Getting Unstuck
October 22, 2015 · Posted in Discipline, Parenting, Toddlerhood, Toilet Training · Permalink · Comments (2)

If you are squeamish about scatological concerns you can stop reading now. If, however, you can take on the tough topics of pee and poop, tushies and penises, read on:

At Soho Parenting our approach to toilet training is gradual, developmentally informed, and child-centered. We encourage parents to start this process somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four months. We suggest they buy a potty, let their toddler be naked and show them by example and clear instructions how this natural process works. Toddlers slowly learn to master this basic body function and have the opportunity to take ownership and pride in this new skill. We teach parents that only a small portion of toilet training is physiological. The lion share of toilet training is the emotional work of growing up and tolerating imperfection. Parents need to introduce the concept, provide the materials, give the support, but accept the inevitable ambivalence that young toddlers have about “letting go” in this way.

For many families, toilet training moves along in fits and starts but without too much difficulty.  Often though we meet parents whose children have come to an impasse in the whole process. Three, four and even five year olds can become embroiled in a long and grueling battle with their parents over using the potty. These children are often using the potty regularly to “pee” but are only “pooping” into a diaper. Having learned to hold their poop for days on end, these children seem to have decided that they just are not going to do it. Whether there has been too much pressure or not enough structure- a “window of readiness” seems to have passed. The child has dug their heels in and the parents have all but given up. They have tried bribes and threats and manipulation and even shame and nothing is working. Parents know that their child “can” do it and just “won’t “ and they often come to us with a mixture of worry and fury.

Catherine Lloyd Burns’ book “It Hit Me Like A Ton of Bricks” a memoir of a mother and daughter poignantly and hilariously  depicts this very struggle and  Burns attributes much of 3 year old Olive’s ultimate success to the advice form Soho Parenting.

“Olive and I are going to a gastroenterologist referred by her pediatrician. She has been taking five tablespoons of mineral oil a day for three months and she’s still constipated.  She can’t make a poopy for days at a time and then when she finally does, it is so enormous, it is no wonder she screams in pain.
 The doctor appears and says, “You must be Olive.”
“I are having trouble making a poopy,” she tells him. He ignores her and interrogates me: her diet, allergies, her delivery, when did the problem start, when was her last bowel movement. Olive wants to talk too, “Well, I drink mineroil,” she interjects, but he is not interested.
 “Is she toilet trained? He asks me instead .
“She uses the potty and she uses diapers.”
“She’s not toilet trained then?”
“She uses the potty and she uses diapers, I repeat. She is a little bit toilet trained.”………..
“There is nothing wrong with her. I want you to give her Senacot for two weeks, and she needs to be toilet trained.” I will never tell Dr Spillman any of this but Olive gets Swedish fish for pooping, period—in her diaper, in her bed, on the potty, anywhere- and she gets a present if she does it on the potty without her diaper. The candy is bad for her teeth and it isn’t really working anyway.

She hasn’t pooped for six days…It is time to pull out the big gun. Lisa Lillienfeld. She costs two hundred dollars but she is always right. (Those of you who know and love our own Lisa will know how happy this last line made her.) She tells me I have to potty train Olive.
“The longer kids go, the harder it is for them to do it. I think Olive needs you to help her get to the next level. Take away her diapers and make a weekend project out of it, stop with the presents, and just do it. Tell her you have complete confidence in her. I really think the whole thing will be resolved when she gets out of diapers.”
“I really do. I think she’s having trouble going there on her own so you have to help  her.”

That night, after her bath, I tell her that tomorrow we’re going to do a project. No diapers all day and we’re going to work on using the potty. She seems excited about the plan and even reports it to Adam like it is wonderful news. We cancel all of our plans for the weekend so we can stay inside and potty train.

In the morning I take off her wet diaper and when I don’t put on another one she freaks out. She starts kicking and screaming and climbs down and gets a diaper from the shelf and tries to put it on herself. She begs for a diaper.
 “Honey remember what we talked about last night? We’re not using a diaper today. You are going to use the potty whenever you need to make a pee or a poopy.”
“Nooooooo! I want my diaper. I want my diaper.”
“Lovey just for today, okay? We’ll see how it goes. We really think you are ready and can I tell you something?  I would never ever ask you to do something if I didn’t think you were ready.”
“No. I want a diaper. I want a diaper! I want a diaper! She is working herself up into a major lather.
“What are you afraid of, honey? You already use the potty sometimes, we’re just trying to get you to use it even more.”
Through her tears she says’ “ I’m not ready. I’m not ready!”
“Olive honey everyone thinks this is going to help with your poopy trouble and we’re going to try it and see how it works. I know you can do it. I promise you can do it.”
“No I can’t!” she cries. Finally she lets go of the diaper and she cries in my arms. After breakfast she announces she needs to pee and she does. She keeps telling us what happened, “I peed in the potty.” She is very proud. Then she needs to poop. So she does. And she poops five more times, in the potty, before the day is done. It’s done and she is cured. All they need is a little help. All I need is to act like I know how to help her. It’s a confidence game, a charade.”

