No Wimpy Parenting goes to the beach!

beach image

It’s that time of year! Facebook and Instagram are overloaded with pics of adorable tan children frolicking in the surf or digging in the sand. Vacations are supposed to be a wonderful respite from “real life,” but are often surprisingly stressful and rife with opportunity for meltdowns (in the kids too!). As parents, we envision a peaceful scene of children digging sandcastles while we sip a fruity beverage reading the newest “summer bestseller.” In reality, we often have sand kicked in our face as the kids race by, fighting over the “cool sand bucket,” their shrieks of rage fighting for attention over the seagulls’ calls. Sigh. What does a parent do? How do we pack up the classic “No Wimpy Parenting” tools and bring them along on vacay?

  1. Lower your expectations: Tell yourself (and your spouse), “This is not going to be perfect. Problems will occur. We will expect some tough times and deal with them as they come.” Eradicating the idea of a “perfect” vacation goes a long way in establishing the proper mindset before the van even backs out of the driveway.
  2. Pack the discipline along with the sunscreen: Make sure your kids and teens understand that MOST of the basic rules at home are still enforced on vacation. Emphasize that the common consequences/punishments at home are also likely possibilities, even in wonder-land. This means if a teen is being surly and rude to parents, and she’s been warned to change that ‘tude and refuses, she can lose her phone. Fighting children can be put in time-out on a beach chair. Whining and ungrateful children can lose “sweets and treats.” (Ask my kids – it’s no fun to sit out while the rest of the family is happily licking ice cream cones on the boardwalk).
  3. Remember the essentials of sleep and diet: Yes, we all slack off and eat too much greasy food and ice cream on vacation. Of course, kids tend to stay up late watching movies or playing putt-putt. But remember, most of us (adults included) get cranky and irritable if our sleep deficit becomes too great, or if our diets are completely out of control. Aim for moderation and having some semblance of structure for bedtime and healthy eating, even while you’re away.
  4. Don’t over-do it! Coming from a Type A, adventure-loving mom, I tend to want to pack in A LOT of activities, sight-seeing, and adventures on every day of vacation. However, children (and some husbands it turns out) need built in down-time and time to relax. If you have been racing from activity to activity all day, every day, you can’t be too upset or surprised when your children’s behavior and attitudes take a drastic decline. Build in a balance of fun activities and rest.

Your kids and teens will appreciate having some boundaries and “normal” routines on vacation. Trust me. Now, grab your sunglasses, your “Koozie”-covered drink, and set up in your beach chair (maybe about 5 or 10 feet away from the sandcastle building zone)!

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The “Softer side” of No Wimpy Parenting

blanket image

This is the year I’m writing the No Wimpy Parenting book, and so I’m going to write more regular blogs again. Promise!

If you have been a fan of No Wimpy Parenting for a while, you know we are usually all about “Take back your power!” “Start a Revolution” or “You have the authority!” The Rocky theme song is what I like to walk out to at workshops for crying out loud!

BUT, that doesn’t mean that effective parenting only relies on strong(er) willpower, a take charge attitude, and a no nonsense mentality. In order to not only have your kids respect you, but to also have an actual healthy and close relationship, you have to invest in the softer side of parenting. Even with teens. Even with (gasp) MIDDLE SCHOOLERS!!

How do we develop the warm and fuzzy part of our relationship with our child and teen without becoming “Wimpy?” The simple answer: it’s all about time and intention. Yes we have all heard it preached that quality time is important. But some clichés are there for a reason…they work! Many of us are parenting at the speed of light: We wake up with a jolt in the morning and try to remember what day it is, who has to be where, when…then the day is a blur of our work and racing kids around to school, sports, lessons, etc. (For a visual of this, please see the hilarious scene in Bad Moms where the poor mom is multi-tasking driving and eating spaghetti at the same time and hilarity ensues). When we come home, it’s making dinner, prodding kids to do homework and chores, reminding kids to shower, and then collapsing in a heap when the kids are finally in bed. It’s a challenge to find time to breathe or take care of yourself, let alone to carve out that “quality time” everyone talks about.

However! I encourage you to dogmatically insist on getting that time with your kids or teens every day, or at least most days. It doesn’t have to be going to a Pottery painting studio (although those are fun) or grabbing a Frappuccino at Starbucks (although kids and teens do love that too). I’m talking about finding 15 minutes to truly connect with your offspring. What can that look like? Here are a few pointers:

