How Smart Modern Parents Make The Holidays Special For Their Families

How Smart Modern Parents Make The Holidays Special For Their Families

It doesn’t matter what your Modern Family looks like – traditional, divorced, same sex parents, single parent, or something totally different – the holidays are a great opportunity to put a pause on any challenges or unpleasantness of everyday life and, instead, focus on appreciating your wonderful family.

By their very nature, holidays create a consistent and predictable yearly tradition to bring families together. Daffnee Cohen writes in The Huffington Post that, “While both good and bad distractions present themselves every day, tradition [such as the holidays] does an excellent job of keeping us focused on the things that are truly important.”

So what matters to Modern Parents the most? Their families, of course! And this article is going to explain how Modern Parents use the magic of the holidays to practice the 3 important elements of Modern Parenting – autonomy, mastery, and relatedness – in order to build a close and special bond with their kids.


Autonomy: Inviting Your Child Into The Magic of Tradition

Every family needs holiday traditions. When I work with families in my private practice during the holidays, I stress the importance of creating special traditions that are unique to the individual family.

Even families that celebrate the holidays in multiple homes (such as in divorced families) can create – and consistently maintain – holiday rituals. For example, I worked with a divorced Dad several years ago who adamantly told me that it was impossible to have holiday traditions in his home because the children’s mother kept all of the old holiday decorations. I explained to him that holiday traditions aren’t just about decorations but also about repeatable rituals, good feelings, predictable recipes, and consistent family stories and memories.

Because I’ve worked with kids over a number of years, I know that they can handle (and enjoy) holiday traditions at different locations. Most of us have experience with participating in holiday traditions at different locations, whether at different parent’s homes, different grandparent’s homes, or even at our in-law’s homes We were able to adapt and enjoy these traditions, and so will our kids. I encouraged this newly divorced Dad to create new rituals, menus, stories – and yes, decorations – with his kids at his new house.

One great way of encouraging your child’s autonomy during the holidays is to include them in the creation of new traditions, or even in allowing them a voice in expanding on current traditions,

I’ve written many articles about the importance of autonomy – or the art of teaching your child to make good decisions – and why smart Modern Parents find everyday opportunities to allow their kids to practice making decisions. Holiday traditions provide a great way to include your child in the decision-making that happens during this time.

For example, let younger kids pick out the cookie recipes for the annual cookie exchange or the wrapping paper style for grandparent gifts. Some tweens can be asked to brainstorm the seating arrangements around one (or multiple) tables during the holiday meal. For older kids, challenge them to come up with gift ideas for extended family members that is based on a specific budget.

Remember, your child’s ideas don’t have to be perfect. This is a opportunity to teach life skills. Just focus on the process – not a perfect outcome.


Mastery: Highlighting Your Child’s Natural Talents

What better way to build your child’s confidence and self-esteem than by allowing their natural talents and strengths to shine through during the holidays.

Every child has individual natural strengths and talents, and the idea of a Mastery Mindset is that practicing these strengths and talents is a lifelong process. It’s not about being the best, or doing something until you reach a certain level and then you move one, it’s about participating in an activity that is enjoyable and challenging and slowly getting better at the activity over time.

The rewards for participating in the activity come from within – the reward is feeling proud of the achievement. Allowing your child to incorporate their natural talent into the holiday tradition encourages their Mastery skills.

For example, I had a client whose daughter loved to sing. When she was only 9, her parents allowed her to join the Church choir. That year, this shy little girl, sang in the very last row (her mother said she shrank back behind the taller kids out of nervousness – you could barely see her) during the Christmas choir concert. When I checked in with the family years later (when the child was about 16), her mother reported that her daughter slowly become better and better at singing, and her confidence in herself and grown over the years to the point that she had a solo in the current year’s Christmas choir concert.

What natural talent or ability does your child have that could be highlighted during this holiday? It could be something as big as my client’s singing ability, but it could also be something as small as being good at wrapping gifts. Whatever strength (or strengths – you don’t have to focus on only one!) you choose to highlight, remember that the goal is to allow your child to participate and gain that inner pride of doing something that they are good at and that they like.


Relatedness: Learning That Everyone Has An Important Role To Play In This World

I think it’s pretty obvious that the holidays provide a great excuse to spend time as a family and emphasizing relatedness skills during this time will go a long way increasing your child’s sense of empathy and decreasing their sense of entitlement.

Remember that the concept of relatedness involves helping your child understand that they have an important and valuable role to play within the family, their peer group, and within the larger world around them. When kids feel that they are uniquely important within these 3 groups, they tend to make smart decisions for themselves and act in ways that are less entitled and more empathetic.

In order to emphasize relatedness skills within the family, show your child that they are a valuable and loved family member this holiday season not through gift-giving, but by making sure they have an important role in family rituals and traditions. Do watch Christmas movies on the weekends? Make sure your child’s choice is included in the lineup.Does your child like to put the star on top of the Christmas tree? Make sure they know that Christmas doesn’t start until they’ve fastened the star to the tree.

Memories like these serve to build – and maintain – a strong parent-child bond.

In order to help your child understand their important role with their peer and the larger society, encourage them to use their natural gifts and talents to make other people happy during the holidays, For example, if your child likes to bake, encourage them to have their friends over for a cookie-baking day. If they are taking piano lessons, encourage them to play for the grandparents when they ce over for a visit.

The point here is to allow your child the experience of making other people happy and experiencing the feeling of internal pride that this brings. Our Modern Kids are all too often experiencing high levels of entitlement, and emphasizing relatedness skills is the antidote to this modern issue.


Take Home Message

The thing to remember here is to ensure that you’re not letting the holidays mindlessly slip by. The holiday season provides a great opportunity to make wonderful memories, and – if you’re smart – you can also emphasize some pretty important life skills.

