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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Make Your After School Routine Work Using This Research-Backed Technique

Make Your After School Routine Work Using This Research-Backed Technique

It’s the start of a brand new school year, so help your child succeed this year by creating an after school homework and chore routine that gives them no excuse but to succeed.

Have you started routines before, but they didn’t work out?

Were you too busy to keep a consistent routine?

Do you give up because the kids refused stick to it?

Did the routine take up too much of your time and patience to manage?

I totally get it- but science says that having a consistent routine is the #1 reason why people in general are successful. It’s not due to IQ, fancy private schools, or extra curricular tutoring. Ordinary people can become extra-ordinary simply from using a routine to consistently make progress in their tasks and goals. This slow, but steady approach, is all it takes to succeed.

And the good news for your child is that no matter how much (or how little) they’ve struggled with school in the past, using a daily after school routine is all it takes most of the time to help your child get good (if not great) grades. This is because after school routines ensure that assignments are always completed on time (which is most of the grade anyway), your child is less stressed out (they don’t have to worry about last-minute deadlines), and they gain a sense of pride in themselves (getting good grades is a great self-esteem boost!).

Still not convinced?

Successful people in business, industry, and sports swear by routines. Sir Richard Branson believes in the power of routine so much that he wrote a blog post about it in order to share his experience with other people.

Instead of an afternoon routine, Branson wakes up early every day in order to bring consistent success to his career. While it might at first seem easy for a billionaire to wake up early and go about a routine, he points out that his routine, “is a habit, which [I] must work on to maintain.”

If billionaires make an effort to stick to a consistent routine in order to become successful, then this seems like a skill Modern Parents should be teaching to their kids too.

If we teach them this skill while they are young, just think about what they can accomplish when they are adults!So now that you might be convinced that creating an after school routine is something beneficial for your family, lets’ discuss how to make this routine successful right from the very start so that you are less likely to give up. 


A Fail Proof Way To Begin (And Maintain) an After School Routine


The best research I’ve found that teaches how to begin – and keep – a routine is Charles Duhigg’s “Habit Loop” theory.

In his AWESOME book called the The Power of Habit (my FAVORITE book on routine – see my review here), Duhigg describes a 3-step process that involves the brain’s influence on habit-formation. It is our brain that tricks and entices us to give up on habits, so if our kids are going to be successful at all in keeping up with this new after school routine, then we will need to get their brains on board. Believe it or not, our brains are our worst enemy when it comes to creating (and repeating) bad habits!

For example, many Modern Parents have a bad habit of watching too much tv instead of doing something more productive (unfortunately, I battle with this urge from this every day!). A lot of us have good intentions of coming home after work (or from something else equally taxing) and doing something productive. However, as we step into our house and see the tv on the wall and the remote sitting conspicuously on the couch, we almost automatically forget our good intentions, pick up the remote, and turn on some mindless show. It becomes hard to turn off the tv because we are instantly rewarded by our bodies feeling good from “vegging out” and our worries seem to be so far away.

Thus, I have just described Duhigg’s Habit Loop – cue, routine, reward – to paint the picture about how bad habits get repeated. (Note: I prefer James Clear’s slight change of Duhigg’s terminology of cue, routine, and reward to reminder, routine, and reward – which is what I will use in the remainder of this article).

The reminder of our bad habit was the tv and the remote. The routine was picking up the remote, turning on the tv, and “vegging out.” The reward was how relaxed and carefree we felt in the moment.Next, I will show you how to use this habit loop to create – and keep – good habits. 


The 3 R’s – Reminder, Routine, Reward


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I believe that a big part of Modern Parenting is teaching our kids the tools they’ll need to independently be happy and successful. That is why I like the Habit Loop so much – once the parent sets up the loop, the child or teen independently maintains it.



Now let me walk you through the steps of the Habit Loop. My steps are similar to James Clear’s steps (you can read about those here), but my contribution to this theory is by making the Habit Loop make sense for families.

