How to Stop Thinking Your Teen Is ‘Pushing Your Buttons'

Cheryl Maguire | NY

Do clothes on the floor make you crazy? Experts say that the tension is often about the way the parent responds.


My 14-year-old daughter constantly abandons her coat on the floor and leaves half-eaten food in the living room and crumpled papers in the hall. I end up cleaning up after her, which I’ve repeatedly told her makes me upset.

She’s a smart, talented kid. So why does she keep pushing my buttons?

At some point most parents feel as if their teenager is acting in ways to intentionally make them angry. But experts say that the interaction is often more about the way the parent responds than about the teenager’s behavior.

Change the Language

“When a parent tells me their kid is ‘pushing their buttons,’ I let them know we need to change the language,” said Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a Northwestern University professor, clinical psychologist and author of “Loving Bravely.”

She said that thinking your child is controlling you is disempowering, which can lead to a battle of wills.

Such conflicts often fall into one of three categories, Dr. Solomon said.

The first is when the parents are thinking about their own teen behavior. Parents may project their fears, memories and challenges onto the relationship and can’t see their child as separate from themselves. Dr. Solomon gave an example: “The boy I dated when I was 16 cheated on me and broke my heart. My daughter should not date because all high school boys are immature and irresponsible.”

Another involves thinking of past mistakes they made as parents. Dr. Solomon said that if a teenager has trouble making friends a parent may think, “If I had taken my child on play dates when they were younger then they would have friends now.”

The last type is when a parent “fast forwards” to possible future behaviors. This is when a parent thinks, “If my kid is doing this at age 13 then what are they going to be doing at age 16?”

All of these patterns involve being ruled by fear instead of guided by love, Dr. Solomon said. Fear-driven parents often become controlling, creating strict rules, grounding their children or infringing on their privacy. “When these rules are created from a fear-based mind-set instead of what is necessary based on your teen’s developmental needs, an unhealthy relationship will develop,” Dr. Solomon said.

Control Your Reaction

“The reason to stay calm is because we co-regulate with our children — when we freak out, they freak out,” said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication.

Dr. Solomon recommends avoiding this kind of overreaction by practicing mindful parenting, which involves pausing, regulating your emotions and staying present in the moment, without attaching a story or meaning to the behavior. Research studies have found that using this technique can improve the quality of parent-child relationships.

“It’s hard to control what your teen does, but you can control your reaction to it,” said KJ Dell’Antonia, former editor of The New York Times’s parenting blog Motherlode and author of “How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.” “If I walk away, it changes my experience.”

Be on the Same Team

Say to your teenager: “This isn’t working for either of us. What can we do to fix it?” Maybe the coat closet is near the front door and your kids don’t use it because they come in through the back door. Could you install a coat hook near the back door?

Once you have a plan, even if there is only a small improvement, praise your child for doing a good job and acknowledge that you have a better relationship because you are working together.

“Parents may want to think of themselves as coaches, helping their child practice instead of being disciplinarians,” said Dr. Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of parenting books including “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness With Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.”

“Getting mad at your child isn’t going to change the behavior,” she said. “When you get angry, your attention is on the conflict instead of figuring out a solution to the problem.”

Trouble Shoot

If you have setbacks, ask your child, “Where do you think we went wrong?”

“Approach situations with curiosity. If your son doesn’t get out of bed, don’t say, ‘You are tired because you stayed up too late.’” Dr. Solomon said. Instead ask, ‘Why do you think you are tired?’ Hold back the urge to be right and instead stay curious by asking questions.

If you do yell at your teen, Dr. Naumburg recommended apologizing. “Some parents worry that apologizing will undermine their authority, but that isn’t true,” she said. “It’s a respectful way to be in a relationship and it’s modeling a behavior that we want our kids to do — take responsibility for their actions.”

Dr. Naumburg suggested ways I could help my daughter learn strategies to be more organized, such as breaking down a task into small steps.

I can accept that she will never be the next Marie Kondo, but I’ve seen progress for both of us. Now when I see a coat on the floor, I try to remind myself to see only a coat, not an affront to my authority.

My daughter has a sense of humor about it, too. When I told her I was writing about this she announced with a smile: “I left my jacket at tennis practice so it’s not on the floor today.”

Child Abuse Prevention: a difficult challenge, but child advocates see promise

Mark Fowser |

Photo: WDEL’s Mark Fowser

Photo: WDEL’s Mark Fowser

VIDEO: Blue pinwheels are popping up all over Delaware in April in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Although there has been a steady rise in calls to a state child abuse hotline in recent years, advocates said Wednesday much progress has been made in recognizing one thing: abuse is never the child's fault.

"Tragically, sexual, physical and emotional abuse threaten too many children every day in communities across our nation," Dr. Stephanie Deutsch said at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, where she is a pediatrician.

A variety of factors - some very familiar, some relatively recent - contribute to an abusive situation, according to Prevent Child Abuse Delaware Executive Director Karen DeRasmo.

"Those can include things like poverty and substance abuse. We know that the opioid crisis has created a lot of difficulties for families with children," DeRasmo said. "We have children being born addicted to substances." 

Poverty and financial stress can also play a part. DeRasmo added that in about 90 percent of child abuse cases, the abuser is a relative or someone known by the child.

However, strides are being made in recognizing and addressing the problem of child abuse. Delaware First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney is coordinator of First Chance Delaware, an initiative to help give children in The First State a chance to succeed.

"Our understanding of risk factors and trauma in general has increased so much over the last 30 years," Mrs. Carney said. "I think we're really at a tipping point where can make a difference in preventing child abuse through the multi-disciplinary approach."

DeRasmo added that all of us can be more alert for indications of possible abuse or potential abuse. Even if it's something as simple as a parent yelling at a child in a supermarket, consider initiating a discussion, perhaps telling the person how lucky he or she is to be a parent.

Also, if you feel yourself about to lose your temper with a child, DeRasmo says something as simple as taking a deep breath, counting to ten and smiling can go a long way toward calming you down.

"It's never a child's fault if they're abused or neglected."