We want our kids to be experts at some important life skills such as making good decisions, learning how to make friends with good people, learning to be empathetic to others so that they are experts with these skills by the time the are young adults and out of our protective nest.

Teaching these important life skills is a long process, and using the yearly rituals and traditions that come along with the holidays provides a great opportunity to not only bond with your child, but to continue to prepare them for their great future.



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How To Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of Failure

How To Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of Failure

We want our kids to confidently take part in activities that bring them joy and make them an interesting person, but some kids get so paralyzed by the fear of failure that they avoid participating in activities that could bring them happiness.

Lately, I’ve seen too many kids in my private practice that are avoiding life because they are so afraid of the feeling of failure. Luckily, I’ve had some pretty good success with a technique that I call the Stepping Stone Method.

By using the Stepping Stone Method, kids are able to develop their Mastery skills, which is an important element of the Self-Motivation Success Formula that I believe produces happy and successful kids.

Before I give you the step-by-step plan on how to use The Stepping Stone Method, I think you should understand how Mastery Mindset is related to the fear of failure.


The Connection Between a Mastery Mindset and Fear of Failure


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that Mastery is one of the key principles to The Self-Motivation Success Formula and that I promote parenting that encourages a mastery mindset.

As a review, Mastery is the drive to participate in an activity – and to improve the performance in this task – simply because we enjoy performing the activity. Kids who have a mastery mindset persevere longer when the task gets difficult, need less outside encouragement from parents to engage in the activity, and derive much more intrinsic rewards from the task.

Kids with a Mastery Mindset aren’t as affected by failure as kids without a Mastery Mindset because they generally view mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. These kids believe that the goal of participating in an activity is to improve on their skills in this activity over time.

It’s important for kids to learn a mastery mindset now because this mindset will help them be happier and more successful as adults. Kids with a mastery mindset mature into adults who seek out careers, hobbies, and relationships for the intrinsic value – and not for baseless, showy reasons.

I’ve pointed out before how important it is for your child to participate in a hobby because it leads to so many great things such as higher self-esteem and increased social interactions, but if your child refuses to participate in a hobby (or any other activity) because they fear failing, then what do you do?

That’s where the Stepping Stone Technique comes in.


The Stepping Stone Technique


The Stepping Stone technique will teach your child not only how to develop mastery in a task, but also how to tolerate failure.

The philosophy of the Stepping Stone Technique is that any kind of mastery is a process that includes multiple steps – and some of these steps just can’t be skipped. Kids who have a fear of failure tend to focus only on the imagined BIG OUTCOME of the task and not on current step – or very next step.

For example, I had a client several years ago who refused to participate in any kind of activity where she wasn’t absolutely sure it would result in a success for her.

If she didn’t think she would win the spelling bee, she would purposefully mess up on her first try.

If she didn’t think she would be as good as the other kids in a dance class, she would refuse to even enter the dance studio building.

And despite having a natural talent for singing, she put up a huge fuss when her parents talked to her about  joining the Church youth choir because she envisioned that the whole Church body would make fun of her for her terrible voice (which was untrue – she had a wonderful voice).

Then I taught this client’s parents the Stepping Stone Method and they put it to use right away. Because their daughter had a natural talent and enjoyment for singing, they encouraged her (ok – they bribed her with allowing her to use the family car on the weekends) to consistently attend choirs practice and to participate in all choir performances for the next 3 months.

And after the 3 months, this client was able to overcome her fear of failure. Not only did she thoroughly enjoy singing in the youth choir, but she also became more courageous about trying other activities and tasks as well.

So how did this client have such a huge transformation in such a short amount of time? Let me take you step by step through The Stepping Stone Method.


The Steps:

(Step 1) Start Small. I’ve seen all too many times that when parents start to work with their kids on changing their behavior, they want to begin big, but in reality, it’s best to start small. So, when beginning The Stepping Stone Method, choose one small thing you would like your child to try and focus ONLY on that.

(BONUS TIP: This step works especially well when the activity or task you want them to try is something that they already have an interest in or they are naturally talented at it.)

In the case of the example from above, my client’s parents chose to focus on encouraging my client to join the youth choir because she had a natural interest in singing and had a natural talent for it.

Scientific research tells us that long-term behavior change is more likely to happen when we start small and experience a quick win. Experiencing a quick win allows the child to begin filling their confidence tank, which allows them to have the confidence to try the next scary thing.


(Step 2) Focus Only on The Current Step. Like I mentioned before, many kids with a fear of failure often focus on the ultimate goal – being the winner or the best at the activity – and this paralyzes them from participating in the activity in the current moment.

When this happens, encourage your child to only focus only on completing the current step to the best of their ability.

In the example from above, my teenage client started having an anxiety attack right as her mother reminded her that it was time to go to the first practice. My client told her mother that everyone would laugh at her when she performed with the choir in church and that they would say bad things about her behind her back.

Because I had prepared my client’s mom for this, she stayed calm while her daughter spoke about her anxiety, she didn’t judge her daughter or shame her for feeling these things, and gently reminded her that all she had to do today was to get in the car, get to the Church, and go into the choir room and participate with her friends.

This worked, and my client was still nervous on the way to the Church, but she was able to get through the whole hour of practice successfully.

When my client’s mother asked her how practice went, she replied, “It wasn’t bad like I thought it would be. It was fun.”

My client’s mother repeated this strategy for the next several choir practices and for the next several performances. After about a month, my client didn’t need this encouragement from her mother anymore because she had experienced a month of small wins and she was able to gain enough confidence and experience to know that participating in the youth choir was actually a fun activity.


