Category Archives: Children

How to talk with children and how to be a more loving and effective parent.

Help Your Kid Show Anger

Part 2 of 2 ~ Letter to a client about what to do when her child shouts “I hate you!”

from my A Client Writes* series

(Continued from Part 1 of 2, posted on 25 February, 2013)

Let’s continue the math teacher example to start with.
A thoughtful teacher would stay focused on helping Suzy learn something. She’d also not tell herself unhelpful stories about Suzy being too stubborn, stupid, or lazy to learn.  She might have noticed that Suzy had the numbers right, but backwards, and say:

“Suzy, you think the answer is eighty-four. Can you come put those numbers up on the board for us?”
Suzy goes to the board and writes (correctly) 48, whilst saying “eighty-four”.
“Ah! You’ve got the maths right yes, the answer is forty-eight, but in your mind you see the eight coming before the four don’t you? So you shouted out eighty-four! Let’s you and me chat later about how to get the numbers in the right order in your head – that can be tough!”

Whole different ball game, right?

No self-defending, shaming, giving up on, or belittling her. Suzy is probably excited to know she has the basic maths right, even though she sees she has some work to do in not muddling the numbers up.

To the extent we parents can come at these issues calmly, like a good teacher, we can help our children become excited about, and competent in, their emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, back at home, if you can see Alice’s “mistakes” as attempts to tell you about her emotions, you can respond like the thoughtful teacher. Here’s how this might look.
“Oh Alice, you have strong feelings about this! Do you feel ~ [guess what she might be feeling here]

  • irritated that I’m asking you to clear up now?
  • maybe frustrated, since you’re nearly done?
  • even resentful that grown-ups can stay up as long as they like on their projects?
  • and maybe a bit sad, because it’s not going quite the way you’d hoped and you’re not sure how you’ll fix it tomorrow?”

If you’ve got the feelings wrong she will correct you, or you can ask her ~ “Where am I right and where am I wrong? Help me understand what you are feeling.”

Let her know that when she says something like “I hate you!” she may well be mad at you, but you wonder if there is more. And because you care, you want to help her figure this out. Let her know most people don’t like to be told someone hates them but there is a way she can talk about her feelings that will help her gets her needs met in a way that makes friends, rather than in a way that makes enemies.

Maybe what Alice needs now, as she stops her project prematurely, is to make sure she sets aside some more time tomorrow to finish it up and maybe she needs better glue since things keep falling off (or whatever – you get the idea, right!).

Let me know how this goes and what you notice.



Tomorrow: How to use Feelings to point toward Needs.

* My clients get much more than the typical “50 minute hour.” I’m on their team. I often write between sessions, and encourage regular texts and emails. In these intermittent “A Client Writes” postings, I share some tools and tips I’ve been asked about (after removing any identifying details of course). If you want some of this – let’s chat!

Why Your Kid Says “I hate you!”

Part 1 of 2 ~ What To Do When Your Child Shouts “I hate you!”

A Client Writes* . . .

Dear Gemma,

Can I get some advice? Just recently Alice (age 7) has been shouting “I hate you!” She says this right after I have to tell her to do one thing, or stop another. I’ve been saying “I love you!” back. But yesterday I lost my cool and yelled “It’s so easy for you to hate! You can’t mean it – you’re just mad that I’m telling you what to do!”

Later she told me I hated her – where did that come from?  Am I just giving her negative attention?  Should I just say nothing next time?  Help!”

Dear Alice’s Mum,

Great question!

When we take what an emotional child says at face-value, as an accurate self-assessment, it’s very tempting to respond with ~

  • “Alice! I never want to hear you say that to me or anyone ever again!” (which puts your embarrassment and hurt ahead of helping Alice through her emotional confusion)
  • “Well, I love you.” (hoping to role model, or shame her into, what she should say)
  • “No you don’t, you love me!” (which denies her inner turmoil)
  • “No need to get all upset over this!” (which belittles her feelings).

However, when we take what an emotional child says as an inaccurate “first draft”  (because learning how to recognize and name emotions is tough, like learning maths only harder) we can stop taking what they say at face value and recognize a learning opportunity.

Let’s imagine a child blurting out an inaccurate response in maths class.

