My Baby Won’t Stop Crying! 10 Ways to Cope with a Crying Baby


My Baby Won’t Stop Crying! 10 Ways to Cope with a Crying Baby

Dr. Robyn Silverman

We’ve all been there.  The baby is crying and you don’t know what to do next. It doesn’t matter how many children you’ve had, how much education you’ve experienced, or how many books you’ve read on the topic.  Crying still happens. It’s happened to me and I’m sure that it’s happened to Dr. Sears and Dr. Spock too. All babies cry no matter how “good” of a parent you are!

It’s OK to admit it. Sometimes you wonder how you keep from throwing yourself out the window and leaving your baby on the neighbor’s doorstep with a note. She just won’t stop crying! Yes, of course you would never actually do such a thing! You love the baby, you just want to stop that loud noise coming from her mouth and you don’t know what to do. She’s so fussy and you feel like a failure–the worst parent in the world. You didn’t sign up for this—you never knew it would be like this. Your patience is shattered and you don’t know what to do.

  1. First, stop. Just stop. Your baby is screaming but you’re all wound up too! Stop for a moment and collect yourself. After all, you are an adult. The baby…is a baby. Crying is how babies communicate and right now, your baby is telling you something.
  2. Ask yourself the basics: Is my baby hungry? Tired? Wet? Cold? Hot? Sick? Gassy? Hurt? Teething? Bored? Overstimulated? Afraid? If you feel like you just fed your baby an hour ago and you can’t imagine that she’s hungry again, try it anyway. There are times when your baby is going through growth spurts and needs more than you might have originally thought. Burp her, check her temperature, change her diaper. Look for anything that might be irritating her. One of my closest friends told me a story about a baby who wouldn’t stop screaming and it turned out that he had a hair wound very tight around his finger. Be a detective instead of looking up and asking “why me?” Think outside of the box and go down your list of possibilities.
  3. Calm thyself: I’m aware this is easier said than done. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve spent 5 minutes counting down from 10 at least 50 times. Remind yourself to breathe. In and out. I tell our Powerful Words students, “smell the flowers, and blow away the clouds.” Try it. You can’t calm your baby is you are in a panic.
  4. Calm the baby: Try what you can. Bounce, dance, sway, sing, and hum. Speak in low tones. Use a pacifier, a bottle, or a swaddling technique. Divert her attention. Put her in a warm bath, give her a massage, hold her close. Bounce on an exercise ball with her or use the vibrating chair. Turn the lights down low, turn the TV down low, put nice soft music on the radio. Try something you’ve used before and try things you haven’t used before.
  5. Walk away for a moment: If it gets so bad that you need a moment to collect yourself, put your child in a safe place, like his crib, and walk away for a minute. Calm yourself down. Call a friend. Talk yourself off a ledge. Then get back in there and be the parent you know you can be. Your baby needs you.
  6. Know your limits: Need help? Ask for it. If it gets to be too much and you are at your breaking point, call your Mom, call your neighbor, call your best friend. Call a hotline if nobody else is around (crying baby hotline is 1 866 243 2229). Ask for help. Ask for what you need—a helping hand, a word of encouragement, some ideas. Someone else who has already gone through this before can be a great source of support and information. You want to keep your head about yourself so you are gentle with your baby and you refrain from shaking him in a fit of frustration. If you are at this point, get help immediately.
  7. Go with your gut: If you believe that something is wrong and you can’t fix it, call the doctor. Describe what’s going on and get some sound advice. If you really think about it, you know when your child is fussy or gassy versus sick or hurt. Listen to the cries and go with your instinct.
  8. Support yourself: Tell yourself, “I know I can do this.” Remind yourself that others have dealt with these problems before and survived. Refrain from berating yourself for not knowing enough or doing something that upset your baby. You need yourself to be a friend right now—not an enemy.
  9. Get ongoing support: Join a mom’s group or a dad’s group where you can talk about helpful tips, your doubts and your frustrations. Other parents have gone through what you are going through. I know I value mine! Talk to your doctor about what’s been going on as well as any patterns that have developed. Could your child have reflux? Colic? Another problem? You don’t have to do this alone. Reach out for support.
  10. Remember the phase: Even though it’s really challenging, babies cry. Sometimes they do it a lot! But, as we know, your child will not do this forever. I know that 15 minutes can feel like it though. In a blink of an eye, your child will be going off to school and you won’t believe that he was once that crying baby that made you doubt your parenting abilities and your own sanity. This is just a moment in time and as my Mom always told me, “this too shall pass.”

