Effective Communication with Your Child

How to Stay Calm and in Control while Dealing with your Child

STEP #1: Recognize your triggers.


  • Why do you lose your temper?
  • Understanding our triggers as the adult is just as important as trying to figure out what sets our kids off so that we can help them control themselves.
  • What emotional triggers or physical sensations in your body can you identify?
  • What behaviors of your child trigger you?

When you are able to recognize what frustrates you the most, you are on the path to stopping your temper from boiling over.
Step #2: Find new ways to communicate.

Things to avoid:

  • Giving the child the silent treatment
  • Withdrawing from the family
  • Giving overly harsh punishments in the heat of the moment
  • Yelling
  • Saying snide or sarcastic remarks
  • Swearing and name calling

Remember you are modeling how to deal with anger and frustration for your child and to express it appropriately.

Step #3: Find your strategies to calm.

Finding a calming strategy that works for you can stop you from losing your temper

  • Walk away (literally); For older kids, you can even say “You know, I’m not ready to talk to you about this right now so I’m going to be alone for a few moments until I can calm down.”
  • Practice deep breathing: Pause when you feel yourself getting angry or intensely frustrated. Inhale SLOWLY making your abdomen rise/expand and take in a full breath. Pause for a moment at the top of your breath and slowly and fully exhale through your nose or mouth. Try to do this ten times.
  • Count backwards: Before opening your mouth to respond, consider counting backwards towards calmness, until you are in a different place. The more stressed out your feel, the higher the number you would begin counting backward from.
  • Long-term strategies: For longer-term calming practices, integrate physical exercise into your weekly routine.  This can come in the form of yoga, meditation, running, biking or simply walking.


Step # 4: Communicate calmly.


  • Do not approach them if they are still raging at you or you are still too angry to talk.
  • Keep your comments brief and to the point.
  • Don’t dwell on what just happened. When you are finished, move on to something else.

“I really don’t appreciate it when I come home from work and you haven’t done any of your chores. Please do them now.”

“I don’t like it when you take your brother’s toys and make him cry. The consequence for that is that your train now is in time-out for 20 minutes, while you practice better behavior.”

“You know the rule in our house is completing homework before television. No more TV for the night.”

Step #5: Choose Your Battles.

What about your child’s behavior in the home is most important to you? Prioritize! Pick your battles!

For younger kids, there are a lot of daily behaviors that can be frustrating: at this age kids are messy, they cry easily, they have meltdowns, and they can be grouchy.

11-18 year olds tend to be messy,  moody, irresponsible and unfocused. Is it important that your child completes chores, has a semi-clean room, and is  respectful? If so, then make it clear what your expectations are and let the rest (the occasional mess, the roll of the eyes, the moody/grouchy behavior) roll off your back.

Step #6: Apologize when you are in the wrong.
It is very powerful and a great gift for a parent to admit their faults and offering a sincere apology to their child. Modeling this type of humility shows a child that we are all human and that even parents make mistakes.
Step #7: Find Support.

Pick trusted friends or family members who will support you through your parenting years.


Find like-minded parents who you feel safe confiding in when you’ve exploded and feel ashamed or guilty.


Make sure you nurture these relationships so you have a sounding board (and can return the favor) when you are at your wits end.


People may have to “earn your story”: you may not want to divulge your worst parenting moments to other parents or family members who are judgmental, or who express shock or dismay at your momentary lapse in parenting judgment.  It is likely these people will only make your feel worse about yourself.
Step #8: Be Kind to Yourself. There is no such thing as a perfect parent.

Lastly, practice self-care by being kind and forgiving towards yourself. Parents are harder on themselves than any other group of individuals I know of.


This is born out of intense feelings of love and concern for our kids, as well as the desire to get it all right all the time.


But there’s no such things as a perfect parent who does it all right, all the time.


Most of us are lucky if we can get through the day being a “good enough” parent.


Whether you lose your temper once or twenty times, acknowledge to yourself that you’ve made mistakes, and commit to doing better in the future.


Acknowledge that you aren’t perfect, that you may have future tantrums, but that you are human and fallible.


Forgive yourself for past indiscretions and move forward with the goal that you will start each day aiming to try your best, forgiving yourself if you weren’t great, and praising yourself when you find you are parenting at your best.

Love the Holidays?

The holidays can be a busy time for many families. Excitement and energy fill the air and we hope for moments of great joy and togetherness – but for many parents, holiday dreams can quickly explode into behavioral nightmares.

When this happens, it’s natural to want to try and do something NOW – to look for a fix, to hold Johnny accountable. We recommend not trying to make big changes over the holidays. Do your best to take care of yourself and your family and ride out the storms that may arise.

