Parents: Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First!

-Holly Brown, LMFT

In the event of an airplane crash, you’re supposed to secure your own oxygen mask first before attending to your children. The same advice applies to parenting.

Parenting is challenging, no doubt. Kids are incredibly skilled button pushers, from remarkably young. Sometimes that’s accidental on their part; sometimes it’s intentional. But regardless, staying  calm and grounded yourself is pretty much a prerequisite.

So how do you do that when it feels like the plane is going down, every day? 1) Meet your own basic needs.

I know, this might seem odd, because if needs are basic, we must be meeting them, right?

But think about it. Are you getting adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise? Are you getting time to yourself to recharge when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Do you have the support to step away and attend to your own human requirements?

For most of us, the answer to at least one of those questions is no. If the answer to all three is no, then no wonder you’re struggling.

The reality is, some needs probably need to be sacrifices at least some of the time. But we need to be thoughtful and strategic about what we’re giving up, and how often. It’s time to recognize that you’re running on empty, and in that state, you have less adaptability and less tolerance (and that’s what you’re likely modeling for your children.)

2) Give yourself a time-out when you’re getting triggered.

Very few parenting situations require instant intervention. Sure, we don’t like that our kid is doing a certain thing, but it’s not necessarily a safety risk. If they’re making a mess, it can be cleaned up later. If they’re doing something you don’t like to the point that you’re feeling like you’re about to snap, then it’s better to discuss it later.

Yes, with small children, discipline is best in the moment. But if you’re not in any condition to handle discipline in an effective and calm way, then better to let something go by and wait for the next moment. Because it’s actually better to let them get away with something this time than to yell ineffectually anyway (which means you’re modeling a lack of self-control, and your children are going to focus a whole lot more on that than they are on their supposed transgression.)

When you lose it, you abdicate your authority. You don’t teach what you think you’re teaching. So giving yourself a time-out–and telling your children that you’ll be dealing with the subject or the behavior later–can be your best move.

3) Go big picture.

What I mean is, discipline should be a small part of your overall parenting plan. And if you don’t have a parenting plan, this is a great time to develop one (in conjunction with your partner, if you have one.)

Parenting plans should be based on what you value most. What do you feel you most want your child to learn? What can you not just say but do to move your children closer to those cherished ideals? Are you living in accordance with them yourself? Are you the role model you want to be?

Redesigning your way of parenting–no, not just parenting, but living–might seem like a tall order. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stepping back and being thoughtful will serve you; you can start making the right changes instead of the same mistakes.

Parenting mindfully is the best thing you can do for yourself, and for your kids. It doesn’t necessitate a giant overhaul, but increased awareness, and that can start right now.

Reading Books with Dad May Boost School Readiness, Parenting Skills

-Traci Pedersen

A parenting program in which fathers read to their preschoolers was found to boost the dads’ parenting skills while also improving the preschoolers’ school readiness and behavior, according to a new study led by New York University (NYU).

“Unlike earlier research, our study finds that it is possible to engage fathers from low-income communities in parenting interventions, which benefits both the fathers and their children,” said lead author Dr. Anil Chacko, associate professor of counseling psychology at NYU Steinhardt.

Fathers play a vital role in the social, emotional, and behavioral development of their children. However, few studies have focused on helping fathers improve their parenting skills — and, in turn, outcomes for their children — as most parenting research is conducted with mothers. Furthermore, previous research on parenting interventions for fathers have issues with high rates of fathers dropping out of the studies.

The new study evaluated the effects of the program called “Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers,” an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their preschoolers.

Shared book reading is an interactive and dynamic activity in which an adult uses prompts and feedback to allow a child to become an active storyteller. It relies heavily on pictures and encourages parents to give their children praise and encouragement. Shared book reading fosters father-child interactions and also helps develop school readiness.

“Rather than a goal of increasing father involvement, which implies a deficit approach, a program that uses shared book reading targets a specific parenting skill set and represents a valued activity for parents and children,” said Chacko.

For the study, 126 low-income fathers and their preschool-aged children were recruited across three Head Start centers in New York City. The families, a majority of whom spoke Spanish, were randomly assigned to either participate in the eight-week program or were put on a waitlist (which acted as the control condition).

The short-term intervention included weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes each. In these sessions, small groups of dads watched videos showing fathers reading with children but with exaggerated errors.

The fathers then identified and, in small and large groups, discussed better approaches to these interactions. Fathers were then encouraged to practice the strategies they identified at home with their child during shared book reading.

The program was designed to help improve parenting strategies by establishing routines, encouraging child-centered time, using attention and incentives to promote good behavior, using distraction and ignoring to reduce attention-seeking behavior and resorting to time-outs sparingly.

The researchers then evaluated the program’s effects on parenting skills, child behavior and language, and outcomes for fathers, including stress and depression. The researchers measured these factors before and immediately after the program through direct observation, standardized assessments of language, and self-reported information. Attendance data was also collected as a measure of engagement.

The findings show that parenting behaviors, child behaviors, and language development of the children who participated in the program improved significantly compared to those on the wait-list.

In addition, fathers reported improved discipline approaches and promotion of their children’s psychological growth. The researchers also observed that fathers made fewer critical statements to their children and used more positive parenting behaviors like praise and affection.

The researchers also found a moderate effect on language outcomes among the children. Overall, the data suggest more than a 30 percent improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.

Importantly, the average attendance rate for the weekly sessions was 79 percent, which was substantially higher than past parenting programs for fathers.

“Unlike other parenting programs, fathers in this program were not recruited to work on parenting or reduce child behavior problems, but to learn — with other fathers — skills to support their children’s school readiness, which may remove stigma and support openness among fathers in supporting their children,” said Chacko. “The findings are particularly noteworthy given the study’s population of low-income, Spanish-speaking, immigrant fathers.”

The researchers added that shared book reading may not be the best approach for all fathers and children, so interventions should be tailored to the preferences of communities and parents in order to increase the chances of success.

“Ultimately, we believe that developing a program that is both focused on the parent and child, and one that is not deficit-driven or focused on improving problematic parenting but is focusing on skill development, would be appealing and engaging for fathers,” said Chacko.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

A Step-Child’s Guide to Step-Parenting

Comments from the Teen’s World

-Paul C. Holinger, MD

I first met my step-father when I was five, and my brothers were eleven and thirteen. He was not my step-father back then, of course, and would not officially marry my mother for another seven years, but within a year he had assumed the role of father figure. From the moment he hopped off the Greyhound bus and embraced my mom, I understood the relationship they had and the potential consequences of it.

For the next two years, I spent every other weekend with my biological father, and the rest of my time at home with my mom and her later-rather-than-sooner to-be husband. My step-father, bless his heart, was not born with an inherent ability to parent. He entered my life as a spry twenty-seven-year-old, in love with my mother and intimidated by three rambunctious kids. The last thirteen years of our relationship have seen his rocky transition from live in boyfriend to confident father – and boy, would it have been easier if he knew what we know now: the three key components of becoming the best possible step-parent from the get-go.

