I know Iʼm generalising here – and hats off to all the dads who have got a handle on whatʼs needed with raising a toddler. Hereʼs a young dad doing the best he can, but at times heʼs not meeting the toddlerʼs needs. Mums often sense this and feel frustrated:

ʻDo I let them go off together and sort it out – but what about my baby?ʼ

Very often Dads have had very little preparation for taking on Parenthood. So how would he know whatʼs needed? Hereʼs a few suggestions that can pave the way to more involved and happier fathering.

1. Involve Dad from the beginning. As one Dad said, concerning the care of their baby, ʻI felt as useless as an ashtray on a  motorbike.ʼ Why would you want to be involved if your efforts were being blown away in the wind!

2. Appreciate his help. Getting the practical stuff done can take a lot of pressure off you. But heʼs not going to do it YOUR way. Give appreciation not criticism if you want his support.

3. Give him insights / tips without inferring that heʼs ʻwrongʼ. Avoid language like ʻThe right way to do this is…ʼ Because when you say that, itʼs giving the message, ʻYouʼre doing it WRONG.ʼ None of us like to be wrong – and specially not if youʼre male. Youʼre more likely to get support from Dad by using ʻhelpfulʼ language: ʻWhat I find helpful is …ʼ Also avoid ʻshouldʼ. Males hate being told what to do. Rephrase as ʻcouldʼ (Thereʼs a choice there – and he can decide). e.g. Rather than ʻYou should give him toys to play with.ʼ Try saying ʻYou could try giving him toys to play with.ʼ

4. Discuss with him that he has a vital role in creating calm family. Sometimes being an ‘out-to-work mum’ or  ʻMum-on-Duty-24/7ʼ can feel overwhelming. You get stressed and thatʼs contagious to babies and young children. The stressed child cries more and is more likely to be ill, so you become more stressed, so the little one becomes more stressed, and downward it spirals. Dad need to know itʼs a scientific fact that one of the most helpful things he can do for his young child is to be a calming factor in Mumʼs life. If youʼre calm, itʼll be easier to calm the child. P.S. Discuss this when YOU are calm!

5. Share key neuroscience facts that help us know whatʼs needed for young children to thrive. Dad likes provable facts – not ʻfluffyʼ talk. ʻOh poor little miteʼ isnʼt likely to impress Dad. But when he has some biological insight, heʼll have facts that will be key to him in how to parent in way that meets your childʼs needs.

FACT: The young childʼs brain is still under construction. So he does not reason like an adult. When he throws the phone because heʼs upset the toddler canʼt understand that it costs a lot of money and needs to be treated carefully. Mobile phones are not toys. Thatʼs why toddlerʼs toys are built of pretty much indestructible materials. The toddler is not trying ʻto get the best of you’ or ʻget his own backʼ. Thatʼs adult thinking that the young child isnʼt yet capable of. The toddler is trying to let you know his needs arenʼt being met.

Rather ask: ʻWhat might this behaviour be trying to tell me?ʼ

Because his brain is still in formation he canʼt self soothe.

When the toddlerʼs upset he needs to feel a parentʼs body calmly holding him. He needs to hear his name spoken repeatedly and calmly. He needs words of reassurance.

When young children get the loving reassurance they need, they build strong, healthy brains that will be able to cope with stressful situations in adult life.

6. Dads are not Mums. He wonʼt do it your way. Mums tend to do the ʻcuddle and reassureʼ. Dads often naturally do theʼ rough and tumbleʼ and this is a healthy and necessary part of the toddlerʼs brain stimulation. Sometimes the excitement will go too far and end in tears. If youʼve already shared the ʻbrain factsʼ, trust him to figure out whatʼs needed.

Dad can be the strongest ally you have in child raising.

What are you doing to encourage your allyʼs support?

