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Tips for Parents: Positive Discipline for Gifted Children

Gifted Parenting and Strategies

This article is from a seminar hosted by Jane Nelson, who provides advice related to the positive discipline of gifted students.

Author: Nelson, J.
Organization: Davidson Institute
Year: 2010

Participants were presented with four lessons that included topics, activities, homework, and journaling:

Lesson One:

  1. What do you want for your children?
  2. Two Lists Activity: What are your behavior challenges now and what characteristics and life skills to you hope to help your children develop?
  3. Learn to use challenges as an opportunity to use Positive Discipline Parenting Tools that help your children develop the characteristics and life skills you want for them.
  4. Participants received many non-punitive parenting tools related to specific challenges. The exciting thing about these non-punitive parenting tools is that they empowering and encourage children to develop valuable social and life skills for good character.
  5. Challenge: My Child Won’t Listen a. Stop telling (trying to stuff in through lectures and demands and start asking curiosity questions the invite thinking skills and cooperation. b. Simple Telling VS Asking Statements:

Telling Parent

  1. Go brush your teeth.
  2. Don’t forget your coat.
  3. Go to bed.
  4. Do your homework.
  5. Stop fighting with your brother.
  6. Put your dishes in the dishwasher.
  7. Hurry up and get dressed or you’ll miss the bus.
  8. Stop whining.
  9. Pick up your toys.

Asking Parent

  1. What do you need to do so your teeth won’t feel skuzzy?
  2. What are you taking so you won’t be cold outside?
  3. What is next in your bedtime routine chart?
  4. What is your plan for doing your homework?
  5. How can you and your brother solve this problem?
  6. What did we decide about what to do with our dishes when we have finished eating?
  7. What do you need to do so you can catch the bus on time?
  8. What words can you use so I can hear you?
  9. What is your responsibility when you are finished playing with your toys?

Some discussions regarding Curiosity Questions:

Participant 1: I really enjoyed reading this lesson. My son is actually a pretty good listener even though I am a teller. I am going to try your asking technique. It seems like a much more pleasant way to communicate. Maybe my always telling my son what to do explains why he is so bossy with everyone! I thought because he listens to us that there was no problem. Maybe I’m wrong?!

After last night, I am just more confused. I tried to pay attention to the asking/telling and I realized that when I order him around (telling) – feed the dogs, brush your teeth, take a shower, etc. He is very compliant and has no complaints and just does what I tell him. When I ask questions like – what do you want for dinner, did you feed the dogs, when is your math homework due, etc. That is when I get the horrible tone and attitude… If I point out the attitude to him it does stop, but will reappear later. Any question I ask can set him off. What is going on here?

Jane: Remember to think of the long-term results. It sounds as though your son is creating a “pleasing” personality. This can be very dangerous in the future when it is his peers he wants to please. When kids have made the “decision” that the way to belong is to please others, it is not easy to change, but important to create an environment where he can make new decisions. I want to give you a personal example that explains the “principle.”

When I was learning to sew, my mom would do the hard part such as putting in the zipper. I became used to this “slave labor” and would whine when she encouraged me to do it. She would give in and do it. One day I had a deadline to get a dress done and Mom wasn’t around to do the zipper. So I did it myself and felt so proud of myself. I felt “capable.”

When we do too much for children, we rob them of developing a belief in their own capability, but they don’t like giving up having things done for them in the beginning.

Participant 2: Thank you for Monday’s lesson. I realize I have a long way to go. Our behavior challenges are almost all in slide five [Challenges] and my ideal future is there too. I am hoping that by focusing this week on the asking technique we can make the progress we need to see the benefits for the future. I can see where my switch to “telling” once it looks like we are going to be late is hurting our morning routine.

Participant 3: So I ask ‘what is your plan for getting your work done?’ and he answers ‘I don’t know’. Or ‘You’re the mom, you tell me’. But when I make suggestions, he does not follow them.

Jane: I’ll be interested to hear more sharing as you try “asking” instead of “telling.” Some things to watch out for:

  1. Your tone of voice when asking. Does your tone of voice indicate that you have just found a way to attempt “disguising” a demand?
  2. Know that when you change your behavior, children often “up the ante,” to trying getting the response they are used to.
  3. When a child says, “I don’t know,” this just indicates that they haven’t had much “thinking” and “problem-solving” training. Your response could be something like, “Why don’t you think about it. I don’t you can be very good at problem-solving. You can tell me what you have come up with in an hour (or whatever time works for you both.
  4. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of your attitude. This is a good place for me to introduce the very important Positive Discipline concept of “Connection before Correction.” Children have to know you care before they care about what you know. You’ll hear about the excellent results when Marianne stopped “telling, begging, scolding, threatening, etc.” about her son peeing on the toilet seat and really “got” the importance of connection before correction.

Participant 4-success story: Getting my daughter (9) to finish her tasks to get ready for bed is very challenging, but not because she is being obstinate or not listening, but because she is so easily distracted. She will head to the bathroom to brush her teeth and find 5 other things that need her attention along the way. Tonight, instead of nagging and getting frustrated, I asked her what she still needed to do so that we could go read together before bed. It took asking her twice before she made it to the bathroom to do it, but she was very receptive to answering my question rather than getting annoyed with me for telling her what to do. Also, I think just saying the words aloud helped her to remember where she was going and why.

Jane: Thanks for sharing this. Isn’t it a lot more fun to “win” cooperation than to try forcing cooperation!!!

Participant 5: Last night I tried more asking questions and it led to a very nice talk. I’ve tried this in the past without success so I’m not entirely sure what I did differently, but it worked last night. I think I really stepped out of my judgmental role. I got some valuable insight into him and I do think he needs to be seeing a therapist. Oddly enough, we started going to a psychologist as a family over this issue of video games and it was the psychologist who got me to back off and since then my son has increased time on the games, school deteriorated etc.. I know he was trying to get me to “let him learn from his mistakes” and, oh boy, that is happening. I will start having my son see him by himself to deal with some self-esteem issues (so far he wants parents in the room with him). Thanks so much for this dialogue. I will check out the enabling versus empowering video. Sounds right up my alley.

