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Parenting Coach Katie Malinski LCSW coaches the parents of two toddlers on what research shows about discipline and punishment, what works effectively…and what should be avoided.

Do your kids lie to you or hide things from you?
Do they blame others for their mistakes?
Do they look away or fall silent or seem to shrink when you come into the room?
Do your kids cry even before you yell at them?
Do you yell at them? Or hit them? Or make sarcastic remarks?

Too many children are afraid of their parents. Mom and Dad mean well. They’re just trying to get the day accomplished and it seems to them that the kids are getting in the way. So they lose their tempers. But the children are the real losers. If your children are afraid of you – if you see the kind of behavior listed above – then you’ve got to turn things around, and fast.

This turning around is something for you to do. It’s not true that you’d be a better parent if you only had better children. It’s not true that the way to have better children is to destroy them so you can build them into people who are nicer. What is true is that our children were created by us. The problems we see are problems we created.

Which means the problems we have with our kids are problems we can solve.

If you have a short temper, if you get stressed and overreact, if you want everything to be perfect and things are never perfect, then your children are your victims. This is a hard thing to realize. We love our kids and we’d never do anything to hurt them. We only want the best for them. But the demands we make, the blame we assign, and the punishments we mete out take their toll. If your children are afraid of you, you’ve got to begin to back off.

Children who believe the important adults in their lives are dangerous have only two outlets. They can become small and timid, afraid to shine, afraid to try. Or they can become even more dangerous than you are, to their siblings, to other kids they know and, eventually, to you.

If what you’re yearning for is the perfect family, then making your children afraid of you and afraid of your anger and your unhappiness is the wrong way to go. Make a change.

  1. Give up your electronic devices. The constant pinging is like having an insistent puppy always demanding your attention. Give your children your attention. Put away your phone and your tablet while your children are home. See if you don’t feel calmer.
  2. When something goes wrong, make your first reaction a smile. See setbacks as opportunities to work together with your child to solve things. Help your child get back on track in a way that is supportive and loving. When you quit assigning blame and quit being angry all the time, your children will become more responsible and happier.
  3. When anger bubbles up, take a deep breath and strive for self-control. Don’t take things out on your kids. There is nothing, nothing, that matters so much over the long term as your relationship with your children. Whatever just happened is a momentary distraction. Don’t let it become more.
  4. Speak in a quiet voice. There’s no need to yell. You don’t need to shout to be heard. If your children are used to you fighting to be heard, if your kids are used to being out of control until the moment you scream at them, it will take time for both of you to get back to a more normal interaction pattern. But it has to start with you. You’re the grown up.

When we realize the damage we’ve inflicted, to the point that our children are actually afraid of us, we’re embarrassed. We’re sad and ashamed. We want to hide. But none of that solves anything.

The way to repair the hurt we’ve inflicted is to become the parent we wanted to be all along.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

What does being aggravated by your kids mean to you? According to a new Child Trends research brief, it means three things:

  1. Feeling frequently bothered by your child
  2. Feeling your child is more bothersome than other children the same age, and
  3. Feeling frequently angry with your child.

This sounds like a good definition of aggravation. But here’s the surprise: a comparison of parents’ feelings of aggravation reported between the late 1990s  to feelings reported as recently as 2012 found that parents’ aggravation has risen from 20% to as much as 35%.

One-in-three parents these days feel aggravated by their kids, up from one-in-five two decades ago.

Stressful family relationships matter. Researchers in this study note that “on average, children of parents with high levels of aggravation are less well-adjusted and experience more negative outcomes.” This means that feeling aggravated with your children makes your children behave more badly, which means you feel even more aggravated than before. This vicious cycle undermines your happiness, children’s academic success, and everyone’s physical and mental health.

Researchers suggest that the increase in parent aggravation may be linked to inappropriately high expectations for children’s behavior.  Kids are not allowed to be kids but are expected to be unquestionably obedient and compliant. The researchers also suggest that these unrealistic expectations are combined with harsh discipline methods that increase family stress without satisfying children’s need to be treated with respect.

Feeling aggravated is not caused by children actually being more aggravating than they used to be. Your kids are not worse than you were at the same ages. It’s caused by parents making less time for their kids and being too rigid and demanding.

So take a quick check: do you often feel aggravated by your children? Are you frequently bothered by your kids’ behavior and frequently angry at them? Do you imagine that your children behave worse than the kids next door? If these feelings are common for the grownups in your household, take these steps to make life go more smoothly:

  1. Slow down and pay attention to your kids. Notice what they’re good at and what they find difficult to do. (Hint: they may be good at sports but not so good at cleaning up after themselves.) Realize that this is who they are right now. You can’t blame them for being who they are.
  2. Take the time to teach what you want your kids to do. Once you realize your children are not so skilled at some things as you are, you can teach them the skills they need. Be patient and teach things step by step. Provide chances to practice.
  3. Avoid harsh punishment. Harsh punishment makes you feel worse and it doesn’t do much for your children either. It upsets everyone and leads to worse behavior, not better behavior. Wise up about discipline.
  4. Remember that your relationship with your children is lifelong. The respect and support you give your children now will repay itself in strong, positive interactions for years to come. A relationship that is characterized by aggravation isn’t a relationship that builds a foundation for the future.

