harder parts of parenting

Parenting is such a tricky and personal subject. Before I move into the post, I ask you to please consider the fact that different things work for different people, and to please be considerate of others before commenting. I know you’re classy group of ladies (and dudes!) but just wanted to put it out there. This is just some food for thought and some things I wanted to share. 

The girls 8

With raising kiddos, I feel like certain aspects become exponentially easier over time (like feeding them! They do one day feed themselves and it’s amazing) while the challenges of other things are compounded as they grow older.

Here are some of the things I’m struggling with right now:

-How to teach my curious and friendly 4-year old to be aware and empowered without frightening her

-Encouraging freedom while creating boundaries

-The difference between being friendly and polite while still respecting a safe distance and personal bubbles

-Another one that I’m only starting to see the beginning of: friendships. Even at 4 years old, some conflicts have popped up. She would say, “So and so wasn’t my friend today, but then she was,” or “my friend told me I couldn’t come to her birthday party, but then she said I could.” I can’t help but question how this is all happening already. Of course, we talk to her about better ways to handle the things she’s feeling, and it’s encouraging when we see it making a difference.

I’ve found that there is a parenting book for EVERYTHING, but at the same time: don’t have time. I was like, “Isn’t there someone who can give me the Cliff’s note version?? Just tell me what I need to know, and what applies to our family, and leave the rest?”

Turns out there totally is: a behavioral specialist.

We’ve always known that Liv is spirited. She’s bright, particular, expressive, and opinionated. These are all wonderful traits, but it also means that she’s strong-willed. I wanted to talk to someone about parenting such a strong will, so that I could teach her and guide her without crushing the amazing spirit that she has. I truly believe that spirited kids grow up to do incredible things, but may need extra guidance on the parenting front. We tried doing this on our own, and when we realized that we could do better, we looked to a professional. So basically, I called the behavioral specialist for US (the parents!) more than anything, and she helped us so much. (If you’re in San Diego and would like her info, please send me an email.)

Some of the things I learned from her:

-Kids, just like adults, have a need for attention, and power/control. This is why some adults are grumpy and lash out at others. It gives them a “rise” and they feel in control, even if it’s for a brief moment. Sometimes when spirited kids act out, it’s because they need undivided attention or they need to feel like they’re in control. I was guilty of trying to juggle taking care of both girls and playing with them at the same time, but found that one on one time really goes a long way. The same goes for power and control. We give choices now, and she understands that if she chooses not to follow the routine, or what is happening, we move onto the next one: related consequences.

-Related consequences. In the past, we did a “sticker chart” for good behavior, with a special toy or reward at the end. Per the specialist’s recommendation, it went in the trash can. The toy wasn’t related to her good behavior, and good behavior should be expected. It’s part of being a team. So now we have related incentives and consequences. For example, if she chooses not to get dressed when it’s time for school, she has the choice of getting dressed then, or going to school in her pajamas and I dress her at school. That’s never happened haha. If she listens and does things quickly, we have more time for fun, like reading an extra book, going to the park, etc.

-Sticking to what you say. No threats. So if we make an agreement that something is going to happen, it happens. No negotiations. (For example, we keep a light on in her room, but she knows if she comes out after bedtime, the light goes off.)

-Don’t react; keep everything straightforward without anger/yelling. This one has always been pretty easy for me because I’m not a yeller, but I just try to keep everything straightforward. She taught us that emotions aren’t good or bad; they are a natural reaction. So if your kiddo is freaking out about something, it’s not personal. One of their needs just hasn’t been met, whether they’re tired, hungry, need attention, or power/control. 

-Have a safe space to vent/relax/calm down. Different strategies work for different people, but it’s important to have a space you can go to when you start to feel upset and scream into a pillow, meditate, dance, jump, do whatever you need to do to calm down and feel better.