Jane: Enabling vs. Empowering is a handout [available at under “free downloads”], not a video. I wish we had the empowering vs. enabling activity on video. It is so informative to watch the difference in the response of the person who role-plays the child who experiences the empowering and enabling statements.

You say you aren’t sure what you did differently and then you say exactly what you did differently–stepped out of your judgmental role. I hope everyone reads this. 🙂

Participant 6: It is a very good point that curiosity questions are not effective during the time of upset. And, remember that curiosity questions are just one Positive Discipline Tool. There are many more as introduced in Lesson 3. 🙂

This is just one example of the discussions and learning that took place when people participated in the four lessons that are still available.

Following are other discussions based on the lessons, a list of handouts that can be downloaded from the above mentioned website under “free downloads,” and recommended materials.

Mistaken Goal Chart (available under free downloads)

Jane: Participants, I invite you to look at feelings column on the Mistaken Goal Chart. What you feel in response to the behavior indicates the “mistaken goal” your children are choosing. Keeping in mind that the primary goal of all children is a sense of belonging and significance, they often choose a mistaken way to achieve belonging and significance when they feel discouraged. Until I have more details, I’m going to assume the “mistaken goal” is “misguided power.” When a child chooses this mistaken goal there are several reasons. Two of the main ones is that parents may be using their power is mistaken ways–making demands (even though seemingly reasonable), giving orders, lecturing. Another possibility is that children simply haven’t been given opportunities to use their power in “useful” ways. When you look at the Telling Vs Asking Activity in Lesson One, do you do too much “telling?” Even “asking” can sound like “telling” when you ask in order to get the answer you want. Asking is most effective when you are genuinely curious about the answers from your children. Look in the last column of the Mistaken Goal chart to find parenting tools that may be effective when the mistaken goal is misguided power.

Teeth brushing

Participant: Is there a time when you think it’s appropriate to pick up a child and bring them in to brush their teeth? I am trying to devote my time to neutral and positive comments instead of the power struggles we used to have. There are some things, such as brushing teeth and showering, that my son often has trouble doing even when we give five-minute warnings and use curiosity questions. I do not want to debate the merits of the activities or be drawn into a power struggle.

Jane: One thing to be aware of when using Positive Discipline is, “What are the long-term results?” Try getting into your child’s world. If your mom picked you up and took you to brush your teeth, what would you be thinking, feeling, and deciding? Most parents are not aware that children are always making decisions (even though not at a conscious level) and themselves, about others, and about what to do in the future. This is why their personalities are significantly formed by the time they are three. Some children who are force to brush their teeth might decide, “Okay, I don’t mind being forced.” Others might decide something like, “You can make me do this, but just wait until I get bigger and won’t let you force me to do anything.” Others might decide, “I’ll fight to the bitter end.” You could make up a hundred other decisions and wouldn’t come close to the many possible decisions children can make. You may “win” the battle, but lose in the long run. This is why I prefer “winning children over,” instead of “winning over children.” It would be interesting to hear how others have invited cooperation from their children re teeth brushing. Some ideas that have worked for others and me:

  1. We all go brush our teeth together and take turns putting the toothpaste on all the brushes.
  2. Teeth brushing is on my child’s bedtime and morning routine charts that he created. His chart shows a picture of him doing each task–including brushing his teeth. He loves to follow the routine he created. Sometimes I might say, “What is next on your routine chart,” and he enjoys telling me and then doing it.
  3. A humorous choice, “Do you want to brush your teeth or the dogs teeth?”

Participant: . . . Do you have suggestions for how to handle kids problem solving but then kids changing their solution so they can get out of the thing they do not want to do?

Jane: I want to point out that asking curiosity questions is not the only PD tool. 🙂 The way you describe problem solving sounds like you had all the solutions. 🙂 You set the timer, etc. It is okay to make suggestions, but when brainstorming, there should be more than one–and then you both eliminate the ones that won’t work for everyone, so that the one “he” chooses works for both of you. If he chooses the timer, teach him how to set it. Some other possibilities:

  1. 1. Create a ritual where everyone brushes teeth together. Give him the job of putting toothpaste on the brushes.
  2. Use your sense of humor: “Here comes the tickle monster to tickle kids who don’t brush their teeth.
  3. Let your dentist talk to him about brushing his teeth.
  4. My daughter said that what worked for her was that I gave her a choice. “If you brush your teeth and still get cavities, I’ll pay the dentist bill. If you don’t brush your teeth you might want to start a dental bill fund because you’ll pay if you get cavities.
  5. Decide what you will do: No sugar in the house because you don’t want to contribute to the increased possibility of cavities for people who don’t brush their teeth.

If none of these work, forget about teeth brushing for at least a week and find other ways, such as family meetings that start with compliments, so he gets lots of experience using his power in useful ways. This has obviously become a power struggle where he perceives that his only option is to win or to lose–and he isn’t about to lose. 🙂

Participant Success Story: Thank you. My YS just turned 8 and we had a great morning. I was concerned but took your advice to only give positive encouragement. I woke him up and he yelled at me. I asked if there was anything positive he could say and he asked if he could sleep longer. I asked if he could come into the living / eating area to rest and he slowly joined us.

After eating for a bit he got up and ran into his room. I found him on the floor building a new Lego person. I told him that I noticed he was playing with Lego but his plate was still on the table and then asked if he wanted anything else to eat. He said no and I asked if he would clear his plate. He came in and cleared his plate. Then I asked if we could floss his teeth because they must feel yucky after so long. He told me he had brushed last night (we were now in the bathroom) and I pointed to his toothbrush and said something like, “remember you were grumpy last night and went right to sleep.” He smiled when he saw his toothbrush and said, “I was really grumpy.” Then he let me floss his teeth and get him started brushing. Our dentist wants us to floss and brush for him once a day due to a dental issue he had earlier so it was hard for me to let go last night and just let him sleep.