When the holiday stress passes and things are calmer, we can work together to come up with a plan that will work for you and your family in the new year!

Happy Holidays,

The Empowering Parents eCoaching Team

Expecting a Fight with Your Child? (You’ll Get One.)

You’re driving home from work, and you call your teen and tell him to clean his room and finish his homework. Before he grunts a response and hangs up, you swear you can hear the T.V. blaring in the background. You feel your stress levels rising and think, “I know the house is going to be a mess when I get home. Jake won’t have done his homework, and I’ll bet he’ll be playing video games.” Sure enough, when you walk through the door, the scene is exactly how you pictured it, and you’re steaming mad. The fighting starts immediately.

No matter how your child acts, he does not control how you behave.

If you’ve gotten into a pattern with your child where you’re arguing all the time, understand that if you’re already geared up and braced for a fight as you walk through the door, you’ll probably get one.  Learn to recognize when you have this type of anxious expectation. You might say, “Well, I expect it because my child always acts like that.” For example, I expect my daughter to give me a hard time in the evening. When I walk in the door and she doesn’t say hello, I react to her from my anxious expectations and assume that she’s rude or disrespectful. And because I have this expectation, I don’t stop in the moment and objectively look at the situation. I react to her as if she’s disrespectful. She gets upset for being misunderstood and now I get just what I expected: a fight with my child. You always look at, “Is there any way I might contribute to a behavior that I see?” If you can ask yourself that question a lot, you might be able to discover why you tend to perceive your child that way. Is it possible that it’s coming from some anxiety or worry rather than how they really are? You have to step back and look through objective lenses, rather than just from your emotional state. This is not easy to do. But somehow, try to get that difference between the feeling versus “What’s really going on here?” When you always expect your kid to respond the same old way, why is that—and does that expectation have anything to do with his behavior? Be as objective as possible. Get on the roof, go as far up as you can and look down from above, and then think about what you see.The truth is, when you’re in that fight with your child, you tend to take things more personally—which is not effective in changing that behavior.

Related: How to stop the constant power struggle with your child.

So first, make sure you’re being as objective as possible before you walk through the door. Realize that anxiety can cause you to be highly judgmental and not see things as they are. Take a deep breath and try to leave any negative assumptions outside the door. No matter what the behavior is that you find, try to see your child through clear lenses, and give her the chance to do well.

If she is then disrespectful and behaves badly, your first goal is to work to calm yourself down. Have a plan and prepare how you want to behave regardless of how your child is behaving.  Just think about how you want to act no matter what your child is doing. Put yourself on a movie screen and see what kind of parent you want to be, and how you want to behave. Remember, no matter how your child acts, he does not control how you behave.  Say to yourself, “I’m going to decide, based on my own principles, how I want to parent. If my teenager screams at me, I’m not going to yell back or respond in an angry voice. I’m going to take deep breaths. If I need to, I’m going to say, “Let’s talk about this after we both calm down.” Stay clear, calm, and matter of fact. If your child continues to be upset or agitated, do whatever it takes to not go there and lose your cool. Think about how you want to parent; try not to base your reaction to your child on the feeling of the moment. I know this isn’t easy—it’s something all parents really have to work at.

I also think you should try to expect better rather than worse from your child; try to respond from that place of believing in him. When you’re carrying an expectation, your child reads that. He can read an expression that says, “My child is a loser,” just as he can read one that says, “I have faith that we can do better on this one today. Let’s figure it out.”

Here’s an example. Let’s say you walk in the door after work and the house is a mess. Your kids are fighting, and they’re on you immediately, accusing each other and calling one another names. You feel the mercury rising and want to scream. The question becomes, What do you do at that moment instead of losing it?

First, simply tell yourself that you’re not going to scream. Say, “I’m not going to go there no matter what.” Don’t give yourself permission to get reactive. Instead, take some deep breaths, do whatever it takes. And then pull out your emergency plan.

Here’s one that I recommend—I call it the “STOP Plan.”

S: Stop what you’re doing. Pause and take your own timeout rather than jumping into the fray immediately. Do not respond until you’ve taken that pause. You can say to yourself, “I need to take a timeout and get myself together. I want to respond from the right place and get myself centered so I can think better and then come up with a plan.” Your responsibility is to get yourself under control before responding to the child.

T: Think about what you want to say or do. Once you get yourself down from 100 to zero, get some perspective on the situation. Talk to your spouse or a friend, take a walk, do whatever you have to do get yourself down. Once you’re calm, your brain can think better and you’ll be able to problem solve. But pause, pause, pause.

O: Options. Consider your options. Depending on the situation, you have options about how you want to behave, how you want to act, and what you want to do.

