds, rewriting the lyrics to a favorite tune to reflect how you can face your fears really does help. I do this to show my kids that we all have worries and sources of stress, but casting them in a new light can make us feel better.

The Happy Kid Handbook is full of great strategies to help children and families learn to cope with stress and anxiety. Grab your copy today!

Image credit: Pexels

Addiction, Mental Health, and Parenting: Why You Need to Connect the Dots


I can’t pretend to know what fighting addiction truly entails.  I have friends who fight for their sobriety every day.  They never miss a meeting…because to miss a meeting is to risk a relapse.  I have worked with young adults and adolescents who have fought for their sobriety.  They never missed a meeting…because to miss a meeting is to risk a relapse.  I have worked with children of addicts.  I’ve listened to them cry, yell, and ask the same question repeatedly.  Why?  Why is my existence not enough to keep my father/mother/fill-in-the-blank sober?

Addiction is complicated.  It might seem like a choice when you break it down to this-or-that, but then you have to travel the road of mental health, environmental stressors, and family history.  This-or-that fades into the background when you begin to peel the onion.

I’ve heard addiction referred to as “selfish”, and I can understand where people are coming from.  When you’ve sat across the office from a young child with giant sad eyes and an obsessive need to understand what role he or she might play in the addiction, you start to see the “selfish” angle.  You want to say to that parent, “Stop everything!  Look what you’re doing to your child!”  But you can’t say that.  Because that parent isn’t being selfish…that parent is fighting addiction.  That parent isn’t seeing the big sad eyes and cries for attention.  That parent is stuck in the vortex, and that isn’t selfish.

It’s same with depression and other mental disorders.  Would you call a person “selfish” for being depressed?  Would you tell you a parent to stop “being Bipolar”?  Of course not.  That would be ill-informed and inaccurate.  And yet, people do it.  They try to break it down to this-or-that.

The fact is that we can’t ignore the comorbidity factor when it comes to addiction.  We can’t pretend that addiction exists in a vacuum, and we can’t pretend that a single choice would alter the life of a family.  We can’t ignore the genetic components, the environmental factors, and the lack of resources available to the many people fighting (or losing the fight to) addiction every single day.

And we can’t pretend that our children are immune.

Every time an addict loses a battle, someone in this world is left behind.  We put celebrities on a pedestal and celebrate their amazing careers while we mourn the loss of the actors who music makers who touched our lives in some way.  But behind those celebrities are partners, children, and extended family who are left to pick up the pieces and somehow make sense of the loss.  They are the ones who suffer the most when the light goes out.

And that’s not all…

Kids (yes, KIDS) are using alcohol and drugs at an alarming rate, sometimes beginning in middle school (on average, boys start at age 11 these days, while girls, on average, wait until 13).  I won’t bombard you with statistics, but I will say that we need to change the way talk to kids about drugs, alcohol, and sexuality right this very moment.  Kids are taking unhealthy risks and making very poor choices, thereby setting themselves up for addiction, teen pregnancy, STD’s, and worse.  Because yes, drugs and alcohol can even take the lives of kids.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check in with the CDC and SADD to arm yourself with information.

Remember that bit about comorbidity an genetics?  That applies to kids, as well.

So what can parents do?

Talk early and often:

Don’t wait until your child encounters alcohol and/or drugs to start the conversation.  Talk about it early on, and revisit it regularly.

I hear the parents joking about “mommy juice” (there is even a product by that name) and the like when they want to have a drink in front of the kids.  It’s a joke (most of the time) and it’s even a little cute (sort of)…but it sends a mixed message.  It’s not juice.  It’s wine or some other kind of alcohol and it should be identified by name.  It should be stated that alcohol is ok for adults (in moderation) but not for kids.

Instead of distracting or hiding, tell it like it is.  That sends a clear message to your kids.

Be honest:

Talk about addiction.  Talk about the effect that drugs and alcohol can have on your brain, your body, and your life.  Resist the urge to use scare tactics.  Remain calm, open the discussion up to questions, and provide information about the risks.

Talk about any family history you might and connect the dots between depression and other mental health concerns and alcohol and/or drug use.  Fill in the blanks so that your child can get a clear picture of addiction.

Identify the helpers:

Sometimes kids don’t want to talk to their parents about difficult topics, including alcohol, drugs and mental health. They might not want to disappoint them.  They might be afraid to admit that peer pressure is intense and difficult to resist.  They might fear that their parents will think less of them for wanting to fit in.

