Focus on the Family

Successfully Handle Behavior Problems

By Shana Schutte

If you could enlist one person to help you raise your kids, who would it be? A super nanny? A parenting coach? How about an expert child psychologist?

OK, we can't introduce you to a super nanny or help you find a parenting coach — but in this series of articles, we can introduce you to expert child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman, who has more than four decades of experience helping parents raise their kids.

Dr. Leman is the author of numerous books including Have a New Kid by Friday. In this book, Dr. Leman gives humorous, insightful and effective advice on many behavioral problems for every childhood age and stage. If potty training is driving you crazy, he's got it covered. If you need help teaching your kids to become more respectful of one another, he can help. And if you want to prevent your teens from lighting up, Dr. Leman addresses that, too. In this module we'll share Dr. Leman's expert advice on these and many other parenting challenges, including eating and undereating challenges, wardrobe issues, tattling and put-downs.

Before we begin, Dr. Leman has a few reminders for parents to keep in mind when dolling out discipline.

Remember that your child wants to please you

During my fourth year as a teacher, I taught art to high-energy, hormonal sixth-graders. By March of the school year, I was convinced that although I enjoyed teaching, it wasn't God's calling for my life. So, one week before school ended, I announced that I would be moving on. I wasn't surprised that some of my students weren't sad that I was leaving, but I was surprised that one student in particular cried when I announced my departure.

Anthony was obnoxious, but he was also one of those kids that you couldn't help but love. Many days when he bounced into my classroom, he found my wheeled chair and rolled it around the room like he was on a racetrack. I can't count the number of times that I told him to get out of my chair, stop talking or to quit pestering other students. Anthony never seemed bothered by my rebukes; instead, he often smiled like a cat that ate a mouse, which on occasion drove me crazy. I thought that because I had been so hard on him that he would cheer at my departure; instead, he was sad when I said goodbye. "Why?" he asked. "Why are you leaving, Miss Schutte?" His eyes filled with tears.

His response shocked me. I expected other students who I hadn't had so many problems with be sad to see me go, but not Anthony. After all, he'd been in more trouble with me than a barrel of mischievous monkeys. "Why are you sad?" I asked.

"Because I like you," he said. Even though Anthony hadn't seemed to care about what I thought, he actually he loved me.

In the same way, sometimes it may seem that your kids only want to drive you nuts. But in reality, they love you and want to please you more than you think. This is important to keep in mind as you discipline them.

In his book, Dr. Leman says that you don't need to have a Ph.D. or a lot of money to be a good parent. Instead, he says, "You have all you need. You know the biggest secret of all: Your child wants to please you. She can't stand it when she knows you are unhappy with her. She wants to know you are a team."

Nurture this desire your child has to please you by loving her well. Then, discipline will be much easier for both of you and your child will respond more positively to the creative discipline techniques Dr. Leman provides.

Don't make mountains out of molehills.

My grandmother always says that in marriage there are some things that you should make a big deal (or mountain) out of, and some things that you shouldn't. For example, an affair is a mountain, the color of your new car is a molehill. Sadly, many couples make mountains out of things that should have remained molehills.

This same principle applies to disciplining children. Many parents with a desire to make sure everything is perfect with their kids make mountains out of molehills — which, in turn, makes life tedious and exhausting. For this reason, in his book, Dr. Leman emphasizes that it's important for parents to decide which issues are behavioral mountains and which are behavioral molehills. Defining these mountains and molehills will guide you in which battles to fight with your kids and which to let go.

Don't be a "Slap-it-together" parent

When my grandfather was alive, he was far from a carpentry perfectionist. Instead, he was a "slap-it-together" kind of guy. This meant that if the pipes underneath the kitchen sink were busted, Grandpa would slap together something using duct tape and some left over pieces and parts that he found in the garage. If he had to build a shelf for his workshop, he would "slap up" a few crooked boards with a few old nails and "viola!" he was done. He rarely had a solid plan on how to fix anything.

When it comes to parenting, moms and dads can't be like Grandpa. Instead, they need to have a plan for dealing with discipline and behavioral problems. After all, every winning football team has a plan to deal with opposition; every winning business has a plan to deal with upcoming challenges; and every winning couple has a plan to deal with relational issues. So it's not surprising that all winning parents need a parenting plan. That's what this module is all about — it's about having a plan, and it's also what Dr. Leman's book, Have a New Kid by Friday can do for you. The results will amaze and delight you.

