How Running Makes Me a Better Mom

When it comes to motherhood, I have a theory that runner moms have a huge advantage over other mothers simply because we run. Here’s why:

Running is undeniably not for wimps and neither is parenting. Each demands mental and physical toughness that, at times, seem to exceed human capacity. But running provides a training ground for flexing many of the same muscles needed to be an incredible mother. I’m basing my logic on personal experience. Even though I’ve been running half marathons for years, and I’m a professional parenting coach with teenagers of my own, the obstacles in running and parenting can still kick my butt. It’s in the challenge of striving for personal best that I’ve become better at both.

One of the things I love about running is that each accomplished mile is a concrete reminder of just how strong, determined and resilient I can be. On days when endless parenting failures leave me so defeated I’m ready to give myself up for adoption, a good cathartic run beats even a glass of Cab or a pint of Haagen-Dazs.

But the benefits of stress-reducing workouts go far beyond their restorative powers. I’m convinced that they actually equip moms to be wiser, stronger and more effective parents. Determination, self discipline, perspective and focus are just a few of the parenting traits that naturally emerge during a run.

My Story

Inspired by one of my post-run journal entries:

At the end of an exhausting day of endless parenting fails, collapsing on the sofa in an Emmy award winning pity-party sounds pretty darn inviting. Exerting real effort in anything constructive is totally out of the question. And engaging in any form of exercise seems laughable.

But, before I have time to start sobbing, a small and powerful inner voice inevitably whispers, “Go for a run. It’ll make you feel better. You know it will… Go on… Do it!” After bantering with my thoughts for longer than a sane person should, I find the determination to lace up my shoes, untangle my headphones and step outside.

Plugging the earbuds into my ears, I shut out the world and focus on the task at hand. My finger jabs at the red button on my Nike Running app, and the familiar male voice announces, “Beginning workout…” My feet feel compelled to move, and I cynically applaud myself for the herculean effort that got me here. Playing sloth on the sofa still seems like the better option, but at least the hardest part is now behind me.

My first few steps on the street are labored and intentional. I actually have to tell myself to put one foot in front of the other. “No excuses.” “You’ve got this,” “It WILL get easier,“ I remind myself. And by the time I reach the mailbox, I settle into a comfortable pace in sync with my running playlist. Peacefully alone, my narrow-minded perspective slowly broadens, allowing rays of sunshine to rush in. Earlier arguments with my kids over homework and snippy attitudes don’t seem as drastic now, and life’s more reasonable solutions come out of hiding.

At the mile and a half mark, I hit what I call a “warm-up wall.” My legs feel like they’re dragging through quicksand, and I have trouble catching my breath. Another inner whine begs me to “Slow down and walk.” In my defense, I open up a can of perseverance and keep running. This mama refuses to wallow in regret all the way home. Besides, I know that if I just push through to mile 2, my feet will become lighter, and I’ll find my happy pace.

By mile 2, my melodramatic complaining turns to grateful celebration as countless reasons to be thankful emerge. In truth, nothing about my chaotic day has changed, but the endorphins dancing in my brain remind me to lighten up and focus on the positive. And in this time of genuine thanksgiving, I discover what I’d been missing all day – my connection to God. In the middle of the muck, I had dropped my life line and tried to go it alone. No wonder I was such a mess. My perfect source of strength, encouragement and wisdom was cut off, and I have no one to blame but myself. Skip the blame. Instead, I ask for forgiveness and allow God’s grace to carry me the last half mile back home.

As I end my 3 mile workout, I log it with a smile emoji, and a renewed sense of self confidence showers over me. Sure, I may have totally messed up in the Mom Department today, but I did manage, against all odds, to successfully complete a stinkin’ run. And in one 30 minute workout, I feel like a new woman.

Who knows what parenting obstacles tomorrow will bring, but I’m more ready than ever. I’m a runner mom.

More to follow…

Join me in the next few weeks as I dive into more detail about the specific traits that make moms successful. We’ll take a look at WHY those attributes are so important to parenting, and HOW moms can strengthen them with every workout.

