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Mama Drama: How to Grow Independent Problem Solvers

Dear Mama Drama:

(photo credit)

I’m afraid I’ve created a monster (or two) by being an overprotective mom. My kids can’t seem to solve even the smallest problem by themselves. If something doesn’t turn out the way they think it should, they fall apart and for every little thing it’s “Mom, mom, mom!”

How can I help them become more independent?

~Overprotective Mama

Dear Overprotective:

Good for you for realizing that you are the link in this chain of helplessness that you have the control to change. It’s hard to admit when our behavior has led to difficult behavior in our children.

There are many small things you can do to help your children increase their independent problem solving skills. It just takes a shift in thinking, a lot of teaching, and a bucketful of patience. 🙂

First, help your children develop problem solving language:

  • Be a loud thinker (talk out loud about how you are solving everyday problems). Kids often think everything is easy for adults because they don’t hear all the problem solving we are doing in our head.
  • Prompt your child to say what s/he wants and wait, “My turn, please.” “I want the car, please.” “Can I join your game?”
  • Teach problem solving options such as asking politely, sharing, playing together, taking turns, doing something else, and asking for help (make this the last resort unless it’s something dangerous).

Increase problem solving confidence:

  • Ask your child for help in solving everyday problems, such “How many plates will we need at the table?” “I only have one apple, how can we all have some of it?” “We both have a show we want to watch, how can we solve that?”
  • When s/he shares a problem, ask your child what s/he can do to solve it. Make sure you do this with kindness, not sarcasm.
  • Allow your child time to think and find solutions without taking over or solving it for him/her.
  • Allow your child to try out solutions you don’t think will work. Learning from mistakes is a great way to become a better problem solver.
  • Recognize when s/he has solved a problem with specific verbal praise, “You used your thinking brain.” “That was hard, but you kept trying and figured it out.”

Support safety and self-advocacy strategies when peers or others are physically or emotionally hurtful:

  • Teach your child to say “Stop! I don’t like that.” “Stop! Be gentle.” “Please ask first.”
  • Remind him/her to ask a grown up for help if needed.
  • Teach them to tell a trusted grown up right away if someone’s behavior feels uncomfortable to them.

Congratulate your kids as you see them using their problem solving skills.

Congratulate yourself as you notice yourself teaching, waiting, and providing the space and support for your children to grow.

Remember to be gentle with them and with yourself. There will be some bumps in the road, but that’s how you’ll all learn from mistakes and find better solutions the next time.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Thursdays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in the next column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.


Five ways yoga makes you grow as a mom

I had my annual physical and I’m happy to report that all tests came out great. One vital statistic came out better than great: I am a half-inch taller than I used to be.

I attribute it to yoga. A steady yoga practice can put space into one’s spine to counter the compression that comes over time. I began practicing yoga more than 5 years ago and I’m aiming for 6’2″ before I die. So that’s a lot of yoga (and a lot of years — I’m clever like that)!

In honor of this half-inch, I share with you today a story by mom and yogini Kim Shand, a yoga teacher who writes about finding the calm within the storm that is parenting. Her grown-up secret? Balasana — the pose of the child.


I’ve been a mother for 23 years. My husband and I have raised two children to the point to adulthood, if not complete independence. We navigated pee-wee soccer, teen acne, and way too many prom nights. We survived the transition when they left for college. We endured the roller coaster ride toward degrees. We are now waist deep in the ”kids are back home” adventure.

When your children are babies you feel the excitement and the trepidation of not knowing what’s ahead of you. Having conquered the unknown, I had a perception of myself as an experienced parent. Now, with two 20-somethings in the house full-time, I am once again facing down the ravine of unknown territory. As I enter this new phase of post-parenting parenting, I find myself once again leaning heavily on the lessons of my yoga practice to find the calm within the storm.

#1 – Child’s pose is always an option. It used to be that time outs were a useful tool for the children, giving them time to calm down and choose a better course of action. Now they are an appropriate tool for me. On the mat child’s pose is an opportunity to pull back from the intensity of the practice and check in. Off the mat, a mental child’s pose steps you back and take a few deep breaths.