While Charles Duhigg originally created the Habit Loop for adults to follow all by themselves, I believe the Habit Loop can also be “tweaked” for parents to use to create an environment in the home to teach their kids how to be successful.

Step 1: Determine The Routine. This is the step where you’ll develop the after school routine. Know the basics of what you want accomplished (i.e. homework completed, instruments practiced, chores done, etc.). Here are a couple of tips to make this step even more successful: 

  • Make sure the routine is age-appropriate. You can’t expect a first grader to have a long, detailed routine similar to a high schooler’s routine. Start simple. You can always make it more complicated as your child gets used to the routine.
  • Make sure the routine is appropriate for your particular child. For example, if your child struggles with attention difficulties or structure in general, then you’ll want to make sure the routine includes several small breaks. However, if your child can withstand long periods of homework or instrument practice, then feel free to schedule accordingly. Again, you can always start small and then make the routine more involved after some time has gone by and your child has gotten used to the routine.
  • It’s always good policy to allow your child to have some say in the new routine. I’ve written before about how allowing kids some autonomy not only increases their buy-in for the new rule, but increases their creativity, follow-through, and overall responsibility. You can always let your child choose little tweaks to the routine, such as whether or not to do homework first before piano practice or vice versa.

 This step will not be complete until you have determined a detailed routine. For example, here is a sample routine below:



Step 2: Determine The Reminder. Now you might have assumed that the reminder about the after school routine would come from you, but, remember, we want our kids to implement the routine INDEPENDENTLY, so you CANNOT be the reminder.

Charles Duhigg teaches that the reminder should be the the thing that automatically alerts the child to begin the routine. The reminder triggers the beginning of the routine. It’s important to note that whatever you choose to represent as the reminder, it has to be something that is very specific and unique to the routine.And, according to James Clear, the reminder can be 1 of 5 things:

  • Time: The after school routine can begin at a certain time of the day.
  • Location: The routine can be triggered by getting home from school, going to the library, or arriving at the after school day care.
  • Preceding Event: Some families have very variable schedules, so events that happen just before the routine can also trigger it’s beginning, such as Mom or dad getting home from work, getting home after sports practice, or a certain favorite tv show ending.
  • Other People: Other people can also be the reminder for certain routines. For example, a tutor can serve as a reminder to study, or a music instructor can trigger the child to get into “practice mode.”
  • Emotional State: Many bad habits are triggered by emotional state such as overeating or smoking due to anxiety. It’s extremely hard to cue good habits based upon emotional state, but I left this reminder category here so that you can also see how some of your child’s (or your) emotional states can be cueing bad habits. This can help you change bad habits into more productive ones

I’ve always used time or preceding events as triggers for my family’s routines.

I’m VERY big on routines at my house – I’ve always been this way – so beginning routines at a certain time or after a certain event has always worked out well for my family. 


Step 3: Define The Reward Again. if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I don’t believe in bribing kids – it just sets them up for a future of selfishness and failure. However, I do believe that there’s value in teaching our kids to define their own rewards. For a more in-depth view on rewarding Modern Kids, see this article.I know that natural rewards are best for kids, so make the rewards for completing the routine make sense.

For example, completing the routine can earn household privileges such as screen time, spending time with friends, or just “goofing off.”I also think that the best families have rewards that encourage closeness between parent and child, so in addition to earning the natural reward of participating in family privileges, Mom and Dad should also make themselves available to bond with the child. This can be done while the parent prepares dinner, while the parent and child watch a tv show together, or just spending time on a mutual hobby.

Modern Kids are ACHING to bond with their favorite people – their parents – so building in special bonding time with your child after completing the routine is it’s own reward. 


Why The Habit Loop Works


Want to know the science behind why the Habit Loop works?

Remember how I said earlier that we need to get the brain on board with the new routine if we are going to be successful? It’s our brain that thwarts our best intentions 100% of the time!In the early 1990’s researchers at MIT decided to look into the brain’s role (specifically, the Basal Ganglia) in routines.