Behaviors and Strategies for 0-3 Year-Olds

Trying to come up with a potty plan for your little one? Or maybe you'd just like to make it through a meal without any high chair high jinks? Parents of toddlers, read on for expert advice from Dr. Kevin Leman.

by Shana Schutte

There are two things that every person on the planet does: eat and go potty. These can also be two challenging areas for parents. If you are the parent of a small child, you may wonder how you can get your child on the potty and make them stay in the high chair during meal times. Here are some ideas from Dr. Kevin Leman, author, speaker and child psychologist, from his book Have a New Kid by Friday.

Potty Plans

In America, we celebrate a lot of things: football victories, marriages, birthdays, and even potty training victories. Potty training? You got it. One afternoon as I watched television, a popular psychologist coached a couple to praise and cheer for their child, which resulted in the little guy becoming potty-trained in less than 24 hours.

Amazed? Envious? Wish you could have this kind of success with your child? No worries; keep the faith! If you're ready for your bundle of joy to ditch the diaper days and start using the potty, here are some ideas to help. Granted, you may not get results in 24 hours, but you will get results that will make both you and your little one happy.

Dr. Leman offers these simple suggestions for putting a "Potty Plan" in place:

High Chair High Jinks

I recently walked by a billboard that showed a baby in his high chair, his face smeared with something gooey, sticky and red. He looked like the proverbial cat that ate the mouse: completely delighted and satisfied.

For the parent who faces meal-time dilemmas with their "high-chair child," it can be anything but delightful and satisfactory. In fact, it may make you want to pull your hair out.

Here are some suggestions on dealing with "high chair high jinks" from Dr. Leman:

These suggestions for eating and potty training may seem simple, but take it from expert Dr. Leman, they work!

Behaviors and Strategies for 4-7 Year-Olds

Independence blossoms in the 4-7 age range, and sometimes that means special challenges for parents. Dr. Kevin Leman offers help for handling picky eaters and sibling rivalry.

by Shana Schutte

If you are the parent of a child between the ages of 4 and 7, no doubt you have discovered that your little angel came with a built-in sense of independence that makes him want to do things his way. And if you are like most parents, you've seen this independence show up in many areas, including those having to do with food and family. Here are some ideas from Dr. Kevin Leman and his popular book Have a New Kid by Friday to help you deal with these difficult parenting challenges.

Picky Eaters

My mother, whom I have affectionately named the "Queen of Phrases," always told my sister and me when we were growing up that we would eat what she had prepared. "If you don't like it, you can lump it," she said. I quickly learned what that phrase really meant: "If you don't like it and you refuse to eat, you will go hungry." Now, as a well-adjusted eater, I am thankful for my mom and her tough, "No picky eaters allowed" philosophy because I like just about all foods — with the exception of anchovies, pigs feet and anything that includes animal intestines.

If you are the parent of a picky eater, here is Dr. Leman's advice.

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry has been an issue since Cain and Abel had it out with each other. Of course, there are other, more productive ways to deal with fighting, bickering and bullying between your kids.

8-12 Year Olds: Wardrobe Troubles, Tattling Woes and Undereating

The preteen years can be a time of special behavior challenges as children face new insecurities. Dr. Kevin Leman weighs in.

ByShana Schutte

The preteen years can be challenging. Your child may be dealing with how she looks and how she fits in with others. Both of these concerns are often evidenced in wardrobe problems, insecurities about body image and even tattling. Here are some suggestions on how you can deal with each of these issues and help your child adjust to the preteen years.

Wardrobe Troubles: A Little Duct Tape Will Do

When I once attended a retreat, the speaker told a funny story. His wife, a junior high teacher, had grown tired of a student who was coming to school wearing his pants so low that his hind end was showing. She warned him, "Do not come to school wearing your pants that way again. If you do, I am going to fix them myself."

The next day, the student came to school with his pants still riding low. True to her word, the teacher said, "I told you not to wear your pants that way to school again. Now, I'm going to fix them." With that, she reached into her desk and pulled out a roll of duct tape, grabbed the student's pants, hiked them up and duct taped them around his middle into the proper position. Not surprisingly, the student never wore his pants that way again.

This funny story illustrates an important principle: when it comes to dressing and wardrobe issues with your kids, it's critical to decide what constitutes a true problem, and what doesn't. For this teacher, the young man's pants were a true problem. As a parent, you'll need to decipher which wardrobe issues are true problems because they affect your child's character or are the result of a character problem, and which ones aren't a big deal because they are only a sign of poor fashion taste.


Tattling: Don't Tell Me!

When I was a young public school teacher, I just about went crazy dealing with tattling among my 6th graders. One student in particular always seemed to have an inside scoop on everything her peers were doing. Sadly, I suffered mostly silently while I listened to whining complaints from this girl for an entire school year. I wish I would have known Dr. Leman at the time.