(Step 3) Focus Only On Intrinsic Rewards, Not on Extrinsic Ones. It super important when using The Stepping Stone Method that you reinforce the intrinsic rewards gained from completing this current step, rather than the extrinsic rewards.

Just as a reminder, intrinsic rewards are those rewards we get that speaks to our inner happiness. The enjoyment we get when working on a task, the pride we get from completing it, or the happiness that our work brings to others are good examples of intrinsic rewards.

Scientific research tells us that people who are successful and happy tend to be driven by internal rewards. People who are internally driven to perform tasks also score higher on scales of perseverance and creativity.

On the other hand, extrinsic rewards are those tangible rewards that we get after performing a task. Examples of extrinsic rewards are earning a paycheck or allowance or getting a bribe for doing a household chore.

Reminding your child of the intrinsic rewards for overcoming a fearful task sets them up for overcoming this fear for other tasks as well. This worked well with the teenage client from our example. When my client’s mother picked my client up after each choir practice, she simply stated to her daughter, “You did it – you must feel great!”

She didn’t say, “See? I told her it wasn’t so bad,” or “I knew you would have fun,” or “I don’t know why you put up such a fuss when it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

I had coached my client’s mother to simply reflect how my client might feel after completing a successful task on her long journey of being a youth choir member. I also reminded her not to be offended if her daughter denied it – just hearing this statement spoken very calmly was very healing for the daughter.


(Step 4) Make Failures/Mistakes a Non-Issue. Kids who fear failure need to reframe how they think about failure. Instead of thinking that failure is a final statement of their abilities or worth as a person, they need to understand that mistakes or failures are just learning opportunities.

I’ve written in the past about how teaching our kids to take smart risks that include learning from failures sets them up for a successful future. If you think about it, every successful person has experienced failures, mistakes, or set, but they did not let these negative events stop them from pursuing their task. Perseverance in spite of failures is what defines successful people.

In order for this step to really make a difference for your child, though, you need to come to terms with how YOU feel about mistakes and failures:

  • Does it embarrass you when your child messes up?
  • Do you feel like your parenting is being judged when your child makes mistakes?
  • Do you unfairly believe that your child’s mistakes are due to their permanent personalities (and cannot be changed)?

If you are as uncomfortable by your child’s mistakes/failures as they are, then you might be unknowingly contributing to their belief that mistakes/failures are horrible experiences that cannot be overcome.  


(Step 5) Turn Negative Self-Talk Into Positive Statements. Finally, the last step is equipping your child with the ability on how to turn negative self-talk into positive encouragements.

It’s natural that we sometimes have some negative self-talk, but the faster we can turn that negative self-talk around, the more likely we are to persevere through tough times.

This worked well for my client on the path to participating on her youth choir. When my client spoke about some of her negative self-talk, her mother helped her see the situation in a more positive light. For example, when my client told her mother that the Church members would say bad things about her behind her back about her singing, her mother reminded her that they might say something nice about her like, “I didn’t know CLIENT could sing so well,” or “I’m so glad to see CLIENT with the other kids singing.”

This is definitely a skill that many kids with low self-esteem or fear of failure need to master. For more on learning how to help your child turn negative thoughts into positive ones, check out this previous article.

If you teach this skill to your child now while they are young, then they will be able to tackle any challenge when they are adults.


Take Home Message


I’ve seen way too many kids stop participating i life simply because they are afraid to fail. It hurts my heart every time I talk to a child with this challenge, but I have seen so many kids enjoy life again once they have learned to take scary tasks one step at a time.

My client who started out tackling their fear by participating in the youth choir is in college and is able to start new tasks and be part of new experiences all on her own. It took some work by her parents and some therapy from me, but she was finally able to take on her own confidence about life.

Once she gained confidence from being in the youth choir, she was able to utilize her stronger “courage muscle” by trying new experiences – and then gaining even more confidence after experiencing even more successes. When she failed, or a situation didn’t go as planned, she now had the skill to realize that these were learning experiences, and she was able to turn her negative thoughts into positive ones.

It might not happen overnight, but your child can have this same transformation too by using The Stepping Stone Technique.

Before leaving today, be sure to download the worksheet about how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. By going through this exercise on this worksheet, you’ll be better able to help your child in the moment when they need some positive thinking!




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How To Predict Your Child’s Future

How To Predict Your Child’s Future

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One of the most frustrating things for any Modern Parent is that there is no way of knowing definitively if their child will turn out to be happy, healthy, and successful. Further, it’s even more tricky to pinpoint whether or not any of the little moments they spend parenting their child will make a significant impact on their child’s future.

Well, what if I told you that there IS a way of predicting your child’s future?

What if I told you that there is a way to get a quick peek of what your child will be like when they become a young adult?

Believe it or not, psychological science has given us a tool to get this quick glimpse of our child’s future – and I’ll share that tool with you in a minute – but what I want you to consider is this: If you use this tool and see that your child’s future is not exactly as you had pictured it, will you use this new information to do things differently NOW in order to change their future for the better?

That’s the point of my blog post today. I want to share this tool with you so that you can use it to either:

  • Identify and fix certain parenting mistakes that might be contributing to the not-so-stellar future that the tool helped you see, or
  • Keep consistently performing the parenting techniques that seem to work for your child.

One of the pillars of Modern Parenting is to parent with intention, which means that parents need to be able to “course correct” when necessary. If the use of this tool enables you to see if there are any ways to tweak your parenting to positively impact your child’s future happiness and well-being, then you are definitely parenting with intention.

Now that you know the Modern Parenting goal for this article, are you ready to get that glimpse of your child’s future? Read on to find out about the tool.

