What Punitive Environments Do to Kids, According to Science

Everyone now knows that discipline is not synonymous with punishment. Discipline is about teaching appropriate behaviour. Punishment is about control.

According to the available research, raising kids in punitive environments can have far reaching consequences that extend well into adulthood.

First things first. What does a “punitive environment” really mean? Punitive environments are those characterised by harsh physical and verbal punishment.

  • If you occasionally yell at your kids, that’s not a punitive environment.
  • If you criticize your kids severely every single day, that’s a punitive environment.
  • If you’re physically violent with your kids, you’re raising them in a punitive environment.

Punitive environments destroy kids’ sense of worth and can even destroy their lives. They have a negative impact on kids social, emotional and psychological well being.

What research says about punitive environments

1) Punitive environments make children more dishonest

A recent study analysed whether or not punitive environments had an impact on the lie-telling behavior of 3- and 4-year old kids.

The experimenter placed a toy behind a child then explained that she had to leave the room. The instructions given were “Don’t turn round to peek and look at the toy when I am gone”. The child’s behaviour was recorded using a hidden camera.

After one minute, the experimenter came back and asked whether or not the kid had turned around to look at the toy. The study found that kids raised in punitive environments were more dishonest and used more elaborate lies to conceal their dishonesty.

This conclusion confirmed earlier studies that found that children raised in punitive environments were likely to develop deception to avoid punishment, even for minor transgressions.

impact of punishment on kids and how to discipline kids

2) Punitive environments can lead to behavioural problems

One 4-year study examined what impact mothers’ harsh discipline practises had on young kids before they joined preschool.

The study found that the kids who had harsh and hostile mothers had more behaviour problems at school.

In a different study, researchers found that children raised in punitive environments were more likely to display alcohol-related problems in adolescence.

Yet another study has recently found that kids who describe their parents as authoritarian are more likely to display delinquent behaviour over time.

3) Children raised in punitive environments are more likely to be bullied or become bullies themselves

Several studies have found that punitive environments are associated with bullying and victimization. One study found that kids raised in punitive environments are more likely to display bullying behavior or to accept bullying as they consider that using force is acceptable. A recent study has come to a similar conclusion – kids raised using authoritarian parenting styles are more likely to become bullies.

4) Children raised in punitive environments have lower academic scores

Using a large and diverse sample comprising more than 7000 students, one study found that children raised in punitive environments were more likely to have lower school grades. The same results were found for all ethnic groups.

In a second research, two studies comprising a total of 131 5- to 6-year-olds were conducted to determine the impact of criticism or praise on tasks.

The study found that kids who were criticized had significantly more “helpless” responses than those who received praise.

The study showed that punitive environments can negatively affect kids’ performance.

5) Punitive environments can lead to psychological problems

Several studies have found that there is a link between punitive environments and psychological issues.

In one study, researchers found that children with authoritarian parents suffer from low self-esteem. Other studies have come to similar conclusions:

  • Kids raised in punitive environments are more likely to be socially inept.
  • Kids raised in punitive environments are likely to have fewer friends.
  • Kids raised in punitive environments are likely to suffer from depression in adulthood. They are also more likely to suffer from anxiety.
  • Kids raised in punitive environments are more likely to experience difficulty managing their emotions.

punitive environments and kids

Although many studies have found a relationship between punitive environments and negative outcomes, some studies have failed to find a link between the two.

For instance, according to one study, although juvenile offenders raised in democratic families functioned better than those raised in punitive environments, there was no link between punitive environments and psychological problems.

Where punitive environments work

According to some studies, authoritarian parenting is more effective than democratic parenting in certain contexts.

If punitive parenting is a cultural norm, it is less likely to have serious repercussions on kids unless if extreme punishment is used. In other words, culture plays a great role in educational, social and psychological outcomes.

Other studies have found that kids raised in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are more likely to benefit from authoritarian than from the other parenting styles;

Most studies, however, argue that the kids who thrive are raised in authoritative families, i.e., where democratic parenting styles reign.

Being mindful about how we discipline can help improve how we communicate with kids. Moreover, when we’re firm and receptive, we increase the chances that our kids will be better adjusted socially, academically and psychologically.

Are you struggling with your kid’s discipline issues? Join my free email course and get tips to help you adopt a more intentional discipline approach.


How to Help Kids Forge Habits That Stick

Helping kids create good habits

Habits dictate life. They dictate how we think about almost everything, how we react to situations and what we do or don’t do. Daily habits dictate our success or failure. As Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do”.

Evidence suggests that many habits formed early in life tend to stick tenaciously in adulthood. According to a recent study, routines and habits are unlikely to vary after age nine. A different study suggests that by age seven, kids have already formed their money habits. Other recent studies have reached the conclusion that “fattening habits may be set in childhood”. In other words, most of the habits observed in adulthood are set during the childhood years.

The thing with habits is that once they’re set, they can become terribly difficult to undo. Reversing bad habits often requires a large dose of willpower and multiple attempts that frequently prove unfruitful.

Fortunately, there are ways to help kids break bad habits or form good ones.

1) Keep it simple

Whether you want to make or break your kid’s habits, focusing on one habit at a time is likely to be more successful than attempting to deal with everything at once. For instance, you’re more likely to be successful if you focus on one or two inappropriate behaviours you would like to change rather than on “everything” that needs changing.

Once you’ve selected what needs changing, taking small regular actions keeps it more manageable and increases your chances of success. Think about it. If you want to write an article, your best bet is to break it down into manageable sections – introduction, main body, conclusion – then start by working on each section rather than on the article as a whole.

