Teach Planning and Reviewing towards Self-Control

Planning and reviewing skills are a piece of building attention span and impulse control.  In some of our classes, each week the children have to plan their 15 minute play time.  This includes choosing where they will play (only 1 center each day) and planning three activities to occupy their time.  Teachers check on their progress throughout and help children to meet each goal.  This is something you can easily incorporate at home.

At clean up time, sit for a minute and ask your child to plan the effort.  This includes details such as the order of the tasks and if they will work together.  Draw or write a check list and help them to stay on task.  At the end a pat on the back for completing the list.  A more fun example – ask your child to plan their next playdate.  Invite a friend over for an hour and have child (or children) come up with three or four activities they’d like to do during that time.  Help them manage the time and move through the activities.

It is also helpful to take a plan-do-review approach to outings or other activities.  If you are headed to the pumpkin patch this weekend, take some time to look at pictures from last year or visit their website, print the map and plan your trip together with your child.  Talk about all the things they are seeing and doing while their.  After, call a grandparent and encourage your child to tell them details about the trip.  Review again with your child when you print the pictures.

Blended Families and Re-Building Relationships

Hi Dr. Rene,
We are a blended family and have been for more than five years. One of my step children has suddenly decided they dislike me, and will avoid eye contact or any type of interaction with me if possible. I am getting sighs and dirty looks for doing something as simple as saying good morning. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no changes or incidences to cause this sudden change in behavior. Before this started we were very close, got along well and spent regular time together doing activities we both enjoyed. My husband and I have tried talking to the child about the behavior; that seems to help for a day or two. We’ve tried ignoring the behavior; which seems to make it escalate. We are at the point of wanting to enforce some sort of discipline for being disrespectful and rude. I’m not sure if this will help or hurt the situation, but things cannot continue this way, the behavior is affecting the entire family. Any advice would be welcomed.  Thank you!



Dear Michelle,

I am sure this is upsetting, but I would avoid discipline, at least at the emotion. First, I would try to look at the emotion behind the behavior and address that. While you may be unaware of any change, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. It may have been a piece of a passing conversation, a new understanding of an old problem as they mature or a sense of slight from his other parent. It may be impossible to find the cause, even the child may be unable to pin point it, but clearly there is upset. I would go out of my way to validate the difficult emotions when there is a behavior. When child rolls eyes, this sounds like, “I get you are frustrated with me, you don’t like what I just asked you to do.” Without lecturing, this can be followed by a simple, “and I need you to do it now.” The idea is to validate the emotion, but follow through with the behavior. It is a narrow road, but if you move forward with discipline, it is along these lines. Validate the emotions and discipline the related behaviors. In the moment this would be starting with, “I see you are grumpy this morning, I will try again later,” or, “I know you are frustratted, let’s go back and try that again.” You might also coach how the child can better display emotion. Rather than a dirty look to a “good morning,” coach that they can say, “I’m not awake yet.” This coaching is best out of the moment, when all is well.

In all this coaching, avoid putting pressure on the individual relationship. Rather than saying, “you and I are family, and you will treat me with respect,” go more global, “that is an unfriendly way to say good morning, it would be nicer to say…” Focus on coaching how to speak to people in general, how to be kind and how to carry conversation rather than pressuring the relationship.

I would also make every effort to have child spend individual time connecting with each parent. There’s no need to make an announcement, but think at least weekly each of you are spending a bit of time. This can be a trip to the grocery store if you are focused on conversation and spending the time together. You might also read about and practice Greenspan’s Talk Time as presented in Playground Politics. This is a book about social and emotional development through the grade school years, and it highlights the importance of children having open talk time as they move out of Floortime. It’s an interesting way to open up conversations and emotions.

