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.

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

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

Lighthouse Parenting
Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication

The Happy Student Podcast #74 Lighthouse Parenting

Deciding what type of parent you want to be can be hard, especially if you want to do things a little differently than your parents did. Knowing what the different parenting styles are is the first step to figuring out how you want to parent. Each style differs in how much they emphasize or de-emphasize warmth and connection with your child and discipline. Fireborn outlines the three parenting styles and the effect that each style can have on your child in the long run. We want to emphasize: you can have a warm relationship with your child AND have well-behaved kids (and you can have well-behaved kids even if you don’t spank them!).

Lighthouse Parenting




The three different parenting styles:

  1. Permissive parenting style is when parents let their kids do whatever they want.

    • Permissive parents really emphasize warmth and connection with their kids and having a friendship with their children. They don’t really have many rules or give consequences for misbehavior.
    • This can be problematic. Kids benefit from boundaries and structure. They like them. It helps them learn how to make good decisions. Plus, they like to know that someone is paying attention to them.
    • Kids of permissive parents tend to be much more impulsive, they tend not to take responsibility for their actions, and they have higher rates of substance abuse.
  2. Authoritarian parenting style goes to the extreme opposite of permissive and is very controlling.

    • There are a lot of rules. There is a lot of discipline and punishment. And there is more language like, “You can’t do that because I said so.”
    • Children of authoritarian parents tend to have low self-esteem and tend to be either very rebellious or overly compliant. We certainly don’t want our kids rebelling and doing dangerous things, but we also don’t want our kids to rely entirely on us and not really ever start to think for themselves.
  3. Authoritative parents balance the warmth and connection with clear boundaries and expectations, which helps their kids become responsible and independent adults.

    • Authoritative parenting is the gold standard in parenting.
    • Kenneth Ginsburg calls it “lighthouse parenting”. As Dr. Ginsburg says, “We should be like lighthouses for our children. Stable beacons of light on the shoreline from which they can measure themselves against. Role models. We should look down at the rocks and make sure they do not crash against them. We should look into the water and prepare them to ride the waves, and we should trust in their capacity to learn to do so.”
    • Children of authoritative parents tend to develop more prosocial behaviors like cooperation and social responsibility.They score higher on tests of academic achievement, competency, social development, self-esteem, and mental health.

The hard thing about being an authoritative parent is that it takes a lot more thought and energy than being a permissive or authoritarian parent.

  • Most people were brought up by permissive or authoritarian parents and so that is the type of style they naturally revert to – it’s already their habit. Breaking that habit is hard.
    • And even if your parents were authoritative, it still requires a lot of thought and checking of your own emotions while you tend to your child.

But the nice thing about being an authoritative parent is that you can feel good knowing that you get to have a warm, rewarding relationship with your child, while still having rules. Just because you don’t spank your kids doesn’t mean that your children are wild.


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!

Parent-Child Communication

The Happy Student #68 Are You His Mentor or His Tormentor?

Adults do this thing where we assume that if we know something, other people know it too and it’s obvious. Parents even do this to their kids who have a lot less experience and education and for whom things are not so obvious. When we treat things as obvious, when they aren’t to our kids, it hurts our kids’ feelings and they don’t learn what they should do. That is when parents become tormentors.

Are You His Mentor





When your child messes up, it can be embarrassing. It can be frustrating. It can be annoying. It can be aggravating. And it’s easy to get frustrated with them for not knowing better. During these times of stress, it’s important to remember that your job as a parent is to coach your kids so that they learn how to do and say the right things.

What happens when you have an advisor (like a parent) who makes you feel bad about stuff you don’t know how to do? It makes you feel bad and it makes you want to avoid that person. And it makes you not want to think about whatever you’re not doing right or don’t understand.. It makes you scared of that. When you have a tormentor, you want to get away from him. You don’t learn from him and you just feel bad.

As parents it’s easy to turn into a tormentor because you have a lot of experience and education.