Maybe Suzy shouts out “six times eight is eighty-four!”
An unhelpful, “face-value” teacher might say:

  • “Suzy, how can you possibly get this wrong! What will your parents think?” (takes a child’s mistake as a personal attack on her competence)
  • “Well, Jimmy, can you help Suzy? (hoping for reassurance as a teacher, but this comes at the cost of shaming Suzy)
  • “No, wrong. Look it up!” (Which doesn’t help Suzy figure out where she went wrong in this problem)
  • “Now Suzy, maybe this is too hard for you. Why don’t you go back and review the four times tables? You got those right I think?” (Which belittles Suzy’s very real ability to master her eight times tables).

Similar ideas, right?

Tomorrow I’ll share how to use these opportunities as golden moments for understanding our child’s attempts more fully (both in maths and emotions). I’ll show how to help this elementary-school-aged child learn how to recognize, name and use her emotions to not only get her needs met more effectively, but also (added win-win) to connect her with her mum, instead of pushing her away.



* My clients get much more than the typical “50 minute hour.” I’m on their team 24/7. I often write between sessions, and encourage regular texts and emails. In these intermittent “A Client Writes” postings, I share some tools and tips I’ve been asked about (after removing any identifying details of course). If you want some of this – let’s chat!

Dating Again, Post Divorce

OK friends, last in a 5 part series on how to be a friend when your friends have affairs, separate and divorce.  This one’s about what to do when they are ready to get back on the dating scene.

Part 5 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Are Dating Again

1. Invite your single friends over. Yes, you miss the good old times when you and your sweetie hung out with your friend and his or her “ex.” However, this can be a refreshing shift for your friendship. After divorce, most people shake loose some old behaviours and beliefs: Who is this person now? Invite your newly single friends over with other couples. It’s good for them to cross that hurdle of “odd one out amongst couples ” with someone they know and trust.  When possible, try to connect with both sides more or less evenly. Maybe play sports with one, but have dinners with the other. It’s all good.

2. Be careful with the matchmaking already. Sure it’s tempting! Especially if you’ve watched the death of your friends’ love over the past years and have longed for their happiness. 2 good reasons to slow this down:

  1. If your friends are to avoid a rebound disaster, they’ll need time to figure out who they are now, post divorce. Rather than urging more coupling, try championing some single time. Some “getting to love and enjoy my own company” time. This might be a long overdue developmental stage for your friend – support it!
  2. If you are friends to both, think how it will seem to the friend whom you do not “fix up” with a match? What’s she then – chopped liver?

3. Ask if and how your friends want your “feedback.” Talk to your friend about what they want next. Some self-discovery single time? Great – support that. Some dating-as-self-discovery? Great – support that too. But, have a conversation with your friend about what to do if you see warning signs. What if you don’t like the new friend, after genuinely trying? What if you see behaviors that look dangerous to you? Maybe your friend’s new partner strikes you as controlling, vindictive, or insincere? If your friend asks for your honest opinion, clarify some ground rules. Having an upfront conversation increases the odds these tough chats later will be possible and useful.

4. Watch and Learn – my friend. You may be surprised at your feelings when your divorced friend finally falls in love again with someone wonderful, and their romance, wedding, new home and fresh start make your 15+ year relationship seem dowdy and stale. Even the horror off sharing kids with the “ex” now has a bright side; alternating kid-free weekends! If you feel more jealousy than relief at all this newness, it’s time to clean up your own house.  What do you and your partner need to stay new, alive and in love?

Helping Kids through Divorce

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles can make a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple.

Part 4 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ The Divorced Couple has Kids

1. Never badmouth either parent in front of the children. Children know (even if adopted) they’re a combination of both parents. It’s never OK to say anything negative about either parent. If a child tells you they are “mad at dad” by all means acknowledge “Boy, right now you’re so mad at dad you could scream!”  But avoid character assignation. If you hear “mum’s a looser – if she’d just stop drinking dad wouldn’t have left,”  challenge this gently. “Your mum’s behaved badly, but she’s not a bad person.” Good people can make bad choices. This is key or the child might grow up thinking they too have some ingrained character flaw “just like mum or dad.”

