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Sunday, February 28, 2010

"I want it now!"

“I Want It Now!” How to Challenge a False Sense of Entitlement in Kids

I Want It Now! How to Challenge a False Sense of Entitlement in KidsAlmost as soon as your child begins to talk, you’ll start to hear him ask for things. In fact, when an infant cries, he’s asking for food or to be made more comfortable. By the time he reaches the age of four or five, his constant refrain becomes: “Can I have this, Mom? Can I have that?" The unending requests for new toys or candy and an “I want it now” attitude may follow you every time you go to the store. Parents want to give to their kids for many reasons. It's partly instinctual—back in the Stone Age, “giving to your child” might have meant providing food, shelter and protection. Those urges are still there. Unfortunately, if you give in to every little want and need your child expresses, you are really feeding and nurturing a sense of false entitlement—which I believe can lead to problems later on.

The attitude of a child with a false sense of entitlement is, “I am, therefore give to me.”

I think it’s important to keep in mind that parents and kids get some powerful messages in our society. One of the most prevalent is, “The more you give your child, the better parent you are.” Children are also led to believe they're entitled to receive. Commercials, TV shows, movies, and their friends at school all tell kids, “This is the new thing. This is what everybody's getting. If you don’t have it, you won’t be cool.” So it’s easy for you as a parent to feel obligated to give to your child—and pretty soon, your child will grow to expect it. This can lead to parents giving much more than their kids need—and sometimes, more than their family can really afford.

Children also get a false sense of entitlement by being overly praised for things, and rewarded for tasks that they should be doing as a matter of course. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding achievement and excellence, but it becomes a problem when you reward mediocre efforts.

I’ve also worked with many parents who have the following fantasy: they imagine their child talking to their friends, saying, “My parents are great. They got me these new sneakers.” Or, “My dad’s the best—he bought me this bike.” Maybe your child is saying that, and maybe he’s not. Regardless, this thought often makes parents feel proud and good about themselves, and it motivates them to spend more than is good or necessary. There are those parents who want to be their child's friend—and consequently, they will often buy their child things because they’re afraid they’ll lose the friendship. This pattern may continue until the child reaches young adulthood. By that time, he firmly believes that his parents “owe” him whatever he wants. So the confluence of instinct and social pressure—and the need to be liked by their kids—can often make parents overindulge their children.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to give to your children. But I do believe that the way you give to them can either help them develop a sense of ownership by earning things, or nurture a sense of false entitlement because they’re usually getting what they want, when they want it. And when kids grow up with a false sense of entitlement, you'll see them thinking they're entitled to expensive toys, electronic gadgets, trips and cars without having to earn them. They will do poorly in school and still want that car when they turn 18—and expect to get it. They’ll even tell their parents there's something wrong with them if they don't give them what they want, regardless of the family’s financial situation. The attitude of a child with a false sense of entitlement is, “I am, therefore give to me.”

So how do you challenge that false sense of entitlement in kids, and why is it so important to do so? I believe it’s critical to challenge them because once your child grows up and goes out into the real world, he will have to work for what he wants, just like everyone else. So as a parent, it’s important that you teach your child the value of hard work and earning things. He needs to really see that integral connection between making an effort and achieving success. Conversely, when things are handed to your child, the message he’s getting is, “You don’t need to do anything—everything will be given to you in life just because you’re you.”

If you want to start challenging this pattern in your child, I recommend the following techniques.

Challenging the False Sense of Entitlement in Kids

Ask Yourself, “What Do I Want My Child to Learn?”

Whenever you want to get a message across to your children, I think it’s important to think through what you really want to teach them. Ask yourself, “What do I want my children to learn about money and work to achieve success in life?” And then come up with a procedure that will teach them about finances. Some concepts which I think are important to teach from a young age are:

  • Money doesn't come easily.

  • People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life.

  • If you want something, you need to work to earn it.

  • You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.

Break these concepts down for your child. You can say, “You can’t make a video game yourself. But when you’re old enough, you can work at Wendy's for a week and get enough money to buy a video game somebody else made.” You can take it one step further by asking, “And why did they make that video game? So they could earn enough money to eat at Wendy's.” Use the teaching role to help your child start connecting the dots. Think about what you want your child to learn and what you want him to take away from the conversation, because that is going to set the tone for the way he thinks about what he earns—and what you give him—from now on.

Set Some Limits on Giving to Your Kids

I think it’s important to put limits on what you give your children. Don’t feel as if you need to give them every little thing they ask for, even if “all the other kids have one.” I think it’s also a good idea to talk to your kids and let them know that you don’t have an infinite supply of money at your fingertips. Tell them from an early age that you and/or your spouse work to make money to support your family. Try to explain that you trade your time for money in order to take care of your household.

When your child asks for things, I think it’s perfectly fine to say, “You’re welcome to buy that with your birthday money,” or “Why don’t you put that on your Christmas list?” Or, “Why don’t you save up your allowance money and buy it?” Saying “no” to your child does not make you a bad or uncaring parent—it just makes you a practical one who wants to teach your child to understand money in a more realistic way.

Tell Your Child the New Rules

Let’s say that up until now you've been giving your child whatever he wants without expecting him to work for it. If you want to give your kids money or things, I think it’s important to come up with a system where you can deliver the goods to them in such a way that they feel like they’ve earned them. In my opinion, paying for extra work around the house is better than giving an allowance, because it gives you more flexibility as you reward them.

If you want to make some changes, I think you should sit down and have a frank discussion with your child.

Younger Kids: For younger children and pre-teens I think you can say something like, “Listen, I want you to learn how to earn some of the things you want by doing extra work around the house. I don’t mean by doing your regular chores, like setting the table or doing the dishes. So for instance, you could mow the lawn, shovel the walk when it snows, or clean my car when it’s dirty. Instead of giving you an allowance, I’m going to pay you to do these things. We’re going to start this Saturday. If you want to earn money, you’ll have to see me Saturday morning to find out what you can do.” Then, determine how much you want to pay him for these jobs and make sure it’s within your budget.

Adolescents: When you talk with adolescents, you can expect a serious reaction to your words, especially if they’ve come to expect to get things without having to earn them. After all, they’re probably very happy with the way things are right now, and they may balk at the idea of having to work for what you give them. The way you prepare for that is by saying to your child, “I have something that I need to talk to you about that's really affecting our finances. You're going to have to keep an open mind and be mature during this conversation. So why don't we get together at four o'clock. This is actually a great technique for you to use with your child. I used to say to kids in my office, “Listen, do you want me to talk to you like a young adult or a little kid?” Naturally, they'd always pick young adult. And then I’d keep my word and talk to them utilizing facts, not feelings. That means I would speak respectfully, frankly, and persuasively. In my opinion, when we talk to teenagers and young adults, we have to be as persuasive as we can be. So when you speak to your teen, try to put things in his best interests: “I want to help you earn some cash because I know you really want to buy that new video game. Here’s how you can make some extra money around the house.” If your child refuses to do odd jobs around the house, the next time he asks for things, you can simply say, “You know how you can earn that new DS. When you’re ready to clean out the garage, I can pay you and you can start saving up.”