I then touched his hair and asked what he thought we could do to make it clean and shiny. He came up with a bunch of suggestions including brushing it so I brushed his hair. After brushing his teeth he looked in the mirror pleased. I then pointed out a clean laundry basket with a pair of his pants in it and he went to get dressed. It was the easiest morning we’ve had in a long time. Before I dropped the kids off, I reminded them that I loved them and hoped they had a great day. I explained that I would be home late tonight and would be out tomorrow because I’m judging the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (I’m bummed that I will be away from my computer for so long during our seminar too).

Thank you again for your encouragement. You comments about how picking him up to take him to brush his teeth was only solving the problem in the short term helped me through the evening and morning. I hope I can keep this up. We are all much happier today.

Jane: It is always nice too hear success stories. I want to point out that a huge key is your attitude. I can tell that you are approaching him with a more respectful attitude (thinking of long-term results and making sure the message of love gets through). 🙂

Participant: Thanks for giving this seminar. I took one of yours in the past. In the beginning we started out being positive, but over the years of dealing with DD9’s outrageous behavior we have gotten into a vicious cycle of negativity that I find near impossible to break. I would love some tips on how to get out of it. Specifically, I have no more tolerance for any of her outbursts anymore, so at the first hint of trouble I lose my patience and tell her I can’t be with her and walk away. Not exactly positive. (By trouble, I mean all-out rages of the diagnosable kind, in response to any parental directive, change, transition, or anything that isn’t exactly what she imagines will or wants to have happen.) And walking away leads to its own set of chaos. Then I find myself berating her. How do I get my war-torn self out of this vicious cycle and back to being positive when she is so proficient at pushing my buttons?

Jane: If you refer to the mistaken goal chart, and to the feelings column, my guess is that you in a revenge cycle with your daughter. Again, I invite you to look at the long-term results of your “outbursts,” (walking away from her, berating her). This only exacerbates her sense of not belonging and feeling insignificant. So she fights for this sense of belonging and significance with every ounce of her being–in ways that hurt her as well as others. And then you hurt back.

In the 2006 edition of Positive Discipline, one of the major changes I made was to help parents understand how they contribute to most of the problems they complain about. I wanted to do this without creating a sense of blame and shame–just awareness.

Once parents become aware of how they contribute to the problem, they can be the “adults” and be the ones to step out of the revenge cycle.

I would like to suggest that for at least the rest of this week, you ignore all misbehavior and focus on loving and encouraging your daughter. When she has an outburst say, “I love you and would love a hug. Come find me when you are ready.” Then walk away with love, not anger. Allow her to have her feelings without you doing anything about it–except possibly to validate them. “I know you are angry. Me too. Let’s get back together when we both feel better.”

I know this sounds counter intuitive, but I’m pretty sure it will make a huge difference if you can pull it off. Children don’t misbehave when they feel a sense of belonging and significance.

A popular quote from Positive Discipline: “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?” Think of how you feel when someone berates you? Does it motivate you to do better? “Children do better when they feel better.” Helping children feel better does not mean giving in to them, or spoiling them. It means helping them feel a sense of belonging and significance–and helping them experience that they are capable.

Remember, adults need to learn to control their behavior before they can expect their children to control their behavior. 🙂

Participant: My YS is also very proficient at pushing my buttons. He has a large range of emotions that I am still trying to figure out. I’m amazed by how wonderful he is when he’s intellectually challenged at school. He comes home bubbling with excitement and basic routines are easy. Our most difficult times is when there is something he is anxious about or something that happened during the day that was difficult for him. I trying more positive techniques at home but do you have any suggestions on how to handle a child who already feels crappy about something that happened in their day that you did not see or know about? I’m asking as a parent who hasn’t mastered positive parenting yet so my child may not feel comforted telling me about or may not realize it’s affecting him as much as it is. Thanks!

Jane: One of the later lessons covers more detail about kids pushing our buttons, and how we go into our “reptilian brain” when that happens. For now you might want to check out the “Flip Your Lid” video on YouTube.

You point out so well that he is delightful when he feels a sense of belonging and significance, and goes “off kilter” when he feels discouraged. Be as encouraging as you can when he is discouraged. This might mean nothing more than validating his feelings and then stepping back while he works it out. In the long run, he’ll feel more capable once he learns that he can survive the ups and downs of life.

Participant: Thank you for taking the time to give this seminar. I have a ys who just turned 11, but often acts as though he were much younger. The especially disturbing problem that we are experiencing right now is lying, from small “I wish this had happened” types of lies to big, important, “I swear I did not do that” types of lies. Often he uses he said/he said on his younger brother to either create drama, or get his brother in trouble. I don’t see lying on the list, but am hoping to figure out an effective way of dealing with this. Thanks for the help!

Jane: There are many reasons for lying (even for adults). A few are: 1) To avoid embarrassment and a sense of humiliation, 2) To avoid punishment, 3) To avoid disappointing someone.

The most important thing parents can do is create a save environment where children feel safe to tell the truth. They may still lie to avoid embarrassment/humiliate or to avoid disappointing others (even though the lying invites disappointment). (Who said that private logic makes sense?) Following is an excerpt from the book, Positive Discipline A-Z, by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn.

Lying or Fabricating

“I don’t know how to get my child to stop lying. We have tried very hard to teach high moral standards. The more I punish him, the more he lies. I’m really worried.”

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

We have searched and searched and can’t find a single adult who never told a lie as a child. Actually we can’t find many adults who never lie now. Isn’t it interesting how upset parents get when children have not mastered a virtue they have not mastered themselves? We do not make this point to justify lying, but to show that children who lie are not defective or immoral. We need to deal with the reasons children lie before we can help them give up their need to lie. Usually children lie for the same reasons adults do–they feel trapped, are scared of punishment or rejection, feel threatened, or just think lying will make things easier for everyone. Often lying is a sign of low self esteem. People think they need to make themselves look better because they don’t know they are good enough as they are.