Any other tips out there, parents? Please share!

I know right now it might be difficult to enjoy every moment. But as many Moms and Dads that have gone before you, you’ll get through it. You can do it. We know you can!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

photo thanks to

Dear Dr. Robyn: My Dad’s in Jail


Dear Dr. Robyn,

My Dad’s in jail because he broke the law and did something really dumb that I don’t even want to talk about. My Mom has to work all the time and she always cries and my little brother seems like he doesn’t want to talk to anyone not even me. He says he wants to see us and to visit him in jail but I don’t know because I’m really mad at him. I don’t trust him anymore. I don’t even know what to do please help. -Izzy

Dear Izzy,

I’m so sorry about what you’re going through. I can tell you are in great pain and it doesn’t seem at all fair. I’m glad you reached out.

When a parent goes to prison, it can feel like the entire family is being punished. You’re now living in a one-parent household with a parent who seems sad, overwhelmed and overworked. You probably are dealing with conflicting feelings. You may miss him and feel like you hate him all at the same time. You love your father but you may be frustrated by what he did, embarrassed that he broke the law, and angry or sad that he’s not at home with you and your family. You might even be thinking that your parent is “a bad person” or that you “don’t even know him anymore.”

First, remember that you don’t have to make any decision right away. You can take some time to sort out your feelings and decide what to do. Write out your feelings in a diary or talk to a friend, relative, mentor, teacher, instructor, doctor or religious confidante. When we talk or write things out, we can come to conclusions. You don’t want to bottle things up.

Second, keep doing the things you love. Spend time with friends. Stay involved with your activities like martial arts, gymnastics, and drama. Surround yourself with people you live and the people who love you. Keeping a routine, as much as you can, and spending time with supportive people who care, can help you cope during this rough time. Second, you can choose to write letters to your parent. This way, you open the lines of communication between you and your parent without seeing him until you’re ready.

Third, you can visit your parent if that is an option. Visits can help you rebuild your relationship, answer the questions you have on your mind, and work out your feelings. While visits can be stressful, they may help you to get on a path of healing.

Fourth, you can look into information and support groups that can help you through this tough time (.e. Rainbows, Family Connection Centers, Crisis Centers, Online Communities ). Talking out your frustrations and concerns with others who are going through a similar situation can make you feel less alone. You may feel like the only one going through this but you’re not–The 2004 prison population report showed that there are approximately 2.26 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons. That means a lot of families are affected. The support groups may give you the space and support you need. Encourage your family to go as well.

Fifth, remember that keeping the anger and frustration to yourself isn’t helpful to you or anyone else around you. I know that you’ve been part of a Powerful Words member school for a while now and you know that forgiveness, empathy, and anger management are all important for our health.

This may be a tall order, and you will probably never forget what your father did, but perhaps, in time, you can learn to forgive. Continue to reach out. You don’t have to do this alone. In time, and with some support and emotional digging, you’ll know what to do. Listen to your gut and ask for help when you need it.

We’ll be thinking of you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

7 Ways to NOT be a Helicopter Parent When Approaching Teachers

Bringing a concern to a teacher or coach respectfully and responsibly

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’ve been told by my daughter that I used to be a “helicopter parent” but that now I’m much better. I’m happy about that! I was wondering though, if I do have a question of concern for my child’s instructor and my daughter wants me to talk to him, what’s the “right way” to do it so that I’m not coming off like one of those crazed “Mama Bears” who’s just trying to cause trouble?                                                                          –Karin T, Austin, TX

Hi Karin,

Thanks for writing in. This is a great question and I imagine we can all benefit from starting this conversation. I’d like to offer some possible solutions, but I’d also like for other parents and educators to chime in and offer how they like these situations to be handled as well. So please comment below if you have an idea or question about approaching teachers, coaches, or instructors with problems or concerns.