  • When you’re stuck in the car, instead of having your child with a face in a device and you sneaking peeks at your phone at the stoplights, consider turning to your kid’s favorite radio station and then asking what was the best part of their day, what was the craziest thing that happened, or what are most of their friends stressing out about these days (a sneaky way to learn about how they are feeling, but less direct). Child development experts know that kids and teens are much more likely to chat with you if you are both staring ahead, versus making them sit across from you and having that painful eye contact. Speaking of which…
  • Ask (make) your child take a quick walk with you around the block. This is another way to get that “side by side” time that is effective for connecting with tweens and teens. Even though my kids may grumble if I insist on this, it’s amazing how quickly they loosen up when we’re walking in the sunshine, birds are chirping, and I am an eager audience to hear all about their lives.
  • Challenge your kid or teen to a friendly game of UNO (or other card game), or ping pong, or Hangman in the down time after dinner (before they run off to their rooms again).
  • Make bedtime snuggles a nightly ritual that is sacred. Yes, even your snarly teen has a drastic increase in snuggly-ness and sweetness if you get them on their backs, tucked in with covers, and you push your way into the bed to lay beside them for a bit. I’m amazed at how even after a rough day, my 13 year old will ask for me to lay with her while she is reading, if I’ve started rubbing her arm or chatting about her day. If you have an older teen who really doesn’t want you in their bed, you can always wander into their room at bedtime, and engage in chit chat as they are winding down for the night. But remember….
  • Kids need physical affection like they need water, food, and shelter! So don’t give up on them during those awkward tween or teen years, when they seem as bristly as a porcupine. There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist,“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” What a challenge for us parents! That means we need to start the day off by grabbing our kid for a hug as they stumble into the kitchen for breakfast, and sneak in another as they go out the door, and another as they come home from school, and another at bedtime. But that’s only 4! Remember other creative ways to give that affection are kissing the top of their heads as they do homework, putting an arm around them if they are struggling with an assignment, squeezing a hand as they walk with you, or even giving a high-five wins some physical affection points.
  • Remember the power of POSITIVE words. As parents, we can often find ourselves only barking out criticism for what they did poorly or not at all, or complaining about their behavior or attitudes. I often share with my parent coaching clients the analogy of a “Nice boss” versus “Mean boss.” If you have a boss who only criticizes you, tells you you’re not doing it right, and is negative with you, how motivated are you to do excellent work or to spend time with that boss?? Not very much right? But, if you have a boss who praises your strengths, encourages you, and tells you how much he or she appreciates having you on the team, aren’t you highly motivated to work hard and to spend time with that boss? Kids and teens are like that. They need to hear our words of encouragement, what we love about them, and how we appreciate their efforts. Try to say at least a few positive statements to your kids every day.

Okay, so instead of the Rocky Theme song, imagine a lilting soothing melody…one of those with the sounds of ocean waves in the background. And then get yourself in a soothing, loving frame of mind and go find that kid or teen of yours and find a way to connect, touch, or encourage!

Want a personal No Wimpy Parenting coaching session with Dr. Wynns? Email: to schedule!

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A Kid’s Perspective: Choosing Bullying; Choosing Kindness


Guest blog by Heather Leah, preschool and school-age teacher in Raleigh, NC.

As a teacher, I have the benefit of seeing the “Bullying Conversation” from both sides. Yes, I read the articles about the bullying pandemic, but I also see the children who exhibit bullying behaviors and see the damage that labeling them does to their self-image.

As adults, we can see what kinds of self-esteem problems or personal hardships cause children to act out in angry ways that cause society to label them. However, I also see that adults can become far too self-important in their analysis of the issues, assuming we know everything about what causes children to choose bullying, kindness, and all the things in between. The truth of the matter is this: All children, at some point in their life, will bully another child.

So I find it most interesting to talk with my students about their own perspectives on what causes personal choices between kindness and harshness (let’s just throw the word “bullying” out with the garbage. It’s a pointless negative word that promotes destruction more than understanding).

When we listen to what our youngest, brightest minds have to say, maybe we adults can come to a point of really comprehending how we can help promote kindness in our classrooms.

In fact, a child in my class, a wiser-than-his-ten-years poet, wrote this prize-winning poem in the lyrical style of Dr. Seuss as a class project. I was surprised by the subject matter he chose, which gave deep insight into catalysts that push a child towards choosing harshness or kindness — and how a kid might decide between the two. Read it, and maybe you’ll learn something:

There were three Todasis.sneetches2
One was the dummy.
One was the guy named Shrummy.
Then there was a gummy.
He was not nice, nor funny,
but the opposite of nice.
What was that?
straight old mean
–he was lean.
He steals and he eats a lot.
He said:
“No! I will never be nice!
I will not tell you once or twice!”
“Please. Oh, please! Be nice!”
“NO! I will never, NEVER be nice!
I tell you not once or twice!”
“Oh please, Oh please! I want you nice!”
Simply no! I tell you not once more!”
“Why? Why will you never be nice?
Why? Just tell me.
I can’t understand…
…If we show you kindness, will you be nice?”
“–OKAY! Fine.
…What is kindness?”
“Well, for one thing: Don’t yell.
Start off by hugging.
Say hi.”
“Okay,” Gummy replied. “Here. Have a smile!
Wow! This really is better than being mean.”
“See?” said Shrummy and the dummy.
And together they all walked away.

This guest post, written by Heather Leah, originally appeared on Candid Slice.

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Ask Dr. Wynns Give-A-Way Contest!


You want to be a No Wimpy Parent, but you need some guidance. Never fear! Dr. Wynns is here to put you back on the path to better parenting.  Get expert advice, as she answers your burning questions—no parenting issue is too small, no tale too strange.  In “Dear Abby” fashion, winning questions, stories, and answers will be featured anonymously on our No Wimpy Parenting Blog and in future editions of the NWP Newsletter. So keep checking back in to find new parenting questions and tips.