Fabrication is a normal part of early childhood as fantasy and reality tend to merge. Enjoy it and become part of the story whenever possible—you may end up with a creative child.


  1. 1. Stop asking set-up questions that invite lying. A set-up question is one to which you already know the answer. “Did you clean your room?” Instead say, “I notice you didn’t clean your room. Would you like to work on a plan for cleaning it?” Focus on solutions instead of blame. “What could we do about getting the chores done” instead of “Did you do your chores?
  2. A slight variation of saying what you notice when what your child is saying sounds more like fabrication than lying is to say what you think. “That sounds like a good story. You have such a good imagination. Tell me more about it.”
  3. Be honest yourself. Say, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Most of us don’t tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn’t safe to tell the truth? Why don’t we take some time off right now? Later I’ll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you.”
  4. Deal with the problem. Suppose your child tells you he hasn’t eaten when you know he has. Why would he say he hasn’t eaten? Is he still hungry? If he is still hungry, what does it matter if he has eaten or not? Work with him on a solution to deal with his hunger. Does he just want some attention? Deal with his need for attention by working together to find some time you can spend with each other. Does he just want to tell a story? Let him tell a story. Identify it for what it is, “That sounds like a good story. Tell me more.”
  5. Another possibility is to ignore the “lie” and help your child explore cause and effect through “curiosity” questions. When he says he hasn’t eaten all day, ask, “What happened? Anything else? How do you feel about it? What ideas do you have to solve the problem?” These questions can be effective only if you are truly curious about the child’s point of view. Do not use these questions to “catch” him in a lie. If at any time you think it is a fabrication, go back to suggestion No. 2.
  6. Respect your children’s privacy when they don’t want to share with you. This eliminates their need to lie to protect their privacy.
  7. Remember that sometimes a fabrication is a harmless story. It might be fund to explore the story as much as you can and even help your child write a story about it.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn so they won’t believe they are bad and need to cover up their mistakes.
  2. Set an example in telling the truth. Share with your children times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a lecture.
  3. Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents.
  4. Show appreciation. ‘Thank you for telling me the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them.”
  5. Stop trying to control children. Many children lie so they can find out who they are and do what they want to do. At the same time, they are trying to please their parents by making them think they are doing what they are supposed to do while they are doing what they want to do.
  6. Most stories, even made-up ones, have an element of truth. Look for the deeper meanings and talk to your child if you think there is a problem.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is safe to tell the truth in their family. Even when they forget that, they are reminded with gentleness and love. They can learn that their parents care about their fears and mistaken beliefs and will help them overcome them.

Parenting Pointers

  1. 1. Most of us would lie to protect ourselves from punishment or disapproval. Parents who punish, judge, or lecture increase the chances that their children will lie as a defense mechanism. All of the above suggestions are designed to create a non-threatening environment where children can feel safe to tell the truth.
  2. Many children lie to protect themselves from judgment and criticism because they believe it when adults say they are bad. Of course they want to avoid this kind of pain.
  3. Remember that who your child is now is not who your child will be forever. If your child tells a lie, don’t overreact to the behavior by calling her a liar. She is not a “liar”, but a person who has told a lie. There is a huge difference.
  4. Focus on building closeness and trust in the relationship instead of on the behavior problem. This is usually the quickest way to diminish the behavior that you find objectionable.

Booster Thoughts

As a four-year-old, Harold was afraid of the dark. His three-year-old sister used to tease him about it and put him down. One night they were staying in a place where they had to cross an outside porch to get to a toilet. The wind was blowing, and the night seemed quite frightening to Harold. Finally his fear of wetting himself overcame his fear of the “journey” to the toilet, so he set out for the other end of the porch. Halfway across the porch he stepped into the light from a streetlight and was startled by his own large, “powerful” shadow.

In Harold’s childish mind it dawned on him that if he was large and powerful like his shadow, he would always feel secure. From that point on a life long pattern developed where Harold tried to appear bigger than life in order to feel secure and accepted. When people became annoyed by his fabrications he would feel more insecure and develop another fabrication. Finally someone looked beyond the fabrications to see what they meant to Harold and helped him see that he is much better than any shadow–no matter how large.

Remember the octopus, when threatened, releases an ink cloud bigger than it is to hide and escape behind. A skunk believes that the bigger stink it can create, the safer it will be. So fabricators have some company in the animal kingdom.

Participant: I am trying to focus on only loving and encouraging my kids this week but I am concerned about getting out of the house to school on time. I have meetings at work after drop off so I need to be on time. Would you recommend having the kids dress before breakfast so we can skip any other routines that might cause issues?

I would ideally like the kids to clear their plates, brush their teeth, put on their shoes, and carry their backpacks to the car. I realize that my kids do not see our routine as what they want and I have only started to try to change in the past few weeks so they do not have the comfort to know that positive discipline is what I want for the long term. I’m willing to sacrifice most of the routine for a few days if it will help us start to reset expectations and behaviors but I am not sure what my expectations of them should be.

It’s really hard to have a high school level science conversation with a young child and then have them throw a fit about something they are expected to do every morning. I realize I have no idea what other kids do in the morning but it seems as though my friend’s kids who are not PG are able to get out to school on time.