Obviously it’s not perfect, but these things helped me a lot and I thought I’d share. I’d love to hear any awesome parenting resources you’ve found, especially as your kiddos have gotten older. I’ve found that if you lead with love, and do the best you can at that time, that’s all you can do. <3

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  1. Jacquelyn on October 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Hi Gina! Long time reader here. Although I’m not a mom yet, I hope to be in the near future. This post was amazing. I am so grateful when you open up about these things with us. I know it must be hard and not an easy topic but I think it’s wonderful to hear about real life parenting, what works, what doesn’t work, etc. I’ve always admired yours and the pilots relationship and the way you are with your girls. I can just tell through pictures and the things you do share what wonderful, loving, parents you both are. Those girls are very blessed to have you both as examples to look up too. I love how you took the initiative to talk to a professional. When I was growing up, going through my parents divorce was the hardest thing for me and being able to talk to a therapist changed my life! To this day I don’t think I’d be who I am without that guidance from that person! Sorry this is so long but this post really struck home for me! Thanks again!

  2. Laura @FitMamaLove on October 19, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    This sounds just like my almost 4-year-old! I feel like we need help, but I didn’t even know where to look. My daughter is a strong-willed, screaming, stubborn little thing and I’ve honestly felt at a complete loss with dealing with her. I didn’t know there was such a person to help us with her, but now I think I need to find a behavioral specialist up here. Thanks for sharing your struggles!

  3. Lauren on October 19, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I found a mom’s group at church when my 7 year old was in preschool at the church, while everyone has a different style of parenting, it’s also nice to know you’re not the only one going through whatever issue has come up that day/week. It’s also nice to just have a group of ladies to get together with occasionally, have coffee or the occasional mom’s night out, and have adult conversation.

    I love your blog and love reading about your family and how you manage to juggle everything. Your meal plans and fitness plans are great inspiration.

  4. Kaitlyn on October 20, 2016 at 2:44 am

    I love this post!!

    I’m a preschool teacher, and unfortunately I’m sad to say that the social conflicts arise in my kiddos as young as late twos and threes :(. My strategy for them is this: Use these instances to empower the kid who is the “victim” (in some cases this may be both kids). So, for instance, if Liv comes home and says that “She said I wasn’t her friend,” encourage Liv to tell her friend that makes her feel sad, and offer her praise if she comes home reporting that she did do this.

    I know when I see kids verbalizing their feelings to each other like this, I offer lots and lots of verbal praise, which really makes the kid who was just feeling sad a bit uplifted and confident. This also works because sometimes the kid lashing out/saying not nice things/etc. is doing so because it’s a cry for attention, and when they don’t get that immediate attention from an adult (“Don’t say that,” “That’s not nice,” etc), they realize that’s not the way to gain what they are seeking.

    All that being said, navigating these conflicts is still extremely tricky, but this is a strategy that seems to help in many cases :). I’m sure Liv’s teacher is amazing and has a strategy that works, but I figured I’d offer my two cents!

  5. Katelyn on October 20, 2016 at 3:00 am

    I teach 3s who have just turned 4 and another awesome person to talk to might be her teacher. I get a lot parents that are totally freaked by how obnoxious their kid’s x, y, or z behavior is. Often times, I see some of the behavior but on a much smaller scale at school. I think parents have been happy to hear that the hella obnoxious things their kids do at home rarely happen at school and I can usually explain why… for instance kids are often hyper rational if they know something fun is coming up (centers!) the they do everything they can to make sure they get to do it. As a teacher this means I put a bit so glamorous activity right before (phonics!) to help kids make good decisions and stay focused. I’ve definitely seen the light bulb go off with parents like oh yeah, they don’t want to hurry and clean their room when they know dinner is coming at its something they don’t love

  6. Karen on October 20, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Sticking to what you say, I would have to agree is the most important.

    After years(20+) of offering childcare, I have seen numerous parents say something and never follow through which basically is telling their children what they say really does not matter.Inturn, they all ask me how I get their children to cooperate/motivate and I will always tell them, I say it once or they get the consequence which is know prior to refusing to cooperate. There are no second chances because with numerous children there simply is no time for negotiations.

    Your girls are beautiful and you seem to be doing just fine.

