Teaching Tech Limits

Heads down. This is what parents look like to kids.

Heads down. This is what parents look like to kids.

If you ask most adults, they’re concerned about kids and the amount of time they spend on screens. That’s definitely important, but have you asked kids lately how they feel about their parents’ use of screens?

Too often, this is what children see: Heads down. Attention focused on the device. Parents lost in the netherworld of their phone.

We’re constantly modeling sensible tech use to children (or not such sensible tech use). Here’s what they’re learning when we over-use phones:

  • The online screen world is more important and fascinating than this one.
  • It’s OK to interrupt people in real-life all the time.
  • I have to really work to get my parent’s or another adult’s attention.
  • Balance? Boundaries? Manners? What are those?

When it comes to parenting, we like to focus on how to improve the kids’ behaviors. It’s a little harder to focus on our own. Smartphones have swept over our generation like a tidal wave. In all the excitement and flurry we’ve often forgotten to find balance.

Just like modeling good nutrition, parents must demonstrate healthy tech use.

Our daily habits matter. Kids are always watching and jumping to their own conclusions. “I thought grown-ups were just playing video games all day,” said one boy. That’s what he likes to do with a screen, so he assumed that’s what all the grown-ups around him were doing.

Try setting up some new healthy screen habits.

  • Announce what you’re doing. “I’m checking the weather.” “I’m sending a message to Daddy.” The screen is a vast portal to anywhere. Kids and others around you don’t know what you’re up to, so it’s polite to let them know.
  • Make pick-up and drop-off time a no-screen time. Finish your phone call before picking up your child from school. Enter the building fully present. Meetings and greetings are vital social times.
  • Set aside sacred times and spaces. Set family rules to keep mealtimes, bedtimes and bef0re-bed times screen-free. Make sure adults stick to it.
  • Discipline yourself and your phone. No, you don’t need it all the time. Remember it’s just a tool. You’re in charge of it; it’s not in charge of you.

If your family struggles with phone use, try my chapters devoted to technology in “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Here’s an interesting article about overdoing tech and what it does to us: “I Used to be a Human Being” and NPR’s “For Children’s Sake.”

Remember, the children are always watching. We need to show them that real life is the most fascinating thing of all.

How do you see adult phone use impacting children in your life? What is  your relationship with technology? Who’s on top, you or your phone?

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Teaching Tech Limits

  1. Great post. I fear this addiction to technology will be the downfall of western civilization… Well…not really, but it boggles my mind how many people prefer machines to humans these days.

    I use a computer all day, but do NOT like using my smartphone. I don’t want anyone to have the number so no one will feel entitled to call me 24/7. Tech is a tool, but to rely on only one tool is foolhardy. What on Earth will we do if a terrorist attack wipes out the electric grid?

    My Little Brother is nine and seems indifferent to technology other than liking to play “educational” video games at the library. I assume he has a Game Boy or similar at home, but thankfully he never drags it along when we have time together. I rarely use my phone while with him and have only called his mother or taken a few photos with it. I hope to show him that life with technology used sparingly is possible and (more?) enjoyable than life glued to a screen.

  2. Another thing that’s slowly disappearing is the reading of “real” books — children nowadays are so engrossed with social media and in using their gadgets.

Celebrating Cake


The castle cake just before it was besieged. See the knights in the background.

I was just talking to fellow parenting author Jessica Joelle Alexander about the virtues of cake. She’s the author of the new book The Danish Way of Parenting, and describes how Danish teachers focus on empathy lessons every week from preschool through age 16, and do it with cake.

Cake seems like a good way to restart the Starlighting Mama blog for the season. The blog and I take summers off from each other. In summer, the outdoors is calling, the children are calling, and computers are cool, but not all the time. So here we are back again, and I can’t resist sharing with you my newest cake creation, created for my son’s birthday: A Besieged Castle.

Not just any castle, as you can see. It had to be actively under siege. So besides the vanilla wafer crenellations on the battlements, we have knights and siege engines attacking the castle walls.

The siege begins.

The siege begins!

The central castle is made from two 8″ square cakes stacked on top of each other. I baked a second set of square cakes and cut them into quarters and something less than quarters to make foundations for the towers (toothpicks help keep the towers stable). Then there’s stacked blond Oreos for the top of the towers, crowned by Nilla wafers. I’ve used fruit roll-ups before for windows and doors, but since this was a working fortress castle, we used pretzels for arrow slit windows (also called “loopholes”) and the castle door.