I hope you’ll join me!

Question: How has running helped you as a mom? I’d love to hear your story! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

South of the Border Chicken

This recipe is a family favorite passed down to me by my dear mom in law. The creamy sauce pairs wonderfully with rice, tortillas or a handful of tortilla chips.


  • 6 Boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 TBS cumin
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • Small can of green chiles
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced and seeded
  • Handful of cilantro, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Jalapeño, seeded and diced (optional)


1. Rinse chicken and pat dry, cutting fat from edges.

2. Sprinkle sides of each piece with salt and cumin.

3. Brown in skillet with oil on medium high heat (ideally until crispies form on each side or in the pan).

4. Remove chicken from skillet and place in 9×13 baking dish.

5. In a separate bowl, mix soup, chiles, tomatoes, cilantro, cheese and jalapeños.

6. Deglaze the chicken pan with a few tablespooons of water and stir into soup/cheese mixture.

7. Pour on top of chicken and smooth like icing on a cake.

8. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly and chicken is cooked through.

9. Serve with rice and tortilla chips or tortillas.

Beware of Labels, Even Good Ones

When people ask me if I’m a runner, I’m reluctant to say, “Yes,” even though I do run at least three times a week, and I’m usually training for a half marathon or a triathlon. I’m comfortable telling people I run, but I’m intimidated by the thought of being labeled a “runner.”

In my mind, runners run far and fast and look like they’ve just stepped off the cover of Women’s Running Magazine. If people perceive me as a  runner, I fear they’ll think less of me if they know my average run is four miles and I barely break 10 minute miles. But if they simply know I sometimes run, there is less pressure to live up to. Labels, both good and bad, come with expectations. And, while those expectations can be beneficial at times, they can also create unnecessary stress. This same phenomenon is true when we label kids.

Take a “positive” label for instance, like such a smart girl. A bright, straight A student may enjoy the admiration that’s attached to a characterization like this, but what happens when she gets a D on her first test or when schoolwork starts to feel challenging? For kids who feel even partially defined by their performance based labels, setbacks can knock them completely off their rockers. It’s not uncommon to hear huge doubt setting with comments like, “I made a D: I must be Dumb.” or “School isn’t as easy for me this year…maybe I wasn’t so smart after all.”

But imagine what might happen if that same child is raised to believe she is incredibly special, not for what she does but for who she is. And that she is full of potential. And that she is loved– not just by her parents but also by her Heavenly Father who created her. What if that same child was taught that none of us are perfect (nope, not even Mom or Dad), but through the unique strengths and gifts that God gives us, we are able to overcome our mistakes and our weaknesses?

Kids who know that they are loved and valued are better equipped to defeat challenges in their lives and are less susceptible to the influence of labels. As parents, we can help our children through tough situations by reassuring them of our love and our confidence in them simply by active listening.

For Example

Here’s how that might sound between a parent and third grader who brings a failed spelling test home from school. Listen to how Mom connects with her daughter and helps her feel supported while guiding her to a solution.

Sally (close to tears): “I’m so dumb! I can’t believe I failed my spelling test today!”

Mom (showing empathy): “Oh, Sally! It hurts to do poorly on a test. And you studied hard for that one… no wonder you sound so disappointed.”

Sally (wrinkling her face in frustration): “I just don’t get it!”

Mom (gently): “It really surprised you, huh? I’m surprised, too. You usually do great on spelling tests. How would you like to take a look at it together and figure out what went wrong?

Sally (relaxing a bit): “Yeah, ok.”

Mom: “Let’s get a snack first and recharge that brain of yours. The good news is that there is lots to learn from making mistakes, and what you learn can help you even more on future tests!”


Sally tried to label herself as dumb because she did poorly on her test. Instead of trying to convince her daughter that she isn’t dumb, Mom connected at a deeper level to help her feel valued and loved. Sally moved from feeling defeated to empowered, and she left the labels in the dust.