Plus, each month’s winner will receive a very special prize from No Wimpy Parenting and Wynns Family Psychology: This month, we’re giving away our decorative, steaming liquid consumption vessel. This grand caffeine chalice will not only provide a burst of energy in the morning, but remind your children that you’re no parenting pushover!  The No Wimpy Parenting Coffee Mug—because the first step to good parenting is being awake!

To enter this contest, simply email Dr. Wynns at with an interesting story or parenting question with the headline “ASK DR. WYNNS CONTEST.”

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Is There a Difference Between Teasing and Bullying?


When you hear the word “bully,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? A scene from The Karate Kid where Johnny and his merciless gang of Cobra Kai’s pummel the vulnerable “new kid,” Daniel?  Or do you think about tweens being emotionally and psychologically degraded through verbal put-downs and social exclusions?  The latter example can be more difficult to address, because this more subtle form of bullying is often harder to identify.

A teen client was recently depressed because a classmate was teasing him and making fun of his football team. This went on for days. Because it was a friend, it made the situation especially confusing.  The teen was embarrassed and upset, and he had no idea how to handle the situation.  As a self-admitted “jokester” and “prankster,” I know that a little good-natured teasing is a normal part of friendship.  But I’ve also found that the fine line between humor and hurt feelings can be a precarious one to walk.  And sorting through those subtle nuances can be as tricky as untangling a kindergartener’s shoelaces.

This complicated grey area begs the question, “Where is that official line between harmless teasing and outright bullying?

Unfortunately, this is not only a tricky question to answer, but is perhaps the wrong question to ask in the first place. Rather than viewing these situations through our adult lenses (which can result in us being overly dismissive or too eager to get involved), I submit that it’s more important to consider how your child is being affected.  If he’s happy and comfortable with the teasing, it can probably be interpreted as good-natured ribbing. However, if he feels anxious, angry, or sad, then maybe things have crossed the line. And if your child is confused about how he feels, advise him to pay attention to his “gut instinct.”

So what can you do as a parent to help and educate your child on bullying and teasing?  Firstly, encourage conversations about this topic.  It’s especially important that you’re the initiator since many kids don’t want to talk about being bullied–because they’re ashamed or feel as if it’s their fault.  Asking direct questions like, “Are there any kids at school who tease you?” or “Do kids leave you out?” is a good way to get things started.

If you suspect your child or teen may be getting teased or bullied, here are some ways you can foster and maintain open communication:

  • Ask subtle questions like “Who do you normally hang out with?” or “Are there any kids at school you don’t like?  Why?”
  • Maintain close communication with teachers at school and through parent-teacher conferences.  Don’t exclusively focus on academics!  Ask your teachers questions about how well your child gets along with his peers, with whom does he spend the majority of his time, and if they’ve ever seen examples of your child being excluded or bullied. Even if his teachers haven’t noticed anything concerning, if you suspect problems, raising these question should promote future awareness.
  • Get your child involved in a social skills group to learn how to be more assertive, better read social cues, recognize annoying behaviors, and make friends
  • Teach your child to hang out in crowds – bullies like to target kids who are typically alone
  • Have your child practice ahead of time how she’ll respond to bullying—with assertive words, steady voice, eye contact, and strong body posture.  Your child can learn to visualize what she wants to happen—walking tall, shoulders back, strong voice saying, “I’m not going to listen to you talking to me that way.”
  • If your child is being teased by a friend, encourage him to say in an assertive voice, “That’s not funny. Please don’t say that anymore.”
  • Do not encourage physical retaliation – it will likely result in your child being disciplined at school.  Despite the prevalent notion that you should “fight back” to stop bullying, your child’s retaliation is just as likely to escalate a situation into something more violent or dangerous.
  • Work with your child’s school. It’s their responsibility to coordinate the response to bullying in school.
  • While your emotions are bound to run high, try to keep them under control. Stay rational and stick to the facts when working with school officials to remedy the situation.
  • Never tell your child to simply ignore the bullying. Giving this advice may make him feel as if you’re ignoring the situation and trivializing his problems. If he walks away feeling as if he shouldn’t have wasted his time, he may not open up the next time he encounters a problem.  You can also encourage him to use a sense of humor to throw off the teasers – acting as if the received verbal jabs are compliments, or responding to teasing with compliments.
  • Ask your teen to let you know about cyber-bullying ASAP, and never tell them to respond to it online.  If it gets too malicious, your Internet Service Provider may be able to help track anonymous cyber-bullies. You can also contact your ISP or web forum administrator to see if it’s possible to block future texts, emails, or posts from known cyber-bullies. If the bullying behavior gets really extreme or has threats of violence, extortion, child pornography, or hate crimes, contact the police immediately.
  • If your child has trouble opening up to you or you need additional help, seek professional assistance from an experienced child psychologist.
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No Wimpy Parenting™: 5 Steps To Taking Back Your Power

No_Wimpy_Parenting_Website_More_053011It’s time to start a revolution in America – a parenting revolution! Bit by bit, day by day, parents are slowly giving away their power. To whom you ask? To their children! There seems to be an epidemic of kids and teens running their households. Parents are left like deflated balloons, shrugging and wondering, “Where did I go wrong? How did this Happen? Or “Why don’t my kids respect me?” After seeing this issue sweeping through my private practice as a child psychologist, as well as witnessing it first hand as a mother myself, I got inspired to create “No Wimpy Parenting.” No Wimpy Parenting is a philosophy, as well as a set of resources to help parents take back their power. So if you’re ready to join the revolution, here are five easy steps to take your power back.

