Clinical Perspectives on Reflective Parenting: Keeping the Child’s Mind in Mind

A dad says he has to remind his daughter over and over every night to feed the dog. One mom put it like this, “It’s such a chore to get my kids to do chores.” Another mother says she wishes her kids wanted to help out- since she and her husband worked so hard for them. In one way or another each of these parents asked me “Isn’t there a way to make it easier and less unpleasant to get my kids to do their chores or help me out with household tasks?”

Chores, responsibilities, tasks Chores are daily responsibilities that a child is required to do on a regular basis, such as feeding the dog or setting the table. There are  household tasks we expect of kids . We don’t think of them as chores but just as part of self-care, such as brushing teeth; Or respecting the needs of others, such as not leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor. Then there are times when a household task comes up and you want your child to help you then and there- such as helping you carry in the groceries.

In all these cases We expect something of our child and they either are not cooperative, or  are sullen about it, even if they are cooperative.
Some parents say they are ready to give up on kids doing chores altogether, or asking for a child’s help because it is so unpleasant. While I understand often it is easier to do a chore/task yourself, I encourage you not to give up.

A Reflective Mindset can help
 A reflective mindset, can’t remove the conflict and unpleasantness altogether but it can help you feel better about them when they happen.

First and foremost You are not alone! Lots of parents wish their child wanted to help out more around the house, and was cheerful about doing chores. Lots of parents get into conflict with kids about them helping out with work around the houseLots’ of parents have to nag their child to do their chores. Lots of  kids are grumpy and sullen when you ask them to help you or you remind them to do their chores. Lots of parents feel the whole effort of getting a child to help out with household tasks or to do their chores, is a big chore!

If you go on the internet there are lots of suggestions for you to try. Make chores and helping out into a fun activity. Set a timer and see how quickly a child can pick up their toys. Make putting your clothes into the hamper like a ‘basketball game.’ Have a family meeting and come to an agreement about what chores and tasks the kids will do. Many of these suggestions work and some kids are cooperative. But not always!

The truth is many times kids grumble, whine complain, don’t cooperate and the whole process becomes a hassle

What you can do: Align your expectations with reality.  I find that most parents typically have rather reasonable expectations of what their child should do around the house. Unfortunately, however, these same parents often have rather unrealistic expectations about how their children should feel  about it.

Unrealistic expectations include:

  • A child should be happy and cheerful about chores and delightfully willing to help.
  • A child ought to show their appreciation for all the parent does for them, by wanting to give back and help their parents.

This is when the 2-way perspective taking of Reflective Parenting is helpful  Children often express their autonomy and independence by showing displeasure with what parents ask. Children do appreciate their parent’s efforts but too much emphasis on having to show appreciation can make a child feel guilty or burdened about the work their parents do for them. It is OK to ask kids to say ‘thank you’ when you do something special for them. But they should not have to show their thanks by doing something special back for you.

A mismatch of expectations can make parents feel overly annoyed, hurt or helpless. It can even make them feel overly negative about their child. 

You may get more by expecting less. Don’t get me wrong. There are enormous benefits to kids doing chores and helping their parents. It teaches kids a long list of important values and lessons: Being cooperative; Helping others; Being considerate of others; Learning not everything in life is fun and easy; Being a responsible member of a group. But if you expect your child to immediately cooperate or to be cheerful about it, you may be expecting too much.

They are called chores, tasks and work for a reason.
 If you are honest with yourself, you don’t like doing chores either. You may even feel grumpy when you have to do that work around the house- carrying groceries, doing laundry, picking up after yourself; or tasks like fixing a leaky faucet.


  • It is not always a problem when your child is negative. Just because your child grumbles and whines does not mean there is something wrong either  with  your child or with your parenting. As I said earlier a child’s negativity is often their way of  expressing their autonomy and independence. While it might be easier if your child were more willing, positive and cheerful about chores and helping-sometimes the lesson about being responsible and considerate is best learned when a child has a tussle with their parents and the parents keep insisting, despite the child’s protests.
  • Be clear in your own mind that doing chores and helping is a good idea 
    The more confident you feel in what you are expecting of your child, the more calm but firm you will be about it. Pick chores that are age appropriate, so you won’t be second guessing yourself as to whether your child is capable of fulfilling the chore.
  • Be consistent but also flexible and open-minded. Be clear about your expectation but don’t be a stickler. Life happens. You often put chores and house work aside when other things take priority. This will happen for  kids as well.
  • Be realistic about what to expect. The point is for parents to acknowledge that while we can have a fair amount of control over how our children act, we don’t have control over how they feel.
  • Persevere and keep at it.  When parents stick with it, despite the child’s distress and lack of willingness to cooperate it is an amazing lesson and adds to a kid’s sense of security.  It says to a child, “I have strong, confident parents I can count on.” It says, “My parents care enough about me to go through all this difficulty with me.” It says, “I am really a part of this family.” It even builds family pride- This is how we do it!