To accompany this cake, the kids devised various rough-and-tumble games, including making their own cardboard shields and then staging sword fighting duels and having an archery contest. After all that, they were ready to attack the cake castle.

Welcome back to the blog. If you like podcasts, I also started a podcast six months ago called Renegade Rules. You can listen via iTunes or Stitcher weekly on Saturdays.  The podcast interview with Jessica and ideas from “The Danish Way” will be up in October.

Meanwhile – celebrate life with cake.

Flaming torches crown it all. Of course, the good guys win.

Flaming torches crown it all. Of course, the good guys win.

Posted in Cool Cakes and Costumes, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to Celebrating Cake

  1. Loved the cake. I would have killed for that as an 8-yr-old. :-)

Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

Hiding under Blankie

Kids often carry real worries about events in the news. Talking can help kids cope.

News disasters don’t just stay in the news. Children encounter them.

When something terrible happens, kids want to know why. We may not think they even know what’s going on in the adult world – but you’d be surprised. Kids pick up more than we think. They pick up our fears. And they deserve age-appropriate honest answers.

This weekend I witnessed a scene that sums up childhood. My kids were romping outside with a friend, immersed in a game of imagination. They were outside in nature. Running through the meadow. Working out the game rules. The scene from my window was idyllic.

When they came in, my youngest announced “We were playing ISIS.”

ISIS. What a chilling game.

This is childhood. Childhood is about running carefree through meadow grass. But it’s also more complex than that. Childhood play is about sorting out the world, processing fears, figuring out what’s happening in the adult world and how to cope with it.

I admit the shock value stunned me a bit. But, of course, ISIS is part of this world and therefore it’s part of children’s play.

After the game I asked the kids what they knew about ISIS – “they’re hiding in Michigan.” We talked and I answered their questions about Islam, radical Islam, what radical Islamic terrorists didn’t like and why they might be angry. Usually after an in-depth talk like this the kids get done quickly and are ready to move on. Not on this topic.

When I checked in: “Have I answered your questions? Are there still things you want to know?” The answer was:

“Tell me more.”

Kids generally want to know more until they feel safe. We can’t guarantee safety, but we can help a child feel safe.That’s the root of it. The child wants reassurance that adults around him will take care of him.

Feeling safe

  • My fears and feelings have been heard
  • I’m lucky to live in a place that’s one of the safest in the world
  • I know what to do if there’s an emergency
  • I can talk to my parents about anything
  • Knowing what it’s all about makes the world less scary

Baffled? Don’t know what to say? My book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide devotes a whole chapter to talking to kids about news disasters – war, genocide, modern slavery, refugees, shootings, natural disasters, the whole gamut.

Remember, if she’s old enough to ask, she’s old enough to get an honest answer.

We shouldn’t flood young children’s minds with disaster, but we need to be aware that young kids pick things up. They pick up information and misinformation on the school bus. At recess. From classmates. From overheard news reports. From overheard adult conversations. They hear scare stories and real stories and mix it around in their heads trying to sort it out to make sense.

And, yes, they play it out.

So check in once in a while. Ask kids if there’s anything they’ve heard adults or kids talking about that worries them. Talk. Let them play. You might be surprised how sophisticated little people’s worries about the world can be.

What big topics have you heard kids bring up? Any funny misinformation stories? What’s been your reaction?

UpTheSlide final coverIt’s OK to Go Up the Slide explores this ideas in more depth and offers words to guide big, tricky conversations on news and news disasters.


Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

  1. Joanne Frantz says:

    Great column, Heather, on a scary topic for so many of us! This is information parents need to have.
    I heard your NPR spot on All Things Considered Weekend. Again, you were very good and clear BUT it was too short. Food for thought from the other woman about behavior in public
    judged differently for low-income families. Of course, I don’t agree with her.

  2. Bridgett says:

    Good topic Heather. But don’t you think, we can avoid giving them the scary answers and just divert their mind to something else?

