little kid cryingBe honest.  What’s your first reaction when your child walks over and knocks down the Lego tower her brother has just spent the last ten minutes building? Or how about when your son is flipping like a fish in the grocery store aisle because you said no to the sugary cereal—again?

Let me guess.  Do you yell?  Do you put her in time-out?  Do you lecture, threaten, punish?  All of the above?  Do you casually push your cart past the melt-down in the cereal aisle pretending you don’t know the small creature writhing about?

Trust me, I know how difficult it is to keep yourself together when you child is “misbehaving” or “losing it.”  Not too long ago, it wasn’t uncommon, while Krogering, for the manager to open a special check-out line just for me in order to expedite getting me and my screaming banshee out of there!

But what I have found over the years is that the strategies listed above have several unintended results. Namely, (a) they tend to exacerbate the problem instead of solve it (especially with a strong-willed child), (b) they don’t help the child think about what they’ve done…or why…or how they might solve the problem differently next time, and (c) they don’t help parents feel competent and effective.

What I suggest instead is to get curious.  WTF?  What’s The Feeling being displayed through the behavior?  What emotion is your child acting out?  And then “name it to tame it” as child neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel says.

Help your child start to develop emotional literacy by guessing what he’s feeling and naming it:

“You sound very very frustrated.”
“You are so angry that you can’t have the cereal you want.”

Then validate the feeling by saying something like:

“It’s hard to really really want something and not be able to have it.”
“I know.  I hate it too when I can’t have what I want.”

WTN? Then guess What’s the Need underneath the feeling?  Often it’s a need for autonomy, for choice.  You can relate to that, right?  Don’t you also like having autonomy and choice in your life?  There’s nothing wrong with our children wanting that too.

It’s healthy to let them have as much choice as they can handle for their age.  And it’s also okay to set a loving limit when there are some choices that we decide are non-negotiable (like choices that have to do with safety, well-being, and health).

Then instead of trying to manage their behavior, spend that energy building your skill in being able to hold the limit and also hold your child’s intense feelings in response to the limit.  This can be hard to do, but it will help your child to develop insight into his own inner emotional life and, as he matures, to be able to problem-solve and find other ways to meet needs.

I invite you to develop the art of curiosityWhat’s the Feeling?  What’s the Need?   Developing honest curiosity about your child’s emotional life leads to greater understanding and a stronger connection.

Know Thyself: Part 3

boy on video game PAID
In Part 1 of this series I shared with you a glimpse of what is happening in your brain when you “lose it” with your child—when you yell, shame, blame, hit, or punish. The first question to ponder in order to Know Thyself better, is “Who is driving the bus in this moment?”  In Part 2 we explored the neuroscience behind our “triggers” and pondered the question of “What’s the story tape that’s playing in my head?” Let’s continue in Part 3 with another type of thinking that often disconnects us from others…


“Should” Thinking

There is a particular kind of thinking that goes on in our brains which often dictates whether we will experience anger and upset or compassion and curiosity.

If you consider for a moment a recent time when you got upset with your child (or with a spouse or co-worker), you will likely find that a split-second before your anger arose, there was a thought in your head of what the other person “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing.

He should get off the video game when I call him in to dinner.
She shouldn’t have taken the credit for the work I did.

The important thing to know is that it’s your “should” thinking that creates the anger, not what the other person is or isn’t doing.  Now I’m not saying you smile and pretend everything is okay when it’s clearly not.  I just want us to be clear that our emotions arise from our thinking, not what someone does or doesn’t do.  And this is encouraging, because we have a lot more control over our thinking than we have over the behavior of other people.

Here’s an example:
Let’s say you are meeting a friend for dinner and you both agreed to meet at 6:00.  It’s now 6:15 and your friend is not there.  Now it’s 6:30 and still no friend.  If your thinking is along the lines of, “She always does this.  She should be here at the time we agreed upon.  She should be more respectful of my time,” then you are likely to get upset with your friend.  If your thinking is, “I’m so glad she’s running late.  It gives me a little time to finish up this report I was working on,” then you’re likely to feel grateful for the extra time alone.  Same action, different thinking and very different emotions:  upset vs. grateful.