If you decide to go more specific at the discipline, I would initially make it a whole family effort. Sit and talk with everyone about how you are going to make an effort to be kinder and gentler with each other in communicating even when people are upset. Make it an effort in your marriage and in the parent-child relationships. If there are consequences for negative tones and words, this goes for all. Likely more successful here is, it is a global effort rather than a narrow focus. I would look to discipline more specifically only if all this fails. I hope this helps!


Dr. Rene

Two-Year-Old Doesn’t Like to Play with Others

Dear Dr. Rene,

My two-year-old daughter is happy, friendly and affectionate around adults, but, aside from a couple of her friends who recently moved away, she just does not seem to like other children at the moment! When I tell her that we are going somewhere to see her friend(s), she tells me that she wants just her and I to go. When we are in the company of other children, she gets upset if they come anywhere near her. While her friends want to hug, hold hands or play together, my daughter doesn’t really want anything to do with them. I stay at home with her, she does not go to school yet, but we do go to classes and meet up with friends on a regular basis. I’m hoping that this a quick passing phase, but was wondering if you have any advice on how I should handle this behavior.

Thank you,


Dear Nicole,

I know it can be difficult to watch your child struggle as she learns to be social. I want to first latch on to that she is friendly and affectionate towards adults, and you mentioned her having a few friends that recently moved. These points highlight that she has the capacity for being social. That she’s even had one recognized friendship at this little age is a positive. I would try to figure out if there was something particular she liked about the friends that moved away and look for that in new playmates. While I wouldn’t force the hand holding or hugs, I would continue to give lots of opportunities for play with her same age peers. Attend playgroups or gym classes, go to the playgrounds and take group swim lessons. Continue to model being social by greeting others, inviting them to join you at activities and talking about concepts like taking turn and sharing. Occasionally, host others for play at your house so she can have practice at being social in more comfortable surroundings.

Many two year olds still tend to engage in parallel play, playing near other children more than with them. By three to four years old, most of them move to more interactive play. It may be that she is simply still at parallel play. She may prefer adults as they lead play easily and offer good ideas. Adults are also more reciprocal than other two year olds with turntaking and sharing and less likely to provide conflicts. It may be helpful to try playdates with a few slightly older children in the neighborhood.

When she does request to be just the two of you, agree when that was already the plan. If it wasn’t, validate her request by saying something like, “I know you want it to be just mommy, but today we are meeting Johnny and his mom at the park.” I wouldn’t ignore her request, hear her first. Then calmly let her know the plan. I would think this will be a passing phase, but it’s something to keep in mind moving forward. I am hopeful for you both that she will find same-age friends easily when a good match presents itself.

You might also read Just You and Me by McBratney and talk about how the gosling wanted to be alone with the big goose, but how nice it was they shared their space with the other animals who wanted out of the rain.


Dr. Rene

Push Back to Dad Traveling for Work

Dear Dr. Rene,

My husband was recently on a two month work trip (which will be a frequent occurance). My almost three-year-old son is a fairly emotional child and has always been very attached to me, although we had made significant progress in the past with him being okay with Daddy doing bedtime and being alone with Dad. While my husband was gone, my son hardly talked about him and didn’t exhibit many signs of missing him, though I brought him up often so that he knew his daddy was thinking about him. We were able to Skype occasionally, and he was always excited to see him on the computer. The first day or two of him being home were fine.

It has been five days with daddy home and our house has turned into mayhem. My son will not be in a room by himself with his father, he won’t let his daddy help him do anything, he says “I don’t like Daddy,” he hits him if he tries to carry him, and so on. We have tried to be understanding of it to an extent, he gets physically upset and “scared” – but I don’t want to reinforce his fears. Its gotten to a point that we feel it may be partially a control issue for my son – and we don’t want him to feel like he can manipulate a situation by throwing a fit to get what he wants. We are at a loss for how to handle this. We expect it to take time, but aren’t sure of the appropriate approach. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Sarah, mother of two

Dear Sarah,

I am going to answer this in two parts. The first is how to best manage the push back that is happening now. The second is how to better prepare and move through the next separation.