Embrace your newfound identity

Step one in becoming the best possible step-parent is acknowledging and accepting the complexities of your new identity as a step-parent. Whether or not you have children from a previous relationship and are familiar with the ins-and-outs of parental responsibility, step-parenting is another beast entirely. The dynamic between a step-child and a step-parent is unique and complicated. Step-parenting requires transitioning from stranger to parental figure in the eyes of someone who has previously established parentage. While it is certainly possible, step-parenting lacks the ease of biological parenting. Generally speaking, birth parents are endowed with an inherent, insurmountable love and affection, gifted to them by their children before they are even capable of speech. Step-parents, on the other hand, have to overcome obstacles of time and unfamiliarity to create such a bond, just as kids themselves have to overcome wariness and uncertainty to accept a stranger as mom or dad.

Each family has its own story with its own peculiar complexities, but most have a moment in which the new boyfriend or girlfriend the kids see around the house twice a week becomes a parent. This moment could be literal, such as the wedding day or once adoption papers have been signed, or less explicit. For me, my step-dad leveled up, so to speak, once he began properly disciplining my brothers and me. He had lived with us for about a year and though he was an adult around the house, my mom was the parent. She worked three jobs and came home late most nights, while I spent a lot of time fighting with my older brothers – like, a lot. My step-dad, not yet married to my mother and unsure of his limitations, ran little interference. Once my mom walked through the door, he was free of the burden, and she would settle the disputes – who had pulled whose hair, why was Amelia crying, and how was Tyler’s favorite toy broken? Over time, my step-father became increasingly comfortable in his role and embraced his responsibility to parent independent of my mom, until we were as apprehensive of fighting in front of him as we were my mom.

Discipline, of course, is not the only way to express parental authority. It can be easy to misjudge situations and overact to conflicts, but, for my brothers and me, it was a key component in our seeing our step-dad as a father. Smaller acts of parentage, such as signing school forms, packing lunches, and acting chauffeur, have similar effects on the step-parent/step-child relationship. In short, if you embrace your parental responsibility, then your step-kid(s) will embrace your parental authority.

Schedule alone time with your step-kid(s)

This may seem obvious – every parent should spend time with their kids, right? – but it is so key to forging a durable relationship with your step-child(ren). As previously mentioned, kids have an instinctual and time-hardened relationship with their biological parent(s). Biological parents are around us from birth, with little separation until adulthood. As such, considerably less thought and effort goes into spending time with someone you have been with since before you can remember.

Being the generally shy, quiet kid I was, my early years were spent clinging to my mother’s side and avoiding one-on-one interaction with my step-father at all costs. Without my mom as a buffer, practicing tennis, playing video games, and attending car shows together was painfully awkward at first. Hanging out with my new step-dad was, frankly, not something I looked forward to for a long time, but the persistence and effort put forth by both ensured that that time paid off in the long run. Believe me when I say it is possible to live around someone and not with them; make an effort.

Find common hobbies or interests you share with your step-kid(s). If none exist, then try something new together. Sports, for example, provide something to do with one’s hands, while attending a festival or museum allow for easier conversation. Setting a weekly breakfast or movie date is also a good idea, as the ease of routine compounds to establish comfort and familiarity. Regardless, the activity itself is not important; the alone time is. In order to distinguish yourself as a parent independent of your partner, the onus is on you to create memories and experiences with your kids independent of said partner.

Facilitate your step-kid(s)’s relationship with your biological counterpart, if it exists

Families and the relationships that comprise them are messy. Every family has their little dramas and intricacies, and divorce is, unfortunately, an unbelievably common complication. Your average step-child could have, potentially, four parents – two biological parents and their respective spouses. While this certainly is not the case for everyone, if a child has a pre-existing, positive relationship with your counterpart, it is paramount that you enable its continuation.

Similar to divorce, the acquisition of a step-parent, or a parent’s remarriage, can thrust kids into the middle of tense adult relationships. It is easy to feel pulled between parents, and that pull breeds anxiety and resentment. Step-parents, despite what movies would have us believe, are not in competition with their spouse’s ex for a kid’s love and affection. Rather, they are a part of a whole. As a new step-parent aiming to grow your relationship with your step-child, you are responsible for mitigating the ill effects of separation and remarriage. Incorporate everyone into family gatherings, and allot all parties relatively equal time. Doing so alleviates children of the stress and pressures of navigating tumultuous relationships and choosing between parents. It is the adult, kind thing to do, regardless of personal dislike.

On a related note, it is important to not stress ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ titles. This pertains especially to those who were referred to as something else before (i.e. a first name) or have older step-kids. In the same way that one transitions from the use of a name to a nickname, transitioning from a first name to mom or dad is a process. Children are raised to call their moms ‘mom’ and dads ‘dad.’ Stereotypically, they are the first words out of our mouths and the first tangible emotional attachments we create. Titles are not indicative of one’s love or acceptance. Rather, they are the result of years and years of habit and association. Just as you would not pressure a significant other to say “I love you” before they are ready, you should not worry yourself or your step-kid(s) with what they choose to call you.

There will always be unique relationship dynamics in a family that change the approach one can or should take in establishing a bond with their step-child, but the vitality of time and effort is universal. Be mindful of the delicate, often times awkward situation step-children are placed in, and respond accordingly. Empathy and authenticity go a long way in becoming a trusted, respected, and loved parent.

Reader Beware – What to Look for in a Parenting Article

-Megan Stonelake

Recently I was browsing Pinterest, and I noticed a litany of “how-to” parenting articles throughout my feed. Since that day I’ve consistently observed the same pattern each time I visit the website. Article after article, I find tips about how to make our children stop doing something we don’t like or teach our children how to be or do something we do like.

Examples just from today, all of which have been re-pinned thousands of times, include:

  • “How to Teach Your Child to Have Self-Control Over Their Thoughts”
  • “How to Teach Your Child to be Humble and Kind”
  • “How to Teach Your Child Self-Control”
  • “How to Teach Your Children to Play By Themselves”
  • “Teaching Your Toddler to Count to 100: Our Top 7 Ways”
  • “How to Stop the Whining and Crying”

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with wanting to raise a child who is humble and kind. However, this pattern seems to suggest we ought to have an agenda for who our kids will be. Rather than focusing on ways to support our children in being the best version of themselves, we’re led to believe we must intentionally shape every aspect of their personalities.

It also seems to encourage parents to change things about their children which they find uncomfortable or disagreeable. To be clear, screaming and whining can be annoying. I won’t begin to argue that point. But when an article focuses on how to stop a behavior simply because we find it obnoxious, I wonder if the intent is misplaced. Are we attempting to address a behavior because it will benefit our kids or because we think it will make our lives easier?

Some of these articles could be a recipe for failure. For example, self-control requires a certain amount of cognitive and emotional development. Teaching it before a child is capable of controlling impulses won’t be effective. Our time would be better spent acting as our child’s “upstairs brain” while their immature prefrontal cortex develops (for more on brain development, I recommend The Whole-Brain Child).

I also wonder if these “how-to’s” are always a good use of our time. What’s the purpose of teaching a toddler to count to 100? Does that guarantee he’ll be in Mensa? Is the point to give me something to brag about at playdates? Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s worth doing or that it’s the best way to spend my son’s precious childhood.

Lastly, research suggests there is great fallacy in attempting to suppress  our children’s emotions. It’s important to assist our children in developing a healthy expression of emotions, but attempting to squash them all together has negative, long-term consequences.