  • So when your kid is dealing with something and you see a very obvious answer right away and they don’t see it, you can get snippy with them because you think the answer is so obvious.
  • Being a mentor is hard because so much of what kids need to learn feels like second nature to you now that you are an adult. But you had to learn it too. So even though it feels painful to go step by step through your thinking, try it out and tell us how it goes!

So how do you be this mentor instead of a tormentor?

  1. When your kid messes up and you feel your own emotions rising, take a breath and calm yourself down.
  2. Remember who you are. You are an adult with a lot of experience.
  3. Then you can remind yourself that your child is still learning. Remember your child is younger and doesn’t have the same knowledge that you have. Their behavior isn’t a reflection on you.
  4. You can even ask yourself, “Am I their mentor or their tormentor?” to help remind yourself to be empathetic.
  5. Then, even though you think the answer to their problem is obvious, walk them through all of the steps.

For example:

So if your kid forgot his homework at home again and you say, “Just put it in your backpack when you’re done!” that is the obvious solution, but your kid apparently doesn’t know how to do that. So that is actually tormenting them because it just makes your kid feel bad and they haven’t learned anything.

To be a mentor, you instead need to walk them through all the steps:

So you could say something along the lines of, “Okay, you do your homework at the kitchen table. And then when you are done, you often leave your homework and go off to play. Then it becomes dinner time and you have to scramble to move all of your papers to another place before dinner. And then somewhere in the shuffle, your things get confused and you lose your homework. So, to avoid all of that shuffling, each time you finish a piece of homework, put that piece of paper in the side pocket of your binder. That way you will know where it is. Then once all of your homework is complete, before you go to play, put everything in your backpack. That way there isn’t any scrambling before dinner and you don’t lose your stuff.”

When you walk through all of your thinking, your kid walks through it too and learns that the solution is quite clear. Now your child has learned something and you are a mentor.


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!

Distracted Productivity
Parent Tips

Distracted Productivity

As I started reading Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase‘s book Building School 2.0 the other night, I quickly came across (it was in the Foreward, so before any of the book had actually started) some very real insight into these two very impressive men. It was written by their colleague, (who is also very impressive and has a TEDx talk) Diana Laufenberg. She wrote about all the work that went into writing this book while “minimizing the administrivia that can overwhelm the job and focusing on how to craft meaningful experiences, how to support the students and ourselves appropriately, and how to build the systems that would foster this environment” (2015, xiv-xv).

That is a lot of work. Typically when we have so much work, when we reflect back on how we accomplished it we say things like “I worked really hard,” “I was laser focused,” and “I worked efficiently and did not let anything distract me.”

And this is certainly the advice that we give to people when they have a lot to do. “Work smarter, not harder” and “You just have to manage your time well and focus.”

And sometimes that is true and that is good advice.

However, we can’t all be machines and work efficiently all the time. Sometimes I need more than a 5 minute break to reboot. Sometimes I waste my precious time watching dog videos on YouTube!


However, I often feel bad when I haven’t been “efficient enough” like when I’ve taken a longer break than I actually meant to or when I spent too long answering emails. I want to be perfect and I’m not. That’s hard.

So while I was reading the Foreward, I was relieved to hear some real talk from Diana on her amazing work with these two highly productive people:

Our workflow was definitely unusual. We spent (too) many late nights working around Chris’s desk, cycling between watching West Wing clips on YouTube, sharing thought-provoking blog posts, quoting pithy tweets, being full-on ridiculous, and cranking out the work. I could tell you that we were efficient, but I’d be lying. Effective, yes, but efficient, no…. [I] had to stop and question not just whether the work was getting done, but whether our work honored the people we were working and learning with along the way. We were the model of distracted productivity and it was grand.

This is how real work gets done!

We are productive, but we embrace our humanity as well.

We are not machines! Embrace it!

Be productive, but don’t beat yourself up when you need a break or a laugh. Enjoy your work. Work with people and don’t worry that the journey is twisty instead of linear and clear. That twisty road, full of conversations and bonding and human relationships may seem inefficient and not needed, but it actually helps productivity. We need other humans to help us and keep us motivated. We need those relationships. We need those breaks.

It struck me that we expect our kids to be the epitome of efficient too with their very hectic days. Let’s give our kids and ourselves a break. Allow yourself and your children time to be humans, not machines.