It may be that you’re more aggravated by your children than your parents were with you. But that’s not because you were so much better as a child. Give your own kids the gift that you received, the gift of reasonable expectations and loving support.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

In my work as a therapist and parenting coach, I don’t spend much time advising parents on how to punish more effectively.  In fact, I tend to tell parents that I am not a big fan of punishment at all.  So, a parent rightfully asked me the other day: “Well then, if not punishment, what DO we do?

What a good question!  Most parents punish because they believe that’s how to get kids to behave appropriately.  (But actually research has proven that more punishments do NOT equal long-term improved behaviors, and can sometimes make things worse.)   So here are 3 things that help achieve the goal of cooperative, positive, appropriate behavior more effectively, while helping to maintain a positive and long-lasting parent-child relationship.

  1. Show kids what you DO want them to do, and support them, encourage them, catch them doing it, praise them.  Give them positive options!
  2. Change the child’s environment so that it supports positive behaviors.  Simple example: don’t keep the jar of cookies where your 3 year old can reach them.  More complex example: figure out how long of a playdate your kid can handle before falling apart.  Keep playdates within that time frame until you’re both ready to experiment with incremental increases.
  3. Figure out what’s behind the unwanted/negative behaviors.  Behavior is a communication, I like to say… what is your child’s behavior saying to you?  Hint: it’s usually something along the lines of: “I’m tired and over stimulated” or “I can’t handle this much freedom,” or “I really need more time with you/attention from you,” or “Something’s not right with me,” or  “I am not getting enough opportunities to feel powerful and in charge of my life.”  When parents understand what the child’s behavior is communicating, they can better meet the underlying need… which generally has a positive effect on the unwanted behavior!

There are many, many more ways of shaping behavior, but these are some favorites, especially the last one.  A little understanding goes a long way.

Who spanks a little baby, someone just a year old, who can barely walk and can scarcely talk? What parent would hit a child who can’t even tell the difference between right and wrong?

Nearly one in three parents do, that’s who.

A study by researchers at University of Michigan of 2,788 families of children aged about 15 months found that 30% of parents had spanked their baby at least once in the past month. The problem with spanking of very young children is that it sets off a cascade of other effects with long-term consequences.

First of all, early spanking sets up a habit of spanking that parents find difficult to break. Spanking a baby who is, obviously, unable to understand what he did wrong, is clearly not intended as discipline aim at teaching better behavior. Instead, spanking of babies demonstrates a parent’s frustration and inability to control her anger. Once hitting is established as a way of dealing with anger, parents are likely to hit without ever considering other, less violent means. It becomes the first resort, not the last resort.

Second, spanking is bad for babies, who are particularly vulnerable to psychological harm. The developmental task of infants is to develop a strong bond with a parent – a secure attachment – that serves as the foundation for social interactions throughout life. Children who fail to develop a secure attachment as infants struggle to get along with others. Because spanking seems completely random and meaningless to a baby, who cannot understand the connection between what she just did and a parent’s anger, spanking undermines the baby’s trust in her parent and her attachment.

And, finally, spanking is just plain dangerous for babies, who are quite breakable.  According to researchers, parents in the study who spanked their infants were likely to be investigated sometime over the next four years by child protective services.  CPS visits when there is evidence of harm, including bruising, broken bones and brain damage. Tiny bodies are no match for adult anger.

No research has found that spanking improves children’s behavior. In fact, harsh parenting is associated with children’s poor school achievement, bad behavior, and problems with mental health. Certainly, spanking babies makes no sense.

What does make sense?

  1. Redirect your child. Instead of spanking, simply remove the baby (gently!) to another location or give her something else to play with. Block her access to something forbidden or put it out of her reach.
  2. Pick him up and go for a walk outside for a few minutes – or if you’re outside, go back inside for a little bit. The change of scene often stops a crying jag or an episode of bad behavior. Just stay calm and gentle as you do this.
  3. Stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention. Get down on the floor with him and play together for a few minutes.
  4. Notice when you are already crabby. Don’t take your anger at someone else out on your child. Take a deep breath and remember what’s important – your baby’s happiness.
  5. Hugs not hits. A bit of cuddling and fun will turn around a fussy, troublesome baby. Be sweet and bring out the sweetness in your child.

Being a parent isn’t easy and it takes a lot of self-control.  You will become a more loving, responsible parent if you can resist the spanking habit when your child is just a baby.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.