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Q: What should I do when my child unbuckles his seatbelt?


Question:  My child keeps unbuckling his carseat, what should I do?

Answer:  This is a great opportunity to fabricate a teachable moment.  Make sure to do these things ahead of time:

  1. Talk to him about the reasons for staying buckled in
  2. Completely clean the car out ahead of time–no toys, etc
  3. Set your own emotions to the side here.  They will sabotage your plan.  


  1. Set up an event where he’s likely (and then does) unbuckle. 
  2. When he does, pull over as soon as you safely can.  Don’t react.
  3. Let him know that you were going to go to ‘x’ (must be somewhere he would want to go) but that you can’t drive him places when he isn’t being safe. 
  4. Sit (have a book or magazine for yourself).  Pretend to read the book if you have to, your goal is to not interact (ie, reinforce) his behaviors.  Be boring.  The car should be boring.  You want him to get bored. 
  5. Wait until he gets back in the carseat, buckles as much as he can.  (this may take a while.  Be prepared.)

6.  Now go home–not to the desired destination. 

7.  Talk to him about safety and that if you can’t trust him to stay in his carseat, you can’t drive him to fun places/events.

8.  Plan to repeat this a few times. 

Be extra sure to be totally on your game.  Don’t feed/reward the behavior by providing ANY excitement.  Don’t even talk (after your initial request) until he’s back in the seat.  He needs to learn that cars are a method of transport, and that the supercool stuff happens once you get where you’re going.  Chances are he needs to unlearn that there is a lot of (parent-provided) excitement (conflict, power struggles, yelling, strong emotions, oh my!) to be had when he removes his seatbelt.

After you’ve done this at least once, you can ‘front-load’ for success by talking to him ahead of car rides, reminding him of how hard it can be for him to choose to keep his body in the carseat, but also reminding him that when he does not choose to keep his body buckled in, he really feels upset and disappointed when he doesn’t get to go to the fun places he likes going to.  You can also ask him–again: ahead of time–if there is any way you can help him make good choices during the ride, offering a suggestion if necessary (play his favorite song, sing something together, bring a favorite book in the car…)

This isn’t a foolproof plan (what, in parenting, ever is?) but it’s a great jumping-off place.  Good luck!

Keeping Kids Safe

The Austin newspaper had a frightening story last weekend about a local child abduction.  It is the sort of story that makes parents worry a little more and hold our kids a little closer.  But, it also brings up good questions about what we parents can do to keep our children safe from harm.  We know how to keep them away from the knives and the bleach, but what about dangerous people?  

Gavin de Becker’s book “Protecting the Gift” is a great guide for parents.  In it, he encourages us to really listen to our intuition–that little guiding voice we so often try to rationalize away.  Some guy creeps you out in the parking lot?  There is probably a reason why–our animal instincts still work!  We are able to evaluate lots of different signals like facial expressions, physical promixity, and of course the undefinable ‘creepy factor.’  And as parents, not only do we need to listen to that voice ourselves are parents–we need to teach our children to recognize and listen to that voice in their own heads, too.    

Have you told your child “Don’t talk to strangers”?  de Becker brilliantly illustrates why that is actually a counter-productive lesson.  First, if our children are ever in need of help, being reluctant to speak to a stranger is an obstacle to keeping themselves safe.  Children need to (a) know how to choose which stranger is likely the most safe, and (b) go to that person and ask for help–because a child sitting alone, looking lost & vulnerable, makes for a ‘perfect’ victim to a predator.  By the way, de Becker gives a suggestion about whom children should ask for
help.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t policemen–it was mothers.  Citing
plenty of statistics, he argues that a mother, or even a (non-parent) woman, is far more likely to be the safest choice for helping a lost

When your child shys away from a stranger–even a friend of yours–how do you handle it? I encourage you to keep in mind that while politeness is important, so to is learning how to keep themselves safe.  Parents can also help children learn to listen to their inner voice by asking questions: “How would you like to say goodbye to Ms. Smith?”  or “If you were in this restaurant alone, who would you ask for help–and why?”

Although the book is a little too full (for my tastes) of frightening stories, the wisdom inside is well worth it.  

(And if you live in Austin, I’m leading a 3-part series/book group to discuss “Protecting the Gift” and how to keep our kids safe.  More info here )

Back to School

Welcome to “Back to School”–whether today is your first day back from the summer or just the long weekend. 

This is usually a busy time of year in my business, as the added stresses of school sometimes push kids past the “middle/green zone” and into the “red zone” of problems (whether that ends up being anxiety, behavior problems, etc.) 

But, I am reminded that even when kids & families are still within their ‘green zone,’ back-to-school is still a stressor.  Everywhere I look, I see more tears, more tantrums, more exasperated parents, more frustrated voices than usual. 

