Parenting is a game…

Sometimes parenting just seems like a game…that you never win.

The child team has more energy, more time, and more players. To help parents improve the odds, we’ve come up with some new “game plans” that might even the score.

Here are three parenting tools that look like games but can really build cooperation and respect:

Follow the Leader is a parenting tool that can be used in two ways:

As a game; and as a “redirection” tool. When using this tool as a game, parents can invite their children to play “follow the leader.“ This game is fun on family trips or vacations. Families with more than one child can have each child take turns leading the family hike or singing a song. The leader has the power to choose which forest path to take or which song to sing. Each child (and parent) gets the opportunity to be the leader, thereby encouraging equality and fairness. When used as a “redirection” tool controlling children can be direct their need to take charge of a particular task, such as getting the family together for dinner or organizing a wood gathering party for the campfire. This is a great game to replace power-struggling.

Freeze Play is a parenting tool variation of the old stand-by: Time-Out

Time-out is usually conducted by isolating or excluding a child from the rest of the family or classroom. In this traditional form children are sent to their room, a chair in the kitchen, outside the classroom door, or left facing a wall. Time-Out has a number of disadvantages, the primary one being that it involves the use of punishment that may seem harsh to some parents and children. Some children may become out-of-control or physically destructive when put in isolation or exclusion time-out. Fortunately, parents can use a different form of time-out, that behaviorists call “nonexclusionary time-out.“

Nonexclusionary time-out, like isolation and exclusionary time-out, eliminates reinforces (interaction with others). It accomplishes this by freezing the moment of interaction with the child for a very brief, but poignant amount of time. For example, if a child starts whining when told they must wait for dinner to eat, the parent can firmly but evenly, say, “freeze!” The parent then avoids eye contact (i.e., attention during the discipline) for a few seconds and the child is prohibited from communicating during this time. Afterwards the parent can nonchalantly carry on the task at hand or use Time-In or educational parenting tool. Be careful not to place too much emphasis on talking about the misbehavior afterwards as it might inadvertently reinforce the child to misbehave again for the attention it gains.

It might be necessary for the parent to tell the child what is going to happen during “freeze play” and the expectation that there will be no communication/eye contact during that time, so that the child knows why the parent is “acting this way.“ In addition, the old rule of thumb for time-out, one minute for every year of life, can be used in Freeze Play by substituting seconds for minutes (e.g., one frozen second for every year of life.)

Huddling is a parenting tool shorten version of a family meeting without all the fuss or preparation time.

Huddling is a quick, informal, type of family meeting that any number of family members can have together and can occur at any time or place. Football players do this before every play to make sure the team knows what the plan is and to make clear everyone’s job. Family members can stop whatever they are doing to have a quick, little meeting about a specific problem or task. Parents can play the captain by telling the family to “huddle together.” Put arms around one another for support or just gather together in a circle, face in. Talk about the problem or task and assign jobs or ask for quick input. Decide on a plan of action and say “let’ go!“ Parents can use this tool at the zoo to decide what they are going to go see first, at the restaurant to decide what everyone wants to eat, and at home to decide what toys need to be gathered up before going to the park. While these “game plans” don’t guarantee a winning season, they can coach parents on new ways to improve their performance and their satisfaction in parenting.

OK, let’s play!

Battle of Wills or Battle of Beliefs?

Many parents get into power struggles with their children over everyday tasks like homework, chores, bedtime, eating all their dinner, etc. This battle of wills can become a daily hassle that will wear out the most resilient parent.

In its extreme form, children can develop an oppositional defiant disorder which is characterized by negative, argumentative, disobedient, and hostile behaviors toward parents and authority figures. They refuse any guidance or direction from adults. Relationships turn into competitive matches where every interaction is geared toward the need to win. The subject of the argument no longer matters. The parent and child are armoring themselves to win the battle no matter what the topic. The reality is that parents can’t win every “battle”. That is exhausting! Research indicates that this battle creates even more oppositional behavior in children and the moral of the story ends up being that no one wins!

