Difficult Topics, Easy Action Items, Elementary School, Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication, School Advice, Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student Podcast #91: Story Time: Using Stories to Decrease Fears

Getting kids to tell you stories about their day has numerous benefits! Better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day. Stories can also help kids develop better memory and it helps them make sense of their experiences, which can help reduce anxiety. But getting kids to open up to you about their day can be tough. Fireborn’s got some tips!




Ways to get your child to open up about their day:

Change the question you are asking so that it naturally primes your kid to answer with more than one or two words. Instead of “How was your day?”, some options include:

  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the hardest or most challenging part of your day?
  • How were you kind today?
  • What did someone else do today that was nice?
  • In what way were you brave today?
  • What did you do today that was inclusive?
  • You can ask questions like what was the worst part of the day today or what was your least favorite class, I just prefer to focus on the positive stuff because our brains naturally focus on the negative stuff, so I like to give my brain more practice looking for those positives.
  • Try playing two truths and a lie, where your kid tells you two things that did happen that day and one thing that didn’t and you have to guess which one didn’t.
    • Gamifying the conversation like this may make your child more excited to participate.
  • You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

Asking these types of questions encourages kids to specifically remember events that happened during the day and to tell you about those events.

Asking better questions leads to better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day.

You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

What’s really great about asking these good questions or teaching kids how to respond with stories is that it gets kids to think about specific events that happened and to tell you about them, which helps your kid develop their memory muscles.

When we tell our story, it gives us time to reflect on what happened and make sense of it in a way that we may not have if we didn’t take the time to think about it again. So telling stories of our experiences helps us understand our past experiences, which then informs our present experiences as well. As your kids get older, the stories they tell and the meaning may get more complex.

Sometimes kids have bad experiences and don’t like to think about them, which makes talking about them very difficult. But the way we make sense of those experiences is through talking about them. Kids need to be able to tell their story about what happened so they can make sense of it and move on. You can help them tell that story too if they aren’t able to. The more your child can integrate and understand their scary experiences, the more experience they will have overcoming challenges in the future and the happier, less anxious they will be.


Siegel, D. & T. Bryson. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child.New York: Random House.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!


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Easy Action Items, Parent-Child Communication

Stop Saying What NOT To Do

Stop Saying What NOT To Do

#tbt that time your kid would not stop interrupting your conversation with another grown-up. So annoying, right? Grown-up conversation becomes a hot commodity when you are around kids all day. So when you tell your child to “Please stop pulling on my pant leg” or to “Stop interrupting”, you really do need them to give you a few more minutes. So why won’t they?

Most likely, they probably do not know what they can do instead. When you say, “Do not do that” she does not know what her other option is. So perhaps they will just sit there for a few moments and then start nagging you again for lack of a different option.

So, instead of saying what not to do, give them some options of what to do. Similar to the situation described in Clean Your Room!, using clear language helps children understand what you mean. Providing them with an action item lets them know what “Stop interrupting” looks like.

Perhaps “Stop interrupting” looks like “Mrs. Knight and I are currently having a conversation. You are interrupting. I know that you want to speak with me. Why don’t you think about your favorite fruits so you can tell me what we should put in the fruit salad for dessert tonight?” or “When I am talking to another adult, that means I am busy. Therefore, if you see me talking to an adult, you need to wait your turn. While you wait, you may play with your Legos.”

I remember my 3rd-grade teacher specifically telling us, “If I am talking with someone else, you may not interrupt. You may stand a few feet away from us and wait patiently. I will see you and know that you would like to speak with me next.”

Here are some other ideas that “Stop interrupting” could look like:

  • Jumping up and down 50 times
  • Finding a small gift for another family member (if you are in a store)
  • Filling out a “Squiggle-on-the-go“, suggested by CoolMomPicks.com
  • Running around the house 10 times
  • Counting how many blue things he can find
  • Eating a snack
  • Going to the playroom and finding an old toy to play with
  • Playing the quiet game (tehehe)
  • Playing with stickers (bring a sticker book when you leave the house)
  • Making up a dance routine
  • Listening to music
  • Reading
  • Waiting patiently while I finish talking and learning to entertain yourself. This is the hardest one to teach, but it is the ultimate goal.