The facts are actually neutral:  Your friend said she would be there at 6:00.  It’s now 6:30 and she’s not there.  It’s your thinking of how things “should” be that give the situation a positive or negative flavor.  Shakespeare said it best in this line from Hamlet:  “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So what’s the alternative?  How do you let someone know that you don’t enjoy their behavior without “shoulding” on them?  First you have to get out of your head where the “should” thinking lives and drop into your heart, where your feelings and needs reside.

Let’s take the example of:

He should get off the video game when I call him in to dinner.

Would you like to experience anger and upset or compassion and curiosity?  If you stay up in your head thinking he “should” get off the game…then you will probably experience anger and upset.  And I predict it will provoke defensiveness and resistance in your child and a conflict will ensue.

If instead you look inside to your feelings and needs, you might find something like:  “I’m feeling very frustrated and I need consideration for the time I put into cooking dinner.  I want us to eat while it’s hot and tasty.”  Just this bit of self-empathy can soothe the upset a little.  Then you can get curious and seek to understand why your son is not responding in the way you would like.  You can guess at his feelings and needs:  “Are you feeling frustrated that I’m asking you to stop the game because you’d like to keep playing until you finish this level?”  I predict getting in touch with your own feelings and needs and then guessing at your son’s feelings and needs (either out loud or silently inside) will lead to a more mutually satisfying solution.

When you express from the heart (feelings and needs) instead of the head (“should” thinking), the potential for finding strategies that work for everyone is much much higher.  Parenting is so much more enjoyable when you learn how to invite cooperation rather than force compliance.

If there’s a pattern of a particular behavior that happens frequently, I suggest you have these heart dialogues proactively, rather than wait until you’re in the middle of the situation.

You might say to your son, “I notice we have a fight almost every night when it’s dinnertime and you’re playing a video game.  I don’t enjoy fighting with you every night. Let’s brainstorm and find a way that works for both of us.”  As the trust builds over the course of many encounters of this kind, it gets easier to work through conflict.

Note of caution:  We are also very good at “shoulding” on ourselves.

 I shouldn’t have yelled at my child like that.
I should lose 20 pounds.

It’s hard to make the changes we want to make when we are in “should” thinking.  There’s something in our psyches that resists being told we “should” or we “ought to” do something.  It’s far more powerful to tune in to our feelings and needs.

I feel sad because I value (need) respect and love when relating to my child.
I feel frustrated because I value my well-being and the ease of fitting into my clothes.

With enough practice, we can transform our habitual “should” thinking into more thoughtful loving expressions of feelings and needs.  Getting in touch with what we value (our needs) creates an opening to make the changes we want to make.  As in all areas of life, an invitation always works better than a demand.  To encourage the kind of open willing change that comes from within, avoid “shoulding” on yourself, or others!

So now we have three powerful questions to ponder in order to Know Thyself better.

  1. Who is driving the bus in this moment?
  2. What’s the core belief, or “story” tape that’s playing in my head?
  3. Am I “shoulding” on others (or myself)?

I hope you have enjoyed the series.  My wish is that as you become more aware of your inner life you become more powerful and choiceful in interacting with those you love.  When you understand why you react the way you do by applying the three questions above, you can begin to transform those reactions into loving thoughtful responses instead.

“We are addicted to our thoughts.  We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”
–Santosh Kalwar

How to say “I love you” without saying “I love you”

mom and daughter PAID

Studies have shown that our children learn more from what we model for them than from what we try to teach them with our words.  Think about it for a moment, does your child learn more when you lecture him about how to treat the family dog, or when he sees you gently stroking the dog’s head?  Does she learn more when you admonish her to say I’m sorry, or when she hears you expressing regret?  Like it or not, your child pays more attention to what you do than to what you say.

So even though it feels good to hear the words, “I love you,” it feels even better when someone consistently acts in a way that conveys love and caring.

Here are 7 ways that you can say “I love you” through your actions:

  1. Be present with your child.  Be fully aware and attentive to her being.  Lay aside all distractions (email, cell phone, to-do list) and just BE with your child, letting her guide all action (or inaction).  (Do this at least 10 minutes every day and see what a difference it makes in your child’s behavior).
  2. Listen with your whole being when he speaks to you. Get down to his level (whether that’s kneeling down or sitting beside him), look into his eyes, and listen with your ears and your heart.  This may not be possible every time he speaks, but do it consistently enough that he feels that his voice matters to you.
  3. Make your child feel special by letting him know what you notice and appreciate about him.  I used to play a game with my kids called “What I like best about you is …..”  and I would fill in the blank with something I noticed, liked, or enjoyed about them.  They could never get enough of this game and when the neighbors’ kids heard us playing this, they also started coming to me and asking, “What do you like best about me?”
  4. Ask them what you can do to make their lives more wonderful (that doesn’t involve spending money).  And then do more of those things.
  5. Get out the baby books and go through their birth and newborn pictures with them.  Children love to hear their birth stories and it will renew your feelings of that deep awesome wonderlove as you remember the first time you met.
  6. Let your children “accidentally overhear” you saying nice things about them to someone else.  Kids come to expect that we will say nice things about them to their face simply because we’re their parents.  So when they “overhear” you talking about them to someone else, it feels more objective and boosts their self-image and self-esteem.
  7. Stay loving and affectionate even when your child is acting out and losing it.  Let him know you’re on his side even as you hold loving limits and accept his intense feelings about those limits.  When your kid is the most unlovable…is when he needs love the most.  

For the next week, act on the list above–try a different one each day.  At the end of the week, ask your child, “What makes you feel loved?”  Her answer can help you refine and keep adding to your list.

And also….keep saying “I love you.”  

The Unseen Effects of RIPPLES

There was a couple in one of my very first parenting classes who was struggling to relate to their teenage daughter.  They had a lot of anxiety about choices she was making and the friends she was hanging out with.  They were desperate to try the concepts I was teaching because nothing else had worked for them so far.  The fear-based techniques they were using (grounding, taking away privileges) were causing their daughter to move further and further away from them.  They were really, really scared and rightly so, for she had started to “experiment” with drugs.

It’s hard NOT to try to get a tighter grip on our kids when we sense they are slipping away from us into dangerous territory.  But often, tactics which use punishment (or guilt or shame) take us further away from the desired results.  The conscious parenting model I taught to this couple was a four-step process in which the intentions are to connect, to understand, and to let go of attachment to the outcome.  The main goal is to repair the relationship rather than change the behaviors. The premise being, that once the relationship is solid and the child trusts that her needs matter as much as the parents’ needs, then the door magically opens to empathic listening, honest expression, and care for each other.  This was very different from their earlier intentions which were to force their daughter to obey their rules so that she would stay safe.

This process is radically different from the fear and punishment parenting model most of us grew up in, so it takes a lot of practice to be able to apply it in the family.  The framework is a communication model based on Nonviolent Communication (, and it’s a lot like learning a foreign language.  It takes practice and repetition to be able to communicate in a “needs based” language.  But the mom and dad were committed to integrating the process and deepening their consciousness around a new way to parent.  They came to the eight weekly classes and then I lost touch with them.  Until…..

A couple years later the dad showed up at a mindfulness retreat that I had organized in North Georgia.  During the retreat he shared his story with the group.  He said that coming to those parenting classes had not only “saved” his family…he believed it had literally saved his daughter’s life.  Soon after the parenting classes, his daughter had made a choice that sent her life spiraling out of control.  At a party, on a lark, she tried crystal meth and was very quickly addicted. The dad said that it was his worst nightmare come true as he witnessed his daughter transform into someone he didn’t know.  He described the “darkest moment” of his life, when late one night, he found himself in a rundown seedy area of Atlanta in a “crack house” trying to rescue his daughter.  He found her upstairs drugged out, naked, in bed with her meth supplier.

He went on to describe how he and his wife used the process they had learned in the parenting classes to begin to repair their relationship with their daughter. To hear her, to see her, and to get clear on what the needs were underneath her use of drugs.  Once they could identify the needs under the drug use (such as, a need to belong) they could respect her need and support her in finding other ways to feel belonging that didn’t come at such a detrimentally high cost.  By respecting her need they weren’t seeing her as wrong and feeling a need to punish.  Together, as a family, they faced the dilemma before them and supported their daughter as she fought the addiction and healed.

But it didn’t end there…the RIPPLES continued…

The daughter, now healed and whole, and knowledgeable in a new way to communicate and relate to others (thanks to her parents’ modeling of the needs-based process), became passionate about working with other teens who were addicted to meth.  She became a counselor at a drug rehab center and used her experience to help countless other young people heal from their addictions and get their lives back.  And I imagine the RIPPLES continued on and on with these young people and the many lives they touched.