Jane: If you could be a fly on the wall in most homes, you would know that you are not alone. Your idea about having the kids dress first is a good one, but even better would be to have a family meeting, share the problem with the kids, and then sit back and listen to their ideas about how to solve the problem. If they don’t have some good ideas (because they may not yet be trained to be problem-solvers), you might need to interject, “How about _____.” Even when they do come up with a plan, don’t expect it to work forever. Their plans will work for a while before you need to have another family meeting and invite them to come up with another plan. Good practice to become good problem-solvers. 🙂

Participant: I have a 6 year old YS who we accelerated mid-year this year from 1st to 2nd grade. He has always been a happy kid who plugs right in in social situations. Lately, he is having some of the attitude I read about from at least one other parent – I would describe it as occasionally “snotty” and disparaging toward me (not so much toward his dad) and he is starting to behave that way toward his care givers in his extended day program (today it was described to me as “arrogance”), not paying attention to instructions and being disrespectful. Like others, I worry about what this will look like when he gets older. He is an only child and gets lots of attention and praise – maybe we have contributed to the problem.

Jane: I can’t know for sure because I don’t know all the details, but sometimes children get the impression that their “intelligence” is more important than they are. This can create pressure and discouragement leading to misbehavior–sometimes from the mistaken goal of revenge because it hurts to believe your intelligence is more important than you are. Another possibility is that children are always “individuating,” — testing who they are separate from their parents. This often looks like “snotty” behavior, but it is just testing. Don’t get “snotty” back. 🙂 Children learn what is modeled for them. And, it could be that he gets too much praise and attention and doesn’t know how to “be” without it. There is now a lot of research on the long-term dangers of praise. You might find the handout on Praise vs. Encouragement helpful (available at under free downloads.)

Over-parenting and electronics

Participant 1: Thank you so much for doing this seminar. Our younger DYS is a DD6. She despises the idea of having to learn from me – especially if she thinks that she gets the material already. But, oftentimes she was confused and I just want make sure that she gets whatever concept she is working on in math, language arts, etc. She resents the authority and has screamed at me that she gets to be right, too. I have offered to let her teach me something and even suggest what she could teach me, but it doesn’t help. She cries and screams if I correct her in something, and I ignore the little things. This isn’t out of wanting to belong or connect; I’m not sure what it is. Any pointers?

Participant 2: Thanks for hosting this seminar. When I signed up for this seminar, I was going through I rough time with my YS ds12. Thankfully things have mellowed out recently, since I have been trying to understand why he was acting out, instead of just punishing. Our situation was that my son had decided that getting up in the middle of the night to play video games and chat online with his friends was an acceptable way to spend his personal time. He was lying to us when we asked about these nighttime events. At first I was very angry, but then I realized that he was looking for more time with his friends, not specifically trying to upset me and go behind my back. Once I addressed his needs by allowing him to stay up later on the weekends, he began sleeping more during the week. I also have two YS dds 11 and 9. My dd9 is my most challenging child right now. She is very justice oriented and wants everything to be fair. I need to learn to listen to her better and respond without frustration. I am hoping to learn many valuable skills from this seminar. Thanks again.

Jane: I’m going to respond to both of your comments because they represent opposite ends of a spectrum. One of the parenting challenges is what is “over involvement” (helicopter parenting, micro-managing) and when and how is involvement appropriate.

Who said parenting was easy??? 🙂

Participant 1, you may be over-involved in your daughter’s learning process. I hope you will read an earlier post about “closet” listening and other ways to “let go” without “abandoning.”

Participant 2, your situation represents a case where involvement is very important. What you did is one effective way to make sure kids don’t get too caught up in the electronics addiction. You were very “wise” to understand that he needs this social connection and came up with a solution he can live with. Other parents could follow your suggestion. However, if it doesn’t work, sometimes it is okay for parents to “Decide What you Will Do.” In other words, it is best to get kids involved in the solution, but it is also okay to say: “Electronics are a privilege that come with a responsibility. If you don’t want the responsibility, you lose the privilege.” Overuse is irresponsible. Create a “parking place” for electronics during certain hours (and certainly during the night). One responsibility of having electronics is to make sure they are “parked” during certain times.

Participant: I have a DS16 and am really struggling with how I can limit the amount of video game, computer time etc.. When he was younger, I had a time limit and it worked. But now he is in college and living at home and has become very resistant to parental input. If I insist on something, he will often back down but he threatens me with things like, “This is going to ruin our relationship. You’ll be sorry…” He definitely manipulates my feelings. He is my only child and he knows how loved he is (too much according to him). I have tried to back out and do much less micromanaging but this is leading to some serious consequences-he is not doing well academically in school this semester and may lose his college scholarship as a result. He knows this but seems powerless to stop this downward drift. I don’t think he is depressed but it is possible. I have been known to give him a hug when he is acting horribly to remind him I love him but he rejects it. So basically, at age 16, how much control can I have?

Jane: The answer is NONE. You can possibly influence, but not control. Painful as it may be, at this point you need to allow him to experience the consequences of his choices. If he loses his college scholarship, he can figure out what else to do–perhaps go to a community college.

As you read some of the past posts, you’ll discover “curiosity questions.” You might, and I repeat, “might,” influence him to think through the consequences of his choices by asking something like, “What will you do if you lose your college scholarship?” This could be effective only if you are truly curious rather than accusing and if you have faith in him that he will figure something out.

It is interesting the Cheryl Erwin and I wrote a very good book called, “Parents Who Love Too Much. Sadly, it is out of print, but the main point was that it really isn’t possible to love too much, but it is possible to love it ways that are not really healthy or respectful to children. Parents love ineffectively when they are too controlling or too permissive so that their children do not learn to feel capable and that they can survive the ups and downs of life and learn from their mistakes and become stronger in the process.

Another way to look at your perception that he is “manipulating your feelings” is to think of him as trying to maintain his individuality and his personal power–including learning from his mistakes.

I know it is hard to let go, but your son is right. You are hurting your relationship when you don’t.

By the way, letting go does not mean abandoning, nor does it mean permissiveness. You can be supportive of his journey AND you can have rules in your house that are respectful to you. I wish you the best.

