Despite all the ideas I have about parenting, my weak point is effective discipline.

Up until recently, we had frequent problems with our boys’ behavior – specifically keeping contained and respectful to their parents and other people.

They’re not unkind or outright rude, but rather they just get so caught up in their own world of silliness that they can end up causing a lot of disruption. They’re super-friendly, and super-positive (certainly more than I ever was) but along with this has come a pretty nasty habit of not listening to what my wife and I want them to do or not do.

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This is a letter I’ve written to my sons about the importance of good friends. I hope you’ll find some of these ideas helpful when talking with your own children.


Dear Sons,

Today I wanted to discuss friends.

Friends are important.

Good friends are critical.

You may think you know how to pick good friends, and to some degree you’re right – you know which kids are interesting, seem friendly, or are nice to you.

You know which kids like doing the same things as you and which ones don’t.

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This is a letter I’ve written to my sons. It’s part of a series which covers a wide variety of topics in which I attempt to give my boys life guidance. I hope you’ll find some of these ideas helpful when talking with your own children.


Dear Sons,

As you know, I’m concerned about you spending too much time watching videos, playing games or even messaging people on your phone.

We limit the amount of time you can do those things, but I want to explain why.

I’m not just setting limits to be mean and stricter than your friends’ parents, but I have real reasons that I feel are important.

Knowing these reasons may help you understand a bit more.

Your Life

Your life will be very different from mine, your grandparents’ or anyone else who’s lived before.

You will have many opportunities. More opportunities than others before you could have imagined.

But you will also encounter very big challenges.

Challenges no humans have ever had to contend with.

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I wrote this article for my own children and figure others may find it helpful.


Dear Son,

Your life is like an adventure, and you’re the lead character.

Think about a lot of the stories you know, where the characters go on adventures.

Sometimes they’re happy, sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they’re safe and sound at home, other times they are doing new things, or are even in a scary place.

Other times, they find new places to explore and awesome treasures.

Your life is a lot like that even though right now it may not seem like it because you are still very young.

Most times your life feels safe and stable.

However, every once in a while something in your life will change.

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I came across an interesting article on Lifehacker which asks parents to shift how they talk to their kids – the author suggests we should minimize telling kids what to do and instead ask them how something can be done.

When I first read the article, it struck me that the author’s idea seemed similar to what I’ve been doing with my boys regarding cleaning their room, which I wrote about earlier.

However, the Lifehacker article applies the technique to many more things in a child’s life, and it made me realize I was thinking too narrowly.

What’s the Idea?

To quickly summarize – the basic idea is that it’s much better to ask our children questions about how or what they would do rather than tell them what to do.

Why is this important?

Because when you ask a child a question, it requires them to formulate their own answer, to think things through, and then to own the solution.

On the other hand, telling a child what to do puts them in a subservient role. It discourages ownership of the solution, and in the extreme, may even cause them to rebel. Read more

If you’ve heard the term “brain plasticity” before, it’s most likely been in the context of what occurs after an injury or loss of ability, such as when a person becomes blind. In such cases, the brain can actually rewire itself to partially compensate for the loss.

In the case of blindness, the portion of the brain that’s normally associated with sight if often repurposed to enhance other senses such as touch and hearing.

However, the brain doesn’t get rewired only during extreme events – it changes all the time in reaction to the activities the brain’s owner.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll keep to a simple definition of “brain plasticity” – in which I mean the ability/tendency for the brain to change over time in reaction to the environment and activities that a person participates in.

Brain plasticity causes the things we do more often to become easier and more natural and the things we do less often to become harder.

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I found myself alone with my boys the other night and dinner was not to be found at home so we decided to venture out.

Where did we end up going? Smashburger.

We hopped in the van and drove a couple of miles up the road and pulled into a spot near the front of the place.

My sons jumped out and ran inside quickly, screaming like a couple of maniacs.

After the screaming ceased and things got settled down I looked up at the menu board and mentally noted what I was going to order and my sons did the same.

Or at least were told to do the same.