In the moment, when he refuses to be in a room alone with daddy and bucks at being carried, the idea is for dad to go heavy on the empathy, validate his feelings, but then move forward with the activity. If his push to make daddy leave the room or put him down works, it reinforces his effort. This would be saying something like, “I know you are frustrated! You really want to be with mommy,” or, “wow! You are mad. You want me to put you down,” for at least several sentences. Then move forward with, “but for now it’s daddy,” or, “I am sorry, but I need to carry you right now.” All of this should be done in a calm way. The idea is to understand the upset, it is what it is. Then dad moves forward with what is reasonable, being alone in a room together or being carried as needed. Dad should avoid matching anger or giving in to the demands.

I also completely agree, while there is empathy there should also be limits when the behaviors are unacceptable. There is discipline when he hits and appropriate response (ignore during and neutral after or some consistent plan) when he tantrums. Yes, he is upset and this is well within normal limits for behavior for his age, but the consistent discipline response is needed to reign in the behaviors in the long run.

Around all the travel, I would try to find a little time each week that the two of them can spend time just being together. This could be a board game in the playroom, a trip to the playground or an ice cream run. Not to leave you and baby out, but it’s a time for them to hopefully connect individually over something fun.

Before the next trip, make the child a family photo album (Sassy makes a 6 picture one) including at least a few pictures of him and dad. Be sure there are family photos framed in his room and talk about dad often during the separations. During the next trip, plan to have them Skype as many days as possible.  It may also be helpful for dad to send postcards or other small things in the mail every few days and pictures online.


Dr. Rene

Siblings Both Wanting Your Attention

Dear Dr. Rene,

Thank you for the great class on sibling rivalry. My big problem now though is that my  one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half year olds are competeing for my attention, expecially physically. If one is sitting on my lap, the other wants to be there too. If I am holding one to comfort their crying, the other will often start crying too wanting to be picked up. If I walk out of the room (where I was sitting with my husband and both children) and one child follows, the other will drop what they are doing and follow too. Is is exhausting physically and emotionally. They do not demand the same of my husband and tend to not want to be with him in these moments. Please help!


Betty, mother of two

Hi Betty,

It seems there is a short term answer and a long term answer here. In the short term, focus on teaching turn taking. Start by highlighting when they take turns with toys and when they have a turn with the preferred blue cup at lunch. Talk about how patiently the other is waiting for a turn. Coach them on how to ask for a turn and what they can do while they wait including finding something else to play with or do. With the three-and-a-half-year-old, try to introduce an exchange of turn taking at least once a day. When she is happily playing with her toys, sit beside and start to play with one of them, comment how you are enjoying you turn and ask if she’d like the next turn. In a minute, remember to give her a turn and then ask if you can have it back when she’s done. If she remembers to give you another turn, comment on how nice that was. Coaching can include reading books about turn taking and sharing as well as having puppet shows or role plays to illustrate the point. Here is a list of related children’s books:

  • The Mine-O-Saur by Quallen
  • Mine, Mine, Mine by Becker
  • Rainbow Fish by Pfister
  • Share and Take Turns by Meiners
  • Sharing is Fun by Cole
  • The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share by Reiss
  • I am Sharing by Mayer
  • It’s Mine by Lionni
  • One for You, One for Me by Albee
  • Martha Doesn’t Share by Berger

The idea is to teach the general social skill first. Once the kids have had this practice and coaching, carry that language over to taking turns on your lap or being held. I know it can be difficult to hear their upset while they wait, but there is benefit in learning to wait, have patience and to delay gratification. Do your best to give them empathy, but follow through and finish the turn you are on before moving to the next.