My husband and I had taken a long weekend away to reconnect and recharge, leaving our house in the hands of our children who needed to remain on their work schedules. Although I love to travel, I always have a sense of joy in returning home to my own kitchen, my own bed and everything familiar. Walking through the door of our home on a Tuesday afternoon, I fully expected the comfort of the familiar. I was greeted with something I’d never seen before.

The kitchen sink was piled with dirty dishes. The smell of rotting food pervaded. The family room had piles of laundry.  For some reason I couldn’t possibly fathom, a soaking wet towel was lying on the wood floor of the kitchen.

It was time for child’s pose.

#2 – Maintain a beginner’s (child’s) mind. No matter how long you’ve been practicing, your body is different every time you step onto the mat, and what you need is different. Approaching each yoga pose as though it is your first allows you to stay open to new possibilities without predetermined ideas of what works and what your limits are.

My child’s pose allowed me to call my son at his office and and resist the temptation to launch an assault. I asked what had happened in the house. He explained that there had been a power outage leaving them without electricity for 3 days. They couldn’t run the dishwasher. The ice in the freezer had started to melt, so each morning they put a towel in front of it before leaving for work. They were showering at friends’ houses at night and then changing into work clothes in the family room because it had the most windows and natural light at dawn.

#3 – Release your attachment to the outcome: Each time you try a yoga pose you get stronger. Mentally and physically you create change by putting out effort without your ego demanding a specific outcome. It makes no difference if you stick the pose perfectly or struggle and fall. The benefits are always there.

Could my grown children have emptied the ice from the freezer to avoid the flood? Maybe used a bigger towel (or several)? Would I have washed the dishes by hand in the same situation? Was it feasible to neatly fold the clothes they walked out of before putting clean clothes on? It’s all possible.

On the other hand, their effort created a benefit. My vision of an outcome was not their vision. My kids have very distinct personalities all their own, and (hard to believe) not everything about them is a reflection, or indictment, of me. The dishes got washed. The clothes found the laundry room. The wooden floor dried out. Two young adults didn’t end up feeling like they came up short.

#4 – Relax with what is: This is simultaneously the most difficult and the most useful single lesson a yoga practice can offer.

Kim Shand is the founder of Rethink Yoga. She travels nationally on a mission to inspire people to take control of their health, how they think, and how they age, through yoga. Follow Kim on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.


Lori (#5 – at 5-foot 9 and a half) of is a mom to Tessa, 11, and Reed, 9. She and her family live in the Denver-area where Lori is writing her first book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption in, yes, her yoga pants. It will be published by Rowman & Littlefield and available in mid-2013.

Mama Drama: Stop Refereeing and Turn Your Kids into Solution Finders

Dear Mama Drama:

I have two boys ages 4 and 7. They struggle to solve problems between themselves when they are playing and my husband and I often feel like referees. I’d like them to be able to handle play situations better, but am not sure where to start. Help!

~Stumped Mama

Mama Drama: Anniversary Advice Round Up

Mama Drama is celebrating two years with Mile High Mamas!!

We’ve rounded up all of the drama Lisa has covered during that time into a variety of categories to make it easier for you to find that special nugget of information or advice you need.

Keep the questions coming ([email protected]) and remember that we all have our share of Mama Drama, so contribute your advice, ideas, and tried and true strategies as we support each other through the journey of motherhood in this fabulous community of moms.

Be sure to bookmark this page for easy access and share it with all your mommy friends!

Developmental issues:

Articulation Angst – When to worry about speech concerns.

The one thing you don’t want to happen in a public restroom

So you’re sitting in a coffee shop. An independent one, with a personality. Like your very own caffeinated Cheers.

“Truncation-of-your-name!” the barista says as you walk in, already preparing your Americano with room for cream. You chit-chat with her, perhaps not as wittily as Norm does with Sam, and you get your frequent sipper card stamped.