Participant: Are you saying that I am hurting the relationship if I don’t let him learn from his mistakes? I am tying to let that happen but admit I have a hard time with the big things because I feel like I am abandoning him. I am really concerned that he is becoming addicted to the video games. His downward trend in school is directly correlated with the increase in time spent on these games. I realize that the game playing may provide him with a feeling of success since his schoolwork is so difficult now and it is not as easy to be the top dog.

I agree with you that he is trying to maintain his individuality and his personal power and I do want to support that. How do I know the difference between abandoning my role as a parent to a still developing young man DS16 versus being too controlling?

Deep down I really do have faith in him but it is definitely being tested right now. Thanks for this forum. I will start working on the lessons. Kathy

Jane: It is so difficult to convey all the nuances and exceptions via email. Let me use the words “could be” instead of “are.” It could be that trying to control him is hurting the relationship–because he says it is.

I invite you to avoid thinking in terms of either/or. “I’m either totally involved in his life and what he does, or I’m abandoning him.” It could be that you “enable” him by being over-involved and need to learn ways to let go that are empowering. Please go to and click on free downloads for the handout on “Enabling Vs Empowering for some good ways to let go without abandoning.

And, you are right that video games are addicting. One of the definitions of addiction is anything that hurts your relationships or gets in the way of achieving your goals. Sounds like this is happening to your son. However, just like drug addiction, any addiction requires professional help.

Fair buttons and Weaning

Participant: I agree wholeheartedly that we can rob our children of opportunity when we do too much for them. With that said, how is it that I can also be someone who is guilty of it?

Again, I have twins – one who is PG and one who has Down Syndrome. For many years, I did for both of them the things that I needed to do for her. She didn’t have the hand dexterity to cut her food or tie shoes, so I cut and tied for both of them. Perhaps trying to keep things “fair”, or trying not to call to his attention that she was “different” from him, I did equally for both of them. Realizing the error of my ways, I now expect more independence from both of them, according to their abilities, not their age. Guess which one is fighting? DS would rather not eat than make his own toast (cereal, eggs, yogurt), and gets very rude and argumentative with his sister who is busily (and happily) making hers. She completes her homework quickly after staying on task for 30-45 minutes, while he pokes at his, ever distracted and complains bitterly that he has 2 hours worth and she only has 30 minutes. I have to bite my tongue to not compare their work habits in a negative way. . .suggestions on how to address “fair”, particularly in very different twins, are welcome.

Jane: I learned from my husband who said, “I don’t do fair.” When you have a “fair button” some kids will push it for all it is worth. Another quote from my husband when our kids would say, “That isn’t fair,” — “The only thing in life that is fair is that it is unfair to everyone.” 🙂 In other words, he didn’t have a “fair button,” and the kids soon learned that wasn’t a card they could play with him. They “got” me until I learned from him.

Another key theme of Positive Discipline is that “mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn–for both parents and children. Don’t worry about any mistakes you have made. Just learn from them–and know that you will make many more. 🙂

Another quote from my co-author, Stephen Glenn, “Weaning is never easy for the weanor or the weanee, but is essential for the ultimate growth and development.” So, you can expect your kids to complain when you change your behavior and to try very hard to get the responses they are used to. Hang in there. He will adapt.

Mistaken Goals

Participant: I like this chapter’s emphasis on beliefs driving behaviors and choosing mistaken goals to find belonging and significance. This aligns well with what I know about cognitive behavioral techniques in psychotherapy and what I experience with my own insight meditation practice. I am wondering if small children (my son is 6) are developmentally able to have this level of self-awareness. I realize your mistaken goal chart does not ask the child to articulate the coded message – the lesson tells us to guess at what is going on inside our child’s world based on behavior and change our response (select a different parenting tool). But I am wondering if it might be feasible to work more directly with the mistaken belief. Your thoughts, Jane?

Jane: Children are not consciously aware of their mistaken goal any more than they are consciously aware of any of the beliefs they are adopting that form their personality. And, most parents are not aware of how they may contribute to the beliefs children are creating. For example, many children who seek undue attention have learned from their parents that this is a good way to feel a sense of belonging–perhaps because parents do too much for them or “bite the bate” when they seek undue attention. I’ve never seen a power drunk child without a power drunk (controlling) adult close by. 🙂 Parents often hurt their children unknowingly. For example, many children get the idea that their grades are more important to their parents than they are. This hurts, so they get even–often by hurting themselves. Many children got into assumed inadequacy because they decide they can’t live up to expectations, or because parents have done too much for them so they don’t feel capable. Again, this is not meant to blame parents, but to invite awareness and change.

I’m not sure what you mean by working more directly with the mistaken belief. Creating experiences where children can make different decisions is working directly with the belief. Somewhere in Positive Discipline (just moved and can’t find my copy) I talk about “goal disclosure,” — a more direct way of addressing the belief, but it is not recommended that parents do this–only trained professionals because it requires friendly detachment that is difficult for parents to pull off.

Participant: I have been doing all of the exercises and readings, and I have found them really useful. I have a couple of questions though, in the spirit of fine-tuning the technique.

First, I have noticed that I do tend to do too much for one of my children, but I am having trouble figuring out where to draw the line. He will be 9 in a few days, and he has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis–which causes him to experience a lot of pain and fatigue and also causes him to have very limited strength in his hands. So for example, he cannot open bottles, button his pants, or write for long periods of time–not because he doesn’t want to, but because he is not physically strong enough to do so. His younger brother can do all of these things and more. So I struggle with knowing how to make it OK for him to ask for help when he needs it (without making it seem like a big deal) and how to stress the importance of doing things for himself. Does that make sense? Any ideas here would be greatly appreciated.