The Tool

When I was in graduate school learning all the ways of being a psychologist, I was taught that the best predictor of future behavior is present behavior – and I have largely observed this to be a true fact over the years of working with kids and their families.

You know this to be true, too. Think about some of the families and kids that you know. Can’t you just sometimes look at a child and envision their lives as adults doing the same thing that they’re doing now? We’ve too often seen our friend’s unmotivated pre-teen grow up to be an unmotivated young adult with a dead-end job who continues to play video games all day. On the other hand, there are also those kids that participate in chess club, play the violin in the school orchestra, and get straight As in their college prep classes. These kids usually go on to achieve academic and career success later down the road.

So, the tool I want to share with you in predicting your child’s future is based upon an honest examination of your child’s present behaviors, routines, and motivation. Answer the 9 questions below to get that glimpse of your child’s future.

  1. How does your child like to spend their free time? Is it spent on a balance of interesting, worthwhile activities as well as relaxing activities?
  2. Does your child need to be told what to do or can they initiate worthwhile activities (like homework and hobbies) all on their own?
  3. Does your child seem to have an attitude of curiosity and adventure? Or do you need to nag your child to make an effort to look around them and notice the interesting world around them?
  4. Is your child able to follow daily routines? Does your child follow any kind of routine that ensures they complete their homework on time and/or spend time on activities that could turn into interesting lifelong hobbies or interests?
  5. Can your child establish a goal, and all the necessary steps to complete that goal in an age-appropriate way?
  6. Does your child do the same, boring thing every day?
  7. Does your child have an idea of what they want to do with their future? Is your child able to understand that what they spend their time on now has a big impact on their future?
  8. Does your child show interest in participating in activities that will, over a long period of time, bring them closer to their future goal? Does your child have enough patience and confidence to practice an activity or interest enough to slowly increase their ability in that activity?
  9. Is your child all talk and no follow-through?

So, did you get that glimpse of your child’s future by answering the questions about their present behavior?

Did you like what you saw in your head? Were you surprised by your answers? Did you answers scare you a little?

What You Need To Do Now

Don’t like the vision of your child’s future? The good news is that you can make changes now that will have a huge impact on your child’s future.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest, stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion unless otherwise acted upon. This is also called inertia.

Families can have a certain inertia, too. Some families have a certain movement to them – they are constantly on the move, consistently working toward pursuing their interests, passions, and values. The children in these families typically grow up to be interesting and happy young people.

In contrast, other families have zero inertia. These families are passive and simply watch life pass them by. The children in these families may want to pursue passions and interests, but the pull of their motionless inertia keeps them at rest.

Why am I reviewing basic science concepts with you? Because it illustrates that your child will continue to go down whatever path they are on unless something forces them to go down another, more successful path.

You have the power to nudge your child onto another path. And it’s not that hard to do, either. All you have to do is intentionally introduce a few simple techniques into the family environment that activates your child’s inner drive for curiosity and motivation.

I’ve recently created an online course for Modern Parents who are interested in making simple changes now that end up having a huge, positive impact on their child’s future.

This course is called The Self-Motivation Success Academy and I created this self–paced, online course for busy Modern Parents who are interested in learning how to jumpstart their child’s inner motivational drive.

Every child is capable of self-motivated behavior. What does a self-motivated child look like? These kids independently choose to complete chores and academic assignments on their own without having their parent oversee their work. They have a vision for their future which includes pursuing a career that taps into their innate talents and gifts and they participate in hobbies that satisfy their interests and passions.

Every child is capable of learning to be self-motivated. I know because I have spent many years as a child psychologist teaching this method to my individual clients, and I want to share what i’ve learned over the years with you.

As I don’t believe in willy-nilly, pop-psych ideas, everything that I teach in The Self-Motivation Success Academy is based on sound scientific principles. The methods that I teach in the course work because they are based on psychological research, specifically Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory and Eric Erickson’s developmental theory.

To help you further understand your child’s motivation struggles, I’ve created a quick quiz to help you identify your child’s natural Motivation Personality Type. Did you know that most kids fall into 1 of 7 Motivation Personality Types? What’s more is that if you really want to help your child learn to be more self-motivated (and get them ready for a great future) then you need to know how to work WITH their unique Motivation Personality Type.

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After taking the quiz, not only will you know your child’s Motivation Personality Type, but I’ll also give you suggestion on how to begin working with that particular personality style.

If you are on a journey with your child on helping them overcome self-motivation issue, then I highly suggest starting by taking the quiz.

If you used the questions in the above section to catch a glimpse of your child’s future – and what you saw didn’t quite match with what you always envisioned for your child – then I really hope you take the quiz and look into the online course.

Stop your child’s current inertia today by intentionally making changes in your family that will lead to huge, positive changes to your child’s future.

You CAN work with your child to encourage their self-motivation skills to develop, and i want to show you how easy it is.

Take Home Message

The point of this blog post is to illustrate to you how your child might be slowly going down a path that doesn’t lead to the happy and successful future that you originally envisioned for them.

But you don’t have to let inertia win! Bodies at rest stay at rest unless otherwise acted upon. Be that force that nudges your child onto a more successful path.

Some kids are born naturally self-motivated, but most kids need to be taught these skills.

Your child’s school doesn’t teach self-motivation skills – and kids who don’t yet have these skills tend to struggle in school. You CAN teach these skills to your child and it’s super easy too.

Don’t know where to begin, but want to be that change that interrupts your child’s current inertia? Take the Motivation Personality quiz. Not only will you gain a better understanding of WHY your child struggles, but you’ll get specific pointers on working WITH their unique personalities – not against them!

If you want further help tackling your child’s self-motivation challenges, ten check out my new online course specifically for parents. This self-paced course contains video lessons taught by me that will teach you everything you will need to learn to create a family environment that encourages motivated, independent, and interesting kids.