Have Your Child Work to Earn Money

If you have the financial capability and you believe in the concept of paying kids to do work around the house, I personally think it’s better to give your child money for doing odd jobs rather than give him a weekly allowance. This way, your child will learn how to manage his finances, and he will also make the connection between work and payment. So let’s say your child gets $10 a week for mowing the lawn. (By the way, he shouldn’t receive this money until the lawn is done.) Then if he wants a video game that costs $50, he has to save for it—that’s how you develop a sense of earned entitlement. Later, a job at Wendy's making $6 an hour will look really good to your child. He'll take that job for 12 hours a week part-time, because he’ll understand that it will bring him $70 a week. He’ll be able to buy a new video game every week if he wants to, and he'll be entitled to do so because he earned it.

If Your Child Doesn’t Comply, Pay Their Siblings to Do the Work

I think it’s important for your child to understand when you’re giving him a gift. To put it simply, he needs to realize that he’s not simply entitled to whatever you give him. How do you do this? This one is a piece of cake. You just say clearly, “I wanted to give you something extra.” Or “Here's a gift from your mother and me.” Be sure to differentiate this from the money you give him for allowance, or the money he might earn from getting on the Dean’s list at school.

Remember, the danger is not having a sense of entitlement; the danger is having a false sense of entitlement. People who have this mindset often hold a negative view of hard work—they put it down and ridicule it. They think they deserve things they haven't earned, and they can develop contempt for people who work to earn things.

I believe that a false sense of entitlement affects every strata of society today. Kids who grow up this way don't want the jobs that are available because they have the belief that they're entitled to something better without having to make an effort. So that false sense of entitlement prohibits them from getting the work skills and the social skills they need to start at the bottom and work their way up.

One of my first jobs involved carrying bolts of cloth in a dress factory and loading trucks. I was 16 years old and I made $1.25 an hour. I didn’t think working hard to earn things was unusual because I had watched my father work all my life. He grew up during The Great Depression, and he always said, “If you want something, you have to work for it.”

Here’s the bottom line: When kids have a false sense of entitlement, they don’t see the world in real terms. When money and material goods have been handed to them their whole lives, the danger is that they won’t have the idea that they should work hard to achieve their goals. Their view of the world will be, “If I want it, someone will give it to me”—but as we all know, that’s just not the way the world functions. Once you leave your parents’ house, it’s up to you to make an effort to achieve some success in life. Sadly, you will often see older children living with their parents into adulthood, because that’s where things are easiest for them. But make no bones about it, that skewed view of the world is going to affect them in a negative way their whole lives.

The good news is that you can start teaching your child now about what it means to work hard to achieve goals in life—before it’s too late.

“I Want It Now!” How to Challenge a False Sense of Entitlement in Kids reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit

Child Behavior

Thursday, February 25, 2010

You Can Afford To Stay Home With Your Kids - Book Review

Are you working outside of the home? Have you ever considered leaving work to stay home with your kids, but don't know how you'll ever get by on one income? Then "You Can Afford To Stay Home With Your Kids" is the book for you. It's a Step by Step guide for converting your family from two incomes to one.

For this review I used my own personal copy of the book that I purchased from

"You can afford to stay home with your kids" is also for moms who:
* Are looking for ways to lower their monthly expenses
* Husband is unemployed or facing retrenchment
* Want to quit their jobs and start a home based business
* Are plagued with Mommy guilt.

The book is divided into 3 sections. The authors Malia Wycoff and Mary Snyder take an in-depth look at the toll that working outside the home has on moms as well as the benefits of being a stay at home mom. But they don't paint an unrealistically rosy picture of life as a stay at home mom. They also discuss some of the harsh realities that moving from a dual income family to a single income family will entail for you, your husband and your children.

The first section deals with the financial aspects of making the transition from two incomes to one. You will discover just how much is left of your paycheck once work-related expenses are deducted. In this first section you will find out whether staying at home is a feasible choice for you and your family.

The second part of the book helps you to make the transition from working mom to stay at home mom more easily. It provides lots of tips and advice to help you to deal with the emotional upheaval, loneliness and other challenges of making the transition to stay at home mom. If you've always worked, then this book will give you a realistic picture of what to expect as a stay at home mom.

The third part of the book shows you not only how to survive, but thrive, on one income. There are ideas for:
* Inexpensive activities for kids
* Affordable family vacation ideas
* Cutting the grocery bill in half
* Dressing your family for less
* And more

I think that You Can Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids: A Step-By-Step Guide for Converting Your Family from Two Incomes to One should be on every moms reading list.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Much Is It Costing You To Work?

Did you realize that it's actually costing you to work? I'm talking about work related expenses, such as childcare, work clothing etc. If you're a working mom who would like to stay at home with her kids, then you have to figure out just how much money is left over after you deduct all work related expenses. That amount (and not your net salary) is what you are really contributing to the household each month. And if you wish to work at home, then you need to know just how much your home based business must bring in each month in order to break even.

The most obvious work related expense is daycare. It's often the biggest expense to come out of the second income of a dual-income family. After-school care also falls into this category.

Transportation costs probably also take a big chunk of your income. Traveling to and from work and daycare can add up to a pretty penny. What are your work-related transportation costs for the month?

Clothing. Unless you wear some sort of 'uniform' to work, you will probably be spending a fair amount of money on work clothes each month. After all, you can't turn up to a meeting with CEO's in a faded 3 year old suit, now can you?

In addition to these obvious costs, there are also many hidden costs associated with working. Here are some of them.

Office Food.
Eating lunch out, that morning cup of coffee at Starbucks and anything else you buy to eat at work all fall into this category. For one month jot down whatever you spend on food during the course of your workday. You'll be surprised at the amount.

Office Socializing.
Buying gifts for co-workers who are getting married, having babies, leaving, transferring to another department, retiring and so on are all part of being a caring, friendly co-worker. So are chats over coffee and occasional drinks after work. How much are you spending each month on office socializing?

Convenience Items
Frozen, microwaveable meals, prepared foods from the Deli and pre-packaged mixes are all wonderful time savers that many working moms rely heavily on. But that convenience comes at a price. In addition to these convenience meals, you are probably also even cooking take-out meals a few times a week because you're simply too exhausted to cook.

Last minute birthday gifts, expensive cookies from the bakery for the school play and so on all fall into this category.

Shopping during lunch breaks or because you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your kids can also blow your budget.