I'm a Mom and a Child Psychologist: This Is the Behavior I Actually Worry About

Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D. |

No one knows more about toddler milestones and social issues than a child psychologist. Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D. wants to help parents worry less and enjoy parenting more.

As a child psychologist, I speak with so many parents who are concerned about their child's development or behavior. Mostly my clients aren't sure what behaviors should raise a red flag for them—"Should I worry when my child does this" or "Is it weird that my child said that..." I've heard it all in nearly a decade of working with families.

I've even shared those same thoughts: When I became a mom to two boys, Hunter, 3, and Paxton, 1, my work only heightened some of the concerns I, like all parents, have. After all, I witness first hand how parenting can affect kids. Parents have a whirlwind of things to worry about, but we just can’t worry about everything. As long as we love our children and try our hardest to give them a happy childhood, we are doing the best we can. 

Here, I share what I'm not worried about when it comes to my kids, and what concerns I prioritize instead. While there's no right way to parent, it's possible to feel confident that you're making the best parenting choices for your little ones.

I don't worry...

If I am being a positive role model

As a working mom, I don't always get to spend all day with my boys. But what’s more important than the quantity of time you spend with your kids is the quality of the time you do have together. When I am with my children, whether for an hour or a full day, I am responsive to their cues and needs; I provide undivided attention whenever possible to set them up for success. During the work day, my children are with experienced caregivers who help teach them how to be resilient and adaptable to change. Even if you don’t go to work, time apart from you and your partner can help teach your child autonomy and independence. So invite grandma to babysit! A little me-time is healthy for everyone involved.

If they are meeting their milestones

Children meet developmental milestones when they are ready. There are ranges of what is considered appropriate and what may be considered delayed. My colleague Jaclyn Shlisky, Psy.D., mom of Piper, 4, and Harlow, 2, told me that she constantly sees parents comparing their children to others. Her advice: Stop! “Each child learns and grows at his or her own pace,” Dr. Shlisky says. “Focus more on how your children make progress by comparing them to themselves—if they are progressing each day, each week, each month, that’s what really matters. Every day try to find a small win.”

And if you do have concerns, share them with your pediatrician rather than in a mom group on Facebook. Your pediatrician is your expert parenting partner so if you don't trust your pediatrician, find a new one. Also, don’t worry if a delay is noted. Early intervention services are highly effective. If your pediatrician suggests that you follow up with a specialist or get an evaluation, I recommend doing so immediately. The earlier a problem is identified the more likely the issue can be remediated.

If there’s a change in our routine

Here’s a confession: I keep my children out late on holidays and will sometimes skip a nap to do a fun activity; I’ve even let my kids come into bed with us and watch cartoons on vacation.

So many parents feel they have to stick to a strict schedule or their children will fall apart. There's no question that children thrive from routine and benefit from clear expectations. Children, like most people, do better when they know what to expect. But changes in your daily routine or schedule will not break your children. Yes, you may have a minor set back or some out of the ordinary behavior as you attempt to get back on schedule. But that is OK. Schedules can be adjusted, sleep can be retrained, and bad behavior can be extinguished, but having ice cream for breakfast on his birthday is something your child will remember forever.

If my kids are picky eaters

As long as the pediatrician doesn’t have concerns about their weight or health, I don’t fight my kids on food. I typically offer two meal choices: what we as a family are eating and what is currently available in my fridge (no complaints here if someone finally eats the leftovers!). If they are hungry they eat, if they aren't they don't.

I’ve also seen parents successfully offer a meal with two or more food options. For example, a dinner that consists of a protein, starch, and vegetable should include at least one item that is preferred and another that is new or less preferred. This gives your child a chance to try new foods, but doesn’t force her to eat it. It also guarantees that she will be eating at least part of the meal without protest. I have found that when I try to force my toddler to try something new, he is resistant. However, when I give him the option by putting it on his plate with other familiar and comfortable foods, he is more willing to take a bite since the pressure is low and the choice is his.

If my kids have screen time

Like everything else, exposure to screens and technology can be useful, if it is carefully monitored and regulated by caretakers. Engage with your child while watching TV and discuss the characters and themes of the episode during commercials. Most devices have parental controls—take advantage of them! I love Guided Access on my iPhone, which restricts my son to only using the app that is open and can even shut my phone down after the allotted time is over. Once the phone goes to sleep, he knows it’s time to play with something else. If you have an older child with an iPhone, set up Screen Time, which lets you monitor how they are using their devices and set time limits on app categories like games or social media. 

Tablets can also be great educational tools. Many schools have individual iPads for students to use for assignments, and they are often a must-have on long car rides or in waiting rooms. Again, it’s all about how you engage. I’ve had my three-year-old use my phone for a virtual scavenger hunt while sitting in the waiting room for an appointment. I named items that I saw in the room that he would quietly find and photograph them using my phone’s camera. As long as you and your child interact with technology or the screen together, it can be an incredibly valuable tool that you don’t have to fear.

I do worry...

About who my kids’ friends are  

We go from deciding where our kids sit during circle time to dropping them off at school often without even being allowed to step foot into the building. How will I know if my son is making good friends and can advocate for himself?

Focus your energy toward getting to know your children’s friends and educating your children on how to make good friends. Set up play dates or enroll them in extra-curricular activities and talk to your child after the event about how he thinks it went. It's OK to suggest things he may want to do differently during the next playdate. For example, if you observed your child never getting to choose the activity, you can say “I noticed that you always agreed to play what Johnny wanted to play, what did you want to play?” Then help provide your child with a script of what he can say or do next time. Role-playing is a great way to help your child develop self-advocacy skills. You can pretend to be the friend or engage siblings in a social role-playing activity.    

I also try to encourage my son to do activities that are of high interest to him, as opposed to choosing an activity just because it's popular. Expose your child to a variety of activities and pursue the ones that your child seems to enjoy. This will teach him to be a leader and not always follow along with the crowd, and he will likely meet peers with similar interests.