P: Plan of action. What comes next? How can you disengage from the fight? Can you send the kids to their rooms? What consequences should you give your kids, if any?

Related: Want to learn how to give consequences that really work?

Have your emergency kit on hand. Use slogans or sayings that help, like, “This too shall pass,” or “This is how my child is dealing with his own anxiety; I don’t need to get hooked into it.” Just take that minute to pause; it’s in that space that you have control.  Now, decide how you will take charge of how you want to be.

Be aware of the negative expectations that you might have of your child. Recognize that much of the time, these expectations are about your worry, fear and anxiety—and that you are projecting them onto your child. Try to see your child as he is, rather than what you fear he is going to become.

Recognize that when you get angry, you’re going to have judgments—and with judgment comes anger. Breathe into the moment and just recognize your emotions. You may have feelings of grief or sadness or frustration or something else. I advise clients to put these feelings in a balloon and let them float away. Don’t get caught up in the judgments that go with negative feelings, because that will only make the reactivity stronger.

It’s also important to know your triggers. Is it a look your child gives you, or is it coming home to a messy house? Know your triggers and have a plan on how you want to respond to them. Think about the consequences of fighting with your child—you’ll feel upset and the problem may not get resolved. Then, think about the positive consequences if you handle it in a different way: you won’t be drained and frustrated all night. Always remember that there are two different directions you can choose—and the best one is to have a plan and go at it calmly.

Related: A parenting plan to help you change your child’s behavior.

I know it’s not easy to be a parent, especially when our kids hit adolescence. Kids and teenagers don’t always make the best decisions or do the right things. But try to have faith in your child. Don’t let your anxiety overwhelm you so you feel like, “Oh my God, this is the end of the world” when he makes a mistake or behaves badly. Have a basic belief that your child is a work in progress—and that he’s learning the skill set he needs to function in the adult world.


By Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

Kids Home for Winter Break? Enjoy a Stress-Free Holiday

The kids will be home for the holidays soon. You’re trying to stay optimistic, but you can’t shake the feeling that this winter will be like all the rest…

The children argue, make messes or spend all their time with friends instead of family. You’re busy breaking up fights and doing extra housework. Whatever happened to enjoying a memorable, stress-free holiday together?

These next couple weeks may be a vacation for your kids, but for you, it feels like a second job. Don’t panic! We’ll show you how to get through it with your sanity intact.

Tension levels can rise dramatically during the holidays. Your kids might not have school for a few weeks, but you likely still have work and other responsibilities. This creates a conflict of priorities that can upset the balance of your home. When this happens year after year, it creates a pattern.

It’s common for parents to interpret these patterns by forming expectations – you get so used to coming home to an argument or a messy house, you start to expect it. You may feel “on edge” and experience anxiety, frustration or anger. When you’re in such an emotional state, you’re more likely to react to your child – or anyone, for that matter!

To be a calm parent, it helps to look at the big picture. Step back and view your family patterns. Widen your lenses and stay objective.

If you feel like you know what’s going to happen when you get home, then great! You can use this awareness to your advantage by forming a plan ahead of time. If you know you’re coming home to messy house or an argument, take some time to prepare your response.

We recommend trying the STOP Plan from Debbie Pincus. This simple, four-step technique will get you down from 100 to zero in no time – it’s one of my favorites! Debbie writes about how to use the STOP Plan in her article, Expecting a Fight with Your Child? (You’ll Get One).

It also helps to repeat phrases like, “This too shall pass,” or “This is how my child is dealing with his own anxiety; I don’t need to get sucked into it.” Pause and take a deep breath – it’s in that space that you have control. You have the power to decide how to react. If you need help, you can count on us! We’re here to help you become a calmer parent.

Talk soon,

Denise R., Empowering Parents Coach

“Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen?”

“Why Don’t Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It

By Megan Devine, LCPC

If you’re having trouble giving effective consequences to your teen, know that you are not alone. Many parents tell me that nothing seems to work, and that coming up with the right thing for their child can seem like an impossible task. If you’re the parent of an adolescent, you may have grounded your child, taken away their video games, or suspended their driving privileges for months on end. But as James Lehman says, you can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.

“As James Lehman says, you can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.”

Rather, an effective consequence should encourage your child to change their behavior – whether that is abiding by the house rules, or treating people respectfully. So first, you need to identify the behavior you want to see changed. For example, if your child swears when they don’t get their way, you want them to behave more appropriately. Instead of grounding or punishing, or even reasoning with your child when he gets angry and lashes out, an effective consequence here would require your child to practice better behavior – and improve their self-control – for a period of time before their normal privileges are restored.