What Is Really The Problem?

The problem is not the behavior but the beliefs of the contestants in the power struggle. Instead of trying to change behaviors and win the battle of homework or chores, try to change the belief system and win over their heart. That can be difficult for the parent in the middle of a heated argument. It is even more difficult after dealing with defiant children for days, weeks, or months of non-stop fighting.

Parents are not prepared for tools of the heart that change belief structures. Most parenting tools focus on behaviors that attempt to mold children into obedient, submissive people. This is a perfect set up for oppositional defiant behavior to accelerate. Tools of the heart focus on changing oneself first and then work on creating a connection. It doesn’t confront the person. It confronts the beliefs that drive the person to act in opposition and defiant ways.

The Misunderstanding of Power in Relationships.

One of the beliefs that need to be addressed is the idea that in order to be powerful I always have to win. Not only do I have to win but you have to lose so that if you being hurt starts to the sign that I win. The child can get into the habit of hurting people, animals and destroying property to prove they have power. When the parent counters attack or overpowers the child in any way they reinforce this dysfunctional idea. The more realistic belief is that we can both be powerful by making appropriate choices and managing ourselves. Self-control is the ultimate example of power. The parent must model this in the home. The only thing you can guarantee complete control over is when “I manage me.” I cannot manage you 100% of the time. When I try to manage you, I set up a revenge mentality in our relationship. You will do what I want in this battle but you will look for ways to win the next battle.

Focus on Feedback.

Instead of an argument, we want to focus on feedback. Replace “you messages”, as in “you always” or “you never” or even “you are” with “me messages”, such as “here’s how this situation is affecting me”. Don’t hold up a mirror to child’s face to inform them of how “ugly” they are acting. Hold up the mirror to your heart and share what you are feeling. This can be a risky act, on the part of the parent, but vulnerability is what leads to intimacy and without an exposed heart there can be no heart to heart connection.

Questions are useful tools for parents even if you already know the answer. A dominating parent tells the child what to do or what they are not doing right. A parent who values responsibility provides lots of opportunities for the child to make choices. The parent allows the child to voice their needs with questions such as “what do you need in this situation?” or “what are you going to do about this problem?” Don’t be quick to jump in and solve the problem with the child. Let them tangle at bit at the end. You want their brains engaged and trained in solving their own problems.

Using questions help the parent and the child stay focused on the person, in the problem, instead of focusing on the problem in the person. This is an important distinction. Keep asking how your child is going to clean up the mess. You aren’t saying they are a mess but there is this mess of school grades or unclean rooms. If they don’t know to clean up their mess because they are used to the parent always tell them how to clean it up or clean it up for them, start giving them some ideas they can try. If they act like they don’t care about cleaning up the mess, give them choices that might be completely undesirable. “One choice might be to do all of your brother’s chores for a week to pay them back for breaking their toy. Would that be a way you can clean up this mess?” Of course, they don’t want to do that! The point is to get them engaged in this conversation to find a solution they would prefer. If they still refuse any responsibility for their actions, stay calm and wait this out. At some point, the child will want something from the parent and at that moment the parent can return to the mess that is still needing to be cleaned up. Re-ask the question of how they would like to clean up the mess. This teaches self-responsibility without ever breaking a connection with the child. You continually express your belief that they are powerful people who can make a good choice, if not today, then tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that until they finally learn to manage themselves well.

Do You Value Being Right Over Relationship?

If a parent insists on lecturing and using their authority in dominating ways then they are communicating that being right is more important that relationship. Relationships take time and this mess that the child has made can take as long as it needs to get cleaned up but it will get cleaned up. The value of learning responsibility and how to handle freedom and make good choices is more important than being right on this issue we are at odds with each other. Stubbornness is the hallmark of oppositional defiant behavior. Use this same energy to regulate your reaction to stand firm.