(1) Ask yourself; can my child cope with this on his or her own? We all want our children to become more self reliant and feel confident dealing with a wide array of problems and questions as they develop. Talking with teachers and expressing concerns is something that builds courage and character. Often, the best way that you can help your child is by role-playing with them and helping them come up with how to best approach the teacher or coach about something which upsets them, scares them or confuses them. There are countless rewards for children who learn that they can do it by themselves! Let them use those Powerful Words!

(2) Talk to a trusted adult who has perspective: If you’re unsure if your concern warrants a meeting with the teacher or coach, run it past someone you trust who is uninvolved emotionally, can think clearly, and can offer you some perspective. A success coach or more experienced friend, who does not know the teacher, would be a good choice. Whomever you speak to, ask for an honest, non-emotionally charged opinion and be sure to ask for complete confidentiality. You want to be able to approach a teacher or coach if and when you’re ready not when s/he hears it from someone else.

(3) Discuss conflict out of earshot of children and other families: If you are certain that this concern should be brought to the teacher’s attention, and that it should be done by you rather than your child, it’s vital that you discuss the concern with the teacher in private. While it might be quicker to discuss your child whenever and wherever you can find the time, it’s inappropriate to talk to teachers about your concerns when in public. You must agree on confidentiality for the good of the child and the fairness of everyone. Just as parents need to know that teachers won’t embarrass them or their children in front of other people, you, in turn, need to be respectful by refraining from broaching concerns in public places as well.

(4) Know the facts: Step back. Take a breath. Don’t accuse a teacher or coach of lack of judgment or poor choices when you don’t know all the facts. While it might seem apparent that something questionable has happened, there are always several sides to one story. Especially when events are emotionally charged and your child isn’t happy with a teacher’s choice, you might be only getting half the facts.

(5) Speak directly to the teacher: While it might seem easier to simply “send someone” to talk to the teacher—whether it’s the Nanny, the grandparents, or other guardians, it’s important to speak directly with the teacher. Otherwise, you might be unaware of any difficulties that are occurring with your children—and you may just get the “cliff notes.” Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that must be cleared—and sometimes, frankly, it’s nobody’s business but that of the parent and teacher. It’s important to request direct contact with the teacher so that you can define the problem and solution together as a team.

(6) Avoid criticizing teachers in front of their children: Criticizing the teachers in front of the children is not helpful and is often confusing to the child. Children are very perceptive and pick up on anger and frustration. Since the teacher and the parent are very important people in the lives of the child, they do not know where to assign their loyalties and may even cause them to question authority. Therefore, it’s vital that you refrain from talking negatively about a teacher to another person in public (even if you think nobody’s listening) or showing anger towards a teacher in front of your children. Adult matters should stay adult matters.

(7) Choose a mutually agreed-upon time and place to discuss the conflict: Speaking when tempers are hot or time is limited is not likely the best time to discuss a disagreement. Is the best time in the morning? Afternoon? After a certain class? Remember—you’re thinking about the welfare of your specific child—the teachers, instructors, and coaches must think of the whole class (or multiple classes) and what is fair and safe for all of them. That means that what’s convenient for you might not be the best time for the teacher and the rest of the class. Just as important, if you know the time, you can ensure that you can secure child care for your child so that you can speak freely with the teacher or coach without distraction.

Always remember that you are guiding and modeling the ways to resolve conflict respectfully and responsibly when dealing with concerns or problems. Ask non-accusatory questions. Be gracious.  Listen.  Offer some possible solutions. Aim to work together. Children will look to you and their instructors to understand how to express frustration and work through disagreements. Even when you’re angry or concerned, you can still be an excellent role model. It’s largely your responsibility to lay the groundwork for constructive communication and conflict resolution.