School Lunches.
Preparing homemade lunches is often just an additional chore that working moms have no time for. How much are you paying each month for the convenience of prepared lunches?

Then there are other minor expenses that you probably never even thought of including, such as fund raisers, mlm products bought from a co-worker, or betting on who will win the latest football game.

For one month, make note of how much you spend in each of these areas. Add up all your work realted expenses and subtract that from your income. That total is how much you are contributing to the family income. Divide that by the amount of hours you worked and you will arrive at your hourly wage.

Armed with these figures you will now be able to decide if you want to continue working or not. If you want to start a home based business you will know exactly how much you need to bring in each month in order to break even. Or if you're a stay at home mom, you'll know by how much you need to reduce your expenses in order to make ends meet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parents Aren't The Problem

"Parents Aren't the Problem—They're the Solution"

Parents Arent the Problem—Theyre the SolutionDo you feel like your family members, your kid’s teachers, and even counselors blame you for your child’s acting out behavior? You’re not alone.  As James Lehman says, there are countless parents out there “living in little prisons”—feeling trapped, isolated, and ashamed of their child’s defiant or out of control behavior. If you’re in this situation, James has a message for you: you aren’t your child’s problem—you are the solution.

Q: James, in a recent article in EP, you said “I don’t think parents are the problem—I think they’re the solution.” That really resonated with a lot of our readers. Can you explain what you mean by that a bit more?

J: Parents of acting-out kids are often perceived as being the problem—or that they've created their “problem child”. I think when parents are labeled this way, it becomes extremely discouraging for them. They’re out there trying their best and looking for answers, but they’re being told that their child’s behavior is their entire fault. The attitude of many professionals today is also that parents are the reason children behave inappropriately—and that the parents aren't committed to helping their kids change. In my experience, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

By the way, while it can’t be denied that some parents out there are abusive or neglectful, I'm focusing on the “good enough” parents in this article. “Good enough” parents provide for their children and try their best to keep their kids safe. They are trying to raise their children the best they can, even if their methods aren’t always effective. I personally think parents who are trying their best should not be blamed for their child’s acting-out behavior—they need training, not blame. And it’s not only that they need help, they need the right kind of help. If we put half the resources into training parents that we do into family therapy, I think we’d see some real change.

Parents are out there trying their best and looking for answers, but they’re being told that their child’s behavior is all their fault.

Q: So you don’t think it’s the parents’ fault that their children behave the way they do?

J: Let’s face it, blaming people never gets anybody anywhere. Of course we influence our children, but personally I think there is every reason to believe that our kids also shape our behavior.

Let me break it down for you. If you have an acting-out child, you might react to him in a variety of ways. Let’s say you try to reason with your child, but he throws a tantrum—and doesn’t learn more appropriate ways of behaving as he develops. Or maybe when you go to hug him he pushes you away. Later, when you attempt to set limits on him, he calls you foul names. As he gets older, if a given situation isn’t going the way he likes, he breaks things or hits his siblings—or you. And when he’s asked to account for himself he usually blames you or some other person, place or thing. Remember, blame is infectious.

Make no mistake, a family in that situation is going to treat this child in a certain way. And while to outsiders it may look like the parents are triggering the inappropriate behavior, it's actually the child who has shaped theirs.

By the way, I've talked in other articles in Empowering Parents about how children blackmail their parents into giving in. Often, for example, you'll see families with parents who appear to be too tolerant or passive. But sometimes their child has trained them through years of acting out and aggressive behavior. And what he’s taught them is not to demand or expect a lot from him. The inherent threat is “if you try to set limits on me, I’ll act out—and you’ll be sorry.”

Q: Why do you think other people, and especially professionals, tend to blame the parents?

J: I think it's often easy for them—and other people outside the family—to paint with too broad a brush. People look at the family of an acting-out, defiant child and tend to criticize the parents. And frankly, I think it's easier to blame parents who use ineffective strategies with their children instead of taking the time to educate them about more effective ways to manage their child.

It’s a lot easier to blame parents than it is to change children. In my opinion, it's important to understand that there are ineffective parenting strategies, but there are also effective ones that can be learned. Unfortunately, most parents are referred to family therapy before they're ever referred to parent training. When they show up, they’re often treated as if they are “guilty until proven innocent” instead of the other way around. This is because many therapists are trained to validate that there’s something wrong with the family.

Q: What happens when the parents are blamed for their child’s behavior?

J: When you're a parent in that situation, it's very easy to feel attacked. You feel like there’s a suspicion that you’ve done something wrong, and that your mistakes are causing your child to have problems. Compounding that, many parents feel somewhat guilty about their kid’s behavior because they don’t know what went wrong. It’s easy for them to fall into the trap of blaming themselves.

Parents also tend to get discouraged and distrustful. And in addition to professionals, families are often told by other family members, teachers and people in their community that they're not doing right by their kids.

If you’re a parent stuck in this situation, it’s easy to look out your window and see your neighbors’ kids playing nicely with each other while your child can't play with other kids. It's very easy to get the sense that people think you're the problem. Many parents of acting-out kids carry a lot of guilt around with them—they immediately assume their child’s behavior is their fault. Then when they try to get help for it, what they often get is more blame. Or sometimes, just as bad, parents might assume their child’s behavior is the fault of someone else. I try to tell them that blame does no one any good. Rather, the important questions to ask are, “Who is taking responsibility for this child?” and “What are you willing to change in order to accomplish that?”

The first place they go for help is usually to their own families. Sadly, if they get blamed there, they will often try to keep their problem a secret; they won’t ask for help in other arenas. Many parents experience a certain amount of shame over their acting-out child.

Q: Parents do experience shame over this, but why is that?

J: The ideal in our society is children who behave. The formula is the following: if you're the right kind of parent, your child will be well-behaved. Of course, I think that there's another formula for parenting which I mentioned earlier called the “good enough” parent. They’re not being abusive or neglectful, they provide for their children, but they may not be using effective techniques to solve their kid's problems. They might be doing things they learned from their own parents or that they saw on a talk show.

Sometimes parents might simply be following their own instincts, but that information can be ineffective with certain kids. Why is that? This is because we're talking about a 21st century child with 21st century problems. It's simply a different time, and it's also a much more difficult time to be a parent as well as a child. Let's look at the demands that parents are under. First of all, they’re under a lot more economic stress and anxiety. In most families today, both parents have to work to stay above water, and sometimes each parent has more than one job. And this stress affects a parent’s ability to function and to act. Children and adolescents are also under more stress, and they have more ways of rebelling than ever before. Many parents are simply overwhelmed.

I think helping parents find solutions and teaching them problem-solving skills is the most effective thing we can do. I believe that parents who feel like they are under suspicion of being “bad parents” are often going to be very defensive. They won’t be open to new ideas or to learning new things. They feel like they have something to prove—what they’re trying to prove is that they're not bad parents.