Identify the helpers.  Find a trusted uncle, aunt, or family friend who is willing to listen without judgment and provide a lifeline for your child.  Your child might not be comfortable approaching you, but that helping hand just might make a huge impact along the way.

Stop worrying about the stigma, and get the help that your family needs.  Inpatient, outpatient, individual, family…don’t wait until it’s too late.  Seek out the resources that can help you get to the other side.

Listen without judgment:

Listen to your children when they approach you with a problem, no matter how insignificant that problem might seem.  Hear their words.  Let them explain.

Listen for the sake of understanding, not for the purpose of crafting a response.

When we show our children that we are willing to listen, we open the door to future communication.  When we judge, snap, or reply too quickly, we risk shutting them down.  Open the door today, and don’t ever close it.

Stop glorifying Hollywood:

Get the magazines full of lies out of your home.  Stop putting celebrities on pedestals.  Listen to their music, enjoy their films, and laugh out loud when you watch their shows to decompress.  But stop pretending to know them.  They are people with struggles and they sometimes mess up, and that is more than ok.

Stop looking to the famous to act as role models for our children.  Taylor Swift isn’t really a role model for young girls.  She’s a young woman who sings her heart out and works hard, but how well do you really know her?  You don’t.  But you do know countless other people who can be role models…like that kindergarten teacher around the corner who dedicates her life to shaping young minds or that pediatrician who seems to make every child feel at ease in her office.

Look to everyday heroes to inspire your children.  They can truly make a difference…

For more information, or to make a donation to support research into drug abuse and addiction, visit NIDH.


Tips for Talking to Kids About Predators


There are some parenting topics that are very difficult to address.  Melissa is back this week with some startling information and helpful tips about talking to kids about predators.  I hope you will take the time to read and digest this very important information.  Thanks, Melissa.

This week in my town there was an incident that scared the daylights out of parents of school-aged children.  Police alerted the community to what was believed to be an attempted abduction of a seven-year-old girl who was riding her bike home from school.  It was the type of scenario we all dread and fear:  man grabs the girl and tells her to put her bike in the trunk of his car.  Thankfully, she sped away and told the parent at home, who called the police.  A day later, it was reported that it was actually a case of mistaken identity, not attempted abduction.  An older grandfather whose eyesight is failing thought he was addressing his granddaughter, whom he was supposed to pick up on that particular day.

While parents across our district breathed a sigh of relief and the police department shook off their embarrassment for sounding the high alarm, others, like my husband and I, took it as an opportunity to refresh our family’s protection plan and talk to our kids—again—about “stranger danger” and safe touching.

You may wonder, won’t that just scare my kids?  Isn’t it my job to protect them and not alarm them about dangers that are not likely to happen, if I keep close watch?  Wrong.  While this was a case—albeit, a mistaken one—of abduction, which is less common, sexual abuse of children is a very frightening and common reality with serious consequences.  Like stranger danger, it should be discussed with children even before they attend grade school and reviewed on a regular basis.

If you think the possibility of a man trying to grab your child on her way home from school is alarming, listen to these facts about sexual abuse:


  • Child sexual abuse is the use of a child for sexual purposes by an adult or older, more powerful person, including an older child. It is a crime in all 50 states (Committee for Children).
  • Studies suggest that about 1 out of every 5 American women and 1 out of every 10–20 American men experienced some form of sexual abuse when they were young (Committee for Children).
  • An estimated 180,500 children in the United States were sexually abused in 2005-2006 (Sedlak et al., 2010).
  • Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. Snyder (2000) found that nine out of ten children who have been sexually assaulted know their attacker.
  • The offender often uses a position of power to take advantage of a child, usually developing a relationship before any sexual abuse takes place as part of a process known as “victim grooming.”
  • Young children are at the greatest risk.  Studies show that one third to one half of victims are under age 7 when the abuse begins.
  • Sexual abuse occurs in children from every culture, walk of life, and socioeconomic status.  Boy or girl, no one is exempt from the risk.
  • Children are not likely to reveal that abuse is taking place.  Studies show that only 2-4 of every 10 victims will tell an adult at the time of the incident, and even fewer will tell the authorities.


Scared?  You should be.  Our children are vulnerable, but there are ways for parents to prevent possible victimization.