If my child is kind

I sometimes observe children acting mean, not because they are actually mean, but because they have heard or witnessed others being mean. Kids are like sponges, they take everything in, even when you don’t think they are paying attention. I always try to teach my children to use kind language like “everyone’s included” and “kindness counts." I also have honest (age-appropriate) conversations with them about when they observe others being unkind. We discuss what we observed and explore what other options the person had that could have led to more positive outcomes.

Teach empathy: your children do not have to like everyone, but they should still be kind to everyone. Then model this behavior for your children. Invite the whole class to playdates that are held at the local park and greet other families with a smile, even if they don’t reciprocate. When my children and I observe someone being unfriendly we try to evaluate the situation from a different perspective: Is it possible that the person is just having a bad day?

If I am making the right educational decisions for my kids

As educational standards shift, so do societal expectations. So much so that it often feels like our kindergarteners are being prepped more for college readiness than social adjustment. As parents, we are constantly faced with the question of are we doing right by our children. Have we signed them up for enough extracurriculars? Should we enroll them in public or private schools, enrichment or intervention? The options are infinite and the future is unknown.

While I can't tell you what's right for your kids, I can confidently say that no decision you make for your children is set in stone. If you think you may be pushing them too hard, try pulling back and see how they do. If you’re unhappy with their school, class, or extracurriculars, call a meeting or make a switch. If your child is struggling and falling behind, request an evaluation. You are your child’s best advocate and the ball is in your court. There is no “one size fits all” to education, so trial and error is your best bet. 

If my child is happy

Sure, I know my toddler is happier playing than doing homework but is he really truly happy deep down at his core? This is something that feels so out of my control as a parent. Rather than just worry about it, ask your children directly how she is feeling on a daily basis, and try not to be dismissive of her concerns. It's important to validate your child's feelings and show her that you're here to listen. 

It's also important to realize that while it's common for a child to be nervous the night before a test, it could be a sign of a bigger issue if your child expresses constant worry about nonspecific causes, is hesitant to engage in activities which would otherwise be perceived as fun, and/or is constantly complaining of physical symptoms (stomachache, headache, etc.) that are not related to medical issues. If this is the case, talk to her about how she feels and try to get to the root of the problem. If there is something bothering her, suggest strategies for her to use. Then follow up with your child on how it went. If your child is still struggling, seek professional help. Low-level issues that are not addressed can turn into larger problems later in life.

Knowing what concerns to prioritize makes the parenting journey much calmer. If you're feeling worried or stressed, remember you are not the only parent to feel this way. You can turn to your friends, family, or professionals (like a school psychologist or pediatrician) for help.

How to Help Teens Weather Their Emotional Storms

Lisa Damour | NY Times

Trying to help a deeply upset teenager — perhaps one undone by a social slight or flipping out about an upcoming test — is among the most common and stressful challenges in all of parenting. Amid all that stress, it’s easy for well-meaning adults to make missteps.

More often than not, we jump in with earnest questions or suggestions: “Any chance you did something that hurt your friend’s feelings?” or “Would it help if I quizzed you on what you’ve studied so far?” But, despite our best intentions, these efforts often seem to only agitate our teenagers further.

Even though I’ve got years of training and experience as a clinical psychologist, for a long time I more or less muddled my way through the adolescent meltdowns that inevitably arose at my practice. Lately, however, I’ve managed to improve my approach, and I owe it all to a fateful trip to Texas.

I was chatting with the counseling team at a Dallas girls’ school a few years ago when the conversation turned to how we each handle students who become unglued during the school day.

“That,” said one of the counselors in a Texas twang, “is when I get out a glitter jar.” As I tried to conceal my immediate skepticism, she went off to retrieve one. While we waited for her to return, I sat there thinking that whatever she was bringing back, I hated it already.

First, as a parent with a neatness hang-up and kids who love art projects, I have come to loathe glitter. Second, if there was any psychology behind this, it seemed bound to be a little, well, poppy.

The counselor returned holding a clear jam jar. Its lid was glued on and it was filled with water plus a layer of sparkling purple glitter sitting at the bottom. “When a girl falls apart in my office, I do this,” she said, while shaking the jar fiercely, like an airport snow globe. Together we beheld the dazzling glitter storm that resulted. Then she placed the jar down on the table between us and continued, “After that I say to her, ‘Honey, this is your brain right now. So first … let’s settle your glitter.’”

Mesmerized, I watched the swirling glitter slowly fall to the bottom of the jar. Finally getting over myself, I was ready to acknowledge the brilliance behind this homemade device.

Sitting right there was an elegant model of the neurology of the distressed teenager. Early in adolescence, the brain gets remodeled to become more powerful and efficient, with this upgrade retracing the order of the original in utero development. The primitive regions, which are just above the back of the neck and house the emotion centers, are upgraded first — starting as early as age 10. The more sophisticated regions, located behind the forehead and giving us our ability to reason and maintain perspective, are redone last and may not reach full maturity until age 25.

While this process is underway, young people are put in a rather delicate position. Though they tend to be highly rational when calm, if they become upset, their new, high-octane emotional structures can overpower their yet-to-be upgraded reasoning capacities, crashing the entire system until it has a chance to reset.

I have enthusiastically recommended glitter jars to several parents and colleagues knowing that some teenagers will instantly benefit from having a concrete model of emotional distress. That said, I have come to appreciate that a glitter jar’s main utility is in the instructions it provides to those who are caring for the overwrought: Be patient and communicate your confidence that emotions almost always rise, swirl and settle all by themselves.

Not long after I returned from Texas, I ran into a visibly upset sophomore in the lunchroom of the school where I consult each week. She looked stricken, and her eyes were red from crying.

Urgently she asked, “Are you free?”

“Yes,” I replied, turning her toward my office.

Once there, she buried her hands in her face and broke into heaving sobs. Soon, she slowed her breathing and looked at me, even as tears continued to stream down her face. In the past, I would have taken that opening to quiz her about what had gone wrong. In retrospect, I now see this as the verbal equivalent of further shaking the mental glitter jar. Instead, I asked if she wanted a glass of water, or some time alone to let her painful feelings die down. She declined both offers, so we just sat there quietly.