2. Cut the kids some slack.  When your parents split, your home’s sold, you divide your time and stuff between mum’s house & dad’s house, your friends are gossiping, family finances suffer, you have to meet a parent’s new partner, and-life-as-you-once-knew-it is forever changed, it can be hard to find comfort. Counselling might be good. But anyone can help by taking the child out, listening, empathizing and offering simple kindness. A regular zoo date; movie night and sleep over at your house; an introduction to something new – a sport or art or book – shows you care.

3. Include them in your family traditions. “It takes a village” yea, yea, but it really helps! If your divorced friends are not up for the Easter egg hunt, pumpkin carving, tree cutting, carol singing, Thanksgiving feast, bake sale, Waitangi Day races, cabin-on-the-lake trip for a while, include your friends’ kids with your own. As the child of an unhappy marriage, I longed for these immersions into happy family gatherings and model my own parenting on the many aunts and friends who included me along the way.

4. Be an advocate for the children.  In a recent study of young adults from divorced families, many of those surveyed identified loss of control over their lives as very upsetting. Few kids said their parents had talked with them about the divorce and only 5% had the chance to ask questions. Help your friends put their love of the children ahead of their hate for the “ex”.  Just because the parenting plan says Mum’s house on Thursdays, but there’s a Father’s Day tea – what does the child need and want today? Might it be OK to listen more to the children?

Homework as Insight

Part 5 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #5 PROBLEM ~ Homework: keep your eyes on the prize.

Most articles about homework offer helpful tips such as:

  • Expect your child to spend some time in additional learning every evening
  • Be interested in your child’s learning, but not intrusive
  • Allow your child to enjoy the rewards/consequences of his or her own work (don’t do it for them!)

I want to add a new one:

  •  Notice when your child’s homework seems fun to him or her.

If we consider the real prize of homework to be the opportunity it offers to see your child engaged in the process of learning, then noticing when they are happy is important for 2 reasons.

  1. When your child is joyfully engrossed in something it means she is using her gifts. She has tapped into some quality she was born to express. Naming this with your child will go a long way toward helping her think about her life’s work.
  2. If you really unpack what is going on when your child is deeply engaged, you’ll get some simple, easy-to-apply tips for how to help her in other subjects that might not be as obviously engaging to her.

OK, let’s bring this to life. True story from my home.

One evening when our son Charlie was about 14, his history homework was to create a political cartoon highlighting a theme from the American Civil War. He was in heaven! He loved researching the key incidents in the war; he adored trying out quick cartoon likenesses for the main actors; he loved looking at old political cartoons to see how they tackled the issues and so on.  Perfect storm for Charlie.

To raise a concept my colleague from The Robert Street Clinic Kyle MacDonald introduced on Radio Live last Saturday  Charlie had fallen happily into a state of FLOW, the 3 conditions of which are:

  1. The activity needs a clear set of goals and progress (research themes, create cartoon)
  2. The task needs clear and immediate feedback (is this cartoon accurate and funny?)
  3. The task needs to be “just right” in terms of not too hard / not too easy (Charlie saw himself as good at both History and Art)

So, as Charlie’s parents we saved his art work, encouraged him to keep drawing, told the teachers how much he loved visual assignments, sought out additional art courses, rented historical movies and tried to make connections back to art and history in his other subjects.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about FLOW, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – the Hungarian psychologist  whose research into happiness and creativity inspired the term FLOW  – you might check out Kyles’ blog.

PS: Charlie went on to study History at Willamette University in the USA. As a sophomore he won a Carson Award to create a graphic novel and is currently working on several artistic commissions.

Lunch Box Lessons

Part 4 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #4 PROBLEM ~ The Lunch-Box Challenge: who eats it, who packs it & what’s in it?

I wonder how many of my New Zealand-based readers were as stunned as I was at the 17th September 2012 Channel 3 investigation into lunch-box differences between students in Decile 1 versus Decile 10 schools* ?

In brief, children coming to school from poor neighbourhoods had appalling lunches (e.g., a fizzy drink and a bag of chips) or no lunch. Children coming to school from wealthier neighbourhoods had healthy lunches (whole grain sandwiches, home-made muffins, nuts & fruit).