Burns’  depiction of Olive and her mommy’s toilet training travails reminds us all of how hard, and ultimately, important it is to help our children when they get stuck, by firmly, confidently and lovingly and patiently leading the way to the next level. Children respond with relief and pride to having mastered something they had convinced themselves they couldn’t do.  Parents do too.

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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on “Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in an experiment to test resistance to temptation and honesty or lying about their success or failure to hold themselves back. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!
August 9, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Discipline, Parenting, Spoiling, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Sometimes, Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!

The energy us parents put into using “positive discipline” – not yelling, speaking from the “I”, and trying to listen to our children. Feeling sick about ourselves if we do, eventually, lose it.

Lately, I have been getting a different slant on the parenting of college age children/adults. Stories right and left of kids acting like tyrants when they are sick, insisting their parents pay more rent because they “refuse to leave the Lower East Side”, or just plain old constant complaining about every slight ache or worry.

Parents, me included, lament to each other, “What happened to just sucking it up?” Didn’t our parents give the –“This is life-deal with it,”– message sometimes? And, though we didn’t like hearing at the time and felt misunderstood, angry and alone–didn’t it work?

So you worked the crappy job at the mall, plowed through the day even though you didn’t feel good, so you lived in a share with 4 friends in a sketchy neighborhood. Didn’t we survive these things and aren’t we the better for it? Yes. And so did every generation before who went through the same thing with their parents.

Resiliency comes from working the muscle of sticking with discomfort and seeing you can come out the other side. Confidence often comes from seeing that you can control yourself and get to a better place.

So along with the slogans, “Because I Say So”, “I Am The Head of this Family”, that we swore we would never say, but now claim them with delicious self-righteousness, let us add,”Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Suck It Up!”

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Starting to Set Limits
March 1, 2011 · Posted in Discipline, Infant Development, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Starting to Set Limits

Responsive parenting is an ever-teetering balance between offering comfort and figuring out limits. Though limit setting is not the emphasis of parenting in the first year, it’s share of the pie increases over time. When your baby innocently pulls her father’s chest hairs or swipes at your face with sharp fingernails, or bites you while nursing, the very change in the tone of your voice when you say “Ouch!” conveys a message of displeasure. Then when you add “Gentle, gentle!” or “No, no!” this introduces the concept of limits. Here is some insight into setting limits that will help make the process smoother.

The belief that “no” is a bad word is one of the legacies of overly permissive parenting. Important behaviors including restraint, self-control, and caution are learned by hearing the word “no.” Children will learn to say “no,” and need to be able to say it, regardless of whether they hear it from their parents. In the latter half of the first year the word, “no,” followed by a brief explanation such as “hot!” or “ouch!” or “you have to be gentle” teaches your child about the world of objects and relationships. Language is just developing at this time but the word “no” is best used when coupled with an action to reinforce the lesson. So if your baby bites your nipple, or pulls the cat’s tail, say “no” and gently remove her from the situation, take her off the breast, or move her away from the cat. Then after you’ve said a clear “no” and moved the baby, give a more gentle explanation, like “no pulling, that hurts lulu’s tail,” or “no biting mommy, that hurts!” Over time your baby internalizes these everyday lessons.

All children go through difficult periods as they grow. All children will appear “spoiled” at some point. Stages when a child has difficulty waiting and sharing, when she is especially clingy, whiny, and demanding are all typical of normal child development. However, chronically demanding, objectionable, whiny behavior usually indicates either that a child has received far less attention than she needs or that she has never been stretched in her ability to wait, to use her own resources, or to soothe herself. For parents who felt restricted, misunderstood, and unfairly reprimanded as a child, it is common to offset their baby’s frustration and anger with understanding and permissiveness. Discipline and authority often become synonymous with the words punitive and mean. The key is to see that setting limits is important.