Not a minute had passed before she relaxed completely. Then she volunteered that she had done poorly on a test that morning and had fallen down a rabbit hole of worries about what a bad grade might mean for her future. Now, with her glitter nearly settled and her mind more clear, she regained perspective on the situation. Within moments she decided that the low grade probably wasn’t such a big deal, and if it was, she’d figure out how to make up for it in other ways.

This is not to say that letting glitter settle is the solution to all teenage problems. But I have found it to be a better first response than any other. Every time I stop myself from trying to figure out what made a teenager upset, and focus instead on her right to just be upset, I find that doing so either solves the problem or helps clear the path to dealing with it.

It’s critical to recognize that when we react to psychological distress as though it’s a fire that needs to be put out, we frighten our teenagers and usually make matters worse. Reacting instead with the understanding that emotions usually have their own life cycle — coming as waves that surge and fall — sends adolescents the reassuring message that they aren’t broken; in fact, they’re self-correcting.

So, when you next encounter a young person in full meltdown, take a deep breath and think to yourself (Dallas accent optional), “First … let’s settle your glitter.”

Five Ways to Foster Purpose in Adolescents

Kendall Cotton Bronk |


My research over the past fifteen years has focused on young people’s purposes in life. My colleagues and I have explored the things that inspire purpose in the lives of youth; we’ve studied the way purposes develop; and, we’ve investigated the difference it makes for youth to lead lives of purpose.

Over a decade and a half of work, at least two important findings have emerged. First, we’ve learned that leading a life of purpose is beneficial in more ways than one. Purpose is associated with physical health, including better sleep, less chronic pain, and longer lives; and psychological health, including hope, happiness, and life satisfaction. The second thing we’ve learned is that the experience is rare. Only about one in five high schoolers and one in three college-aged youth reports leading a life of purpose.

Taking these findings together—that leading a life of purpose is a beneficial but rare experience—members of my Adolescent Moral Development lab and I began to explore ways of fostering purpose among young people. In the process, we learned a lot about how young people identify meaningful, long-term goals that allow them to contribute to the broader world. Below I outline five empirically based approaches parents and mentors can use to help youth discover a personally meaningful direction in life.

1. Model purpose

Have you ever told your teen or twenty-something what gives your life purpose? Have you tried explaining how raising children fills your life with meaning, or how doing a job that has a positive impact on the lives of others gives your life direction? Rarely do we share the things that give our own lives purpose, but doing so is critical. Not only does it help introduce adolescents to the language of purpose, but it can also help them begin to think about the things that give their own lives purpose.

2. Focus on youths’ strengths and values

Help young people identify their strengths and consider the values that are most central to them. Purpose emerges when young people apply their strengths to effect personally meaningful changes in the broader world. For example, a young person who cares about the environment and is equally a good writer may find purpose in promoting conservation through journalism.

3. Foster gratitude

It may seem counterintuitive to foster purpose by cultivating a grateful mindset, but it works. Helping young people reflect on the blessings and the people who have blessed them naturally inclines young people to consider how they want to give back. At dinner each night, ask each family member to share at least three things from their day for which they’re grateful. Or use holidays, such as Thanksgiving, as a way of starting an ongoing conversation about gratitude.

4. Encourage youth to reach out to friends and family members

Young people may not know what their purpose is, but the adults in their lives may have a pretty good idea. Encourage youth to send emails to or strike up a conversation with at least five adults who know them well, asking: (1) What do you think I’m particularly good at? What are my greatest strengths? (2) What do you think I really enjoy doing? When do you think I’m most engaged? (3) How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world?

You can help by encouraging the recipients of these emails or other friends and family members to respond. They don’t need to spend more than five minutes doing so; what you want are their gut reactions. The responses youth receive can be very eye-opening. Youth tend to learn quite a bit about their purpose when they hear what others think it might be.

5. Focus on the far horizon

All too often, our conversations with adolescents focus on the here and now. Did you finish your homework? Which colleges are you applying to? Are you ready for your physics test? Instead, broach conversations that focus on the bigger picture. Ask youth to imagine things have gone as well as they could have hoped, and now they’re 40 years of age. What will they be doing? Who will be in their life? What will be important to them? Why?

This long-term thinking helps youth focus on what it is they want out of life. And don’t forget the whys; purposes often appear in the whys.

Single mamas are raising awesome kids—and research confirms it

Annamarya Scaccia |


Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and every single one deserves to be celebrated. But that unequivocal truth hasn't stopped some people from believing kids need two parents in order to thrive. We all know that's not true—shout out to all those amazing single parents!—and now research confirms children raised in single-mother-by-choice households excel just as much as their peers.

In July 2017, researchers from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Belgium released a study that shows children raised by women who choose to be single mothers (women, for example, who became pregnant using a sperm donor), are as well off as kids in opposite-sex, two-parent households.

Here's what the study found:

There were no significant differences in emotional involvement or parental stress between family types. Single-mothers-by-choice showed significantly higher scores on the social support they received, but also on wanting more social support. There were no significant differences in the children's internal and external problem behavior (well-being) between both family types.

In other words: All of the kids are alright.

Of course, there's a lot of research talks about why single-parent households aren't ideal for children. But those findings could be contributed to dynamics, not make-up, investigator Mathilde Brewaeys, one of the study's researchers, suggests to Science Daily.

"The assumption that growing up in a family without a father is not good for the child is based mainly on research into children whose parents are divorced and who thus have experienced parental conflict," Brewaeys said. “However, it seems likely that any negative influence on child development depends more on a troubled parent-child relationship and not on the absence of a father."

More and more women are choosing to be single parents nowadays because they know they want kids and they refuse to let other people's stereotypes get in the way.

Of course, some family experts have raised alarm bells about the growth in single parenthood, but this new research starts to allay those concerns.

It suggests that if you become a single mother by choice—your kids are going to be just fine.

Really, in the end, every type of family is pretty awesome—whether you're a single parent, a blended family, in a marriage or just a really awesome aunt.

We live in a day and age that recognizes all the amazing ways that families are made—and that's so beautiful.