The following are some questions to ask yourself as you search for wisdom in parenting blogs and articles:

Who is writing this article?

There are loads of great articles written by parents for parents, and I don’t mean to diminish the beauty of parents supporting one another. However, we should also recognize that other parents are speaking from experience with what worked for their specific children. Their suggestions are not necessarily based in empirical research or years of education. You may find helpful suggestions, but be sure to remember these are not authorities on the topics of development, education, or child psychology.

Does it address development?

Expectations vary widely depending on age and stage of development. What may be appropriate for an eight-year-old won’t necessarily apply to a five-year-old. When you’re reading an article about how to teach your child something, look for information in the article about development. If the writer doesn’t address this, don’t assume it’s appropriate for your child.

Does it represent my values?

Any article which encourages the use of media to teach my young child academics is incongruent with my value of play-based learning for small children. Sometimes as parents we can feel like we are failing our children when we read how our peers are parenting. Keeping our own personal values in mind will allow us to make intentional decisions in which we can feel confident.

What’s the motivation?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my short four years as a mother: most of parenting is dealing with my own stuff. There’s a big difference between an article which focuses on how we can support our children and one intended to stop a behavior we just don’t like. The former is child-centered, the latter is parent-centered. Rather than attempting to stop our kids from crying or “causing drama,” our time might be better spent addressing how we can manage our own reactions while asking, “is there an unmet need behind this behavior?”

We all have high hopes for our children, but it’s important to remember they are whole, complete beings separate from us. They reserve the right to become who they want to be, and facilitating their development without focusing on our own egos is admirable indeed.

If we want to raise intelligent, kind people with self-control, the best thing we can do is work on ourselves, not our kids. Allow them to learn through exploration, model kindness and self-control, and work on your own ability to remain calm and compassionate with your children. This paradigm shift can deepen your connection with your children, and it doesn’t even require flash cards.

Dealing with Big Feelings – Teaching Kids How to Self-Regulate

-Karen, Hey Sigmund

Life with a small human can be hilarious, wonderful, ridiculous and unpredictable. And wild – so wild. All kids are capable of ‘bewildering’ behaviours that can bring the strongest of us to our knees. These behaviours can take different forms. There are the ones that can be seen through the eye of a needle from a solar system away, no trouble at all – meltdowns, outbursts and tantrums, hitting, screaming. Then there are the ones that are a little harder to spot, but which light up our radar all the same – the worries that spin out of control, the sadness or withdrawal that lasts a little longer than it should, the tendency to bottle up feelings.

None of us were born knowing how to control big emotions and our children will take a while to learn. This is okay – time is something they have plenty of. In the meantime, the job for us as the adults in their lives who care about them, is to nurture their ability to manage their emotional responses in healthy, adaptive ways.

Of course, it would be a lovely thing if the small humans in our lives were born knowing how to stay calm, or with the capacity to respond to disappointments with the adorability of a sleepy kitten, but that’s just not how it was meant to be. Young children don’t have the words to describe what they want, or to explain how they feel. The sheer frustration of this can make them vulnerable to being barreled by the big feelings that can overwhelm any of us from time to time.

So when you say ‘self-regulation’ …

Self-regulation is being able to manage feelings so they don’t intrude heavily on relationships or day-to-day life. This might involve being able to resist ‘losing it’ in upsetting or frustrating situations, or being able to calm down when big feelings start to take over.

Self-regulation is NOT about ‘not feeling’. Locking feelings away can cause as much trouble as any outburst. There is nothing wrong with having big feelings. All feelings are valid and it’s okay for kids to feel whatever they feel. What’s important is how those feelings are managed. The key is to nurture children towards being able to acknowledge and express what they’re feeling, without causing breakage to themselves, their friendships or other people.

Why is self-regulation important?

When children are able to regulate their emotional responses, they become less vulnerable to the ongoing impact of stress. They are also more likely to have the emotional resources to maintain healthy friendships, and the capacity to focus and learn. Research has found that the ability to self-regulate is a strong predictor of academic success.

Outbursts? Or opportunities.

Every outburst is an opportunity to steer them in a different direction and to strengthen the skills they need to name and manage their emotions in a way that works for them, without the seismic fallout that can happen when kids are unable to regulate their emotions.

High emotion and tantrums are NOT a sign of bad parenting or bad kids. They are never that. Taking tantrums or wild behaviour personally can make it more difficult to use them as an opportunity to nurture valuable skills in your child. It can be easy to feel judged when our kiddos choose the top of the escalator on a busy Saturday morning to throw themselves on the ground because you peeled their banana all the way to the bottom and nothing – nothing – can ever be the same again, but you are raising humans, and it’s hard and it’s important and the path is a crooked one with plenty of uphills, downhills, and hairpin curves. Some people will never understand. Let that be their problem, not yours.

My child does body throw-downs like they invented the move. When is the lack of self-regulation a problem?

All kids are different, and they will develop according to their own schedules. As anyone who has small humans in their lives will know, there are some things they just won’t be hurried on – breakfast when you’re in a hurry, stories at bedtime, and of course, the potentially life-altering decision of what to have on their toast. And self-regulation – they won’t be hurried on that either. All good things take time, and when you’re trying to master an art, patience is required from your entire support crew.

By school age, most kids tend to have the foundations for self-regulation. This doesn’t mean they’ll get it right all the time – they won’t. What it means is that by about age five, most kids tend to be fairly able to regulate their emotions most of the time. By this age, they can generally wait a short while for something they want, take turns, focus on what’s being said to them, and they are less likely to bring out their wild side when things don’t go their way.

Not all kids will grow out of difficult emotional behaviour by school. Sometimes, difficulties with self-regulation are just a matter of emotional immaturity. Sometimes, it can be a sign that there might be an underlying issue. Some of the common ones are ADHD (difficulty focusing and frustration with not being able to complete certain tasks can lead to high emotion), anxiety (tantrums or aggressive can be driven by anxiety – it’s the fight part of the fight or flight response), or learning difficulties (again, driven by frustration).

Of course, just because your child might be struggling with self-regulation, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an underlying issue. It’s just something to keep in mind if there is a constant struggle with self-regulation that doesn’t seem to show much improvement by school age. Remember though, all children will develop at a different pace, and all will struggle with self-regulation until they strengthen the skills. Regardless of age or stage of development though, opportunities to strengthen the capacity for self-regulation is something that all children and teens will benefit hugely from.

How does self-regulation develop?

Gradually. And with plenty of support from a very dedicated and wonderful crew – modeling, coaching, and responding in a way that makes it safe for kids to explore and experiment with their own responses.

The part of the brain that is heavily involved in regulating big emotions and considering consequences – the pre-frontal cortex – won’t be fully developed until sometime in the early 20s. Until then, the brain is wide open and hungry for experiences that will strengthen it in a way that will support them as healthy, strong adults.

We can see signs of emotional regulation in babies, such as when the soothe themselves by sucking their thumb. By about age two, most toddlers are able to wait a little while for something they want, or listen when they are being spoken to. As children grow and experiment more with self-regulation, they will be more able to widen the gap between a feeling and response.

My teen is moody and explosive. What’s going on?