Q: James, how would you help parents in this situation?

J: I try to distinguish the difference between blame and responsibility. Blame is not helpful, ever. And the people who are showing up and trying to find ways to help their child are taking responsibility.

In my own life, I grew up with three brothers. We all had the same parents, but I was out of control. My siblings were pretty well-behaved kids all the way through high school and into adult life. Even though we had the same parents, there were very different outcomes in terms of our behavior. My parents were “good enough” parents, and it showed. Unfortunately I had special needs and there was no one around to show them how to manage me. 

I also understand that parents of acting-out kids have a more challenging time of raising their children. Everybody knows how to handle a child who doesn't have behavior problems. So I think if ineffective parenting contributed to the behavior problems that a child has, it just makes sense to me that effective parent training will contribute to positive change: not blaming, pointing the finger, or arm-chair diagnosing.

Q: So why are parents the solution, in your opinion?

J: I think parents are the solution because they spend the most time with their children; they create the environment their children live in. They are the primary role models because their children spend the most time with them. The family is the center of a child's life. I believe that if parents get the proper training on how to be more effective, and they're willing to use those techniques, then they're going to have children who can solve their developmental life problems effectively.

I also think parents are the solution because they love their kids. They have the most invested in their children because they are going to be related to them for the rest of their lives. So they are the most motivated to help their child change his behavior. I used to tell parents, “If we do these things now, maybe your child can avoid getting into further trouble. But if he continues the way he’s going, you're going to be the ones visiting him in prison, lending him money because he won't get a job, or raising his kids because he's either too irresponsible or addicted to raise them himself.”

The good news is that once parents have techniques to use in their home, they can use them all the time. And I absolutely believe if parents work on having a more effective parenting role in their child's life—to not be a Martyr, an Excuse-maker, or an Over-negotiator—it’s more likely that things will change for the better in their family.

If you’re the parent of an acting-out child, ask yourself, “What do I want to see change and how can I make that change occur?” And then be honest with yourself when you look for answers. I believe that’s the first step toward creating positive change in your child’s—and your family’s—life.

"Parents Aren't the Problem—They're the Solution" reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit

Child Behavior

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sudden Behavior Changes In Teens - 7 Things You Can Do Today

Sudden Behavior Changes in Children
Part II: 7 Things You Can Do Today

Sudden Behavior Changes in Children Part II: 7 Things You Can Do TodayThis week, James tells you how to handle the specific changes you might suddenly see in your child during adolescence, from backtalk to attitude to slipping grades.

I believe parents go through something similar to the stages of grief when their kids go through adolescence. The family that once had a loving and eager son or daughter, someone who would spend as much time with you as you let them, is gone now; it’s as if it has died. In its place is a different family system, and it’s one in which your child may talk back to you and complain about you frequently. Maybe your once-cheerful middle school son stomps off to his room when he comes home. Or the daughter who used to want to spend time with you acts like she doesn’t even like you—let alone want to be in the same room with you. Rebelliousness becomes part of the routine.

Don’t give their bad attitude or backtalk power in the moment, because that only teaches them that they can push your buttons.

Parents often react to these kinds of changes in their children by going through some of the stages of grief. One of the stages is bargaining—and in fact, parents will try to bargain and negotiate with their child in an attempt to pull them back in. Another one of the stages is anger: parents get very angry about what has happened to the relationship they used to have. Often that anger takes the form of fighting and arguing and blaming between the parents and the adolescent. Fortunately, the last stage of grief is acceptance: eventually, we come to accept that our child is going to become his or her own person, with his or her own personal tastes, likes and dislikes. The parent-child relationship becomes much more complex than it was when they were younger. Unfortunately for many families, acceptance of the process usually happens late and last.

When your family is going through this grieving process, it’s really tough to deal with, and I understand that—I’m a parent myself. I’ve seen many, many parents mourning these kinds of changes in their kids. It’s important to realize that when people are grieving, they don't always make the best decisions. Unfortunately, a lot of parents mistakenly fight against the changes they see happening. But make no mistake: the more you fight it, the stronger it gets.

Personally, I believe we need to accept the normal developmental changes we see while holding our kids accountable to the rules.

1. Realize that Your Child is Individuating from You

  • Realize that your child is individuating from you and try not to take their behavior as a personal attack. Think of the films you see on the Discovery Channel, where the butterfly has to break out of its cocoon, or a bird or reptile hatching from an egg. If you notice, they have to tear and claw their way out of the shell. They don’t get to the next stage of their lives passively. And unfortunately, neither do adolescents. You are the authority in their lives with control over them, so rebellion is often part of the way they separate from you. That’s how they break free of the cocoon. I don’t mean this to say that you have to accept it if they are verbally nasty or start to resist curfew or chores—you need to hold them accountable for that behavior. Just realize that this is not a personal attack upon you. It’s just your child fighting his or her way out of the cocoon.

    Adolescents will also start to say things like, “I have a life outside of this family. I have my own friends. They’re the ones who really understand me—not you!” They want their own money and might get a part-time job so they can buy clothes and have some autonomy. I personally believe one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids is that of independence. In fact, being independent is one of the greatest factors for determining success later in life. So as much as is possible and safe, I think you should allow your teen some control over his or her own life if they’ve proven themselves to be responsible. This autonomy may come in the form of a part-time job, or the sports or activities your child chooses to do at school. Whenever possible, allow them to make those kinds of choices themselves. And remember, giving kids choices so they don’t feel trapped will usually decrease the chances that they’ll enter into a power struggle with you.

2. Don’t Give the Behavior Power

  • If your child has developed a bad attitude and is rude and disrespectful around the house, one of the best things you can do is not give it power. Keep the expectations in your house clear: “In this family, we treat each other with respect.” Don’t stay there with your child and argue the point—remember, you don’t need to attend every fight you’re invited to. After you’ve both calmed down, you can give them consequences for their behavior. But don’t give their bad attitude or backtalk power in the moment, because that only teaches them that they can push your buttons.

3. When You Don’t Like Your Child’s Friends

  • Here's the thing. Even though you might think your kid has the wrong friends, you need to understand that they're the people he’s seeking out. To somebody else's parents, your child is the wrong friend. I used to laugh when parents would say, “Well, it's his friends that have made him change; it's the people he's hanging out with.” Understand that there's a reason why he's hanging out with them; he's choosing them because he's like them. He's attracted to their behavior, he's one of them. So while one parent might be saying, “Sam's a mess because he hangs out with those bad kids.” Another parent down the block is telling her child, “Don't hang out with kids like Sam.” It's all about your perspective.