You CAN expect and insist and require kids to do chores, and to help out with work around the house- as long as what you ask of them is age appropriate and within their capacity to do it.

You CAN’T expect kids to feel the way you wish they would feel.


We don’t have control over how others feel.

Trying to control how your child feels often backfires because it makes kids feel intruded on, manipulated, controlled and resentful.

Yes every parent would prefer a smile when a child does their chores. But don’t get hung up on always expecting that. It is just not always how it turns out.


Balance holding the feelings with holding the line: So much of reflective parenting has to do with being tuned in and responsive to how kids feel. However, there are times, such as when it comes to kids not wanting to do chores, or help out, when you probably do best by not focusing so much on how your child feels about it.

Focus on the behaviors and explain the expectations. Tell your child what you expect them to do. Explain your reasons for wanting this. Try to avoid insisting on how your child should feel it.

Keep it simple! Make it neutral  Make it about what you want or what you believe in as a parent. Or make it about how your family does it.  Don’t make it about your child’s character. For example don’t say, “Stop being so lazy, come and help me.” Don’t get into long debates about it, why it’s important for them to do chores or help out in other ways. The point is, that even in the midst of conflict, try to express as calmly as possible, something to the effect of ‘This is what I want. This is what I expect you to do. It’s OK with me, even if you aren’t happy about having to do it.’

Do’s and don’ts  Don’t be snide about it or act disappointed about it when they are irritated about chores and helping.  Do show some type of pleasure, appreciation or gratitude when your child does the chore or helps with a household task. ‘Thank you very much. I appreciate it.’

Feelings follow from habits When we focus on the behavior, and are consistent and repetitive about what behavior we ask of our child, it establishes a behavioral habit in the child. Once a habit forms, it takes on a life of its own. The habit starts to feel familiar, comfortable, and becomes part of who your child is. Like developing the habit of brushing teeth, or taking a shower. In this case, it is a habit of helping and of being responsible within the family. Your appreciation after they accomplish the task, becomes embedded in the good feeling that comes from the habit. It is not that different from the M&M reward you may have given your child for using the potty.  Eventually they use the toilet even without the M&M.


Your child’s chore is to clear the dishes off the table. If they forget, remind them in a neutral fashion. “Remember you are supposed to clear the table off.” Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation. “I am not getting into a debate or argument with you. You know what is expected of you.”

You want help with a project. You say to your child “I need help cleaning out the garage. I would like you to help me.’ Then you can work out  a reasonable time when your child can help. Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation, etc. 

You want help with a task. You say to your child, “The living room is messy, and we have guests coming. I want you to help me clean up’. Then allow them to grump, groan, complain, argue. But keep firm about your expectation, etc. 

I am not saying this is a miracle pill. Teaching lessons is hard work. It takes time and need to be taught over and over.

I am saying is don’t get so bent out of shape yourself if conflict happens with your child around doing their chore of setting the table, or when you ask your child to help you put the groceries in the refrigerator. Just hang in there. Eventually the lesson is absorbed.