As we approached the register, I gave the woman behind the register my order and then my boys proceeded to give their orders.

Of course, the task took about four times longer than if an adult had made the same order, but at least they did it on their own, which is progress.

The Woman Behind the Register

After we got through ordering, the woman behind the register started making small talk with the boys.

“Which one of you is the older one?”

“I am”, exclaimed my oldest. “I’m older by one minute,” he stated, his face beaming with pride.

Then the woman’s tone got a bit more serious.

“What would you do if you found $10 on the ground? What would you do with it?”

“I dunno… probably buy a video game…”, said my oldest.

“Nope, you need to give your brother half.  Brothers look out for one another.”

My boys looked a bit taken aback.  Especially the older one, who seemed to have been already trying to figure out which video game he was going to buy.

The woman continued.

“And, you know..  do you know who may be the only person you can rely on when you’re in trouble when you’re older?  Your brother!  Friends come and go, but your brother is always going to be there for you. You remember that, and respect him!”

My boys nodded in agreement.

She concluded her small speech with the following admonishment: “Always remember… Blood is thicker than water.

My boys looked a bit confused since they had never heard this phrase. But I appreciated it.

As I was about to turn around, she and I locked eyes and she very seriously said: “You know, that was some real talk.”

I said “Yeah I know”, perhaps conveying a bit less earnestness than the conversation warranted.

She followed up with “No, I’m serious. That stuff’s important.”

Seeing that she was taking the conversation seriously, I said “Yes it certainly is. Thank you for telling them that.”

After that final exchange, the boys and I sat down at a table while we waited for our order.

Small Surprises

I was doubly pleased that day.

Firstly, I was happy that someone outside the family reinforced a message of morality and the special relationship my boys should have toward one another.

Secondly, the fact that that woman actually took the time and initiative shows that there are still people out there that not only think like that but are willing to make an effort of improving the world, a little bit at a time.

So thanks Smashburger lady. You made an impact on at least three lives that day.

In the last couple of years, I’ve heard a particularly disturbing, ignorant phase more than a few times. That phrase is something to the effect of “Parents don’t affect how a kid turns out.”

This usually comes up in a nature vs. nurture discussion on a podcast or radio program.

And it seems many of experts served up by popular culture have come down pretty firmly on the side of nature.

There’s usually some back and forth clarifying the statement – indicating that the evidence shows that parenting style and doesn’t matter much with the exception of an abusive parent.

That kids grow up how they’re going to grow up and that we should all just relax because we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves.

I agree with some of that relax part – There’s way too much helicoptering going on and it does neither the parent nor the child any good to helicopter since it not only stresses the parent but creates fragility and excessive dependence on the parent.

But I disagree with the part about regular, non-abusive parents having little to no effect on how a kid turns out.

It just makes zero sense when talking the bigger picture of how individuals are shaped by the groups they’re in.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about one of my sons having a slight phobia to insects. At that time I wrote about a simple exposure technique I was using to help him get over it.

Well, I’m happy to report that his fear of insects seems to have gone to near zero.  Ever since I went to the back yard with him and later demonstrated the fact that ants can crawl on you and not hurt you, he’s been doing great.

Aside from this, my wife has been pointing out anthills when we’ve been out on walks and encouraging him to get close and observe how they work, which he finds really interesting.

We’ll be doing more of this type of thing going forward – inviting him to not only look at insects but touch them.

So, it’s been a successful experiment and he’s feeling really good about things now.

If you have a kid who’s really scared of something (more than you think they should be), I invite you to read my initial article and give gradual exposure a try. Just remember to be very gentle and let the child set the pace for exposure and never force things.

One of my sons has problems dealing with situations involving uncertainty.

Or tasks where he just thinks isn’t sure he has the right answer.

He can sit for many minutes when deciding among many imperfect choices or when he’s in a situation where there’s no specific right or wrong answer.

Like he’s frozen.

This behavior has puzzled me for several years now. No amount of coaxing, threatening or pleading seems to help.

Yesterday, I think we had a bit of a breakthrough though.

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