    Or just tell them it’s a movie or a fairytale and just escape for the moment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Absolutely not. I love fairy tales in their own right, but when a child brings something to us about real news, in the real world, it’s up to us to give an honest answer, however scary that may be. If you think about it, it’s scarier for a child to realize she can’t trust her parents to tell her about life’s difficult subjects.

      Going into details may not be necessary, but basic information is. No need to dwell on it, but remember a child feels safer when her feelings are heard, her fears are understood, and her questions are answered.

Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

When grown-ups realized bullying was a big, bad problem, they did what they usually do: they banned it. Zero-tolerance. Automatic suspension. Kids forced to sign contracts to report bullies.

Now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent government advisory group, reports that zero-tolerance policies in schools don’t work. That’s no surprise.

You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance. But you can change a bullying kid and a bullying culture. Yes, it’s completely possible, but it takes hard work.

When stories of zero-tolerance for bullies began reaching my ears a few years ago, I knew the programs would fail. Why? Because changing human behavior means confronting difficult feelings and teaching new skills. Just saying “no” to bullying does not work. Kids need skills to deal with the conflict. So do the adults around them.

As one of the report’s authors said, zero-tolerance programs don’t work because they don’t provide “skill training or replacement behaviors.”

Bullying is one type – and a common type – of conflict. Confronting and reducing bullying requires first and foremost a willingness to confront conflict both by the kids and the adults around them. It can’t be conveniently outlawed (think alcohol and Prohibition). It can’t be removed by singing peace and friendship songs. People need actual training in the art of conflict mediation. This training can begin as young as age two. It’s also never too late. Teens and adults can learn.

To tackle bullying we need different tools: Courage. Honesty. Time. New skills. An effective anti-bullying program involves deep feelings, conflict confrontation and opening minds to new ideas. These take time, and can be somewhat messy, but together children and the adults who support them will emerge stronger and kinder for the effort.

Has your school got it right? How is bullying handled where you live? What stories do you have to share? Have you seen zero-tolerance being phased out and replaced with more effective training?

Be courageous. Take the first steps towards anti-bullying. Dive into the wonderful world of conflict mediation. It starts by kids standing up for themselves. It starts by kids expressing emotions — even big, scary ones – appropriately.

It's OK small cover

Start learning the skills to prevent real bullying. Get a copy of It’s OK Not to Share for a child, school or family you love today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

  1. Makes sense to me.

  2. “You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance.”

    That quote should be sent to every lawmaker, legislator, policy maker, school official, and rule maker in the country. Too often, well-intentioned, but misguided and/ or lazy adults believe that simply passing a law will fix any problem that comes up.

    Our local school district has typical anti-bullying policies that are as ineffectual as most.


  3. Jan Waters says:

    Great Heather! As usual, you are right on! Kids have to learn what to do not just what not to do. Jan Waters

Joys of a Burned Finger

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

My son burned his finger the other day as he was helping me cook. I love it when these things happen. Not the pain, of course. What I love is when kids engage in real life and learn how to cope.

We’d talked about the pot being hot and using potholders, but still his finger landed on the rim of the hot pot and he jerked it away the way our bodies teach us in an instant. “You burned your finger,” I said. “Put it under cold, running water.” We turned the tap on.

I’m sure he’ll burn his finger slightly again someday. But here’s what he won’t forget: what to do about it. He’ll stick it into cold, running water.

My father used to teach us how to fall. He encouraged us to balance on logs, jump across streams that were too big for us, and go rock hopping, but he prepared us by teaching us what to do when we fell. The assumption is that sometimes you will fall. If you are living. If you are trying. If you are exploring and discovering and engaging.

Instead of sheltering kids from the burn or the fall, teach them what to do when it happens. This is true of any healthy risk we let our kids take, including sad and angry emotions. Learning how to cope with the ouches of life is what kids need. It’s a lot more safe than sheltering.

Healthy risks young kids can try –

  • cutting with a sharp knife
  • using a real hammer and saw
  • running too fast on concrete
  • climbing
  • leaping from rock to rock
  • hauling heavy bricks
  • handling sharp needles and scissors
  • cooking with supervision
  • playing alone
  • playing outside alone
  • walking to the neighbor’s to deliver a message
  • asking someone to play
  • being told no

My new book delves into why we should put Safety Second. We live in a world of “safety first,” but safety first doesn’t create full human beings. Safety needs to be part of what we do, but when safety edges out healthy life experiences like playing with sticks in the park and using real tools, we need to err on the side of life.