P.S. Even if youʼre separated – I invite you to think about what parts of this article can guide you to successful co-parenting.

copyright © Val Mullally 2012 http://www.koemba.com


Last edited June 07th 2012

Hard to Forgive at Christmas

Choose to Forgive this Christmas

Dear Santa

Here’s another letter from Daniel. So glad his parents are sorting things out.  (Maybe they read your letter about ‘When Grown Ups Fight’!)

It makes sense that it’s hard to forgive, even at Christmas, when someone has deeply hurt you. Many people are stuck in a place of anger/unforgiveness regarding an ex, their own parent, someone else, perhaps they are struggling to forgive another group of people who have injured those we love. And sometimes it’s ourselves that we find hard to forgive. 

What would you like to say to parents who find it hard to forgive?



Dear PercyPostElf

It makes sense that when people hurt us, it’s hard to forgive.

What we often overlook is the cost of unforgiveness –  to our physical and emotional health but we also often forget the huge price that unforgiveness can cost our children too.

Let me share with you an African tale on how to catch a monkey.

Find a tree with a very small hole in the trunk.  Take a handful of peanuts and while the monkey is watching you, push the peanuts into the hole in the tree. Now move away and wait. The monkey will soon come for the peanuts. But when he puts his hand into the hole and seizes the peanuts, his fist is now too big to get out the hole. He doesn’t want to let go the peanuts – so he’s stuck. Now you can catch your monkey!

That’s what happens to us when we hold onto unforgiveness. It’s hard to forgive because we think we’re punishing the person who hurt us but actually, we are keeping ourselves stuck in one place. Sometimes we avoid forgiveness because we don’t want reconciliation with a particular person or situation. But forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. We can choose to forgive, even if reconciliation isn’t desirable or advisable.

Forgiveness is choosing to let go of the ‘peanuts’ of anger and bitterness. These uncomfortable feelings are emotional termites that eat away our family’s happiness if we don’t deal with them.

‘Peace on Earth’ doesn’t just happen. Peace happens one relationship at a time. Peace happens when people choose to be peace-makers. And sometimes part of peace-making is forgiving.

Did you know that our way of living is hugely influenced by the thoughts of the past four generations and that the thoughts we think will affect the next four generations? This Christmas let’s consciously choose the emotional legacy we leave to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great, great-grandchildren.

It can be helpful to take time to reflect:

‘Is there a situation where I  am finding it hard to forgive?’

‘On a scale of 0-10 what example of forgiveness am I modelling to my children?’ (0 equals holding tightly to bitter, angry and unforgiving thoughts  and 10 being  free of those).

This Christmas I ask parents to get the help needed to let go of unforgiveness – for their children’s sake as well as their own.

The word ‘forgiving’ is actually two words.  What do I choose to give: to myself / my loved ones / that other person?

Christmas is a time a time for giving and for for-giving.

Reconciliation is not always advisable but we can choose to let go of our bitterness or anger and move forward.

Now it’s over to you – how will you choose to be a peace-maker this festive season?

Choose to forgive this Christmas



P.S.  Check in tomorrow for  my final letter this year.  After that, Rudolph and I will busy with present deliveries.

P.P.S. Here are my other letters:

Day 1  What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters







Last edited December 07th 2018


When parents fight at Christmas

Dear Santa

There are many children who could have written this. Some of their parents are together – and fighting. Some are divorced parents, or separated – and fighting. What could you say this Christmas that might be helpful for families that don’t get along together?



Dear PercyPostElf

Yes, grown-ups fighting is one of the sad things that sometimes happens at Christmas. Sometimes it’s a heartbreak story, and other times it’s those little irritations when families don’t get along together. Here are some helpful tips when there’s the risk of adult conflict over the festive season. But first and foremost I encourage parents to ask themselves: ‘Is home a SAFE PLACE for my child?’