  • From an early age, allow your child to say no to hugs or other affection, even from family members.  Children should be encouraged to maintain physical boundaries that feel comfortable to them.
  • Talk to your child about safe touching versus unsafe and unwanted touching.
  • Be sure your child understands proper names for their private parts, and that no one other than a parent (for a young child, for cleaning purposes), or a physician may ever touch them there.
  • Teach your child that while it is important to obey adults, particularly parents and teachers, they do not have to obey adults if an adult attempts to break safe touching rules, or otherwise entice the child to act outside of family rules or expectations.
  • Be open to answering questions your child may have, and do not hesitate to review the topic from time to time, particularly surrounding events such as the one which took place in our community.


For more information about how to talk to your child about safe touching, visit the website of the Committee for Children, at



Common Causes of Childhood Stress and How Parents Can Help


Children experience stress for a variety of reasons, and stress can crop up without warning.  While adults tend to know when they are under stress, children often internalize these uncomfortable feelings.  They don’t always ask for help because they don’t understand it.  They might not even be able to identify their triggers or connect the dots between their emotions and their physical responses.

In general, physical complaints and behavioral changes are indicative of stress in children.  Children experiencing stress are likely to exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling asleep or frequent nightmares)
  • Changes in eating habits
  • School refusal 
  • Decreased social interaction
  • Frequent crying
  • Temper tantrums
  • Regressed behavior
  • Anxious behavior (skin picking, nail biting, hair twirling)

It’s important to pay close attention to behavioral changes in young children, particularly if frequent physical complaints are also present.

While stress can have many triggers, there are a few causes that tend to pop up regularly:


Transitions can be difficult for young children.  Many children respond well to structure and routine, and changes (both big and small) can cause stress.  A new school. a new home, a new classroom, a new work schedule for mom or dad, a new baby…the list goes on.

Be on alert for possible signs of stress when transitions occur so that you can intervene before the stress level increases.

Parental stress:

Stress does tend to have a trickle down effect when it comes to families, and when parents are under stress kids pick up on it.  While we all do our best to shield our kids from adult issues, kids can be very intuitive and like to listen in on conversations.

Be aware of your own daily stress level and try to get the help you need so that you can cope more effectively when the kids are present.

Family discord:

Divorce is an obvious source of childhood stress, and it can linger on long after the divorce is final.  It’s very difficult for children to understand and cope with divorce, and often they tend to blame themselves or wonder what they could have done to stop it.

Other instances of family discord can cause stress for children, as well.  Sibling bullying is a very real and very scary problem.  It tends to get overlooked at times and is often thought of as normal sibling rivalry, but it can be very stressful (not to mention dangerous) for the child on the receiving end.

Even fractured relationships with extended family can take a toll on kids.  If children hear about or witness family discord, they might feel obligated to choose a side and act accordingly.  That’s a lot of pressure for young children.

Friendships can be tricky:

Making and keeping friends isn’t always easy.  Friendships change over time, and this can cause stress for the kids who tend to stick to one or two friends.  When kids feel left out they tend to engage in self-blame, and this exacerbates stress.

Bullying of any kind causes significant stress for children.

Academic pressure:

Some kids never worry about school at all, while others obsess over every single test, quiz, and homework assignment.  Some kids spend hours making sure their homework is perfect, while other fly through it without even reading the directions.  All kids are different.

Even when they’re young, children can sense the importance of performing.  As natural pleasers, this can add a significant amount of stress to the school day.

How parents can help:

  • Talk about stress:  Describe it.  Share your own experiences in age-appropriate language.  Normalize it.
  • Educate them about the mind-body connection:  Connect the dots for them so that they can begin to understand that stress can cause headaches, stomachaches, and other physical symptoms.
  • Listen:  If we want to help our children cope, we have to listen to what they are saying.  Don’t dismiss things that seem small to you.  Those things might feel very big to your child.
  • Teach relaxation strategies:  A stress ball kept in a desk at school can provide relief when academic stress sets in.  Deep breathing exercises and guided relaxation can help your child learn to calm her senses and breathe her way through a stressful moment. Music, reading, and journaling (even for little ones – one word at a time still releases the negative emotions) are all useful strategies.
  • Prioritize a consistent sleep schedule
  • Prioritize healthy eating habits
  • Ensure that your kids get plenty of exercise and outdoor play
  • Provide creative outlets within the home
  • Avoid over-scheduling 
  • Allow mental health days:  Sometimes kids need a day off.  One day of missed school won’t set your child back too much, especially if it means caring for the soul and sending your child back relaxed and ready to learn.