What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? What risks do you welcome for yourself or children in your life? What healthy risks are you willing to give a try?

UpTheSlide final coverRead more about Safety Second and benefits of healthy risk in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Read it? REVIEW it on Amazon or Goodreads.


Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

10 Responses to Joys of a Burned Finger

  1. Makes sense to me!

  2. Cari Noga says:

    I was astonished this weekend when at an overnight SCOUT camp all the children were told by the director NOT to run outdoors as they might trip and get hurt. I thought Scouting was supposed to be all about outdoor activity! On a similar note, a friend shared how her son’s finger started bleeding at soccer practice after being hit by a ball (who would have thunk, at a soccer practice?) The hit aggravated a prior injury, which the 8-year old calmly explained. My friend, however, who had taken her other two children for a walk away from the field, subsequently received a stern notice that the soccer league was not a drop-off program, that coaches were not responsible (!) and parents were required to be in physical attendance at all times. For safety’s sake, of course. Good grief.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh my. No running outdoors at Scout camp? Now there’s a place where children should be experiencing burned fingers – from building campfires. And running!

  3. Jenifer says:

    I love this! I’ve pretended I didn’t see “no running” signs in places where it made no sense to me to limit running. And since my kids can’t yet read, they were none the wiser. :)

    I also love the idea of teaching them how to fall, as well as teaching other safety skills (such as how to cross the street). But I’m not always sure of the best ways to do that teaching, or how to judge that the kids understand a skill well enough to tackle the next challenge (such as crossing the street alone).

    I’ve read Gavin de Becker’s “Protecting The Gift” and I’m familiar with (but need to revisit now that my kids are older) Free Range Kids. Do you have other good resources for helping parents give their kids the skills they need to take reasonable risks and assess which ones the kids are ready for?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad you’re running! Crossing the street – observe your children when they don’t know you’re watching, or announce you’re going to let them try and see what they do. In both cases you can be nearby enough to step in if necessary. For non-life and death things, go ahead and give them a chance to try the new challenges. If you wonder if they’re old enough, they probably are. Try interviewing someone from an older generation to find out what kids their age used to do. Good luck and enjoy your confident, capable kids.

  4. Love your message and hope parents everywhere will see how it applies to academic challenges young children face as well. Teachers and parents need to create safe environments in which children can take risks in their pursuit of new knowledge and recognize how a perceived failure can fuel future success. It’s not about the failing moment, be it a test or assignment or wrong answer in class. The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts for that is often where true learning takes place, perseverance is learned and growth is possible. Adversity builds strength and confidence. In the words of Mary Poppins, we are all “perfectly imperfect”. Thank you for sharing your message.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. Thanks for bringing up the academic side. Love your words “The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts.” Our reaction matters, and school learning is often focused on getting things right and looking good, but failure and healthy reactions to failure are so much more important. Mary Poppins has it right again.

  5. Luiza S says:

    What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? Hmm, where do I start.
    1. When my daughter was 18 months old, I was chided by a passer-by for letting my daughter play about two feet from a street trash can while waiting in a bus station. `What if she touches it?” (I’ll wash her hands?)
    2. When my daughter was 2 years old, I was forbidden to let her climb up and down the stairs of a restaurant terrace. “She’s going to fall, and you are going to sue me!” (No and no.)
    3. When my daughter was 3 years old, I was scolded for letting her unattended in the house (which was locked up tight) while I was napping. “What if she burns the house down or injures herself?” (No she won’t. Trust me to know what my own kid can handle?).
    4. When my daughter was 4 years old, we were scolded for keeping blunt but sharp scissors on her craft table, and also letting her play with coins and buttons. “She may injure herself! She might swallow them and choke!” (Why would she do that?)
    5. When my daughter was 5 years old, we got a scolding by park rangers because she was jumping from rock to rock at the beach. “The rocks are slippery and she may fall!” (She’s barefoot for better grip, and she’s been doing that for a week already with no harm.).

    These are just some samples of the many times over the years we have had conversations on this topic. People, this kid only learns from experience (possibly all kids do?). Let her have the experience. We promise you we are doing the utmost to control any serious danger. She’s 6 now, and she has not injured herself or destroyed property.