Sure, a smoked salmon bagel, grapes and almonds cost more than a bag of chips, but there’s more to it than just money. Parents need to understand what constitutes good-enough nutrition and teach their kids how to take care of their bodies as well as their minds.

So, with the triple goals of ~

  1. Teaching your child about healthy foods
  2. Translating this into specific packable lunch-box meals
  3. Delegating lunch-box-prep to the lunch-box-eater

see if these ideas help:


Kids sniff out a hypocrite faster than they’ll fall on the first fresh muffin from the oven so if you want your child to make healthy food choices, you’d better be making them too. Occasionally chat at a meal. Ask your family,

“ So is this a healthy meal? What makes it good for us? Where’s the protein, fruit or vegetable, or whole grain? Any minerals or vitamins in here? What’s tasty to you? What do you wish you could add? Would that be make it healthier or less healthy for us?”

2. FAST (to prepare),  FUN (to eat) & FULL (of nutrients) 

Shop for school lunch ingredients that fit the above mantra.

Fast to prepare:  Peanut butter and jam sandwiches; sliced cheese; cubed cheese;  marinated tofu squares; sliced meats; bagels and cream cheese or salmon, hard boiled eggs; small tins of tuna; salted almonds.

Fun to eat:  Finger foods are already fun. Tiny containers of dry fruit, peanuts, mini sweets, cut up oranges or grapes.

Full of nutrients: Think Michael Pollen’s mantra, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” In other words, don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Avoid pre-packaged foods with long lists of ingredients you’ve never heard of!


Families vary here. If lovingly packing your child’s lunch box with a healthful medley of tasty treats whilst tucking in a wee love note makes you and your child happy, who am I to propose otherwise! However, if you don’t enjoy making the lunches – try the suggestions above with your child. Just stock up on good food and small plastic tubs. And launch your child into a lifetime of making healthy food choices.

* Click here for more about New Zealand’s school decile rating system.

Kids ‘n Stuff

Part 3 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #3 PROBLEM ~ Stuff Management, or how to avoid the daily  “Have you seen my . . . . . . . .backpack, lunch box, sport shoes, violin, maths book, rugby socks, glasses, glue stick? What’s the best way to help your kids manage their stuff so it can be found, used, cleaned, read, written-in and turned-in to the right place at the right time?

Like learning how to get up on time and eat healthfully, learning how to manage stuff is probably one of the most important lessons that 10+ years in school will offer your child.

See if these 3 ideas help.


Stuff needs a home. Unless you’ve got a place for everything, everything will never be in place. Brainstorm with your kids – they’re probably way more creative and inventive than you. Then together welcome the stuff to its home base.

Where will it be?

  • Hooks in the front hall?
  • Cubbies in the closet?
  • Huge hampers in the playroom?
  • A bedroom corner?


How is the stuff ever going to get to home-base?” By your children being willing to consistently use the structure you’ve put in place.

And why would they?” Because you care enough to train them.

It’s the rare child who defaults to tidy. But you can get kids on board if it’s important to you.


Like everything else I write about – by having a conversation with your child/ren along the lines of:

OK team, I’m resigning as “Chief Stuff Manager.” Now you’ve each got your very own stuff hamper in the front hall and it’s up to each of you to think about how to manage your stuff. Here’s home base. If you take something out, put it back when you’re done. If you find someone else’s item elsewhere – pop it in their hamper. If you’re looking for something of yours – look in the hamper. What else can we do?”

You can figure out some fun additional tips and rules if this seems to add to the buy in.


This is key.

Your kids will test your resolve as the newly resigned “Chief Stuff Manager.”

So, on day 3 when Mike’s in a total morning panic because he can’t find his left soccer shoe, ask yourself:

“What is ultimately best for Mike? That he have this chance to learn an important life lesson about being responsible for his own things so one day he might be responsible with other people’s things – their business, money, projects, work? Or is it better for him to see that rules can be bent and commitments broken so other people can rescue him?”

Answer honestly.


In the face of missing stuff ask:

“Whose problem is this? Who could most benefit from this life lesson?”

Eggs, PopTarts or?