Written by CRC’s Co-Director, Regina Pally: 

The Meanness of pranking children

Melissa Jacobs of CRC’s Leadership team wrote her thoughts on a Washington Post article about Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween pranks on children. See her thoughts and the original article below…

Imagine you are six-years old. It is the morning after Halloween, a day you had looked forward to for weeks. After considerable deliberation you chose your costume. Maybe you and one of your parents helped you make the costume over many nights. Perhaps you braved the super spooky Halloween decorations at your neighborhood party store. Maybe you got to wear only some of your costume to school because masks and accessories aren’t allowed. You waited a near eternity for night to fall. Finally, night falls and you are hard at work, ringing the doorbell of every neighbor whose front porch light is on, carefully picking your favorite candies from the proffered bowl. “One-per-customer” at the house on the corner; “Take what you want” next door, score!. Your bag grew heavy, your legs grew heavy. When you got home you examined your loot and ate more than your parents wanted you to. You fell asleep thinking how to make your candy last til January, or maybe you would eat it all by Friday. 
Now imagine you wander into the kitchen the next morning, looking for your stash. 
“Mommy, where’s my candy?” 
“I ate it.”
Imagine how you would feel. 
Then she says: “Only joking.”  
Now imagine how you would feel.  
A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by child psychiatrist Meg van Achterberg invites parents to consider the meanness of this very prank, a prank late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel has encouraged his adult audience members to play on their kids the morning after Halloween for the past six years. Jimmy Kimmel has become an admirable spokesperson for the need for health-care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, something he has become sensitized to having recently had a child who has a preexisting condition. Perhaps, as his child comes to savor Halloween, Kimmel will come to imagine how his own child might experience such a prank and maybe even find it to be a little less funny. 
LINK: Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween Prank can scar children. Why are we laughing?

Being a Reflective Parent with Anxious Teens

Jessica Borelli,Ph.D. ( director of the UCI THRIVE Lab)  is a researcher whose work I admire. She studies the links between close relationships and health. As she is an expert on this subject, I asked her to comment on a recent article in the NYT about the increase in serious anxiety amongst teens.

Here is what she has to say.

“The saddest part of this article for me was how alone the teens interviewed for the story felt. This isolation is probably partly the result of the intense focus that anxiety and depression seem to command — this is a self-focus that is nothing like grandiosity or egocentricity, but rather a loathing self-focus that views all of one’s own real and imagined flaws magnified by a factor of 500. This hyper-focus on the self deprives the individual of so much, including a broader perspective on their problems and also an awareness that others also struggle and that they are not alone. In my work with anxious youth, I’ve also found that it means a lack of social connections, particularly the types of connections in which teens reveal these ‘shameful’ parts of themselves. This is truly unfortunate because the social connections have the potential to ameliorate the shame living at the core of the anxiety, which at times can resolve the problem.

Some ways to translate her wise comments into something helpful to do: It is a complex problem. There are no sure fixes. As a reflective parent here are some ideas to consider that can help to reduce the pressure, the aloneness and the shame.

  • Communicate acceptance: that no one is perfect; it is ok to not always get A’s or be the best.
  • Counteract disaster thinking:  that even if your child does not do as well as hoped, whether in school, sports or with a friend, that life is not ruined.
  • Empathize with their upset, but role model optimism: that set backs and difficulties can be managed and dealt with in a positive way.
  • Do what you can to encourage talking about it, not to keep it private. It is good for them to talk with you, so certainly always be available and to listen without judgement. Kids often want to talk at the most inopportune times, late at night, just when you are leaving to go for a run or have lunch with a friend, or even when you are about to go to work. Take the time when they offer it to you- even if it is not convenient. It pays off in the end.
  •  But also, when they are teens they need to talk with their friends. Even as you try and limit social media, you still want to encourage them to talk about their pressures and self-criticisms with their friends. Friends are usually way more accepting and supportive of them, than they are of themselves.


When Kids Misbehave, don’t blame them for your reaction!

You are at a restaurant with your closest friend and Carson your 7 year old son. Carson starts to misbehave. First, he tries to get up and leave. You bring him back. Then he starts to scream and bang his fork and spoon. It is embarrassing and it is disturbing your conversation with your friend and other diners sitting nearby. Carson asks for your phone to watch a video. At first you refuse. Carson keeps up the demand for the phone.

Fortunately you are prepared. You take out paper and crayons. That does not work. You then take out a few favorite little toys. That does not work. Now you are annoyed at him. But finally, with a sigh of resignation you hand Carson your cell phone to watch a video. That immediately quiets him.

Uh-oh, now you feel guilty and defeated. You have been told not to allow too much screen time.

Then you reflect and eventually decide it’s OK. Here is your reflective thought process…..

