Category: Preschool

“Mr. Fisty”: Part 2

This is Part 2; to read Part 1 of “Mr. Fisty,” please click here.

After an exasperated parent coaching client of mine found some relief with his brilliant five-step “Mr. Fisty” process, new developments emerged (as they always do with kids) that caused him to use his creativity to come up with even more strategies for dealing with his 4-year old son who hit.

Recap: Putting Mr. Fisty into Time Out

As you learned in “Mr. Fisty Part 1,” Walker was empowered and taught that he was in control of his actions. This meant that when his fist, AKA “Mr. Fisty” had the urge to hit someone, the child talked to Mr. Fisty and talked him out of hitting. Sometimes this meant that Walker stuffed his fist into his pocket to help himself remember who was in charge. This externalized the offender and gave the little boy power to make a good choice rather than acting impulsively and getting in trouble.

After three weeks, however, putting Mr. Fisty in his pocket didn’t seem to work anymore. One day Mr. Fisty escaped and punched a kid at school.

Uh oh.

Mr. Fisty Strikes Again – A New Response

Walker’s dad’s response was to draw a hand on a whiteboard and say to his son, “It looks like you don’t have very good control of Mr. Fisty so here are five consequences for hitting, one for each of the next five days.” This caused the child to have to re-explain to Mr. Fisty why it is really important for him to listen and that is unacceptable to hit other kids.

The Five Consequences of Mr. Fisty

Dad reported that each morning, Walker would walk down the kitchen and look at the whiteboard to see what his consequence was for that day. When he saw “no dessert,” for the first day he whined, “Ah, dad, I love dessert!” Dad got to respond empathetically, saying how sad it was to miss dessert that day. Dad also got to ask Walker if he thought Mr. Fisty was learning how important it is to not hit.

Each subsequent day brought with it another consequence outlined on the whiteboard.

Externalize the Problem and Practice Positive Behaviors

This technique is called “externalization of the problem.” Dad externalized the aggressive, impulsive part of Walker and made it a separate character named Mr. Fisty. Next, dad built up the strong, resourceful part of Walker by putting him in charge of ornery Mr. Fisty. This gave Walker the chance to practice positive behaviors. When the effect wore off and Walker hit again, Dad decided that this was the time and place for a consequence. He was still able to empower Walker by talking about the consequence as something brought on by Mr. Fisty.

Address the Bad Behavior – and Don’t Forget to Celebrate the Good!

We parents always get to decide if we are going to punish bad behavior or focus on rewarding good behavior. I think there is room in healthy parenting for both…. as long as it is all delivered with as much love and compassion as we can manage on any given day and that it is done with the intention of teaching our children skills to be successful adults.

Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT
©2016 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents


Head & Heart Parents is owned by Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Love and Logic Parenting Instructor. In addition to private therapy and parent consulting services, Kerry offers parenting classes and workshops in Denver and the surrounding areas for toddlers, elementary, and teenage children.

“Mr.Fisty”: A Proven New Way to Stop the Pre-Schooler Who Hits

An exasperated parent coaching client plopped onto the couch in my office recently and sighed, “How do I get my 4-year-old son to stop hitting?” At the slightest provocation, his son was hauling off and punching other kids at preschool. Needless to say, this did not go over well with teachers or classmates. The dad racked his brain to come up with a good “consequence,” a.k.a. “punishment” to get his son to stop.

Together, we came up with a completely different approach… what I like to call a “180 approach” and dad left, ready to give it a try.

Find humor and compassion instead of harshness and shame

Dad went home and talked to Walker about how hard it must be to keep his hands to himself, especially when he’s mad. With compassion, dad held Walker’s hand and folded it into a fist and said, “This little Mr. Fisty just loves to hit, doesn’t he? He must be trying so hard to protect you when you get stressed. Look how strong he is. He doesn’t mean to get you in trouble, but every time he punches someone, who gets in trouble at school?” Walker was listening intently, thinking about his rascal of a fist, and said, “I’m the one who gets in trouble, not Mr. Fisty!”

Empower the child to make choices and be in control

Together, father and son talked about how Walker was going to talk to Mr. Fisty and try to keep him from punching anyone. If Mr. Fisty got tempted, Walker was going to treat Mr. Fisty kindly, explaining to him how he had to stay in Walker’s pocket and that Walker would handle the situation.

Externalize the offender

This approach externalized the offender… rather than Walker being naughty, it was “Mr. Fisty” who was being ornery and Walker was the big boy in charge of things. Instead of Walker being punished and feeling bad about himself (which fuels more misbehavior), he became the big guy in charge of his fist. He felt empowered.

The plan worked brilliantly. Dad was thrilled. Walker maintained Mr. Fisty’s good behavior for a solid three weeks. This was a first for Walker to go three weeks without a single incident. Dad was so happy that he sent me a picture of Mr. Fisty.

Keep in mind, setbacks are inevitable

The story doesn’t stop here, however. Mr. Fisty did misbehave again. Dad’s response to the latest offense was even more ingenious than the first.

Stay tuned to read part two of the Mr. Fisty saga.