Children need to learn how to come up with the above options on their own and how to wait their turn. Like my aunt used to say (and so did Harvey Danger, a band from my youth), “If you’re bored, then you’re boring.”

(If that is not enough ideas, see a good list from BuzzFeed to use with young children: 16 Creative Ways to Keep Your Kid from Having a Meltdown While You Shop.)

Apologizing Can Be Your Best Tool
Difficult Topics, Parent-Child Communication

Apologizing Can Be Your Best Tool

Growing up, our parents are constantly telling us what we are doing wrong and what we should be doing instead. We learn what is right and wrong from them and the other adults in our lives – namely our teachers. So naturally, we expect them to consistently do the right thing.

Unfortunately, our parents and teachers are human. And so they mess up. They overreact (most likely because having children is highly stressful) when we stay out 5 minutes past our curfew or when we are fighting with a sibling and ground us for two weeks. We have all been the kid in a similar scenario.

The same thing happens with teachers, who, sick of all the noise in the classroom, end up reprimanding the kid who normally starts the shenanigans, but who, this time, actually didn’t. In high school, I was running late to school one day. A friend of mine from French class had spent the night (her parents were out of town – sleepovers on school nights was not the norm), so we went to school together. A typically early student, I was actually the one who made us late for school that day. Knowing that we were late and feeling uncomfortable, as soon as I parked the car, I started hightailing it to French class, which happened to be our first class of the day. But my friend was more relaxed and was walking slower.

Class had already started. I was stressed from being late, but did not want to leave her behind. When we arrived to class, I walked in maybe 5 seconds before she did. Our teacher said absolutely nothing to me, but as soon as my classmate walked in, she went on a rant for about 5 minutes about how disrespectful that was (and aimed the rant entirely at my friend).

This was clearly a mistake. One I believe we can all imagine making ourselves. So the real mistake was not later apologizing to that student.

Without an apology, what is the lesson learned? That my French teacher is unfair and hates my friend. That my friend is probably not going to do well in that class anyway, so why should she try?

With an apology, what is the lesson learned? That my French teacher is human and made a mistake. That she is sorry. That even adults make mistakes. That we all need to take responsibility for our actions. In this scenario, life remains “fair” and rational. Whereas in the other scenario, life is unfair and not rational because it does not make any sense to yell at my friend and not me.

So that is the problem: if adults do not apologize when they make a mistake, kids learn that the world is not rational and that it does not make sense, so why try to make sense of it? That’s stressful and can be demotivating in the classroom. So kids learn that sometimes it may be better to disengage. But disengagement is the opposite of the internal motivation we are trying to promote!

And yet, so often adults do not apologize, perhaps from a fear that they will lose their authority and power. However, that is not the case if you use authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parenting is the recommended parenting style (compared to authoritarian or permissive parenting), whereby parents have reasonable (yet still high) expectations for their children, set rational boundaries that they communicate to their children, and then support their children as they make mistakes (Ginsburg, 2015).

If you apologize to your child, kids often respect you more because you make sense – they can understand getting carried away and doing the wrong thing in the moment. Apologizing for doing that means you are rational, which means life is rational, which means kids know what to expect from you, so they can plan and work hard and life will reward them in a way they can anticipate and look forward to. (I cannot say enough good things about setting clear expectations and boundaries!) So if that is what you want for your child, think about apologizing next time you make a mistake. 


Belden, S & S. Flight. (2015). Establishing boundaries. Fireborn Institute: YouTube.com

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Hayes, C. (2015). The importance of teaching children empathy. Banyan Tree Counseling.