My second question is about letting go and letting children experience the consequences of their actions. Is that totally OK to do at six and eight years old? I am mostly talking about schoolwork here. My kids go to a virtual public school and have a specific amount of work they have to finish before the end of the year. They are often quite resistant to getting it done. Today, I asked them about whether they understood what the consequences of skipping their work would be and told them that I would not bail them out by pretending they had done the work or talking to their teacher. My 8-year-old came in and started working on Latin about 20 minutes later. My six year old is still in the bedroom playing. So my question is this: If they resist and choose to play or sit there doing nothing instead of working, do I let them do so even if it means failing kindergarten and fifth grade? Or do I need to make them do it? I can kind of see how making my 8-year-old responsible might work, but I am not so sure about my six year old. He would really rather just play legos.

Jane: Regarding your first question, it is a matter of education, then using common sense and intuition. Of course you can’t expect him to do things he is not physically able to do. However, do you think sometimes he says he can’t do something just to get “special service?” You might have an honest talk with him and let him know that you are more than willing to help when he really needs it, but will step back when you know he can do something–even if it is a little bit hard, because you want him to know how capable he is and would not want to take that away from him. You can also teach him to be grateful and gracious when someone helps him–including his little brother–that his condition can provide him with the opportunity to learn some important attitudes and skills that some kids never learn–gratitude and graciousness.

Re allowing kids to experience the consequences of their choices: I know how difficult this is for parents, me included. However, it is so important to think of the long-term results. (Keep in mind that “allowing” consequences is very different from “imposing” consequences.) I am very concerned about the dysfunctional school systems that pile on way too much homework that creates way too much stress and power struggles in homes because parents buy into it and kids get blamed. I’ve been tempted to write a book called, “Homework and Testing Hell,” because that is what it creates. Alfie Kohn has written a book called, “The Myth of Homework.” But, this isn’t a battle I can fight during this forum. I mention it because we need to understand what children have to go through because of a screwed up system. Since it is the way it is, I think it is important to allow children to fail and then help them explore the consequences of what happened, what caused it to happen, how they feel about it, and what they want to do about it. I hope you read the topic on Empowering Vs Enabling because it provides many examples of how to empower children around the issue of homework. The handout provides specific ways to let go without abandoning.

Participant: We will have a family meeting tonight. Our DD5 always reminds us, and we many times just tell her we can’t because we want to keep their bedtimes early. We have to remember that family meetings are also a priority.

The problem I have with having faith is that if she is stable (meds) then I know she can; but if not, she can become very verbally aggressive and that just digs her into deeper trouble and more guilt afterwards.

Jane: This gives me an opportunity to say to you and to everyone else–take everything I say with a grain of salt. Ultimately, you have to filter everything through your wisdom, your heart, your knowledge of your situation, and then decide what to do. We all do the best we can with what we know. What more can we do? 🙂

Positive Time Out

Participant: Positive time out has worked great at our home for periods of times. Our oldest would take herself to her “little nook” and come back when she was ready to behave herself. She had created this little space inside her closet.

After she had stopped using it, we went back and let them create a new nook, and they ended up doing one upstairs and one downstairs. The one downstairs doesn’t work at all because they like to growl and make sure they are disturbing the rest of the family whenever either of them is there.

As I am typing this, I am getting some clarity. I guess instead of us trying to force them to not use the one downstairs, I guess we can bring it up as an issue in the family meeting. I suppose that their rooms are good enough now that they are a bit older.

But now I do have another question as to what to do when they do NOT want to go to that positive time out (after trying the suggested questions). Would it help if we clarified that before hand? Let’s say we tell them ahead of time that when they are being disruptive, if they don’t go on their own, we’d take them there… Would that take away from the experience? We find that they might resist us taking them, but once there they start calming down.

Thinking “out loud” here. I do now think that when we take our 5 year old, she spends the first couple of minutes slamming the door shut. So she is doing full revenge before she moves on to something else.

I think about that gently grabbing their hand and taking them but stopping when they stop, that is, increasing our KINDNESS. It is really hard for us to balance that firm and kindness, especially with the younger one who is extremely sensitive, and she reacts very strongly to any perception of unkind behavior from our part ( “you are raising your voice” even at the slightest change in tone of voice).

Sorry for the ramblings… I am processing this.

Jane: I love reading the “ramblings” — it is like tuning in on your thinking process. If you read Lesson Four more closely you’ll see that the point of Positive Time out is lost if you force a child to go to the spot he or she has created. Instead, try the following.

  1. Would it HELP you to go to your Feel Good Place?
  2. Would you like me to go with you?
  3. Model this life skill by going yourself.

Points to remember:

Even positive time-out is rarely appropriate for children under the age of three.

There are many other Positive Discipline tools that might be more appropriate for all ages.

Another thing I didn’t mention in the lesson (will revise it because this is so important), Positive Time Out is most effective when you offer two choices.

What would help you the most right now — your feel good place

  1. or to put this problem on the family meeting agenda?
  2. or to choose a solution from the deck of Positive Discipline tool cards (or shake to see what comes up if you have the iPhone app of the tool cards)?
  3. or to use the wheel of choice
  4. or to jump on the trampoline until you feel better
  5. of to rant and rave (or have a tantrum) and just feel your feelings until they go away.

I hope you are getting the idea. You can teach your children about all of these options during a calm time.

Also, I hope you didn’t miss the part about going to positive time yourself when you feel you are in a power struggle. Let your kids know in advance that sometimes you will just go to your “calm down place” when you are upset–and will get back to them as soon as you feel better.

Participant: We, too, have been stuck in survivor mode. I have been a full-time graduate student, single mom, and part time employee for 3 years now. Despite having great childcare in our home most of that time, it was not the same as consistent parenting, and we have all suffered from that.

It feels good to be focusing on solutions and compassion again. I don’t like the kind of parent I was becoming and thank this seminar for helping me get back on track to my true sense of good parenting.

Jane: Your awareness makes this seminar worthwhile. Congratulations.

Participant: Thanks for the pointers. So today we were getting stuck with the 5 year old. Things were not going her way while we were dining out. She ended up being loud on the floor. Looking back it is clear that her mistaken goal was revenge. I kind of validated her feelings, but was also trying to move her along. I realize that if I have an agenda I am not really fixing the real problem.