Insight on Managing Misbehavior

I call this a “180 approach” because it is often helpful to try an approach that is the complete opposite of what we think of automatically when it comes to handling misbehavior. The more a kid acts up, the more parents think they should come down hard on their kids. However, when we go for effective, powerful kindness in lieu of punitive discipline, we can meet our kids’ needs, fill them up, and change their behavior for the long-term. In this case, Dad had the chance to show compassion for Walker and teach him the essential skill of impulse control.

Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT
©2015 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents


Head & Heart Parents is owned by Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Love and Logic Parenting Instructor. In addition to private therapy and parent consulting services, Kerry offers parenting classes and workshops in Denver and the surrounding areas for toddlers, elementary, and teenage children.

Five Ways to Stop Preschool Drop Off Separation Anxiety (Yes, They Really Work!)

CryingThe hardest part of my day used to be prying my preschooler and kindergartners arms off my legs when I had to drop them off at school. My sons’ howls of protest hurt my heart at the same time it made me wonder what I was doing wrong or what was wrong with them. All three of my boys did it at some stage or another. I can reassure you that this does pass…. my oldest son did absolutely no leg-holding or crying when he left for college last week.

After surviving three kids’ separation anxiety, or “drop off dramas” and talking with many parents about what has helped them, here are a few ideas to experiment with. Please let me know how they work!

Drop off drama usually follows hot on the tail of “Getting Ready in the Mornings Drama” which for many families is the worst time of day. Drop off drama is about a young person experiencing a painful transition from their beloved parent to a room full of new kids and adults. This is very stressful for some little people, especially those who prefer to be at home.

1. Fill the Bucket!

If mornings are stressful, drop offs are bound to be stressful as well. I love the idea of taking a few minutes right before drop off… either in the car or while still at home… to “fill the bucket” of your little one. Imagine if you said something like this, “I know that saying goodbye is hard some days, so how about if we take some time to snuggle and get you all filled up with mommy/daddy-time?”

2. Acknowledge the Sadness and Encourage Communication

Acknowledge your child’s sadness. Invite her to “get her sad out” while you are there to hold her. This can be a good time to read one of the children’s books that address the pain of goodbye The Kissing Hand, The Invisible String, Love You Forever, Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You). It can be fascinating to ask your little one to get out all of his/her sadness while you are together. She might cry, he might protest. You can just be there and say things like, “I know, it’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it?’ “I love it when you can say how you feel.” You can even invite some fit-throwing. It sounds counter-productive but I promise, it has helped many parents tone down drama and end tantrums in some children. Encouraging your child to feel all his feelings and share them ahead of time lets them feel strongly but do so in the safety of your presence and the privacy of home.

3. Teach Self-Soothing

When it’s NOT the critical drop off moment, have a conversation with your child about what he can say to himself that will help drop offs go better. Hint: He won’t have a clue. That’s when you get to teach positive self-talk by saying something like: “Some kids find it helps to say, ‘I can have fun at school even when I miss my daddy.” Or, “It’s ok to feel sad and mad about saying goodbye. I can handle it.” Or “My mommy/daddy’s love is with me wherever I go.”

4. Give Choices from a “Go To School Menu”

Give them three choices for the three days they go to preschool and each week they can pick which day they use each style. Write them on a simple chart.  No repeats are allowed in a week.

The choices are:
1) Scream and cry and hold onto Mommy’s legs all the way into the classroom.
2) Scream and cry in the car and then walk in holding mommy’s hands, give a big hug and say “goodbye.” 
3) Snuggle with a book before getting in the car and play follow the leader into school, blow kisses and smile.

On the days they chose the scream and cry model, really encourage them do it as intensely as they can. If they start to cry on a non-cry day, warmly remind them that they already had their crying day for that week. After all the build-up and permission to do some good fit-throwing, some kids simply no longer feel the need to do “Drop-off-Drama” and the situation can resolve itself fairly quickly.

5. Make a Fun “Going To School” Book Starring Your Little One

Take them to preschool on a day that they don’t actually attend. Take pictures of them every step of the way. Since there is no impending good-bye, there won’t be any drama. Photograph them smiling in their carseats, smiling in front of the school, walking down the hall holding your hand and standing in the classroom waving a pretend goodbye. Then leave the school, go for a treat and talk about how it felt to go to school so happy. Next, print up the pictures and make a super simple little little book with your child’s name in it: For example: “William Goes to School” book.

Each morning after that, ask your child if they want to go to school happy or sad and let them look at the book. This reinforces that they were able to go to school happy and by looking at the pictures, they will remember the experience of going in peacefully. This technique worked so well with one mom that her child never fussed after that.

Important Things to Remember:

Show compassion for your children who fuss at drop off — saying goodbye to their “home-base” is painful for them. It’s a life skill they must learn, but acknowledge that it’s a hard one.

Have no expectation that this should be easy for them or you. If it’s not, it’s not. It can be a great opportunity for you to teach them different ways to master this important skill.

Put some time and effort into switching up the pattern and you could save yourself and your child a lot of drama and heartache in the long run.

Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT
©2014 Kerry Stutzman, Head & Heart Parents

Head & Heart Parents is owned by Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist and certified Love and Logic Parenting Instructor. In addition to private therapy and parent consulting services, Kerry offers parenting classes and workshops in Denver and the surrounding areas for toddlers, elementary, and teenage children.

As author of the easy-to-read “Save Your Sanity” series, Kerry helps parents save their sanity and sense of humor while raising young children with love and laughter.