Step 1: Ask yourself, “Have I given away my power?”

Some parents may not be aware they’ve given away their power. It can be a slow and subtle process–and kids are so darn clever–that many parents don’t realize it until it’s too late. Here are some signs you’ve given (or are giving away) away your power.

  • When you ask your kids to do something, they frequently respond, “No because…” or “First I’m going to…” or “I can’t because…
  • Your kids throw tantrums or get furious if you won’t take them where they want to go, buy them what they want, or help them with something. Yes, teens can throw tantrums too, it just looks a little more ridiculous. “But Mom! I NEED my phone!”
  • You often find yourself threatening and warning over and over again until you’re so frustrated you lose your temper.
  • Your kids make decisions about what they’ll attend and not attend, when they’ll go to bed, or when they’ll turn off the television or computer at night.
  • Your kids ignore or laugh at your rules – even if you say there’s a curfew or a bedtime, it’s not really enforced and the kids know it.
  • You often feel frustrated at the lack of respect you get from your kids and feel like, “My kids do what they want to do and don’t ever listen to me.”

Step 2: Reflect on “How did this happen?”

Some of the current popular philosophies of raising and educating children are disastrous for our families. We allow the child too much freedom and put the child in control. We are encouraging our children to be free and outspoken, to be empowered. But we are not helping them build their character. We are not teaching them enough about limits and discipline, about empathy and respect. It’s good to give your child choices, but we’ve taken that mentality and gone to an extreme.

Step 3: Redistribute the power appropriately (i.e., fill up your water gun!)

There are small things parents do every day that allow their children and teens to take the power.  I call these “power suckers.” Imagine parenting as a big water gun fight. Every time you give away your power to your children, a little water dribbles out of your water gun. If this happens enough, you will have an empty water gun. Then guess what happens when you come face to face with your child or teen with your water guns raised, and you are trying to enforce a really important issue (curfew, dating, drugs and alcohol, etc.)? Your child looks at your empty water gun and laughs, saying, “What are you going to do?” They know you don’t have any ammo left.


Bwa ha ha!
  • Many parents argue too much. They go on explaining the same thing dozens of times. If you have said something twice, then that’s enough. After the second time, you should act and not talk.
  • Follow through. If you say, “If I find your shoes in the living room again, I’m going to donate them to Goodwill,” donate them to Goodwill if you find them again! Once your children know that you will do as you say, then you won’t have to do it. They will respect your word! Kids are natural gamblers and will roll the dice every time if they think there’s a slim chance you’ll give in, change your mind, or forget the punishment.
  • Too many choices! Yes it’s good to give kids choices. But you shouldn’t ask them: Do you want to go to bed now? or Do you want to go to church today? If it’s something you want your kids to do, make it a statement: Time for bed or We leave for church in 10 minutes.

Step 4: Maintain the new power structure and be consistent!

  • Follow through with consequences. If you ground your child from his phone for a week, don’t let him have it back in two days because he’s harassing you for it. If you put your child in time out for 4 minutes, and she giggles and runs away in 2 minutes, bring her back again. See punishments through!
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to focus on too many behaviors and issues. It will overwhelm you, and you won’t end up following through on anything. Choose the top 3-5 behaviors you struggle with, and try your best to correct and discipline those behaviors every single time.
  • Keep a look out for sneaky power suckers – small things like kids ignoring you when you make small requests, refusing to cooperate, or telling you what they are willing to do. Small things eventually add up. You’re filling their water guns and depleting yours.

Step 5: Watch out for regression to the “old ways.”

Many parents enthusiastically embrace new parenting strategies and do a great job–for about 1-2 days. Then reality hits: Long days at work + tired parents + smart kids = parents who lose their resolve and get sucked into the bad habits again.

  • Find an accountability partner – whether it’s your spouse, your parent, or your best friend, you need someone who will ask you daily – “How are you doing with Billy? Are you still following through? Are you still being consistent? Are you correcting his behavior every time he misbehaves?”
  • Keep a parenting log. At the end of the day, take 5 minutes to write a summary of the day’s events. Example: Sent Suzy to time-out twice for noncompliance, but she was great the rest of the day. I verbally corrected Tommy a few times for disrespect and enforced grounding from television, which was taken from him yesterday.

young-girl-kisses-momFinally, remember these things aren’t to give your ego a boost and wear your kids down. Kids need and want boundaries and limits. It makes them feel safe, secure, and loved. So know that embracing No Wimpy Parenting isn’t just going to make you feel good, it will ultimately bring peace, stability, and happiness to your kids too! Ready to join the revolution? Visit or WynnsFamilyPsychology to schedule your parent consult, get resources, and learn more!

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Halloween For Kids: Tips For A Simple, Healthy October


Guest blogger: Heather Leah

Here it comes—the magical night of wacky costumes, mountains of sugar, and spooky stories that are all sure to make your kid go wild. Halloween is upon us.