To do this, they hooked up tiny electrodes to the brains of tiny mice and then placed them in a maze to find a food reward. The mice were put in the bottom of a T-shaped maze (with a partition separating them from the rest of the maze), and the food was placed in the upper left portion of the T.

To start the experiment, the scientists blew a whistle and opened the partition. The mice leisurely found the chocolate – sometimes searching the right side of the T before finding the food in the left side of the T.

The scientists repeated the experiment with the same mice over and over – and they found some very important trends.It probably doesn’t surprise you that the mice learned quickly that when the whistle blew, that meant that the partition would immediately open and that food could be found in the left side of the T. They headed straight for the food without much exploring of the other parts of the maze.

What might surprise you, though, is what happened to the brains of the mice during this routine process.

They used more brain capacity at the start of the experiment than they did once the routine was learned. Their brains seemed to “turn off” once they learned the new routine – they performed the – now old – routine of finding the food without very much thought at all.Charles Duhigg interpreted the experiment in his book.

He stated that, As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, it’s mental capacity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less… This process – in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine – is known as “chunking” and its at the root of how habits form.

Our brains fight against the learning of new routines.

Why? Because it wants to repeat old routines.

For example, perhaps your kids tended to complain and push back when you’ve tried to implement after school study routines in the past. Their brains were on overdrive causing them to crave the old routine – goofing off – instead of this new routine (even though this routine was better for them).

In order to make a new routine stick, it helps when the brain has learned the desired routine so well that it “turns off” and performs the routine almost without thinking.

Once your child doesn’t need as much cognitive power to engage in the routine, your child will have more brain capacity during the routine for things such as learning the academic material, concentrating on the material in order to work efficiently and quickly, maintaining enough behavioral control to sit through enough time to complete the homework or instrument practice, etc. 


Take Home Message


Successful adults swear by the power of routines. It can turn a Modern Kid with an average IQ at an average school into a high achiever.

Routines also help kids who have anxiety or attention/concentration problems become better students.

By using the Habit Loop – Reminder, Routine, and Reward – our kids learn how to independently and consistently carry out after school tasks that lead to less anxiety, better grades, and better parent-child relationships. This should be the year that your child dominates their academic classes and/or extra curricular activities.

Through setting up a home environment that includes a routine that gives them no other excuse but to do well in school, you are teaching them the life-long skill of positive habit formation.



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What Every Modern Parent Needs To Know About Creating A Positive Parent-Child Relationship

What Every Modern Parent Needs To Know About Creating A Positive Parent-Child Relationship

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Psychological research has shown over and over that the positive bond between parent and child is the foundation for future success and happiness for the child. Without this important structure created during childhood, future mental health, happiness, and career success are all put in jeopardy.

Bam. That statement sure puts a lot of pressure on the Modern Parent.

If we don’t have a secure connection with our child, then research pretty much says that the consequences for our kids could mean anything from low self-esteem to problems with insecurity, anger, and depression.

As a Modern Parent myself, I feel so much pressure to have just the “right” relationship with my my son and daughter, but what exactly does that relationship look like?

It’s pretty common knowledge these days that psychologists believe that most parents fall into 3 different categories of parenting.

  • Authoritarian: This parent is controlling, overbearing, and set high (and often unrealistic) standards for their kids. Interactions between these parents and kids is usually intense, judgemental, and punitive. Parents spend a great amount of time communicating and enforcing the family values and beliefs; however this intense focus on following family values without question often leads kids to rebel. Psychologists have found that this style of parenting leads to kids who often times grow up with socioemotional struggles, romantic relationship difficulties, and career problems.


  • Permissive: This type of parent does not have consistent rules (if any) in the household and allows their kids too much freedom without boundaries. These kids often don’t know what values and beliefs are important to the family, because they have not been communicated effectively by the parent; as such, these kids often spend lots of time trying to figure out who they are and what they believe in. Research has shown that kids of permissive parents often develop anxiety, depression, narcissistic traits, and difficulty with self-motivation.