    By the way, if your child is always at a friend’s house, and you don’t like that friend, I have one thing to say: your child has too much free time. Again, I encourage parents to have structure. This includes a flexible but clear time frame. When you have a set schedule in your house, your child then knows that there's a time when he has to be home from school. He knows he shouldn’t go and hang out at his friend's house for an hour and then come home. In fact, it’s been proven that kids who get good grades tend to come home after school and start their homework. And these days, kids have a lot of studying to do at night. Believe me, in high school when the demands for homework become greater, kids shouldn’t be spending less time on their studies. Don’t get me wrong, I think there's a time when kids can go to a friend's house, like on weekends, for example. But I think on school nights, they should be home.

    By the way, I know there are many families where both parents work. My wife and I both worked, and I understand the difficulties parents face in this situation. Many parents have no control over their kids until they get home at 5:30, or even later. But I believe you can still structure your child’s schedule after school by giving them choices. You can say, “What you do until 5:30 is up to you. If you’re home by 3:30 and start your homework, you’ll have more free time later to watch TV or play video games. But if you play around, you’ll have to do your homework after dinner and miss that free time later on in the evening.” (When You Dread coming home to your child)

4. Control What Comes Into Your Home

  • I think it's so important that parents control what comes into their homes. What I mean by that is, control the media that your children are exposed to. After all, your house is the only place where you have any control at all. It’s the place where you can say, “No sexually explicit stuff here. No x-rated movies, no violent music or video games.” Your home is the only area where you can really try to uphold those standards. Think of it as the place where there's some sanity, expectations and rules. Those expectations might be, “We expect you to get good grades, we expect you to do your homework. If you don't do your homework, forget about having your phone or being on the computer.” Realize that you can’t control what your child does outside of the house. You can give consequences when you catch them breaking rules, but ultimately, the control you have extends to the walls of your home.

5. Reward Positive Behavior, Give Consequences for Breaking Rules

  • If your child is involved with sports outside the house and does well and still maintains good grades, I think you can reward him or her for that. You can buy them a pair of cleats, for example, or take them to a football game or dance performance. On the flip side, if kids get in trouble outside the house, including trouble with the law or getting caught drinking or getting high, then you need to give them consequences at home as well. An effective one is to not allow them to go out until they’ve made amends and can demonstrate they're more trustworthy; they can do this by behaving more responsibly through a Learning Experience that you develop with them.

    Consequences are really how we get people to meet their responsibilities. It's very simple: when you're driving, getting a speeding ticket is the consequence for not meeting your responsibilities to drive within the limits of the law. It's all connected, and it’s an effective part of the way we teach our children better behavior.

6. Getting Your Child Back on Track after Grades Have Slipped

  • I think it’s okay to say to your child, “Your grades have really fallen. I'm taking your cell phone until you show me that you're getting them back up again.” And until the teacher sends home a notice saying that your child’s performance is improving, hang onto their phone or their Nintendo DS—or whatever it takes to motivate them. And then you can say, “If that notice doesn't say you're doing good work, I'm keeping this until the report card comes.” I think you should be very, very firm about that. You don't owe your child a phone, a DS or a car, in the case of teens. Those are the things you give them to use. And so don't hesitate to use them as consequences or rewards, and don't play around. After all, your child’s job is to learn, to go to school and get good grades. If you want them to go to a good school or get scholarships from college, they've got to have the grades to back it up. So if they’re not trying, or if doing sports or a part-time job is interfering with schoolwork, in my mind, you need to be clear with them: school comes first. They might have to give up activities or their job until they can get their grades back up, but that’s okay.

7. Setting Limits on Adolescents

  • Parents of teens need to understand that adolescents are in a different stage of their lives now—and there are ways to support it and there are ways to set limits on it. You can say, “In this house, I want you here for dinner time so we can all eat together. If you don't like it, just sit there and eat quietly. But we all eat dinner together.” Parents also have to accept that their kids might want to spend more time in their rooms. They're going to think their friends understand them a lot more than their parents do. They're going to push parents away. While it can be very painful, it’s important to realize that this change is not personal or unique to your child—this is really the way your adolescent is learning how to be an adult.

Sudden Behavior Changes in Children
Part II: 7 Things You Can Do Today
reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sudden Behavior Changes In Teens - What Do They Mean?

Sudden Behavior Changes in Kids,
Part I: What Do They Mean?

Sudden Behavior Changes in Kids, Part I: What Do They Mean?In part one of this two-part series, James Lehman explains why kids change so much during adolescence, and he warns us about the sudden changes of which every parent needs to be aware.

Whether we like it or not, kids change. Their behavior, their attitudes, their likes and dislikes: these shifts can be seen throughout childhood. But the biggest changes—and the hardest for most families to deal with—are the ones that occur when kids enter pre-adolescence and adolescence. As the old saying goes, “the only thing that is constant in life is change,” and children are no exception from the rule. Sometimes the change from childhood to the pre-teen and teen years can appear to be quite drastic. Kids can quite suddenly lose interest in the things they used to play with, and it can take parents by surprise. It may seem like one day your child is playing with dolls or trucks, and the next, they want to wear nail polish and make-up and to have a cell phone. And we’ve all known kids who aren’t really interested in clothes, but then all of a sudden, they start caring about how they look. Sometimes these shifts in style or attitude happen for social reasons—children reach a certain age where they want to be accepted by the other kids and they don't want to be left out or teased. Or maybe they’ve hit puberty and have started caring about the opposite sex.

“Understand that it's the rapidity of the change that should get our attention and make us curious.”

You'll also see a lot of changes during adolescence because it’s the time when kids begin to strike out on their own. In fact, this developmental stage actually requires that they begin to “individuate” from their parents—your child is forming a separate personality from you, with his or her own thoughts and opinions. This is not an easy task for them and it’s often accompanied by a certain amount of distress for both the adolescent and the rest of the family. Let’s face it, teens are at a stage in their lives where they’re preparing to become functioning adults who make their own decisions. So finding a separate identity from their parents, however painful it can be at times, is very necessary. Some of the more commonplace results of these shifts in your child’s behavior include an increase in backtalk and complaining, increased moodiness, a poor attitude, and varying levels of rebellion. In fact, in some cases, the rebelliousness can be quite severe.

I think it’s important for parents to realize that there are other changes which can occur seemingly overnight. In part two of this series, I’ll discuss effective ways to deal with the common shifts in attitude you might see in your child, such as rebelliousness and backtalk.

Before I do that, I want to take a moment to talk about changes that are not part of normal childhood development. These are the sudden changes that stem from trauma and substance abuse, and I believe every parent needs to know about them.