Similarly, you don’t lose weight by saying “I want to lose weight.” You lose weight by taking small simple steps each day: I’ll run for 20 minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Or no more alcohol or cheese except during the weekend.

The same applies when it comes to helping kids make or break habits. Asking your kid to play a musical instrument or read a book for 10 minutes every day is likely to lead to better results than expecting too much too soon.

getting rid of kid's bad habits

2) Get specific

Say you want your kid to be “more creative”. Simply asking him to be more creative isn’t likely to get you very far. Get more specific. What does “more creative” mean and how can you help him develop creative habits?

For instance, some activities can help foster kids’ creativity so it’s important to schedule time for your kid to engage in those activities.

Moreover, encouraging creativity also means providing the right environment and the right resources for your kid.

Getting specific also means establishing firm rules. If you’d like your kid to tidy up his toys, set rules in line with your decision, then be as consistent as possible. For instance, telling your kid “you can play video games once you’ve tidied up” then letting him play although his toys are strewn all over the place is unlikely to help change his habits.

Remember to be specific about amounts and durations – “you can play video games for 30 minutes once you’ve tidied up” “you can have 2 cookies.”

Remember to be consistent, even when it’s a pain.

3) Don’t give up

One of the reasons we’re often unable to change bad habits or form good ones is because of lack of consistency. We all know that it’s hard to be consistent every single time and that things don’t always go as planned. Giving up is the fastest way to failure.

When you’re tired and frustrated, reflect on what inspired you to try and change your kid’s habits. What helpful books and resources helped you decide to give change a try? Go back to them and re-read them. Think about how changing that habit – or forming a new one – will be beneficial. Reflecting on what got you started can get you back on track.

4) Don’t forget the power of positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement works, but only if it’s carried out appropriately. Remember to celebrate even the smallest victories because it is these victories that will help motivate your kid.

Using “tricks” such as incentive charts to reinforce good behaviour has also been found to be highly effective especially with young kids. Incentive charts are also great tools because they encourage kids to be active participants (for instance your kid can be responsible for sticking a sticker every time he’s awarded a point) and can make reaching the target behaviour more fun.

An incentive chart works by selecting one specific behaviour, then giving a specific number of points each time your child displays that behaviour. You then add up the points on a daily or weekly basis to determine the reward your kid gets when he or she obtains a specific number of points.

The thing with habits is that they’re tenacious things. Don’t expect too much too soon. Rarely do people succeed in changing bad habits or developing good ones overnight. Cut your kid some slack and be prepared for this uphill task. More importantly, be prepared to help her dust herself off and try again.


Which of your kid’s habits would you like to make or break? Clearly identify the habit and break it down into manageable phases. What does he need to do every day to get him closer to or away from that habit?

Subscribe below and receive posts like this one directly in your inbox every Monday. You’ll also get a free ebook!


What to do When Your Kid’s the Mean Kid

Being “mean” is part of being kids. Kids speak meanly to each other and call each other names all the time. When kids say “I’m not your friend anymore” or “I don’t want to play with you“, it’s often a short-lived and harmless episode that is quickly forgotten.

The darker side of teasing between kids is that it can turn into bullying.

Much of the available information on bullying suggests that bullies often display other behavioural problems and are more likely to have poor academic grades.

Some studies suggest that kids raised in punitive environments, i.e., environments characterized by harsh physical and verbal punishment, are more likely to become bullies. Yet, as with all things, there are often exceptions. Against all odds, a well-adjusted kid with above-average grades raised in a loving family can turn into a bully.

The available research suggests that kids’ tendency to bully is far more widespread than we might believe. According to the iSafe Foundation, approximately 53 per cent of kids have said something mean or hurtful to someone else online.

Other studies conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that approximately 53 per cent of kids from grades 6 to 10 confessed to having bullied someone. These studies suggest that kids often “test out” bullying for different reasons.

Bullying can be:

• Verbal, for example, name-calling and disrespectful comments about someone’s physical appearance
• Relational, for example excluding someone from a group (games, lunch, sports, etc.)
• Physical, i.e., involving aggressive behaviour
• Cyberbullying, i.e., bullying that occurs online


1) Don’t let the shock blind you to the reality

No one expects their kid to turn into a bully so it often comes as a shock when you get “that call” or note from school. The first instinct for most parents is to protect their kid and try to find out how the other kid “provoked him or her”.

Take the time you need to process the information and get over your disappointment then find out exactly what happened. Listen attentively and avoid apportioning blame. Your kid needs to know that you take bullying seriously.

2) Your kid’s bullying is not necessarily a reflection of your parenting

If you bully your kid, he’s more likely to bully others. On most occasions, however, kids’ reasons for bullying have nothing to do with how they’re raised. Kids can bully because they see others kids doing it, or because it makes them feel powerful, or because they’re jealous. While your kid’s bullying doesn’t necessarily imply poor parenting skills, how you react to his behaviour may be decisive in getting him to stop.

3) Teach kids that bullying is never cool

In reality, bullying is everywhere. Politicians bully others all the time and almost everyone has encountered some form of adult bullying. Kids who think bullying is “normal behaviour” because of what they see around them need to know that bullying is never cool.

Always take action when bullying is involved. Ask your kid how she would feel if someone did the same thing to her. The good thing about bullying is that it’s a habit and like all habits, it can be unlearnt.

When we let kids know that bullying, for any reason, is unacceptable behaviour, we teach them that they are accountable for their actions. Make sure your kid knows the consequences of bullying: apologise verbally or write a letter, write an essay about how she’d feel if she was bullied, fewer privileges, etc.