As you go through your day, I challenge you to listen for labels that are placed on people, and then watch closely. Their reactions may surprise you.

When I need a little reassurance that God’s impression of me is all that matters, I love to listen to Francesca Batastelli’s He Knows My Name. What an awesome reminder of God’s love for us!

5 Parent-Child Communication Myths

Back talking. Fighting for the last word. Monosyllabic answers. Colorful *@&!?% word choice. Who knew parent-child communication could be so erratic? Or, at times, so stinkin’ frustrating? If dialoging with your child has become messy or even stagnant, it may be time to do a bit of myth busting to clean up the faulty thinking jamming lines of communication. Here are 5 Common Communication Myths debunked:

1. MYTH: Parents should have all the answers.

FACT: When kids are looking for advice or help, they will typically ask. But if parents dispense advice to unwilling ears, kids are bound to reject it or resent it. As The Adult (with decades of experience and wisdom), we often put undue pressure on ourselves to have The Answer to all of our kids’ problems. But if we resist the temptation to rescue or repair, we allow our kids the opportunity to grow and experience the thrill of finding their own solutions.

2. MYTH: Questions are the best dialogue starters.

FACT: Craving to connect with our kids after a long day at school, we typically ask, “How was your day, Honey?” And, very often, a mumbled, monosyllabic “Good,” is all we get in response. For a more meaningful ride home, try sparking a conversation with a warm greeting or statement like, “I really missed you today.” OR “From the looks of those purple fingers, I bet you had art class today.” OR “You’ll never guess what happened to ME today…”

3. MYTH: When a parent says, “No,” children interpret it as, “No.”

FACT: I’m convinced that deep within the cerebral cortex of 98% of children is a faulty connection which makes his brain think “REALLY???” when his ears hear, “NO.” To stop a child from doing something we don’t want them to do, I believe we have two basic choices: repeat the word NO until you are blue in the face, or use a YES alternative. Examples: “Yes, you may go to your friend’s house to play as soon as you unload the dishwasher.” OR “The kitchen is not for yelling. Feel free to yell in your room with the door closed or out in the garage.”

4. MYTH: If your child is using colorfully inappropriate language, he’s destined for a life of debauchery.

FACT: Young kids are experimenters by nature. When they are introduced to a new word (on TV or from potty-mouthed classmates, for instance), they are wired to try it on for size. Often they don’t even know what the word means. They just know it must be pretty cool because it gets a huge reaction from listeners. The next time Junior experiments with a new word, try to keep your cool and calmly ask if he knows what the word means and who he heard it from. Then, in age-appropriate terms, define it and explain why it is not to escape from his precious little mouth again. (It also helps to brainstorm an appropriate alternative to use in place of the new word).

5. MYTH: Kids and adults speak the same language.

FACT: Sure, if you speak English, chances are your children do too. But that does not mean that you share the same style of communication with your kids, and that difference can create frustrating misunderstandings. To enhance understanding, find out if your child is a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner. If she is visual, try hand signals, notes and visual cues to get your message across. If she is kinesthetic, you may need to gently touch her shoulder or use hand signals when you talk to her. And if she is auditory but still does not seem to get what you’re verbally asking, try to simplify your instruction. She may simply be overwhelmed by the amount of information she is trying to process at once.

If  talking with your child or teen has become more difficult in recent weeks, check to see if a Communication Myth is getting in the way. Sometimes just a slight adjustment in approach can re-establish harmony and get healthy conversation flowing once again.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin “Bread”

I’ve gotten into a habit of baking scrumptious cake breads on a regular basis. I usually make 2 cakes: one I slice and pack in lunch boxes. The other, I wrap in foil or plastic wrap and freeze until the first one disappears. They are far cheaper, healthier and more delicious (in my humble opinion) than the store bought cakes. And this one is a favorite in Fall.          (Adapted from


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin or fresh pumpkin puree
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c applesauce
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 TBS ground flax seed or wheat germ


  1. In a large bowl, combine the flours, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
  2. In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and applesauce.
  3. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until moistened.
  4. Gently stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Pour into two butter-greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans.
  6. Sprinkle flax seed or wheat germ on the top of each loaf (1 TBS per loaf).
  7. Bake at 350° for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Screaming in the Car

Here’s a great question I was recently asked by a parent whose child thinks the car is the place to test vocal chord capacity.