In the long term, be sure you and your husband are each getting some individual time with each child at least once a month. This can be as small as going to the grocery store together if the child is getting to help pick items and there is open, pleasant conversation.  You might also read Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish that lays out other guidelines to reduce sibling rivalry.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Giving Them Space: Being a Child of the 70s

We rented Super 8 today. Great movie, even the second time. My husband liked the action, my girls liked the humor and, I think, the excitement of seeing something rated PG-13. What I appreciated and paid more attention to this go around, was how it captured being a kid in the late 70s. Particularly the freedom kids had to ride their bikes through the neighborhood and to be out after dark. I cherish the memories of being with a bunch of other late grade schoolers down by the creek in the woods behind our houses for hours or playing Ghost in the Graveyard after the street lights came on. My husband remembers starting out at his house with a few friends on bikes in the morning and ending up in another nearby town by mid-afternoon. Sadly, this is unheard of today.

Believe me, I get the whole safety and supervision thing. I really do. My children are well supervised, don’t leave the house alone and have a sitter if we are going to be away for long stretches. What worries me, though, is we have a 13-year-old who, three years from now will have car keys and suddenly free run of Northern Virginia (and beyond, if she is anything like me at that age). She will have this freedom without the years of practice I had, running between neighborhoods and working to solve the social conflicts without a parent looking directly over my shoulder. Think of the social skills that were developing at the playground or community pool between children, versus what is developing now with the limitations of planned playdates and organized activities. Children need space and time to be and to problem solve and to grow.

I’ve only been able to answer this myself in small ways, we let the older kids hang out a good football field away today at a park. Yesterday, they went into a few stores at the mall while I parked myself on a bench just outside. I don’t know the answer here, but struggle with the question often. There are two books that address this issue from very different angles Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Louv and Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Skenazy. I think I will put these books back in the to-read pile.

Our History Shapes Our Parenting

Today I had a Play & Workshop class on Play at my office, an afternoon consult at a preschool regarding an aggressive child and an evening workshop on Sibling Relationships. In each situation, I had a parent comment about how their own history is impacting their parenting today.

When discussing Play, one mom pointed out that growing up as an only child, she never really understood being silly. Being alone to play often, she just didn’t get that part of pretending. Fast forward, she has three daughters under three years old. She describes them as being silly, a lot. She feels like she is learning a whole new skill in how to let go and just enjoy the silliness. She’s had to work to get over feeling self-conscious, but says it’s worth it for the pleasure of playing and laughing with her girls.

The dad of the aggressive preschooler, came to the meeting with bigger concerns than the conversation at hand. He sat quietly and listened to the first few minutes about structuring a consistent approach to discipline and outlining a second effort to coach the child on being gentle before asking questions that immediately brought up his own childhood. He asked me to get to the bottom line, to let him know if there was a specific diagnosis or label to discuss. He went on to explain there was a family history of larger, diagnosable difficulties, and he was sure this meeting was a first indicator of his child being on that path. It wasn’t an indicator at all, but his past experiences directly influenced his thoughts leading into the meeting.

In our Sibling workshop, a mom commented on how her own difficult sibling dynamics made her particularly aware of the relationships between her own children, that it pained her when they did as little as bicker. While she cognitively recognizes that some bickering and argueing are a normal part of most sibling relationships, she has a tough time keeping it in perspective.

It seems a very healthy thing to step back from our parenting and look at what we bring to family dynamics from our own childhood experiences. Take time to ponder your own sibling dynamics and your own parents’ style and approach to discipline. Think about what you want to replicate or avoid in your own growing family.

Steps of Positive Discipline

I have a two hour Positive Discipline Refresher workshop currently available through my online service, www.askdrrene.com. Below are some reminders and a few examples of using the Steps of Positive Discipline.

I messages and empathy are foundation pieces of positive discipline. They are meant to be used as you enter into the exchange. I messages are for sharing (and calming) your own emotions. They are used when laying blame to be sure you are blaming behavior and situation not child. Empathy validates the childs emotions and understands why they feel that way. This tends to calm the child and put them in a better place to listen. Positive Intent is identifying the good reason behind even the bad behavior. It is not meant to excuse behavior away but rather to calm you, shift your approach to the child and lessen their defensiveness, so they can take ownership of the behavior. While I messages and empathy are used as needed, positive intent is good to at least think everytime.