There are a lot of false beliefs in the parenting community that parenting educators perpetuate. We have put you in a difficult position and given you a difficult requirement that can set you up for failure. As a parenting educator, I apologize! Let’s learn together on how to build powerful people in intimate relationships with one another.

Ron’s Reading: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries


by Danny Silk

One of the most common aggravations experienced by parents is the “power struggle”. It usually happens when the parent has to get to work or needs to finish dinner or help the child with their homework. Right in the middle of this urgent time, the child decides to exercise their will and demand a treat or refuse to put on their shoes or wants to argue about some topic they really don’t know anything about. Regardless of the circumstance, the outcome is two yelling, arguing, snorting, bug-eyed people who just want the other person to do what they want them to do. No fun for anyone!

Why does this happen so often in families? Danny Silk is one of my favorite authors and I recommend his books to many of the parents I work with in family therapy or parenting workshops. In his book: “Keeping Your Love On: Connections, Communication & Boundaries” he shares how a family is a group of powerful people who are trying to learn how to live in powerful ways. He writes: “If you heard someone described as a powerful person, you might assume he or she would be the loudest person in the room, the one telling everyone else what to do. But powerful does not mean dominating. In fact, a controlling, dominating person is the very opposite of a powerful person. Powerful people do not try to control other people. They know it doesn’t work, and it’s not their job. Their job is to control themselves.” 

The trick, for parents, is not to demand respect but to create a respectful environment where non-respect, talking back and control simple can’t exist. Their just isn’t enough oxygen for those negative elements to survive. Learning how to be a powerful and responsible person is one of the most important tasks of parenting. 

You can get more information (and read along with me) on Danny’s book here: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries


(affiliate link). 

What else is Ron reading? Click here to see…

Parents believe that it is their job to teach children how to respect limits. More importantly, the parents job is to teach children how to understand limits. The aim of parenting is to raise responsible, fun-to-be around children who know how to manage themselves.

Learn more power parenting tools with Ron Huxley’s parenting book: 

Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting

Nagging Never Works

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parenting teenagers can be a frustrating time for parents. They feel the need to nag, threaten, lecture and even yell to get them to be compliant. Research shows that this parenting actions create oppositional and defiant children. This is the opposite of what parents want. They desire compliant, fun-to-be-around children. 

Of course, no one likes to be nagged. Parents do not like it from their spouses or employers, so why would we think that children like it? How you show a child to do something and ask them to do it makes a lot of difference in how motivated they are to comply with you. 

Dr. Kazdin, Ph.D., author of the book The Kazdin Method: Parenting the Oppositional and Defiant Child, suggest parents have their practice the behavior they want when they parent is not frustration (which could be a rare moment). This practice is fueled by the parent being playful about it and using praise in very specific ways. Humiliation and shame is not the motive here. Even though Kazdin is more focused on behavior than attachment, the reparative actions of practicing in a playful way mimics what parents would do with younger children in a natural way which is typical of therapeutic work with traumatized children. 

What can you practice with your defiant teen that would build skills and not resentment? How can you increase cooperation with specific praise of your teens efforts to be helpful instead of argumentative? How a parent parents is a more powerful method than what tools a parents uses. 

Learn more power parenting tools with Ron Huxley’s parenting book: 

Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting

Sustain Your Families Successes

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parents want to know how to sustain the successes they have in the home. They want the temperature in the mood and attitudes in their children to stay constant. It is frustrating to have a good day and then have it follow with a week of anger and defiance. In order to sustain the good times, it is important that parents consistently put in what they want to get out of the family. For example, if you want kind children, keep putting in kindness to the children in your word and deeds. If you want joy, put in joy and fun activities. If you want respect, don’t just demand it, give it! This is why research demonstrates the power of modeling in social relationships. 

What do you want “out” of your family members? How can you put more of that “into” your home? 