Childhood stress can have a lifelong impact on children unless they learn how to manage and cope with it.  An understanding parent can be the difference between a child who internalizes negative emotions and a child who understands the importance of asking for help.  Be the parent who provides the shelter from the storm.  Your children will thank you one day…that much I can promise.

If your child appears to be under stress more often than not and the above mentioned strategies fail to provide relief, it’s best to contact a licensed mental health professional for an evaluation.


Tips for Communicating with Older Children


It’s back to school across the country, but in my house school has been in full-swing for almost four weeks.  While our family has mostly settled into the swing of things, there have been a few areas needing attention.  The biggest challenge so far has been communicating with our son regarding homework.  Since we homeschooled last year, his last public school experience was first grade, a cake walk compared to third.  This year, his responsibilities include copying homework assignments off the blackboard into his planner first thing in the morning, and then packing his backpack with the appropriate assignments at the end of the day.  He also has to remember to return home his chapter book, lunch box and water bottle.  It’s a lot for him, given the jump from homeschool to classroom.

Communicating with an older child is not always an easy task, particularly at the end of a long day.  But it is an essential component of the parent-teacher connection and to your child’s success in school.  Here are some suggestions to help your child overcome a struggle in a particular area of the new school routine.


Step 1.  Review the process:

Ask your student about the routine at school that relates to the area of struggle.  For us it was homework, so it began with a simple question of, “How do you know your homework assignments?”  The answer, “It’s on the board and I have to copy it.”  Additional clarifying questions like, “What happens when you first get into the room, what do you do?”  Followed by, “And then what?” until you get a clear picture of what is happening.


Step 2.  Search for holes in the story:

Is there something that doesn’t quite make sense?  Ask more questions.  Clarify, in a gentle way, so that you can understand what the teacher expects of the student.  If you can’t get a clear picture from your child, email or call the teacher.  It is essential that parents understand what the child is being asked to do, so that you can help him or her practice at home, if necessary.


Step 3.  Work on a solution:

For us, it made sense to help him create a routine.  From our careful questioning, we learned that he was using his super-hero mental powers to recall his homework while packing up, rather than checking against his planner or the board.  So he and I worked out a step-by-step routine for how to pack up his homework.


Step 4.  Break it down:

Your child may need to be walked through the details.  Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you think you should do next?” to see if he can come up with the right idea.  If not, gently suggest, “Do you think it would help if…” to elicit agreement.


Step 5.  Write it down:

Pull out an index card and write out the steps, with your child’s help.  Use a few words with clear instructions.  The card can be put in a pencil box or backpack, to be pulled out for the first few days of getting in the habit of the new routine.


Step 6.  Encourage:

Encourage your child that he or she is doing great and that we all need to learn the skills necessary to be more organized.  Not everyone is born that way!  Follow up each day to check progress and tweak anything that might not be working.

Step 7.  Praise!  

Praise goes a long way toward reinforcing those good behaviors, and helps solidify them into lifelong habits.

When Friends Say Goodbye…


My family and I just returned from an amazing two week vacation in the Canadian Rockies.  The mountains were breathtakingly beautiful, and the experience was made even memorable by the fact that we shared it with special family members that we don’t get to see often.  Having lived near them for many years, we now have to maximize the time we do spend together, making memories and sharing belly laughs.

We had a strange return home, however.  Good family friends were moving out of state in just a day, so one of the first things we did after catching up on some much-needed sleep was to head over to their house for final goodbyes.  Seeing the last remnants of their home randomly scattered in a few remaining piles in the garage was all it took to bring our own moving memories flooding back.

Why is it so hard to say goodbye?  Even when–and perhaps, especially when– it is what you have wanted for so long, a move you know is in your family’s best interest?  Our girls gave teary hugs goodbye, while our boys went off for one last crazy bike ride down the street, forgetting the hug entirely (until we suggested he better go do it!).