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The Easiest and Fastest Way to Change Your Child’s Behavior (Based on Scientific Research)

The Easiest and Fastest Way to Change Your Child’s Behavior (Based on Scientific Research)

Do you know that behavior change is a natural process? That many kids and adults undergo difficult behavior changes all the time – with no intervention at all? How do they do it?

Many teenagers are able to stop being lazy and begin hitting the books in order to get good grades all on their own – they don’t need a parent nagging them to study.

It is well documented that many adults stop drinking or doing drugs without the help of counseling or a 12-step group. These are the people that seem to “quit overnight”.

I’m sure you can think of a moment when you, or someone you know, had an “a-ha!” moment that caused you to live life differently. Many people report that near-death experiences have caused them to live their lives a whole new way after dodging an early death.

My point is that many Modern Parents that I speak to are struggling with figuring out how to get their child to change in some way – to get better grades, to be more sociable with their peers, to behave better, to stop feeling so bad about themselves, etc – but nothing they do seems to work.

This article is all about how science is beginning to show that behavior change is actually a natural process that is innate in all of our kids, and Modern Parents can either sabotage this change process or subtly encourage it to begin – and succeed.

First, I’ll point out several errors in the way that many Modern Parents think that could be harming their child’s natural tendency to change. Next, I’ll go more in-depth and explain why some kids are able to make positive changes without intense involvement by a parent, teacher, or expert. And finally, I’ll give you specific tips on what you can do to speed up and influence your child’s natural ability to make a behavior change that will positively impact their life.

My overall goal with this article is to teach you how to help your child make an important behavior change, while also encouraging a strong parent-child relationship. This article will help you stop being a nagging, overbearing parent, and, instead, will show you how to be a subtle (yet encouraging) participant in your child’s natural change process.

Errors In The Way We Currently Think About Behavior Change

There are many reasons explaining why kids decide to change their behavior that are currently accepted as fact today. Here is a sample of some common reasons that I hear all the time:

  • Kids only change when they get uncomfortable enough
  • The more you pressure kids, the more likely they will change
  • Kids just don’t understand why they need to change, so the more you lecture them, the more likely they will change because eventually they’ll “get it”
  • Kids haven’t changed yet because they haven’t suffered enough or encountered “real life” enough
  • Kids don’t change because they’ve got it too good in these modern times, so parents need to “get back to the basics”

The problem with the above statements is that they presume that change happens TO our kids, but in reality, change is something in which they MUST be an active participant.

As a child psychologist, I’ve found that the biggest mistake parents make when trying to enforce a behavior change in their child is that they think THEY are in control of their child’s change. These parents just think that if they make their child feel bad or embarrassed enough (aka the parent who destroys their child’s belongings and then posts the video on the internet), or hand out the right amount of punishment, or give their child the right lecture, then their child will finally give in and  change.

Forcing your child to change just doesn’t work – especially in the long-run.

I’ve written before about how forcing the child to change has a tendency to backfire . Research on motivation  has shown that when parents force change, kids act in either one of two destructive ways: they either become defiant or compliant. Both of these reactions have been shown to have some short-term change effects (the child will change in order to gain a reward, avoid a punishment, or go back to their desired behavior once the parent isn’t looking) – but our goal is to inspire long-term positive behavior change.

So if we’re not in control of our child’s ability to change their behavior, then what can we do? Just wait around until they change?

Absolutely not! We CAN be an active partner in our child’s natural ability to make positive, long-term changes.

New Understanding of Behavior Change

Behavior change is actually a natural process. As I said before, many people change bad or destructive behaviors without any kind of help at all.

There is even research to suggest that people who seek therapy to get help changing a destructive behavior – such as overeating or smoking – eventually improve , but not because of the therapy. There are decades and decades of studies that have investigated the effectiveness of therapy on behavior change. Study after study has shown that the same amount of people undergo behavior change whether or not they entered treatment, read self-help books, or didn’t do anything special at all.

Simply put: if people want to change, then they change.

The most interesting trend that these studies discovered, however, is that clients who sought therapy tended to have a higher rate of behavior change if their therapist displayed confidence in the client’s ability to change., These  therapists promoted change talk (as opposed to focusing on all the reasons why it would be hard or difficult to change). When clients worked with therapists who secretly predicted their clients wouldn’t actually follow through on the behavior change and/or spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the difficulties of the behavior change, then these clients tended to not follow through on the desired behavior change.

Another important trend that scientific research has identified is that kids change when they connect the reason behind the change to an internal reason, such as completing a important personal goal, making loved ones proud of them, or because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve written several in-depth articles before about the importance of intrinsic motivation and its impact on motivation, so it makes sense that this psychological ingredient is necessary for long term, positive behavior change.

Finally, research has also identified that behavior change is an interpersonal process – kids often become motivated to change (or not) through their day-to-day interaction with others.

For example, a young, shy child might want to join a dance class, and overcomes their fear to join the class when encouraged by a positive adult. On the other hand, this same child might give up on the idea of joining the dance class if influenced by a discouraging adult.

As you can see, while Modern Parents might not be in control of their child’s behavior change, they certainly can act in ways that influence their behavior change for the better or worse. But before I share specific tips with you on how to influence your child’s natural ability to change their behavior, you have to understand the important elements that must be present for behavior change to begin.

Elements of change

The three elements that I am about to share with you are all adopted from the psychological treatment model called Motivational Interviewing (MI). The MI method has been shown to be effective with helping people resolve ambivalent feelings about change in order to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior.

According to this theory, kids need 3 elements in order to be ready for any kind of behavior change: willing, able and ready.


