Vicki Hoefle, a parent educator and author of "The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up" and "Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids," will be speaking in the Washington, D.C., area in November. She spoke with Katherine Reynolds Lewis about her five-step plan to becoming an effective, engaged parent of kids who solve their own problems.

Q: What are the primary concerns that parents bring to you?

A: There's a general sense of discord in the family. Parents can sense something is off. There are too many power struggles, with them bossing the kids and the kids refusing to be bossed. By the end of the day, everyone is exhausted and confused and disheartened.

They come with specific problems that include: "My kids won't do what I ask" and "They're lazy and defiant." What they're really describing is this discord in the home. My job is to help tweeze all that apart and look at it from a very different perspective, which oftentimes offers parents possibilities they hadn't considered before.

Parents are generally under a lot of pressure in life, outside of their role as parents. There's a lot of pressure to perform, succeed and get ahead, and that filters into their parenting. Then parenting becomes another vehicle for stress-induced performance anxiety. That wears us down.

There's some level of guilt that plays into this because we don't spend as much time with our kids as we imagined we would when they were younger. We're conflicted between this "sign them up for soccer and violin so they have a secure future," and giving up connection time and simpler living. Parents are exhausted trying to give their kids everything they desire in hopes it will make them happy.

There are these small pressures that, at the end of the day, weigh very heavily on us, and it chips away at our confidence. It makes us less secure as the leaders in our family, so we begin to make more parenting decisions based more on fear and less on, "What's my best course of action in this situation?"

Q: What is that perspective you share with parents to help them?

A: Imagine that right now we're standing in front of our children and saying, "Let me make your decisions for you. Let me ensure you will do well in school, on the soccer field and making friends. Let me do it for you."

Our intentions are great, but our children are looking at the back ends of their parents. It's not a great view. Sometimes it's a really stinky view.

What if you took one step to the right and a half step back so your kids could see the world they're being asked to navigate? You can be involved but you're just far enough away that your children can develop their own skills. Learning the difference between good and bad choices, overcoming frustration, making amends, reaching out and taking healthy risks. You would be close enough to watch this and offer a little commentary, when asked, helping you achieve that balance between being involved and taking over.

In that visual, parents have a sense that there's a way to create more balance in the family. Then it's about introducing them to these five foundational pieces:

  1. Focus on developing relationship strategies. If what you're going to do fractures the relationship with your child, don't do it. That includes nagging, reminding, counting, bribing and giving in, because each of those disrupts the relationship a little bit. Over the course of 10 years, it's no wonder that tweens find their parents unpalatable, because there's a crack in the foundation. When you establish a good relationship with your kids, they're more cooperative and they're more responsible. Those are the byproducts of a healthy relationship.

  2. Create control strategies. We have a chance to help our children develop self-control and self-regulation, along with many other character traits, if we stop focusing on compliance and start focusing on character development. The benefit is if you focus on teaching your kids self-control by the time they are 7, there would be less fighting between children, more trust they weren't abusing house rules like computer use, and by middle school, they'd have the mental muscle to say, "I'm not going to cheat on the test."

  3. Quit your job as the maid. We give our kids 18 years to master all the self skills, social skills and life skills they're going to need to live a healthy and fulfilling adult life. That is messy and it takes them time to learn. There's this propensity to make things neat and tidy. We can do it faster and better but what we give up is the ability to be emotionally available to our kids. When they get into a tough spot. They don't need us to be doing their laundry or making their lunch. How do you make that shift in an organized way so the family isn't thrown into chaos?

  4. Get rid of the idea that our children should be happy all the time. The human experience is one of ups and downs. Our job is to enable that our children know how to pick themselves up when they are down, not to ensure that they are never down. There's this added pressure on parents that their children should always be happy and never upset. I talk about what stops us from allowing our kids to have temper tantrums, being frustrated, feeling left out, failing. Not letting them make mistakes that will teach them how to pick themselves back up. We're seeing the results of kids who don't have that resiliency - kids who suffer from behaviors cutting and promiscuity. Kids who are emotionally immature because of parents who save them from even the smallest disappointment in life.

  5. Parenting is really about what happens between 18 and 80. When you get into that mindset you're no longer worried about being the perfect parent or having the perfect child. You're much better at moving through a difficult moment with grace and ease because you're not raising a 7-year-old. It opens up the possibility that we do not have to be so stressed about a child who's rude, has mismatched clothes are mismatched, or gets a C in algebra for a year until he decides he doesn't want to get a C any more. It's to look beyond this moment that is so awful that it threatens to drop us into a pit of despair and instead say, "This is nothing, this is something the child will pass through on his way to maturity." It inspires parents to go back to being real mentors to their children, instead of saying, "I will do your life and then I will drop you on the freeway when you're 18 and then you will have to enter traffic on your own."

Q: So what are the steps to quitting your job as the maid?

A: You make three categories. Category one is what they will do and can do on their own. Say, "I appreciate that you picked up your coat and hung it up," and continue to reinforce their efforts.

The second category is what can they do that they just don't do. They can hang up the towel. They just don't. Have a conversation to say, "Let's figure this out because I'm nagging you. If nagging you and reminding you is off the table, how do we solve this problem?" You're teaching kids problem-solving skills, which means a lot of your doing for them goes away.

The third category is what can't they do because you haven't shown them. You very quickly begin to identify what are the self skills that your child hasn't taken charge of. You want to turn that over to him. Teaching skill development in an area of interest, such as cooking.

Then it's very easy to ask for help in the kitchen. It's very systematic, though very slow. Look at it like teaching addition. You do it until the child doesn't think about it.


Vicki Hoefle will give a talk for parents about raising responsible and resilient kids on Friday, November 20, 2015 9:30-11 a.m., at Temple Emanuel, 10101 Connecticut Avenue in Kensington. Michael J. Bradley will give a talk called "Loving Your Tweens and Teens Without Losing Your Mind," based on his award-winning book "Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!", on Thursday, November 19, 2015 7:30-9 p.m., at Landon School, 6101 Wilson Lane in Bethesda. For registration and information, visit PEPparent.org or call 301-929-8824.