Bullying: When Your Child is Targeted as a Victim

Ridicule and rejection, especially in adolescence, can be very, very traumatic for kids. If you live in an urban, suburban or even rural area, often there are groups and bullies in school who hold a lot of sway over the other students. I’m not talking about dangerous gangs with guns like you see on TV—I mean groups of kids who hang out together and target other students as their victims, usually via public ridicule or physical intimidation. And once they target your child as a victim, they are probably putting them down every day. That kind of ridicule becomes extremely powerful for many kids, and you may see their personality change because of it.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, you may see a difference in their grades and their attitude, and you also might see them become much more irritable and easily frustrated. Too many kids don't talk with anyone about the fact that they’re being picked on. Instead, they withdraw from the world. Their daily life is very painful for them, and so their coping skills become withdrawal and avoidance. Pre-teens who are bullied often won’t want to get dressed in the morning, and you’ll start hearing them say, “I don’t want to go to school.”

If your child is being bullied, you have to put pressure on his or her school administration and the school board. Go to a school board meeting. It’s very important to advocate for your child. Since children have to get an education, keeping them safe should be the school’s first priority. If they're not doing that job, you need to make a lot of noise. Talk with other parents and get them to put pressure on the school as well. Personally, I think all schools should have a zero tolerance for bullying. From an early age, kids need to be taught what bullying is and how they can deal with it. (For more on bullying, read My Child is Being Bullied—What Should I Do? and The Truth about Bullies)

Substance Abuse: “My Child Just Changed Overnight.”

One of the things parents often described to me in my office was how their child “just changed.” Their kid’s grades went downhill, they became more secretive, they withdrew from family life. Understand that it's the rapidity of that change that should get our attention and make us curious. In other words, your child will undoubtedly undergo some pretty major changes between the ages of 10 to 18, and adolescents might even change fairly dramatically over any given six-month period. But if substance abuse is involved, behavioral changes can occur very quickly—it might even happen within a week or two. If this is the case, you will see your child stop or resist doing homework, for example. A drop in school grades often shows up first because it’s clear and fairly immediate—your child gets graded on his or her performance in school on a daily basis so the change in their performance is measurable. If one month your child gets an A, and the next month he gets a D, that’s a pretty clear sign that something is going on, especially if you notice his grades going down in all subjects. If he loses interest in things like sports or his old friends, it’s another indication that substance use may be involved.

Usually when kids get involved with substances they start by using them intermittently, on the weekends or at a certain friend’s house. Some kids who use substances stop there and walk away, and get on with their lives. But others experience a sense of relief from the pressures of adolescence when using substances, and those kids are at risk for deeper involvement. Drugs and alcohol become an increasingly primary part of their lives. For example, they’ll stop caring about things they used to care about—it may not matter to them if they’re neatly dressed and groomed anymore. They will go from being concerned about school and willing to work to achieve good grades to saying, “Ah, who cares if it's an ‘A’ or a ‘B’? The teacher's an idiot, anyway.” In other words, they start making excuses and justifications for the fact that their grades are falling.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes kids do have a bad experience with a teacher or a hard time with a certain subject. But if that’s the case, you'll see their grades fall in that specific course—it won’t result in a global, or overall, effect.

Realize that if your child is undergoing a personality change due to substance use, it usually happens globally. You’ll see it with their attitude toward their siblings and toward you. Often you'll see changes in their honesty. You might have a child who was generally pretty truthful, but then you start noticing that he’s lying more and keeping secrets. Sometimes things begin to go missing around the house. You'll see your child start to gravitate toward a different type of friend. These kids won’t be achievers. They aren’t the kids who care about their grades or are involved in sports. They aren’t the kids who want to be involved in any sort of family activities. Their primary interest is to party on the weekends and after school.

Sadly, you will see all these changes when substance abuse starts to take over more and more of your child’s life. Eventually, the day comes when if they can’t get high or drink, they don’t feel they have anything worthwhile to do.

If you suspect that your child has a substance abuse problem, I think you need to be very clear in your language to them; let them know that they have to take responsibility for it. If that means going with you to see a professional who can assess them, you have to make your expectation clear. (I recommend that kids in this situation see a qualified substance abuse counselor, preferably one who deals with adolescents.) If your child refuses to go, you can say, “Okay, then kiss your cell phone goodbye. And kiss the computer goodbye too, we're taking it out of your room. Kiss the car goodbye.” I think you need to be very black and white about your expectation that they take responsibility for this problem. Be strong. I don't mean that you should be nasty or hostile, and don’t attend all the fights they’ll try to invite you to during this tense time—and believe me, there will probably be many such fights. Just take a stand, state your expectation and stick with it, no matter how much complaining or blaming or arguing they throw at you. This is a fight worth fighting, after all, so you have to try to stay strong.

Sexual Abuse

You will also see a child’s behavior change when they have been sexually abused by a stranger or someone they know. This personality change is often drastic. A child who has been molested often becomes more isolated and withdrawn. Their grades go down and they become more fearful of people and places.

If you ever suspect that your child has been sexually abused, immediately report whatever you know to the police, and have your child seen by medical and mental health professionals right away.

In fact, any time your child’s behavior or personality changes drastically overnight, it’s important to have them evaluated immediately by a professional to rule out any physical reasons for the change, whether it’s from substance abuse, trauma, or the onset of depression or anxiety.

Whether changes in kids are slow or sudden, parents have a hard time with the fact that they can't protect their children once they leave home in the morning. Once your kids walk out the door, you simply can't insulate them from the kind of culture that is out there: the violence, the sexualization, and the glamorization of criminal behavior that we see all around us in movies, music and video games.

The rub is that if you fight your child’s need to individuate, you're fighting their every instinct—and it's a losing battle. So it’s not whether or not they individuate that you can influence, it’s how they individuate and what the rules of their rebellion are going to be that can make your family life easier. Next week, I’ll tell you about some ways you can use structure, rewards and consequences to ensure that your child stays accountable to the rules in your household. There are no guarantees in life, but as parents, we have to try our best to keep our children on the right path to adulthood.

Next week, James will explain how to work through the changes that you’ll see in your child during the tough teen and pre-teen years.

Sudden Behavior Changes in Kids,
Part I: What Do They Mean?
reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Making the transition from working mom to work at home mom

Making the transition from a dual income family to a single income family can be tough. Here are 5 things I wish someone had told me before I quit my job and became a stay at home mom.

1. Without my paycheck, things I considered necessities became occasional luxuries. In order to survive on my husband's paycheck alone I had to eliminate (or dramatically reduce) the following "necessities":
* Professional manicures, pedicures and facials.
* Expensive high maintenance hairdo's
* Eating out 4 or 5 times a week
* Microwaveable meals
* Shopping sprees for designer clothes, shoes and handbags (my weakness)
* A new car every 2-3 years
* Luxury vacations (We took lots of camping trips until I discovered how to go on fabulous vacations on a tight budget)

Shockingly enough, I soon realized that I didn't need any of these things to make me happy!