    Thanks for the new book! I loved “It’s OK not to share”. It was a breath of fresh air.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      The one that hurts my heart most is the park ranger story. Kids out in nature should be celebrated and encouraged, not shut down. Thank you for sharing your stories and for keeping a level head!

      • Luiza S says:

        The ironic part about the park rangers story was that there was a playground near the beach that the rangers closed for days after every trickle of rain (“Slippery playground equipment is dangerous!”). Well, at least open the playground if you don’t want the kids to play on the rocks! I couldn’t have made this stuff up if I tried.

        Kids are taught to fear nature these days from all angles. Nature is messy, muddy and icky. Some of my daughter’s playmates on that vacation would freak out if they stepped with their sandals in a mud puddle and would insist their parents clean it. And nature has critters. My daughter was afraid initially to climb on the seaside rocks because of the tiny crabs scuttling between them, so my husband convinced her to hold a few and let them scuttle over her arms and shoulder, to see they tickle but don’t pinch. That worked for her, but the other parents were shocked and were cautioning my husband that she might catch a disease. My husband was annoyed enough to tell them that these are not the right kind of crabs to catch a disease from :)

        It’s not as if we do this to espouse a particular child rearing philosophy; me and my husband were merely born in different times and places, and by those standards we are worrywarts with our own child. And the vast majority of young child rearing advice we see in North America seems to run counter to our desire to raise an independent, self-sufficient adult. Which is why I LOVE your books. I finally have something to point to: “See, we are not crazy and reckless!”.

What’s Fair and What’s Equal

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

We don’t want to play favorites. That’s a basic tenet of raising kids. Yet our quest for impartiality can get in the way of recognizing, supporting or celebrating one child.

Don’t play favorites, that’s still true, but kids can handle differences. Life does not have to be equal.

The other day I went to a youth presentation and was struck by how well a 12-year-old boy read. He was clear, dramatic and did his part with such poise that I went up to the family afterwards. “Thank you,” said his father. “We’re so proud of James, and of course, we’re proud of Tyler and Nate also, they’re great kids, too.” He added this in an apologetic rush. This attempt at being equal diminished James’ recognition. James was the one who read. James was the one we were talking about. His brothers can cope if they don’t occupy the spotlight all the time.

We strive so hard to equal, with our words and with our actions. But kids are different, and sometimes those differences mean it’s OK to treat them differently.

This goes for gifts and experiences, too. We don’t automatically have to buy a gift for every child just because we have something that uniquely fits another. Kids can handle it if every day isn’t exactly equal. It happens at birthdays already. Everyone gets a birthday, but it’s not usually the same day. One person gets showered with special attention today, the other one has a turn in a few weeks. The overall balance and value of each individual is what’s most important.

If everyone is praised equally and often (see “Stop Saying ‘Good Job!'” in the book It’s OK Not to Share), it becomes meaningless. Kids don’t need constant praise, but they do value genuine interest and observation: “I was really struck by how clearly you read. I could hear every word even in the back.” That’s recognition. When kids say “That’s not fair!” that’s an excellent instinct for social justice. “Why does he get to stay up late I have to go to bed now? That’s not fair!” Reframe it for kids: “Your body needs more sleep. When Sam was your age he went to bed when you do” (see “Share Unfair History” in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide).

So support the kids in your life, celebrate their individuality, and support their interests. Sometimes being fair is more valuable than being equal.

What do you think? It’s a tricky balance. Meeting an individual’s needs –all individuals — can be what’s most important. Have you ever felt stuck in these situations?

UpTheSlide final coverNEW BOOK – Read it? Love it? Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Order here.

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One Response to What’s Fair and What’s Equal

  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is how most people freely interchange the terms “fair” and “equal.” Equal is rarely fair, and fair should rarely be equal. Why? Because we are all unique!

    I feel stuck sometimes, especially with kids when they all want the approval of adults. Your example of praising the 12-yr-old and the father immediately mentioning his other children is a great example. Let the ones being praised have their 100% moment of glory. and insist on the same treatment when the next child has his/her success.

Making Room for Justice

Speaking up when you don't like something - a great part of kid justice.

Speaking up when you don’t like something – a great part of kid justice.