It should make sense that a child who is not willing to undergo the difficulty of behavior change most likely will not change.

Part of willingness is an internal understanding of the importance of the behavior change. For example, a child who doesn’t understand the long-term rewards of putting down the video game controller in order to study for a test, won’t be motivated to go through the hard work of behavior change.

As such, if your child isn’t willing to change, then they won’t change.


Let’s say that your child is willing to put the work into undergoing a behavior change – but do they have the skills and knowledge to make the behavior change? Do they believe that they are capable of being successful with the behavior change?

Self-confidence, or the belief that one is able to accomplish a goal, is important when undergoing behavior change. If your child doesn’t believe that they can carry out the steps needed to accomplish the behavior change, then they are likely to quit very quickly when things get tough.


Many kids are willing to change and have confidence in their abilities to change, but they just aren’t ready to follow through on the change. They have different priorities for their motivation and energy.

A lot of times, our kids are plagued with the idea that they have plenty of time for procrastination. They erroneously think that they can put off studying for the current test because there are lots of tests to study for in the future. Or they keep telling themselves that they’ll stop playing so many video games tomorrow, but today they’ll continue playing.

If your child does not prioritize the importance of the behavior change, then they will not be successful with changing their behavior.

So the 3 elements of change – willing, able, and ready – must be present in order for your child’s behavior change to be successful, and the Modern Parent is a big influence on encouraging these elements to develop in the child.


How To Influence Behavior Change

Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Research shows that when people believe they can change, then change is more likely to occur. Furthermore, when other people in your child’s life believe that they can change, then they have more of a tendency to be successful with behavior change.

This is called the Self-fulfilling Prophecy. To put it simply, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, due to the positive feedback between belief and behavior.

For example, teacher expectations regarding student performance has long been shown to be a big predictor of student grades. The students that the teacher believes to be smart, tend to get better overall grades. These studies have also shown that teachers tend to spend more one-on-one time with students that they believe are smart, which gives these students an advantage towards getting better grades. This is the self-fulfilling prophecy in action.

You can create your own self-fulfilling prophecy with your child’s behavior change by acting in a way that communicates that you believe they will be successful in their behavior change goal. You need to be consistent with this confidence as well – even when they stumble with their goal (which is inevitable).

Communicate Your Confidence

Today’s kids are suffering from more self-esteem problems that ever before, which eats away at their confidence when they must undergo behavior change. (There are a multitude of opinions on why today’s kids are more prone to self-esteem issues, but I won’t delve into that in this article).

Most kids gain confidence as they mature, but Modern Parents can speed up a child’s confidence for behavior change by adopting a consistent attitude that communicates belief in the child’s ability to successfully change.

The key word here is consistent. As your child begins the path to behavior change, they WILL stumble. It is more important than ever for you to communicate belief in the child during these setbacks.

Communicating your confidence to your child can be done in many different ways:

  • Not overreacting when your child messes up; instead project a calm confidence in your child while they continue going down the path of behavior change
  • Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of stepping in to “rescue” your child; it is better for your child in the long run to allow them to struggle with finding their own solution
  • By praising the small steps on the path to behavior change – success is success
  • When talking about their future behavior change, phrase the conversation as if you have no doubt they will succeed (i.e. instead of “hopefully all this extra studying will get that grade up by the end of the year,” instead say “you’ll be so happy when all this extra studying pays off with that awesome grade at the end of the year”)

Our Modern Kids are very smart and they can pick up on subtle intonations and phrases that might hint that you do or don’t believe that they’ll be successful in their behavior change. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into your belief that your child will be a success.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Focus on Arguments FOR Change

Evidence shows that that how someone talks about change heavily influences whether or not they will change.

For example, research has shown that clients who speak about their intended behavior change in therapy are more likely to make the change if they talk positively about it; conversely, clients who spend time discussing the many reasons why they shouldn’t change, generally don’t.

Therefore, when talking with your child about changing their behavior, focus on the positives of the behavior change – things like how they will feel after making the change, what positive effects will come about due to the change, etc.

It’s far too easy for kids (and parents) to get bogged down in all of the reasons why making the behavior change might not work, and doing so makes it more likely that your child will fail with the intended change.

A very powerful way of getting your child to speak positively about their intended behavior change is to challenge them to make arguments FOR the change. For example, many kids have a tendency to tell you all about the reasons why making the change will be difficult, hard, or not worth it, but, instead, have them speak about why making the change will be good for them in the long run.

The following are some helpful questions to elicit positive change talk in your child:

  • “I’ve heard lots of reasons why changing will be hard, but what are some reasons why changing would be good for you in the long run?”
  • “How would you feel about yourself if you did make the change?”
  • “If your friend wanted to make this change, what are some reasons you would give them to help them decide to change?”
  • “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you made the change? Would it be better or worse than the reward you would earn for making the change?”

There are lots of ways to encourage your child to focus on the positive aspects of making a behavior change – be creative and keep on trying. This simple change in your behavior might be all that is needed for your child to make an important change in their behavior.

The Take Home Message

One of the biggest frustrations for the Modern Parent is knowing that their child needs to make a behavior change in some way, but not knowing how to effectively help their child make this change.

Current scientific research shows us that most people can make behavior changes on their own, without intrusive interventions from parents, teachers, or other professionals. If given enough time, kids eventually will make positive behavior changes all on their own.

The question, then, is this: How do we speed up this natural tendency for change that resides in our kids?

We can do this by realizing that our kids need to be willing, ready, and able to change. These three elements MUST be addressed before change is possible.

In addition, the parent can indirectly influence their child’s willingness to change by focusing on their own communication style with their child: they must create positive self-fulfilling prophecies, communicate confidence, and focus on arguments for change.