By adolescence, you might notice that your teens are having more difficulty than ever with self-regulation. This is a very normal part of adolescence. During adolescence, the teen brain is powered up with about a billion new neurons. This is to give them the brain power they need for the developmental mountain climbing they’ll do during adolescence – new skills, new experiences, new relationships, new milestones. With so many new brain cells looking to strengthen and connect, things can get a bit hectic up there, which can drive behaviour that is far from adorable. They probably wish it could be different too. Remind yourself that they are being driven by a brain under construction and gently hold the boundaries. (And I know this isn’t always easy!) And then write this on your mirror where you’ll see it every day or whenever you retreat to the bathroom for a deep breath or a chardonnay: ‘It’s a stage. It will end.’ Like all stages, when they have done the important developmental work they need to do, they’ll come back stronger, wiser, more wonderful and more capable than before.

What can I do to help my child learn how to self-regulate?

  1. Explain where their big emotions come from.

    When high emotion drives difficult behaviour, it’s a sign that the distance between the stimulus – whatever has upset them – and their response is short and fairly automatic. When kids are in high emotion, they are being driven by the part of their brain that acts on impulse. The problem is that this all happens so quickly, the thinking part of the brain doesn’t have time to engage and steer them towards a healthier response. They key is helping them extend that distance so they are less likely to act on impulse, and more likely to let the thinking part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) get involved. Kids do great things with the right information. Talk to them in the language they will understand. Nobody knows your child better than you, so adjust the language to suit. Here is an idea of the way it could go:

    ‘Feelings are important and it’s always okay for them to be there, but when feelings get too big, they can make the thinking, calming part of your brain take a little break until the big feelings are gone. That’s not good for anyone. This is when you can end up making silly decisions or doing things that land you in trouble. Your brain is strong, healthy and magnificent, but it’s important to learn how to be the boss of it, even when you have big feelings. To do this, you need to strengthen the thinking part of your brain at the front of your head. It does a fabulous job when it’s on, but we need to make it stronger so it stays in charge even when the big feelings come. This will take a little practice but for sure you can do it. You’re pretty amazing like that.

    So how can you be the boss of your brain when big feelings take over? One of the most powerful ways is to breathe strong, deep breaths. Remember how big feelings can get a little bossy and tell the thinking, calming part of the brain that it’s not needed? Well thankfully, strong deep breathing relaxes your brain enough, so the thinking part can do the magical things it does – calm down your big feelings and help you to make sensible decisions. There’s a teeny problem though – it’s too hard to do new things when you’re really upset, so the way around this is to practice when you’re calm. The more you practice strong deep breathing when you’re calm, the easier it will be to do when you’re feeling upset. And the more you remember to do it when you’re upset, the stronger your brain will be.

    Here are some fun ways to practice. You can do them anywhere – in the car, in the bath, while you’re kissing the cute face in the mirror, while you’re pretending to be a rock star – anywhere, anytime …

    Hot Cocoa Breathing

    Pretend that you have your hands wrapped around a mug of hot cocoa. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds, as though you’re smelling the deeeelicious chocolatey smell. Then breathing out through your mouth for three seconds, as though you are blowing it cool. Keep doing this four or five times, until you start to feel yourself relax.

    Figure 8 Breathing

    Using your finger, imagine that you are writing the figure ‘8’. You can do it anywhere you like – on your arm, your leg, your tummy, a soft toy gorilla – anywhere. As you draw the top of the 8, breathe in for three. When you get to the middle, hold for one. Then, as you trace the bottom part, breathe out for three. Let it be a really smooth, relaxing movement, and repeat it a few times. Ahhhh … bliss.

  2. And now to strengthen their brain … Mindfulness.

    The research on benefits of mindfulness could fill a small city. Mindfulness works by changing the structure and the function of the brain. First, it strengthens the part of the brain that drives high emotion, so that reacts less automatically or impulsively. Second, it strengthens the pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain that is able to weigh in and calm big emotions and consider consequences. Finally, it strengthens the connections between the two, meaning that in times of high emotion, the pre-frontal cortex will be quicker and more able to work with the emotion centres of the brain to find calm.

  3. Now, about expectations …

    It’s critical not to expect more of children than they are capable of, given their stage of development. Young children just don’t have the capacity to be calm and reasonable all the time. Punishing them for a lack of self-regulation is like punishing them for not being able to fly. It won’t help anything and will run the risk that shame will get in the way of them feeling safe enough to explore a different way to respond. Ideally, it’s best for them to learn the best way to respond by figuring out for themselves the best way to be. Doing something because they know it’s the right thing to do, will be a more enduring and more powerful response than anything that is driven by a fear of the consequences.

  4. But don’t let them outsource the job.

    It can be so tempting to smooth the rough edges for them when they have an outburst, but this won’t be doing them any favours. In fact, it will rob them of the opportunity to learn a valuable skill – how to manage their emotions themselves. When we move in too quickly to soothe it or ‘fix it’, we’re not giving them the space and opportunity they need to learn how to self-soothe. This doesn’t mean we leave them to it. What it means is not rushing in too quickly or working too hard to calm them when they get upset and behave poorly.

  5. Let them ‘borrow’ your prefrontal cortex.

    When things get wild, try to dampen things down with some pre-frontal cortex sensibility and calm. (The pre-frontal cortex is the calming, thinking part of the brain.) For young children, the pre-frontal part of the brain is still developing, which is one of the reasons it can be sent so easily offline when they are in high emotion. What you can do, is loan them yours. The way to do this is to stay calm, be a strong, supportive presence, and wait for them to catch up. Continue to have boundaries, but before you talk about a better way to do things, lead them gently out of the chaos and into a space that’s calm and settle.

  6. Shift the focus.

    There’s so much for our kiddos to learn, and they will all have their strengths and the things they need a little more coaching on. If your little person needs a hand learning how to regulate their emotions, think of this as just another skill that needs nurturing, rather than ‘bad behaviour’. Shifting the focus from ‘a bad behaviour that needs changing’ to ‘a skill that needs strengthening’ is more empowering for you and your child. It takes the shame away and makes it easier for your child to hear the important learnings you need them to know. It will set the scene for you to work on this more as a ‘team’ and less ‘you vs them’.

  7. Provide a ‘scaffold’ between the behaviour that is and the behaviour you want.

    The idea of a scaffold is to provide a bridge between what they know and are capable of, and the skills they need to learn. Give your child just enough to move them forward. Let’s say there is a clashing of minds between your child and a friend over – who’s going to be the policeman and who is going to be the baddie. Your child is getting upset because he has to be the baddie ALL THE TIME because the other child, ‘steals the police costume ALL THE TIME because she thinks she is the boss of the police costume, and I never get to be the police so I always have to be the baddie and that’s not fair because she thinks that the police are allowed to use the yellow cup but the yellow cup is MINE!’ Sounds reasonable.

    In this situation, scaffolding might involve coaching the children on the words to use, as opposed to resolving the situation for them. This might not always go in a smooth steady line, but when you’re four and there’s a police costume on the line, it’s not just about who gets to wear the good gear, it’s about power, voice, feeling heard, fairness and feeling validated. If coaching on the conversation doesn’t lead to an outcome that both people are okay with, scaffolding might involve making suggestions, such as taking turns, or playing something else. The idea is that next time a conflict arises, the child can be encouraged to remember the things they tried last time. ‘Do you remember when you had the argument about the policeman’s costume? What were some of the things you did to work through that?’.