  7. Brandi on October 20, 2016 at 4:10 am

    Thanks so much for posting it! My boys are only 3 and 7 months but I found his very useful! I’m definitely guilty of too many threats and not following through. Going to try using more related consequences/incentives. Thanks again! You’re doing a great job 🙂

  8. Kristen on October 20, 2016 at 4:44 am

    Kids are so tricky sometimes. I work with a class full of 3-5 yr olds everyday and they all are so different yet exactly the same. I agree with the comment above about no negotiating. If its a strict rule then stick with the choice of “do it the first time told or receive consequence”. Also, I know this is hard to do on a daily basis at home, but kids really thrive on routine. They like knowing what’s coming next and they can prepare for it. That gives them a sense of control too.
    And the whole “I’m your best friend” “I’m not your best friend” drives me crazy. It’s totally normal and they all seem to go through this stage. I tell my kids in my class that we can all be friends and it’s ok to have more than one friend at a time. The more, the merrier!
    I have a 4 yr old and I told my husband it’s like having a teenager. One minute things are great, the stars are aligned, and he’s happy as can be. The next minute he’s like a 15 yr old girl with PMS going through a huge breakup (I only use that reference bacause I have a 15 yr old niece who experienced those at the same time and it was awful! Lol).

  9. Jenny Graber on October 20, 2016 at 6:03 am

    This sounds very much like the parent coaching services my husband and I offer. I love the things your behavior specialist had to say. Parenting is tough, and so many parents just need a boost of encouragement and helpful suggestions. We’re sponsoring a gift card giveaway through next Thursday on our Facebook page at “Confident Parent Coaching” where we ask parents to submit questions that we’ll answer over the next few weeks. Families can also go to our website and schedule a consultation to talk about their specific child at confidentparentcoaching.com. I’ve read your blog for quite awhile and love your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable. No one is a perfect parent, but the best ones are open to learning and getting advice from those who have gone before. I have no doubt you and the pilot will raise some amazing adults.

  10. Lisa on October 20, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Olivia and my daughter Alia are very close in age and so far 4 has been the hardest in this house. As much fun and full of love as she can be she can also be a little bugger who I don’t enjoy so much. Many many days I tell my husband “I hate 4” haha it’s hard.

    We also have a 10m old and I’ve found the 1 on 1 attention works great. I’ll have something ready for her and I to do when she gets home from preschool. Book, craft, coloring, walk to park and she knows it’s her and my time , I try and put the baby on the floor with a toy/snack but even if the baby is in my arms or being needy I tell the baby “this is Alia’s time wait your turn” just hearing that makes Alia feel like it’s her time…it’s often just 10min but it’s long enough after school that after that 1/1 time she is less “needy” and will often go play alone while I make dinner or happily play all 3 of us after (my husband works pretty long hours so it’s often just the 3 of us during the week)

    These where great tips, I’ll be referring back to this on “those days” …..this time of our life with little kids is hard. Great but not easy.

  11. Danielle on October 20, 2016 at 6:54 am

    Very few bloggers are willing to broach parenting once their kids are past the baby/toddler years…. and I really appreciate your candor and transparency here. It’s really refreshing and helpful for so many people. I don’t blame people who don’t want to open up about these topics, the comment sections can be war zones… but so many of us can use the feedback and advice! Thank you!!

  12. Brittany on October 20, 2016 at 7:02 am

    Preach it girl! I also have a spirited 5 year old and let me tell you, she can turn on a dime! On one hand she is so full of love, laughter, she is hilarious, kind, social, etc. But when her mood changes everybody watch out. I agree with everything your behavioral specialist said. Related consequences, some sense of control, no negotiating is all soooo important! I have also found that when Meredith is in a bad mood, I tell her only she can control the way she is feeling but she is not allowed to make everyone in the house miserable. She can go to her room until she calms down. We had to take our house back!!!! LOL

    I have an 8 month old as well and I regularly tell my husband I just thought the baby stage was hard. 4-5 has been way harder than waking up at night:)

    Oh, and the way girls are drive me crazy. The whole she’s my friend, she isn’t my friend, she is playing with so and so more than me, etc. is so draining. But the more you talk to her about it, the more it will sink in. We CONSTANTLY talk about how our words have more power than anything.