If you accept that your child has everything they need right inside of them to change, and all you need to do as a parent is to create an encouraging environment for the change process, then your child will likely make the desired behavior change faster than you thought possible.



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The Easiest Way to Help Your Child Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones

The Easiest Way to Help Your Child Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones

So many kids allow themselves to miss out on life because they let worry thoughts get in the way.

If your child is predisposed to worrying about the future – and they let this worry stop them from participating in something fun – then help them turn their negative thoughts into positive ones. The goal here is to help them use these positive thoughts as a way to give them courage to follow through on the activities that they’re tempted to skip.

You’ll have to go through all 4 steps with your child at first, but once they see that this technique works, then they’ll begin using this technique in their own.

This is a technique that they can use throughout their lives to give them a little extra courage to start new things.

Step 1: Help your child identify the worry thought

Have them say it aloud. A lot of times, this reduces the “scariness” of the worry thought.

Help them get that thought from out of their heads and into reality. If your child is having a tough time verbalizing the thought, ask a few questions to see if you can guess what the worry thought is. Say it aloud and ask them, “Does this sound like what you’re saying in your head?”

You can follow up with a clarifying question such as, “How can I say this so it’s EXACTLY like what you are saying in your head?”

Step 2: Don’t judge the worry thought or try to rationalize it

Kids just shut down when parents try to do this.

Your child is feeling emotional, so acknowledge what they are feeling. This will help you connect with your child and they will feel more open to listening to your problem solving in step 4.

For more on connecting with your child using positive parent-child communication read THIS ARTICLE.

Step 3: Help them come up with 2 or 3 opposite, positive thoughts

Many times, anxious kids are spending so much cognitive capacity on their worry thought that they just don’t have any brain power left to see other, more positive ways about the situation.

Challenge your child to come up with opposite thoughts, even if they don’t believe them. If they have trouble starting, then come up with one for them, but have them try to come up with one themselves.

Helping your child create 2-3 opposite, positive thoughts is a good way to help them learn how to do this in the future when you are not there to help them. Sometimes we get stuck only looking at the negative side of things, so this is a good exercise to get kids to see that life is filled with both good and bad.

Step 4: Help them practice it like a mantra

The last step is to have your child pick one of the phrases that was created in step 3. Say this phrase with your child over and over together. Challenge them to say it in their heads.

The goal is to have your child repeat this new phrase in their heads like a mantra when they start to get anxious in a situation. You want them to use this phrase as a way to give them courage to get through the situation that is making them anxious.

Here’s an example about how this technique works. Let’s say that a young boy doesn’t want to go to his first day of the new weekend soccer team the next day – even though he LOVES playing soccer. His Mom asks him to say what he is worrying about out loud. He says, “I don’t know the kids and they won’t like me.”

Mom asks her son to come up with 3 opposite thoughts. He has difficulty coming up with one, so Mom suggests, “Once the kids get to know me, they’ll like me.”

She challenges her son to come up with 2 more statements. He comes up with, “If I wear my Spider Man shirt and the ones who like Spider Man will like me, “ and “I was scared of meeting David too, but now we’re best friends.”

Mom asks her son to pick out a phrase to use as a weapon to help him be brave during soccer practice tomorrow. He chooses, “Once they get to know me, they’ll like me.”

Mom and son practice saying this over and over.The next day, the little boy is still pretty anxious about starting his new soccer team, but Mom encourages him to say his phrase. During the first part of the soccer practice, he remembers to say his phrase, but after a while he forgets to say it because he’s distracted by all the fun he’s having.

Take Home Message

Anxiety doesn’t have to rob your child of great life experiences. Help them get through an anxious situation by using this easy technique.

As a child psychologist, I’ve taught this technique to many child clients. I know it works!

It’s super helpful for kids who tend to be a little anxious and withdrawn. If your child suffers from more extreme anxiety (where they verge on panic attacks), then you’ll want to learn about a more in-depth technique that I’ve also used successfully with y child clients.

You can read all about that technique HERE.



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Why Being Good at a Hobby is So Important To Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Why Being Good at a Hobby is So Important To Your Child’s Self-Esteem

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One time, a parent in my parenting group shared that their teenage daughter suffered from very low self-esteem.

It seems that she was extremely hesitant to take on any task – whether it be a school-related assignment or something at home. As an example, the parent shared with us that her daughter, (we’ll call her Stacey), was supposed to participate with several of her peers in a school presentation for history class. Stacey’s role in this project, in addition to presenting the project in front of the class with her peers, was to create a music playlist that was supposed to play in the background during the presentation.

Even though Stacey had 2 weeks to create the playlist, she never completed the task. On the day the presentation was due, the group was able to pull off a passing score for the assignment, but Stacey’s peers were very upset with her that she didn’t have the playlist created like the group wanted. One of Stacey’s peers was so upset with her that she stopped talking to Stacey altogether.

What’s worse was that the reason Stacey struggled with making the playlist in the first place was because she didn’t trust herself to make a good product for her group, and was afraid of disappointing her peers. The fact that she ultimately did fail her part of the group project confirmed her worst fear – that she just wasn’t good enough.

After telling this story in the parent group, this parent asked for advice on how to help Stacy overcome her self-esteem issue. Some of the parents in the group gave recommendations on specific strategies that Stacy’s mom could use to better micromanage Stacey the next time she had a school project. They thought that Stacey just needed better structure. Other parents advised Stacey’s mom to do nothing – that natural consequences of her action would teach Stacey to do a better job in the future.

My advice, on the other hand, was to remind the group about the three elements of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and relatedness. Specifically, I thought that Stacey would need a good dose of mastery – but how is this done?