How to Talk to Teens: 3 Ways to Get Your Teen to Listen


Megan Devine, LCPC |

You know the drill: you’re trying to talk to your teen about curfew. Or dinner. Or absolutely anything—and they pretend they can’t hear you. They start an argument with you, or give you an eye roll and a “Whatever.” Or they turn up their music. They won’t lift their eyes from their screens. They scoff or grunt in your general direction. There’s no eye contact, no acknowledgement, and absolutely no hint of, “Yes, Mom, I understand what you’re saying to me.”

Why It Can Be So Hard to Communicate with Teens

Look, defiance and annoying behavior is par for the course when you’re parenting teens. I’m not talking about abusive behavior; I mean those little everyday acts of defiance. This is when your child tunes you out, rolls their eyes, and refuses to speak clearly in whole sentences. Do you know why teens do this?  They do it because they CAN!

Understand that ignoring you gives your child a sense of power. As James and Janet Lehman tell parents, “Your kids watch you for a living.” In other words, they know what pushes your buttons. Ignoring you makes them feel as if they have a little bit of control in a situation where they might feel they have none. One of the only things entirely in their control is where they focus their attention. They tune you out because they can; they do it because you can’t force them to listen.

“Your teen tunes you out because he can—after all, you can’t force him to listen.”

The trick here for parents is not to engage in the battle of inattention. As with any power struggle, the more you try to make your teen behave the way you want, the more your child will resist. If you get into an argument about his rude indifference, rather than (for example) about following curfew, in a sense your child wins. This is because he’s moved you off of the curfew issue (where he actually doesn’t have any power) and into an arena where he does have power: choosing to ignore you.

In other words, if your teen can draw you into a power struggle, he won’t have to hear about the rules. If your tween daughter can appear to not be listening, she can later claim complete lack of knowledge of the rules. And if they’re clearly not listening to you, how can they be held accountable? They may as well stick their fingers in their ears, shut their eyes tight, and say “La la la la la—I can’t hear you!” like an over-grown toddler.

Power Struggles, Rudeness and Indifference

Given that feigning indifference and refusing to engage in polite conversation is typical during the teen years, how can you effectively communicate with your kids so they will hear you?

Here’s one way to deal with your teen’s lack of listening skills: act as if they hear you. If you know your child has no hearing deficiency and does not currently have ear phones on—and you are speaking clearly in a language she also speaks—assume she can hear you. Look at her and state your rules and expectations clearly and calmly: “In order to have the car in the morning, you have to be back home by 9 pm tonight. I know you want the privilege of driving, so be sure you make it home by 9.”

If she claims she didn’t hear you when she wanders in at five past ten, instead of arguing about her listening skills, you can say: “You know the rules. You didn’t make it home by nine, so no car in the morning. You get to try again tomorrow night. In by 9, you get the car the following day.” Don’t get sucked into a power struggle with her. If she tries to pull you in, turn around and leave the room.

See how that works? When you sidestep the power struggle over communication styles, you are able to focus on the topic at hand and deliver your expectations clearly. Do what you can to be clear and direct, even when talking to the back of your child’s head as she stares at a cell phone screen. Then hold her accountable for her choices. Don’t debate whether or not she heard you—that’s a detour conversation, and it won’t get you to where you need to be.

If holding your child accountable routinely devolves into your teen saying “But I didn’t hear you!” you could have a brief discussion about paying attention and how she might listen differently next time. Remember, if you keep your cool and stay focused, everything is teachable.

To be sure your message is coming through loud and clear, remember these tips:

1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

What’s your goal? What is the one piece of information you want to relay to your child? State your information clearly and don’t allow your child to drag you off course.

2. Don’t Take It Personally

When your child ignores you, yells at you or pretends not to hear, remember that he’s trying to feel more powerful in this situation. Remind yourself that a power struggle or screaming match will only make things worse. Even if you’re annoyed, keep calm and state the facts. If he tries to pull you in, turn around and leave. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

3. Don’t Debate Your Rules

If your teen lobs a zinger at you in order to start an argument, keep the conversation focused on your expectations, not on your teen’s ideas about fairness. The truth is, if you argue about your rules with your teen, it leads him to believe the rules are changeable. Instead, stick with the facts: “I know you disagree with the rules, and you’d rather not listen to me. The truth is, you don’t have to like the rules—you just have to find a way to follow them.”

Remember, keep your cool, stay focused on the issue at hand and don’t let your child knock you off topic. Believe me, your teen knows that eye rolling, muttering under his breath and having a bad attitude irritate you. He’s doing it on purpose. The more you insist that he demonstrates “active listening” (in other words, paying attention politely and acknowledging your request), the more he will fight to ignore you. Don’t go there. Repeat this mantra: “Power struggles are never a good use of my time.”

Parenting in the Age of Texting

I’m personally not a fan of parenting-by-text. I know, I know: some people swear by it. Some parents even have whole conversations with their teens about rules and expectations via text. You might even feel like, if it weren’t for texts, you’d never have any contact with your child at all.

While it’s true that text messages can be a good way to keep in touch with your teen, I would encourage you to have more important conversations in person. Do the big work of presenting rules, consequences, and expected behavior when you and your teen are in the same room. Try to stick with the phone for quick reminders and encouragement. For example, this text: “I know you want the car in the morning, so remember to get yourself home by 9,” is a better use of texting than a whole long argument about why your daughter needs to be home, threatening to take away the car, or trying to get her to engage in dialogue with you about other things. There’s just too much room for misinterpretation, claims of “not getting that text,” and all sorts of other things that get in the way of clear, direct communication.  Bottom line? Use text messages as reminders of your expectations, not as a way to discuss your expectations.

What You Can Control: Your Own Response

When your child moves beyond the silent treatment and yells or fights with you, it’s even more important to control your own responses. Remember, all through The Total Transformation Program, James Lehman says, “There’s no excuse for abuse.” There’s no reason to keep engaging with your teen if they’re being verbally abusive. An effective way to deal with this situation is to say: “Don’t talk to me like that; I don’t like it. The rules don’t change just because you yell at me about them.”