But what if Halloween could be a little different? What if, instead of processed sugar, we celebrated with baked apples and spiced pumpkin seeds? What if, instead ofseeking ghosts and goblins, we practiced random acts of kindness? And rather than pounding on every door in the neighborhood, we got some fresh air in a vast corn maze the whole family could enjoy?

After all, Autumn was always about celebrating the bounty of the harvest and the simple farm life—not dropping fifty bucks on a costume and consuming pounds of sugar.

So here are your 5 tips for a simple, healthy, and amazing Halloween with your kids—right here in the Raleigh area.

1.     Go BOO!

A new fad has taken over our neighborhoods, and it’s just the right amount of “Trick” to be fun for kids, but still a fantastic random act of kindness. Basically, you and your child create “BOO Bags.” Just fill the bag with a little treat, attach your anonymous note, reading:

You’ve Been Boo-ed!6a00e54ee632ab88330133f543f4d9970b

The phantom ghost has come to town

To leave some goodies… I see you’ve found.

If you wish to make this a happier fall

Continue this greeting, this phantom call.

Now, here’s the fun part. Hang it on a neighbor’s door, ring the bell, then run away as fast as you can! It’s a thrilling random act of kindness, as mysterious as a ghost.

2.     Night At The Museum

There are some risks associated with door-to-door Trick-or-Treating, such as:

  • Razor blades in candy
  • Getting gross candy, like Reeses (sorry, Reeses, lovers!)
  • Overloading with sugar
  • Upsetting grumpy neighbors
  • The “one more house, please! Just one more!” whine after the fiftieth house.

Fortunately, our very own North Carolina Museum of History has the simple solution to all of this: Halloween Safe Night at the Museum. Kids get a cultural outing and sugar, as they walk along the Trick or Treat Trail. Friday, October 31, 6–9 p.m.

 3.     Pumpkin Carving

This is a time-honored classic, but what parents may not realize it just how beneficial it is for kids. Of course the parent should always control the knife; however, kids can practice art and fine motor skills drawing faces and helping “pop out” the pieces parents loosen. Also, it’s a tactile and science wonderland, touching the stringy goop, picking seeds loose, and learning about the insides of food and how it grows. It provides family bonding time and a proud piece of art to show off on your door step. Even better, it leads into number four on this list….

4.     Satchels of Spiced Seeds

Instead of passing out tons of candy this year, consider sweet-scented cinnamon pumpkin seed satchels or their salty counterparts. Bake them as a family, and make it your tradition. While you’re at it, bake a few cinnamon apples, roast some corn, and have a true harvest feast! Plus, these goodie bags make great treats to hand out to neighborhood kids or attach to your BOO Bags!

5.     Corn Mazes

North Carolina has plenty of room for corn mazes, and they’re a seasonal way to enjoy fresh air and nature with your family. In fact, there’s the fantastic Green Acres Corn Maze, which also has tractors, ponies, cows, and mounds of hay just waiting to be explored–right here in Cary!


A wide open maze, waiting for exploration! Photo Courtesy of and Preston Development Company.

Get away from the computer, video games, and Netflix. Explore a farm. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about healthyfood. Plus, it’s amazing exercise, which is so valuable for healthy minds and bodies—especially when all that Halloween candy is on sale.

See Also: Teens, Tweens, and Screens: The Risks Of Too Much Screen Time

So there you have it, folks! Healthy food, science and education, exercise, random acts of kindness, and spooky thrills! Have the best Halloween ever, kids!

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10 Commandments of Parenting

Okay that’s probably a little overstated.  But I don’t know about you, I am overwhelmed by all of the parenting advice that exists in the world today.  I once heard that today’s parents have read as much information about parenting as pediatricians used to know back in the day.  I’m a child psychologist and I’m overwhelmed by all of the Do’s and Don’ts.  So I thought, why not, I can’t make it worse right?  Here’s my list of what I consider to be the 10 most important things you should do in a day as a parent.  To be followed by the top 10 things you should not do (in a future post).

1) Hug and kiss your kids.

In addition to this, squeeze their hands, pat their backs, tickle them, scratch their backs…you get the idea, touch them.  It’s amazing all the research that’s been done to show how powerful touch is for a person’s mental, psychological, cognitive, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

2) This should be a no-brainer, but tell your kids you love them.

And not just at bedtime or in the carpool lane.  But spontaneously when you’re playing with them, say, “You know, I really love you.” Look them in the eyes when you say this too, so many parents say it out of habit, and kids want to hear the real deal.


3) Spend a minimum of 20 minutes of one-on-one “quality time” every day.

This means the child picks the activity, the child leads the activity (they get to tell you what to do), and it is dedicated to having fun and enjoying each other’s company.  Obviously, it doesn’t count if you’re helping him do his homework…the child picks the activity.

4) If you are married or living in the same house with your child’s other parent…

…show some affection and kind words to that person in front of your child.  It’s amazing how secure that makes a child feel, and as a bonus, you’re showing your child how to treat a wife/husband/partner.

5) Have your kids do some kind of chore every day and start young.

Even a two year old can put toys back in a toy box.  A five year old can feed the cat, make her bed, and put dirty clothes in a hamper.  Children feel secure and reassured when they live in a tidy house and when there is order to their world.  They also have a boost in self-confidence from being contributing members of the family.

6) Follow through, follow through, follow through with consequences.