Lehmann, C. & Z. Chase. (2015). Building school 2.0. Jossey-Bass A Wiley Brand: San Francisco, CA.

I Can't? Or I Don't Wanna?
Motivating the Unmotivated

I Can’t? Or I Don’t Wanna?

“But I can’t! I’m just bad at math” your child proclaims, thus insinuating that she therefore shouldn’t study.

You know she actually can. You’ve seen her study for math and do well on tests before. If you could only get her to start studying even earlier, then she could even do really well on her test.

So you say, “Of course you’re not bad at math! You just need to start studying now.”

Well, any semblance of a peaceful conversation is gone now as your teen yells that “You don’t know anything!” And she doubles down on telling you she can’t. Meanwhile, you are left thinking, I know she can do this. She must know on some level she can do it because it always eventually gets done. She just does not want to do it. She does not want to study math so much that she’s maybe even convinced herself that she really can’t do it.

So now what?

  1. Avoid that very strong urge to continue to tell her what to do because you know best. She’s just going to keep on fighting you if you do.
  2. Say, “Okay. I’m sorry you feel that way. If I can be any help, let me know.” Then, walk away to de-escalate the situation. If you can’t walk away, at least change the subject. When you stop telling her what to do, all of a sudden her priorities start to shift from fighting with you and doing the opposite of what you say because it feels good, to thinking about what she actually should do. Kids like to do well in school. It feels better than doing badly. Therefore, if you give her space to think about it on her own, she will probably come to the same conclusion as you. But what if she is too young or inexperienced to know she should study ahead of time and more to get better grades? That’s a real lesson kids have to learn.
  3. Calmly talk through the issue with her – after you both have had ample time to cool off. Say:

I have noticed that you have been having difficulty with math and that you are anxious about your upcoming test.

I also know what a capable student you are and that you can do well on the test. (Feel free to beef this section up with more specific and sincere praise).

However, because of the anxiety you are feeling, I’ve noticed that you have been avoiding studying and that you have spent a significant amount of time worrying about the test and saying “I can’t” when if you had spent that time studying, you would already have done a lot of work and you would probably be feeling better about the test.

What do you think?  Then wait. Maybe she says, “You’re right.” If so, that’s great! Maybe she will even be willing to discuss her feelings with you further and brainstorm studying techniques. Maybe she will just want to think about what you said and what that means on her own.

Or maybe she will say, “Oh please. You don’t know anything.” In that case, you say, “Okay.” and then you give her some space to think without you there. Chances are good that even though she dismissed what you said to your face, she’s actually taking what you said to heart.

She probably won’t change her tactics too much right away, but you have got her thinking about the consequences of her actions. It takes time to make significant changes, so just continue to have this calm conversation and remind her of any progress she’s made when she forgets.

4.  When your child first comes to you and says, “I can’t do this,” avoid the urge to disagree with that opinion. Do not say “Of course you can!”

By telling you “I can’t,” she is confiding in you. She is telling you that she is worried, fearful, anxious, or any other number of feelings. She’s saying that she needs your support and empathy. If you say, “Obviously you can do this,” you are ignoring her feelings and communicating to her that those feelings are unfounded. And that is where many a fight have started.

  • So what you need to say is: Oh. I’m sorry. Okay.
  • Followed by: Well, why don’t we look at one problem together and see if we can figure it out.
  • Or: Do you want to tell me more about it?

Or, if you have an example of a time when she did well in math recently, maybe not even in math class, but perhaps when she does mental math while cooking, you could say:

Well, you know, these problems are pretty hard. But I still think you’re pretty good at math because of ____________ (insert that example you have here).

So there you have it! Four strategies to turn “I can’t” into “I’ll try”.

(Of course, utilize and adjust these strategies as necessary based on your child’s age and her areas of difficulty. Also, big emotions are natural for teenagers, so do not be surprised if your teen does not calm down right away and also do not be surprised if these conversations are a bit bumpy, at least at first).


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

Minahan, J. (2015). Between a Rock and a Calm Place. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.