You love this coffee shop, this convenient and friendly place to hang out between your gym and your kindergartener’s’ school. You set up your laptop and check some emails . After awhile, the coffee starts to do its thing, waking up all parts of your body as it moves through your digestive tract. Hello, Large Bowel!

You go to the stall-less bathroom and do your business. No big deal. And, I literally mean, no big deal.

Are you with me?

You press the flusher and the toilet does its filling thing. And it keeps doing its filling thing and keeps doing its filling thing, but without doing its draining thing. As the water level rises, so does your panic.


You scoop your bag off the floor (even though it’s waaaaay in the corner and most likely out of harm’s reach) and step awaaaaay from the commode to protect your new gym shoes.

Now. What do you do?

(Hypothetically, of course.)

Lori is a mom via open adoption to Tessa, 10, and Reed, 8, and they live in the metro-Denver area. She writes regularly at and vehemently denies any resemblance to the hypothetical heroine in this post.

Image: savit keawtavee /

Mama Drama: Helicopter Mom Needs Help Landing

Dear Mama Drama:

I am the mother of two girls and enjoy being active in their school. I volunteer in a variety of ways in the classroom and in the school in general.

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I stay on top of the girls’ academics and social issues and step in whenever I or they have concerns. My husband has recently said that I am being a “helicopter mom.” He says I need to let the girls speak up for themselves and solve some of their issues without me stepping in. I just want to do what is best for them, but don’t want to hinder them.

How can I support them without interfering or rescuing?

~ Hovering Mama

(Send your Mama Drama Questions to [email protected])

Dear Hovering:

Involved parents make a huge positive impact on the success of their children. However, it is important, though often challenging, to balance involvement without interfering or rescuing.

Your girls are lucky to have a mother who has the time and is willing to be so involved in their school. While it is necessary to keep tabs on how your children are doing socially and academically, it is just as important to begin giving them the tools to succeed on their own. Learning to ask for help, stand up for themselves, and solve problems are critical skills to becoming independent and successful adults ~ which we sometimes forget is the end goal of all this parenting stuff. 🙂 Supporting your daughters in learning these skills will also improve their self-esteem and confidence. Children who are constantly rescued come to believe they are incapable of handling their own problems.

Since your girls are used to you stepping in and taking care of things for them there may be some discomfort for all of you as you begin shifting some of those responsibilities to them. I suggest beginning with an open conversation with the whole family. Let them know you have noticed that you’ve been doing some things for them that you think they now have the skills to do on their own. Discuss that as children get older they take on more and more responsibilities. Sometimes this means learning to do the laundry, wash dishes, or mow the lawn, and sometimes this means learning to handle academic and social situations independently.

When social or academic issues come up, start with problem solving conversations where you ask questions and listen rather than solving things for them. Have them explain the situation as they see it. Help them to walk back through what happened before the difficulty and look at how they may have contributed to the problem. Was there anything they could have done differently? Then ask how they think the problem could be solved. (You fixing it might be there immediate answer until they get used to thinking for themselves.)

If they don’t have any ideas, ask if they’d like some suggestions. Be sure to give more than one, so they do some thinking about their choices. Once they decide on a plan of action role play with them to practice the language they want to use and help them get used to speaking up for themselves. Finally, ask them if they think they can handle the situation on their own or if they’d like you to be nearby for support. This continues to give them the message that you are there for them, but that you trust they can handle the situation. Check in with them afterward to see how things went, celebrating their successes and problem solving some more when things don’t go so well.

While you are teaching your girls these steps you are also teaching yourself to let go and grow as a parent. Letting go is a practice and there will be times it will come more easily than others. When you notice that you’ve overstepped or are hovering, be gentle with yourself. It’s a habit that you are working to change and it will take a lot of practice. Step back, reassess, and make a new plan. You may find yourself saying, “You know, I started to take care of this for you, but I just realized that this is something I know you can handle. I’m going to let you take charge of this.”