If you threaten to put him in time out if he sasses you one more time, and he sasses you, put him in time out.  If you tell the kids to quiet down or you’re turning off the t.v., and they continue screaming, turn off the t.v.  You are establishing your power as a parent and teaching them to respect you because you mean what you say.  I can’t emphasize this point enough.

7) Consistency is key.

If today your kids are allowed to eat in the living room because you’re exhausted and don’t feel like enforcing the rule, but tomorrow you are back to enforcing the “no eating in the living room” rule, guess what?  Your kids will be less likely to follow any rules because they know they are negotiable or fickle.

8) Only create rules that really matter to you.

Related to rule seven–if you have hundreds of rules in your house, you certainly won’t remember them all and neither will your kids.  Make sure you actually care about your rules.  For example, lots of parents have the no jumping on the bed rule, but in my house, I don’t care.  It’s never made sense to me.  As long as you are supervising, it’s a blast for you and the kids.  Now that’s just an example, the point is, only pick the rules that are the “biggies.”

9) Take care of yourself. 

If you are eating poorly, sleeping poorly, and stressed out, you will not be the best parent.  Many times we put ourselves last as parents. Make sure you give yourself the same attention you give your kids (i.e., eat your veggies, drink your water, get your exercise, turn off the t.v. and go to sleep.)

10) Laugh every day!

Laugh at your own silly parenting mistakes. Laugh at your silly kids.  Laugh at your “to do list” and how it’s not humanly possible to get it done. Laugh at the ever growing hole in your sofa because the stuffing is coming out – but laugh because you know you can’t buy a new one because the silly cats keep peeing on it ….oh oops, I’m not sure where those examples came from. Laugh!

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Teens, Tweens, and Screens

kids-teens-tv-video-games-710x190 Times have changed since we were kids.  Screens are everywhere.  Teens not only have access to televisions; many of them have their own.  But that’s old news.  Given Hulu, Netflix, and online reruns, computers are the new, just-for-me TV’s.  They come in all sizes so we can take them everywhere we go.  We have desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, gaming systems, and all the devices I’m too old to be hip to.  We don’t just watch TV on them.  We game.  We shop.  We “socialize.”  Students are not only required to write papers on a computer, but many need online access to complete homework assignments.  Some students are even given textbooks on tablets.  Video screens are so integrated into our daily lives, it seems there is no getting away from them. Since the dawn of the internet, those who market to individuals using screens of all types have been studying how to keep us watching, playing, or subscribing.  They’ve gotten very good at it, and today’s teens have never known a world without it.  Machines are built to cater to us, and studies show our brains are responding much like they do to other addictive stimuli.  The more we get, the more we want.  More screen time means more food, less exercise, and less time for family, friends, and practicing real life skills.  Kids and teenagers hooked on screens can be irritable, defiant, and sometimes aggressive when a parent tries to limit their access.  Excessive screen time has been linked to a whole host of negative outcomes—including conduct problems, social issues, and decreased school performance, just to name a few. Since kids and teens are just learning how to draw those boundaries, it’s our job as caregivers to set limits for them.  Fortunately, research has also taught us a few things about managing screen time with kids.

Your children may need less screen time if:

  • They plan, think, and talk about gaming when doing other activities.
  • They often game to escape real life problems, anxiety, or depressed moods.
  • They lie to others to hide their screen use.
  • They become irritable when attempting to cut down on screen time.

Setting appropriate limits:

  • Only allow a maximum of 1-2 hours a day of screen time (all screens).
  • No screens in bedrooms, at meals, or bedtime.
  • Keep screens where you can monitor time and content.
  • Watch media with your kids or at least monitor what they watch.
  • Monitor internet history (on all screens), texting, and social media usage.
  • Know who your kids are talking to online.
  • Friend them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and MySpace – make it a requirement for them to friend you if they want to use those sites.
  • Ensure their access is as limited as the technology allows (sometimes this means getting hi-tech helpers involved to lock it down for you).
  • If your children are irresponsible with technology, take it away.

How to make the transition to less screen time easier:

  • Model appropriate use of screens.
  • Engage with your children more and get them moving outside with you.
  • Get them involved with peers and family. Those who need the most practice socializing are the most likely to avoid it with screen time and other things, which only prevents them from learning those real world skills.

Though screens often give parents a needed break, every time we say “yes” to more screen time, we say “no” to healthier alternatives. Don’t be afraid to let your child be bored. The skills they learn and practice in response to boredom will surprise you (making friends, playing sports, developing projects, being creative, reflecting on themselves and the world around them, and so much more.)

Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop kids-teens-tv-video-games


Do your kids spend too much time watching TV, playing video games, surfing online, or piddling on their phones? Does misbehavior tend to correlate with separating them from their beloved “screens?” Could you use some more ideas about how to successfully disengage from these activities and reconnect your children with family and friends? If you’re struggling with how much time your tweens and teens spend in front of a screen, come join our Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop. Learn how to tell if your child is addicted to gaming, what types of influences screens have on your child’s behavior, reasonable time limits, building reward systems, and more! Workshop held Wednesday, October 22nd.

Learn more about our Tweens, Teens & Screens Parenting Workshop.

Click here for our complete list of groups, camps, and workshops.

