Where thoughtful parenting replaces impulsive parenting

Cooperation Counts

  • Image credit: Canton Public Library

    Image credit: Canton Public Library

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    In Parenting Land, things don’t always turn out the way we would like.  Adjusting our expectations can be challenging, but extremely useful.  Recently, I received the following comments from a Mom who describes this beautifully.

    “My best story to share is one that I may normally have been very upset by, but am looking to put the positive spin on it!  We got ready Saturday afternoon with the plan to go outside and do some yard cleanup.  The cleanup  was mostly to dismantle some fairy houses that had been constructed over last summer.  They were mostly designed by Adrienne and her cousins, but the cousins had long ago returned to their home in Colorado.  Adrienne was really adamant about NOT helping out.  She started to get very angry and let us know loudly that she did not want to be around us, and she only helped for about 10 minutes.  Usually, Adrienne would think nothing of revving up which often included High Drama.

    Later I had a chance to talk to her, and said, “I know how angry you were about not wanting to help out, but what I was happy about was that you did not hit anyone, break anything or do anything physical because of your anger”.

    That is the victory- for Adrienne, and also for me.  She was angry, but managed it safely, and it was the same for me!

    Of course, I would have liked for her to help.  I remember growing up and my sister almost never pitched in outside for family raking, yard work or wood stacking.  It was a big bone of contention and I never understood why…but she never changed.  Thankfully, she is a pretty successful adult.  It is possible that Adrienne may never be a helper  in family projects.  I figure that encouraging her whenever she does something even small in the right direction will help.  Making this choice was definitely not easy for me, but I’m glad I decided to handle it this way. ”

    Some might say that Mom ‘gave in’, but what really happened was that she was thoughtful about the choice she made, and deciding to adjust  her original expectation turned out just fine!

    Looking Beyond The Behaviors

    January 28th, 2015
    Looking out on the water

    Image credit: kusito

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    Adults need to be able to look at ourselves in order to understand the emotions and behaviors of our children.  History, personality, relationships and situations are all extremely complicated, and often get in the way of our wonderful intentions—mostly because we are  human!
    When kids behave in challenging ways, there is always more going on than just the behaviors. It is the adults’ job to figure out 1) how not to make things worse  2) how to calm our own emotions and 3) how to emotionally connect with our kids in ways that really matter. There is no doubt that this is a tall order.

    Having access to strategies that replace Parent/Child War is vital, and that’s where collaborating with a professional, other experienced parents, and exploring the wealth of parenting information available by the click of a mouse comes in handy.

    Being a parent is never easy.  Being a child is never easy, but there are many ways to address the challenging tough times while preserving dignity and respect for all ages.

    Can this be accomplished in an instant?  Certainly not.  Is it worthwhile to consider what is emotionally needed instead of getting stuck in the obvious behavior?

    The answer to that is a resounding YES!

    Children Fighting

    Img Credit: Aislinn Ritchie

    by Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    An upset Mom recently shared this classic scene involving her two 7 and 9 yr. old children in their pediatrician’s office. It all started outside the office, and as is usually the case, when we wish that we were alone, we have an audience!  Sure enough, upon entering the office it was filled with waiting families.  Mom took in the scene of who looked to her like well-behaved children waiting patiently with their adults. This was clearly the opposite description of her own two who were revving up with every passing second.

    Mom: “Stop it right now!  I told you to behave when we got here, and look what you’re doing!  STOP THAT FIGHTING RIGHT NOW! Everybody is looking at us!”

    Child #1:  “It’s HIS fault!”
    Child #2: “It’s HIS fault!.”
    From both children in loud, ragged chorus:  “STOP IT. I HATE YOU!!!”

    Outcome:  Mom felt embarrassed, frustrated, annoyed, angry, exhausted, and clearly not her best self. The kids continued their loud war.

    As we took a look at this sad scene in a family therapy session, there was agreement that there is no magic wand to wave over kids that will create instant angels. That leaves change of any kind landing squarely on the shoulders of the exhausted adults. Now what?