Take back control of your home: 101 Parenting Tools: Building the Family of Your Dreams

Parenting is like walking on Stepping Stones

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parenting can be a difficult and confusing job. We don’t have all the answers to questions about the right thing to do or the right way to handle a problem with our children. Fortunately, you don’t need to know every step of the decision. You just need to be will to take the risk to take the next step. 

If you make all your decisions based on knowing exactly what the outcome will be, you will be immobilized into in-action and your children will run circles around you. You will find that if you talk the “next step” you will gain greater vision for what lays ahead and then be able to take that “next step” in a long chain of small steps that will lead you places you never knew were possible but always hoped. 

What is your next step going to be?

Parenting And The Serenity Prayer

Parenting and the Serenity Prayer: Asking for Help

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

If parenting could be summed up in a single prayer, that prayer might be “The Serenity Prayer”:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In this 5 part series, we will explore the essential points of this prayer and how it can help parents find grace and peace in the family relationships. 

Asking for Help: 

If parents want to find more balance in their relationships with their children they must be willing to ask for help! Whether that help is from God, a higher power, or other people, parents will need support to help the through the many challenges of parenting.

A common denominator of stressed-out parents is trying to parent in isolation; they do not realize that they need help or can’t find healthy support and in moments of crisis, do things they wish they didn’t do and say things they wish they didn’t do. Parenting from a place of regret is not a “happy place to be.” Additionally, it may result in child abuse and neglect that will cause the legal system to become involved in the families life. This is not the type of help you want to happen if you can help it. 

In other to accept help parents have to accept that parenting is difficult. I know that seems obvious to most of us but many parents believe they can do it all or feel shame if they don’t do everything perfectly which keeps them from seeking support. 

Support can come from natural and artificial sources. Natural sources would including the help and advice of family and friends. Aunt Melba might come and watch the kids so mom and dad can get our for a break once in a while. Grandpa John might offer some helpful advice about managing teenagers. Unfortunately, not all family advice is helpful like when they suggest you get a stick and start beating some butts. The idea of taking more authority in the home could be a great idea but physical abuse will get you in trouble. 

When natural help is not helpful, parents need to find artificial help in the form of professionals. Family therapy or parenting classes may be what parents need to shift the home from crisis to calm. Some cost may be involved in this but you get what you pay for, right? There are lots of non profit organizations in every community that will offer inexpensive, if not free, help to parents. 

Take action: What kind of help do you need the most? Who in your natural network of family and friends could help you? If there are not natural helpers available to you, who in your community could provide you will support? Let go of feelings of embarrassment and do what is necessary to get the help you need. 

Come back to RonHuxley.com to read the other 4 parenting tools based on the Serenity Prayer…

Take the 10 Day Parenting Challenge…

Are you the type of parent you thought you would be or are you everything you said you would NEVER be?

Are you wanting to be a better parent starting immediately?

Parenting can be hard and is often full of disappointments but it is never TOO LATE to transform yourself and your children into the family you dreamed you would be.

If you are serious about wanting to make some big changes in your family relationships, take our 10 Day Challenge by following the steps listed below. Post your successes and difficulties on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox to get more support and success tips along the way.

SPECIAL NOTE: The power of the 10 days comes from its “additive value.“ Every day builds on the next. You don’t just do day 1 and never do it again. You have to keep doing day one for ten days (and perhaps longer) while adding day 2 and then day three, etc. By day 10 you will be doing 55 power parenting tools. YES, I said 55 new tools that will repair and restore your family relationships. If you are really serious about better parenting, start your challenge TODAY!!!

Day 1: Take Inventory.

What is your biggest strength as a parent? What is your biggest weakness? This isn’t a time for denial to rear its ugly defenses. Be honest. What is your best plus or minus when it comes to parenting? Perhaps you don’t like your child. If that is it, admit it. Perhaps you are a horrible cook. Time for the truth, because the truth, as they say, will set you free. Be honest about your strengths too. Don’t minimize them…blow them up. You will need this strength to get you through the days ahead. What do you love more than anything else about what you do as a parent or how you do it? Love crafts, snuggle time, early mornings, weekend walks, trips to the park, reading stories together? Capitalize on these positive resources to meet the challenges ahead.