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Is Instagram Safe for Your Kids?


The answer is “NO.”  Thanks for asking.  End of article.

What?  You want actual facts, proof, and detailed testing.  (Sigh.)  Okay, you talked us into it 😉

For those not in the know, Instagram is primarily a mobile phone application that lets users take, edit, and share photos and short video clips.  It’s super popular among tweens and teens because it combines sharing and commenting, and lets users apply artistic filters for extra flair.  If you have a high-schooler or even a middle-schooler, check her phone.  She has Instagram.

“Selfies,” often silly or provocative self-portraits taken at arm’s length with a smartphone, are prominent with adolescents on Instagram.  The app builds on this trend by encouraging “rate us” posts and beauty contests.  Teens, most frequently girls, post pictures of themselves, measuring “success” and popularity through the number of likes or positive comments received.  Not only is this a recipe for an unhealthy body image and low self-esteem, but the online “approval” concept can have a snowball effect by encouraging teens to take progressively more provocative photos for greater online attention, pushing them further and further outside of their normal comfort zones.

Instagram has clear policies about what’s allowed, its staff scans for offensive and inappropriate material, and the app itself supplies users with links to report abuse.  However, Instagram is setup as a real-time sharing platform in a world that hasn’t invented instantaneous monitoring and removal of inappropriate content.  The consequence of instant sharing is that controlling distribution and viral popularity is impossible…

As an example, one child can share a photo with 20 others, then each of those kids can share the pic with 20 more (potentially across several new forms of social media), and so on ad infinitum.  Because this sharing is so rapid and exponential, much like a virus, thousands of people can have the image in a matter of minutes.

Those photos of underage Wake County students will never be completely erased, since viewers and followers could have copied and saved the pics to their phones and elsewhere.  Right now, those photos are probably on someone’s smartphone or computer.  They will always be out there somewhere, and if that doesn’t give you a parenting chill down your spine, we don’t know what will.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of Instagram, we decided to spend some time with it.  When first installed on our phone, we received a warning for all the things we were going to let the app do and have access to.  Most likely you child isn’t going to read this carefully (or adjust the app’s default settings), even though a couple of them are very important.

Photos shared on Instagram are publicly visible by default.  Unless the privacy settings are changed, strangers lurking can find your child’s photos.  Not to be an alarmist, but there are communities dedicated to posting pics of young girls in sexually suggestive poses.  To make things worse, the precise location of where your child’s photos were taken (i.e. your house) can be accessed unless the proper settings have been selected.  (Luckily, this feature isn’t activated by default.)  And when your teen includes hashtags (#’s) with her postings, photos become even more visible to communities beyond her private followers.

Instagram’s “Explore” feature lets you check out random pics of what’s out there in cyberspace.  Pages came up in batches of 18 photo/video icons, all of which could be clicked on for a larger, more detailed view.  The first 3 pages pulled up were mostly harmless, with a few major exception involving a racial slur, a sexual reference, and 2 objectifying photos.  While it should be noted that Instagram is rated “for kids 13 and up,” there is no real way of blocking under-age users and its parent company, Facebook, has been pushing for even looser restrictions.  Based on our time in the Explore section, we found this rating to be relatively accurate and the content to be about on par with a PG-13 movie (which can include violence, brief nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities, etc.)

But the “Search Tags” section was an entirely different story.  This is where curious children looking for inappropriate content are definitely going to find trouble.  While obviously inappropriate search terms are blocked, it wasn’t difficult to use synonyms as a workaround.  In other words, a good vocabulary will be your child’s enemy.  Even with innocent hashtag searches, you’ll eventually land on inappropriate content.  We were genuinely shocked at the imagery found, much of which was purposefully blurring the line of what would be considered adult material.

When clicking on “Report Inappropriate Content,” the categories broke down as such—
• I Don’t Like This Photo (you can supposedly block accounts or certain pictures you don’t want to see)
• This Photo is Spam or a Scam
• This Photo Puts People at Risk (includes Self-Harm, Harassment or Bullying, and Drug Use sub-categories)
• This Photo Shouldn’t Be on Instagram (which breaks down into sub-categories of Nudity or Pornography, Graphic Violence, Hate Speech or Symbol, or an Intellectual Property Violation).

We found it hard to believe with all of the loopholes and inappropriate content littered on Instagram, that an Intellectual Property Violation was the 4th best option they could come up with!  Even though the Instagram Terms of Service specify that users shouldn’t post partially nude or sexually suggestive photos (which obviously isn’t enforced well enough), it doesn’t address swearing at all.  During our time with this app, all manner of swear words were present and accounted for, including several F-bomb photos and videos.  Typing in #swearing returned a lot of middle finger pics and even a video of a mom encouraging her 4-year-old to repeat a long string of curse words.  Cute, right?