  8. Expose them gently to manageable amounts of stress.

    Gently expose them to situations that call on their need for self-regulation. The brain builds by experience, and the more experiences they have, the stronger they will be.

  9. Teach them to ‘step back’.

    This is a valuable skill for all kids and teens. Stepping back puts distance between them and their behaviour, enough to let the see the bigger picture, or parts of the picture that might be out of their close-up view. When there has been an incident of high emotion, and they are on their way to finding calm, ask them to imagine stepping back and watching what happened as though it was a movie. ‘If someone was doing what you were doing, what would you think of them.’ ‘What do you think they are feeling/thinking/needing?’ ‘What would you want to say to them?’This is a great skill that will build empathy and strengthen that part of the brain that can look logically and rationally at a situation. Don’t worry if they don’t get it straight away, or if they need a little coaching.  The more opportunities they have to ‘switch it on’, the more likely it is that they will be able to do this themselves eventually.

  10. Provide the opportunity and support for self-reflection.

    Self-reflection is a skill that many adults haven’t yet mastered, but it’s such an important one. When children can explore their behaviour and their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment, they are going to find their own answers and wisdom. There are no lessons or learnings that are more meaningful than the ones we find ourselves. To nurture their capacity for self-reflection, calmly and gently, in a non-judgemental, non-critical way, help them to explore their experience. Encourage them to get a sense of what happened when things got out of control. At what point did things start feeling bad? What happened? What happened in their body? How can next time be different?

  11. Accept where they are, but that’s not the ending.

    This involves two things that seem to be opposed – acceptance on the one hand, and pushing for change on the other. When they are used together, they can be more powerful than each on its own. To do this, acknowledge that your child is doing his or her their best, ‘I know that you’re doing the best you can right now, and I also know that you can do better.’ The acceptance that comes with this provides a safe, non-judgemental space to experiment with a new way to be. The idea is to teach them the skills they need, while at the same time holding them strong with a gentle, loving acceptance and a belief in what they are capable of. This focuses on the strengths and the opportunity, not the deficiency.

And finally …

Although some kids naturally have a more even temper, all kids will need a hand to build strong self-regulation skills. Nobody was born with these already established, and all kids will take time to build them up. Remember though, all kids are different. What they lack on one front, they’ll make up for in another.  Being able to regulate their feelings and behaviour, self-soothe, and stop very valid feelings spinning out of control are big jobs for all kids, but important ones for them to learn.

Dads Get Kids’ Skills as Well as Moms

-Rick Nauert, PhD

New research from Denmark finds that a father is able to evaluate a child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills as well as a mother.

The discovery is important for parental rights cases, schools, or other places where in the past, a mother’s judgement of children was deemed superior.

Aarhus University researchers used the results from the so-called CHIPS-tests (Children’s Problem Solving) — which test the child’s linguistic and cognitive level and psychiatric diagnosis — and compared the results with the parents’ overall evaluation of the child’s academic and behavioral performance (the latter specified in a Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire).

The test results from 6,000 Danish families, adjusted for variables such as gender, the parents’ age, educational background, work situation, income, psychiatric diagnosis etc., show that dad is just as able to evaluate the child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills as mom.

“This is important knowledge not least in e.g. divorce cases, where the majority of parental rights cases are decided in favor of the mother — among other things based on the parents’ testimonies on the well-being and skills of their children,” said Nabanita Datta Gupta, Ph.D., one of three researchers behind the study.

The research has been published in Review of Economics of the Household.

The study also shows that mothers who have mental issues often evaluate their children’s competences as being poorer than they actually are.

This could be a serious issue as a child may develop a lower self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their own abilities, say the researchers. Moreover, another study has previously shown that children of parents with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of attempting suicide.

“Many women who suffer from post-natal depression are never diagnosed, but their mental state still influences their life and also their ability to evaluate their children’s competences.

Generally, our results indicate that parents should be regarded equally in clinical and school-related contexts, where the doctor and the teacher might as well hear the father’s evaluation of e.g. symptoms and well-being as the mother’s. Especially in Denmark, where fathers are typically very actively involved in looking after the child,” Gupta said.

Gupta believes findings from the research can be widely applied.

“The results are valid, because the parent’s subjective evaluations are compared to the objective measurements of the CHIPS test and the psychiatric diagnoses. Naturally, a lot of other factors are also important, but our research is an important contribution to the collected understanding of the parents’ ability to evaluate their children’s behavior and competences,” she said.

When Your Parenting Style Wears You Out

-Renee Jain, MAPP

Your four-year-old demands a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. You sense a forthcoming meltdown and quickly evaluate your parenting-style options:

(1) Permissive: Say “yes” (then prepare to serve cookies for lunch and cake for dinner).

(2) Authoritative: Say “no” directly and firmly (then prepare to stand your ground as there will likely be a protest).

(3) Exhausted: Scream “never” (because it’s only 7:15 a.m. and you’re already exhausted).

(4) Denial: Pretend none of it is happening and hide in the bathroom for a while (it is the morning after all; you could conceivably be getting ready :)).

(5) Connected: Empathize (e.g., “I hear you—yum!”); be playful (e.g., “Why not make it a sundae?”); and then guide your child toward another option (e.g., “How about we save that for the weekend and we eat it together?”)

Although many of us probably use a mix of the styles above, most may lean in one direction or another. I try to practice as well as advocate for connected parenting, aligned with a conscious, positive, and peaceful approach. Yet this approach is not for the faint of heart.

Connected parenting is really just what it sounds like—in every situation, you try to empathically connect with your children and see their perspective before guiding them. While I firmly believe connected parenting reaps meaningful relationships for both parents and children, I also feel that a vital piece of the discourse is missing. We fail to be open about the amount of energy this parenting style requires.

In fact, of all the parenting examples above, connected parenting requires the most effort in many respects. Here are some of ways in which additional human resources are required:

  • Time: Connected parenting often takes more time. Saying “no” is clearly faster than empathizing with playfulness and humor.
  • Creativity: It’s much easier for us to access short, direct phrases such as “Don’t do that” or “Please stop” versus some of the phrases I encourage when our kids are angry, anxious, or tired of hearing no. Consistent creativity takes practice and effort.
  • Emotional space: When we give to our children in a connected way, we are giving them part of ourselves, emotionally speaking. While mindful presence with our children can be fulfilling, it can sometimes be emotionally consuming.
  • Physical stamina: Connected parenting includes connected body language—getting close to your child, kneeling to his or her level, and being playful. There is definitely physical exertion involved in connected parenting.
  • Distress tolerance: Connected parenting allows children to feel their feelings, including sadness, anger, jealousy, and negativity. However, when our children are uncomfortable, we often feel the same. So part and parcel of connected parenting involves the practice of tolerating big, uncomfortable emotions in our children and ourselves.
  • Self-regulation: To step into a connected space with a child throwing a tantrum, consistently defying us, or being physically aggressive, we have to regulate our own emotions. We have to be the calm we want to see in our child. Research reveals that self-regulation is a finite resource. Used throughout the day, it depletes and requires replenishment.