You recognize you can’t both talk to your friend and pay attention to your child. You must choose. You realize your child is not being difficult. It is the situation that is difficult for your child. He’s probably bored and having a hard time sitting there for so long, so he is just trying to get your attention. You also reflect on the reason for your behavior. It might be your friend really needs you today to talk about a problem she is having, so you want to give her your full attention.  Or it could be you need to just have time to relax with your friend and have a break from your child.

The scene here is a restaurant. But similar misbehavior can happen anywhere– in the car, in the supermarket, when visiting relatives or when you have an important phone call.

What should you have done? There is no right answer. Choosing to give your phone or not give your phone are both fine options. In other words, it depends.

Reflective Parenting gives you choices. Choose what is going to work best for you, for your child and for the situation.

But no matter what you choose to do, the point is to be honest with yourself. Take responsibility for your actions and your reasons for taking those actions.

Here is what I mean. Often a parent’s choices are based more on the parent’s needs and feelings than on their child’s. In such cases your role is to recognize that what you are doing is about you and not about your child.

The benefit of being honest
 is that you can turn a situation like giving in about the cell phone into a reflective learning experience for your child.

  • At the restaurant you might say, “I know it is not good for you to watch too many videos, but in this situation, I can’t pay attention to you, because I want to talk to my friend.”
  • In the car you might say, “I am having a really hard time focusing on my driving while the two of you argue in the back seat. That’s why I am going to give you my cell phone to watch a video. I don’t like to give you my phone just to have you be quiet in the car. But this time I’m doing it to keep me calm.”

Wow! What a gift to your child. This kind of reflective language with your child is critical to your child’s social and emotional development.


See the full blog post on Regina’s website: 

Children & Anxiety

CRC’s Co-Director and Founder, Regina Pally, talks about a recent article on children & anxiety from The New York Times…

If you have a child with anxiety you are not alone. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. For some children however, anxiety can become excessive, and interfere with daily life. And what’s tricky is that kids often don’t say they are anxious. They say things like “I hate school. I don’t want to go.” Or “I have a stomach ache” Or sometimes they are very demanding or uncooperative. This article talks about why anxiety is on the rise in teenagers. Even though this article focuses on cases of extreme anxiety in teenagers, it is worth reading for any parent who thinks their child is anxious. One of the best points is that once you realize your child is not a demanding and uncooperative child, or is not just lazy and trying to get out of going to school, you will be in a better position to respond in a helpful way. Also, it will remind you that anxiety has many sources and that there is never just one right way to treat it. 

How to Talk with Children about the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas was disturbing and frightening to us all.

As parents and people who work with children many of us have the understandable instinct to shield our children from this national tragedy. But how can we shield our children from the atrocity when screens and media are everywhere? We can’t.

What we can do, however, is support our children’s healthy coping with a frightening news story by calmly providing them with filtered, developmentally appropriate information about the event.

First and foremost, we need to let our children know that they are loved and safe, and that such events, while very scary, are rare and unusual.  We need to share this with our children while doing our best to remain calm and steady ourselves, focused on the child’s sense of safety and wellbeing.

This is hard.

A good place to begin a conversation with children of all ages about the shooting is to simply ask them what they have already heard about it and then listen to what they have to tell you. Explain as much of what happened as children can understand developmentally and keep details to a minimum. Avoid graphic details about the tragedy.  You want to provide children with enough information so that they know what has happened. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Invite them to ask questions of their own. Let their questions guide the conversation and provide clarity and reassurance where needed. It is common for younger children to have fewer questions compared to older children. A good rule of thumb is to answer the question asked. Too often, well-intentioned grown-ups generate anxiety in their children by providing too much information. As you talk with the child, pay attention to how you are feeling, and what you think the child is feeling. Encourage the child to express their feelings, and validate those feelings. Listen carefully for any unstated concerns or fears and observe your children looking for any changes in behavior. Be prepared for your child to return to you with questions over a period of time, a few hours, days and even weeks. We want to be able to tell children something hard and true, that: “Sometimes, very bad things happen, but we are strong enough to deal with those things together.” This sends the powerful message to a child that life can be difficult but that difficulties can be managed and coped with. It is a message that is aimed at building resiliency.

Here are some suggestions about how to talk about the tragedy with children of different ages.

With children under the age of 3 years old, especially those whose exposure to media is minimal, we recommend that you NOT be the one to initiate the conversation about the shooting. However, we do encourage you to be prepared to have a conversation with them about it. If you get the sense that your child has heard or seen something about the shooting, you will want to talk with them about it. Always start by asking them what they have heard.

