Three Magic Phrases for Parents

Tom authored this Parenting.com article on a few fall-back phrases that can work wonders in kids.

They'll Only Learn if You'll Teach

From Chapter Two of What They Won't Tell You About Parenting


Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

—Winston Churchill

Well, I got you all fired up to be a leader, and now there’s this: you see, you’re a teacher too. By now you know parents wear many hats. Calm down; I’m only going to focus on two. They’re the top hats of the trade. The reason I’m articulating this is the more you think of yourself as a leader and a teacher, the better the parent you’ll be. It’s really that simple. But again, you have to embrace it. You have to be conscious of it and grab it by the horns. Why else would anyone want to follow your lead or accept your guidance? The same confidence and enthusiasm that will make you a great leader are going to make you a supreme teacher.

OK, so before we discuss the subject matter, let’s look closer at what makes a good teacher, shall we? Much as with the leadership qualities we discussed earlier, you know damn well what makes a good teacher. You’ve had good ones in your life, and you’ve had lousy ones. The lousy ones may very well have been confident, but they were certainly not enthusiastic about helping you. They were just going through the motions hoping the day would end. You don’t want to be like them. Now think of the best teachers you’ve had. I guarantee you’re thinking of someone who you felt understood you, cared about you, and encouraged you. Those are real good verbs to keep in mind. Much more on encouragement and understanding later...

We were looking closer at what makes a good teacher. Daniel Coyle, journalist and New York Times best-selling author of The Talent Code, has travelled the globe studying the methods of training, motivation, and coaching that have produced the world’s greatest talent hotbeds. I’d think he might know a thing or two about what makes a good teacher. In fact, he lays it out on page 162:

The teachers and coaches I met were quiet, even reserved. They were mostly older; many had been teaching for thirty or forty years. They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking. They listened far more than they talked. They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments. They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality. (Coyle, 2009, 162)

Listened far more than they talked? Extraordinary sensitivity? Who would want to follow that? Um, you would. Who else, you ask? Your child. Moving forward, please think of yourself as an enthusiastic, confident leader and a calm, consistent teacher—one who listens far more than he or she talks. You can manage the enthusiastic/calm, confident/warm balance just fine. Keep those words in mind. Find that sweet spot. Keep calm and read on.

So now we know (we already knew) what makes a good teacher. But I remind you that in my own master’s program in education, before I was granted the privilege of working in the classrooms with young children, I was instructed in how their brains develop and how they learn. Kind of makes sense, no? Don’t worry. I won’t bore you with extensive details on child development. But it behooves you—as a calm, consistent teacher—to consider both what’s going on in our little ones’ brains and how children learn.

Again, I’m not going to go crazy here detailing the growth happening inside your child’s brain in his or her early life. Let’s just say it’s insane in the membrane. Also let me be transparent about the fact that I have a clear ulterior motive here. A major theme of this book is that you need to meet your child’s behavior with some sense of understanding and empathy. It will help you be a calm, consistent teacher and will help you gain your child’s cooperation. It is my hope here that a few mind-blowing statistics will convince you that your kids have a lot going on upstairs. You should genuinely feel for them and support them.

621808sm6q5hin5I know we all have a lot of stress in our lives, but how do you think you’d manage your day if you had billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of synapses between these cells forming, all while you attempt to handle emotions you are experiencing for the first time? Might you be a tad overwhelmed? What’s more, bear in mind that the emotional part of our brains develops before the logical, thinking part of our brains. If your brain size doubled (from year one to two) or was 90 percent of an adult’s size (by year six), might you throw a tantrum or two? Yeah, I’d say your little ones could use some understanding and support from their beloved first teacher.

The take-home here is if you can manage to meet your children’s natural and inevitable emotional challenges with acceptance and understanding, you will be better prepared to support and teach them how to manage their emotions and navigate life’s bumps and bruises. They, in turn, will sense that you “get” them and will be more willing to listen to you and accept your help. That goes for toddlers, tweens, and teens (husbands and wives too, but that’s for another book). Young children are going to get overwhelmed and have tantrums. You might have heard the phrase “raging hormones” in reference to a teenager’s behavior too. Well, it’s true. Don’t think elementary-aged kids have it easy either. They’re just finding their own way when they are thrust into large groups of children and expected to sit, listen, and interact respectfully. Children of any age need calm, confident, consistent teachers who understand and encourage them and teach them these skills patiently. That’s you, kid.