What’s a way to discipline an action that is annoying (like screaming in the car)? What is a natural and/or logical consequence for these kinds of actions? Should I view any action that just bothers me personally as something I just need to get over?

Ah, the piercing sounds of shrill voices permeating the tiny space inside a car. Few things rattle the ear drums and test the nerves as much as these. And, while some bothersome actions can be ignored, this is an annoyance that needs our attention. Not only is screaming in the car irritating, it can be dangerous, too.

When dealing with an annoying or inappropriate behavior, parents often search for the ideal consequence to get it to stop.  But before I share a consequence,  I want to suggest that if we focus specifically on providing a consequence after the action has occurred, we’ll likely miss the underlying need that is causing the behavior. And if that underlying need does not get met, the behavior will pop up again in one form or another. Therefore, before I suggest consequences, let’s take a look at possible root causes of the annoying behavior and see if we can prevent it altogether.

Could it be that the screaming occurs because your child has lots of energy and needs to let it out?
You may want to try to get the wiggles out by having a running, dancing, jumping, singing/speaking loudly session before getting into the car.

Could it be that the screaming is in response to siblings squabbling in the backseat?
Perhaps reducing the tension with distractions could help. Offering to have your child take a favorite toy into the car, or enlisting them to choose a healthy snack for the ride are two popular ideas. And when my sons were younger, our family’s favorite car distraction was listening to music or books on tape.

          Music: Up through early elementary school, CDs by Raffi, Cedarmont Kids and Joe McDermott were a must in my car. Sing-a-longs came naturally to us, and we all chimed in. Local children’s musicians also drew our attention, and if we were lucky enough to see them performing live, we’d purchase their CD for extra special encores. As my kids got older, clean radio stations like KLOVE and AIR1 replaced the CDs, but the singing continued.

          Books on Tape: Focus on the Family has a terrific series of children’s stories called Adventures in Odyssey and Whit’s End. My kids would listen for hours on end. We borrowed copies from the library, where we’d stock up each week. The kids knew they had to be buckled in their seats with no bickering before I’d play the CD. And sometimes we’d do a brief recap of what had already happened in the adventure and what we thought might happen next before resuming our listening. As they got older, we listened to books on tape from their favorite authors. Or sometimes they’d prefer to simply read a great book to kill the time in the boring car.

Could it be that they have trouble with volume control?
Depending upon their developmental age or possible sensory issues, kiddos may need to learn how to modulate their voices (speak in soft and loud tones). Try making a game of this by having them copy your tone of voice and what you are saying. Then you can talk about when and where those volumes are appropriate. Here’s an example:

  1. (You whisper) “This is my quiet voice. I use it when the baby is sleeping and when I’m at the library or in the car.”
  2. (Then using a conversational voice) “This is my inside voice. I can use it in the house, in the car, and when I’m talking to grandma on the telephone.
  3. (Finally, using a raised voice) “This is my loud voice. I use it outside or when I call to you across the house.”

At the first sound of loud voices being used in the car, remind them (in your whispering voice) “Only quiet and inside voices are allowed in the car. Loud voices are for outside.” You can even go further by making funny noises in your quiet and inside voices to get the point across. Try growling, squeaking, speaking in a deep voice, or even in an accent and invite your kids to mimic you.

Could it be that they feel alone and are trying to connect with you?
Create conversation: Kids get bored sitting in the car and that can feel lonely even though you are sitting inches away. Driving is a great time to engage them in conversation. Try connecting with a story, by asking questions about their new friend or toy, or by making up a story together.