  • Authoritative: Psychologists overwhelmingly agree that this is the style of parenting that tends to create kids who are mentally and socially healthy, as well as self-secured and  successful. The secret to this type of parenting s the way in which these parents are able to communicate clear and sensible rules, boundaries, and values while also empathetically enforcing them. Interactions between parent and child are warm and respectful, while the parent takes the time to explain the reasoning behind the family rules and values.


The Modern Parents that I work with understand the value of being an authoritative parent. They want to have a respectful relationship with their child that is characterized with warm, heart-to-heart discussions about important (and not so important) topics, while still maintaining family rules that make sense.

Even so, many Modern Parents are still feeling a disconnect with their child. They don’t have the positive, easy connection with their child that they’ve always wanted.What’s missing?

I would argue that not only do Modern Parents need to practice the good habits of the authoritative parent, but they also should encourage their child’s sense of autonomy in order to encourage a close, positive, and honest relationship with their child.

We want our kids to feel that they can share their thoughts with us, but in order to do that, they need to feel as though they can trust us.

So how can the Modern Parent build that trust? Keep reading on to find out how encouraging your child’s sense of autonomy not only helps your child in so many positive ways (such as increasing their self-motivation, creativity, and general happiness), but also serves to build a great parent-child relationship.


What Does it Mean to be Autonomy Supportive?

As I’ve said before, supporting your child’s autonomy doesn’t mean allowing them to do whatever they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences.

According to Edward Deci, a research psychologist who spent decades researching the ins and outs of self-motivation, autonomy is that magical element where people feel like they’re in control of their lives.

We WANT our kids to understand that ultimately THEY are in control of their lives – it’s up to them to make good (or bad) decisions. Mom and dad will not always be around to make their decisions for them, so practicing autonomous behavior while in the family home makes sense.

The Modern Parent’s job is to allow their child to make their own decisions regarding their behavior, and then to follow through with any appropriate rewards or consequences based upon the family’s individual rules and values.

That’s how autonomy works. Modern Parents communicate the family values and beliefs and set boundaries for their child’s behavior. The parent then allows the child to decide whether or not to follow these family rules (which they usually do), but when they decide not to adhere to the family boundaries, then the parent follows through with consequences that make sense.

This is exactly how the real world will be treating our kids, so this is great preparation for teaching our kids how to be successful young adults.Research also says that kids who feel autonomous (versus its opposite – feeling controlled) creates kids who are more creative, happy, and well-adjusted. Plus, as a child psychologist, I’ve seen first hand how encouraging autonomous behavior has helped eliminate behavioral problems and has allowed the kids that I work with to become more self-confident.  


How Autonomy Helps Build a Close Parent-Child Bond

According to Edward Deci, being autonomy supportive is all about how we relate to others – our kids, people at work, friends and extended family members. As Edward Deci says in his book Why We Do What we Do, the first step to building a bond with anyone is by being willing to relate to them:

“As human beings, as active agents who are worthy of support, rather than as objects to be manipulated for our own gratification. That means taking their perspective and seeing the world from their point of view as we relate to them. Of course, autonomy support may require more work, but then, as socializing agents, that is our responsibility. For us to expect responsibility from others, we must accept our own responsibility as the agent of their socialization.”

When you are an autonomy supportive parent, your child learns that:

  • You trust them to make their own decisions. This DOESN’T mean that you think they will make the best decision every time (who does, right?). It DOES mean that you believe that your child is capable of making good decisions, and, when they don’t, they are capable of remedying their bad decisions.


  • You are willing to help them. Your child needs to know that you are dependable – whether it is by correcting them through setting boundaries and consequences  (Yes! Science says our kids LIKE parents who maintain family rules!) and/or by helping them problem-solve during a crisis. Our kids need to know that we are there for them through good and bad.


  • You are a wise person yourself. Remember those times you learned life lessons from your parents? Usually it was when your parent shared a story about their life that really drove that lesson home. Sharing our own little stories of our ups and downs goes along way in instructing our kids about being an adult.