After a long day at work or a long week, it may feel like the resources necessary to connect with our children are scarce. This is especially true when our kids are not “going with the flow” of our intentions or just flat out defying us. Sometimes it feels easier to adopt a style of parenting that frankly requires the energy we have left in our tank.

So, how can we maintain our choice of parenting style while attending to our own well-being? There’s no magic wand, or one quick-fix to erase all of the challenges of parenting, but there are certainly steps we can take to replenish our tanks.

We need to prioritize self-care, even when we don’t have time–especially, when we don’t have time. This means that we need to take consistent moments of mindfulness throughout the day. We need to dip into a book or interest that is solely for us. We need to laugh more. Not just a giggle here and there, but good old-fashioned belly laughter.

We need to regularly zoom-out and remember why we are making the choice to parent in a connected and conscious style. Our intuition has led us to a belief that our children will thrive with this style of parenting. The research is beginning to support our knowing that children of highly empathic parents thrive–they are physically healthier and psychologically more balanced.

We need to support one another and be open about the idea while parenting in style where connection and consciousness are a priority, sometimes it can be exhausting. Finally, let us recognize that ironically, or maybe even poetically, what we sometimes believe is leading to our emotional depletion–our children–can often be the source that, with the a simple gesture–a smile, a hug, an I love you–replenish our souls.

Parent of a Child Who is Struggling? Here are 7 Things Other Parents Want You to Know

-Ann Douglas

It isn’t easy to be the parent of a child who is struggling. You may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do to help. You may be feeling frustrated and angry or worried and scared – or sad that life is so difficult for your child. You may be feeling so many different things, sometimes all at the same time.

How do I know this?

I know this because I’ve lived it.

I’m the mother of four children who experienced a variety of different mental health, neurodevelopmental, and behavioral challenges during their growing up years—and who are currently thriving as young adults.

I’m also the author of a brand new book (Parenting Through the Storm) that is based on interviews with over 60 parents who have faced similar challenges in their own lives. Those interviews taught me a lot about hope and strength and family resilience and what it takes to weather life’s storms.

Here are seven important lessons that emerged from my research – seven things other parents who have been there want you to know if you’re the parent of a child who is struggling.

  1. You and your child are not alone.

It may sometimes feel that way at times, but the numbers paint a dramatically different picture. Nearly one in five children and teenagers are affected by a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder that is serious enough to cause them problems at home, at school, in the community, or in their relationships with friends. That means a lot of kids are hurting – and a lot of families are hurting along with them – because when a child is struggling, the entire family is affected at the same time.

The good news is that there are other people who understand the challenges that you and your child are facing – people who have been there and who are eager to lend a listening ear, share non-judgmental advice, and offer practical support. You don’t have to weather the storm on your own.

  1. Having a child who is struggling doesn’t make you a bad parent, just as being a child who is struggling doesn’t make your child a bad kid.

It just means that you’re going through a difficult time as a family: that this is the particular challenge you’re dealing with right now. Blaming yourself only makes the situation more painful and more difficult and it doesn’t do a thing to help your child. So instead of investing your precious emotional energy in an activity that is counter-productive at best, start treating yourself with self-compassion (which basically means treating yourself with the same amount of kindness that you would extend to a friend who is struggling).

  1. It is important to reach out for help as soon as you begin to suspect that there could be a problem.

If your parent radar is telling you that something’s not right, pay attention to that feeling and start looking into having your child assessed. It’s better to err on the side of caution by checking things out than it is to ignore your all-powerful parent radar. Of course, it’s always possible that your child will be doing just fine by the time the assessment date rolls around – or that the clinician who assesses him will conclude that there’s no immediate cause for concern. What a great problem to have: discovering down the road that your child is actually doing just fine. It certainly beats the alternative: not getting in to see someone soon enough and watching your child (and your family) continue to struggle.

  1. There are things you can do right now to start making things better for your child and your family. You don’t have to wait until you have a diagnosis or a treatment plan in place.

Some things that can make a world of difference for children (to say nothing of their parents) include

  • using parenting techniques that bring out the best (as opposed to the worst) in your child—like learning how to validate your child’s feelings;
  • becoming a strong advocate for your child and helping him to learn how to advocate for himself, too;
  • working on your own coping and stress management skills and teaching those all-important skills to other family members, too;
  • making a healthy lifestyle a priority for your entire family, which means eating well, exercising often, getting adequate sleep, and making time for fun.
  1. You don’t have to be afraid of obtaining a diagnosis for your child.

A diagnosis simply provides a snapshot of information about your child. It doesn’t have to define or limit your child and it can provide you with valuable information that allows you to zero in the parenting strategies and treatment options that are most likely to be helpful to your child. A diagnosis also opens the door to all kinds of treatments and supports, including in-school supports that might not otherwise be available.

  1. It is important to give yourself permission to continue to experience joy in your life, even when your child is going through a hard time.

Every parent deserves time off for good behavior, especially the parent of a child who is struggling. You can’t put your life and your happiness on hold until some unknown future day when your child is no longer struggling. You have to do the hard work of finding happiness in your life right now.

And it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You can feel really sad about the difficulties that your child is experiencing while also allowing yourself to experience happiness in your life. So don’t feel guilty for doing things that give you pleasure, like meeting a friend for a cup of coffee or going for a walk on a beautiful day. Self-care isn’t an act of selfishness. It’s an act of self-preservation. And that’s an act of kindness toward yourself and your child. After all, no one needs a happy and healthy parent more than a child who is struggling.

  1. Find shelter in the storm. Connect with other parents who truly understand so that you can help one another to weather the parenting storms.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent. And when a child is going through a difficult time, the need for support is even greater.

The good news is that it is possible to tap into that kind of support, if you’re willing to be open and honest about your family’s struggles. And when you take that step and open up to other people, you make it possible for other families to ask for and tap into the support they need, too.

Not quite sure how to get started? Odds are you already know at least one parent who has dealt with these types of struggles—or, at the very least, you know a friend of a friend.

Don’t feel comfortable reaching out to someone you know? Connect with the parent support and advocacy group (either community-based or online) that seems like the best fit for your family, given the nature of your child’s struggles. Peer support is magical. You won’t regret making that call!

Who Did You Have to Be For Your Father?

-Paul Graves

It’s a simple question I heard on the Timothy Ferriss podcast. It was a recent episode featuring Tony Robbins. At first, I thought “Huh?” Turns out Tony uses this question to uncover internal conflicts. To find the things we beat ourselves up for without knowing why. The high standards we yearn to achieve, but seldom do. Why are the standards there in the first place? Why do we expect so much from ourselves?

We all want financial security, joy, loving friends and a healthy attractive body. (and much more) But what is this natural current flowing through me? Why would I never be happy living certain ways, even though others do and seem content?

At 32 years old, I see both of my parents within myself. My mother’s slight neurosis and yearning for connection and experience. My father’s stubbornness and desire for order and control. But whether I like it or not, my dad affected my life the most. After each of my many failures, he’s the first person I think about. I can even see him now, shaking his head in disappointment over my latest stupid mistake or Amazon purchase.

Who was your dominant parental figure?