Repetition In Place Produces Little Effects Somewhere.  It’s a Law of the Universe.  What’s the quality of the pebbles you are dropping?  The ones that send their ripples in wave upon wave to eventually touch unseen and unknown shores………

Today I’m the Host of Day 13 of the Virtual Tour for our Ebook

Parenting Responsively for Connection

Day 13 –Understanding Your Child’s Behavior

 Today’s excerpt is from my chapter “Nurturing Connection Through Setting Your Intentions” and the excerpt is about “Understanding Your Child’s Behavior”. 
Enjoy! and please pass along via facebook share if you find it useful.

Today I have the great pleasure of being the host on Day 13 of the Virtual Book Tour for the E-Book Parenting Responsively for Connection.  Written by ACPI Parenting Coaches for parents to deal with the most difficult task of maintaining connection with the growing child whose behavior changes and shifts.

Yesterday, the book tour stopped by Dr. Caron Good’s blog at Visit now if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet all the authors.   And be sure to follow the Virtual Book Tour tomorrow when the next stop is the blog with blogger Corey Green, M.Ed. 
As usual, please share your comments and thoughts below. I love reading your feedback.  We appreciate the retweets and sharing on FB to spread the word.

Understanding Your Child’s Behavior
©2011 by Sherri Boles-Rogers 

                I often hear parents say things like “He always throws a temper tantrum just to get my attention,” or “She’s just trying to manipulate me.”  I know that it often feels that way, but I believe that when our children behave in less than desirable ways, there’s something deeper going on.  The more we understand what  the driving force behind the behavior is, the better we will be able to respond to it effectively. 

                What if I told you that all behavior is an attempt to get needs met—whether consciously or unconsciously.  I really don’t believe children get up in the morning and ask themselves, “How can I best antagonize Mom and Dad today?” Although some days it may seem like they do!  I believe our children (as well as us adults) behave, speak and act in ways that express our needs in an effort to  get those needs met.  It’s as simple as that.

                So often, we as parents place our focus on the outside–the behavior, rather than on the inside—what’s happening within our child to “cause” the behavior.  When we just deal with the behavior in front of us, we are like a doctor who prescribes cough syrup for a cough instead of treating  the infection in the lungs which is causing the cough.   Until the root cause is understood and addressed, the symptoms (and behaviors) will likely keep recurring.  So how do you find the root of the behavior? By thinking in terms of universal needs.

                Universal needs are those qualities of life that when met, enrich our life.  They are universal in that all humans on the planet share these needs.  Some examples of universal needs are  air, food, water, shelter, safety, security, rest, autonomy, connection, love, touch, acceptance, belonging, community, consideration, trust, honesty, support, reassurance, peace of mind, authenticity, meaning, self-worth, order, peace, harmony, ease, creativity, fun, play, to matter and the need  to contribute to others.  These are but a few of the universal needs we share as humans. Is there anything on this list that you would be willing to do without for the rest of your life?

                Obviously, we can’t get all our needs met all the time.  In any given moment, there are usually one or more needs that are more prominent than the others.   So strong and primal are these needs that we are constantly seeking ways (both consciously and unconsciously) to have them met.  Sometimes, we are aware of our needs and can make requests of ourselves or others to get our needs met.  For example, when we feel hungry and have a need for food, we may fix ourselves a sandwich or ask our spouse to take us out to dinner.  Other times, we are not consciously aware of what we’re needing and yet that need will manifest outwardly in an attempt to be met.  Your child’s behavior that you see in front of you is an outward expression of an inward need.

                So let’s take a look at the previous situations and see if we can discern what needs are driving the behaviors that are described:

Your daughter continues to draw instead of putting on her shoes as you asked.

 What needs is she trying to meet?  Creative expression?  Autonomy? 


Your sons are poking each other with their forks instead of eating. 

What needs are they attempting to meet?  Fun?  Play?  Connection? 

Your teenage daughter sneaks out of the house at night and meets up with a few friends. 

What needs is she hoping to meetAcceptance?  Belonging? Fun?


You get exasperated and yell at your young daughter, angrily grab the forks from your sons, and ground your teenage daughter for the rest of her life. 

What needs might you be attempting to meet?  Cooperation and ease?  Peace and harmony?  Safety and peace of mind?

                If we are to maintain our primary intention to connect,  how can we engage our child, address the behaviors, get to the root cause and stay connected?  I believe it starts with an attitude of curiosity.  In other words, we must strive to set an intention to understand what is going on inside of our child.  We must ask ourselves what could possibly be causing the behavior we see so clearly before us?  Then we can connect by making a guess at what our child is experiencing.  Even if we’re wrong with our guess, if we are sincerely investigating in an attempt to connect, we will likely discover what’s going on inside.

