parenting cheat sheet

Let me say this: Parenting my 3-year-old Chicken is not akin to a day at the beach, a walk in the park,  a wine flight with chocolate pairings, a pleasant morning of flea marketing and brunch, or any other well-known stand-in for "happy good time."

You may read many words about how it's been hard lately by clicking here.

But now is not the time to talk symptoms. Now is the time to talk treatment.

Over the last month or so of rocky road (it works on at least two levels. Think about it.) I've read a lot of articles and done a lot of reflection on what hasn't been working, and what might just work (for now) (for a little while) (until the moon grows full again.)

I read and read, and thought, and wrote, and fought with Ryan about how to be better parents (post on that forthcoming) and what was the result of all that work?



I have used it over the last couple of days, and while those days weren't tantrum free, I was much cooler, calmer, and more grounded. Therefore, Chicken became much cooler, calmer, and more grounded.

today at the park he was all
come on buster
let's teamwork together
and they totally did
for like four minutes
it was a miracle


This shouldn't need to be said, but the reason I'm publishing this is so you can use it if you need to. This also shouldn't need to be said, but obviously our kids are different and will respond to different approaches.


1.    Be an anchor.
            He needs you to be calm and stable.
            He needs you to be the lighthouse in the shit storm.
            Sit patiently, shine, and wait for him to get his bearings again.

2.    Permanently remove the troublesome object.
            Set yourself up for success.
Hide the salt.
And the glue.
If you need to, go into his room and close and lock the door,
all of you together.
Go somewhere where you don’t have to snatch things away
and yell no all the time.

3.    Channel Dr. Frasier Crane
            “This is your Mommy. I’m listening.”
            Low & slow.

4.    Channel Mr. Slugworth
            Lay a gentle hand on his body.
            Whisper or murmur.
Press a ten pound note into his palm.

5.    Channel Pepe le Pew
            Let him run.
            Follow gently.
            Take his hand softly.
Lead him back to wherever he needs to go.

6.    Forgive and forget

            He has already forgotten “why” he hocked a loogie in gymnastics class.
Acknowledge that it wasn't how we roll. 
Remind him that there are designated spit zones (driveway & bathtub.)
Ask him if he wants to talk about it, 
and then let the conversation naturally move away from the problem toward neutral ground.
No good will come of you beating that dead loogie.

7.    Chicken and Buster are equal members of this family.
Their voices deserve to be heard.
Their wishes deserve to be respected, even if they can’t be granted.
They aren’t here to do tricks for us or give us unconditional affection.

            Model respect by being respectful.
His play is work; his ideas are important;
his expectation of how he wanted things to be
is critical to his sense of order.
If he's having a tantrum, don't make sarcastic comments.
If he feels quiet or withdrawn, don't insist on a hug.
If you wouldn’t say it to an adult, don’t say it to a child.

It’s not his job to love me; it’s my job to love him.

            He isn’t being mean to us.
            Kids do better when they feel better.
Instead of focusing on “the reason you shouldn’t hit,”
focus on “the reason you hit:”

            “I noticed you hit your brother and threw your book.
You usually do things like that when you’re feeling frustrated.
Is that what’s going on?”

9.    Crying is an important part of growing up.

It is not my job to stop him from crying.
Tears are not something to fix.
even ones that are loud and unpleasant.
When he struggles to manage his feelings,
that’s when he learns and grows.

My job is to accept and acknowledge those feelings,
and to make sure he stays safe while working them out.

“I see that you’re really mad because you really wanted dessert tonight. 
We can try for dessert again tomorrow. 
I understand how it feels to be so, so angry. 
But you cannot throw books across the room because you could hurt yourself or someone else. 
Let’s throw books into this box instead so nobody gets hurt, okay?”

10.                  Give him a real job.
Detergent in dishwasher/laundry
Carry something to another room

11.                  “Tell me, what do YOU want to do with this time?”

Try not to rush him.
Find 5 minutes to give him the space to call the shots.

12.                  “I’m hearing you say __________. Is that what you mean? I want to understand you.”

13.                  “Wow, that must be so __________. I remember when I felt like that. (Tell a story about a time you struggled with that feeling.)”

14.                  “That sounds like so much fun. I wish we could do that too! I wish we could (exaggerate fantasy of thing he wants but can’t have.) But right now, it’s time for something else. How about on our way to that something else, we can tell each other the story of (exaggerated fantasy.)”


1.    Holding him down.

Default to respecting him, including his body.
He has the right to move his body.
Unless it’s moving his body into oncoming traffic
Or the bridge of my nose.

2.    Yelling.

Yelling only works at making everyone yellier.

3.    Asking for 5 minutes of alone time.

He doesn’t even know what that means.
If you tell him you want to be alone, he will flip out and think you're leaving.
God knows why. It's not like you ever actually go anywhere without him.

4.    Saying NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

He’s probably thinking, “I invented NO NO NO NO, Mom. Good try tho.”

5.    Rolling my eyes or stomping my feet.

Rolling your eyes sets the tone for disrespect and contempt.
Stomping your foot sets the tone for disrespect and intimidation.
You’re better than that.
Forgive yourself if you’ve gone there – you can make it back.

6.    Saying, “Do you see how frustrated that made Mommy?”

He is not responsible for your feelings.

It’s unfair to tell him that he “made you” frustrated (or happy, for that matter.)
Plus, yeah, he sees it. Pushing buttons is part of his job - 
not out of sociopathy, but out of sociology.
He is working this shit out.


Remember, when you parent out of fear, or wanting to avoid a mess, domestic or emotional, that's when you start slapping arbitrary rules down, just to prove that you're the boss. He knows they're arbitrary. If you don't have a good answer to the question "why not," ask yourself what hill you're choosing to die on.

Remember to ask why you're saying "no, you can't do that." Is it because it is dangerous or fundamentally violating some social boundary of respect? Or is it because you're afraid that if you say yes, it will be messy, or you will spoil your child. 

Remember, you can always say, "you know what? Now that I think about it, that's actually fine. Let's do it." Remember, you can always say, "you know what? Now that I think about it, this isn't a good time for glitter glue. Let's put it on the list for tomorrow."

Remember when you were a child. Looking back now, recall what your parents allowed or didn't allow. Now recall how your parents treated you, related to you, talked to you. Whether or not they let you have a muffin for dinner doesn't really matter in the long run.

Remember, parenting isn't about proving that you're in charge.

Remember, you can't force a child to whisper, or sleep, or stop spitting, or stop saying "fuck," or start listening to your instructions, or to give you a hug, or say, "I love you." You can't force any of the stuff that really matters. 

Remember, when you force a child into obedience, it doesn't build character. It builds fear, resentment, and frustration, for everybody.

Remember, you will make many mistakes. Remember to apologize. Remember to forgive yourself. Remember that teaching your child how to forgive himself is as important as any of the other crap.

Remember, it's never too late to come back out of the valley. Build a fort. Get in bed. Take a walk. It's never too late.

Remember that you're on the same team. Forever. 


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