Let’s break this down:

    • Effective consequences are ones that are connected to the original behavior, and are both task- and time-specific.
    • “Connected to the original behavior” means that your consequence needs to be related to the behavior you want to see your child change or improve.
    • “Task specific” means that there is something your child needs to accomplish, or practice related to the original problem. This is a concrete behavior, like washing the dishes, meeting curfew, or not swearing.
  • “Time specific” means there is a specific amount of time in which he needs to demonstrate that behavior.

So, when your child swears, he might lose access to his electronics until he can go without swearing for two hours. The consequence is tied to the behavior – he swore so he has to practice not swearing. This consequence is task specific – it requires him to exercise the part of his brain that governs self-control. If he wants his stuff back, he has to practice better behavior. And it’s time specific – he needs to demonstrate self control for two hours, then he is free to have his privileges.

It’s important to understand that you can’t get your child to not feel angry, or not get frustrated. That’s just part of being human. But you can require that they change the way they deal with those feelings. You can expect them to practice some self-control. Your goal is to require that your child practice the better behavior for a certain amount of time before they get their privileges back. So practice—and behavioral improvement— equals the restoration of privileges.

If they yell about their consequence, or how unfair it is, you might say, “I understand that you’re angry. Yelling is not going to get you what you want. Once you’ve been able to deal with your anger appropriately for two hours, you will get your electronics back.” Do not continue to explain your consequences, or justify your decisions. He may mumble to himself, or text his friends about how awful his parents are, and it may take some time, but eventually your child will decide to practice those skills that earn back his electronics.

Choosing a Consequence
Think of it this way: a privilege is a motivator. The withdrawal, or granting, of a privilege should give your child incentive to follow the rules of your house, even when they don’t agree with those rules. An effective consequence is a privilege your child is interested in. For some kids, video games are a powerful motivator, while other kids could care less about them. Taking away a cell phone for two hours works for some kids; others would just find another way to communicate. In order to choose the right privilege to use as a consequence, you have to know your child. What are their interests? What would really impact them if they lost it for a short period of time? Some parents tell us that using the blanket term “All electronics” works better than just saying “No video games,” which can make kids turn to the computer or the television as a distraction.

Remember, the right privilege should be an activity that your child will actually miss. Withhold that privilege until your child completes the task you’ve set for them. James Lehman suggests that you sit down with your child and come up with a list of privileges and consequences together. The advantage here is that you are working as a team to solve the problem. It can help you identify things or activities your child truly values. It also clarifies what the consequences will be for certain infractions—for everyone involved. Not only will your child know what will happen if he breaks a certain rule, but the parents don’t have to spend time coming up with something in the heat of the moment.

If Your Child Doesn’t Seem to Care What You Use as a Consequence…
Recently, one dad said to me in exasperation, “Even though my daughter lives to text, she acts like she could care less when her texting rights are taken away. Nothing works with her!” Some kids appear not to care what activity you restrict; they pretend they didn’t want to do it anyway.

But look at it this way: would your child really want you to know that they care about the consequence you’re giving them? Would they reveal their reaction to you and let you know you got to them? That would make it seem like you have power over them, and they aren’t about to concede on that one! So some kids, like the teenage girl above, feign indifference when you remove a privilege. If you’ve watched your child and know that what you’re taking away really does impact them, don’t worry about whether or not they seem suitably upset at the loss of it.

What if the Consequences Still Aren’t Working?
So what if you know you’ve chosen a valuable privilege, and your consequences still aren’t working? The key here is to take a look at the length of time privileges are removed. Is it too long? Does your child lose interest in what you’ve taken away (the “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma)? Is the time frame so long that your child can’t possibly be successful (no swearing for a whole month)?

Remember, your goal is to create better behavior in your child, and the consequence/privilege needs to encourage that improvement by being time-specific. If you truly want your child to improve their behavior, you need to create an environment in which your child can succeed. The time span of your consequence is important – it should be long enough that your child has to stretch their skills, and short enough that you have a good chance of seeing improvement. To be effective, a consequence needs to be short-term, task specific, and involve a privilege your child values. Your goal here is to produce a child who can respond to limits, meet responsibilities, and demonstrate age-appropriate behavior. Your consequences and privileges help get them there.

One last word of advice: Parents often want to see their child’s behavior improve overnight. If you are faced with a child who behaves inappropriately under stress, your consequences should require him to practice and get better. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Like any new skill, better behavior takes practice. When implementing a new consequence, you can expect some failure. You can expect that you may need to restart a couple of times. In the beginning, you may find that your child behaves inappropriately every day, and has their privileges removed often. That doesn’t mean you’ve chosen the wrong consequence. It simply means your child needs time to practice better skills. And they need you to keep them practicing.