1. Make home a safe place

You’d do anything to protect your children – right?  But where do your children turn for safety if you turn into the raging tiger? You’re not thinking about it at the time – but when you start snarling and roaring at your ex/partner/spouse you become someone who is unsafe to be around.  No matter how angry you’re feeling, remember that your reaction can be upsetting for the children. It’s also never okay for your children to experience you being abused. If you or your children are in physical or psychological danger please get help immediately. Your children (and you!) deserve a home that is a safe place.

2. When temperatures rise, take a breather to cool down

When something happens that makes us feel unsafe, the survival instinct is triggered. The brain puts all its energy into ‘fight, flight or freeze’, so the thinking part of the brain temporarily ‘shuts down’. This means that when you’re in ‘fight’ mode you’re not thinking/reasoning. You may be trying to get the other person to ‘see reason’ – but neither of you is able to do this while you are upset. If you want to have a different outcome take a breather until you’ve all calmed down.

3. Your rising sense of anger is an indication you need change

But choose to listen to what your anger is telling you and figure out what’s helpful before your anger boils over into an uncontrolled rage. When someone’s pushing your buttons, take action to bring the change that’s needed whilst you’re still calm enough to think.  Here are a few thoughts:

* Recognise: ‘Their behaviour is about them, my response is about me.’

* Sometimes what can be helpful is to use lighthearted humour – when you respond in a way that they don’t expect, it usually changes the whole game plan, providing you all laugh with each other (not at each other!)

* We can choose to deal with upsetting incidents without resorting to aggressive words or actions.

What else can help parents to stop the fighting?

For more insights on how to behave (children and parents!) in a way that’s going to create connection, I recommend popping Val Mullally’s Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE -What Do When Your Child Won’t’ into your own Christmas stocking.

The Parenting Book you want in your christmas stocking!

* Remember that people who have already ‘flipped the lid’ or who have been drinking excessively have moved past reasoning. Don’t try to reason with an un-reasoning person. Just do what’s needed to calm the situation. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe (emotionally as well as physically).

* Sometimes the only thing you can change is your own attitude. You don’t have to ‘bite the anger hook.’ At one point Val created a poster for herself with fish swimming past a baited hook and the words: ‘Swim on by.’

No-one ‘makes you angry’. It’s your choice.

Percy, sometimes families don’t get along, but if even one person chooses to do differently there can be a different outcome.

Of course every couple has a tiff sometimes, but what matters is not to let it get out of hand.

Before Parents end up on the slippery slope of anger, I wish they’d ask themselves:

‘Am I ensuring  home is a safe emotional space for my child?’  

When Parents fight at Christmas

May it be a peace-full Christmas.

Love Santa

Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters














Last edited December 07th 2018

It’s only a tin can

It’s a fantastic Irish summer day and everyone’s enjoying the beach.

A young family is walking towards me. The child’s swings his head towards a  discarded drink can.

‘Don’t jump on it,’ says the mother.

Her words transform  him into a guided missile that locks onto the drink can lying on the pavement.

He’s jumps on it. The force of his body squashing it in the middle.

The mother resorts to sarcasm.

‘Oh great, why don’t you dance on it!’

The boy, of course, complies!  Waving his arms, wiggling his bottom as he performs multiple jumps on the can.

So what’s would be more helpful to create more cooperative behaviour?

Here’s my three suggestions:

1. Limit the limits you set.

The fewer the better.

Put your energy into  maintaining those limits that really matter.  (Your kid’s got far more energy than you have – so preserve yours for what matters!)

How do you know what matters?

I figure that limits need to be around safety and respect.

Is this action going to hurt him / anyone else/ any animal or any thing of  importance in any way?

Is this action disrepectful to him/ you or anyone else?

If the answer is ‘no’ to both these questions, I can’t see the need for a limit.

In my books, jumping on an old can is the sort of things boys do. I don’t figure it’s hurting him or anyone else . He works off a bit of energy and feels good that he can SQUASH a can!

I would have commented ‘Wow – you squashed that can right in the middle!’

