Root Beer Floats: Slice of Life 20/31 #sol16


“My friends absolutely love you,” my son tells me.

I raise my eyebrows in a question.

“Yeah, I’ve told them whenever I get in trouble, you make me a root beer float.”

It takes me awhile to stop laughing.

“Do they believe you?” I finally ask.

He snorts. “Of course they do! They’ve met you!”

I take this in. I’m the mom who doles out root beer floats instead of punishment. It’s actually not a bad philosophy. When life gives you trouble, make root beer floats.

I think I already know the answer, but I ask anyway.

“What happens to your friends when they get in trouble?”

“They get their stuff taken away or they get yelled at or they’re grounded. D. is basically grounded for life and he doesn’t even care. His parents found hard drugs in his room!”

I don’t know if my son even knows what hard drugs are. I’m fond of D.—a big goofball who always has a book in his hand and positively glows when I ask him what he’s reading—but I also make a mental note NEVER to let my son go to his house.

“Yeah,” my son continues. “His parents are divorced and I think he has a lot of feelings. Somebody needs to help him.”

I turn away so he won’t see me smile. This is the miracle root beer floats have wrought. A teenager who recognizes that acting out is a sign of pain and needs to be treated accordingly.

“You grounded me once,” he says. “Remember?”

He loves to remind me of my past failings. In my first couple of years of being his mom, they were plentiful.

“Vaguely. It seemed kind of stupid.”

I think about the pain he was feeling that one time when we grounded him, and I feel ashamed of myself.

Here’s something else the root beer float has in its favor: I never need to feel ashamed afterwards for offering one.


Root beer floats are a leap of faith. They are my way of meeting my son’s anger and fear with love and acceptance. They are my way of transforming my own anger and fear into something productive and positive.

There’s a part I think my son probably leaves out when he tells his friends about what getting in trouble looks like at his house. Root beer floats are like truth serum. A couple of sips, and he’s spilling it all. And that’s where the hard work happens.

The hard work of figuring out what’s really going on, finding words for it, naming it, the vulnerability and the bravery of owning his feelings and admitting he made an unkind choice or a mistake. The hard work of finding a way to solve the problem and make things right. The hard work of connection and forgiveness and understanding and acceptance.

There is nothing easy about root beer floats.

Photo CC-By Joy



slice of life





33 responses to “Root Beer Floats: Slice of Life 20/31 #sol16”

  1. Linda Baie Avatar

    You are wise, and I must share that candy in the classroom was a part of my root beer float regimen. When a child/adolescent is carrying a dark cloud over his/her head, the only remedy I found that got me to what was really going on (your words) was an offer from the candy stash, and usually a walk around the school. I may not have discovered everything, but I know that it helped defuse, helped calm breathing, prevented embarrassment in front of friends. Thanks, Elisabeth, and one more connection: my husband adored root beer floats. We were never without the fixings!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I loved them as a child, Linda, but seem to have lost my taste for soda + ice cream as an adult. We usually have the fixings at our house too, though. Candy was a big part of my classroom regimen too. I plied those kids with gum, candy, food, all day long! It’s such a simple and powerful way to show we care, to make a little connection, to raise spirits.

  2. Lisa Avatar

    Oh I love root beer floats! I never thought of using them as my discipline technique at home. What you say makes sense though. Getting to the root of the problem is the way to find a solution.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      And surely that’s what discipline is really designed to do–help us learn, understand, grow, be capable of making different, healthier, kinder choices in the future.

  3. Maureen Avatar

    My eyes are misty from this. You are raising an empathic child. These words are so beautiful, “His parents are divorced and I think he has a lot of feelings. Somebody needs to help him.” I love your root beer float approach. Beautiful. Thank you. (And no overnights at D’s house for your son!)

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Maureen. Moments like this make me really proud of my son–and full of hope for his future!

  4. Lynn Avatar

    You have a unique parenting style and you know what? I think it’s awesome!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wish it weren’t so unique! Every day I see its profoundly positive effects on my son.

  5. Wendy Gassaway Avatar

    I could stand to learn a lot from this. Last summer there were a few times when I was mad at my kids in the car, so I told them we were going to go pick up an attitude change. Three fifty-cent ice cream cones at McDonald’s, and suddenly we were all cheerful again.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Love it! Drive-thru attitude change. Absolutely. Sometimes we all need that reset, and so often, it’s something really small that brings the cheer back. It’s a lesson I have to learn again and again myself.

  6. franmccrackin Avatar

    “Root beer floats are like truth serum”- fantastic. Keep the communication open- you will be forever grateful.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      If I could only manage one for-sure thing, it would be making sure my son wants to tell me stuff! So far, so good.