Jill Caryl Weiner “When We Became Four”
Parent-Child Communication, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #87: Jill Caryl Weiner “When We Became Four”

Growing your family is fun and stressful for both parents and big sibs! Jill Caryl Weiner has created a memory book that is not only funny and fun to fill out, but that also helps everyone in the family (parents and big sib) prepare for this new addition. The prompts and quotes in her book can actually help the family grow to be stronger and closer. Find out how!

Jill Caryl Weiner “When We Became Four”




Jill is an author and journalist who has written about parenting and educational issues, among other things, for the New York Times, TimeOut NY Kids, Mom365.com and other publications and websites.

Her first book, When We Became Three: A Memory Book for the Modern Family is a baby memory book for the couple having their first baby that lets parents record all the fun and chaos that ensues. It was just named one of the best pregnancy books of all time by The Book Authority. She’s got a new memory book out called When We Became Four: A Memory Book for the Whole Family.

  • “When my daughter was born I wanted to give her a memory book. I was very nervous about having this baby and what it would do to my relationship with my husband and how it would impact on us as individuals and I was worried about my identity…I started looking at them and they were so very old fashioned. They were all about the baby, when the baby rolls over, the dates, and all these statistics. I was like, I’m not going to be able to remember that. This book is going to make me feel guilty. I need a book that’s going to represent me and my husband as a couple. Also, wouldn’t it be great if it shows how everyone changes?”
  • This memory book is based on your feelings and memories, so it can be completed at any point in time.
  • It is more of a fun book, rather than something parents feel like they “should” do. “Humor is very truthful.” Especially in hindsight, these stories are very funny.
  • It helps show that you are not alone. There are other sleep-deprived zombies!

What are some things that families struggle with as they grow?

  • Before the baby is born parents can get nervous about losing quality time with their first born and losing quality time with his/her partner. They often wonder how will they manage another human being when they are barely managing how things are going currently?

How does your book help with the transition to the larger family?

  • It brings the family together for fun, quality bonding.
  • It allows the family an opportunity to deal with some issues that can come up. The book gives everyone in the family a safe place to express him/herself. It helps foster communication.
  • It can enhance big sibs involvement and communication with the family and offer a healthy outlet for the feelings that big sib might have. It reminds big sib that they are important and that what they’re feeling matters.

So part of the point of these books is to use the prompts and quotes in the book to help your family grow into a stronger, close-knit family. Would you mind sharing one of those prompts or quotes with us to give an example of how it does that?

  • It helps create a narrative of this time together.
  • It also tells the whole story of your family which helps create empathy for each other.
  • There’s a prompt about matching responsibilities to a person. This helps alleviate all of the responsibilities that often falls on the mother. It also allows the big sib to get involved in these responsibilities and lets them know that they too have things they can do with the baby.
  • Similarly, there’s a prompt about expectations for each member of the family.

Some ending thoughts…

  • Express your feelings in a fun way.
  • You might worry about having the new baby, when really the baby is like whipped cream for your family.
  • You have to be mindful that if there’s going to be a big change you try to make that transition sooner.
  • There are ways to spin things to keep each other in the process.
  • Make sure the big sib knows they’re not forgotten about by asking about their day or spending quality time together.
  • Value each other.

Buy Jill’s books today:

[one_half padding=”0 2px 0 2px”][/one_half][one_half_last padding=”0 2px 0 2px”]Jill Caryl Weiner “When We Became Four”[/one_half_last]

Get in touch with Jill:


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!


ways you can avoid tantrums this holiday season
Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #86: Keeping the Holidays Fun Part 2

For some people, the holidays are too much fun or maybe just too overwhelming. Kids’ schedules get totally thrown off with all the travel, family, and fun. They eat way more sugar and unhealthy things than they normally do. And they can get totally overstimulated by family, activities, parties, and toys. With all of that fun happening, it’s no wonder kids start to have tantrums – they are totally overstimulated and have trouble regulating their emotions, especially when they aren’t having fun because hanging out with their aunts and uncles – a bunch of adults – is not their idea of fun.

ways you can avoid tantrums this holiday season




In this episode, we talk about how to keep the holidays fun by first working on avoiding meltdowns and second figuring out what to do when meltdowns happen.