  13. Becky on October 20, 2016 at 7:24 am

    what the behavior specialist recommended sounds like it falls in line with the Love and Logic philosophy. If anyone is looking for some info., there are some great tips and tricks out there. Not everything is a home run but pick and choose what works best for your family!

  14. Crystal on October 20, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I love posts like this. I don’t have kids, but it’s interesting to hear my friends talk about it. I have a friend who’s a child behaviorist (she and her kids are amazing) and even she gets frustrated with parenting and has bad days sometimes. I guess I find that reassuring, because I’m sure that when we have kids someday, I’ll question myself a lot but really you just do your best and love your kids no matter what.

  15. Courtney @ Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life on October 20, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Ohhh girl, it’s like you read my mind. We have definitely been having our fair share of challenges with our Lucas (3 in July) and some days, I’m just totally lost as to what to do next. The back talk has gotten especially challenging, and I’m finding it hard to find the healthy balance of letting him know he can’t talk that way and giving a consequence that will actually…work. Things like time out typically don’t even phase him, haha!

    All this to say, I hear you on the strong-willed toddler, my friend. Thank you for sharing!! <3 xo

  16. Emily R on October 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Hi Gina,
    My son is also spirited and will be starting kindergarten next September. I was feeling the same way about how to parent my spirited child and understanding him. Not sure if you have looked up any literature by I found reading “Raising your spirited child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has really opened up my eyes and it has brought a whole new light on my relationship with being a parent and a friend to my son. Understanding their needs and interpreting them really does help by working together as a team.
    You’re doing a great job =0)

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      i will check it out. thank you!!

  17. Valerie on October 20, 2016 at 11:46 am

    That’s awesome! I have a 4 year old too and we just signed up to see a behavioral therapist. I’m glad you found it helpful and thanks for the tips!

  18. Amy on October 20, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Great post! Love the advice from your specialist.
    I have done the Positive Parenting online course and I really love it! Wish I started it when my kids were your age but it works so well.
    Xoxo Amy

  19. kt on October 20, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks Gina. Long time reader and new(ish) mom. Helpful tips / concepts. Regarding your first concern around balancing safety and empowerment, I recently came across this concept of “tricky people’. Essentially the idea that “tricky people” ask kids for help and that normal/safe adults would ask another adult for help. Here is more info: http://www.today.com/parents/forget-stranger-danger-tricky-people-concept-helps-kids-spot-sketchy-t95021

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      i love that tip so much. we’ve talked about it a lot actually, because i read a similar article last year. she knows that adults don’t ask kids for help and that we don’t keep secrets.

  20. Carolyn on October 21, 2016 at 4:48 am

    I feel like my almost 5 year old comes home from preschool talking about who said who can or can’t go to whose birthday party almost everyday! It’s funny how that seems to be a universal preschooler expression of friendship.

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      right? i was like how is this still a thing?

  21. Erin @ Her Heartland Soul on October 21, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Thanks for sharing this post! And for being so honest about some of the challenges of parenting. I’m filing this away for someday when I have kids. 😀

  22. Andrea on October 21, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Very cool, Gina! Thanks for sharing. I can see using a behavioural expert like this in my future, as I sense my 8 month old is one of those “spirited” kids! I love the concept that good behaviour is an expectation, and we don’t get rewarded for it with toys – we just get more time for regular things that are fun (like the park) because we didn’t have to waste time disciplining. And the choices – I’m sure it’s not funny to you in the moment, but I LOL’d at the choice to get dressed at school. Experts are there for a reason – e.g. I hired a sleep consultant for my above mentioned stubborn babe – which felt somewhat silly at the time (like why can’t I just figure this out on my own gosh darnit) but I am so glad I did. No shame in getting a little help for your family when needed!