4) Focus on solutions

Finding out why your kid feels the need to bully others is the first step in finding a lasting solution. For instance, if your child bullies to avoid being bullied, teaching him other ways to resolve conflict might help give him the tools he needs and end his behaviour.

It’s easier to find an appropriate solution when you know the reasons underlying his behaviour, but you get better results when you avoid being harsh and aggressive. Remember that when we react to our kids aggressively, we teach them that aggressiveness is an appropriate reaction when we’re upset.

5) Cooperate with the authorities

When your child has been identified as a bully, cooperating with the school authorities can help put a stop to the bullying without victimizing your kid. School authorities are more likely to help when they see parents’ disapproval of the situation and their determination to find a solution. Put yourself in the shoes of the bullied kid’s family. How would you like them to react?

Be prepared before meeting the authorities by being absolutely certain of the details. The best way to get the details is to let your kid know that “honesty pays”. Knowing everything you need to know will make it easier to ensure that the consequences for your kid’s behaviour are appropriate and in line with the school bullying philosophy.

Ultimately, the easiest way to stop mean behaviour is to deal with the reasons behind that behaviour first.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below to get evidence-based parenting information directly in your inbox every Monday!


How Parenting Influences Kids’ Early Cognitive Development

how parenting affects kids cognitive development

The controversy about whether kids’ ability to acquire intelligence and problem-solving skills is determined by nature or nurture has now been laid to rest. Nurture matters just as much as nature when it comes to kids’ cognitive development.

Cognitive development is defined as kids’ ability to think and understand. It relates to the development of skills such as language acquisition, the ability to keep information in mind, problem-solving skills and kids’ ability to increasingly understand underlying abstract rules as they grow older.

Research has found that certain parenting behaviours are associated with early cognitive development. Kids perform better when parents are involved, but parental involvement doesn’t necessarily refer to the amount of time spent with kids. It can also refer to teacher-parent communication, parents’ expectations of their kids, how parents communicate with their kids about school-related issues, parental involvement in school-related activities and meetings, etc.

In one research, 187 parents participated in a study which examined their kids from birth through third grade. The objective of the study was to determine the relationship between parental beliefs, parental behaviour and children’s achievement.

The study found that mothers’ level of education, parental involvement in school, and parental expectations had an effect on kids’ achievement in third grade. Although, the study failed to determine whether it is these early parenting factors that cause student achievement, its findings were consistent with other studies that suggest that parents can help kids develop cognitive skills.

Helping kids develop cognitive skills.

1) Choose toys and games that foster the development of cognitive skills

The power of games in the development of cognitive skills cannot be estimated. Different games teach kids different skills.

Much evidence supports the benefits of constructive play and the ability of toys such as blocks to help kids develop cognitive skills. Even games such as “Simon says” helps kids learn about focus and concentration.

The best way to foster the development of cognitive skills is to vary the toys your kids have access to – construction toys, puzzles, dot-to-dot drawings, picture memory games, etc.

2) Encourage kids to make decisions

Letting kids make decisions by themselves enables them to develop their cognitive skills. Even young kids benefit from structured decision-making. When we encourage kids to make decisions within specific frameworks – do you want to take your shower right now or immediately after your snack – we help them

When we encourage kids to make decisions within specific frameworks – do you want to take your shower right now or immediately after your snack – we help them practice their decision-making skills.

We can also encourage kids to develop problem-solving skills by constantly asking them questions – What do you think? What would you do differently? How do you think we can solve this?

3) Make use of technological advances

Many online resources propose fun ways through which kids can be active participants and develop important development skills. Most of these games force kids to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills as they require them to come up with solutions within a set period of time. There is evidence that video games can help kids thrive.

4) Encourage kids to develop a reading culture

Reading and storytelling are powerful tools that can help kids develop their cognitive skills. Stories force kids to pay attention and work on their memory skills. They also help them develop their language acquisition skills.

As one study suggests, books are more effective in teaching new vocabulary because adults tend to use the same words to communicate. In other words, books are more likely to use new words kids are unaware of. However, not all books are created equal. Remember to choose the right books. Kids’ books should catch their attention and should be beautifully written. They should also use age-appropriate vocabulary.

5) Encourage kids to sing along

When we encourage kids to sing along, we help them develop their cognitive skills. Singing requires kids to memorize words and rhythms, and this helps them sharpen these skills. Songs can also help kids learn new words and can thus help in language acquisition.

6) Make sure that kids get enough sleep

There have been suggestions that the amount and quality of sleep affects kids’ cognitive development. One study, for instance, found that non-regular bedtimes were related to lower cognitive test scores at specific ages.

Although other studies have come to similar conclusions, it is still not possible to conclude that less intelligent kids are the result of poor sleep patterns alone.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below to get evidence-based parenting information directly in your inbox every Monday!


What to do When Fear Drives Your Parenting


We’ve all heard about kids’ irrational fears of specific things or situations. Turns out that parents have those fears too. Problem is, sometimes fear takes up more space than it should and becomes crippling.

A chorus of voices is saying that parents’ preoccupation with safety is taking away childhood and keeping kids away from independence and discovery. Over-protectiveness has been associated with mental health problems for kids.

Other studies have found that over-protected kids tend to be shyer and to have a more difficult time adjusting to pre-school.

No one can deny that risks are everywhere. In reality, though, the chances of life-changing disasters are rather slim. That doesn’t mean that parents worry less about potential risks and dangers that can “change everything”. Surprisingly, the things that fuel our fears are rather similar.

Tips to get the upper hand over common parenting fears.

Stranger danger

Kidnappings, abductions, lost kids – who hasn’t heard of the dreadful things that can happen if we don’t keep an eye on our kids? One of parents’ common fears is that their children will come to harm from strangers. A few studies on the issue have found that children are experiencing less independent play and fewer opportunities for exploration because of this parental fear.