All you teachers, coaches, instructors and parents out there– let’s hear your tips and comments about ways to approach a teacher with a concern! Comment below!

Parent Alienation: Five Ways Parents Can Help Children of Divorce, Part 2

This is a Part 2 of guest blogger and divorce expert, Christina McGhee’s article on Parental Alienation, Children, and Divorce. Part 1 is here.

Parent Alienation, also known as PAS, is often viewed as a black or white issue. It has been my experience that alienation exists on a continuum and often falls in shades of gray. It can range from mild, which includes consistent derogatory remarks, subtly placing children in situations where they are asked to take sides or scheduling activities during the other parent’s scheduled time with a child, to very severe, which involves parents blatantly interfering with contact, rewarding a child’s rejection of the other parent, making abuse allegations or insisting that the other parent is bad, evil or someone to be feared. If PAS is suspected intervention needs to be guided by the assessment of a qualified experienced professional. (From Part 1 of Parental Alienation by Christina McGhee)

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children?

1. Understand the Dynamics of the Problem: More often that not, parents do not understand the dynamics of PAS until it is too late or the situation has become severe. If you feel that the other parent is making attempts to sabotage your relationship raise your level of awareness and understanding about Parent Alienation. There are several excellent resources online regarding PAS, for more information click here or visit this resource page.

2. Maintain Contact with Children: Do what you can to maintain regular consistent contact with your child. The primary mode of operation for alienating parents is you are either for me or against me. Children learn early on that if they do not side with the alienator, they risk rejection. Having seen how the alienator has dealt with the target parent is a clear and ever present reminder of this. When a parent withdraws from a child’s life or does not maintain consistent contact children are defenseless against the alienation. Not only does it reinforce the alienator perspective, it also does not give children the opportunity to have an alternate perception of reality.

3. Don’t Take the Rejection or Rude Behaviors of Your Children Personally: While your children may be giving you every indication that they don’t want you involved, children still need you. Even if it is not acknowledged, knowing that you care and are available can be incredibly valuable to children dealing with the pressure inflicted by an alienating parent. It may seem like a small consolation but in most cases, children feel more secure in their relationship with the target parent because they do not put the child in a position where they are forced to choose.

4. Get Professional Support: Dealing with parent alienation is a marathon not a sprint. The journey to repair your relationship with your children may be long and often requires an enormous amount of patience and persistence. Seek out professional support to help you manage the stress and emotional drain that parents frequently experience when rejected by a child.

5. Utilize the Legal System When Necessary: When alienation is present, it almost always requires legal intervention. Many parents are reluctant to engage in litigation with the alienator either because they fear making things worse for children or because the family court or a legal professional has minimized the situation. While there are many family lawyers who are educated and knowledgeable about PAS, many still are not. Make sure the lawyer you are working with understands the dynamics of alienation and if necessary seek out an experienced professional to offer case consultation.

While PAS is not present in every situation, the best intervention is prevention. Regardless of the other parent’s actions, engage in positive co-parenting behaviors early on and do what you can to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, so that intervention, even in the early stages, will not be necessary.

Christina McGhee is a respected colleague and expert in divorce and children. She’s got some great tips for families who are going through divorce!

Photo credit: Jupiter Images

Making Sense of Parent Alienation: Misconceptions, Divorce and Children, Part 1

Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog welcomes guest blogger, colleague and children of divorce expert, Christina McGhee This is part 1 of a two article series.

Making Sense of Parent Alienation

By: Christina McGhee

“I have a very special piece of jewelry that was given to me by my grandmother on my father’s side. I wear it almost everyday. Even though my grandmother died several years ago, whenever my mother sees me wearing it, she makes some kind of derogatory or negative comment about her…It’s like saying half of you is okay and half of you isn’t.” –Jane, adult survivor of PAS

A couple of months ago I received a call from a distressed and angry Mom who was obviously very bitter about her experience with the Family Court system. During our brief conversation, it became clear that she did not view parental alienation as a real or valid issue.