Qualities of an Autonomy Supportive Parent

So what are the qualities that an autonomy supportive parent should practice in order to build a positive relationship with their child?

Quality #1: Non Judgemental communication – listen, then instruct

I’m not telling parents that they aren’t allowed to have an opinion about their child’s life. What I am saying is that kids (especially teens) are more willing to listen to their parent’s instruction and opinion AS LONG AS THEY FEEL HEARD.

It’s so important to let your child get out what they want to say first, and acknowledge that it makes sense that they would think and feel that way. Once your child feels heard and understood, then go ahead and share your own wisdom.

Quality #2: Showing interest in their interests and hobbies

There are countless articles and studies out there telling Modern Parents to put down their cell phones and tablets and get involved with their kids – but really CONNECTING with our kids is a different story.

To really be autonomy supportive, parents need to be willing to engage with their child or teen at their level. This means that spending some time playing your child’s favorite video game, taking them to their favorite band’s concert, or learing all about their interest in anime shows them that you are interested in THEM – not in who you wish they were.

This communicates to your child that you trust them to figure out who they are, because the person they are about to become is awesome in your eyes.

Quality #3: Knowing the difference between being a friend and being a parent

Once you begin implementing quality #1 and #2 above, you will probably see your relationship with your child improve; however, smart Modern Parents know that there is a fine line between being your child’s friend and being their parent.

Being an autonomy supportive parent means allowing your child to feel free to voice their opinions and thoughts, and to make their own decisions, but you still need to make sure that the family rules are followed.

Never allow your child to use your close relationship to bend the rules. As Edward Deci reminds us in his book, “If there are no limits, no structure, no regulations to internalize, there will be no internalization…Permissiveness is easy, but autonomy support is hard work. It requires being clear, being consistent, setting limits in an understanding, empathic way.”

Remember…supporting your child’s autonomy means letting them practice their decision-making skills in the safety of the family environment. Setting and maintaining limits teach your child all about the real world, and that’s the point of parenting – setting our children up for a successful future in the adult world and maintaining a good relationship with them in the process. 


Take Home Message

Parents who are autonomy supportive and involved have children who better internalize the family rules and values willingly and for a lifetime. Furthermore, Edward Deci’s experiments with autonomy have shown that kids who were able to internalize the family rules and values were naturally better at achievement and adjustment.

This is why what we do at home as Modern Parents goes a long way in helping our kids develop a happy and successful future.

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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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The #1 Reason Why Today’s Tweens and Teens Make Such Horrible Decisions

The #1 Reason Why Today’s Tweens and Teens Make Such Horrible Decisions

Many of today’s kids are too often making horrendous decisions (and suffering the consequences of these bad decisions), but some Modern Kids seem to be immune to poor decision making.

What’s their secret? Why are some kids bad at making decisions while others don’t struggle in this area?

It all comes down to autonomy – which is the cornerstone to accountability.

When it comes to autonomy, accountability can be a slightly misunderstood concept with Modern Parents. Merriam-Webster defines accountability as, “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions,” and part of taking responsibility for one’s actions is realizing that there is a choice involved.

Brian Moran and Michael Lennington discuss accountability as follows:

“Accountability is the realization that you always have choice; that, in fact, there are no have-to’s in life. Have-to’s are those things we hate to do but do anyway because we have to. The fact is there are no have-to’s. Everything we do in life is a choice. Even in an environment where there are requirements of you, you still have a choice, but there is a big difference when you approach something as a choose-to versus a have-to. When something is a have-to it’s a burden, it’s cumbersome, and, at best, you meet the minimum requirements; however, the realization that you ultimately have choice creates a very different scenario. When you choose to do something, you are able to tap your resources and give your best. It is a much more empowering stance. Ultimately, you choose your actions, your results, your consequences.”

So the previous section begs the question: Are Modern Parents giving their kids the opportunity to take ownership of their own choices (be they good or bad) in order to develop accountability for their own actions?