Why Do Many Kids Suffer From Low Self-Esteem?

Stacey isn’t alone. Many kids suffer from low self-esteem problems, and what’s worse is that well-meaning parents have actually contributed to this self-esteem plague.

Earlier in the 1970’s, psychologists noticed a trend with young people. After the free-love 1960’s and the tumult of the Vietnam war, 1970’s kids seemed to be confused and apathetic about their futures. The answer, psychologists thought, was to create a sense of positive well-being by complimenting kids for their everyday efforts, which was supposed to instill in them a feeling that they were good people and their actions were appreciated by those around them.

Thus, the every-kid-gets-a-trophy phenomenon was born.

Flash forward several decades, and now researchers are seeing the negative consequences of over-praising. In addition to praising our kids for nothing, many Modern Parents are also extremely involved in our kids’ extra-curricular activities, which also contributes to the self-esteem crisis.

Because we live in a culture that stresses the importance of building the “perfect” college resume beginning in early childhood (sometimes as early as elementary school!), many kids are pushed into dance classes, sports teams, and music lessons that they don’t enjoy. Our kids no longer experience free time where they can leisurely pursue childlike interests (that later sometimes develop into successful adult careers) at their own pace.

This stress on organized activities serves to emphasize the notion that our kids should only spend time on activities when there is a goal surrounding their pursuit. As such, our kids feel pressure to perform well in these activities – whether it is getting the highest score on the AP Chemistry test or being put on the starting lineup on their sports team.

Many of our Modern Kids just don’t know how to pursue passions and interests just for the fun of it. This is a sad thing because tinkering around with a quirky interest gives kids the opportunity to:

  • Take on learning challenges because they want to, not because they have to
  • Learn how to fail at something, but not give up because the challenge of tackling the interest is its own reward
  • Actually feel satisfaction when they are praised for their notable efforts with their hobby because it was actually earned.

Don’t get me wrong, many kids thrive when put into organized activities. They enjoy the recognition and challenge that comes with it – and this is a good thing when it serves to help the child develop. It’s just that there are other kids that struggle with the structure and expectations that school and extracurricular activities often entail, and this is where self-esteem issues take root.

So… do we help these kids?

The Domino Effect of Pursuing Hobbies

Kids with low-self esteem have a continuing mantra in their heads that tells them that they aren’t good enough, they will fail at anything they start, and/or everyone around them expects them to fail.

In order to change this destructive mantra, our kids need to see for themselves that they are competent in life. An easy way to help your child with this realization is to let them pursue a hobby just for the fun of it. Encourage them to spend some of their free time on their hobby – but DON’T put any pressure on them or micromanage them while they are spending time with their hobby.

This might take some time, but the important thing is for them to choose something that they are interested in, let them leisurely play around with the hobby, and then watch them learn that they are actually good at something.

The magic of starting slow and easy when encouraging your child to take up a hobby is that:

  • They need to start with something simple that will give them a quick “win” when they spend time with it
  • It needs to be something that they are legitimately interested in so they stick with the hobby when it gets a little difficult
  • Once they learn that they are good at their hobby, then they begin to build up confidence to try at other, related things in their life – the domino effect of a hobby!

So it might seem like spending time on a simple hobby like cooking, sewing, or dancing is a waste of time – it’s not something they could ever put on a college application – but it is the starting point for so many kids in gaining some much needed confidence to try important things such as studying for a big test, giving a presentation in front of a class, or applying for their first job.

Take Home Message

So, the parent that I told you about in the beginning of this article tried the advice that I gave her that day. She went home and thought hard about a small hobby she could encourage her child to spend time on. After a while, it finally dawned on her that Stacey seemed to gravitate to her Sister’s horses when they visited. She asked Stacey if she would like to sign up for riding lessons – no pressure. Stacey could even quit anytime if she didn’t like it.

Flash forward several months, and Stacey really connected with the riding lessons. So much so, that she increased the time she spent at the stables and she got a job helping her aunt take care of her horse and stable.

In addition, Stacey’s grades increased and, in her mother’s own words, Stacey seemed to have a much calmer attitude.

Stacey’s mother shared with the group that it seemed easier for her daughter to try new things, but sometimes she still struggled. When this happened, Stacey’s mom backed off with pressuring Stacey (this gave Stacey autonomy which is also very important) and let Stacey figure out how to proceed.

Stacey’s mom also reportedly found a technique to help encourage Stacey when she had doubts. She simply reminded Stacey that she didn’t have to be the best at a certain activity (for example, a math test), but she should at least give it a good try. The confidence boost that she got from the other aspects in her life that were working so well seemed to give Stacey the necessary ability to tolerate trying things that she didn’t like because she knew it was for the best.

When encouraging your child to pursue a hobby or interest in order to build their confidence, keep these points in mind:

  • Make sure the activity is something your child has the ability to do – don’t start with a complicated activity. This is just recipe for failure.
  • Supervise, but don’t micromanage. This means that you should be there to encourage and answer any questions they might have, but let them do the activity at their own pace.
  • It’s ok if they mess up! I’ve written in the past about how it’s important to fail in order to learn new things.
  • Don’t get invested in posting pictures on social media or bragging to the family that your child is the best at their activity. This puts pressure on them, which is the OPPOSITE of what this activity is meant to do.
  • Let your child pursue quirky activities if they legitimately have an interest in that area. You never know, this could lead to an adult career.
  • You don’t need to spend a lot of of money on the hobby. Don’t put pressure on yourself that you need to purchase expensive lesson or supplies for the hobby. Only do what works for your family’s financial situation.

Got more questions about how to encourage your child’s confidence through hobbies? Send me a question and I may answer it in a future video blog! Click HERE or email me at

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