Remember, you will do this inventory of your most positive and negative qualities, behaviors, moments over the next 10 days…it gets easier fortunately.

Extra tip: Get a notebook or diary and put a ”-“ or ”+“ and list a quality or behavior over the next 10 days to evaluate your ups and downs. This will give you more insights that will help you move forward.

Day 2: Do more of what works.

Based on what you answered for day 1, do more of the positive thing you listed for yourself. Do it daily, even hourly if you can. Build up some energy and good vibrations with this power parenting tool. Conversely, do less of the negative thing you identified. Simple right?

Give yourself some grace here…You won’t be perfect. You might still yell at your child when they leave the towel on the bathroom floor. Just start over doing it less and more of what works for you. If you hate cooking, it’s not really feasible to stop cooking and eat out every meal, right? What foods are less challenging to prepare or how can you combine what you love to do when you are doing what you hate to do. Setting limits and sticking to them is hard for you? Keep practicing it daily, hourly, etc. You get the drill, yes?

Day 3: Find an audience of appreciation.

Who can you talk to share your successes and your struggles? Who will applaud you when you have a good day and hug you when you don’t? You need an audience that is nonjudgmental and emphatic Not many of parents have this in their lives currently. You may have to look long and hard for this person(s) but don’t give up on this exercise. It is important. Call this person daily and tell them what you did great, no matter how small. Let them be your cheerleader. In turn, you can be there’s. This isn’t necessarily a time for confession however. Just state it factually. Tell each other it will get better and in the spirit of most recovery programs, fake it till you make it.”

Are you doing the power parenting tools from the days previously that you already learned? Do ever parent tool and add to your tool belt over the total 10 days!

Day 4: Use Empathy.

Empathy is defined as the perception of being deeply understood by another. It is a “felt" sense that can be conveyed in words, no words, or just a grunt. Really! It is the under carriage of all attachment-based parenting and (sadly) one of the things most traditional parents rarely convey to their children. Spend an entire day just being empathic. Say things like “that is so sad" when you child complains and try to make it sound real 🙂 Look at the situation from their perspective and voice that feeling. You don’t have to agree with it. You may still make them eat their vegetables but you can certainly understand their dislike of them.

This can be one of the hardest parenting tools in this challenge. We don’t realize how often we judge, lecture or dismiss our children’s feelings. As a child therapist with over 20 years’ experience, 80% of parenting is emotion-based. This is how we model appropriate social/emotional behavior that will ultimately make your child a success in life. It is more powerful than IQ scores. Truly!

Observe how your child’s behavior change after one one example, one day, one week.. What did you learn about yourself?

Day 5: Plan.

Most of the problems that will come up today with your family also came up yesterday and probably the day before that and the day before that…get my point? Problems are predictable. That is to your advantage because now you can plan to manage the problems in a new way today. If today doesn’t work on the problems, you can plan for something new tomorrow and so on.

The nice thing is that you can DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT so long as it isn’t abusive or mean and you will problem make a significant change in your family member. Getting stuck if your worst enemy here. Innovation and novelty is your parenting toolbox friend.

Are you still using the previous days parenting tools? Are you sharing your progress with us on Facebook? Go now to share at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox

Day 6: Have a Routine.

I don’t care how old the child is, everyone needs structure. This is a basic element of parenting. You don’t have to post a daily to-do list but you can. You don’t have to set the timer for bath time but you can. You don’t need to have a large whiteboard with everyone chores listed but it might be a good idea. Children who have a structure feel more secure and safe. A secure child is better behaved. A behaved child makes for a happy home. Routines can be negotiated and relaxed as they get older but some form of schedule is always a necessary part of home life.

Day 7: Games are more fun!