It doesn’t have to be your father, but for myself and most men – father is the dominant figure. Though he was often gone, his was the love I wanted most. I yearned for his respect and to impress him. Whose love did you want most? Whether you received it or not, whether you spent much time with them – it doesn’t matter. Sadly, it’s usually the parent whose love we didn’t get that we want the most. It’s just how we’re built. We want that which we cannot have.

My dad was an admired man. Admired but also feared by those who worked for him. Born during the depression-era in a rural, shithole Iowa town. He grew up penniless. His family used an outhouse until he was 16 years old. And his dad was an alcoholic manual laborer who was rarely home. One day he never came back, and that was that. He never found out why. His mother was a stern, hardworking woman of few words.

As a child, he also lost his oldest brother. He came home after WWII and drank himself halfway to death. One terrible night, his car took care of the rest. He revered his brother.

My dad lost both of his male role models to reckless behavior, alcohol abuse, and mental weakness. (I don’t agree with this assessment, mind you) He harnessed this pain and built a castle from it. He developed a stone-faced personality and a tireless work ethic. He avoided alcohol and anything else that took away from work. Where his father and brother failed, he succeeded: money and self-control. He became damn good at it.

My dad started two successful businesses which still operate. He made gobs of money. Growing up, we enjoyed far-flung vacations and impressive homes. I went to many private schools. Christmas was awesome, dozens of gifts every year. He put his head down every day, worked hard, and didn’t let emotions or self-doubt shake him.

Now, we all suffer from “lookback bias.” We remember things to be much better than they were. I am sure my dad messed up a lot. But growing up, he was a superhero. He still is, to be honest with you.

Now, let’s talk about me.

So my dad was this “strong man” who led businesses, stayed on course and didn’t lose control. Even if something was wrong, he plowed through. He’s a machine. And I mean that as a compliment.

Now take me. In my About Me article, I discuss my struggles growing up. Struggles with feeling “different” and weird. Damaged and flawed in the core of my being. From as young as seven, I remember these feelings. I was visiting many doctors, getting medicated for ADD and behavior issues. I was thought to be autistic for a brief spell. They made me look at funny pictures and treated me like a strange little boy.

The point of this is: I felt so different from my dad. How could he understand me? From my foundational years onward, we were different people in my mind. Not being able to sit still – he must think I’m weak and pathetic. Of course, he probably never felt this way even for a second. But we have a great talent for putting ourselves down, even at seven years old. In fact, this feeling affects me still, and it sucks. I never felt that “unconditional love” thing from my dad. I always felt I had to impress him or earn his attention. I felt like a scoreboard. And all I can remember is losing points.

ADD and bad behavior – minus 10. Stressing mom out with my behavior in class, thereby stressing him – minus 10. Playing little league outfield – minus 10. Soccer, nah. Basketball, nope. I wasn’t great at anything, besides schoolwork. I got fantastic grades. 99th percentile on standardized tests. Top of my class on every exam. Gifted IQ. The problem is, my dad didn’t care about grades. He didn’t go to college, and book smarts aren’t of value. The one thing I had – this badass brain – didn’t mean shit. I couldn’t win his love with that, so what the fuck could I do?

On top of that, I ended up having awful acne. “Pizza face,” I kid you not. I even skipped school some days to avoid the teasing and embarrassment. Mom was kind enough to let me, but dad never knew.  I eventually took oral medicine, but it dried out my bones. Sports went out the window for a few years. Good luck ever impressing him now.

Fast-forwarding years to high school, I let my grades slip. Feeling a lack of love at home, all I wanted was the love of my peers. But I felt damaged and different than others – and it was hard to achieve. Sure, I had friends – but I never felt an authentic connection. I felt this barrier between myself and others. This impenetrable, invisible forcefield.

I felt “not good enough” for him, and unworthy of anything admirable. At 15-16 years of age, I felt earmarked for a shit life.

It’s obvious my dad and I never communicated about emotions or self-worth. I’m thinking now and cannot remember one moment of real connection with my father. When I was seven years old, we built a model something or another together, and it was nice.

My poor mother was always working or upset, and frantic about my father. His work work work lifestyle and frequent trips were tough on her. I would hear her cry. The last thing I wanted was to tell her the dark thoughts swirling in my brain. Nor the sad feelings in my heart. She had enough struggle already. I felt very alone.

This is not about placing blame.

The point of this question isn’t to blame or demonize. This exercise is a tool for awareness, self-observation, and analysis. My father loves me and would do anything in the world for me. He had no idea how his actions made me feel. And I didn’t understand these feelings until in recent years.

Fathers are imperfect, and mothers are imperfect. Just like us. Here’s something maturity has taught me: Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. That’s one of the great equalizers in life. What the fuck is going on? There is no right answer.

We’re all doing our best. And that’s all we can do. My dad’s upbringing made him the man he is today. And his only further education has been business and work. It’s easy to understand now, but for many years I fought these simple facts. He loves me in his way, and I cannot control that. The way he loves me doesn’t change who I am.

I love my dad, and he did his duty as best he could. He made plenty of mistakes, but I respect him. He’s an impressive man. I only hope someday my daughter is as impressed with me.

Who I had to be for my father.

Let’s simplify. Here’s who I felt I had to be, and who I am.

Who I Felt I Had To Be: Disciplined, focused on tasks, best in class athleticism, recognized and awarded. Unemotional and straightforward. Powerful and independent. Achiever. Winner. State champion wrestler.

Who I Am: Emotional, focused on love and spirit and drawn in by knowledge and connection. Many times confused or uncertain, and willing to admit faults. Complex with an intrinsic, wondering excitability. Independent, but yearning for community and affection. Nothing extraordinary – a regular, somewhat spacey guy trying to keep it all together.

So, now what?

Where does this realization leave me? Well..

All we can do is live right here, right now. Correct? This exercise can either entrap us or free us. I vote freedom.

Awareness is the first step to living with more intelligence and peace. The next is simple – keep doing it. When you’re aware, you can step back and have a look. “Wow, that’s interesting. I see.” Self-awareness establishes ground zero. You can stand on both legs, look around, and begin to change. Awareness leads you the power of acceptance.

Self-acceptance means opening my heart, laying my shit out on the table, and moving on. Accepting yourself is the end of resistance. I was fucking exhausted from years of running, fighting, pushing, and desiring.

For years I fought my natural self while trying to be someone my dad would be proud of. Living a life filled with anxiety, pushing for more from myself. Forever coming up short. Running from the pain and loneliness that would creep in. Fleeing from the natural signs that I was living life the wrong way.

Learning to accept myself has been a transforming concept this year. It’s been a year of embracing my feelings, working through them and living in the now. I’ve imagined that life is a river. I’m done wasting energy by clinging to weeds at the bottom. And I’m done killing myself by swimming upstream, paddling so hard against the natural flow. Now, I just let go and allow the sweet loving goodness of life to carry me where it may. I stop resisting and enjoy the ride.

Developing my new self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is a cool concept. It means treating ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding. Being compassionate and lighthearted. A simpler way to put it – being a good friend to yourself. Self-acceptance realizes that we are all imperfect as human beings. To me, self-acceptance has meant finding solid ground to stand on. It helped me find my foundation, and finally start fixing it.