Setting the Rule:
It’s important for our kids to learn to follow rules, particularly when safety is involved. It’s also important to set a clear rule about voices in the car. Try to avoid using the word NO, as in “NO screaming in the car,” as this tends to invite a challenge to the rule. Instead, declare in a soft voice that, “The inside of the car is a quiet zone. Only quiet and inside voices are allowed.”

If screams occur while driving, gently remind and redirect. If the rule is broken again and you are headed to your a place your child is looking forward to (like a play date), try saying, “This car will go to Johnny’s house if everyone is using quiet voices while we drive. Screaming voices will make the car go home.” This sets a clear boundary but also puts the power to choose in your child’s hands. Be prepared to follow through if the rule is indeed broken.

It does pay to choose your battles wisely, and there are situations when “just getting over” the annoyance can be helpful. But behaviors that involve safety or are ongoing should not be overlooked. Look to prevention to not only address the problem today but to keep it from coming back in the future. You can find more about effectively handling annoying behaviors in these posts too: A Real Solution for Annoying Behaviors Part 1 and Part 2.

Question: Please share! What activities do you use in the car to keep your kids occupied and make the drive easier? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Showing Love by Backing off

I’ve got to stop trying to be helpful! Lately, I find the more I jump in to lend a hand, the more confusion, frustration and chaos I cause. How sad. But true.

I’m a do-er and a helper. Combine that with my waves of high energy or over-caffeinated brain, and you’ve got a Super Servant ready for action. But often I forget that people don’t need (or sometimes even want) my assistance, and it can be rude for me to jump in without asking first. Sometimes I take a helpful leap only to find I’ve done it wrong. Talk about embarrassing! This holds true for my friends, family and even strangers. But I think it’s most significant when dealing with my teenagers.

Just as plants need plenty of fertile soil and room to grow, teens need their space and opportunities to be independent. I tend to forget this, and I inadvertently box my kids in with advice and reminders. My intentions are loving and my desire is to be helpful. But more and more, my two cents is perceived as nagging and intrusive, and it’s disrupting relationships more than strengthening them. So, I’m learning to back off a bit and show more respect for their quest for independence.

Ironically, I often talk about how to help kids STOP their annoying behaviors. I talk about how to look for the underlying need that is contributing to the behavior, and I suggest providing an appropriate alternative to replace the annoying behavior. (This alternative helps fill the unmet need that is underlying and causing the behavior). Well, it seems I’m engaging in an annoying behavior (intrusively helping), and I need an appropriate alternative to help me stop.

In order to show love and be true to my helpful heart while respecting my teens’ space and capabilities, here is the intervention strategy I’ve come up with:

  1.  Share what I see: “Looks like you’ve got a busy week of school ahead of you- big math and science tests and a history project due! How are you feeling about that?”
  2.  Show confidence in my teen. “You’ve done a great job of keeping your grades up all year, and I know you can handle the load next week. I’m going to do my best to not nag you, but I also want you to know I’m here for you. If you happen to need me, just ask.”
  3. Continue to show love in other ways, like making a favorite meal, surprising them by making their bed, putting an extra treat in their lunch box, or writing a note of encouragement and leaving it on their pillow. These gentle reminders tell them that I’m thinking of them and provide a non-intrusive pick-me-up to keep them motivated.

The bottom line is that by respecting my teen’s space and need for independence, I AM showing love and support. It feels counterintuitive, but if I can remember this, I’m sure it will make backing off a bit easier. Showing love by backing off… now that’s going to be a tough one to master!

Soggy with a Sense of Accomplishment

This is the first post of Random Running Reflections, a place where I share thoughts and inspiration I find while running…

I woke up to 53 degrees and constant, light rain today. Not my idea of ideal running conditions, but I made myself a promise to continue running outdoors though Fall this year. With a half marathon on the books for January, I’m gonna need to train in the great NorthWest rain and toughen up. (Of course, I’ll reevaluate my outdoor commitment at the first sign of freezing precipitation, but for now, on go the running shoes!)