2. My kids also had to adjust. Whilst  my kids loved having me home they didn't take so kindly to having less toys and material possessions. It took them a while to realize that they couldn't always buy a new pair of brand name sneakers, latest electronic gadget or ultra-cool toy  just because their friends had them. The benefit to this, though, was that my kids became more responsible about money and my son even took on a part time job and started saving money for the things he wanted. my kids have learned to delay gratification, which is another vitally important life lesson.

3. I loved the unstructured days and no boss looking over my shoulder telling me what to do all the time. The freedom was wonderful, but I soon realized that it could be a double edged sword. There were more days than I care to remember that just drifted purposelessly away, because they didn't have any sort of structure to them.

4. I had more housework to do than ever. Who would have thought? Because the kids and I were home all day the house became messier and needed more cleaning. I didn't like housework when I was working and I certainly didn't like it any better after I started staying home. My solution was to get my kids involved. After all, they were responsible for most of the mess. And they learned valuable life skills and a sense of responsibility into the bargain.

5. My husband began to feel more pressure because he was now the sole breadwinner. Watching our spending habits and cutting expenses whenever I could helped to ease the pressure on him somewhat.

If you plan on returning to work again when the kids are older you may be limiting your prospects to some degree. To make this re-entry into the job market a bit easier, you may have to retain your membership in professional societies, continue networking and perhaps even continue to study at your own expense. But it's quite possible that you may never want to go back. Many moms have used the skills they gained through their training and jobs to open up successful home based businesses. This certainly proved to be the case with me. I started my own Internet based business and I haven't looked back!

The routine day to day life of a stay at home mom can be a lonely and thankless job. I found that I didn't have much in common with my working friends anymore and that I needed to cultivate friendships with other stay at home moms. But to my dismay I found that I didn't have too much in common with these ladies either! Most of them barely know how to turn on a computer, hadn't heard of Twitter and certainly didn't share my passion for online marketing. But thanks to the Internet, I've found many wonderful women from all over the world that I can connect and cultivate wonderful friendships with.

Knowing these things in advance would have made the transition from working mom to stay at home mom so much easier. But even with all it's challenges I wouldn't give up being a stay at home mom for the world.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Is Everyone Always Mad At Me?

"Why Is Everyone Always Mad at Me?"
Why Misreading Social Cues Leads to Acting Out Behavior

Why Is Everyone Always Mad at Me?Why Misreading Social Cues Leads to Acting Out BehaviorDoes your child often perceive himself as being right when he’s wrong and wrong when he’s right? Some children have a hard time picking up on other people’s expressions, body language or social cues. These kids are often prone to thinking they’re being disapproved of or disliked when they’re not.

Understand that reading social situations is a skill many kids with behavioral problems lack. Most kids acquire this skill as they grow: they learn to be more careful in situations where they might get in trouble or be hurt. Here’s an example of a child who is having problems learning this skill: let's say that your child is in school and he gets out of his seat, even though it's time for everybody to sit down. The teacher corrects him and tells him to sit down. Most kids have already taken their seats—they’ve learned to read that situation successfully. But when the teacher tells your child to sit down a second time, it triggers anxiety or frustration, which leads to increased behavioral control problems—and a diminished ability to see what’s actually going on. This cycle keeps repeating itself until your child develops a pattern of acting out around his inability to read certain social situations.

The Importance of Knowing How to Read Faces, Voices and Your Environment

Kids learn to get a majority of the information about their current social situation by reading people's facial expressions and body language. This starts when they are infants and continues well on into adulthood. In one study, it was determined that more than 70 percent of a child’s perceptions comes from the looks they see on other people’s faces. Problems emerge for kids who have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities or behavioral problems that interfere with their developing the ability to accurately read social situations. What that means is that they simply don't develop the skills to read social situations the same way that other kids do. And the misreading of these cues becomes one of the triggers for a lot of the behavioral problems that you see later on. That’s because they're not getting the same information that the other kids are receiving. Don't forget, a learning disability is an immature or malfunctioning part of a child’s neurological system. So the same data goes in, but the same solution—or behavior—does not come out.

For kids who have a hard time reading social situations and who tend to act or behave inappropriately, it’s vital that you work on it with them as a parent. If your child lacks these social skills, the good news is that this problem can be fixed.

7 Ways to Help Your Child Learn How to Read Social Cues

1. Use Photos to Help Kids Learn Emotions:

  • For Younger Kids and Pre-teens: I recommend that you buy magazines and go through them with your child. As they look at pictures, ask them to tell you what each person is feeling or thinking by the look on their face. You can start to train your child that certain looks are connected to certain emotions. You can start to say things like, “How do you think that person is feeling?” They might say “Happy.” And you can say, “Well, I think they're kind of confused. You see those little lines above their eyes, the way they're squinting like that. People do that when they're trying to understand something.” Teach your child what different looks mean: happy, confused, angry. Practice with them—and when I say practice, I mean repetition and rehearsal. These things have to be ingrained in kids by practicing it as much as possible, because that is the most effective way for them to learn.
  • For Older Kids: Remember that your child’s willingness to do this exercise is key. If they're not willing to do this with you, then forget about it. If they are, sit down with some teen magazines and talk with them. Have them make up stories about certain faces: show them a picture and ask them to tell you a one-paragraph story about the person. You can also watch a movie together and talk about the characters’ emotions. You can try using a reward in order to get them to work with you on this.
    By the way, I'm pretty frank with adolescents when it comes to their inability to read social situations. They don't like that because they don't want you to notice any deficit in their personality at all. The key is to associate your comments with something observable and realistic. I usually say something like this: “Look Tommy, part of your problem is that when you look at a situation, you don't see it the same way that most other kids and adults do. When the other kids look at the teacher and the teacher says ‘sit down,’ they all sit down. What they see is a situation where they have to comply. What you see is a situation where you don't necessarily have to do anything—that it's up to you. But that's not accurate, and that’s why you keep getting into trouble at school.” I follow that up by saying, “Tommy, if you can work on this with me, the misunderstanding like the one you had with your teacher today never needs to happen again.” I make it “right size” for the child, not something so huge he can't tackle, and I put it in terms of his best interests. “You’ll never have to go through this again after you learn how to do it the right way.” To many kids, I think that’s a relief.

2. Use Narratives and Roleplays

  • For Younger Kids: A good technique for younger kids is to do a narrative with them. You can say, “I'm going to walk into the store and I'm going to talk nicely to the sales lady, because I want her to be helpful. And even though I might get frustrated if I don't get the right size, I'm not going to talk to her like I'm angry; I'm going to talk to her respectfully. In the situations where I want somebody to do something for me, the best thing I can do is be polite and respectful.” And then you role play it with them. You definitely, definitely have to role play—and role model—appropriately with these kids.
  • For Older Kids and Teens: You can do role plays with teenagers, too. As a therapist, I would have them walk into my office four or five times in a row—just go back out and walk in—to practice how to enter a classroom and sit down. They'd walk in and I'd say, “Hey, Charlie, how's it going?” And if they responded inappropriately to me, I'd say, “Wrong. Go back out.” They’d try again and I'd say, “Hey Charlie, how's it going?” All they needed to do was wave and sit down. If they said anything rude, it was over. They thought this exercise was silly, but they did it. When they got it right, I'd say "Good, that's the way you do it. Why don't you try that in class?"