If yelling and abusive language is an ongoing issue in your  family, please check out these articles on targeting that behavior:

Angry Child Outbursts: The 10 Rules of Dealing with an Angry Child

Kids Who are Verbally Abusive, Part 1: The Creation of a Defiant Child

Kids Who are Verbally Abusive, Part 2: How to Stop Threats and Verbal Abuse

If you need help navigating the challenging obstacles that make up the teen years, remember that our parent coaches are here for you. They’ve helped thousands of families just like yours to come up with sensible, effective solutions to tough parenting problems. And the best part? They’re super great listeners – you’ll never have to fight to be heard!

50 Ways to Be a Fantastic Parent

Barrie Gillies |

We've gathered our all-time favorite nuggets of advice from our board of advisors in one outstanding article that will have a profound effect on your whole family.


Set Smart Limits

Take charge. Children crave limits, which help them understand and manage an often confusing world. Show your love by setting boundaries so your kids can explore and discover their passions safely.

Don't clip your child's wings. Your toddler's mission in life is to gain independence. So when she's developmentally capable of putting her toys away, clearing her plate from the table, and dressing herself, let her. Giving a child responsibility is good for her self-esteem (and your sanity!).

Don't try to fix everything. Give young kids a chance to find their own solutions. When you lovingly acknowledge a child's minor frustrations without immediately rushing in to save her, you teach her self-reliance and resilience.

Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.

Pick your battles. Kids can't absorb too many rules without turning off completely. Forget arguing about little stuff like fashion choices and occasional potty language. Focus on the things that really matter -- that means no hitting, rude talk, or lying.

Positive, or authoritative, parents value mutual respect and being a good listener.

Create Your Own Quality Time

Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.

Read books together every day. Get started when he's a newborn; babies love listening to the sound of their parents' voices. Cuddling up with your child and a book is a great bonding experience that will set him up for a lifetime of reading.

Schedule daily special time. Let your child choose an activity where you hang out together for 10 or 15 minutes with no interruptions. There's no better way for you to show your love.

Encourage daddy time. The greatest untapped resource available for improving the lives of our children is time with Dad -- early and often. Kids with engaged fathers do better in school, problem-solve more successfully, and generally cope better with whatever life throws at them.

Make warm memories. Your children will probably not remember anything that you say to them, but they will recall the family rituals -- like bedtimes and game night -- that you do together.

Be a Good Role Model

Be the role model your children deserve. Kids learn by watching their parents. Modeling appropriate, respectful, good behavior works much better than telling them what to do.

Fess up when you blow it. This is the best way to show your child how and when she should apologize.

Live a little greener. Show your kids how easy it is to care for the environment. Waste less, recycle, reuse, and conserve each day. Spend an afternoon picking up trash around the neighborhood.

Always tell the truth. It's how you want your child to behave, right?

Kiss and hug your spouse in front of the kids. Your marriage is the only example your child has of what an intimate relationship looks, feels, and sounds like. So it's your job to set a great standard.

Respect parenting differences. Support your spouse's basic approach to raising kids -- unless it's way out of line. Criticizing or arguing with your partner will do more harm to your marriage and your child's sense of security than if you accept standards that are different from your own.

Know the Best Ways to Praise

Give appropriate praise. Instead of simply saying, "You're great," try to be specific about what your child did to deserve the positive feedback. You might say, "Waiting until I was off the phone to ask for cookies was hard, and I really liked your patience."

Cheer the good stuff. When you notice your child doing something helpful or nice, let him know how you feel. It's a great way to reinforce good behavior so he's more likely to keep doing it.

Gossip about your kids. Fact: What we overhear is far more potent than what we are told directly. Make praise more effective by letting your child "catch" you whispering a compliment about him to Grandma, Dad, or even his teddy.

Trust Yourself

Give yourself a break. Hitting the drive-through when you're too tired to cook doesn't make you a bad parent.

Trust your mommy gut. No one knows your child better than you. Follow your instincts when it comes to his health and well-being. If you think something's wrong, chances are you're right.

Just say "No." Resist the urge to take on extra obligations at the office or become the Volunteer Queen at your child's school. You will never, ever regret spending more time with your children.

Don't accept disrespect from your child. Never allow her to be rude or say hurtful things to you or anyone else. If she does, tell her firmly that you will not tolerate any form of disrespect.

Pass along your plan. Mobilize the other caregivers in your child's life -- your spouse, grandparents, daycare worker, babysitter -- to help reinforce the values and the behavior you want to instill. This includes everything from saying thank you and being kind to not whining.

Don't Forget to Teach Social Skills

Ask your children three "you" questions every day. The art of conversation is an important social skill, but parents often neglect to teach it. Get a kid going with questions like, "Did you have fun at school?"; "What did you do at the party you went to?"; or "Where do you want to go tomorrow afternoon?"

Teach kids this bravery trick. Tell them to always notice the color of a person's eyes. Making eye contact will help a hesitant child appear more confident and will help any kid to be more assertive and less likely to be picked on.

Acknowledge your kid's strong emotions. When your child's meltdown is over, ask him, "How did that feel?" and "What do you think would make it better?" Then listen to him. He'll recover from a tantrum more easily if you let him talk it out.

Raise Grateful Kids

Show your child how to become a responsible citizen. Find ways to help others all year. Kids gain a sense of self-worth by volunteering in the community.

Don't raise a spoiled kid. Keep this thought in mind: Every child is a treasure, but no child is the center of the universe. Teach him accordingly.

Talk about what it means to be a good person. Start early: When you read bedtime stories, for example, ask your toddler whether characters are being mean or nice and explore why.

Explain to your kids why values are important. The simple answer: When you're kind, generous, honest, and respectful, you make the people around you feel good. More important, you feel good about yourself.

Set up a "gratitude circle" every night at dinner. Go around the table and take turns talking about the various people who were generous and kind to each of you that day. It may sound corny, but it makes everyone feel good.

Don't Stress About Dinner

Serve a food again and again. If your child rejects a new dish, don't give up hope. You may have to offer it another six, eight, or even 10 times before he eats it and decides he likes it.