So, for today, this week, next week:  I encourage parents to really focus on:

  • getting enough sleep & healthy nutrition for YOU
  • okay, the kids, too  ;^)
  • carve out time to reconnect in a playful, loving way every day after school/work.  Go swimming if your pool is still open, go for a bike ride together, play with the dog in the backyard, wrestle on the floor together, or read a book together while cuddling. 

Have fun, pay attention to each other,  burn off a little energy, have fun, and reconnect.  And have fun.  :^)

Q: Should my child be allowed to have a TV/computer in their room?

Question:  Should my child be allowed to have a TV/computer in their room?

I advise against it.  Three thoughts regarding why: 

  1. It limits or reduces personal communication and interaction with family members.  Sometimes quality time is plain-ole quantity time!
  2. P*rnography on the internet.  Yes, you’ve got parental controls installed.  Yes, you don’t think your child knows about it/is interested in it yet.  And, I promise you that those things aren’t as secure of a safety net as you think they are.  Really.  I promise.  I’ve heard this story go wrong more times than you would think.  And it’s so unfortunate when it happens, because the internet really isn’t how you want your child to be educated about sex. 
  3. Missed teachable moments.  If your child sees, say, a “Wardrobe Malfunction” on TV in front of you and everyone else at your Superbowl party, you can talk to them about it later.  You can have a good conversation about nudity, privacy, and the like.  BUT.  If they see the same body part exposed while they are watching TV alone in their room, they won’t get the parenting, the guidance, the support, the understanding, or the values lesson they need to balance that experience. 

Follow up question:  But don’t we tell our child that we trust her?  Doesn’t it send a mixed message to say, “Yes we trust you but you have to use the laptop where we can see you?”

A:  There are many ways in which we trust our kids but still provide structure/limits/backup. Children absolutely live their lives in a ‘smaller’ world than the real world.  That way, when they make the inevitable mistakes, they don’t suffer big consequences.  You’re not sending a message that says you don’t trust your child, you’re sending a message that says you are her parent, and you will protect, guide, and support her as best you can, until she’s 18/21/30 years old and finally ready to leave the nest and take on the wide unfiltered world out there. 

3 Parenting Tips Worth Repeating


Who has time to read an entire parenting book these days?  It’s amazing how much time & energy it takes to chew through a 350 page epic on how you “should” parent.  Even the really good books are tough to get through.  It’s made me particularly appreciative of brevity, so to that end here are just 3 thoughts/comments that I frequently say in my role as a parent coach & therapist.  It’s a little like a 15 minute parent coaching session, or a super, super condensed parenting book.  ;^)

  1. It’s our job as parents to help prepare our kids for the real world.  We parents typically want to protect our kids from the evils and heartbreaks that exist out there.  That’s normal and healthy and generally encouraged.  But.  Our other very important job is to help our children acquire the skills, habits, resources, and strength to be able to handle the problems of the world on their own.  We can’t protect them forever, so we’d better equip them.  Start now. 
  2. Kids intuitively know that they are half-mom and half-dad.   When kids hear/see/perceive criticism from one parent to another, they internalize it and file it away under “things about MYSELF that
    aren’t good.”  While I say this one more to parents who are divorcing, it’s also true for married parents.  Every couple has conflict (it’s healthy, actually) but the way we handle that conflict is
    so important.
  3.  The single best way to get your kid to change is to let them see you changing.  I say this one so often that I joke I’m going to embroider it on a pillow one day.  But it speaks to the power of
    role modeling, the power of acknowledging that-even though we’re the parent-we’re still not perfect, and it also sends the message that in your family’s home-everyone is committed to growing.  Such a powerful and positive message!

Book Review: Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce

When parents of young children divorce, explaining the concept of divorce is often a great challenge.  Books can help with this, in part because they give parents a script to follow, concepts to go along with the words, and pictures that give kids a concrete visual image to go along with the words.

Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce, by Cornelia Maude Spelman is a great book about divorce for young children.  The story is about “Dinah” (a bear,) who loves her family but tells us that: “…one day, something sad happened.  Mama and Daddy said they were going to get a divorce.”   Dinah talks about her feelings (sad and scared) and some of her inner questions.  She talks to her parents about her feelings, and both parents reassure her that they will always be her mama/daddy.  As the book progresses, she describes how she spends time with both parents separately.  Her parents make some mistakes, but the theme of parental love and involvement persists.  The book concludes by saying that after time she feels less sad, and that her parents and sister will always be her family.  It’s a peaceful and positive ending.

I highly recommend this book, available at your public library, or from amazon here.