Supporting your daughters in developing these skills will be a life long gift they will greatly appreciate. As you trust them to become more independent, your relationship will become even stronger and more positive. You’ll become a safe landing place, a helipad, rather than a helicopter.

The extra bonus is while they are handling their issues more autonomously you’ll find a bit more space and time for you and your needs. A tough balance for any mom, but especially moms with a tendency to hover.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

When you find yourself in times of trouble

When you need help, you run across two different types of people.

  • People like me, who have to figure out a path from here to helping you before they can say, “Sure! I’ll be right there!”
  • People like my sister, Tami, who say “Sure!” first and then figure out the how.

Three years ago, Tami called me when her husband, Gino was about to be released from the hospital after a 4-month stay with complete body paralysis and rehab. I had Tami’s car with her son’s carseat and Gino’s wheelchair in it, since I had been watching their toddler son much of the weekend. Her car allowed me to transport Dominic and both of my booster-seat kids, unlike my smaller vehicle.

My family and I had just sat down for dinner at an Italian restaurant. I am embarrassed to say that I asked if we could eat first before exchanging cars with her. I just couldn’t see how I would get a hungry family out of that restaurant without eating. She didn’t need the car seat or wheelchair immediately, so it wasn’t really a problem.

The problem, to me, was that I didn’t immediately say “Sure! Be right there!” I am just not built that way.

Tami, on the other hand, is famous for saying, “whaddaya need? I’m leaving right now.” Then she’d wake her son from his nap (those are sacred!), cancel his gymnastics class, stop at the grocery store and bring exactly the right items you didn’t even know you need, and show up on your doorstep with a smile.

I’ve always considered myself the Selfish One of the family. I am the eldest, and I am the only one of three to experience being the sole center of my parents’ universe. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to put a new spin on that: I’m not selfish, I just have healthy boundaries.

Still, it’s terrific to have a Tami who’s always got your back.

When someone needs you, are you more like Tami or like me?


How I didn’t go broke or crazy buying a car (and how YOU can save on one, too)

Lola (pictured below) is the newest member of our family. She’s expected to be a workhorse — to lug our bikes and skis, make possible simultaneous playdates for Tessa and Reed, and make me downright happy to be in the chauffeur stage of parenting.

We plan to rely on Lola for years to come. She’ll be the car that hauls our children’s stuff to college some day.

Oh, wait.  Lola consumed our kids’ college funds.

Kidding. Kind of.

We were at that decision point. Our 12 year-old beloved Honda CR-V, in which we strapped two teeny infants back in the day, had begun to show her age. Betty had taken good care of us, but she was bound to begin needing attention (read: $$$) soon. Plus, with growing kids as well as the accompanying friends and bigger toys of said kids, we had begun to outgrow Betty.

So. Do we pour money into Betty? Or do we replace her?

We decided on the latter. But that opens up dozens of other decisions. New or used? What make, model, trimline? And from whom should we buy?

We looked into the

Mama Drama: Christmas Morning Craziness

Dear Mama Drama:

Christmas day is a nightmare at my house. My children run downstairs, dump their stockings, tear open all the gifts and then fight over who got what.

(photo credit.)

When the rest of the family comes over, it’s the same thing. They greet their grandparents with, “What’d you bring me? What’d you bring me?” Then there is wrapping paper everywhere and they have no idea who gave them what presents nor any appreciation for them.

It’s like a feeding frenzy. I have no idea what to do to make this better.

~Feeling Frenzied

Dear Frenzied:

Creating a routine for Christmas morning and opening presents is just as important as developing regular daily routine. Since your children have a pattern of behavior already established, it is important that you start talking with them before Christmas morning about changes in your expectations this year.

Begin discussing the importance of appreciating their gifts, whether they are from Santa, parents, or other relatives and friends. Let them know your concerns with their previous behavior and how you would like that to change. Teach them ways to express gratitude and have them practice.