Weeks ago I purchased a Paradox, water-proof, running jacket at Costo for an amazing price. It’s a trendy, lavender, sporty, women’s cut and promises to keep me dry. So I figured it would be just the motivation I’d need when the actual rainy day arrived.

But talking about running in the rain and doing it are two totally different things. And this morning, a litany of excuses to stay inside rattled in my brain. Ultimately, I convinced myself to hit the trail. I tossed on my lululemon running capris, a billed cap, and a sacrificial pair of old running shoes. Then I ceremoniously zipped up my new, wet weather, deflector shield and felt a renewed sense of commitment. Off I went.

To my delight and sheer surprise, the rainy run turned out to be amazing. The temps were cool enough to keep me comfortable throughout my 6 miles, and the rain rolled off my head and torso like a duck. The Autumn leaves that remained on the trees provided gorgeous canopies of canary and emerald, crimson, maroon, and orange. Looking down, I skipped across carpets of vibrant colors that were created by the fallen foliage. And even the puddles had a cheery glimmer. Though I did my best to avoid them.

At the end of my run, I was thrilled that I’d decided to brave the elements after all. I was so close to convincing myself to wimp out, but if I had, I would have totally missed out. Motivation was the key to following through. And this time my incentive took the form of a simple new rain coat.

Today I learned that soggy with sense of accomplishment trumps cozy, warm and regretful any day.

Question: What will your motivation be to get you to do that one task you’d rather not (but need to) do? I challenge you to find it, and procrastinate no more! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lick the Plate Clean Chicken Tetrazzini

This casserole can feed an army and truly is lick-the-plate-clean good! One of my most requested recipes, and originally shared by a dear family friend.


1 large chicken, boiled and deboned
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 package of Stouffers frozen Welsh rarebit OR 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. Velveeta cheese, grated
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
parmesan cheese
1 package angel hair pasta


  1. Boil chicken, drain and reserve broth.
  2. Debone chicken and chop or tear into bite sized pieces.
  3. Heat broth, Welsh rarebit, cheese and mushroom soup until blended.
  4. Cook pasta and drain.
  5. Mix pasta, chicken, sauteed mushrooms with sauce and put into two lightly greased 2 Quart casseroles.
  6. Top with paprika and parmesan cheese. (Also chopped parsley, if you wish).
  7. Bake at 325° for about 45 minutes, or until completely heated through and bubbly. Serves 12.

Teaching Self Discipline

I love Oreo cookies. And ice cream. And rich milk chocolate- or extra dark… Ok, let’s face it. I have a gigantic sweet tooth. And if I don’t keep it under control, it will devour every fitness goal I have. But completely depriving myself of sweets is up there with my chances of climbing Mt. Everest. It ain’t gonna happen. So, I try to set goals that focus on Moderation and Motivation. It works for me, and it’s an incredibly effective parenting strategy, too.

What Doesn’t Work

When I try to limit my sweets intake, the Super Strict Approach almost always backfires. Here’s how. Let’s say I tell myself, “NO! You can’t have those Oreos. The sugar and fat will make you sluggish-remember you’re in training!” If I really want the cookies, a hard line approach only fuels my resolve to get them. And in my stubbornness, I’ll argue until my inner Cookie Monster is victoriously munching on chocolate wafers and smirking at my puny willpower.

A Better Approach

My sweet tooth isn’t going away any time soon, and fighting against it leaves me bitter and frustrated. So, I’ve learned to use its power to my motivational advantage. I tell myself, “YES! You CAN have 3 Oreos… as soon as you run 5 miles.” (Notice the Moderation of 3 cookies and the Motivation to run 5 miles? Specific rewards and objectives are critical in goal setting). With this approach, my determination shifts focus from arguing to earning the prize.

How this Plays Out with Kids

When we firmly tell our kids they CANNOT have something that they truly want, a switch in their brain turns ON causing them to focus with laser intensity on ways to bypass our NO. As parents, it’s easy to see this as strong-willed defiance. (“Why can’t they just OBEY?” is a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly.) But I have to remember that obedience is something that is learned…along with self discipline. It’s not something we are born with, and it takes time to shape.