We WANT our kids to behave in a positive, moral, and successful way when we are not watching, and giving them the ability to practice taking ownership of their own decisions is the best way for them to practice being accountable as they are practicing this important life skill.

Do We Expect Our Kids To Be Perfect At Accountability?

For most kids, being accountable takes practice. It is the instinct of very small children to protect themselves from harm by NOT taking responsibility for their actions if it could possibly lead to negative consequences; as such, most Modern Parents need to teach their kids that accountability is the morally right thing to do.

So how does one teach accountability?

By letting our Modern Kids have the autonomy to choose to make either a bad decision or a good one. It’s so important that they know from an early age that that it is ultimately up to them to choose the answer.

But what if they choose the bad choice? Then let them reap the consequences of their choice. Believe me, it is WAY better if kids make bad choices when they are in Mom and Dad’s protective nest than if they were grown up and the consequences were more severe. Now, this doesn’t mean that Mom or Dad takes away the suffering of the bad choice. Rather, they oversee the child and instruct him or her while they are undergoing the consequences.

The important point is this: the parent creates an environment where the child is allowed the autonomy to make their own choices, but within predictable boundaries.

The child should already know what will happen if they pick choice A or choice B.

What Is The Parent’s Role?

Oftentimes, parents actually contribute to their child’s poor decision because they become too emotionally invested in the child’s choice.

When a child feels forced to make a certain decision (i.e. they do not have autonomy), research has shown that they typically react in 1 of 2 ways: either with compliance or defiance. Compliant kids do what they’re told, but their hearts aren’t in it, which means they put in as little effort as possible and stop when the parent’s influence is no longer available. They don’t learn the life-long lesson of the importance of making good decisions even when it’s hard.

Defiant kids become so emotionally invested in rebelling against the parent, that their only goal is to hurt the parent. They cannot even cognitively understand the consequences of their actions until after the fact – when they are no longer as emotional – and then they typically regret what they’ve done.

The long-term benefits of giving the child autonomy when they are young works best when the parent has thought through how they will react if their child makes the good choice – or the bad one. This way, the parent isn’t as emotional when the child is presented with the choice and the parent is prepared to act no matter what choice the child makes.

Take Home Message

We want to teach our Modern Kids the life-long skill of making good decisions even when no one is looking – they make these decisions because they know it’s the right thing to do.

In order to help our young kids or teens learn to develop into young adults who practice accountability on a regular basis is to allow our kids to practice the pros and cons of having autonomy. Allowing kids to understand that ultimately they are in charge of their choices allows them to practice making good decisions for all the right reasons.

If our kids mess up once in awhile and make a poor decisions, it’s ok. Allow them to feel what it feels like to suffer the consequences so that next time they will be more inclined to make a better choice.

Modern Parenting is tough – sometimes you will need to follow through on consequences that are not fun for your child, but it’s better your child learn the hard way now than when the stakes are much higher when they are older and out of your protective nest.



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The 3 Most Important Elements That Research Says Creates Happy and Successful Kids

The 3 Most Important Elements That Research Says Creates Happy and Successful Kids

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Week after week, email after email, and conversation after conversation, I get asked the same thing by people: What is the most common problem that I help Modern Parents with today?

Hands down, Modern Parents want to know how they can get their kids to do something.

How can they get their kids to listen to them?

How can they get their kids to not be so anxious?

How can they get their kids to get better grades?

How can they get their kids to be more social?

The list of what parents want to change, or improve, about their kids is endless, but the answer is always the same – there are no magic words or techniques that will give their kids the necessary motivation to change overnight. The reality is that inspiring change in our kids is a long process that involves a lot of work by the parent.

The good news is, however, that science has found the 3 necessary ingredients that all kids need in order to develop the all-important “motivation muscle”: autonomy, mastery, and relatedness.

Today’s article will provide you with the basics of including these elements into your Modern Family so that your child will develop the necessary motivation skills needed to become a happy and successful young adult.