How to calm the fear

Instead of teaching kids to fear strangers, we need to teach them to identify “strange behaviour”. Remember that when kids who have been taught to fear strangers are in trouble, they might be unable to reach out to an adult, even when that adult can help. If you’re overwhelmed with fear, enrolling your kids in children’s self-defence classes may help calm the fear.

Fear of sexual abuse

Child molestation is one of parents’ greatest fears.

How to calm the fear

Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is a real issue. Before they turn 18, 10% of all children will have encountered some form of abuse. The most effective way of calming your fear is to help your kid to “not become a victim.”

Getting vocal about sexual abuse can help keep your kids safe. Talking to them about inappropriate contact and keeping open communication lines will make it easier for them to come to you about anything.

reducing parenting fears

Fear of kids coming to physical harm

When we are constantly afraid that our kids will get hurt, we tend to limit “risky play” in an attempt to keep them safe. Yet kids need some form of risky play.

A recent study found that kids’ coping skills improve when they are exposed to behaviours that provide exhilarating positive emotions and when they are gradually exposed to the stimuli they previously feared. The study found that hindering kids from partaking in age-appropriate risky play could lead to increased personality disorders.

How to calm the fear

“Risky play” is not synonymous with “dangerous play.”

Sandseter, a risky play researcher, has identified six categories of risky play:

1) Play with great heights
2) Play with high speed
3) Play with harmful tools
4) Play near dangerous elements
5) Rough‐and‐tumble play
6) Play where the children can ‘disappear’/get lost.

When kids engage in risky play, they learn important skills which help foster independence. To overcome fear, it is important to propose age-appropriate risky play.

For example, before allowing your kid to use a knife, you can wait until he masters the use of sharp scissors.

When you let kids play near a fire in your presence, you teach them about how to react when danger is nearby. When kids engage in rough – and tumble – play, they learn how to negotiate aggression and how to play cooperatively.

By providing opportunities for kids to “get lost”, Sandseter means that kids should be allowed to explore on their own. Even when you have an irrational fear of your kids getting hurt, you can provide opportunities where they alone decide what to do and how to do it. Encouraging kids to practice decision-making does not only teach them about being responsible for their actions, it can also help with procrastination.

Fear of kids being unhappy

Unlike with past generations, today’s education is no longer a guarantee against economic hardship. The recent economic crises have not helped calm parents’ fears. Many parents are worried about what the future holds for their kids. They fear that their children will lack the skills to be happy and fulfilled adults.

How to calm the fear

It has become increasingly clear that how we raise our kids matters. Some parenting habits can help foster independence in kids and teach them to adapt to different situations.

Instead of worrying about what kind of life your kids will have, prepare them to make it, no matter what comes their way.

tips to help calm parenting fears

Fear of kids being bullied (and cyber bullying)

The fear of kids being bullied is one of the most common parenting fears. Bullying is indeed a serious concern. A recent report found that up to 50% of children had experienced some form of bullying or had been bullies themselves. Bullying can have far-reaching social and psychological consequences. Unfortunately, bullying can occur as early as preschool.

How to calm the fear

When we are attentive to our kids, we are better able to notice changes in behaviour and better able to find the root causes. Don’t hesitate to talk to your kids’ teachers when you notice drastic changes.

Kids need to know that it is their right to feel safe at school. The problem with explaining bullying behaviour to young kids is that they can’t always differentiate acts of bullying. Kids need to know that persistent acts of intimidation are unacceptable.

When we use age appropriate language to talk to kids about bullying, we make it easier for them to recognize and speak out about bullying episodes. It is important that kids know that they can talk to you or a trusted adult if they are bullied or see someone being bullied.

We can also teach our kids behaviours to reduce chances of bullying. Parenting expert Michele Borba suggests that young kids can be taught to make themselves less inviting targets. She says that teaching kids to look into the eyes of the people they’re speaking to (or into the bully’s eyes), makes it less likely for them to be easy targets for bullies.

Kids are spending more time online today so it’s important to be a part of their online life to help prevent cyber bullying. Being aware of what your kids are watching and who they’re communicating with can help calm fear. Define clear boundaries about your kids’ online use and be ready to enforce them every time.

The thing to remember when you allow fear to drive your parenting is that you can’t be with your kids 24/7. Knowing that they have the tools to protect themselves, to an extent, can help calm many parental fears.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below to get evidence-based parenting information directly in your inbox every Monday!


What Experts Say About Kids and Video Games

video games and kids

The available information on video games is much too conflicting and continues to leave us in the dark.

  • Is there such a thing as too much or not quite enough when it comes to kids and video games?
  • Should kids be allowed to play for a specific period every day or only over the weekend?
  • Do video games really make kids more aggressive?

Scientific results have remained inconclusive.

A few studies suggest that video games can help kids develop problem-solving skills, resilience, and can even enhance their creativity.

A recent study analyzed the gaming habits of 2436 male and 2463 female 10- to 15- year olds and found that video games are comparable to other forms of imaginative play. In other words, video games can help kids develop creative skills.

Gaming, however, has also been found to increase aggressive behaviour, although the link between video games and violent behaviour is yet to be conclusively determined.

There have been reports that “gaming addiction” can lead to social, emotional and academic problems. Excessive gaming has also been associated with social isolation, depression and anxiety, and poor academic performance.

The impact of technology on kids has received much interest over the years. The results have shown that video games can help kids thrive, but not always.

What experts say about video games

1) Video games aren’t supposed to be boredom busters.