    There are many possibilities, among them:

    Take the kids out and ‘start over’.

    Give out hugs to the squabbling sibs in an effort towards settling.

    Speak in a calm voice with very few words—even though it’s tempting to do the exact opposite.

    Ignore the ‘audience’ in the Drs. Office.  Remember that they have all seen such scenes!  What they will see in this one is loud kids, but not a loud adult. The ‘looks’ might even mean admiration, not the opposite.

    After the event, when nothing particular is happening and everyone is calm, process the happening.  Listen—and really hear—each child’s thoughts.  Replies can be restricted  to “I see”. “I get it.” “That was tough when you were so mad at your brother, and you were being told to settle down.” “Do you have any ideas about how to make it different when you get so mad the next time?”

    If the kids are part of the solution, there is a better chance they might go along with the problem-solving.  If they are told what to do, positive participation may be elusive.

    It’s easy to give in to adult frustration, but it is likely that more thoughtful responses are called for with a chance for a better outcome.  And we all like better outcomes!

    Smiling Grandfather

    Image Credit: Dalton Reed

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    One evening during a parent meeting, we were addressing the alluring topic of when, if or how to jump into the all-too-typical scene when kids are screaming for us to run to their rescue to solve this or that problem.  The specific scene we were considering was with two sisters, but the issue can easily be translated to solo or group screams.

    I offered the following as a discussion topic:  “It is almost never a good idea to offer solutions to problems when anyone is upset.”

    And “When kids are a part of their own solutions, they are more likely to accept them.”

    I noticed the grandfather in our little group nodding and smiling, and then he said with a twinkle in his eye, “You know, they just don’t seem to appreciate our wisdom.”

    Sometimes just waiting, or even encouraging the kids to ‘work it out’ might be the best path. More importantly, let’s remember to keep that all-important ‘twinkle’!

    Negative Nagging

    November 17th, 2014
    arguing penguins

    image credit: Adam Arroyo

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    In the spirit of wanting the kids to complete a book report, be on time for school, set the table, be kind to a sibling and many more dreams on parental wish lists negative nagging often creeps into the picture.
    Nagging does not usually have positive  outcomes. It takes a good deal of self-control not to nag,  but it can be done.


    Consider the following:

    1.  Find ways to connect with the kids- during quiet times.  A calm, emotionally filled up child has a better chance to decide to cooperate.
    2.  Take a break from the serious stuff and head for some humor.
    3.  Announce the fact that we (adults) are going to start over, and do it.

    I don’t know anyone who likes to be a nagger or for that matter to be the one who is nagged so shifting gears away from such negativity has a much better chance for a better outcome!

    Talking to the air

    October 19th, 2014
    Image Credit: p. Gordon

    Image Credit: p. Gordon

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    Does it ever feel like when we are talking to the kids it’s like talking to the air?

    Connecting with kids in positive ways is vital, but heading in that direction can call for some pretty fancy creativity.

    The goal is to communicate in such a way as to avoid kids holding their ears and dashing away on other VERY important missions. Kids seem to have fine tuned the art of refusing to listen to adults who are 100% sure that they are making perfect sense, but for the kids this can be in the not-so-much category.

    The ideal location for adult eyes when using this method is in the direction of ‘up’.

    “I can’t imagine why Fred hates to eat anything on his plate that’s green!  He used to be so brave about such things.  I wonder if sometime he might be willing to substitute something orange or perhaps even red.  Hmmmmm.  Well, I KNOW that he is a brave guy, so maybe he would.”

    *  * *

    “Oh that poor cat….needing to step into a poopy box.  She will be SO happy when she has a clean potty place.  I wonder when Karen will decide to help her out.  That would be so nice of her.”