3. Break It Down into Bite-sized Pieces

  • Trying to change everything at once is overwhelming for all kids. That’s why I recommend that parents use “discrete learning.” That means you break down whatever you’re working on into individual little pieces. So you can say “Today, when we go into the store I want you to try this skill: smile a lot and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” Limit it to one skill or one situation at a time. Be sure to point out the results later. “Did you see how the waitress smiled back at you and brought you extra fries because you were so polite to her?” Always tell kids when what they are doing is working—it gives them an incentive to keep trying, just like it does with adults.

4. “Let’s Try an Experiment…”

  • Another thing you can say to your child is, “Let's try an experiment. Why don't you try this today and see what happens.” It could be raising their hand before they talk in school or saying “hello” to the teacher when they walk in to class. You could also say, “What would you like to happen today with this person?” And then role play how they can make that happen. So connect the new behavior to real things in your child’s life, but again, do it discretely, one thing at a time: one person at a time, one situation at a time, one class at a time.

5. Work with Your Kids: Teach and Coach Them Forward

  • Social skills are one of the areas where the teaching and coaching roles become very important for parents. Remember, when you take on the teaching role, what you’re really doing is helping your child to learn new skills. I think it’s okay to say, “People don't respond well to you when you ______, “—and then fill in the blank. But that has to be coupled with, “Why don't you try _______, instead. Here, let me show you.” Do a little interview with a short discussion. “Well, you know, teachers don't like it when you talk out of turn in class, Maddy. That's why you got detention. What do you think you can do differently the next time you want to talk out of turn? What can you do to remind yourself that you can't do that?” And see what she says. Here’s the key: the next day before school, take your child aside and say, “Remember what you said you were going to do differently today,” and remind her about her plan: “When the teacher says, ‘Time to take out your books,’ you are going to stop talking to Riley and Jenna and you’re going to listen so you don’t get detention again.”

6. Teach Your Child to “Check Out Perceptions”

  • It’s important for kids to be able to approach adults when they think they’re in trouble. They should be able to say, “Is something wrong” or “Did I do something wrong?” When they think their teacher is frowning at them in class, it’s helpful for them to ask that teacher later, “Did I do something wrong today?” It's hard to do, but it’s a technique that will help them eliminate a lot of misunderstanding. One of the things that my son learned to say in our house was, “Are we okay?” or “Are you okay?” After work I'd be tired most days, and even though I was feeling pretty good, to my son, I looked grumpy and out of sorts. And I taught him to ask me, “Are we okay, or did I do something wrong?” And I'd usually say, “Yeah, I'm doing fine, I'm just a little tired.”
    We taught him to read us—and if he didn't know what was going on, he learned to check it out. This is very important for kids. The first place they'll need to learn that skill is with their parents, to say “Is something wrong; are we okay?” And it’s important to answer that question, because they could be reading disapproval on your face when you have a headache or are anxious about work. Kids personalize things, and from that personalization they learn self-talk. Self-talk” is how we talk to ourselves all day long. It’s the key to almost everything, and the difference between thinking, “I can do this, it will be OK” vs. “I’m stupid. They all hate me.” Kids can easily take something the wrong way, and then they start talking to themselves about it. In the end, they might end up feeling like they can't make anybody happy. So it's very important for kids to learn how to check things out at home, especially if they have parents who are hard to read. And that’s certainly also true with teachers and other significant people in their lives.

7. For Kids Who Are Bullied

  • Although I think kids should learn how to deal with bullies and kids who pick on them, I think it’s the school’s responsibility to protect kids while they’re in school. As a parent, if your child is being bullied, do not hesitate to call the school. And if your child has been physically harmed, do not hesitate to call the police. The techniques I’m sharing with you in this article are ways to help your child cope, but that does not relieve the school of the responsibility to make sure everybody is safe.
    Learning social skills and social cues is vital for all kids, but it’s especially critical for children who tend to be bullied. The first thing I say to kids who are bullied is “You're not responsible. It's not your fault. If somebody's bullying you, they're the problem.” The best strategy they can use is called “avoid and escape.” You can break it down for them like this: “Avoid the people who bully you and situations where you get bullied. If you find yourself in one, escape as soon as you can. Get out of there. In fact, the best way to deal with any threatening situation is avoid and escape. You avoid the situation: don't sit at that lunch table. Or you escape: Don’t be the victim. Get up and go to another table.”
    If there are unavoidable places your child has to go during the day, like the bathroom or locker room, tell them to get in and out as quickly as they can. “You ignore the bullies or you try to avoid them. Get a pass from the teacher and go to the bathroom from class.”
    They also need to learn positive self talk. They need to be able to say, “This is not my problem. This is the bully’s problem.” And they need to be able to ask for help. Many, many schools today talk to kids about being bullied. As a parent, you can ask the school if they have a curriculum that teaches kids how to deal with bullies. And if they don't, ask them why. Schools use curriculums schools that take only one day. They teach the kids about bullying: how not to bully, what to do if you're bullied, and how to talk openly about it. As a parent, you should be looking into that kind of curriculum at your child’s school.

I firmly believe that if your child has a problem with reading social situations and social cues, it’s a very solvable problem. In my mind, repetition and rehearsal are the key. How do you deal with the problem of not writing well? You practice writing. Teaching kids social skills is really the same thing: it takes practice, it takes rehearsal, and it takes somebody demonstrating and showing them how to do it.

Don't spend a lot of time on why they can't read social situations well. I would tell kids, “Not being able to read social situations happens to a lot of kids. That's why they're always in trouble. As you become an adult you learn to read this kind of thing better. And some people lag behind. It just doesn't happen to them as quickly as other people, and that’s OK.”

Remember, if your child is behaving inappropriately, whether it’s a result of a missed social cue or not, you still have to hold him accountable, as well as teach the new skill. Once your child knows how they’re expected to behave, you have to make him responsible for operationalizing and implementing it. And if you can't hold him responsible for using it, his chances of learning the new skill go way down. If you don’t enforce it, he won’t have any reason to change. After all, you're asking him to do something different, and “different” is usually perceived as “difficult.” People don't like to change, so you have to stay on top of it and make sure your child is putting his learning into practice. The best reward for your child is that he will start to have more success with people in his life immediately—and that will translate into better behavior all the way around.

"Why Is Everyone Always Mad at Me?" Why Misreading Social Cues Leads to Acting Out Behavior reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit

James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. He has worked with troubled teens and children for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University. For more information, visit