Although we’re picking on Instagram, it’s not necessarily the most extreme app out there.  You should really be monitoring ALL of the “fun stuff” happening on your children’s phones (and computers).  There are too many social media platforms out there to name and something popular today like WhatsApp may not be the cool thing next week.  Don’t assume your tween is only on Facebook talking to grandma.  She’s communicating with her “real” friends and peers elsewhere, away from your prying parental eyes.  And for mainstays like Twitter, know that if your child doesn’t want you to see his posts, he can simply start a new account and not tell you about it.  Overall, teens and tweens gravitate towards visual phone apps that provide instant sharing and the illusion of privacy, and there are a few other popular platforms with strong teen followings that you should be aware of.  Vine for example is a place to post short video clips and has a reputation for inappropriate sexual and drug content (the app is rated 17+ in the iTunes Store).  Tumblr supposedly has a popular anorexia community glamorizing ultra thin girls and Pheed provides the questionable platform of letting users charge money for access to their live-stream channel.  (We’ll let you do the math on that one.)  One other app that should be on your radar is Snapchat.  The concept here is that users can send photos and videos that self-delete seconds after they’ve been received.  As a result, this has become a common way for teens to send sexy or naked photos.  And even if it’s not being used for sexting, this app promotes the inaccurate idea that your kids can send temporary images that will be permanently deleted.  (But surely everyone has heard of a little something called a screenshot.)  Because social media is constantly emerging and evolving, even places like the benevolent Pinterest, known for attracting crafty moms looking for recipes and decorating tips, now has its share of porn.  If it makes you feel any better, your child is almost certainly not active on ALL of these social networks… But which ones they are a part of and how they’re using them is YOUR responsibility.

“So what’s a parent to do?”  Glad you asked.  Educating your children on social media safety is your starting point.  In particular, talk about keeping social communications limited to friends, not open to the general public.  You’ll also want to discuss how images and conversations can quickly spread online and in social media, and the consequences that such massive exposure can bring.  It’s also paramount for your child to understand that the distribution of nude photos of minors (anyone under 18) is illegal.  And let us not forget that while it’s critical to take precautions so that questionable photos don’t go public, it’s also important to address why these photos would be taken in the first place, and how that ties into your family’s values and morals.

As a parent, if you don’t know what risks are associated with a particular app, then your child shouldn’t be using it.  If this means you need to become social media savvy yourself, then it’s time to do your homework.  There are plenty of websites out there that give you the lowdown on which social media sites and apps are age appropriate for your child.  Make an official list of which apps you’ll allow your child to use.  You need to know your stuff so you can competently talk to your kids about making smart and safe choices on their phones and online.

If you’ve already been left behind and have no idea what your child is up to in social media, we give you permission to snoop.  You need to know what your kids are getting into, so if this means thoroughly reviewing everything on their phones, so be it.  In our opinion, children should be given the privilege of social media access only with the understanding that there is no “right to privacy” from their parents.

For the un-indoctrinated that still have young children without smartphones, wait as long as you can.  It’s much harder to take them away than to not give them in the first place.  For those who already have kids with a phone… (Are you sitting down?  Good, because you’re not going to like this)… TAKE IT AWAY.  “Blasphemy!” you say?  Perhaps to your child, but you should really ask yourself if your tween can function without a phone.  If your child’s schedule involves going to school, coming home, waking up, and repeating, then the answer is most likely “yes.”  Does your child need a phone for extracurricular activities because her pickup times can be erratic, or is having a smartphone just a fashion statement or a social norm?  Do they genuinely need it for learning, or is that a flimsy excuse you’re hiding behind?  Taking away your child’s phone may seem like a radical idea but several studies have shown all kinds of negative correlations associated with increased social media use.

To quote a spidery superhero and his uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  But by definition, kids are… well… immature and often irresponsible.  So putting the power of social media into their hands can be dangerous.  That doesn’t mean you have a “bad” kid, just a “human” one.  Because their brains aren’t fully developed yet (especially the common sense part), minors are simply not at an age where they’re fully aware of the consequences of their actions.  Couple this with the instant nature of current technology, and you can understand how kids today aren’t even given the chance to properly think things through before impulsively firing a photo off into the world.  (Remember the time it used to take just to get traditional camera film developed and printed?)

For those No Wimpy Parents willing to make the gigantic step of removing phones, you get a cookie!  (Seriously, email us your address, and we’ll send you a cookie.)

For those parents with special circumstances or older children (we’re talking about HIGH school, NOT MIDDLE), here’s Plan B—Get your kid a DUMB-phone.  That’s right, the one in the store that just CALLS and TEXTS—something that literally can’t run apps.  But even DUMB-phones still have a camera function which could cause photo-texting problems.  So you may also want to consider disabling this feature.

After reading all of this, if you’re still not willing to make any changes, then you have to send US a cookie.  (Sorry, those are the rules.)  But seriously, our hope is that we’ve at least made you aware of what’s going on out in the world of social media.  If you’re going to allow your child to use Instagram in particular, please change the privacy settings in the application by going to Edit Profile: Posts are Private.  Also select the Photo Map and make sure the app is NOT revealing the location of where photos are taken.

We live in a dizzying age where cool new apps are instantly consumed and constantly replaced by our kids.  And frankly, it’s hard to keep up.  At this point in time, we strongly feel as if our kids are being used as guinea pigs to test and work out the kinks of this new technology.  And that’s not a position in which we want them to be.  At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself “Is having our tween take pictures of herself, adding cool filter effects, and sharing with her friends (and followers) worth the risks that come along with it?”  …And that’s not a rhetorical question.  You have to make a conscious decision to answer it and consistently enforce as needed

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