Feeling nostalgic today, I went looking for an old photo of myself with my best friend from high school, opening one of the boxes that survived the 1100-mile journey we undertook just one year ago.  Not finding what I wanted, I was drawn to my old high school yearbook, laying right on top.  One glance inside the front cover revealed dozens of lengthy notes from former classmates, close friends and acquaintances alike promising to never forget each other, declaring friendship, love, and demanding that “No matter what, you have to stay in touch!”.  Sweet words, well-meant at the time, but gone by the wayside many years ago.  Of a dozen or two good friends, there is only one with whom I remain in touch, whose babies I’ve held and whose kids have shared precious beach vacations with mine.  We were in each other’s weddings and have encouraged each other through many ups and downs of motherhood and family life, even to this day.  The same holds true for friends from college, graduate school, and life beyond as my husband and I have moved our way from Boston down the East Coast.

I like to tell my daughter that friends are like charms on a charm bracelet.  You can collect many, and while they look pretty for a time, there are some–many, in fact– that you will leave behind.  Whether one of you moves, or your life changes and you drift apart.  Regardless of the reason I believe there are only a few “true” friends out there for each of us.  I have been blessed that at the end of each phase of my life, each city that I’ve lived in or school I’ve attended, I have collected at least one golden friend who remains with me, wherever I go.

Tomorrow I am driving five hours with my three kids, alone, because my daughter’s golden friend is that much closer than usual.  Both of us moved in the same year, two years ago, and our girls, true soul sisters, BFF’s for life, were devastated.  But in the spirit of friendship- and recognizing that theirs is a true friendship, one built on mutual acceptance and love– as families we have determined to do what so many of my high school classmates wanted to do: we are staying in touch.

Who do you stay in touch with, personally and as a family?  How do you determine when a friendship is “golden,” and worth working hard to keep?


6 Ways to Raise Strong Girls


It’s always something when it comes to media and the influence that it allegedly holds over children.  Always.  For some reason, people love to gloss over that whole thing about video games and aggressive behavior and video games and addiction, but put a former Disney star in an inappropriate outfit (if we’re actually calling it that) and get her up on stage for what is notoriously one of the most inappropriate nights in television history (year after year, because history is always being made) and parents go wild.  They take to Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media outlet with their concerns about these so-called role models for our daughters.  I can’t speak for you, but no pop star will ever serve as a role model for my daughter.  Why?  Because she’s too young to watch them, for one thing.  She’s too young to actually want to launch a music career.  And she’s too young to dress like a twenty-year-old.

Do we need to address the fact that the inappropriate night of television comes with a TV14 rating?  Not so much intended for little kids.  Just a thought.  And if your teen did watch that performance, I sincerely hope that you sat through it with her and discussed it beginning to end.  Confronting inappropriate content in the moment is the best defense, after all.

But it’s not just the pop stars who take the heat.  The world is still complaining about Disney…how they changed the new strong princess into a more feminine looking (and a little more wimpy) princess to fit in with the others.  Whoa.  The social media parents went crazy on that one.  And it worked.  But here’s the thing:  It was a bit of an overreaction.  You know what a lot of little girls like? Princesses!  You know why?  Because it’s fun to pretend!  It’s play.  It’s not real.  But it opens the door to a world of feelings and gives little kids a place to escape and just be little.

I must admit, I was never much of a princess kid.  I was more into Strawberry Shortcake.  And I’m not too pleased with the latest version of my old friend Strawberry.  First of all, she used to be surrounded by fruity smelling friends.  The collecting was half of the fun!  Now there are only a handful of options.  Second, although she reportedly runs the most popular cafe (also the only cafe, as far as I can see) in Berry Bitty City, she doesn’t seem to eat her delicious creations.  This new hip and happening Strawberry is minutes from a feeding tube, if you ask me.  You know who loves these dolls?  My daughter.  You know why?  Because together we get lost in play.  We make up endless story lines of friendship and learning.  We laugh, we bond, and we spend time together.  And it’s just pretend.  So I’m not really worried that my daughter will one day want to emulate her beloved (but emaciated) Strawberry Shortcake.

But I do want to raise a strong and confident girl.  I want her to know that kindness and happiness are everything, and that strength (physical and emotional) will get her through the hard times.  I want her to walk tall into this world and follow every dream she dreams.  And I want her to look every mean girl and not-so-nice boy she encounters right in the eye and say, “No thanks, I’m better than that.”