Create a new Christmas morning tradition together. Perhaps the kids can all climb in bed with you and snuggle.  You could all take turns doing shoulder rubs or tickling backs. You could also read a book together. If everyone is old enough, perhaps they can read quietly in their rooms until a specified time.

Make a new rule that you will wait to open presents until all family members are downstairs. Set a time when everyone is expected to be up. As they begin with their stockings, give them each an area where they can open their gifts. Encourage them to take items from their stocking one at a time, rather than dumping them, and examine the gift.

Mama Drama: Grocery Grabbers and Independent Eights

Dear Mama Drama:

Every time we go to the grocery store my two-year-old daughter climbs all over the cart. She stands up and grabs at things and has nearly fallen out several times. I have talked with her over and over, bribed her with treats, and threatened to leave the store, but nothing has worked. What else can I do?

~At my wits end!

Dear Wits End:

The first thing to do is buckle your daughter into the cart every time she is in one. She may fuss and whine, but this should be a non-negotiable point.

Next, give her something to do while she is in the cart. Sitting for long, seemingly endless trips to the store can be very frustrating for a child. Let her hold the shopping list and help you cross off items. Give her a drawing pad or magnet drawing toy and have her make her own list. Bring a small bag of board books she can read.

Try to keep shopping trips brief. Create a list of ten items and have her help you count them down. As you go through the store to find your items, enlist her help. “I’m looking for something blue (show her what blue is if she doesn’t know). Do you see it?” “We need bananas. Do you know where they are?” Stick to the ten items on the list for that trip, so she knows when the shopping is done.

Having an incentive at the end of the shopping trip is okay, but make sure the treat is an interactive activity most of the time. Tell your daughter, “We’re going to the store to get ten items. If you stay safe in the cart, we will play at the park when we’re done.” Be sure to describe what safe in the cart specifically means, i.e., strap stays buckled, bottom is on the seat, hands stay in the cart, etc.

Throughout the shopping trip frequently notice when she is being safe, “You are keeping your hands in the cart. Thank you.” If she is struggling, restate your expectations and her incentive, “If you want to go to the park, your bottom must stay on the seat.” When you reach the check out line (with all the tempting candies), remind her of her incentive and the expected behaviors, “You have been so safe in the cart. Keep your hands in the cart and stay on your bottom and we can go to the park.”

Finally, before you threaten to leave the store, be sure you are prepared to do so. Empty threats will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. If your daughter is not being safe in the cart, restate your expectations of what she is to do (see above). If she continues to be unsafe, park the cart and leave. Do this calmly, saying, “Uh-oh, you aren’t being safe in the cart so we have to leave. It’s so sad we won’t be able to go to the park today.” Expect a fit, but don’t react. You can empathize with her by saying, “I know. It’s so sad.” Then hold her hand or pick her up and walk out the door.

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son is very rude to me in front of his friends. He says he wants me to volunteer in his classroom, but won’t acknowledge me when I am there. He wants me to walk behind him in the hallway and snaps at me when he does talk to me at school. At home he is all hugs and kisses.

~Confused Mama

Dear Confused Mama:

Your son is at the age where he is beginning to see himself as separate from you and seek more independence. Eight to nine is a typical stage for boys to begin this process. It is important to guide your son through this phase and set limits about his behavior.

Have a direct conversation about this issue with you son. Tell him you have noticed that at home he is kind and loving, but at school he is rude and distant. Let him know that all boys go through a phase of seeking independence and creating an identity separate from their mothers. Emphasize that this is a typical part of growing up. Be clear with him, however, there is no need for this to be done in a rude or disrespectful manner.

Discuss ways in which he would like to be more independent and make a plan to support him with this. Then, discuss how you expect him to treat you at school and other public places. Let him know that the manner in which he treats you will teach his peers how he wants them to treat you. Also, tell him that when he acts disrespectfully, he does not look cool, he looks rude.

While girls tend to like face-to-face conversations, this often makes boys uncomfortable. When you talk with your son, sit side by side with him or have the conversation while out on a walk or riding in the car. This will feel less threatening for him.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.