Part 2 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #2 PROBLEM ~ Making time for a healthy breakfast

If you and your family have a system that works so everyone leaves the house having something nutritious on board, this post is not for you. I’d love to hear what you do though – can you send me some tips?

But, judging by some recent conversations I’ve had, it’s quite common to find ~

  • A child who won’t eat breakfast
  • A child who eats breakfast, but not a very healthy one
  • A child who eats very, very slowly
  • A child who is a moving target every morning so breakfast is a battle of wills and/or “catch”
  • A family where breakfast is a sibling battle ground

What to do?

Pick a time to have a chat about school morning breakfasts, maybe over a more leisurely meal on the weekend. When your family is not rushed and is feeling resourceful, ASK

~  WHY are the problems, well…problems?

Be prepared to take notes. Why is Alice not eating breakfast? Does she feel anxious, fat, rushed, not hungry?  Why is Brian mainlining sugar? How come Claire eats so s..l..o..w..l..y..? What does this get her? More attention? What’s with Eddie’s morning mischief – he runs laps around the kitchen grabbing bites of toast on each circuit — because? And yes, the twins bug one another 24/7, but could there be a school-morning-breakfast truce?

 ~  WHAT needs to happen?

Depends on the WHY.  Take the time to go kid by kid, issue by issue. Let’s take Alice. Can she talk to you about her mornings? Could be she simply isn’t a cereal girl and that’s what the family loves. But she’d eat toasted bagels and cream cheese. If she thinks she’s fat then a visit to a nutritionist to talk about weight loss might help. If she’s stressed about her school days, find out what’s going on at school and help her find some solutions.

~  WHOSE problem is it?

While I’m quick to encourage parents to let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions, there are some issues that need parental help. Our children’s behaviours are symptoms. A child who can get up and eat a healthy breakfast is demonstrating he or she is healthy by being symptom-free (in this one area at least!). A child who can’t get out of bed and won’t eat a nutritious breakfast is generating behavioural symptoms that may need attention.

 ~  HOW to make it better?

If you’re worried about your child not eating, or eating poorly, take charge. If you’ve brainstormed ways to help but the unhelpful or unhealthy behaviour persists, reach out to a doctor, nutritionist or family therapist. Not eating can be a sign of a number of “symptoms” that are better sorted sooner than later.


Breakfasts matter. Know your kid. Show you care.

Sleepy Kids

THE #1 PROBLEM ~ Kids oversleeping on school-mornings.

Pick a time after school to talk about what went wrong that morning – don’t attempt these conversations in the heat of  lateness.  When you and your kid are up for a chat,  ASK

 ~  WHY is this happening?

Ask your kid what’s getting in the way of them hopping out of bed on time. Late night movie? Giggling with a sleepover guest? Dreading the day? Bed too darn cozy?

~  WHAT needs to happen? 

Depends on the WHY doesn’t it.  Too late to bed? Re-establish bedtime. Giggling guests? Maybe no mid-week sleepovers. Dreading the day? Is there something stressful today or is every morning tough? One stressful morning you can problem-solve quickly, but a pattern of not liking school needs more. (Watch for a post about this.) Bed too darn cozy? Indeed! This kid needs to work their discipline muscle!

~  WHOSE problem is it?

Remember parents, this is your child’s life. For kids in primary and intermediate school, getting up and heading off to learn is their job. Having them climb into their own life begins with getting out of bed. (See HOW below for ideas to make this more fun). If older teens are resisting school at this point, check in. Are they just reluctant because it’s not fun but they know they’ll see school through? Or might they be experiencing a very real emotional response to an environment that is not suited to their learning? (Watch for a post on “Rebellious Teens”).

 ~  HOW to make it better?

For younger kids, increasing their responsibility is fun. Resign from alarm-clock duties. Buy one and teach your child how to tell time and set their own clock. Buy a stopwatch so your child can time themselves each morning and strive for “personal bests” (never make this a race between siblings!). Make the morning routine calm, predictable and with highlights (tasty breakfast?). Ask your kids – “How can we make getting up more fun?”


