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The #1 Secret to Being Patient and Strong with Your Children - Abby Sasscer

The #1 Secret to Being Patient and Strong with Your Children

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From the "Top 20 All Time Most Popular Articles."

Editors Note: Originally published January 20, 2014.


Abby Sasscer says our role as a parent is not to react negatively right away but to remain calm and teach our children acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Simple Solutions- Part 2: Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively

“Train up a child in the way he should go;  even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  – Proverbs 22:6

One of the blessings of working with children with special needs is that it taught me the value of remaining calm. The most important rule the specialist taught me is to remain calm especially during difficult and trying situations. The only exception to this rule is when a child is in danger or is posing danger to others.

The specialist I work with constantly emphasizes the need to remain neutral, in other words, to show very little emotion every time a child gets upset or makes unreasonable demands. As parents, however, it is extremely difficult to always remain neutral. I can be neutral with other people’s children but not my own. Consequently, remaining calm is more realistic.

By remaining calm, you are giving your children the message that you are the one who has a final say on everything. It is also effective in diffusing further negative behavior, because, more often than not, it is the tone of our voice and our body language that causes more negative behaviors to escalate.

Most importantly, remaining calm gives children the message that no matter what happens, you are their formidable wall, someone strong and reliable they can lean on when things fall apart in their own little world.

When you are faced with any demands from your children, remember that your role as a parent is not to react negatively right away but to teach children acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Below are four simple solutions:

1) Avoid Cycling In

The term “cycling in” means reacting negatively to your children’s negative emotions and behaviors.  Cycling in is a reaction to a reaction and is extremely unproductive.  When you cycle in to your children’s negative emotions, it teaches them that it is acceptable to always act on one’s negative feelings.    Cycling in is not teaching children acceptable behavior.  On the contrary, cycling in gives negative behavior more negative attention.

How does one avoid cycling in?  There are many ways to do so: slowly walk away from the situation, take a five minute break, allow yourself to say something to your children a specific number of times before showing any signs of anger or frustration, get a drink of water, wash your face, pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, or the St. Michael Prayer,  take deep breaths, count to ten, etc.


Remember that you are a formidable wall and your goal is to help you and your children get to Heaven by modeling acceptable behavior yourself .

2)    First This, Then That

If a child approaches you with his/her own demands, you can use the “First This, Then That” technique. This technique is based on a verbal contract between you and your child to give them a chance to earn their favorite activities only after finishing a required task.

If your child is persistent and keeps asking for their reinforcers before completing a task, remain calm and keep repeating the First Then Statement. In this case, the less words the better.

For example:

Child: Mama, I want to paint!

Parent: First Math, then paint.

Child: But Mama…I REALLY want to paint!

Parent: First Math, then paint. (calmly)

Child: But I don’t want to do Math.

Parent: First Math, then paint. (calmly)

Child: Please. Please. Please!!!!

Parent: First Math, then paint (Remember you are a formidable wall)

Child: Oh….okay…..

Parent: Wonderful. Here’s your Math book. Where’s your pencil?

Note: Make sure you follow through with the reinforcer after your child finishes the task. If you do not follow through, this technique will not work in the future.

3) Give children at least two choices

Give your child some semblance of control over their environment by giving them at least two choices. In this way, they feel they are in some control over the situation, even if, in reality, you are the one providing the choices. When they are allowed to decide what activity to do next, they consequently feel valued and validated.

With little ones, providing two choices is more than enough. You can always add more choices with older children. If children choose something else, calmly say “That’s not one of the choices” or “These are your only choices”.

For example:

Child took a morning break from homeschooling, gets distracted with the computer and refuses to continue:

Parent: We need to keep going. Would you like to work on Handwriting or History?

Child: I want to play on the computer.

Parent: That’s not one of the choices. Handwriting or History? (calmly)

Child: Neither…I want to play on the computer.

Parent: Handwriting or History? Those are your only choices. (calmly)

Child: Handwriting is easier so maybe I could do History after that.

Parent: Handwriting or History?(calmly)

Child: Handwriting.

Parent: Excellent! Here’s your workbook.

4) Redirection

If your child wants to do something that they are not allowed to do at that particular time, feel free to use a technique called redirection. Redirection is just a fancy way of saying “distraction.” This technique is most effective with younger children.