What would you say if you saw a group of eight 1st and 2nd grade boys excluding a girl from their running game?

Possibly this: Sexism. Girls discriminated against. Our adult minds leap to what seems obvious. We might sigh and despair: it starts so young, especially in sports. We might speak up and intervene; force the boys to let the girls play.

I witnessed this scene recently while volunteering at my children’s school. The kids were playing Red Light Green Light, taking turns to be the stoplight and running up sneakily when his/her back was turned. Except one child – Tessa – didn’t play fairly. She made all the boys go out and picked a favorite friend to win over and over and over.

The kids got mad. Then they did all the right things. They told her exactly what they didn’t like, they reminded her how to play by the rules, and when she didn’t stop they excluded her from the game.

Because I’d seen the whole game from its beginning, I knew exactly why the boys weren’t letting Tessa play. It was Justice. Kid justice. Instead of being mean or discriminatory, they were simply standing up for themselves, protecting the game, and putting her in her place. The game wasn’t fun when she played it like that.

Kids’ actions and game rules do not always look fair to adult eyes. But they may be fair to the children.

Before we barge in, stop and listen, see what’s happening. Ask questions if you’re worried: “Is that OK with you?” Toys and roles may not be evenly distributed, but they may be right for the game, they may be right for the children involved in work or play.

Our goal shouldn’t be that everyone is treated the same. We are not all the same, so being treated the same isn’t respectful. Focus instead on helping kids speak up and set limits when they don’t like something. That’s a courageous act of peace. And sometimes, of justice.

What do you think? Have you witnessed times when adults step in for fairness, with the wrong results?

UpTheSlide final coverMore about “That’s not fair,” respect and justice in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Got it? Read it? Review it!


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2 Responses to Making Room for Justice

  1. Meghan Owenz says:

    Love this! I call it “natural consequences.” Children learn from natural consequences if adults don’t step in and stop them from happening. The little girl’s behavior had a natural consequence – the children didn’t want to play with her any longer. I bet she learned from it too.

  2. Excellent observation. I’m amazed that everything you say about raising children is 100% common sense and based on how children see their world, not an adult’s interpretation of a child’s world.

Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

Children's behavior is not all about choices.

Children’s behavior is not all about choices.

Choice gets a bad name in early childhood. Adults scold kids about the “choices” they make on a daily basis: “That was not a good choice” (when she hits her brother). Or perhaps we interrogate: “Was that a good choice or a bad choice?” when kids behave in a way we don’t like. “Let’s see you make a better choice now.”

When it comes to young children, we need to recognize that it’s not all about choice. Behavior at early ages is usually driven by feelings, not decision-making.

Children often can’t explain why they do things,  and heat of the moment “bad choice” actions are rarely thought through. Even if a young child recognizes there’s a choice, she may not be able to select the option the adult wants because it’s simply too hard. Impulse control is a developing skill.

Besides, “choice” implies individual options. Adults often use “choice” to mean: “do what I want you do to – or else.”

When a young child hits a playmate, recognize it’s not a choice. It’s an action driven by intense feelings. Young children express their big feelings with their bodies. It might come out as a scream, kick, shove or bite. We need to stop the behavior, but accept the feeling. “You’re mad, but I can’t let you hit your brother.”

The next step is to acknowledge how hard this is. Don’t pass judgment about “good choices” and “bad choices.” Choice implies control, and these children haven’t fully developed that control yet. If they’re hitting, they’re acting, not thinking. Controlling impulses doesn’t come consistently for many years. Some days even typically even-keeled children are out of control.

Say: “It’s too hard for you right now. I’ll help you stop.”

Think how comforting these words are to an out-of-control, emotionally overwhelmed child. Someone will help me. Someone who’s bigger and stronger when I need it most. No one’s judging, no one’s in trouble. Simply, “It’s too hard for you right now.”

Choice can be hard for kids at the best of times – do I want the red lollipop or the green one? When we think of choice as something to develop, but not something to expect, our own anger will fade at “bad choice” behavior.

Do you find yourself requesting “good choices” from a child? Do you get angrier when you perceive a child is making deliberately bad choices? How can you remain neutral and helpful?

Read the new book yet? Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon!