7 ways you can avoid tantrums this holiday season:

  1. Communicate kindly.
    1. If you can remember to take a breath before your scold your child so that you can instead ask what happened first so you can really understand the situation. First asking what happened will help everyone return to a calmer, more peaceful place.
    2. It will help increase the chances of good behavior down the line by reducing everyone’s stress level instead of adding to it.
  2. Make sure your kids are well-fed and well-slept!
    1. Kids are much more likely to go into an emotional tailspin if they are hungry or tired.
  3. Stick to a schedule and communicate that schedule with your kids.
    1. Help your kids feel better able to handle these unusual days by keeping as much of a normal schedule as possible, like wake up, nap, and bedtimes, eating times, and so on, as well as by giving your kids a heads up about what’s going on that day or what’s coming up next and when the next activity is taking place.
  4. Limit the number of events you go to and the number of people your kids sees all at once (or at least prepare them for the onslaught of new faces).
    1. One big event per day may be the maximum number of activities your child can handle. Kids need downtime, otherwise they’ll get overstimulated and be more likely to throw that dreaded tantrum.
    2. Seeing a lot of people at once that your child does not see regularly can be intimidating even for your teen. Help ease those anxieties by looking at pictures of who is going to be at the gathering ahead of time with your child. Remind your child what fun they had last time with those cousins. This preparation will make it a little less scary to see everyone again.
  5. Review expected behavior.
    1. Remind your child what their best behavior looks like. Go through a few scenarios with them, like, “What will you do if you get a present that you don’t like?” or “What will you do if you are done eating, but most people are still eating and talking?”
  6. Give your child some one-on-one time.
    1. Kids crave their parents’ attention. And if they feel like they haven’t gotten enough of it, they may just make sure they get some by throwing a tantrum. So find some time to sit and eat lunch together or grab a hot chocolate and talk with your child for a nice break between running from shop to shop.
  7. Figure out what your kid’s holiday priorities are and find time for them to do what they want to do.
    1. Ask them what they would like to do so you can make sure they have time for what is important for them too. Because if kids feel like they’re just being dragged around and their precious free time is being wasted, of course, they are going to get upset!=

What do you do when meltdowns happen?

  • If your child is throwing a tantrum because they want to eat the chocolate bar now and you have said that it’s not time for dessert, then ignoring the tantrum or distracting your child with a fun game may be in order.
  • If your child is throwing a tantrum because they are having difficulty regulating their emotions, then giving them a safe space to feel their feelings and talk about it with you is important. So, let your kid be upset and share their feelings – just maybe away from the family and everyone else. You can say something like, “I see that you are really upset. It is not okay to yell and disrupt the party. Let’s go upstairs and work through all these emotions and figure out what’s going on.”
    • Sit with them. Make sure they know you are there for them. Also, make sure that they don’t hurt anyone or anything. Be there for them so that when they’ve let it all out, you are there to talk through what happened with them.
  • During all of this, pre-tantrum, mid-tantrum, and post-tantrum, it’s important to remember to keep yourself calm. Your children feed off of your emotions and will mirror your behavior. So if you notice yourself getting wound up, take some time for yourself for some self-care and remove some things from your to-do list.

The homework is to tell us what you are doing to keep the holidays fun!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. How do you help your children study and get ready for exams?


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency
Parent-Child Communication

Encouraging Persistence Instead of Complacency

Honors Chemistry my sophomore year of high school was one of the hardest classes I ever took. My teacher, Mr. Spooner, expected so much more of me than had ever been expected before. It took me months to figure out that “good enough” for other teachers was not good enough in his class. Looking back, his feedback on homework clearly outlined his high expectations.