Draw the line when your child is disrespectful to you or others (no matter his or her age) but allow – and even encourage appropriate emotional expression. What’s appropriate you ask? You know the answer, but I’m happy to simplify and clarify: inappropriate behavior is any kind that is disrespectful, unsafe, or unhealthy. Overly dramatic behavior can sometimes feel like all three to an observing adult. Time to lead by offering clear limits and support. Time to teach.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.


Let’s move on to how young children learn. I’ll focus on young children and assume most of my readers have young’uns. If you have a teen, fret not. It all applies. Anyone with a teen knows adolescents often act just like toddlers, and again, the principles I am discussing have to do with simple human nature.

Much of what we know about early childhood development and how young children learn can be credited to the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Why not apply his sixty years of studying child development toward your own parenting strategies? Couldn’t hurt. Let’s begin with his conclusion that young children are active learners. They learn from doing and testing. His work led him to believe they were constantly conducting experiments. They are. On you. When you get dramatic about him bouncing a ball in the house, that’s good stuff. Let’s watch mommy and daddy freak out.

Piaget also discovered that children learn through repeated experiences. You’ve discovered that too. He found it fascinating. You find it annoying. Follow me here: if someone found you fascinating, wouldn’t you want to continue to fascinate them? Wouldn’t you be more willing to listen to them? Now, if someone found you annoying—your intrinsic desires to learn and explore—wouldn’t you be somewhat annoyed yourself and naturally inclined to challenge that person? We make it harder than it has to be. Meet your child’s desire to learn through repeated experiences with acceptance and understanding and watch how your child will be more willing to accept and understand when you inevitably have to teach him or her there are limits in a civilized society. Deliver the messages with the same “extraordinary sensitivity” as the best teachers in the world. Listen far more than you talk. Accept and understand.

Two more important Piaget takeaways, and we’ll be done with our child development course (hallelujah): children learn by making mistakes, and children learn by modeling. It’s how you learned, wise guy. At the risk of being crude, I again ask you to follow me here: since you are your child’s first and foremost teacher—her role-model, if you will—if you treated every one of her inevitable mistakes as an opportunity for learning, wouldn’t your child learn to do the same through your example? Wouldn’t that build trust between you two, strengthen your relationship, and again, make your child more willing to listen? How might you feel if your first teacher met your mistakes with empathy and understanding and helped you learn from them? Would you want to please that teacher or challenge him or her? Now, ask yourself how you would feel if you were learning a new language, and every time you made a mistake, you were punished. How might your feelings influence your future behavior?

You’re a leader and a teacher. It’s an incredible amount of responsibility and pressure. But it only makes sense to acknowledge it and—if you want to be effective—embrace it enthusiastically. Much like most parenting, this is all about a mentality and approach. The more you think of yourself as a teacher—supporting and encouraging your child, narrating lessons in the hope of future improve- ment—the more you establish you are on your child’s side and the more willing he or she will be to follow your lead and accept your input.

I can’t overemphasize how much our attitudes affect our abilities to lead and parent. Your attitude influences your reactions. Your reactions will influence your child’s behavior. Meet your child’s natural desire to test with acceptance and patient guidance. Go from thinking your child is annoying to your child is learning, from your child is being a brat to your child is experimenting. You want your children to be curious and motivated. Through your child’s mistakes, teach and lead the way to future successes. Think: less punishing equals more teaching.

Counterintuitively, this equates to less lecturing, more listening. Don’t go thinking that the act of listening more will make you a pushover. Your goal is to develop a trusting, supportive relationship—to encourage your children to express themselves but respect and heed your guidance. The more you listen, the more you accomplish all those goals. Is your child upset at you for setting a limit? Welcome to parenting and welcome your child to something we call disappointment. Go ahead and ask him to tell you how he feels. Then meet it with confident empathy and support. Something to the effect of: I get that but there’s a reason so let’s allow emotions and move on. As long as you’re genuine in your understanding—and you should be, your child is just learning the ropes—he will eventually see you are in his corner. [Spoken in Yoda voice] Important patience is in teachable moments.