Given the likelihood that preschool age children will learn about the shooting, we encourage you to be the child’s source of information about the event, rather than learning about it in the media or from another child. Ask the child what they have heard and then provide them with a straightforward and accurate description of the event. With young children, grown-ups often err on the side of being too vague with what they share. If your description is too vague, children may not understand why so much is being made of the event. You want to convey to the child that it is okay if this news upsets them, and that you are there to support them.

Even with elementary school-age and adolescent children, begin your conversation by asking them what they have heard, and what questions they have about what happened. Your conversation can be guided by the child’s questions. Keep in mind that even though older children may seem more savvy and sophisticated they still will likely find the news of the shooting unsettling and need to be reassured that their upset is understandable and normal and that you are interested in their feelings and available to support them as they accommodate and cope with what has happened. With older children, it will be important to discuss images and content they will likely come across on their screens and to develop a plan minimize exposure to graphic imagery, and to share anything they come across that they find to be disturbing with you. You may also want to inquire if there is anything they would like to do in response to the tragedy. Older children often want to do something because taking an active stance makes them feel less helpless. At the same time, however, you don’t want to feel pressured to act. If they are not interested, that’s fine too.

Regardless of the child’s age, we encourage you to highlight the following points as you talk with the children in your life about the Las Vegas tragedy.

◦      Events such as what happened this week in Las Vegas are rare and unusual.        

   ◦      Children are loved by their families and communities.

   ◦      Their feelings are natural and normal in such a situation.

         You are interested in their feelings and thoughts about the tragedy. And it is important to share them, especially their concerns.

   ◦      The adults in their community are trained to keep them safe and will always work hard to ensure that happens.

   ◦      The vast majority of people in the world are good and these people are working to make sure events such as this do not happen again.

Talking about an upsetting event like this recent shooting poses a challenge for adults, but such conversations provide an important way to convey to children that their sense of safety and wellbeing is important to those who care for them.

For more information:

American Academy of Pediatrics 

How can we help children feel safer about their fears?

Earthquakes, hurricanes, renewed threat of nuclear war. We are living in uncertain, and even, frightening times, and children are aware of these dangers around us. This terrific opinion piece by Dr. Susan Lin, a psychologist on faculty at Harvard Medical School, provides a useful take on how we as grown-ups today can help children feel safer about their fears about nuclear war by speaking with them differently than grown-ups spoke to children in previous generations.

-Melissa Jacobs, CRC Leadership Team

“Like Open Heart Surgery” – Our Leadership Team shares their thoughts on separating from our kids

Regina Pally, CRC’s Founder and Co-Director, discusses an interesting article she found in the New York Times.

Lots of kids have difficulty separating. It can be very hard on parents, especially if they don’t understand just how normal it is for separation to be difficult. The human species is actually designed for separation to activate the pain system. It hurts at a physical level- with some hurting more than others. But it can even hurt for the most resilient of us. This article illustrates how cool and collected President Obama felt like he was having open heart surgery when separating from his daughter as she went off to college. Letting your child know it’s normal to feel upset about separating can be the first step in helping to reduce their pain. If you make a child feel badly about being upset, it can activate a shame cycle that actually exacerbates the pain. In fact ‘normalizing’ all negative emotions is a very useful tool when trying to comfort a child who is upset. The point is to help your child develop coping skills for their difficult and painful emotions. But the message should always be to accept the feelings as normal.

Read the article here:

Mindful of Equity – A Review from our Leadership Team

Natalie Levine, a member of CRC’s Leadership Team, shares with our readers her thoughts on an important article on being mindful of equity…she says:

“I found this article in a magazine for educators called Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  It addresses some important concerns and steps to take when teaching mindfulness to classroom students.  Among these is the importance of helping teachers become aware of their own intentions, feelings, and biases about their students as well as the importance of trying to figure out what underlies difficult student behavior:  Why might this be happening?  Where is this behavior coming from?  I found it relevant to our program, because our  curricula for parents and for teachers uses mindfulness as a tool, is concerned about self awareness around biases, and is grounded in the importance of reflecting on intentions and meaning of underlying behavior.”

Read the article here: 

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