From her perspective it was merely a courtroom tactic designed to give abusive fathers access to children and to further exploit mothers who were trying to protect children. She also did not hesitate to share her opinion of professionals who supported the existence of parent alienation. Luckily, I have a thick skin and some experience in dealing with angry parents. Still I must admit the conversation left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

The issue of parent alienation usually invokes lots of strong opinions and feelings on both sides. In some ways, this mother’s attitude is an example of the all or nothing attitude regarding parental alienation that is embraced by many. While awareness has increased over the past several years, alienation has been and still is a hot bed of controversy in many professional circles and family court jurisdictions.

As a professional, I have had an opportunity to stand on both sides of the fence. I have seen cases where the family court system has not protected the needs of children by either minimizing the need for safety or by creating unwarranted obstacles for parents desperately trying to maintain a relationship with their children. Unfortunately in many of these cases more energy has been given to the “he said, she said” debate than to the needs of the child.

When parents, professionals and family courts get mired down in the supporting the extremes, it is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Parental alienation is a real problem for many separating and divorcing families. While children’s safety must be a top priority, we cannot and must not forget we have a responsibility to protect children’s relationships with both Mom and Dad.

Jane’s story, Living with PAS

Even though she was a young adult when her parents finally divorced, the alienation was no less intense. She remembers her parents having problems long before their separation and describes her family life as living in a constant state of either or. Her mother insisted the children choose this family or that one, Mom’s side or Dad’s side, a problem she still struggles with today. The stress generated for her growing up was so strong that she remembers feeling anxious most of the time, having lots of stomach aches, shedding many tears and feeling very isolated.

Looking back Jane says the difficult thing about living with PAS was, “That it is so subtle and so insidious that you don’t realize what is happening. You just think this is the way your family is”. Almost a decade later, through counseling and with encouragement from her husband, Jane was eventually able to reestablish a relationship with her father.

The damage of the alienation by Jane’s mother also created a rift between her and her younger sister. Feeling a strong need to take their mother’s side, her younger sister was not able to accept Jane’s’ need for a relationship with their father and has since disconnected herself from Jane’s life. Even though Jane understands the dynamics of her situation, she still struggles with feelings of guilt and loyalty conflicts to this day. Through maintaining boundaries and letting go of unrealistic expectations Jane is learning how to manage her relationship with her mother.

Misconceptions about Parent Alienation

1. It either is or isn’t. Parent Alienation, also known as PAS, is often viewed as a black or white issue. It has been my experience that alienation exists on a continuum and often falls in shades of gray. It can range from mild, which includes consistent derogatory remarks, subtly placing children in situations where they are asked to take sides or scheduling activities during the other parent’s scheduled time with a child, to very severe, which involves parents blatantly interfering with contact, rewarding a child’s rejection of the other parent, making abuse allegations or insisting that the other parent is bad, evil or someone to be feared. If PAS is suspected intervention needs to be guided by the assessment of a qualified experienced professional.

2. If children do not want to see a parent then the other parent must be guilty of alienation. There are actually many reasons why children may be reluctant to spend time with one of their parents. In some cases, a parent may alienate themselves from a child by withdrawing from their lives, trying to discredit the other parent or by engaging in harmful, abusive or destructive behavior. When a parent does not take responsibility for their part, children may choose to distance themselves. If your child does not want to spend time with you, think through how you may have added to the problem. Unfortunately, some parents jump to the conclusion that the other parent is responsible for the situation without first considering other possibilities.

Again, this is where a comprehensive evaluation by a court ordered professional can be helpful.

3. If children do not want to see a parent, that parent should respect the children’s wishes. While forcing your children to spend time with you is not recommended, neither is taking a passive stance. If your child is stating they do not want to spend time with you, it is okay to let them know you are disappointed. Support their feelings by offering possible alternatives, like spending an afternoon together versus the entire weekend. Maintain your focus on continued positive contact with your child. Shorter consistent periods of time that enhance your relationship are better than no time at all. Over time, you can work on gradually increasing the amount of time you and your children spend together.