It’s easy to use video games to keep kids occupied but experts warn that turning to video games to burst boredom is not the answer. They suggest that constantly turning to digital distractions can be harmful and that letting kids experience boredom is good for them. However, it’s important to make boredom constructive. In other words, we need to provide kids with opportunities and environments that foster creativity.

2) The PEGI rating system is an awesome resource

The Games Rating Authority provides helpful information about video game ratings to help you choose age-appropriate games. While it doesn’t judge games, it provides in-depth information about how much and what type of violence is featured in a game.

It also provides information on bad language and sex, making it easier for you to make an informed decision.

3) The more the merrier

According to the video games expert, Jane McGonigal, playing video games with others boosts trust and empathy. There is some evidence that intergenerational gaming may have a positive impact on adolescent development and strengthen family bonds.

Researchers suggest that “video game play can become a point of conversation, not a point of conflict.” Getting involved in your kid’s video games can also make it easier to transform games into “learning tools.” The more involved you are, the easier it is to select appropriate games depending on your child’s age, skills, and passion.

kids playing video games

4) How much is too much?

There is no official recommended screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under 18 months, and one to two hours a day for older kids (with a maximum of an hour a day for kids under age five).

A different study suggests that playing up to 3 hours is fine and that anything beyond that can lead to a negative adjustment. Then, there has been the alarmist claim that letting kids play video games for anything beyond two hours a week (yes, you read that right!) can reduce their social abilities.

Basically what the research is saying is that you’re on your own on this. You alone can judge how much is too much depending on the impact gaming has on your kid.

5) Treat video games as a privilege

According to Dr. Brent Conrad of tech addiction, video games should be treated as a privilege a kid is entitled to only after he or she has appropriately completed other responsibilities.

Dr. Conrad suggests that it’s never too late to set up a regular gaming schedule to teach kids that gaming time is earned (after all other activities are accomplished), rather than an entitlement.

The inconclusive results of gaming research can be explained by the fact that this research is still in its early stages. What it really comes down to is this: don’t let your kids play games all day.

If your kid is playing excessively and doing nothing much else, then there’s a problem. When gaming starts affecting other areas of your kid’s life, then he’s playing way too much. It’s all about balance.

Further reading: 6 evidence-based reasons why video games help kids thrive

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below to get evidence-based parenting information directly in your inbox every Monday!


Providing an Appropriate Framework to Help Kids Manage Emotions

kids anger and anxiety

Researchers have defined emotion regulation as the ability to exert some form of control over our emotions. According to the emotion regulation researcher James Gross, emotion regulation refers to our ability to choose our emotions, when we have them, how we experience them and how we feel them.

Much of the available emotion regulation research suggests that people often turn to similar emotion regulation strategies. Gross has identified 5 common strategies people use in an attempt to manage their emotions.

Common emotion regulation strategies

1) Situation selection 

Situation selection refers to the conscious decision to avoid emotion-inducing situations. For instance, when you encourage your kid to choose soccer because he’s afraid of water, you allow him to avoid the anxiety that swimming classes would provoke.

Although avoiding anxiety-provoking situations can help regulate emotions, this is a quick fix solution that overlooks underlying issues.

2) Situation modification

Situation modification is a common emotion regulation strategy that involves making an effort to find a satisfactory solution to an anxiety-provoking situation.

For instance, if your kid is scared of swimming, talking with her swimming instructor to brainstorm possible solutions and choose the best option to help her gradually overcome her anxiety can be an effective emotion regulation strategy.

3) Attentional deployment

Attentional deployment is defined as the ability to draw attention away from emotionally disturbing situations. It involves an effort to direct one’s attention either away from or towards emotional situations. Some of the most common attentional deployment strategies used are:

– Distraction. There is evidence that distraction, i.e., diverting one’s attention from emotional information that is difficult to process may be an effective emotion regulation strategy

– Rumination, i.e., focusing one’s attention on the negative emotions and their consequences is an example of a maladaptive attentional deployment strategy. In other words, some studies have found that repetitively focusing on feelings and their consequences may increase emotional distress and even lead to longer and more severe depressive symptoms.

– Thought suppression is another attentional deployment strategy that works by changing one’s thoughts and mental images in order to attain a positive emotional state. However, thought suppression has also been associated with psychological disorders over the long term.

4) Cognitive change 

Cognitive change refers to changing how we see situations in order to change the associated emotional meaning. Cognitive change strategies involve reappraising situations, distancing oneself from the situation physically or psychologically, or using humour.

5) Response modulation

Gross defines response modulation as “an attempt to directly influence experiential, behavioural, and physiological response systems.” Common response modulation strategies include drug use, exercise, and sleep.

Drawing on the strategies presented above, we can present kids with an appropriate framework to help them respond to emotions in a socially appropriate manner.

The first thing we need to teach kids is that emotions are normal reactions, but that screaming, biting, tantrums and general misbehaviour is not an acceptable manner to express these emotions. To do so, kids need to be provided with the tools with which they can express their emotions appropriately.

kids difficult emotions

Helping kids develop an appropriate framework to address emotions

A calm-down jar is an effective tool which can help your child learn to manage strong emotions by herself. It is a jar in which you place papers or images on which different activities are proposed. Your child can turn to the calm-down jar and pick an activity whenever he or she experiences strong emotions.

An effective calm-down jar should have:

  • Visually calming activities: sand-timer, sensory jar, indoor fountain, etc.
  • Activities to unwind: Blow bubbles, blow a balloon, colour a mandala, read a book, listen to music, etc.
  • Activities to comfort: Favourite toys, hugs
  • Activities to focus attention elsewhere: Rubik’s cube, dot-to-dot pictures, images that induce positive emotions, etc
  • Physical activities to release tension: ride a bike, skip rope, jump on a trampoline, push against a wall, etc.
  • Things to hold or squeeze: Stress balls, etc. Oral sensory activities: chewing gum, eat an apple, etc.