    Compassion and creativity rather than confrontation can accomplish the longed for staying out of traps and no-win power struggles.  Parental wish lists including the kids deciding to eat green vegetables and our dear pet being able to put her paws into a clean box might or might not happen, but then again it might…




    Image Credit: Melody Campbell

    Image Credit: Melody Campbell

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    Wouldn’t it be nice if kids decided to ‘step it up’ when asked to do something?  Even if our kids-of-any age decided to cooperate more than just occasionally, parents everywhere would be doing the happy dance!  Adults work really hard at helping everyone to make it through the day without major disaster, but somehow the longed for effect often stays stuck on the all important Wish List.

    These wishes are not complicated.  Mostly, requests are in the real world of asking to set the table, get dressed, turn phones and computers off after a certain time, being respectful, etc. When kids do not enthusiastically spring into action, adults are often left with a headache, and not in the best of moods.  This is where things can go south at lightning speed.

    The truth is that adults hold the keys to success, and this does not always mean there will be perfect cooperation. Success can mean so many things, including parents being mindful of kids’ emotional needs at that moment. But there are many things that all adults can do in the incredibly complicated area of getting through the tough times without inadvertently making things worse, and heading for the closeness with our children that we all long for.  Here are a few ideas to consider:

    Use only a few words.  Most kids are not interested in reasonable, intricate information about why it is a healthy move to turn off video games.

    Insist on noticing and celebrating the kids’ good choices. This turns out to be fun for the adults, too!

    Respond to nasty negatives in playful ways. It is tempting, but ineffective to react to refusals, evil words, drama, etc. with anger, lectures, threats or frustration.  Changing the ‘climate’ might not produce instant sunshine (although it could), but avoiding a big storm does have its advantages.

    Yes, it WOULD be nice if the kids just decided to behave, but even if they don’t, finding ways to move on can make all the difference!


    “HURRY UP!”

    August 15th, 2014
    Img credit: ronwalf

    Img credit: ronwalf

    By Jean Hamburg, Licsw

    We hear it every day.  We shout it every day:  “HURRY UP!”.  The key word here is ‘shout’. One of the problems with this scene is that everyone shuts out the other and instead of hurrying up, there is often a slowing down.

    So what can get the ‘slower than a herd of turtles’ group to decide to step it up?  It is certainly clear about what does NOT work, including  yelling, threatening, insisting, punishing, begging, and bribing.  So now what?

    Consider noticing when a child of any age decides to move quickly. “You got ready SO fast for soccer practice.  Incredible!”  And, “You are the fastest one in the house getting your shoes on!”

    Or what about ‘playing dumb’?  “I wonder what would happen if you decide to be late for play practice?”  Kids often will say ‘Nothing’.  And in the spirit of ‘playing dumb’, adults can go about their business casually.  “Oh, OK.  I’ll be in the kitchen until you’re ready.”  And then go there!

    How about a playful approach?  “This getting dressed thing is going so slowly, it looks like there’s time for me to take a nap!”  And lie down on the floor ……and snore……loudly!”  Then, in a very groggy voice, “I’m sure somebody will let me know when everyone is ready.  I’m SO TIRED!!!”

    At a time when nothing is ‘going on’, and  there is no necessity of a departure, “ I’m so curious.  What was that all about this morning when you would NOT get dressed?”   And listen as well as respect whatever the answer might be—whether or not it makes sense.

    Or how about setting up a ‘meeting’ where everyone is looking for help from the kids—help to find answers to the mystery of how long it takes to get out of the house.  This is otherwise called ‘problem-solving’, and it is a known fact that when kids are involved in solutions, there is a higher chance of ongoing cooperation.

    Inevitably, there will be the sad scene of actually being late.  Adults can remain empathetic, and make a big deal out of noticing the one(s) who were ready on time, but were late due to the dilly dallying of one.

    Next time, “If anyone wants to be on time, the car will need to leave in (fill in the blank) minutes.”

    And then there is the age-old parental phrase, ‘I’ll be waiting in the car.”  And go there!  This gets the adults out of harm’s way, and that certainly counts!