A year or so ago, I had a new parent that I was working with tell me about a challenge that she was having with her teenage daughter. The problem was that her daughter would always want to spend the night at her neighbor friend’s house instead of at home. The mother took offense at this, because she felt the child should WANT to spend time with her own family, so every day when the daughter would ask to sleep at the neighbor’s house, a huge argument between mother and daughter would ensue.

The mother asked me how to get her child to stop asking to stay at the neighbor’s house and spend time with the family at home. My answer was to give her child the autonomy to make the choice herself.

“That’s crazy Dr. B,” she said. “If I let my daughter do whatever she wants, she’ll never come home.”

“I didn’t say to let her do whatever she wants. I said give her the autonomy to choose to sleep at the neighbor’s house or to sleep at home, but if she chooses to sleep at the neighbor’s house, then she also chooses to do so responsibly. For example, in order to go to the neighbor’s house, perhaps a set of responsible behaviors would be that she needs to show you that her homework and chores are done before going over there and that she needs to be following all household rules such as not getting into fights with her siblings. Also, you will be talking to the friend’s mom to make sure that her bedtime will be followed at her friend’s house.”

Immediately, this parent thought I was one of those modern, “anything goes” kind of therapists. She gave me reason after reason about why giving her daughter the autonomy in this situation wouldn’t work. I was convinced she would leave the session not taking my advice and coming back week after week complaining over and over again about this same situation.

But to my surprise, several months later, the mother opened our parent group session with a confession that she tried the advice that I gave her and it worked exactly as I said it would. She said that she got to a point where she was just tired of arguing with her daughter, so she thought there was nothing to lose. She gave her daughter the choice to go to her friend’s house or stay home, and magically her daughter didn’t seem to have any interest in going to her friend’s house any more.

“It was as if once she knew the decision was in her hands, she took the decision to stay at her friend’s house more seriously and decided it would be better in the long run to stay home. Now she only goes to her friend’s house once or twice on the weekends.”

As research psychologist Edward Deci found in his research on human motivation, both kids and adults need to have a feeling of ownership in their behavioral choices in order to make good decisions. His research showed that if kids felt like their decisions were made for them, they either rebelled or complied, but they complied in a way where they did horrible work and only the minimal amount of work required to get the job done.

Conversely, his research also showed that when kids were given the opportunity to make decisions within a clearly defined set of boundaries, they were happier, more creative, and learned more. Most Modern Parents make the mistake of thinking that giving kids clear boundaries negates the sense of autonomy when allowing the child or teenager to be in charge of their own behavioral decisions. On the contrary, it empowers them, because now they have all the information needed to make a good choice.

Will kids ALWAYS make the best decision when given autonomy? Of course not, so parents need to be consistent when following through on consequences when kids choose the wrong decision. This doesn’t mean they are bad kids – this simply means they are still learning the decision-making process.

Think about it. We WANT our kids to practice making decisions often and early. If we make all their decisions for them – even if we do this with the good intention of sparing our kids from stupid mistakes – then they will never learn the life skill of decision making. If they make a bad decision while still under our care, then we can teach them how to correct their mistake.

I’ve seen way too many college kids who are new at making decisions really mess up, and when this happens, the consequences are usually more serious than if they practiced making decisions when they were younger.

This week, try giving your child autonomy on some small decisions. Once they have mastered making good decisions with small situations, then move one to more important ones. You will love watching your child blossom right before your eyes. I promise.


Recently, I worked with a Mom and Dad who just had their child tested for ADHD. Their teen daughter had been home schooled for the past several years due to the fact that she developed anxiety while at school, and they felt homeschooling her would help alleviate her distress. Her grades had become so bad that she was in jeopardy of not progressing to the next grade, and the parents attributed her academic difficulty to ADHD.

However, testing showed that the child was bright, had zero learning disorders and showed no signs of attention problems or hyperactivity; thus, we could not diagnose her with ADHD. The parents, and especially the child, were crushed with the news.