                One way we can investigate is by asking questions.  “Are you frustrated that I want you to stop drawing now and put on your shoes because you want to choose what you do?”  Here you are guessing a need for autonomy.  Your daughter may reply, “No, I want to give this to my teacher today.  It’s a picture of a dog and her dog died yesterday.”  This new information may lead you to guess again in order to get an even clearer picture of what’s going on inside of her, “Oh, so you’re wanting to contribute to your teacher and let her know you’re thinking of her?”  “Yeah.  She was really really sad yesterday.” 

                With this short dialogue you now know what is happening inside your daughter.  You have figured out that in this moment she has a need to contribute to her teacher.  Surely you can resonate with her need.  Since needs are universal, you also know what it feels like to want to contribute to someone. 

                Isn’t this useful information to know?  Would this perhaps shift your thinking of “She’s so uncooperative,” or “She never listens to me?”  Once you get down to the needs level, conflicts fade away.  How could you be in opposition to her need to contribute?  The conflict only occurs at the strategy level–the way she has chosen to get her need for contribution met—by drawing a picture when it is normally the time to leave.

                Similarly, it can be just as eye-opening to take a look at what’s happening inside of ourselves when we feel frustrated and anxious or when we speak harshly or start doling out consequences to our children.  Taking the time to pause and understand what it is we need can open up a world of possibilities.  By asking ourselves what need are we longing to meet underneath our behavior we can identify the need and likely find there are more choices to meet that need than we had imagined.

                When interacting with your child and it feels  like she’s simply not listening or doing what is asked, pause and reflect on why it’s important for your child to do what you are requesting.  If you want your daughter to stop drawing and put on her shoes so you can leave for work, perhaps you have a need for cooperation.  You can check inside to see if there are other deeper needs by asking, “And if I had cooperation, what would I have?”  Well, I’d have ease.  “And if I had ease, what would I have?”  I’d feel grounded and connected—to myself and to my daughter.  Ahhhh, aren’t those wonderful needs to have?

                When  you have a clear understanding of what you are really dealing with–your daughter’s need to contribute and your needs for cooperation, ease and connection– together, can you brainstorm solutions that will work for both of you to get your needs met?  Perhaps she will agree to carry the crayons in the car to finish the drawing.  Perhaps you will agree to give her an extra five minutes to finish up.  When you get down to the needs level, you often find an abundance of solutions waiting to be discovered.

The concepts in this chapter, Nurturing Connection Through Setting Your Intentions, are based on the principles of Nonviolent Communication™, a communication process and needs-based consciousness developed by  Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.  To learn more about Nonviolent Communication, visit


Parenting Responsively for Connection


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Written by 12 Parenting Professionals, Parenting Responsively for Connection is a treasure trove of parenting insights, motivations, and tips.   From strengthening connection with your child to making family dinners enjoyable, from guiding your strong-willed child to strategies for school year success, there’s something for everyone in this book.  And since it’s written  from so  many different perspectives, you get a taste of many different experiences.  If you’re wanting to learn how to connect better with your child and respond effectively to their needs, then get your copy of the book today.
(ebook is delivered in pdf format).

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What is Parenting Coaching?

Parenting coaching, first and foremost, is a relationship.   The coach/client relationship enhances your ability to learn, make changes, and achieve desired goals. The coaching process leads you through a systematic framework that helps you to clarify your objectives, explore new options, make decisions and become accountable to act on your choices.

Often, coaching begins with choosing what areas you want to focus on in your family.  Are you experiencing challenges with “temper tantrums,”  sibling squabbling, defiant teenagers?  Are you wanting more connection and fun with your kids, more ease in your daily interactions, or more respect?  Focusing on your areas of concern, you use the coaching framework to set goals, create action items, and make commitments to change.  Together with your coach, you brainstorm strategies, analyze what worked and what didn’t, celebrate successes and receive encouragement and support to move forward toward your goals.

Your parenting coach holds your vision for your family and keeps you connected to it, even when the going gets tough.  Often your coach, as an outsider looking in, can provide an honest assessment and will challenge you to bring out the best in you.  With your parenting coach at your side, you will have the support you need to reach your parenting potential and create the family life you desire.