    The Beauty of a Time-Out

    July 16th, 2014
    Calm lake view

    Image Credit: Chris Jones

    by Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    Throughout my adult years, I have often wished for someone to tell me  ‘Go to your room and take a time-out!”  A few years ago the  proverbial light bulb turned on as I put some thought into what a time-out is really all about.

    I believe that a time-out is NOT: for teaching a lesson; insisting that kids describe the horrendous deed that led up to it; what they should have done differently; or the lesson they had learned, followed by a usually superficial apology.

    I believe that a time-out IS: simply a chance to take a  break. For kids, it is a way to re-group.  For adults, it is that as well, plus having the opportunity to imagine something nice, somewhere peaceful, even when the real scene is the exact opposite!

    There are many ways to facilitate respectfully taking a break, but one way could be as follows: Remembering to use ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ can head the statement away from the criticism and negativity that often create an even more chaotic scene.

    “I’m upset about the way I just heard you talk to me, so I’m going to take a quick break, and I’ll get back to you shortly.”

    This could mean anything from turning one’s head or even whole body in a direction that is not within eye contact of an ‘unreasonable’ child of any age. One might even decide to head for another room. In the spirit of believing that nothing can get settled in the middle of the ‘storm’, it is important to avoid words or adult theatrics of any kind.

    “I can hear myself starting to lecture you, and that’s not good for either of us.  I’m going to take a break, and I’ll get back to you.”

    Yes, going to one’s room could actually be a viable—even a preferable—option when there is ‘trouble’.

    Wish granted.



    image credit: LEOL30

    image credit: LEOL30

    By Jean
    Hamburg, LICSW


    In the heat of challenging moments, emotions for everyone often escalate.

    (age 15) has been more rude than anyone else in the entire history of her family!

    (age 12) has never before refused to go to school, but today she has definitely
    drawn the line and will not budge from her room!

    (age 9) has just bitten his 7 year old sister. And this is a Big Bite.  He has
    been furious with her in the past, but this came out of nowhere.

    (age 5) is having trouble sleeping.  She used to be the best sleeper in the
    house, but for the past few weeks, she says she is scared!

    (age 4) either clings to his parents and won’t let them out of his sight or
    sprints away when asked to stay nearby, with speeds that would make an Olympic
    champion take notice!


    Jumping in and trying to fix things hardly ever happens in the midst of the miserable
    moments. Even though it LOOKS like these scenes have to do with ‘behaviors’, usually,
    within the complexity of human nature and relationships, what is usually going
    on has to do with EMOTIONS. Addressing only the behavior is like putting a
    band-aid on a wound that really needs surgery.


    What can make a lasting difference is ‘filling up the kids emotionally’. But at the
    time of the often surprising ‘event’, puzzled parents may be tempted to lecture,
    punish, and threaten. 


    When the kids are told to Stop, they often take this as a message to Go!
    Replacing ‘stop’ with “I hear you” or “I’ll wait” makes more sense as nothing
    is likely to be resolved in the middle of Big Emotions.


    Instead, when everyone is calm, try “I’m so curious about why you decided to bite your


    This is when listening, and really hearing addresses the emotional
    needs of the kids. What works best are phrases like “Tell me more”; “Oh, I had
    no idea…..”, “I’m glad you let me know that’s what you were feeling.”


    Thinking of it this way might help:  If adults have had something terrible happen and in
    the aftermath we are not exactly being our best selves, we will probably become
    even more upset if someone says things like “Quit that attitude!”; “Snap out of
    it”; “Get a grip!” These responses are not likely the best way to soothe our


    So waiting for calm moments and then adding respectful listening can make all the
    difference.  After all, what really matters is getting past the troubles and
    having the pleasure of emotionally connecting with our kids!

    Contact Jean for consultation options at: jeanhamburg@comcast.net __1-877-813-0004

    Cooperation Counts (sm) is a service of Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    The Cooperation Counts program © 2002-2018 All Rights Reserved.

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