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2 Responses to Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this. After working in a handful of daycare centers when I was in college, I am horrified and often repulsed to see how that time has snuck its way into my parenting. I tend to default back to those years and I hate it. This is one of those phrases that I have heard, that I have USED, but it has always bugged me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.

    I love the phrase “neutral and helpful.” So much more effective.

  2. Keith says:

    “It’s ok to go up the slide.” What a great title for a book!

    Thanks for the helpful article, it was very enlightening. I’ll keep it in mind with my little ones (8 and 6, both going on 41).

It’s Time to Go UP the Slide

UpTheSlide final coverThe book is here! I’m on the radio today celebrating the release of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, and everywhere I go – from Denver to Vancouver to Boston – I’m hearing people share the stress points in their lives with kids. Technology. Homework. Strangers. News disasters. Gender roles. Kindergarten curriculum. Lack of time to play and time with nature. All these topics are in the book. All these stress points.

When things are out of balance, it’s time to question the way things are done. It’s time to go up the slide.

That’s why I’m so excited about this new book. It’s going to make some people nervous. It’s going to make some people mad. If kids get hold of a copy, it could cause a revolution (you mean there’s no reason for me to do this worksheet?!)

As early reviewers said: “It’s going to rock some boats, challenge thinking, and nudge adults in the right direction.” (Jeff Johnson, Let Them Play) and “Heather Shumaker stops to re-examine almost all the conventional wisdom about childhood…She’s my hero.” (Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Kids).

If you love these ideas and want to support the book – the best way to celebrate is to write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your favorite book spot. The book is out TODAY, March 8 so it’s open for reviews.

  • Sometimes being a good parent – or a good teacher – means breaking all the rules.
  • If something’s bothering you, it’s time to make a change
  • Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right for child development.
  • When adult expectations clash with child development, it’s time to change the adults, not the child.

See you at the top of the slide!

Early Bird gifts – Thinking of of getting a copy? Order a copy of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week and receive free gifts as a thank you. This special pre-order offer extended until March 13, 2016. Simply 1) buy the book from any bookstore 2) send an email to slide@heathershumaker.com saying where you bought it. Order here at heathershumaker.com

What stress points do you see in families’ lives? What are big ways you see adult expectations clash with what children need?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

12 Responses to It’s Time to Go UP the Slide

  1. Deidra says:


  2. Roberta Horne says:

    Congratulations Heather! I look forward to reading it!

  3. Congratulations on your new book release, Heather. I see you’ll be in Madison next month at UWWI. Hope to see you there to say hi and get an autographed copy.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, Yes I’ll be there. Will be good to see you and looking forward to signing a copy for you.

  4. On the topic questions you posed, the biggest stress I see is overscheduling of children by their parents. I think downtime has gotten pushed aside because everyone wants their kid to be the best and brightest at whatever the establishment tells them we need. Today it’s STEM, ten years ago it was computer anything, tomorrow it may be stand up comedy for all I know. Give kids “dead time” to just sit, think, daydream, imagine, ponder, ask questions, and I think they have a much better chance of deciding for themselves what path their lives should take.


  5. Warmest congratulations!

  6. Crystal says:

    Please know that I am only trying to understand the logic in no homework when I ask: ” Are your beliefs of over scheduling after school the same for children with learning difficulties? Those that are playing catch up in school and who’s neuro’s suggest non typical practice of social skills and discrete trail ABA?” What is your take on that? For our family I think we have fined tuned knowing limits of my son and that he benefits more from being led outside his comfort zones. That for us is a little social and academic work Afterschool but mostly goal oriented fun. He benefits both scheduled time after school and free time. Most often free time is a new science project that he has come up with:). With the other subjects he looks to be led until he is confident or NEEDS to be led to build confidence. Again, this is all scheduled until he is indepedant. What are your thoughts?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Such an astute question. I think the idea behind homework and no homework is this: the family needs to be in charge of what’s best for the child during after school hours. Depending on family philosophy and needs of each child, after school time can be many different things. You said it well yourself “I think we have fine tuned knowing the limits of my son.” Keep finding that balance.

      As families with special needs children know, there are not only more challenges, there are also more appointments that eat up a child’s day. It’s an enormous balancing act to give kids the playtime and emotional release they need. Homework to me is an assignment dictated by the school to be done on family time. Home goals are everything you do to support your child, your whole child. Thanks for writing, Crystal.