I think that we are getting into power struggles (she with one or both of us) all the time. We are constantly in this place where she gets upset and she threatens (“but it is not a threat, it is the truth” she will say), and essentially is doing this revenge thing.

Do you have specific pointers? I feel that we need to work, at the same time long term and short term. We have to rebuild her trust, recognize how we feed into the fire, etc. But we also need to solve the tantrum/drama present at the moment. Should we deal with this in a family meeting or just the three of us?

Jane: I’m not sure what you mean by long-term and short-term. The most effective short-term strategies also work long-term. You may need private coaching. It is too difficult to gain all the nuances in this format. For example, power struggles and revenge cycles take at least two people. If you continue the power struggles and revenge cycles, you won’t get long-term results. You can get short-term results by being both kind and firm at the same time–that also teach valuable social and life skills for good character. Do you have the Positive Discipline Tool Cards. The deck contains 52 tools that are kind and firm at the same time. When you have a conflict, perhaps you could all pick a card and see which one might work to solve the problem. You have to decide when it is appropriate to use family meetings or join problem-solving, or some other tool, but if you use any of them to “win over your child,” instead of to “win your child over,” they will not be effective short term or long-term.

I often encourage parents to forget about behavior problems for one whole week and do nothing but encouragement–lots and lots of connection, special time, and just plain making sure the message of love gets through. So often they report that “misbehavior” disappears when they do this.

Participant: I think that it is where we have gotten stuck, in always trying to win over her. For the last few weeks we have been increasingly aware that it is what we are doing. Her behavior has gotten better, but it is easy to fall back into the fights because she is very good at pushing our buttons. She is the more socially savvy of our kids and pays close attention to what tics people.

I haven’t bought the cards yet but yesterday I did download the Iphone/Touch app.

Participant: I also have been stuck in survivor mode. We’ve tried this week to only give positive or neutral feedback and it’s been challenging. This morning was the hardest as I had too much to do and was grumpy. We’ve made a lot of progress but I can start to see how much more we need to make. It’s going to be a long road and I thank you for your feedback throughout this seminar.

Our son’s teacher told me that he had been making a lot of breakthroughs this week but also had several times where he broke down crying in her office (he’s 8 and was in a difficult environment for the past two years of school). I realize that as we move forward, more issues will surface from the past and I’m grateful to know that there are others in my situation that are also struggling to change their style.

I really like the list I made of the traits I want my kids to have when they are older. We are going to continue to discuss them this weekend when we have a little more time. Thanks!

Jane: Keep in mind that kids are often in survival Mode–trying to find their place in the world and how to find belonging and significance. It is also helpful to remember that just as important for parents to control their behavior as it is for kids–adults first. And no one is able to control their behavior all the time–adults or kids. So remember that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn–for adults and kids. Have compassion for your kids and for yourself and keep remembering that list of things you hope to help your children develop, and use the discipline tools that help achieve those goals. Lots to remember–and you won’t all the time, so start again from the top. 🙂

Participant: Thanks for giving this seminar! I haven’t posted this week, but have been reading and thinking about all the posts. It has definitely made me more conscious of the way I speak to my children and the messages they are receiving from me. I will need time to work through how this will play out in our family, but I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to present this to us!

Jane: You might find it helpful to print out the lessons and some of the handouts and refer to them from time to time. Some things are more meaningful at different times, and you can usually absorb just a few things at a time. I’m glad the seminar has increased your consciousness. 🙂

Participant: I have really enjoyed the seminar and learned a lot. The lessons you posted made it simple to learn and remember the key concepts. I bought the Positive Discipline book, but have only read through chapter 4 so far, so I have some questions about the family meetings. Is it best to hold them at a regularly scheduled time, or do you schedule them as needed? How frequently should you hold them? Thanks for everything you’ve done.

Jane: Family meetings are so important and should be held on a regular basis. I think it is Chapter 8 or 9 in Positive Discipline that covers family meetings very thoroughly. I started a topic on Family Meetings where Chris will soon post a summary handout on Family Meetings. For people who are interested there is a download of a Family Meeting Album for $2.95 that can be customized for your family on the Positive Discipline website under “downloads.”

Participant: Thank you for the wonderful week. I was reminded of so many things that I know (and used to do) as well as a number of new tools. It came at a perfect time for our family, as we were at a difficult point. I have ordered PD for the Single Parent and look forward to reading it.

Participant: Thank you so much for hosting this seminar. I’ve learned so much. I put into practice your suggestion to me at the beginning to ignore DD’s misbehavior this week and just love her. It was truly transformative for me. I spent the week being mindful of making her feel included and loved at all times, and I really saw a difference in the outcomes of our sticky situations. Trouble passed much faster. It really felt great to not only do this, but to have permission to do this, to just give her a big hug instead of reprimanding her for her misbehavior. What parent WOULDN’T want to just hug and love their kids no matter what, but we are trained to believe we’d be spoiling them if we didn’t take them to task. I also worked a lot on asking questions instead of dishing out orders, and I noticed right away that my kids’ brains shifted from brick walls to moving gears as soon as I asked them what to do. It was so interesting for me to witness. I usually would say, “go do…” and they would look like brick walls. Instead I said, “what do you think you…” and I could see their little minds working underneath pensive eyes. Huge change! So thanks so much for this transformative seminar.

Jane: Thanks for sharing that the seminar was helpful to you. I always wonder. 🙂 I love your terms “shifting from brick walls to moving gears.” With your permission, I would like to use that. 🙂

Recommended Materials:

Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen (Suggested readings will be from this book)

Positive Discipline Birth to Three, by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy (for this age children)

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers (ditto)

Positive Discipline for Teenagers, by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott

Positive Discipline Tool Cards (also available as an iPhone App)

All of the above (except the iPhone App—available at the App store) are available at where you will also find many free downloads, articles, and podcasts (or in many libraries or bookstores).



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