The easiest way to get the calm-down jar to work is to involve your kid in coming up with the calm-down strategy. Remember that there is evidence that involving kids in the decision-making process makes it more likely for them to stick to the decisions made.

As far as possible, let your child choose her own calm-down strategy and propose many options to allow her to change if need be. The more ideas you have the better!

Once you’ve selected appropriate responses to strong emotions, write these down or print them out (images also make a nice addition) and put them in the calm-down jar. Don’t forget to place the jar where your child can easily reach it.

dealing with tantrums and anger

An alternative to a calm-down jar is a calm-down box. The only difference is that instead of pieces of papers or images with ideas of calm-down activities, you can place actual objects (for example books, CDs, stress balls, puzzles, etc.) in the box and leave it in an easily accessible location. Every time your kid needs to calm down, he or she can pick an item from the box.

Remember though, that before kids can be taught to address their emotions, they need to be aware of those emotions first. Using age-appropriate strategies to talk to young kids about emotions is, therefore, the first step in helping your child learn to regulate his or her emotions.

It’s equally important to keep in mind that while many of the strategies above may help kids regulate their emotions, they only offer short-term relief. In other words, these strategies do not help you understand and deal with underlying issues.

Moreover, they do not allow your kid to be aware of how these emotions are manifested in his or her body.  I explore some of the strategies you can use to help uncover kids’ emotion-inducing events in my Ebook “Anger and Anxiety Toolkit. A practical toolkit for ages 3 to 8” which you can read about here.

Where do you go from here?

  • If you haven’t begun talking to your child about emotions, it’s never too late to start. Remember to keep it “short and sweet.” Below are a few resources to help you get started:

Why and How to Talk to Kids About Emotions

3 Fun Ways to Talk Emotions With Your Kids

  • If your child is already aware of different emotions, brainstorm different ideas to help him or her identify appropriate ways to express emotions and come up with your calm-down jar.
  • Although strong emotions are normal human reactions, they may also point to more serious issues. It is important to know when to seek professional help.

Is your child struggling with strong emotions such as anger and anxiety? Join my free anger and anxiety email course and find resources to help!


What Montessori Can Teach You About Holistic Parenting

Much has been said and written about the Montessori education philosophy. Montessori education has many fans, but it has also received its fair amount of criticism. It has been criticized for placing way too much emphasis on kids, failing to “reign-in” kids, and its absence of standardised outcomes.

The Montessori method, however, has stood the test of time. Studies undertaken on this education philosophy have found that kids enrolled in Montessori programs have better academic outcomes, notably in math and science scores.

Other studies have found that Montessori-schooled kids are more creative, have a higher sense of community, have more advanced social skills, and are more likely to have a sense of justice and equity than kids enrolled in traditional schools.  The book “Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius”, provides evidence suggesting that scientific research significantly supports Montessori’s major insights.

The bad news is that most families cannot afford a Montessori education. Ironically, Montessori education started off as a philosophy to help Italy’s poorest kids. Today, it is way too costly for most parents. There is good news, however.  The principles underlying the Montessori method are quite simple and many of these can easily be applied at home.

Below we explore 10 Montessori principles using 10 famous Montessori quotes to help you adopt a holistic approach to parenting:

1 | “Help me to help myself.”

One of Montessori’s principle beliefs is that provided with the right environment and the right tools, kids can accomplish much by themselves.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Ensure that you only give kids tools they can easily manipulate.

• If your home is organised in a way that enables kids to reach objects, they are more likely to participate in everyday activities. For instance, using low shelves for toys enables kids to put away their toys by themselves.

• When we provide kids with clothing that enables them to dress up by themselves (for instance, no zippers no shoe laces, etc.), the less help they need to dress. However, we need to be attentive to kids’ ages. As kids grow older, being able to manipulate zippers and shoe laces helps them develop a sense of success.

• Choose clothes that allow your child freedom of movement.

raising independent kids

2 | “The simplicity or imperfection of external objects often serves to develop the activity and the dexterity of the pupils.”

Many education philosophers agree with Montessori’s idea that kids do not need expensive toys. Montessori education believes that it is important to let kids explore objects in their natural environment.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Choose simple toys your child can manipulate.

• The most important thing when choosing toys is their safety and what they teach your child.

3 | “To give a child liberty is not to abandon him to himself.”

Although Montessori education believes that kids need structure, Montessori argued that what they really need is “freedom within a structure.” “To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.

How to become a Montessori parent

Provide or propose stimulating activities, then let your child be free to choose.

• Giving a child freedom also means teaching him about consequences. When we teach kids about natural consequences, we help them develop inner discipline.

4 | “To assist a child, we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.”

Many researchers agree that to thrive, kids need routine and order from a very early age. Their environment must, therefore, make it possible to maintain order.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Kids can be taught about order from the youngest age. When we teach kids to pick up after themselves (put toys, books, etc. away when they’re done playing, put away clothes, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket, etc), they learn early about maintaining order. However, this can only work if kids have easy access (for example to toy rack or laundry basket)

• Being consistent and sticking to schedules is beneficial for children.• Limit the number of toys. A recent study found that too many toys stifle children’s creativity.

5 | “As soon as children find something that interests them, they lose their instability and learn to concentrate.”

The best way to catch your kid’s interest is to propose something she’s interested in.

How to become a Montessori parent

Encouraging kids to participate in decision-making has multiple benefits. Encourage your child to choose what he would like to do.