So how do we raise strong girls when negative influences seem to lurk around each corner?  We talk. A lot.  We don’t wait for bad to find them, we build them up to guard them against bad.  And we start when they’re very young…

Let them be kids:

I know you’ve heard this from me before, but it’s worth repeating.  Kids should be kids.  They should laugh, play, run, learn, make a huge mess and “forget” to clean it up, and simply be free to explore their worlds through the eyes of a child.  It sounds simple, I know.  But apparently it’s not.

I can’t tell you how often I see kids wearing clothes much too mature for their age.  They wear shoes to mimic mom’s favorite heels and skirts and shorts that are so very short that they can hardly be classified as skirts and shorts.  They wear tube tops and string bikinis.  They look like mini Taylor Swift’s running all over the place and no one stops to cover them up.  And those “Pop Star” shirts?  Talk about a mixed message!

They listen to countless pop stars singing mature lyrics meant for an older audience.  Just because a song doesn’t include foul language doesn’t make it right for a ten-year-old.

Kids need to be kids.  In their play, their clothing, and their musical choices…they just need to be kids.

Rid your house of celebrity gossip:

I get it, everyone needs a guilty pleasure.  Mine happens to be literature and reruns of FRIENDS, but I get it.  Sometimes Keeping Up with the Kardashians gets you through a rough day.  No judgment here.  Just keep it away from your daughters.

We know that “reality TV” isn’t actually real and that TMZ, OMG!, US Weekly, and every other celebrity gossip house is just that:  Gossip.  For reasons I can’t quite understand, people really want to know that stars are “just like us!” – which seems to mean that they eat ice cream cones and frequent Starbucks.  The problem with all of these magazines and websites is that they aren’t real.  They send mixed messages to kids who don’t understand, and who really shouldn’t be reading about the Hollywood dating scene.

We need to either keep that stuff from our daughters, or describe it as it really is:  A pack of lies.  Just be prepared to answer 7,000 questions about the reason for the lies, why the pictures are airbrushed, and why that scantily clad girl is being followed in the first place.

But quick question before we move on:  Do you want your kids to grow up thinking that gossip is acceptable?  Because that’s the lesson they will get from all of that stuff.  Think long term before you let your little girl flip through the next gossip magazine that enters your home…

Talk about body image:

The following conversation took place in my car the other day:

“I got so tall this summer.”

“You sure did…all of your clothes are too small!”

“Look at my legs – they’re so skinny.”

“They’re strong, kiddo.  You’re legs are strong.  You spent the summer biking, swimming, and running around.  Your legs are super strong.”

“Is strong good?”

“Strong is great.  Strong is healthy.”

It’s important to teach them the importance of strong versus thin and healthy eating versus dieting.  It’s not so much about the actual words we use as it is about the message we send.  Strong and healthy girls grow into strong and healthy adults.  Kids begin to hear about and think about body image as young as Kindergarten these days.  Avoiding these discussions creates confusion (and sometimes even shame).  Talk about it.  Ask questions.  Answer questions.  Educate your daughters about healthy choices.  Work through these feelings together.

Praise them:

If you want to raise strong girls, you have to help them find their strengths.  Build them up.  Praise their hard work and effort.  Be specific in your praise so that they can begin to see what you see every day.

Set a good example:

Everybody has good and bad days.  That’s just life.  But if you’re constantly beating yourself up in front of your daughters…they will internalize it.  They will learn to look for flaws and engage in self-criticism.

Be strong.  Be independent.  Make healthy choices and take pride in the choices you make.  Show your daughters what it means to be a strong girl.


Sometimes it’s hard to be a kid.  The world is an overwhelming place and kids are constantly confronted with new, and sometimes confusing, information.  Take the time to really listen to your daughters.  Resist the urge to brush off what might seem like a superficial concern because what might seem small to you probably feels very big to your daughter.

Listen.  Empathize.  Provide unconditional love and support.  And just be there for them every step of the way.


Tech Time for Kids: Setting Limits


We all know that we live in a tech savvy world.  Toddlers can navigate tablets and smart phones with alarming ease.  Sometimes that’s a really good thing, like when you have to take a very long flight and there’s a delay…on both ends.


If we choose to see the positive, and there are many, kids are learning some valuable tools with early exposure to technology, we can keep track of them when they are off with friends, and searching for a payphone in the case of an emergency is a thing of the past.


For the most part, I’m a fan of moderate use of technology for kids.  Moderate.  That’s the keyword.