Undereating: A Perfect Body Is Not the Goal

More than 20 years ago when I was in junior high, the thought of "getting fat" plagued me almost every day. These concerns still exist, and perhaps even more so for today's young women because of the way the media idolize beauty above character. So while your twelve-year-old boy is stuffing his face after school with mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, your daughter is counting how many calories are in a pile of grapes. According to Dr. Leman, this can be a problem if your daughter becomes preoccupied with how she looks.

Dealing with Put-Downs, Rolling Eyes and Smoking — 13-18 Year-Olds

Practical advice from child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman to help parents overcome obstacles and lead their teens into responsible, successful adulthood.

by Shana Schutte

The teen years can be a wonderful season, but also a time of unique challenges for both parents and kids. Some of the challenges for parents include dealing with teen put-downs, rolling eyes, and destructive behavior such as smoking. Here are some suggestions on how to overcome these obstacles and help your teen develop into a responsible, loving adult.

Dealing with Put-downs

When I was a school teacher, I transferred from elementary to junior high. Thankfully, I found many things that I loved about junior high students. But there were a few things I didn't love, including the way students often put each other down. Unfortunately, this behavior doesn't just happen in the classroom, but also in homes. If you parent kids between the ages of 13 and 18, you may have experienced this and, like me, know the frustration this behavior brings.

In his book Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Leman gives great advice on how to deal with put-downs and regain your sanity.

Remember that kids are like little adults.
Sometimes parents scratch their heads because they wonder what could make their otherwise angelic children put each other down. Not surprisingly, it's the same motivation that adults have when they engage in the same behavior — usually pride or insecurity. No matter the age, people put one another down to make themselves look good, and according to Dr. Leman, kids may also put one another down to get their parents' attention.

So if you're tired of listening to your teens bicker, Dr. Leman suggests sending your teens into a room and telling them that neither of them is coming out until things are worked out to your satisfaction. This, says Leman, will teach your kids that you are not going to do their fighting for them, that they are responsible for their own actions, and that you live by a "no put-down policy."

This policy is important, not only because it fulfills Christ's command to love one another, but because it will also encourage family unity. Dr. Leman said it sends the message, "In this family, we're not going to tolerate put-downs or name calling. We're a family. That means we support each other … When you put each other down, that hurts everyone. And it breaks down our family."

Rolling Eyes

I recently heard that 70 percent of what you communicate to others is non-verbal. There are plenty of negative non-verbal cues that kids send to one another and to their parents, and one of these is rolling eyes.

Dr. Leman says, "[Preteens and teens are] masters at the rolling-eye syndrome. It's their non-verbal way of saying, 'Please, not again!' 'Dad, you're embarrassing me. I can't believe you did that!'"

Eye rolling is a molehill, not a mountain.
One of the things that make parents effective is remembering what's a big deal and what isn't. Dr. Leman says that while talking back and being a smark-aleck is a big deal, rolling the eyes isn't. This means that, yes, you should correct it, but no, you shouldn't act like it's a mountain when it's only a molehill.

A lighthearted approach works best.
Dr. Leman says, "Parents, this is not an issue to go to war on. So why not have a little fun with it? The next time you see the eye roll, say, 'Oh, that was great. Would you do it again? In slow motion?'"


When one of my good friends was in high school in the 60s, some things just weren't cool, and smoking was one of them. Now, smoking is accepted among teens. While you hope that your voice of reason will speak loudly when it comes to lighting up, there is no guarantee. So what do you do if you discover that your teen has taken up smoking or is dabbling in it?

Remember that smoking is dangerous and it's stupid.
In his book, Dr. Leman says that it's stupid to smoke because of the health damage it causes. In fact, Leman says there are numerous studies that show both first-hand and second-hand smoke are harmful. This is important to remember because if you allow your child to smoke, you are not only allowing them to ruin their health, but hurt others around them too, and that may include you.

Help your children educate themselves about the stupidity of smoking.
If you discover your child is smoking, Dr. Leman suggests that you have your child do a 5-page report on the ills of smoking and that the paper has to be handed in to you before his life goes on — or before he can do anything else. That means that if he has plans to go to the movie, the paper has to be done first; if he had plans to play football, too bad; he'd better get busy writing.

Take action.
If you suspect that your child is smoking marijuana, take her to do the doctor to request a urinalysis. If you find that your child has indeed been smoking pot, Dr. Leman says it's important to take action. Form an intervention group and remove any privileges your child has, such as driving the family car or receiving an allowance. "A wise parent will take a hard-line approach to get the behavior stopped immediately. There is far too much at stake."

One of the main things to remember as you teach your teens to become responsible adults is not to worry too much about being a friend. Sometimes it's important to take a harder approach to get your teen's attention.