• There is evidence that kids are more likely to stick to decisions whey they feel responsible for their choice.

• Identifying your kid’s interests and proposing multiple activities in line with those interests is more likely to keep her interested.

montessori at home

6 | “Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind.”

Much like Dewey’s “learning by doing” theory, Montessori education believes that kids learn best when they’re active observers and when they’re given opportunities to imitate adults.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Encourage make-believe play.

• Propose hands-on experiences to your child. For instance, she can start her own garden.

• Encourage your child to help.

• Give your kid multiple opportunities to play with real-life objects, such as grains, rice, beans, etc.)

7 | “The child builds his inmost self out of the deeply held impressions he receives.”

The development of children’s sense of self is influenced by how they think we perceive them. When we treat our kids as important, independent beings with feelings of their own, we teach them that they are important and that their feelings are valid.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Treat kids with respect.

• Make eye contact. Get down to your children’s level and talk to them.

• Become your child’s emotion coach by learning why and how to talk to kids about emotions.

• Learn how to use positive affirmations with kids the right way

• Model the behaviour you would like your child to adopt.

8 | “What is generally known as discipline in traditional schools is not activity, but immobility and silence. It is not discipline, but something that festers inside a child, arousing his rebellious feelings.”

Discipline and punishment are not synonymous.

How to become a Montessori parent

Discipline with intention. Discipline is about teaching specific behaviour, not about punishment.

• We often forget that kids will be kids. Don’t expect your child to act older than she is.

9 | “It is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.”

Love is good, but it’s not enough. We often have to work on our parenting skills.

How to become a Montessori parent

• What parenting values really matter to you? What character traits would you like to see in your child? How are you working towards these?

• Remember that kids watch us more than they listen to us. Be the person you would like them to be.

10 | “There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all of the life to be found around them in a real forest.”

Children learn best by being left to explore their environment.

How to become a Montessori parent

• Help your kids connect with nature every day.

• Nature provides us with thousands of opportunities. Help your kids engage with nature by showing them how: smelling the flowers, collecting leaves, stones, observing insects, naming the different colours in her environment, etc.

Where do you go from here?
  • Observe how your home is organised. Can you make it more accessible for your kids?
  • How many toys do your kids have? Do they need them all? Make a conscious decision to reduce the toys and keep only those that really matter. Remember that taming the toys helps kids thrive.
  • Make an effort to help kids connect with nature this week. Propose at least one activity (nature walk, park) etc. and help them engage with their environment by asking them what they see, smell, or hear.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe here to get posts like these directly in your inbox every Tuesday.

An initial version of this post appeared on the site parent.co


How to Promote Kids’ Overall Wellbeing

You’ve probably heard about self-regulation. Self-regulation is what makes some kids encounter social and academic success, and makes those who lack it struggle with lack of concentration, poor focus, and difficult emotions.

Kids who have developed self-regulation skills are more school-ready than those who haven’t. Science suggests that self-regulation might just be the key to kids’ overall well-being.

Studies on self-regulation suggest that when kids develop this skill, they are better able to listen attentively (pay attention), think, then take action. They are also more likely to become critical thinkers and to practice self-control

Fortunately, according to research, three parenting habits can foster kids’ self-regulation skills.

The only 3 things you need to know to teach kids about self-regulation
1) Become a sensitive parent

Parental sensitivity has been linked to kids’ early cognitive development. Kids, and even toddlers, consistently send us signals. How we respond to them can help them develop self-regulation skills.

Several studies have found that “sensitive parenting” helps children’s cognitive development. Sensitive parenting in the first years of life (during the first 3 years) has a positive impact in early childhood and well beyond.

Evidence suggests that kids raised by sensitive parents have richer vocabulary, are more likely to be school-ready and are also better at problem solving.

Becoming a sensitive parent means being more attuned to kids’ behavior. It means being able to perceive and understand kids’ signals and respond to them appropriately.

How to become a sensitive parent

Sensitive parenting is similar to authoritative parenting insofar as it requires parents to set high expectations but to be warm and receptive. Kids thrive when we set high expectations.

Sensitive parents support their kids in times of distress and act as their kids’ emotion coach. They provide a context where kids feel safe and are provided with resources to manage difficult feelings and events.

Further reading: How and why to talk to kids about emotions

Sensitive parents foster their kids’ independence.

2) Become a mind-minded parent

Mind-minded parenting is similar to sensitive parenting in that it refers to treating kids’ acts as meaningful and motivated by feelings, thoughts and intentions.

Mind-mindedness is about treating kids as individuals and trying to understand what the signals they send mean. It is the belief that kids’ needs are not limited to physical needs alone. Even toddlers have emotions and desires, even though they are unable to express them verbally.

Mind-minded parents are therefore able to accurately read their kids’ signals. For example, mind-minded parents are better able to comment appropriately in relation to their kid’s behavior. For example they’ll accurately determine that their kid is thirsty depending on specific behavior.

No solid evidence has as yet determined whether mind-mindedness is innate or is a skill that can be learnt through practice, but there are a few mind-minded practices every parent can try.

How to become a mind-minded parent

Get to the bottom of your child’s feelings or thoughts. As one study suggests, it’s easier to determine what a kid is actually thinking when we’re willing to evaluate why he or she is demonstrating a particular behaviour.

Mind-mindedness, however, is not just about responding to your kid, it’s about giving an appropriate response. When we are attuned to our kids’ behavior, we are more likely to accurately read their thoughts, interests or feelings.

When we get into the habit of perceiving things from our kids’ point of view and treating them as separate people with their own needs and rights, we are more likely to develop mind-mindedness habits.