“If it’s not ADHD, then why is our child not progressing,” they asked me. The mother wanted to know what MORE they could do for their child. Already, Mom sat with her teenager for hours each day reading the material to her (sitting alone made the child anxious and she would complain that she couldn’t concentrate enough to read and remember the material) and Dad would regularly go to the homeschool center to advocate for why his child needed more time to complete assignments and to argue for better grades,

Are you getting the picture yet?

Mom and Dad did everything for this child – she never developed a sense of mastery for any task, which made her anxious to do anything even remotely out of her comfort zone.

Unfortunately, I see this problem a lot in today’s families, but fortunately, there is a pretty easy solution.

Kids need to develop a sense of mastery over even the most mundane tasks. When kids are toddlers, they learn to master toilet training. Later they master such routine tasks such as picking up their toys, setting the table, taking care of a pet, dressing themselves, etc.

Little successes over time build up to bigger and more important successes. The toddler that masters setting the table grows up to be a teenager who believes that they can master studying for a test or trying out for the tennis team. If we take away the opportunity for our kids to learn how to become proficient at a task, then we rob them of the self-esteem needed to conquer adult life situations.

Psychologist Albert Bandura, who developed the Social Cognitive Theory, found that people who have developed a sense of mastery over many of life’s simple tasks tend to undertake tougher challenges, persevere with challenges onger, and are more resilient in the face of obstacles and failure. As you can see, developing a sense of mastery while the child is young is so important for their future success.

But what happens if a child or teenager lacks a sense of mastery? What if they are scared to try new things or give up on tough tasks too easily?

The answer is to start small and work your way up. Provide opportunities for the child to master easy tasks and then move up to tougher challenges. Let your child try a task and be prepared to let them fail, but when they do fail, don’t make a big deal out of it, Just teach them how to pick themselves up. This is sometimes very tough to do, but very necessary.

For more on teaching your child how to take smart risks that lead to mastery, read THIS ARTICLE.


The last element that is needed to encourage your child’s inner motivation muscle to grow is relatedness.

Simply put, relatedness is the feeling of being connected and accepted by the people who are important to them.

Research has found that when kids feel they have a warm connection to their parents, teachers, and other important people in their lives, they are more likely to make better decisions. They are more likely to:

  • Choose tough decisions over easy ones
  • Choose decisions that have a long-term benefit over decisions that offer short-term, quick rewards
  • Make selfless rather than selfish decisions.

A lot of parents don’t put a lot of thought into the element of relatedness – they just assume that the parent-child bond is all they need to fulfill this element, but they are wrong, Encouraging the feeling of relatedness with the child means being autonomy-supportive.

An autonomy-supportive parent allows the child the freedom to make their own decisions – within the confines of safe boundaries – and this communicates to the child that:

  • The parent believes that the child is capable of making good decisions
  • That the parent understands that the child is not perfect and is in the process of learning important life lessons, which means that the child might occasionally make poor decisions from time to time
  • The parent has confidence that the child can fix poor decisions, learn a lesson from them, and move on in a way that makes them a better person.

As you can see, relatedness means more to the child than simply being related to a parent by birth or adoption – it also involves trust, confidence, belief, and understanding.

The take-home message about relatedness is that when kids feel safe to explore their world and experiment using their natural talents and abilities, then they are more likely to be motivated to initiate tasks on their own, persevere with tasks when the going gets tough, and perform these tasks above and beyond minimal effort.

Isn’t this what we ultimately want for our kids?


Parents CAN work with their kids over a period of time and teach them to be self-motivated to take ore ownership of their own lives.

This can be done through the three elements of autonomy, mastery, and relatedness: allowing the child the freedom and trust to make their own choices (within safe boundaries) that encourages the child to use their innate strengths and talents to build confidence that they can have a positive effect on the environment and people around them.

These three elements help our kids feel competent, brave, and valued. I encourage you to begin using these three elements in your parenting routine (if you are not already) and you will be amazed at how your child transforms right before your eyes!



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