The downside, of course, is that kids are becoming dependent on games, instant communication, and feedback.


Remember when you actually had to dial a phone number (fine motor skills), wait for the phone to ring 19 times (patience) before your best friend’s mom answered, had a five minute conversation with your best friend’s mom first because that was the polite thing to do (social skills), and then spoke to your friend?  Ah, the good old days.  Those days are gone.


Today kids text each other to make plans, they text each other during said plans, and they text each other in the dark when their parents think they are fast asleep.  They create secret email accounts to create Facebook accounts.  They create Instagram accounts (sometimes with parent permission) and secret Instagram accounts with those secret email accounts (you know, just in case they’re being watched).


And…they are addicted.


They are using Facebook and Instagram at all hours of the night.  They are posting pictures and status updates and checking every twenty minutes to see how many likes and comments they have received.


Instead of laughing and socializing and maybe even (dare I say it?) playing…they are wrapped up in technology and social media.  Their self-esteem is quickly becoming dependent upon how their “friends” respond to their pictures and updates.  They need to see it, so much so that they might very well stay up much later than their parents think just to check the results of the day.


It’s a dangerous game, this boundary-less use of technology for tweens, teens, and, in some cases, even school age kids.  It affects their social skills.  It affects their health (eye strain, anyone?).  And it affects their emotional well-being.


Below are a few tips for creating safe and healthy technology use in your home.


Set Limits:  Would you give your 16 year old the keys to your car and simply wish him well as he drove away without even asking where he was going or setting a curfew?  Probably not.  So why hand over a smartphone or tablet without setting any limits?  For preschoolers and young children set a timer (10 minutes in my house) and give warnings.  Some kids don’t transition well.  I usually say, “Finish what you’re doing” when the timer beeps.  Make sure they can see the timer.  For older kids and tweens have a specific window of time during the day when technology use is available.  Taking the guesswork out of it means fewer battles.  For teens – it’s not theirs to keep.  It’s on loan from you.  Make sure they hand it in at night and follow the rules in their school handbook if they take it to school. 


Never at the Table:  Not you.  Not them.  Meals are for talking and eating and being a family.  Put all technology on a counter out of eyesight and just enjoy mealtime together.


Model Healthy Habits:  I see more jokes on Facebook about toddlers and preschoolers referencing Facebook and Twitter.  Little kids don’t need to know about Facebook and Twitter.  And they certainly shouldn’t be looking over your shoulder!  Take a break.  Step back and check your own habits, and then move forward in moderation.  I’ve had to do that at times.  What I always find is that I don’t miss it.  Set limits for you.


Be Tech Savvy:  You have to stay one step ahead of your kids.  That’s your job.  Get your own accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Stay ahead of the learning curve.  You can’t bury your head in the sand and let your kids wander off into this brave new world without you.  If you hand over the iPod, it’s up to you to know what you’re kids are doing with it.


Establish a Contract:  Be honest.  Let them know that you will be checking their usage, what they’re doing on the computer, iPod, iPad, etc, and that, ultimately, you are in charge of tech usage in your house.  Keep the lines of communication open, but be willing to set up a contract with your child.  You can’t protect your child from every little thing, including cyber bullying, but you can be aware of what’s happening when your child logs on to her various accounts.


Check-in Basket:  Keep a basket in your kitchen with a sign indicating that all friends coming by to hang out should leave their technology in there.  Some people like to argue that texting gives kids a new, less threatening, way to socialize.  But when a group of kids are sitting around a room texting other people, they are missing a huge opportunity to socialize in real time!  So what if it makes you the most unpopular mom on the block?  Tip:  There is no award for most popular mom anyway, and votes swing continuously.  Make them some brownies; they will love you again in an instant.


Central Charging Station:  Most kids won’t just turn in their electronic devices at night; you need to set the limit.  Choose a time (at least one hour before bedtime – 8pm is good) and have your kids turn in their technology.  The central charging station should be in the parents’ room to avoid temptation.  Prolonged screen time at night can cause eyestrain, sleep disturbance, and anxiety.  Establish the limit and stick to it.


Above all, remind your kids of the simple pleasures of life.  Too often we get wrapped up in what’s happening everywhere else and, in doing so, we miss out on the beauty right in front of us.  Practice enjoying the here and now.  Your kids will thank you for it one day.