How you handle any issue with your child will do one of two things: it will bring you closer and your child will feel:

  • My folks are on my team
  • They believe in me
  • They know I can solve my own problems
  • They think I can be successful
  • They care about what I feel
  • They help me figure out what I need


it will push you apart and your child will feel:

  • My folks aren’t on my team
  • They don’t believe in my abilities
  • They think I’m too dumb to solve my own problems
  • They think I am a looser
  • They don’t care about how I feel
  • They have no idea about what I need


Back-to-School Problems . . .

. . . . and how to solve them.

After six weeks of fun, sun, boredom, beaches, lazy mornings and stress-free evenings it’s back-to-school time for the southern hemisphere.

I’ve been enjoying the mixed reactions of clients, some of whom have been counting the days until their kids are out from under-foot, some of whom have been dreading the discipline and scheduling that schooling demands.

Whether you’re delighted or daunted by the rhythms of school, here are the five most common problems families face and some tips for how to deal with them.


How do you get the sleepy heads out of bed with enough time for dressing, basic hygiene, breakfast and the commute to school?

  1. First, figure out who needs to be where and when so you know what you are shooting for.
  2. Involve  the kids in figuring out how much time each person needs to be at the right place at the time. How much time does each kid estimate he or she needs for actually getting out of bed once they are awoken? For dressing, teeth and hair, breakfast, puttering about?  If you involve the child in this sort of planning they begin to get a sense for how they operate and, they have no one to blame but themselves if they are late. Even Year 1 children can start to take responsibility for their morning habits and how long each project will take.
  3. Make a contract. Once you’ve established that Sarah needs to be at the bus stop at 7:50am and she needs 50 minutes for all her morning tasks, then her feet need to hit the floor at 7:00am. If she buys into this she is less likely to blame you or rebel when 7:00am rolls around each morning.
  4. Don’t BE the alarm, BUY one. The last thing parents need to be is their child’s wake up call. Painful as it is to be tossed from a warm bed you don’t want your child associating this rude start to a day with you! Kids love to get their own alarm, learn how to set it, and take responsibility to their morning routine.
  5. Make mornings calm. Once you have a routine for these morning tasks, keep to them. Kids love the world to be predictable so the more you remind them of how their mornings will go and the more they indeed see mornings unfolding this way, the more the world will seem to be a safer place.
  6. Make mornings fun.  One family I know invested in some stop watches and encouraged their kids to time themselves from wake up to leaving the house. Then, each day they got to see if they could beat that time and establish a “personal best” .  Don’t encourage siblings to race one another – that leads to tears and fights. But with personal bests – everybody wins.


How do you get everyone up and out with something nutritious on board?

  1. First, figure out your family’s priorities. Some families love to gather together for breakfast before they all set off. These can be simple meals like cereal and fruit, or scrambled eggs and toast. But if this is what your family loves to do – build in time for this. If you’ve got a bunch of non-morning people who prefer to nibble on a bagel and cream cheese on their own schedule – then so be it.
  2. Shop accordingly. The last thing you want on a Monday morning is to be scouring the fridge for the loaf you thought was there and finding nothing. Provision the fridge for easy to find and serve breakfast items.
  3. Delegate as much as possible. Even small children can be set up to reach the mini cereals, bowls, spoons and small milk jug on a low shelf in the fridge so they can be independent  – if this is how your family likes to operate.
  4. Keep food choices simple. Even if you feel strongly that you’d like to prepare a cooked breakfast for your family, avoid too many choices. Offering toast or muffins, white bread or brown, eggs fried or scrambled, hot chocolate, tea or coffee is all too much. Just put a plate of something you know your child likes in front of them. If you get the “Yuk I don’t want scrambled eggs today” you’d be wise to stay firm. “This is today’s menu my darling. Lunch time will come around and I expect you’ll be ready for your sandwich by then!” Unless you want to be a highly stressed short order cook each morning – be careful how you handle this one!
  5. If you’ve opted for the “everybody can graze on their own” breakfast option, be sure to have nutritious things on hand:  yogurt, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter, sliced fruits, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.


How to avoid the “Mum! Dad! Have you seen my . . [choose one or more..] backpack, library book, science project, note for the teacher, violin, lunch box, water bottle, PE clothes, homework, text book?”