Just because I worked for hours on my homework and could not figure out the answer was no excuse to not have explained my thought process or to not have thought further into the problem, he would say. Whwasn’t I finishing the problem? Where was I getting stuck? What if I pretended as though I got that part right and moved on? Where would that take me? I would explain my thought processes to him in person, but he wanted me to write it on the paper while I was doing the work, not discussing it the next day with him. It was okay to get the wrong answer, but it was not okay to give up and to write nothing (or too little).

By the time I finally figured out what he was asking of me and I was able to do it, I understood why he wanted it: writing out my thoughts usually generated ideas that led to the correct answer. It encouraged increased consideration of the problem and boosted my ability to problem solve. Instead of giving up, writing down why I was confused and how I thought the principals should be applied but were not working, often showed me the flaws in my thinking and made me reconsider.

Giving up too easily was never okay for Mr. Spooner and I am so grateful I had someone to teach me that lesson.

In his most recent book Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners, veteran teacher and educational writer Larry Ferlazzo explains that “There may be times when students are having difficulties meeting their goals. If and when that occurs, researchers recommend that accountability is still important and it should not be dismissed with a shrug… Find out from the student why they think they are having difficulties, elicit from them ideas on what they can do differently and perhaps provide some of your own suggestions” (2015, 31). Too often teachers (and parents) accept less from their learners than they should and fail to push hard enough.

Based on my own experience teaching and my failure to push hard enough at times, I would wager this stems from a desire to acknowledge how hard the student has already worked, how hard the work is, and a desire to keep the child engaged. But that actually often has the opposite effect. If children are not held accountable and are not held to a higher standard, they will then not push themselves to do better. They will limit themselves to those lower expectations. That is what I had been doing.

Mr. Spooner was not one of those teachers. I remember a classmate, a smart one too, once complained after getting a bad grade, “But Mr. Spooner, what about our effort? Why aren’t you trying to motivate us instead of making us feel bad about our grades? What about our self-esteem?” He responded, “I’m not here to help your self-esteem. I’m here to teach you.” I disagree. In the short-term, he did not help with self-esteem, but in the long-term, his class boosted my self-esteem more than any other. He was there to teach us to push ourselves and in our effort and eventual success we were rewarded with the knowledge that we can accomplish more difficult tasks than we thought. We did not need praise anymore. The work other teachers did to preserve our self-esteem was actually hurting us and keeping us from that knowledge that we were more capable.

Kids need some pain points to overcome challenges. Therefore, like Mr. Spooner, we need to stop saying “It’s okay” so feelings are not hurt and so that ‘self-esteem is maintained’ because that is not how it works. 

Instead, Ferlazzo recommends “a strategy called ‘plussing’ that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success… ‘Using words like ‘and’ or ‘what if,’ rather than ‘but’ is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear'” (2015, 7), such as “What if you tried this?” and “And why do you think this is happening?” By asking questions starting with “and” and “what if”, judgment is removed, but students are still required to continue thinking about the problem, instead of being given permission to give up.


Ferlazzo, L. (2015). Building a community of self-motivated learners: Strategies to help students thrive in school and beyond. Routledge: New York.

The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative
Parent-Child Communication

The Anger Reaction and the Humor Alternative

Not a lot of people know this about me, but growing up I excelled at throwing temper tantrums. I have since learned to control them. However, sometimes the “Tiger Kat”, a term coined by my dad, comes out.

When I was young, to distract me from my overwhelmingly angry feelings as I yelled and stomped around, my dad would tell me, “No, no, no. You are doing this all wrong. If you are going to throw a temper tantrum, you have to get down on the floor and kick and yell and throw your arms around.” Then he would show me how it was done. It was absurd. Parents do not throw temper tantrums! But, more importantly, I would realize that I was not going to do that crazy thing, so maybe I needed to cool off. These thoughts made me uncomfortable and increased my frustration. They resulted in me going to my room, steaming, but also starting to think more rationally. Other times I would actually get on the floor with my dad, yell and kick some too, then feel silly and stop my tantrum.