  7. Cheriee Weichel Avatar

    I love this! I wish I had this kind of wisdom when my boys were younger.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Cheriee. I wish I’d had this wisdom from the beginning too.

  8. Sonja Schulz Avatar

    you are a wise, wise woman. thank you for being this mama. thank you for reminding the rest of us, too. listening with mercy and sweet vanilla ice cream drenched in root beer–that’s a winning combination.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I often wonder why it’s so hard to believe that mercy is always the right choice. How seldom we make that choice in our classrooms or with our children!

  9. payanar100 Avatar

    This is such a great story told in such a beautiful way. You are doing so much to heal the hurt that your son brought with him when he came to you. Root beer floats sound like the best thing to do when he is in trouble. The work of the vulnerability of the talk is where the magic is. If you were more punitive, this kind of conversation would never happen. This is a lesson that many teachers need to learn as well.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s incredible to see the healing that such an approach makes possible. At first it felt counterintuitive, but now, I don’t understand why traditional parenting isn’t the approach that feels counterintuitive! I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of Brene Brown lately and I think her work explains a lot about both why this approach works and why it’s so foreign to most of us.

  10. emily1103 Avatar

    This is an amazing post–it’s great how something so seemingly simple is the catalyst for such a strong bond with your son. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! It is so often the simplest things that carry the most weight and power.

  11. margaretsmn Avatar

    I don’t know if you are religious or not, but this is Holy Week and I am thinking a lot about the manhood of Jesus. He would offer a root beer float. The confession and pain that followed wasn’t easy but the initial response was always done in love. I feel the incredible depth of your love.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I am not religious, Margaret, but I do think that parenting can be a spiritual practice! I appreciate your comment very much.

  12. carriegelson Avatar

    I am not letting my son see this post! He would be trying to make me angry every 5 minutes and then suggesting a float! Seriously, though, I love that you understand it is about the connections the talking, the sweet when it’s hard.

  13. jarhartz Avatar

    The love we offer is often not very loving. When parents punish, they are doing what was probably done to them. Not that they were abused but that is the traditional way of trying to protect and teach. The offering of a sweet treat in response to trouble is contrary but so smart. What do we really want from our children? Not compliance that the punishment would get but understanding. You are brilliant. I wonder if this is translatable to a classroom space.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You’re so right, Julieanne. Punitive approaches only make us grow in shame–something we all ought to have learned from our own childhoods! I do think it comes down to being clear about what we truly want from and for our children and doing the very hard work to make the changes in ourselves that will lead to that. And it is hard work. It looks so easy–root beer floats when you get in trouble, yay! But I had to do a lot of work on myself first before I could become the kind of mother who is able to offer root beer floats instead of grounding! I think it’s absolutely translatable to the classroom, but I don’t think any approach that depends so much on personal growth and relationship is efficient enough for the way traditional schools work.

  14. bjdonaldson Avatar

    I love these lines, “Root beer floats are a leap of faith. They are my way of meeting my son’s anger and fear with love and acceptance. They are my way of transforming my own anger and fear into something productive and positive.” I think your paragraph about the hard work of root beer floats is really great, too. Thanks for sharing this for all of the other parents out there!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks for your comment! It’s always interesting to dig a little deeper to figure out why we really do the things we do and what they mean.

  15. Carol Avatar

    How I wish I had known you when my boys were teenagers. Right now I am thinking I should have done root beer floats a lot more often! What a terrific way to get to truth and healing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, it’s never too late for root beer floats! Apparently I’m going to create a whole line of inspirational sayings based on root beer floats now. It really was a leap of faith at first, but now I see the tangible proof in front of me every day of what happens when I prioritize healing and relationship over every other thing. And it’s hard–there have been a lot of voices in my head telling me I’m too permissive, what that kid really needs is a good dose of reality, this is never going to work, he’s going to think it’s ok to do x,y,z if he doesn’t get punished, etc., etc. But those are someone else’s beliefs–not actually mine. Very hard to filter out all those messages and get to what’s necessary and true!

  16. MaryHill Avatar

    I love this idea of root beer floats as discipline tool. I will have to try it with my daughter. She can get so grouchy. I have tried being understanding and letting her know we all have bad mood days. I like your approach. Definitely food for thought on parenting approaches. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There’s a lot in the literature on healing trauma about acceptance and empathy that has really inspired me and pushed me way outside my comfort zone! I am also always looking for ways to turn the mood around, to find a little more light and joy. I love it when something as simple as ice cream works!

  17. […] slice about what I do when my son gets in trouble (hint: it involves ice […]

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