Choices are meant to change behaviors. They work because they share power. When a child makes a choice they are buying into the process and closer to the behavior. Remember, two positive choices that meet your goal. Be flexible and creative here. Choices before consequences unless it’s aggression. Natural consequences are what just might happen. They are given as a warning and the child is aloud to choose behavior. Positive logical consequences are if the good behavior, then the good outcome. Negative logical consequences are if the bad behavior, then the bad outcome. Logical consequences are best when related in time, intensity and content.

Let’s say your child is chasing and yelling at a playmate, trying to grab a toy the friend has.

  • I message – “I’m upset, people are grabbing.” OR  “I’m frustrated, this is too loud.”
  • Empathy – “I know you are frustrated, it is hard to wait.” OR “Wow, you are upset. You really want that.”
  • Positive Intent – “You are excited about that toy.”
  • Choices – “Do you want to play with this or that while you wait?” OR “Do you want to ask for or turn, or do you want me to help?”
  • Natural Consequences – “If you keep chasing, he might not want to play.”
  • Logical positive – “If you can wait, I will be sure you have the next turn.”
  • Logical negative – “If you keep grabbing, you may not have a turn.” OR “If you keep yelling, you’ll have to play in a separate room.”

Calm Tips

There are two main ideas for how to manage tantrums once they start. Both ideas start with, “stay calm yourself.” I know, this can take a whole lot of self-control. It can be difficult to stay calm when your child is losing it. Part of it is recognizing that losing it yourself likely just adds fuel to the fire and takes the tantrum up a notch. The other part is realizing what your child needs most in these moments is someone who is calm, who is safe to connect to, who is modeling calm emotions especially when all else feels out of control.

There are so many ways to stay calm. Of course, not every way works for every parent, so I am including calm tips in our emails often this year. Here are a few more ideas that may be helpful in tantrums as well as other times you need to stay calm.

  • Learn about child development. It can be calming to know that saying ‘no’ all day long and doing the opposite of what is requested are common two-year-old behaviors. It can be calming to know that five and six year olds are often driven by a sense of fairness and hearing, “that’s not fair,” is par for the course. There are a few good series on development including Touchpoint: Birth to Three and Three to Six by Brazelton and Your One Year Old thru Your Nine Year Old by Ames.


  • Shift your thinking to view the benefits of the negative behaviors. Every time your child is aggressive, think of it as an opportunity to teach them better ways to express anger and how to use their words. When your child has a tantrum, think of it as a chance for them to practice calming or an opportunity to teach emotion language.



  • Assume changing behaviors and learning new behaviors takes time. If you assume potty training will be a two day process, you may be frustrated when it takes two weeks. If you assume it will take a few months, than you are pleasantly surprised at the two week mark.


To learn more ways to calm, join me for my two evening session on Calm Parenting. The next workshop series is offered on June 2 and 9 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit: http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Calm Parenting Tips

A few good resources about Calm Parenting:

  • Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Drew


  • Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Runkel



  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Covey



  • The DVD serives Celebrate Calm by Martin



  • Getting to Calm: Cool Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens by Kastner and Wyatt


In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey presents the benefits of thinking about the individual relationships you have with family members as an Emotional Bank Account. In my home, I would have three accounts, one for each child and one with my husband. In this account, deposits include things like speaking nicely to each other, speaking nicely about each other, spending time together or helping with a task. Withdraws include things like arguing, snide remarks, talking negatively about each other or being late for something important to them. The idea is to keep the balance overwhelmingly positive. It needs to be far more positive becaues the relationship will face challenges and upsets and the positives need to be able to absorb the negatives. Think about each account in the last 24 hours. Ask yourself if there was a positive balance. Keep a running tally moving forward.