Quite frankly, I don’t want squash my kids’ spirit of determination. It will serve them well in year’s ahead. Instead, I want to teach them to use it respectfully. And I want them to obey authority because it’s the right thing to do, not simply because they fear the consequences or wrath of mom. Ultimately, I want my kids to learn to make responsible, self-disciplined decisions whether I’m there to guide them or not.

Choose Your Course

When kids want something that parents don’t want them to have, a fork in the road emerges. The path we take will directly impact the short and long term shaping of our kids. Here are the 3 most common routes parents take and probable outcomes:

  1. Head down the path of least resistance: give in and give them what they want. While this may be easiest, it teaches kids that Mom has an Achilles’ heel. And they will target her weak spot every time.
  2. Barricade the road with a huge wall to try to force a change of direction. While this will block the prohibited objective, determined kids will usually try to climb the wall, and others will flop down in front of it and pout (or tantrum) in defeat.
  3. Put up a solid Road Block while directing traffic to a more appropriate Detour. This route invites a child to focus on redirecting to a healthier, wiser outcome instead of fighting back. Sure, they will still be disappointed in the underlying NO, but when those emotions are met with empathy, their ability to cope will be strengthened.


Here’s an example using a Road Block with a Detour and a sprinkle of Moderation and Motivation, too. Setting: The time is 4:30 PM. Mom is in the kitchen preparing dinner for5:30PM when six year-old Conner comes running in with a puppy dog look on his face:

Conner:  MOM, I’m huuuuungry. Can I have cookies and milk…please?

Mom:  I bet you’re hungry! You’ve been playing outside all day in the sunshine. Dinner is in one hour. Cookies are for after dinner (Road Block), but I’m happy to serve a healthy snack to tide you over (Detour). How about some yogurt or carrots with Ranch dip?

Conner:  But I want cookies. NOW.

Mom (Clarifying the Detour):  You may have 2 cookies (Moderation) after you eat a good dinner (Motivation). If you choose to argue about it, the cookies will have to wait until tomorrow. Would you like a yogurt or carrots as a snack for now?

Conner:  Yogurt, please. Can we put the cookies on a plate and set them on the counter so you don’t forget after dinner?

Mom:  I do forget sometime, huh? Sure. That’ll be a good reminder for both of us.

What this Teaches:

The bottom line is this: Mom successfully sets unpopular but necessary boundaries by:

  • helping Conner stay focused on coping with the disappointment instead of fueling his desire to argue with her,
  • setting clear limits with Moderation and Motivation: 2 cookies, after dinner, and as long as there is no arguing, and
  • offering an appropriate alternative to curb Conner’s hunger before dinner.

IF Conner continues to argue for cookies, Mom can calmly but firmly remind him, “I know you are disappointed, but I was clear that there would be no cookies tonight if the arguing continued. I’m going to remove cookie privileges tonight, and you can try again tomorrow.” This will, no doubt, be met with greater disappointment. A helpful approach in shaping coping skills at this point is to continue to show empathy for the disappointment, while instilling hope and believing in the child’s ability to be successful next time.

For instance, Mom might say, “It’s tough to lose privileges. It’s hard for me to take them away, too. Tomorrow will be a fresh start. Would you like to aim to have your 2 cookies with lunch?”

If Conner is incredibly tired from his big day, he may not have what it takes to hold it together at this point. If he begins to melt down, redirecting him to a quiet activity in his room or a nice warm bath can help him reset before dinner.

Teaching our kids to obey and eventually master self discipline is one of the toughest tasks we face as parents. But when kids are given the tools to learn to cope with boundaries and disappointment, and shown how to make wise and healthy decisions, they can acquire skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

I challenge you today to face limit setting with a fresh approach. Provide appropriate detours along with those road blocks and watch your kids respond more cooperatively. And the next time you break out a package of Oreo cookies, please be sure to eat one for me!

Question: What limits are most difficult for you to set with your kids? You can leave a comment by clicking here.