Avoid food fights. A healthy child instinctively knows how much to eat. If he refuses to finish whatever food is on his plate, just let it go. He won't starve.

Eat at least one meal as a family each day. Sitting down at the table together is a relaxed way for everyone to connect -- a time to share happy news, talk about the day, or tell a silly joke. It also helps your kids develop healthy eating habits.

Let your kids place an order. Once a week, allow your children to choose what's for dinner and cook it for them.

Always Say "I Love You"

Love your children equally, but treat them uniquely. They're individuals.

Say "I love you" whenever you feel it, even if it's 743 times a day. You simply can not spoil a child with too many mushy words of affection and too many smooches. Not possible.

Keep in mind what grandmoms always say. Children are not yours, they are only lent to you for a time. In those fleeting years, do your best to help them grow up to be good people.

Savor the moments. Yes, parenthood is the most exhausting job on the planet. Yes, your house is a mess, the laundry's piled up, and the dog needs to be walked. But your kid just laughed. Enjoy it now -- it will be over far too fast.

Boost Brainpower & Physical Activity

Teach your baby to sign. Just because a child can't talk doesn't mean there isn't lots that she'd like to say. Simple signs can help you know what she needs and even how she feels well before she has the words to tell you -- a great way to reduce frustration.

Keep the tube in the family room. Research has repeatedly shown that children with a TV in their bedroom weigh more, sleep less, and have lower grades and poorer social skills. P.S. Parents with a television in their bedroom have sex less often.

Get kids moving. The latest research shows that brain development in young children may be linked to their activity level. Place your baby on her tummy several times during the day, let your toddler walk instead of ride in her stroller, and create opportunities for your older child to get plenty of exercise.

Health Advice All Parents Should Follow

Get your kids vaccinated. Outbreaks of measles and other diseases still occur in our country and throughout the world.

Protect that smile. Encouraging your kid to brush twice a day with a dab of fluoride toothpaste will guard against cavities.

Be vigilant about safety. Babyproof your home thoroughly, and never leave a child under 5 in the tub alone. Make sure car seats are installed correctly, and insist that your child wear a helmet when riding his bike or scooter.

Listen to the doc. If your pediatrician thinks your kid's fever is caused by a virus, don't push for antibiotics. The best medicine may be rest, lots of fluids, and a little TLC. Overprescribing antibiotics can cause medical problems for your child and increase the chances of creating superbugs that resist treatment.

Keep sunblock next to your kid's toothpasteApply it every day as part of the morning routine. It'll become as natural as brushing her teeth.

Put your baby to bed drowsy but still awake. This helps your child learn to soothe himself to sleep and prevents bedtime problems down the line.

Know when to toilet train. Look for these two signs that your child is ready to use the potty: He senses the urge to pee and poop (this is different from knowing that he's already gone), and he asks for a diaper change.

Children Never Deserve To Be Spanked (A rule with no exceptions)

Erica Settino |


In Junior High, I was approached by my favorite teacher, Mrs. Drake. She wanted to know if I was okay. I had changed, she said. She was worried that something might be troubling me.

I was tired, I told her, doing my best to shrug off her inquiry with an air of adolescent nonchalance. But the truth is, she was right. I had changed.

She didn’t push. Just offered her ear and any assistance I might need. Although I fantasized about telling her everything – all my dark secrets finally laid bare – I never took her up on her offer. Instead, I began to practice the fine art of blending in.

When other kids laughed at her jokes I painted a smile on my face. When she called on me, I answered with confidence; meeting the expectations of an advanced placement English class with my usual relative ease. For all intents and purposes, within two weeks of her inquiry I was back to “normal” and she never questioned me again.

It’s an unwritten rule that children who are abused do not talk about it.

My theory is that that’s because most often, the people who are mistreating—and yes, abusing—us are the same people we thought we could trust unequivocally. And as it turns out, we were wrong.

Why would we risk the unknown—and therefore very scary—consequences of telling anyone else when the people who are supposed to love and protect us are, in essence, through their behavior, letting us know that we are unworthy of both?

It pains me to admit that by the time Mrs. Drake approached me I was afraid to be at home. The truth is, I never knew what to expect or what version of my mother and step-father I was going to meet. Sometimes, the anxiety of not knowing was worse than the reality of who showed up.

That kind of mistrust and insecurity for a child leads to an indescribable loneliness.

That was the year that, despite my popularity and group of wonderful friends, I began to believe that I could not rely on anyone but myself.

At this point you’re probably thinking that I had it really rough. That I must come from a place of severe abuse to have felt so isolated and despaired. I guess that would depend upon your definition of abuse.

If, like me, you believe that practices such as spanking, pulling hair, washing mouths out with soap, and locking a distressed child in her room until “she calms down” only to have her vomit all over herself are abuse, then you’d be right. But let’s be clear, mistreatment and abuse take many, many forms.

For instance, the threat of violence, which is what I dealt with from my step-father much more than actual physical violence, is as menacing and as cruel as any of the actual slaps I endured. To create and feed that kind of fear in a child, so that s/he must always be on high alert, can result in an, at times, crippling anxiety.

The changes that Mrs. Drake so astutely observed in me were a direct result of that kind of anxiety. The kind that, at first, frightened me. And then saddened me until I had no choice but to harden myself against all the pain I had been forced to endure. Eventually, I was unable to feel anything more than a white hot anger and burning resentment that fuelled, what I thought at the time was my survival, but what I now know was the beginning of my slow and arduous descent into shame and self-loathing.

In some countries corporal punishment is now illegal. And in most western nations in recent decades, the notion that we have the right to strike our children is considered abhorrent; we assume that nobody does it anymore. Yet, the data shows otherwise.

In the U.S, more than 109,000 students were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished in schools in 2014, according to Education Week Research Center analyses of federal civil rights data. Corporal punishment remains legal in 19 U.S states and is actively implemented in over 4000 schools.

Although the number of parents who spank their children at home is declining, it is heartbreaking to read that a 2013 Harris Poll found that among those with a child in the household, seventy eight percent believe that spanking is sometimes appropriate.

Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now entering the arena, with a 2018 policy statement strongly disapproving of all forms of corporal punishment, including yelling at and shaming children.