4. Alienating behaviors of a parent always results in rejection by children. Actually, there are some circumstances where parents can take steps to actively protect their relationship with children and minimize the impact of alienation. Often timing and intervention make a significant difference. The sooner parents and children have access to support and information the less likely they are to fall victim to the negative and destructive aspects of separation and divorce.

5. If children do not reject a parent then alienation is not occurring. In an article about how to detect PAS, researchers J. Michael Bone and Michael Walsh coin the term “attempted PAS”, which refers to situations where the dynamics and characteristics of PAS are present but children have not been successfully alienated. Although alienation may not appear to be successful it is important to realize the effects are still very toxic to children and therefore the relationship between the target parent and the child still requires protection.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, “What Parents Can do about Parent Alienation” coming this week.

Bullying Video Game for Kids: Violence in Media?

After writing about the prevalence of bullying in our schools yesterday and alluding to the violence in video games, I wanted to bring something to your attention. Here is an example of an enhanced, newly re-released addition of the “Bully” video game that came out last month. It focuses on bullying and violence in schools.

The One Side of the Argument

In the game, the main character, age 15, uses violence to deal with bullies in school. He is described by the makers as “Jimmy Hopkins, a teenager who’s been expelled from every school he’s ever attended.” The player gets points when Jimmy kisses girls, plays pranks on teachers and beats up his enemies. Believe me, I wish I was kidding.

Especially after several examples of YouTube videos showing bullying, a video game promoting violence in school is disturbing. While no guns are used or blood shed (thank goodness), it certainly isn’t a calm day at Bullworth academy.

The game has been suspended in Brazil and has received a lot of negative publicity in the US, Australia, and the UK.

While some gamers actually say that bullying is not glorified in “Bully,” what they are neglecting to acknowledge is that the game adds to the number of acts of violence that a child sees and virtually “experiences” during a typical day.

As we know from extensive research, the average person has viewed around 200,000 acts of violence by the time he reaches 18 years of age. In addition, research has shown that repeated exposure to violence in media can indeed make children and teens more violent and aggressive. It does have an effect on their brains, perhaps temporarily, and what may be the effects over time?

Children’s viewing of violent TV shows, their identification with aggressive same-sex TV characters, and their perceptions that TV violence is realistic are all linked to later aggression as young adults, for both males and females…Results show that men who were high TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men.

–Huesmann et al, University of Michigan

The Other Side of the Argument

With every point of view, there’s an opposite one. This topic certainly seems to ruffle some feathers.

The makers are quick to underscore the positive side of “Bully.” Namely, actions do have consequences. If you stay out past curfew, the screen will blur and you’ll become sleepy. Then you’ll pass out. If you skip a class, a group of adults will voice their disapproval. And the incentive for attending the twice a day classes? Your character may get an enhanced ability to flirt with girls or a great recipe to make stink bombs and other prank devices.

Oh, good.

Interestingly, the makers didn’t make a feature that allows the students to post their beatings up on YouTube.

Seriously though, old friends, Dr. Larry Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media (and authors of Grand Theft Childhood), performed extensive research that actually supported the playing of video games like “Bully.” They found that that after several years of study that (1) the claims that violent games= violent children was unsupported; (2) Only kids who played over 15 hours of violent video games may be affected; (3) Kids who didn’t play video games at all might be at risk of having low social competency; (4) Kids who play video games have the ability to test new skills and make mistakes and correct them in a fantasy world. Check out this interview with them. (Thank you to Amy of Shaping Youth for the great link).

The big concern that playing violent video games will turn your child violent…there is absolutely no evidence of that…if you look at the violent crimes of teenagers over the last several years its gone down and down significantly and if you look at video game playing, it;s gone up and up significantly.

— Dr. Lawrence Kutner


I have to admit, even after reading the research, I’m still unsettled about this– intuitively, I’m just not into the idea of children and teens playing violent games. How does it serve? It seems so counterintuitive that I just can’t endorse it. I mean, what ever happened to Monopoly and Operation? It sounds to me like we still have more research to do. And is it OK that kids who play video games for over 15 hours per week are, in fact, negatively affected? I don’t think so. What do you think?