You could even encourage his awareness of environmental issues by encouraging him to put his squashed can in the recycle bin. (Keep hand sanitiser available).


2. Don’t say ‘don’t’. Rather say what you DO want.

Children are so active, they don’t hear the ‘don’t’ –  they just hear the action word.

So if you say ‘Don’t jump on the can’ – they hear  ‘jump on the can’.

That’s the behaviour that you’re likely to get!

So if this had been a  potentially dangerous situation, I’d start with his name to focus his attention and say something positive that would hopefully redirect his attention.

In a case like this, it might be,’

‘How many seagulls can you count?’

and at times when you’re wanting a different behaviour, figure out what would be more helpful.

For example, rather than ‘Don’t run’ say, ‘Walk.’

Instead of  ‘Don’t shout’ say ‘Talking softly’.


3. Avoid sarcasm and rather use words that create connection.

Young children don’t ‘get’ sarcasm. Older children are hurt by it.

When children recogonise that your words are not sincere and connecting, they will experience your behaviour as ‘attack’ – and then you’re likely to get defensive behaviour in retaliation.

Other related articles:

‘When Emotions  Get Heated’

‘Negative instructions’



Last edited July 04th 2016

Anita’s song captures all our mothering worries, whether we say them out loud or if they’re the thoughts chasing through our heads.

‘Are you sick? Are you well?’

Mothers seem to be programmed to be continually asking questions about the child’s welfare.

You’d think Anita’s talking to a two year old.

We forget these questions may be about our need and not helpful for the child .

Keep listening to her verbal torrent in her three minute ‘Mum Song’ rant- this is obviously a much older child.

Anita’s tumbled into a parent trap.

If we ignore the developmental stage of the child we’re ignoring what they most need.

Quentin Blake’s ‘Zagazoo‘ is a fabulous book for a light-hearted look at developmental stages –a parenting book disguised as a child’s book! What’s helpful for the toddler or the preschooler is not necessarily appreciated by the child as s/he becomes more competent. Result – frustration on both sides.

Be aware of your child’s level of development. When we give instructions and comments that are past their ‘sell-by-date’   we’re throwing verbal garbage at our children.

Check through your daily interactions.

What space could open up in your relationship if you put a plug in your verbosity?

Last edited September 02nd 2010

Parent Contradicts

What effect does it have on children when they receive conflicting messages?

Anita Renfroe’s ‘Mum Song‘ captures our ludicrousness with her opposing instructions: the child must chew her food slowly and  hurry.

It makes us smile as parents.

But inconsistencies are frustrating and confusing to children and sometimes damaging to their self-esteem.

And often the incongruity isn’t so blatantly obvious.

‘I love you,’ says the Parent without making eye contact or any other warm connection.

‘You know I love you.’ –‘Don’t bother me.’

‘Do what you’re told.’ –‘Can’t you think for yourself.’

Are your children getting mixed messages from you? (Not only with your words – but what about your body language or way of being with them?)

What impact might this be having on your children?

What is the message you really want them to get?

What could you do differently that would be more helpful?

“When a child has no doubt about your love and admiration of him, his contentment is the ground on which he can succeed in his endeavors. He will be able to act on his own behalf authentically …” Naomi  : the child must chew her food slowly but must hurry., Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves 2006, p. 43

Last edited June 04th 2010

If you haven’t watched Anita Renfroe’s the ‘Mum Song’, for a day’s worth of mothering crammed into 3 amusing minutes, watch this before reading on.


It always puts a smile on my face – but it’s also a pretty good encapsulation of the ‘supermom facade’ we’ve developed.

Is this really what our children need or want?

“Get up now, get up now, get up out of bed.

Wash your face. Brush your teeth.

Comb your sleepy head.”

Imagine if this tirade hit you before breakfast.

Experiment for this week:

Before opening your mouth check in with yourself –

‘Is this REALLY what my children need to hear?’

What happens in the home if you talk less and listen more?

Last edited April 15th 2010