  7. ray wills says:

    Read your interview article in THE NEWS today your title for the new book is excellent Its so good to see that you understand the importance of free play in a childs life.I have recently moved here from England UK where i was very involved in play provision for many decades establishing adventure playgrounds and managing town wide play programmes. I admin a facebook page on play and also write non fiction and poetry.I wish you every success with the new book .Im looking for publisher for mine which is a history of organised play provision over the years largely based on my own experiences.Take good care ,Ray Wills

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Welcome, Ray! I wish you every success in helping to establish adventure playgrounds here in the US. Your experience will be invaluable. Also best of luck on finding the right publisher for your history of play book. Redleaf Press often publishes good play books. Perhaps they would be a good fit?

Who has Mentored You?

One of Bev Bos's many wise sayings.

One of Bev Bos’s many wise sayings.

I was in California last week, the home state of Bev Bos, legendary early childhood advocate and mentor to thousands. She died the week before I spoke on Feb. 4, and it was fitting that I should be addressing a collection of cooperative preschools. Bev dedicated 50 years to leading the Roseville Community Preschool, a co-op preschool, in California. My hosts dedicated the evening as a tribute to Bev.

I suppose that in some ways, Bev helped write my first book. It’s OK Not to Share is filled with wisdom from the School for Young Children, a preschool in my hometown in Columbus, Ohio. Bev Bos was a great friend to SYC and all the teachers there. They visited each other’s programs and spread inspiration.

It’s OK Not to Share had many mentors: Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Bev Bos, Haim Ginott, teachers from SYC who’d taught 30 and 40 years in the classroom. Some of these inspirations I met, some of them I’ve never met, but their ideas have lived and spread. That’s the power of a true mentor. Someone whose influence is not contained in a single life.

I never met Bev Bos, but I was looking forward to meeting her in April. We were both due to keynote at a wonderful Play conference in Washington, DC. Now the rest of us need to carry that spark on.

Who are your mentors – in life, writing or early childhood? Have you ever reached out to thank this amazing person?

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Who has Mentored You?

  1. My dad was a great mentor. He quietly persevered through whatever came his way, and showed me the value of play, sports, discipline, and practicing to get better.

    Another mentor is one of my two best friends, Dennis. The great lesson he taught me was life is too short to save all the fun and recreation until retirement. He’s had great balance between work and play in his life, and my life is richer because he taught me that by example.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, Thanks for sharing your mentors. Dennis’s example is something so rare these days – and yes, we need to see the living embodiment of it – balancing play and work. As my father says, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

  2. Jan Waters says:

    Thank you for recognizing and remembering Bev Bos. She was the best! Jan Waters

  3. Debbie Silver says:

    I was sad to read your post about Bev. I heard her speak many times and even had the pleasure of having dinner with her at an event! Every time I read (or reread) one of her books, I learned something new. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a compilation of all her wonderful and inspiring quotes, like the one you posted!!!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      So glad you got to meet her, and isn’t it amazing how we are ready to hear certain messages only as time goes on? Good for you re-reading Bev’s wisdom – and I’m looking forward to seeing what quotes you collect!

  4. Patrick Donohue says:

    Bev Bos

    What a gift she was. We were blessed with the opportunity to participate in her preschool. We sent both our daughters there. Actually, after the first day, our eldest said she did not want to leave and requested that we move there and live with Bev in the preschool while holding onto Bev’s hand. Upon hearing this Bev picked her up and hugged her and quietly said something I don’t remember which made leaving OK.

    One did not just drop off kids there, as parents, all parents, were required to help run the school. Bev also require all parents to reularly participate in a parenting class one per month. There was a manditory contractual fine of $200.00 for failure to do so.

    Beyond the money, only an idiot would refuse. For she was a gifted orator and teacher who provided us with vital knowledge regarding raising and educating our kids.

    One thing she made us realize is that everything we do or say impacts our child’s life forever.
    So, it was important to be fully present in the moment with our children and to engage with empathy when interacting. Furthermore, we should eliminate the word “no” from our vocabulary. This proved easier said than done. The trick being to preemptively protect our kids from harm and harming thing by removing any dangers or precious objects from the home environment thus eliminating the need to say no or don’t.

    I could write a series of books about her value to us as parents.