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      amen to that! i feel like it’s silly to try out a bunch of different things when an expert can give you a solution. it was seriously a game changer.

  23. Whitney on October 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Gina, thank you for sharing your struggles with THE INTERNET. I’m sure that is a hard decision to make. I’ve been reading your blog since 2009 (!) and really appreciate how considerate you are of your relationships with your husband, children, and your readers. Hearing how you are choosing to deal with this part of parenting makes me feel less alone when I am facing it (all day ‘ery day). You are a good mom and are making the right choices for your family. I hope you have a wonderful weekend <3

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      thank you so much, whitney. that means so much to me, and YES you are not alone haha.

  24. melodie on October 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    That birth order stuff tends to be pretty accurate from my personal experience and talking with friends. My first born gives me a run for my money. And he has since about 14 months old. Love him to pieces but my goodness strong willed. He makes the middle child look like an angel. 🙂 thanks for sharing parenthood challenges. I never would have guessed these dynamics in your family.

  25. Justine Mckenzie on October 21, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    That’s some good advice. Theres so much conflicting info out there and your so right.. a book for everything – so I totally admire the step to go to one source and make a game plan and stick with it. Amazing.

  26. Christy on October 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Just listened to an interview with the author, Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Her book is
    You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child. Maybe it would be useful to you? Haven’t read it myself, but the interview was insightful.

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      i will definitely check it out. thank you!

  27. Tara on October 23, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    The ideas you share from your behavioral therapist seem to be in line with the ones from Positive Parenting Solutions. It’s an online course that is great for people who loved school (guilty)! Anyway, thought I would share in case anyone else learns best in that kind of format 🙂

    • Fitnessista on October 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      good to know! i’ll check it out and thank you for spreading the word

  28. Grace on October 25, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Your specialist has some great advice! I’ve followed RIE and Janet Lansbury for years (you can check out her books, Elevating Child Care and No Bad Kids, but she also has a great website, Facebook group and podcast) and the advice you list sounds right in line with RIE. We also have a very emotionally intense, bright and “spirited” four year old girl, and RIE has been an amazing fit for our family – I feel like it helps all of us, not just our daughter. I feel more in tune with my emotions, I feel more grounded, and my relationship with my husband has been improved as well.

    The other thing I’ve found that helps us greatly is reducing screen time (especially with the new AAP recs of less than an hour a day), and not just for our daughter but for ourselves as well. I’ve taken almost all of the apps of my phone (basically everything but email) and being able to fully concentrate on and be in the moment with my daughter helps so much. RIE is strongly against screen time and once you give it up, the changes you’ll see are remarkable.

    • Fitnessista on October 25, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      yes! i downloaded no bad kids, but haven’t had the time to touch it yet. i’m a huge believer in RIE! it’s amazing, and makes so much sense.
      and YES to reducing screen time. i find that when liv watches more tv than usual, she’s a bit wired.

  29. melissa shipp on October 25, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Love this so much! we have a 4 year old and almost 2 year old – both girls and they have such different personalities and needs at this point in their lives. So good to hear what others are doing and that others have the same challenges.

    • Fitnessista on October 25, 2016 at 10:43 pm

      i’m the same way- i always love to hear what works for other people!

  30. Jennifer on October 31, 2016 at 11:04 am

    HI Gina,
    You might be interested in the love and logic work, based on today’s blog.

  31. Heather on November 2, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I’m so happy that you wrote this post. We have a bit of a spirited 5 year old and we have noticed remarkable changes in her behaviour since she began school in September (and not positive changes)…this serves as such a good reminder that she might need extra attention, extra one on one time, or extra sleep. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts & what has worked for you 🙂 I can especially appreciate the related consequences.
    I’m not a yeller either (typically) but I have become one in the past couple of months and I really need to find a way to cull that because it doesn’t help anyone.

  32. Pam on November 7, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Very interesting! I have a baby but can imagine there will be struggles like this in our future! Haha Also thought it was interesting reading the comments that everyone seems to think they have a spirited child… maybe that is just toddlers for ya!

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