  1. Create a place for everything. Think “What comes home needs a home.”
  2. Let me say that again – everything needs a place to go so that everyone knows what goes where and puts it there: well, mostly.  Think about how you want to sort things.
  3. Sort by owner: This can be a large wicker basket for each child for everything of theirs – anything of Joe’s gets tossed in the brown basket. Everything of Mary’s goes in the tan basket.
  4. Sort by use: water bottles and lunch tubs go on the kitchen counter; musical instruments go carefully in the study by the piano; homework goes in the study on the desk.
  5. Sort by need: dirty uniforms and PE clothes go in the laundry hamper; teacher notes that Mum or Dad need to read go on the office space in the kitchen.
  6. At the end of the evening, each child should be responsible for reassembling their pack. Is homework done and back in the pack? Has the violin been practiced and is it back by the door? Fresh PE clothes packed? Notes for teacher signed and back in the pack?
  7. Important: Mum and Dad, ask yourselves, “who’s problem is it if something gets lost or left behind?”  Is this your problem or your child’s problem? There’s many a parent who stresses over a lost homework assignment much more than the child who stands to loose the grade. The consequences for not tracking his or her stuff will never be as light as they are now for your child in school. Setting up systems is the parents’ job. Teaching your children how to use these systems is the parents’ job. Actually participating in the systems successfully – that’s your child’s job.


How to master the fine art of the school lunch box without fuss, muss or stress?

  1. Start off with the conversation – “What do you like for lunch at school?” Not that you have to produce everything junior wants, but as your child lists off, “salt and vinegar chips, chewy sweets, a fizzy drink and a banana” – make a note of the one or two things you might be wiling to include!
  2. Think in terms of the 3 main food groups: protein, vegetable, and grain or starch.
  3. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of protein: hard boiled eggs, slices of cheese, sliced meats, smoked fish or meat, small tins of tuna, smoked tofu, peanut butter, salted almonds, or?
  4. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of vegetable: carrot sticks, celery sticks, a small cole slaw, mini tomatoes, avocado, snap peas, seaweed salad, or?
  5. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of grain or starch: crisps, crackers, bagels, bread, pasta, rice or?
  6. Make a generic shopping list of all these favourite items and be sure to keep these items on hand during school times.
  7. Delegate. Even if you have a young child you can work together the night before (or in the morning if this works better for you) to put a helping of each of the main food categories into a lunch box. Tuck in a small bottle of water and a piece of fruit and you’ve worked with your child to establish a healthy food habit for life.
  8. Don’t forget left-overs. In our family we deliberately make twice as much dinner as we know we’ll eat so everyone takes a plastic container of left-overs for lunch, along with some nuts and a piece of fruit.
  9. If you are running out of ideas, ask your kids what their friends eat? Check out web sites for simple but tasty lunch ideas.


Or, why is this not called “Home Fun”?

  1. For each child, look into what the homework expectations are. Some schools try to minimize the amount of work brought home. Some schools expect there to be from 2 to 4 hours more study each night.
  2. See if your child’s understanding of the amount of work brought home is the same as the teacher’s… if not clarify!
  3. Before jumping in to help, see if your child actually needs your help. Might be they enjoy being self-motivated in which case you only need to step in if their work is not getting done or it is not up to snuff.
  4. Everyone talks about making a special place for homework – so I might as well too. Make a place! It really is key to establish where your young scholar can spread out and do some writing, reading and thinking with minimal distractions. Will it be the kitchen table, counter, office, or den? When my daughter inherited our lovely old double bed – which feels huge to her – she declared it her office and that’s where she sets up her homework center.
  5. What about those distractions? The inevitable presence of the TV, radio, iPod, cell phone and social network opportunities? In terms of how much parents need to get involved in helping minimize these distractions, the key here is to know your child. Ask yourself and them about their ability to work while distracted. Watch them – can they handle five things at once and still produce quality work?  If they can, you job is easy – just keep your low profile monitoring radar on. If they clearly can’t you’ll need to have a conversation about this.
  6. This is potentially such a big topic! Let me know if you want a whole blog dedicated to kids and today’s electronic distractions. I’d be happy to produce one!

                                    GOOD LUCK

As I  always say – if you have a conversation that heads south, you can always try again. And if things really are not working – send me a note. I always respond,