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An Interview with Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc. on Raising Kids without Raising your Voice

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 22nd 2008

download this podcast read the transcript

Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc.

In this installment of the Wise Counsel Podcast, Dr. Van Nuys interviews Sarah Chana Radcliffe, a registered member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario who has 30 years of experience in private practice providing parenting, marriage and individual counseling. Ms. Radcliffe has recently written a book summarizing her advice to parents, titled, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Following the guidelines outlined in this book will give parents their best opportunity to help their children grow to become happy, healthy and emotionally intelligent adults who enjoy staying in contact with their parents.

The first thing parents need to understand, according to Ms. Radcliffe, is that they have only a limited opportunity to influence their children. There is much that is out of parents' control, including children's genetic temperament, and their interactions with peers, teachers and other extra-family influences. Parents cannot insure that their children will be perfectly safe or happy no matter how hard they work to make that so. What parents can control most of all is how they speak to and behave in front of their children. Parents who are able to speak respectfully and lovingly most of the time to their children teach their children how to be respectful and loving. Parents who end up yelling or criticizing their children can end up inadvertantly wounding their children even thought their intentions are good.

Yelling is toxic to children, in Ms. Radcliffe's experience, because they find it to be intensely threatening no matter the context. The raised voice, and angry facial display of emotion, combined with stern and often critical words has an often devastating effect on children who take it in uncritically and without context and make it a part of their self-image (e.g. that they are bad). Though yelling does get results in the short term, it does so only in the short term. Over the middle and long term, children who are yelled at consistently end up becoming more oppositional and having more behavior problems. While it is unrealistic to think that a parent will never yell, Ms. Radcliffe offers five suggestions for how to keep yelling to an absolute minimum.

The first suggestion is called the "80/20" rule, meaning that parents' communications with their children should be positive in tone 80% of the time and only critical 20% of the time. Positive toned communications feel loving and playful or silly, or affectionate. Negative toned communications include yelling, withdrawal, criticism, complaining, lecturing, nagging, sarcasm and the like, and even simple instructions to the child to do something. Even if they are told nicely, people don't like to be told what to do. Since it is impossible to not give instructions to a child, parents need to work hard to make sure that they are providing plenty of counterbalancing positively toned communication to make up for it.

The second suggestion, Emotional Coaching, consists of parents taking the time to name and empathize with children's emotions before solving problems. Done correctly, emotional coaching builds children's emotional intelligence by helping them become aware of what they are feeling and also builds the bond between parent and child (as all people, children included, love to feel understood).

The third suggestion is a method of positive discipline known as the "CLR" or "clear" method. CLR stands for Comment, Label and Reward. Parents essentially comment on their children's behavior, label it and then reward them. It is important to not comment on or label negative behavior as any negative comments tend to become incorporated into children's developing self-concepts. If a child is behaving in a negative way, help the child to act in a more positive manner, and then comment, label and reward that positive behavior. Ms. Radcliffe uses the example of a toddler acting rough with a newborn. In this case, the parents can show the toddler how to gently stroke the baby, and then comment, label and reward that stroking.

The forth suggestion is used when traditional disciplinary methods involving negative consequences become unavoidable. Using the "Two Times" rule, parents make a behavior request once, and then repeat themselves only one time, making clear that they are serious and that a named consequence will occur. If there is a continued infraction, that consequence is applied immediately.

The fifth suggestion is for parents to model respectful and non-abusive behavior for their children, insist on having children treat them the same way and to describe what that desirable respectful behavior looks like. Parents may say, "I act respectfully towards you, and I expect you to act respectfully towards me", or more concretely, "I don't roll my eyes at you, so you don't roll your eyes to me either". This "relationship rule" teaches children reciprocity and how to identify and reject abusive behavior; skills that will serve them well in later life.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc.

Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc.

Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc. is a registered member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario. Over the past 30 years, she has counseled thousands of parents, couples and individuals in her full-time private practice in Toronto, Canada. She practices Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, Process Experiential Psychotherapy, Energy Psychology, EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for parents. She is the author of Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice (HarperCollins Ca 2006; BPS 2007). Mrs. Radcliffe conducts parenting classes, keynote lectures and workshops locally and internationally. Her articles and comments appear in numerous print and on-line journals including The New York Times, The Toronto Sun, The National Post, The Calgary Herald, Todays Parent, Todays Kids, Canadian Parent,,,, and more. She can be found on YOUTUBE answering parenting queries and on itunes with her own bi-weekly parenting podcast recorded by OURadio. Sarah Chana has been a guest on radio and television shows in the United States and Canada. Her web site offers education and practical advice to the international community on all aspects of parenting.

Sarah Chana Radcliffe is past coordinator of the Wellesley Hospital Programme for Children with Learning Disabilities as well as a researcher in child and life-span development at the Institute of Child Study (University of Toronto) and the Toronto Metropolitan School Board. She first received training and supervision in parent education in her work with families of challenged children. However, it has been her clinical experience in counselling adult survivors of angry homes that has inspired her to dedicate her energies to providing strategies to eradicate anger as a parenting tool.

Mrs. Radcliffe is the mother of six children. Her website is packed with resources and can be found at

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