My verdict?

Perhaps we should send next month’s Powerful Words curriculum to Bullworth academy? It looks like they need a little help in the area of compassion. I certainly stand behind that intervention.

Here’s to you,

Raising Good Sports in a World of Poor Sports: 6 Ways to Teach Children the Way to Play the Game

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

The weather’s getting awfully nice here in New England. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the kids are outside playing sports. Which gets me thinking…

As adults, we often turn a blind eye to bad sportsmanship when it is glorified in the media. Heck, some adults join in on the banter. Quotes and questionable behavior from angry, volatile players and coaches is often excused in the heat of battle. We love our sports, we love our players, and secretly, we love a good rumble.

In 2004, around the time that Boston’s beloved Red Sox “reversed the curse” and won their first World Series in a long, long time, the fifth and six graders from Merriam Elementary School in Acton, Massachusetts took the spirit of the game into their own hands. They wrote to the owners of the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Commissioner of Baseball himself to see if they could inspire a truce for the benefit of the children:

“We think sportsmanship is very important. We have observed in the past few years that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry has gotten too extreme. Fans and players everywhere are getting too worked up about what’s just a game. Fights between two teams are not necessary because fans and players can get hurt. Our idea is that the Red Sox and Yankees should shake hands…If the players shake hands and don’t have violent fights, it will set a good example for kids of all ages who look up to them. All of us here play sports and at the end of each game we all shake hands. So we think that if younger kids show good sportsmanship, Major League players also should.”

And so the Merriam Handshake Project was born. It received national press and $10,000 in scholarship money to back outreach efforts to teach others about sportsmanship. Imagine that. Sometimes children need to remind us about what we are supposed to be teaching them.

Let’s get back to the basics and teach our kids to play fair. Huddle up; this is what we need to do:

Seize Teachable Moments: Whether you’re watching a game on TV or attending a school sporting event, you can always find “teachable moments” regarding sportsmanship. Ask your child her opinions of players who showboat and taunt their opponents, games that are riddled with technical fouls and penalties, and teams that argue and trash talk. What advise would your children give the players if they were in the position of coach? During these “teachable moments” ask open-ended questions and listen more than you talk.

Discuss it: If you see your child showing poor sportsmanship, make sure that you discuss his actions and address it accordingly. If your child is involved with an activity or team where poor sportsmanship is the norm, speak with the instructor or coach to make your concerns known. When poor sportsmanship is a constant part of the game, you may want to reevaluate your child’s participation in that particular activity or on that specific team.

Model Positive Sportsmanship: Remember, your child is watching you! Are you booing the other team? Yelling ugly things at the umpire or referee? On the flip side, are you offering complimentary words to the other team when they have a nice play? If you want your child to show good sportsmanship, take a look in the mirror, and make sure you are showing the behavior you want you child to emulate.

Be Their #1 Fan: When watching your children participate in a game or match, shout words of encouragement instead of directions or criticisms. Remember, your children look to you for praise—they have a coach that gives them directions and sometimes, unfortunately, dissatisfied teammates to provide criticisms!

Check your ego at the door: Many adults know that it is alright to lose if someone has tried their best. However, some still fail to display good sportsmanship. Researchers show that some parents are living vicariously through their children and therefore get wrapped up in winning the game or the competition. Along the same lines, some parents push their children into playing to win because they have unrealistic expectations of their child and feel that their child will be the next superstar. Challenge yourself to check your ego at the door—and remember that your child is in it for the fun and the positive experience!

And perhaps most importantly, if your child is frustrated by consistent poor displays of character among his athletic idols on TV or even among his own teammates while in competition, teach him to Take Action! This is when leaders are born. Upon reflection, you might wonder if the voice of a child could make any difference in sports world. But it can. Just ask the students of Merriam Elementary.

Webmaster’s Note: Portions of this article were originally printed in Bay State Parent Magazine, where Dr. Robyn is an expert parenting columnist.