Not buying it, tough guy? Perhaps you’d be more convinced of the power of listening if we brought in hostage negotiator Chris Voss. What better analogy to parenting? You’ve felt like a hostage countless times, so let’s see what applies. In an interview published in The Atlantic titled “Ask a Hostage Negotiator: What’s the Best Way to Get a Raise?”, Voss explains that most people trying to push very hard to get something mistakenly think they have to be tough. “In reality,” Voss explains, “the nicer you are, the harder you can push.” It turns out “there’s some data out there that says that people are six times more likely to get what they want if they’re likable” (Lam 2015).

You want your child to listen? Be likable. You want to be likable? Listen more. As Voss asserts: empathy is “critical to negotiations.” More on the power of empathy to come. For now, congratulations, for I, parent educator Tom Limbert, do hereby dub thee a pleasant and likable teacher. May your confidence and enthusiasm become a shining example to the people of the empire.

Get the whole book here!

-photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool

Seriously? What’s next fetal headstart walking tips? Easy there tiger (mom), this piece is all about how you can assure your toddler has a smooth and successful start to her school experience. This isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses, or getting a jump on Stanford apps, we’re just talking about how you can help assure your toddler is ready to enjoy her new peers, teachers, and school environment. Whether you choose Montessori, play-based, or academic paths, there’s plenty you can do at home to help make sure your child’s transition is as seamless as a night-time pull-up.

Support Emotional Intelligence. Most parents think of a-b-c’s and 1-2-3’s when they think of school, but any early childhood educator will tell you: it’s all about social and emotional development. As soon as children can talk, help them learn to label and understand their emotions. The more you can meet their inevitable moments of frustration with acceptance and an eye toward solutions, the sooner they will learn to do the same. The key word here is “support.”

Encourage Independence. The more young children can learn to do for themselves, the more confidence they will attain (I avoided the loaded “self-esteem” word). This will boost their resilience and emotional stability. The secret is to indeed “encourage” independence - not demand it. Tell your child you believe in him and know there will be times when he’s too tired or hungry; help him recognize all that and praise his efforts.

Develop Decentering. Swiss Developmental Psychologist Jean Piaget’s extensive research lead him to view the process of decentering as a major cognitive leap for young children. Again you will want to accept their natural inability to think of others, but there’s plenty you can do to help them learn the harshest truth of them all: the fact that the world does not revolve around them. Narrate, articulate and model the idea that people have different ideas, desires and preferences as opportunities arise throughout your day together. Decentering takes time. It’s harder for some than others. Again, model patience and acceptance.


Instill Respect for Others. We all want our children to be respectful members of society. For many, preschool will be their first experience being part of a community. If you want your child to treat her peers and teachers with respect there’s two things you can do: 1. Treat your child with respect.  Use respectful tones and language with her and in her presence. 2. Encourage your child to do the same to you and to others. Again, there will be times when your child will struggle, patiently help her learn that emotions are OK, but disrespectful behavior is not.

Encourage Expression. The more your child is encouraged to express himself at home, the better he will be able to communicate at school. Ask him questions, tell him to describe what he was thinking, invite him to talk about his feelings and ideas!

Development is integral in the early years and the more you simply communicate with - and most importantly - listen to your toddler, the better prepared she’ll be to share a school environment with her peers and teachers. Your child will be more than “ready” to explore and excel in preschool and beyond.

(Thanks to EastBayPreschools.com for sharing this!)

Read and learn much more

about emotional intelligence, respect,

and guiding young children in my book,

What They Won't Tell You About Parenting!