As you can see, humor can be a good way to deal with anger: “it’s hard to be mad and laugh at the same time” (Abraham, & Studaker-Cordner, 2013). Humor also helps your child see incongruities in his behavior and communication.

It can be hard to tell a joke when your child is yelling and your nerves are increasingly on edge, but it is still worth trying. “Humor—free of hurtful sarcasm or ridicule—neutralizes conflict by helping you:

  • “Interrupt the power struggle
  • “Be more spontaneous. Shared laughter and play helps you break free from rigid ways of thinking and behaving, allowing you to see the problem in a new way and find a creative solution.
  • “Be less defensive. In playful settings, we hear things differently and can tolerate learning things about ourselves that we otherwise might find unpleasant or even painful.
  • “Let go of inhibitions. Laughter opens us up, freeing us to express what we truly feel and allowing our deep, genuine emotions to rise to the surface” (Robinson et. al., 2015).

Still, out-temper-tantruming your kids may not work. For instance, when you have a teenager who is upset, annoyed, or irate, she has probably already learned not to run around the house yelling at the top of her lungs. Her anger looks different from the temper tantrums she had when she was younger. So, if you attempt to get on the floor and fling your limbs, it might convince your teenager that you are treating her like a kid and not taking her feelings seriously instead of turning it into a humorous situation. Another type of humor may be appropriate in this situation.

A Few Tips on Introducing Humor During an Argument

Joke about the situation, not about the other person.

  • Say, in a conciliatory way, “How did we get here? This is ridiculous!” 
  • Add perspective. One time, I lost my luggage on a trip and took my anxiety out on my mom. “BUT WHAT WILL I WEAR TO DINNER?!” I yelled at her. With a little smile giving away her pleasure with her joke, she responded, “Well, I guess you’ll have to go naked.” It did not make me laugh, but I did realize the absurdity in my thought process and it ended the argument. 
  • Be self-deprecating to show there are more important things, such as your relationship and the other person’s happiness than being right. For instance, when I would argue with my dad and raise my voice to say something self-righteous or “That’s not what I mean!”, he would cower, look up at me with puppy dog eyes, and whimper as if I had scared him. It changed the power dynamic in a funny way and always made me giggle.

Once the joke has been delivered, there is often a break in the conversation. Use that gap to rebuild your relationship. 

Talk about the problem later, when you are both in calmer moods. “The best time to sort out an argument is when those involved in it are not overly emotionally invested in the argument itself and the tempers have been extinguished” (How to Use Humor, 2015). After you have both laughed and smiled, give each other some time to yourselves before returning to the conversation.

If you try to defuse tension with humor, but it backfires or your joke was not that funny, say so. “I was trying to lighten the mood, but I guess I did a terrible job with that joke.” Then you can laugh at how awful you are at telling jokes.

Don’t Feel Like You Have a Good Enough Sense of Humor to Do This?

Me neither.

My husband is great with humor. He has been practicing self-deprecating jokes since he was young to help him form relationships. (That is partly how he snagged me.) But for those of us not like my husband? Robinson, Segal, and Smith recommend you:

  • Read comics.
  • Practice telling jokes.
  • Watch silly movies.
  • Dance around to cheesy music. (My family likes to sing silly songs).
  • Play with the “experts”, i.e. animals, babies, and toddlers.
  • Practice bantering with sales people.


Abraham, K. & M. Studaker-Cordner (2013). Parenting coping skills: How to use humor to defuse fights with your child. EmpoweringParents.com

Robinson, L., J. Segal, & M. Smith (2015). Fixing relationships with humor. Helpguide.org

How to use humor to stop an argument. (2015) WikiHow.