You can be a close, loving, devoted parent and a figure of authority at the same time. When used judiciously, saying “No” will not crush your child’s spirit. In fact, limits are critical for her sense of security and self-worth. Limits do not simply shut a door. They stretch a child, teach her about the world, and let her know she is protected. Limits also help a child to learn about self-control, respect and empathy for others. They are a necessary and important part of parenting.
When the time comes, many parents are deeply ambivalent about setting limits, especially with older children. More psychologically minded than their own parents, the current generation wants to be sensitive to their babies’ needs and feelings and nurturing to their children’s egos, but loving and limit setting are not mutually exclusive.


It can be frightening and upsetting to have your baby get angry or cry out because of something you impose or withhold. In fact, one of the most difficult challenges a parent faces is tolerating a child’s discomfort—be it illness, fatigue, pain, frustration, disappointment, or anger. It will not always be possible, or even advisable, to take away those feelings. It will be important, though, for you to let your child express them. Your baby’s consistent experience of your attempt to understand her needs is critically important to her sense of self and of relationships.

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For the Mommy Dearest In Us All
February 15, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

Annie Lamott, author and mother, wrote a hilarious, honest and upsetting essay about motherhood in 1998. It re-surfaced last month and was sent, via email, to members of an ongoing group at Soho Parenting.

It was so appropriate because in that particular group we speak the unspeakable – the dark feelings that accompany the delight and intense love for our children. We talk about the rage and the out-of-control feelings that children of all ages evoke. It feels a little like a secret society where woman can drop the plastic smile and assurances to other mothers that everything is “Awesome!” and get down and dirty. What a relief. So Lamott’s essay is a window into the that secret place where the underbelly of the maternal belly lies. Read, laugh, and breathe a sigh of relief that you are not alone in the real world of raising children.

Mother Rage: Theory and Practice All mothers Have it. No one talks about it. That only makes it worse. By Annie Lamott

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A Yin Yang Childhood
January 12, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

A self-proclaimed “Asian mom-in-recovery”, in one of my groups, sent me the link to the Wall Street Journal article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, by Amy Chua, with the note, “Something you might enjoy. Amusing and also illuminating.” Of course, she was 100% correct. It was amusing and illuminating. The article is a no-holds-barred peek at the intensity of the beliefs and practices that characterize  ‘the Chinese mother’. The author quips, “I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother’ loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.”

If you look beyond the provocative nature of  Chua’s strict, demanding and insulting behavior with her children you will read an essay that takes a poke at the differences between Chinese and Western styles of parenting. And the extremes in approach and behavior are hilarious.

“If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”

The Soho Parenting staff, huddled around the Mac, got a kick out of reading Chua’s characterization of Western precious parenting. One psychologist, a young mother herself, laughingly relayed a story about her playgroup in which her toddler grabbed something from another child. “A hush and gasp fell over the room. I felt the weight of the question, ‘OH MY GOD, SHE’S GRABBING!! WHAT DO I DO?”  Thankfully, I snapped myself back to reality, and into my role as mother. Despite the fear of being kicked out of the group, I did what any self respecting ‘Chinese mother’ would do–I took the toy out of my child’s hand, gave it back to the marauded child, and told my little one, “No grabbing!” with all the sternness I could manage.’

We found the article so refreshing, in contrast to the scores of “Western parents” who ask, “Is it Ok to tell a two year-old not to hit me in the face?” Chua is not paralyzed by the idea that one false move will be psychologically traumatizing. Her focus is on the strength, not the vulnerability of the child and on her  role of parent; leader and teacher, not friend.  Obviously, we do not agree with punishment that humiliates, or undue expectations of perfection, but like with sleep training, children need their parents to provide structure and tighter parameters even in the face of a child’s protest. Holding a higher bar for our children, whether in relationship to manners and socialization or in helping them persevere in the face of frustration, boredom or insecurity will build resiliency and pride.

And let us not kid ourselves. In the privacy of our ‘western’ homes there’s a whole lot of  pressuring, shaming and  demanding going on. We just keep it a dirty little secret. So how about trying to balance east and west, embrace both your Chinese and American mother and give your children the benefit of a yin yang childhood.

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If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help

A study 0f 43,000 American High School students by the Josephson Insititute, a non-partisan, non-sectarian, organization, whose mission is “to improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior”, is a treasure trove of information. I want to focus on gender differences regarding bullying and intolerance.

