Finding Your Kids’ Reset Button: My Top Ten Hacks

It’s one of those days (hours, minutes), and you’re at the end of the rope. You just wish your kid had come with an on/off switch, circuit breaker, or some other way to turn her off. Then you could power her down, reboot her, and start all over with a clean slate.

Or maybe it’s yourself that you need to reboot; maybe you’re the one in need of what I call an “attitude adjustment.”

Either way, you’re longing for a reset button.

Alas, I can’t say I’ve invented a literal reset button – and given all the unique, wonderful variations that come with our human frailties, I’m not sure we’d really want to do that anyway.

But in the meantime, here are some of the best hacks I’ve stumbled across that work almost as well:


Singer-songwriter Alastair Moock was devastated when he learned that one of his twin daughters was battling cancer. The album that resulted from his family’s journey through her diagnosis and treatment, Singing Our Way Through, garnered Moock his first Grammy nomination.

I’m not saying you have to be a professional musician, but Moock is right: singing is a great way to help you and yours hit the reset button.

Hack #10: Try to develop a musical “reset button” for your newborn.

Kimmie was a colicky newborn, and there were times when the only thing that would calm her down was a rhythmic drumming on her back. As with most parts of our daily routine, I soon developed a song to go with this activity (which I named, not surprisingly, “Drumming Baby”).

Even when she became a toddler, sometimes singing “Drumming Baby” while firmly patting her back in that rapid rhythmic way would soothe her out of a tantrum when nothing else would.

Fast-forward to newborn Essie, who hated riding in the car – and often protested loud and long from the backseat. In sheer desperation, I asked then-two-year-old Kimmie if she could help me sing to Baby Essie so Essie would feel better (or at least stop screaming).

The only song Kimmie knew by heart back then was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” so that’s what she and I would sing – over and over, as loud as we could, in an effort to drown out Essie’s howls, until they finally stopped.

As time went on, hearing that song began to remind Essie to calm down and stop exercising her lungs after fewer repetitions. By the time Essie was two and Kimmie was four, whenever Essie started to throw a tantrum, Kimmie would automatically begin to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” – and within one or two times through the song, Essie had stopped her tantrum before letting it become a full-blown assault on our ears.

Hack #9: Sing your way through unpleasant tasks.

During our household’s five-plus years of kids in diapers, my dear husband and I invented any number of diaper-changing songs, and they definitely helped to speed us through one of my least-favorite parenting activities.

Likewise, if you have a kid in preschool or daycare, chances are good that they know at least one cleanup song from that environment. By learning to sing it, no matter how imperfectly, you’ll not only cue your big kid that it’s time to put things away – you’ll also help any younger siblings to learn that hearing a certain song means it’s time to put away their toys.

Hack #8: If the music doesn’t work, change your tune.

Literally. At some point after her fourth birthday, Kimmie learned to tune out the favorite cleanup song of that year’s preschool teacher, as well as the previous teacher’s favorite song.

In desperation, I started chanting (à la the 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers hit “Give It Away”), “Put’em away, put’em away, put’em away now, It – is – time – to – put-the-toys-a-way, now!”

It soon became the girls’ favorite toy cleanup song.


Literally. For example,

Hack #7: Step outside.

My dear husband gets credit for this hack. It’s his top distraction technique when we’ve got a kiddo in major meltdown mode, and nothing else is cutting it. He rarely goes farther than the front step. I don’t know if it’s the sudden temperature change, or the view of a world that’s totally different than what is going on inside our home at the moment, or what; but this technique works every time.

Dead of winter? So what – wrap a blanket around the kid. No shoes? No worries; you’ve got the kid scooped up in your arms anyway. Pouring rain? Our front entrance is covered, but sometimes I step just far enough into the rain for a few drops to splash the wailing child’s face. If she’s still crying by the time the raindrops hit, feeling something else wetting her face is an instant tear-stopper.

Hack #6: Take a hike.

Or walk around the block, or drive (this is supposed to be especially good for colicky babies, though it never worked for ours), or a quick trip to the store to get milk – anything to get you out of your space and help transform your collective point of view.


Wish you could be Zen Mommy more often? Getting a metaphorical grip on your own emotions, and helping your child do the same, is always a good idea when things have spiraled out of control.

Hack #5: Take a deeeep breath.

Or ten. This especially helps to calm me down, but it also works wonders on my high-strung eldest. When one of us is especially upset, taking ten deep breaths together can do amazing things to adjust both our attitudes.

Hack #4: Calm down.

Deep breathing can also help to bring a wired kid back down to earth at bedtime, or when she’s bouncing off the walls at some other time when dialing it down a few notches is called for.

When Kimmie is just too excited to go to sleep at bedtime, I’ll count out several deep breaths between lullabies, to help her release some of her excess energy so she can sleep. If she’s really wound up, we’ll do as many as twenty deep breaths in a row (her idea), and I let her pick a mantra to chant on the exhale – usually something to the effect of “Calm” or “I am sleepy” – to remind her of what she’s supposed to be doing.


When all else fails, sometimes making a game out of your challenge works when nothing else will.

Hack #3: Dangle a carrot.

Come up with a reward in exchange for the desired behavior. Chore charts and potty-training stickers (or, in Essie’s case, the lure of a trip to Bouncy-House Heaven) are variations on this theme, but our versions of the carrot game are often more immediate: After you help me clean up the kitchen, then we can go outside to play. Or, if we have time left after putting the laundry away, then we can play a board game.

Hack #2: Watch the clock.

When she was four and Essie was two, Kimmie developed an aversion to what used to be one of her favorite big-girl chores: setting the table for supper. Setting a timer for four minutes and seeing how fast she could finish the job rekindled her motivation for a few months – just long enough for Essie to become tall enough to reach the table, and take over this job from her big sister.

This works on grownups, too. When I can’t see the kitchen counters or the top of my desk, I’ll look at the clock, pick some future time (say, 15 minutes), and challenge myself to complete the task in that amount of time. Or I’ll set a timer for five minutes see how much excavating I can accomplish before it goes off.

Knowing that there is an end to a disliked chore can be very motivating when it comes to actually starting it – and starting is often the hardest part.

And finally, my favorite way to hit the reset button:

Hack #1: Play with words.

Shortly after Kimmie learned about rhyming words in her second year of preschool, I used a spontaneous word-play game in a variation on Hack #8 above. One particularly challenging day, when neither the usual cleanup songs nor the “Put’em-away” chant were working, something in my desperate and weary brain inspired me to chant our way through the tasks at hand with nonsense. It sounded something like this:

“Put-the-puzzle-pieces-in-the-box. Put-em-in-the bock-bock-bock-bock-box. Hey, that sounds like a chicken. Bock-bock-bock-bock-box. Put-the-puzzle-in-the-bock-bock-bock-bock-box.”

By the time the toys were all put away five minutes later, together Kimmie and I had come up with a long, silly phrase that she claimed as her new name around the house for the rest of the day: Trickin’-Chicken-Locks Chicken-Box-Puzzle.

Until she went to bed that night, my periodic use of that name was enough to get her attention when she otherwise tuned me out. For example, as bedtime approached, taking her bath and going to bed were not on her own radar screen, and no amount of my asking her by her own name could persuade her to hop into the tub. But when I asked Trickin’-Chicken-Locks to do so, suddenly she was a poster child for cooperative behavior.

There you have it: my ten favorite hacks to help me reach that reset button when my little angels are ready to drive me off a cliff. What is your favorite reset-button trick?