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used worldwide. Known as “The Character Queen,” she’s the creator of the Powerful Words Character Development program used by top-notch professional after-school programs around the world. Dr. Robyn is also a success coach for parents, adolescents, and educators, who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She is a writer and professional speaker who presents to schools, hospitals and organizations that focus on children or families. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar? Please get in touch at drrobynsblog (at symbol) gmail dot com

“Mommy, I hate you and Daddy You’re Mean!” Six Tips to Help You Cope with Your Child’s Angry Words


Dear Dr. Robyn,

I feel like the worst Mom. My son is 4 years old and he has always been a very sweet and loving boy. But the other day when we were playing with his toy trucks on the floor he got really mad, threw the truck down, and told me that he hated me! I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say. I want to be prepared for the next time it happens (if it happens). What should I do?

                                                                                   —Susanne R., San Diego, CA

“Mommy, I hate you and Daddy You’re Mean!”

Six Tips to Help You Cope with Your Child’s Angry Words

By Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

“Mommy, I Hate You!”

“Daddy, You’re Mean!”

Being a parent is tough sometimes, isn’t it? Yes, you know in your head that your child doesn’t really hate you. But when he utters those words it’s as if he is nailing a scarlet letter to your head with a tinker toy. The words are “child’s play” but the effect sure does feel real.

Young children do not have to subtle language to beat around the bush. When they’re angry, they show it. If you don’t give them their way, they are going to let you know about their frustration. It’s normal. It just doesn’t feel like it when it happens to you. What should you do?

(1) Look for the issue behind the words: Your child does not always have the language to explain his frustration. When your child says “I hate you,” he might be having difficultly with a task, attaining something he wants, or expressing an emotion like fear. As parents, we must become a detective and figure out what our children are really trying to relay.

(2) Help your child recognize anger: If your child can recognize when he is feeling angry, he will have an easier time expressing and coping with the feeling rather than lashing out. Ask your child, “what does your body feel like when you’re angry?” Help him to name it while it’s happening, “I can tell by your face and body that you are angry. You’re having trouble putting the wheel back on your truck. That is very frustrating!” This will help to validate what your child is feeling and help him put a name to the emotion he is feeling.

(3) Give your child the right words: When your child is calm, talk about what happened. Remind him of when he was feeling angry earlier in the day and what he said. Let him know that when he says “I hate you,” it hurts your feelings. Then ask him, “What can you say instead?” If he is unsure, give him the right words. “When you feel this way, instead of saying ‘I hate you,’ say, ‘I feel angry and I need help, please.” Help him to practice expressing his feelings so that when he is angry again, he can call on these skills.

(4) Provide calming techniques: We all get angry. Helping your child deal with anger in a constructive way will be a gift that he can use for the rest of his life. Introduce and practice some techniques when your child is open to listening (not when in the heat of battle!). Counting to 10, singing a song, and talking to oneself, are some simple ways to calm down when angry. One of my favorite techniques is to “smell the roses and blow away the clouds.” This is a powerful way to teach children to take a few deep breaths.

(5) Provide problem solving techniques: Let your child know that there are lots of ways to solve problems. If something isn’t working, try something else! You might say, “Could you help me put the wheel back on my truck?” or “maybe I should play with something else.” Help your child think about solutions that are safe, fair, and likely to be successful.

(6) Watch your own language: Regrettably, in this case, “monkey see, monkey do.” If you use harsh language in anger or you typically say “I hate” towards objects (i.e. I hate doing laundry; I hate when the phone rings during your nap time), your child will pick up on it and use it himself. Unfortunately, such language might be directed at you!

Perhaps the most important thing for you to keep in mind while all this is happening is that your child doesn’t really hate you. So take a deep breath. Sometimes parents, too, need to remember to smell the flowers and blow away the clouds. After all, it’s likely that clear skies are on the horizon.

With great respect,


Webmaster’s Note: This article was originally published in Bay State Parent Magazine, where Dr. Robyn is a columnist. Dr. Robyn recently earned the Silver Award for her series, Fitting in and Standing Out, on Body Image in America from Parenting Publications of America.