It doesn’t take long for the little people to realize that work is not fun. Helping dad sweep the sidewalk was fun when they were younger but now it is torture. Anything that you can do to make an activity a game will increase your child’s cooperation. Challenge is an important part of parenting and life. Everyone needs it to stay motivated and happy.

You can take turns being the leader as you walk to bath time. See you can be the first one to fold the towels. Who can shoot their garbage into the bin? How high can you get the leaves raked into pile? Add incentives by offering praise at the end of a chore challenge and always give lots of admiration for technique, flair and creativity.

Of course, sometimes this backfires or older children get wise to the tactic but if you do this often enough in small ways, so it doesn’t seem so obvious, even teenagers will be more engaging with you.

Day 8: Use Leverage.

It doesn’t take long after the first child is born that mom and dad realized they are out-matched. How is that two adults can be so exhausted and the child is just getting his second wind at 11 pm! It gets worse when you have a second or third child trust me. My wife and I raised four children. How nuts were we…ha.

It is better if you accept the fact that you will be out-gunned, out-numbered, and out-smarted by the little people in the home. When you let go of the need to be perfect and have it all together or be faster, smarter, stronger, you will have much more fun as a parent. This doesn’t imply that parents stop being in charge.

Once you recognize you are out-numbered, you will have to start looking for special ways in which you can retain some leverage. Leverage is the ace card when negotiating with children. This is especially true for teenagers although negotiation happens a lot earlier than that. Many parents feel they have no leverage; therefore they can’t get their child to do anything they don’t want to do. The reality is that our children, in our society, have way too much entitlement.

You may have to feed them dinner but it doesn’t have to be fancy. You may have to take them to school but you don’t have to go to the Mall afterwards. You may have to clothe them but you don’t have to buy the expensive stuff. The thrift store has lots of decent items ready to be taken home and loved (again). In the real world, we all have to negotiate with other people to get what we need and want in life. Teach them in a calm and respectful way what it means to have to learn to scratch each other’s backs. I will scratch yours if you will scratch mine. They want something other than tuna salad for dinner. You want a clean bedroom. They want the more expensive shoes, you want a week of no homework battles. Everyone wins!

Day 9: Give Yourself a Cool Title.

The word “parenting" simply defined means to care for or raise a child. BORING! Try something with a little more pizazz like “Mom of Magical Moments" or “Household President" (but please no “dictator" titles) or “Conductor of Strategic Developmental Experiences" or how about “Captain of WOWness" or “Impresario of Daily Routines". Anything that puts a little smile on your lips when you child can’t find his shoes in the morning will make the situation more endurable.

Playfully, insist your family call you by your new title. In fact, they might want a new title too. Come up with one and imagine how someone with these titles might act toward one another and what they family as a whole might be or do with this fantastic new descriptors. Maybe this won’t help you be a better parent but you will feel like one.

Keep practicing all the earlier tools you learned today too.

Day 10: Take a Break.

Even the toughest marathon running mom will be worn out managing all the responsibilities of parenting. Get into the practice of taking time for you so you have more time and energy for your family. It could be an hour of quiet meditation after the children go off to school or it could be a night out with your partner while the children are with a babysitter. It could be taking turns sleeping in on the weekend while someone else makes breakfast for the kiddo’s. Taking time away to work or get your tooth crowned isn’t the point. This should be something specifically for you like starting a yoga class, reading a novel, gardening, taking a music lesson, personal shopping, having a sugary coffee drink with a friend. You will be amazed how much more energy you have for your family when you do this consistently.

Share your successes and your struggles on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox

Parenting Toolbox Dream Project: Choices

“Are you stuck. What if life presented you with a new choice every day. Make a conscious choice today about which direction you and your family are going to go…Get better outcomes and have the family you dreamed of having. Start believing that a dream family is possible.”

Have Ron speak at your event or conference today by clicking on the “Need a speaker” link on the right side of the screen!