Mind-mindedness means assuming that kids understand about emotions, and thus talking to them about different emotions. Several studies have found that the earlier kids are spoken to about emotions (age 3), the better they understand and deal with their own emotions and those of others.

3) Foster autonomy

Parents who foster independence do not shield their kids from negative experiences. They provide them with age-appropriate strategies to manage those experiences. Evidence suggests that scaffolding helps kids develop self-regulation skills.

Scaffolding means providing kids’ with a supportive framework in which they can develop the necessary skills to deal with their thoughts and feelings. As one study suggests, the kids with the most developed self-regulation skills are those who have been encouraged to be independent.

How to foster autonomy
  • Give your kids chores. There’s plenty of evidence supporting the benefits of chores.
  • Let kids get bored. Providing your kids with less structured environments is good for them.
  • Adopt habits for raising independent kids. Give kids less toys. Taming the toys can ignite creativity.

If you enjoyed this post, join my mailing list to receive posts like this directly in your inbox every Tuesday.


Why and How to Talk to Kids About Emotions


kids emotion regulation
It’s never too early to talk to kids about emotions. Kids’ inability to identify and express emotions is often reflected in their behaviour. According to available research, tantrums and aggressive behaviour can often be linked to unmanaged emotions.

When we teach kids to identify and manage their emotions, we give them important tools to navigate life. Emotion regulation is about teaching kids to identify emotions, be aware of the issues underlying different emotions, and come up with a plan to either deal with those issues or learn effective ways to tolerate situations they can’t change.

Evidence suggests that many emotions such as anger, jealousy or anxiety are difficult for kids to deal with. “Misbehaviour” and “acting out” in children is often an expression of their inability to deal with strong emotions appropriately. This behaviour may hide feelings such as guilt, hurt or embarrassment.

The physical manifestation of anger and anxiety in kids is also common. It is not unknown for kids to talk about headaches or stomach aches every morning when it’s time to go to school (but never over the weekend!).

Gottman’s studies on emotional intelligence have shown that kids taught about emotions are better able to adopt strategies to eliminate disturbing stimuli. For example, emotionally intelligent kids are more likely to know when to walk away from unpleasant situations, or the activities to engage in to calm their angry feelings.

helping kids manage anger and anxiety

Why emotional intelligence matters

There is evidence that children who are aware of their emotions and know how to express them in a socially acceptable manner perform better at school, have better social relationships, are more likely to consider that they are in control of what happens to them, and are less likely to display behaviour problems.

Emotionally intelligent kids are also more likely to be school-ready and happier than kids unable to manage their emotions.

The first step in teaching kids to manage strong emotions is to teach them about those emotions first. It is not about teaching them to suppress those emotions but rather, to understand them and react to them appropriately. When we teach kids that although they might not be in control of the events that happen to them, they are in control of how they react, we help them develop their emotional intelligence.

Kids cannot appropriately express emotions if they are not taught about those emotions first. Although kids begin to be fully aware of their emotions and how to manage them from about age 10, emotional intelligence researchers suggest that they can be taught about emotions from as early as age 3. When we help put our kids’ emotions into words – “I can see you’re sad”, “I know you’re upset because you would have liked to continue watching your program” – we not only teach them to identify different emotions, we also help them put their feelings into words.

This post looks at the first phase of emotional intelligence – helping kids gain awareness and understanding of their emotions

Things to bear in mind

1) Talk often, but for short periods

It’s more effective to talk about emotions often but for short periods than to talk infrequently over long periods.

2) Picking the right moment matters

Don’t try to talk to your kid about emotions when he’s in the middle of a meltdown or when you’re tired or upset. The best time to talk to kids about emotions is when you’re both calm, relaxed and attentive.

3) Relate discussions about emotions to your child

It’s good to talk to kids about emotions. It’s better to relate the emotions to your kid’s specific case. For example, if you’re reading a book about anger, you could ask her what would make her as angry as the character in the book. You could also ask her if she has ever felt the same as that character and what she did.  There are awesome resources to help if your child is struggling with anger.

If your child has difficulty expressing emotions, you can also encourage her to talk about them by asking her how a friend would feel if the same thing happened to him or her.

emotional and sensitive kids

Using games to talk to kids about emotions

Playing memory games is a fun and easy way to talk to kids about emotions.

1) Obtain images representing different emotions. Printable brightly coloured cards with animals depicting different emotions are available here. Print two sets of each card.

2) Cut out the images and shuffle them.

3) The first player selects a card and turns it over. He or she then selects a second card. If the two cards match, the player gets to select again.

4) To make the most of “feelings memory”, talk about emotions: Ask your child when he has felt like the emotion shown on the card, ask what makes him feel that way. Ask what he does when he feels that way.


The “what am I” game is perfect for teaching kids about different emotions. It can also teach kids about how emotions are expressed.

The “what am I” emotion game is similar to the charades game.

One participant picks a card and must act out what’s written on the card.

The other participants have to guess the emotions being acted out.

To validate the response, a winner has to say out loud one occasion on which he felt that emotion.

Once one emotion is validated, a different player picks another emotion card.


A feelings scavenger hunt can help your child learn about different emotions.

1) Obtain images representing different emotions. Printable brightly coloured animal feelings and emotions cards are available here.

2) Cut out the images and hide them.

3) Make a list of all the emotions your kid needs to find

4) When he finds a card, ask him to name at least one thing that makes him feel like the emotion displayed.

These resources are drawn from my Ebook “Managing your child’s anger and anxiety. A practical toolkit for ages 3 to 8”.

Further resources: 3 fun ways to talk emotions with your kids