As parents, we are change makers, so I implore all parents to think again.

For I promise that to your child, it is the not severity or regularity of spanking that will impact them the most, but the fact that it happens at all.

All any child wants—and most definitely needs—is to feel safe and secure. It is the most basic of biological needs. All living beings need a strong foundation from which to grow and thrive. A parent’s words and actions can either nourish the soil of possibility or poison it.

It has taken years of painful and exhausting work for me to find healing and forgiveness. If you know me today you know that I have a close relationship with my mother. But it didn’t—and sometimes still doesn’t—come easily.

No matter how many times my mother has apologized, or my step-father had taken responsibility for his actions before he passed away, I still battle with resentment and anger, and a deep sadness. So much so, that at times I have had to distance myself from my mother, as recently as when my three-year-old son was born.

The truth is, because of the things that went on in my childhood, regardless of how often, the relationship I have with my parents today always feels somewhat tenuous; as though it could break at any moment if I let it. Sadly, unless I continuously choose to practice forgiveness and offer compassion for them as imperfect people I sometimes think I could let them go forever.

And that is not something I ever want my son to feel. I don’t want to give him any reason to feel like his life might be better or easier without me in it, no matter how old he is. Nothing is more important to me than connection; than the sense of safety, security, and love it provides and that my son so desperately needs and deserves.

Spanking, yelling, threatening violence of any kind, timeouts and isolation all lead to disconnection and distrust.

We know that these behaviors do not produce the parent’s desired effect, but instead contribute to aggression, self-destructive behaviors, and low self-esteem amongst other things. Most assuredly, they lead to a child distancing themselves from the people with whom they are meant to be closest. And sometimes, you just can’t bridge that gap again. No matter what.

A Pediatrician Just Laid Out How to Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse—And She’s Begging You to Listen

Jenny Rapson |


Recently, a good friend of mine shared a Facebook post by one of her friends, who happens to be a pediatrician. The post was on something that should be of interest to ALL parents: child sexual abuse; specifically, when it happens, where it happens, and WHO victimizes our kids and how to talk to your kids about it and PREVENT it.

I was immediately moved by the excellence of this information and asked if I could re-publish it here. The author, Dr. Tobi Adeyeye Amosun, replied: PLEASE republish this. Her invaluable post is below, and I urge you moms and dads: take it to heart. Follow the good doctor’s advice and talk with your kids, too.


Without going into graphic details, I probably get about 1-2 kids a month in my office who have been sexually abused or molested. I will address each of the things that I mentioned above in light of the most common scenarios I’ve seen.

1. The location of an incident [of sexual abuse] is likely to be at a place where you are familiar.

Places where I’ve heard of this happening: known family members and friends are far and away the most common. Perpetrators ages ranging from young teens to adults. It is almost always a male cousin, known neighbor, friend’s older brother/cousin, babysitter, father/stepfather, uncle or mom’s boyfriend. Occasionally it is a female, but that’s rare unless she is grooming the kids to have access to someone else. Church youth group is the number two location, usually because there is less supervision. School, camp and sports are the other locations, but less likely unless there are kids allowed to be alone with teachers and coaches. Ask the schools and coaches and churches what their safety plans are to protect kids. It’s never perfect, but I feel at least they know there are aware parents and it helps keep everyone accountable.

2. Slumber parties: I wanted to address this separately because of it being a sensitive subject.

My daughter is allowed to go to a select few friends’ homes (like five families) for sleepovers. Never parents that I don’t know extremely well, which means she doesn’t get to sleep over at school friends’ homes. Never large groups of kids, where one kid being separated might not be noticed. That said, I can’t tell you how many times patients tell me the first time they were touched inappropriately or the first time they saw pornography was during a sleepover. I only get one chance to raise my kids and I’d rather be a mean parent who is no fun than have the other possibility.

3. Please use appropriate anatomical terms for body parts.

Eyes are eyes, knees are knees and penises are penises (proceed with the pearl clutching). Don’t use cutesy names or vague names like booty or wee wee or cookie or treasure. It confuses the matter in case something needs to be reported. It also destigmatizes those body parts.

4. “Safe touch” vs. “bad touch”: make sure kids know which is which.

Safe touches I usually teach are the ones that are in areas not covered by your bathing suit, like shoulders, head and feet. Safe touches are also those that make you feel calm and safe, like a hug from your mom. Bad touches are those in the areas that are covered up by underwear. They are also the ones that make you feel nervous, scared or worried. If a bigger person is touching you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, that is a bad touch. Always tell your parents or other adult about bad touches. And let kids know there should never be secrets between kids and adults and that they will NEVER get in trouble for telling someone.

5. “Stranger danger” is a fallacy.

The vast majority of the time someone who molests a child is known to the family. Beware of so-called “grooming behaviors”. This is usually from an adult male (or female) who ingratiates themselves to the child and family to lower their defenses. Usually they will try to establish a trusting relationship with the family and seek opportunities to be alone with kids. They do this so that any accusations from the child will seem made up. This has happened in almost every situation I have seen.

6. Be aware of what kids are looking at on smartphones and tablets.

Especially from their friends whose parents may not monitor things so closely. I usually tell parents at every preteen and above well check that as long as they are paying for the phone and the kid is under 18, it is their responsibility to monitor their child’s activities in social media, texting, etc. There are so many really clever ways for kids to hide their activity online and parents are almost always behind the 8 ball on this.

7. Most importantly, trust your gut.

If someone seems a little off or a little too nice to your kids, trust yourself and keep your kids out of any situations where they would be alone with that person. We have all been in situations where you just want to be polite, even when someone is giving you the heebie jeebies. There is a great book called “The Gift of Fear” that talks about people forgetting to trust their intuition in potentially dangerous situations and why there are times when you need to listen to that spirit of discernment.

I don’t lock my kids up and throw away the key, as much as I would love to protect them forever. But these are hopefully some practical tips as a mom and pediatrician to make your kids feel safe and to highlight some potentially dangerous situations. By the way, we start this conversation around 3 or 4 years old in our house.