For example, if a toddler wants to touch a vase, gently direct their body to another direction, preferably towards another acceptable activity. With very young children, the less words, the better.

When you use too many words, your toddler will most likely react negatively, not because he wants to disobey you, but because he is simply reacting to the tone of your voice. If he keeps coming back to the vase, keep redirecting him to a new activity over and over again. This constant repetition is an extremely effective teaching technique so that your child knows what he is allowed and not allowed to touch.

You can use verbal redirection as well. Part of the reason little ones break down when you refuse them something is that they haven’t fully grasped the concept of time yet. When you say “no”, they think it means “no forever.” Redirection will allay their fears significantly and at the same time not give in to their demands because you are providing them with alternative activities instead.

For example:

Child: Mama, can I paint right now?

Parent: Not right now but maybe another time. Instead, would you like to draw or play with your dolls?

Child: I don’t want to do any of that. I want to paint.

Parent: Draw or play with dolls. Those are your only choices.

Child: Play with dolls.

Parent: Great. Let’s go to your room and show me where your dolls are.

Note: It is important to physically direct them by gently taking their hand and leading them to their new activity.

Mix and Match

Feel free to mix and match the techniques above with those you learned from the previous article, 4 Simple Solutions for Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively.

With the help and guidance of the Holy Family in Nazareth, use techniques that work for you, combine them or modify them as the Holy Spirit leads you. You will be amazed at how they will not only change your children but change you as well!

A Parents’ Prayer for their Children

O God the Father of mankind, who hast given unto me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship. Teach me both what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety, so that at last I may, with them, be admitted to the unspeakable joys of our true home in heaven, in the company of the blessed Angels and Saints. Amen.

This is the second in this series of articles. Read the first article, 4 Simple Solutions for Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively. Stay tuned for more!

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About Abby Sasscer

Abby Sasscer

Born in the Philippines, Abby came to the United States in 1986. She is a wife, homeschooling mother of three, author, and speaker. In 2008, she founded Project Nazareth and continues to advocate simple living through books and speaking. www.projectnazareth.info | Meet Abby

  • M. Sanico

    Great help! Thank you for this article. Keep the series coming… :)

  • Mommyleaf

    That prayer was not written by Pope Francis. I’ve been saying it for years, I cannot remember which Pope wrote it (Leo?), but wanted to clarify.

    • Good call, it looks like it is even older than Pope Leo XIII, because I found it in an 1850 book of Catholic prayers called “The Golden Manuel” published in London. I have no idea when it first originated though, it could be even older.

      • Abby Sasscer

        Thank you for clarifying Mommyleaf and thank you Draper Warner for being our awesome urban legend detector :-)

    • Abby Sasscer

      Thank you for clarifying Mommyleaf!

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  • Bryan

    Formidable wall??? God wants you to be a formidable wall? Why not understand why your child isn’t listening to you in the first place and how about genuinely caring about their preferences?
    PS-This post will probably be deleted soon due to heresy!

    • Abby Sasscerprojectnazareth

      Bryan – a formidable wall is something that is not necessarily bad. If you reread the third paragraph, it would be clearer what the advantages are of being strong and yet patient with your child. These techniques are mostly for younger children who have not yet mastered the use of language or for children who are in habitual disobedience in need of behavior modification. If you read the entire four part series, it will be clear that these articles are based on creating healthy boundaries out of a deep love and respect for the child.

    • Christopher Mutt

      I have four children with my wife, with one on the way. We’ve been raising them with these methods. There’s nothing wrong with this. I have some military training and background in child psych, the structure can be adaptive but firm once set; too much flexibility can create insecurity for children. Children don’t always know what they really want, so it is a good idea to suggest what is best for them. Parents are meant to guide their children not merely usher them. Children need structure and boundaries in place. Don’t forget (as she said), they are tuned into everything we say and do.

  • Abby Sasscer

    Awesome idea! I love how you give you and your child up to 5 times before changing to another technique. Parents often expect obedience the first time they ask children to do something. While that is the goal, they don’t realize that behavior modification takes time. The good news is that eventually that number drops down to three, then two, then one. It is a process and I think the more parents know this, the less frustrated they will be. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • joan villacencio

    Enlightened me today. Thank you for sharing this. GOD BLESS!

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