A Witching Hour Guide

witch epiphany

Getting Safely - and Happily - from Kansas to Oz

Do you dread the time between when your kids get home from school and dinnertime? Are fights, yelling and crying more inevitable than death and taxes? Then you, my friend, have fallen victim to the deep, dark and mysterious black magic of the witching hour. Before you call your tax adviser, I’ve got some concrete advice to help break the nasty spell. No longer will you be the Wicked Witch of the West. Just keep these tips in mind, tap your glitteriest red shoes together and say it with me: “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home …”

We all long for a place where there isn’t trouble, somewhere over the rainbow. By now you know parenting isn’t always a romantic love story. No doubt it will be an action/adventure, but you can help it be less of a suburban drama. Anytime things start spinning out of control, take charge. Huddle up and make a plan. Be the director in your own family classic. Like Dorothy, you may awake to find that you needn’t look any farther than your own backyard to find your heart’s desire. Because if it isn’t there, you never really lost it to begin with.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

You Don't Need Santa to Set Limits (and What Three Things are Even Better)!

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Santa not to praise him. Figuratively that is. Don't get me wrong. I've done it. There are times when we're at our wit's end and we just want our frickin' kids to frackin' listen. We play the Santa card. “If you don't listen, Santa won't bring you anything!” There's no denying it. It's an Ace of spades, the king of all Jedi mind tricks, and the queen of all threats.

But I bear good news for all Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and otherwise: You don't need Santa to set limits! In fact, there's three things of orient that trump the Santa card in this Tarot game we play with our little ones. Looking into your future, I see a more effective leader, if you fold the Santa card and go “all-in” on this three-of-a-kind. Your children are sure to be less naughty and more nice.

Let's begin with some confidence. In my first book (the ideal stocking stuffer for the sports-fan dad!) and my coaching sessions, I remind parents again and again, we are leaders. Our little ones are watching - modeling our behavior and attitude. The more confident you are, the more confident your child will be, but more importantly, the more she'll listen. It's simple human nature [resist all Michael Jackson references in anything related to children].

When your child inevitably tests a limit or fails in some capacity, stay calm. Act like you've been there (you have). Like Lady Gaga, keep your best poker face and like Linda Ronstadt: tell it like it is (dating myself here I know). Confidently narrate what went wrong and what can be done better next time. Keep the confident vibes flowing as you tell your child clearly, “You can do it. I know you can.” You're  leader and after all, it's you who sees them when they're sleeping and you certainly know when they're awake.

If you struggle with confidence, perhaps it's because you haven't enlisted the awesome powers of our next friend: honesty. It's such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. (Billy Joel. Yup, I'm 45)(Cmon, at least I used “yup”). For some reason, parents today are afraid to just get down to the heart of the matter.santa pray

When you go to set a limit, examine why you're setting it. If it's because you love your child and want what's best for her, then tell her about it. Listen boy, it's good information from a man who's made mistakes. Just a word or two that she gets from you could be the difference that it makes. Confidently and honestly explain how the limit will help her in the end. Forget that line, “you better not pout, I'm tellin' you why!”. When (not if) they pout, meet it with acceptance, confidence and honesty. Keep in mind, that what we now know took us years of challenges to learn too.

When you choose to communicate with your child from a place of honesty and confidence, you're treating your child with respect – our third key ingredient. Much like confidence and honesty, it's innate for humans to desire and respond positively to respect. You can show your child respect in many ways. Perhaps the most important is simply to meet your child with a sense of acceptance. You might also offer him a few simple choices when you're able. Finally, you can use respectful tones and language when speaking with her.

Then, watch how much your confidence grows when you get to say things like, “I don't talk to you like that, so please don't talk to me like that.” Trust me, that line trumps any Santa B.S. Better yet, it'll still work when your child is a teenager (and you think toddlers have attitudes). Respect is a two-way street. If you give it, you have every right to ask it. Confidently and honestly teach your child to respect you and others.

Look, I'm not literally burying jolly old Saint Nick. The secret present ordeal is all in good fun. Just sayin': you don't need him (nor gelt nor guilt) to set limits with your children or get them to listen. Confidence, honesty, and respect will be much more effective for you in the long run. What's really cool about these three is, the more respectful you are to your children - by treating them with honesty - the more your confidence will grow. The more your confidence grows, the more they'll listen. The more they listen, the more natural it will be for you to treat them with respect. It's a cycle all right, but the only thing vicious about it is how effective you'll be as a teacher and leader. In other words, a parent.

Read much, much more about

confidence, honesty, and respect in my new book

What They Won't Tell You about Parenting!

image courtesy of freedigitalimages.net