Here are some specific findings:

Is it sometimes OK to to hit or threaten a person who makes me angry?

Boys 36.7 %      Girls 19.1%

I am prejudiced against certain groups.

Boys 28.2%    Girls 17.5%

In the past year I bullied, taunted or mistreated someone.

Boys 32.7%   GIrls 20.6%

In the past year I bullied someone because they belong to a different group.

Boys 14.7% GIrls 6.6%

In the past years I used racial slurs or insults.

Boys 37.2 %   Girls 19.4%

The differential between boys and girls is dramatic. As parents, we need to pay particular attention to helping boys manage negative emotions, giving clear limits about aggressive behavior and not succumbing to the “Boys will be Boys” excuse.

Helping our boys to be tolerant and kind will change society!

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The Marshmallow Test
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on The Marshmallow Test
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Dr. Walter Mischel’s study of impulse control in the 1960’s and 1970’s using a marshmallow and the directive to wait-and-you-will-get-two has turned out to have incredible predictive ability and teaches an important lesson to parents. The ability to delay gratification at age four predicts higher SAT scores, school success, and successes in life such as relationships, employment and healthier weight.

Making children wait, helping to handle not getting what they want and delaying gratification has profound positive effects. So go ahead, just say no!!!!!!!!!!!!

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We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside
October 12, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside

Mean girl bullying is showing up in younger and younger age groups. An article by Pamela Paul, in Sunday’s New York Times tackles this complex topic. Let’s look at some of the key issues. First, is the labeling of “mean girls”.

Paul writes,

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Now that is a pretty big statement. Mean girls, mean moms. Nice girls, nice moms.  Seems too broad and more importantly, what do we do with that?

Who of us has not made many a snarky comment about how someone looks or acts? Or not had zillions of mean thoughts about someone?  Not you, not me. All of us have a mean part. Too often we label the whole person by looking at just one of their characteristics. No one is defined by one quality- we are all made up of a multitude of parts. A care-taking part of our personality, a sad part, a courageous part, and a part that lashes out.  This mean part develops to protect us- to make us feel better and to shield us from feeling shame, rejection, or loneliness.

Take this scenario: You show up at the park with your kids and see two mothers from school sitting together on the bench talking. You automatically feel nervous because you are a lone adult and would love some company. In a nano second the following inner experience takes place: You wonder if you should approach the two mothers. You think one of the women sees you but turns away. Immediately, the mean part jumps out to protect you by thinking, “They are such snobs, and their kids are out of control. At least I pay attention to my kids in the park!” You walk to the other end of the park.

When looking at it closer, that mean part just doesn’t want you to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It wants you to feel strong, better in fact. The same is true with children. Imagine the same scenario at the writing center at school. The mean part in a little kid is just as protecting as an adult, and an intimidated child will likely have the same reaction.

Talking to kids about their mean parts -not telling them that they are mean- will help them to stop bullying.

But here’s the really tough part.

“The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Parents of kids that bully or condescend to others need to hold up a mirror to their own behavior. One-upsmanship, criticizing others for not being as smart, as rich, as pretty, as athletic, etc. in an ongoing way will create children who feel they have the freedom to do the same. Parents that have a strong mean part will most likely have kids that develop one too. So the first step in combatting relational bullying is to shine a light on your own need to put others down. Take that mean part in hand, recognize that it is protecting you and help that part of you to stop hurting other people.  This is the key to making our children safe psychologically, emotionally and physically.

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It’s Not Their Character, It’s Their Behavior
September 14, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on It’s Not Their Character, It’s Their Behavior

Raising children is the most emotional work you will do. When your children act up, act out, or go through a new stage it is hard not to equate that behavior with their whole personality. Mothers of young toddlers testing limits will say, “She’s so manipulative all of a sudden. “A preschooler who is clingy in the first weeks of school’s parent will say, “He’s a totally different child, he’s usually so confident.” The parent of a sulky teenager will lament, “He’s such negative person!” It is so hard to keep perspective that these new phases or behaviors are just that — behaviors. They are not your child’s character, they are not even their whole self at this time.  They are parts of your children. A curious mischievous part, a worried part in need of reassurance, a solitary part that wants privacy.

No one part of our child defines them. We just have an easier time with the parts of them that are gratifying and not challenging.  The reactions to negative behaviors can be kept in perspective when we remember that we WANT our children to show us all the parts of themselves. That way we can help the parts that are struggling rather than try to stamp them out.

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