Self-acceptance destroys the scoreboard mentality in an instant. It is being mindful and embracing ourselves and our emotions. When you succeed, self-acceptance says “Great job! You earned this moment of joy.” When you fail, self-acceptance suggests “We are all humans, and life is imperfect. This pain and sadness will pass in the natural flow. Take care of yourself and be healthy so that you may heal.”

Self-acceptance doesn’t mean laziness and lack of growth. It means less scrutiny and clearer observation of just who you are. It means rolling with the punches and being less afraid of failure and embarrassments. It’s dedication to rolling with the punches and doing so with power and grace.

A chance to raise my daughter differently.

This knowledge not only helps me live with more joy, but it also makes me a better dad.

My daughter isn’t on the scoreboard system. Lily doesn’t need to impress me or make me proud to earn my love. She’s #1 priority in my life. And she knows I love her and that I’m ecstatic she’s my kid. I tell per probably 19x an hour, and I mean it every time. Overkill? Hell no.

It’s important that she feels comfortable in her innate goodness. She was born to be herself, and she is here to give her gift to the world. Whatever that gift may be – I’m so damn impressed.

Of course, she’s going to learn that times can be tough. Life can be tragic as hell. And that we’re all imperfect human beings, especially her dad. She has to know that it’s okay to have a bad day and that there’s no such thing as points in life. There’s only living in love and harmony. And taking what life throws at you with acceptance and grace.

Dear daughter, life is happening for you, not to you. Remember this mantra forever. “For me, not to me.” You can choose love and acceptance, always. The most important thing is treating you and others around you with compassion and understanding. Learn to become a light to yourself and to those who suffer. Everything else is a walk in the park.

Your turn.

My goal is to help you discover greater freedom in your life. To take the lemons life hands you and learn from them. They’re a gift.

This exercise is a valuable self-observation tool. Ask yourself this question: “Who Did I Have to Be For _______?” Listen to the first idea that arises in your mind. Write it down. Write more.

Don’t judge, and don’t run yourself down. Just write it all down. And let me know what you come up with.

How Parents Can (and Why They Should) Utilize Principles of Play Therapy in Everyday Life

-Meghan Owenz

The goals of play therapy pretty easily translate into the goals of parenting: to have a good relationship with your child and create a safe environment in which he or she can be themselves. Parents can utilize some of the techniques in a specific play therapy intervention within their own home.

What Is Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)?

Play therapy is a form of psychotherapy designed for children. The general goals are pretty simple: help the child to bond to the therapist, enact conflicts in a safe place and heal through the accepting relationship.

Parent-child interaction therapy is a wonderful therapy intervention aimed at helping families when a child has a behavioral health issue, such as Attention-Deficit Disorder or Conduct Disorder. It is designed for children aged 2-7 years. Rather than treat the individual child, this therapy aims to coach the parents to improve their relationship with the child. Research demonstrates that a strong attachment or bond between caregiver and child improves behavioral outcomes and increases compliance.

This form of therapy places the relationship between the caregiver and child as primary. This is an important distinction as often in other forms of therapy, the relationship between the therapist and client is primary. The client is either the child in therapy or the parent, often in parent-education groups. In this therapy, the “client” is the all-important relationship between the parent and their child. Therapists often stay out of the room! They provide coaching to the parent via an earbud while they observe the parent and child through a one-way mirror.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy has been shown to be very effective in research studies. When used with preschoolers with Conduct Disorder, symptoms abate and their behavior is within normal range in follow-up studies.

How Can it Help Me?

The principles taught in PCIT can help every parent. That’s because it’s based on Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles and attachment theory. It aims to teach Authoritative Parenting, meaning parenting that has a good mix of responsiveness and nurturance, balanced out by clear communication and firm boundaries. Parents who utilize this style have high expectations for their children and provide them with the support and guidance they need to meet those expectations. Children of authoritative parents have been found to be socially and academically skilled. Attachment theory posits that a responsive, attuned caregiver results in a strong attachment between that caregiver and child. The strong attachment makes child compliance an intrinsically motivated behavior. The child naturally desires to please a caregiver who seems to care for and understand him or her.

What Can I Learn From It

PRIDE Parenting Skills

The first phase of PCIT involves helping a parent learn how to follow child-directed play. While this may be a simple skill; it is not necessarily an easy one. Parents are likely to use the parenting scripts their parents used with them. If their parents were not effective or comfortable with child-directed play, it is likely that they as parents are not either. And many adults are not accustomed to giving a child the reigns for anything, including play. However, allowing a child to guide their own play can result in increases in executive functioning and build self-esteem. When a parent is a willing participant in this play, the emotional bond between the parent and child is undeniably strengthened.

To set up a child-directed play session, simply pull out some toys, sit down with your child for 15 minutes and tell them they get to choose what the two of you will do together during this “special play time.” During this child-directed play, parents are taught how to implement the PRIDE parenting skills. Here’s what you need to know about that:

Praise: Praise appropriate behavior from the child. Acknowledge hard work. “Wow, you are working hard to balance those blocks!”

Reflection: Just reflect back what your child says to you. This demonstrates that you have their full attention and is naturally calming. If your child says, “I built a big tower,” you say, “I see you built a big tower.”

Imitation: This allows your child to lead and shows that you can follow and are engaged. If the child says, “I am going to build a big tower,” you say, “I will build a big tower too.” Follow their lead in the play.

Description: Describe what your child is doing. This shows you are paying attention and helps build the connection during play. “I see you are using a pattern of red and blue to build your tower.”

Enthusiasm: Demonstrate interest in playing with your child. “Wow! This is fun!” Show that you enjoy playing with them.

While some of these skills may seem obvious and simplistic, they are designed to keep the parent’s attention on the child. The whole purpose is to allow the child to lead the play and for the parent to demonstrate their interest and attention in their child. Research has demonstrated that relationships become stronger and more connected when parents regularly do just five minutes of special play time using the PRIDE skills.

Avoid Micromanaging and Intrusive Behaviors

Have you ever seen a child burn out from all the commands and redirections they receive in a day? I recently saw this in the library with a caregiver of a child. The child walked into story time and was followed by a slew of commands which didn’t end until they left the library. “Don’t put your jacket there. Hang it up. Sit on a square like the other kids.” (Before the child had even surveyed the room). “Move closer or you won’t be able to hear. Stop fidgeting. Look at the book. Answer her question.” (During the story) “Do you want to glue that nose there? The nose should be under the eyes. You want to make the face look regular. You don’t want to waste the glitter.” (During the craft). It sounds exhausting right? Too many questions, commands and critiques can undermine the bonds in any relationship. During special play time (and as often as possible), try to avoid the following:

Commands: During special play time, the goal is to follow your child. Don’t guide your child with commands, follow their play. The giving of commands is disruptive to the child’s flow. In general, limiting the number of commands you give your child during the day will increase their compliance. Don’t command something unless it is really necessary.

Questioning: Questions often require an answer or are an attempt to redirect play. Allow your child to lead.

Criticism: Allow your child to lead. Don’t criticize the way they are playing or what they are doing. You can actively ignore behaviors you don’t like during this time period (i.e., whining).

Increase Compliance

It’s intentional that the child-directed play and skills come first. This follows the “connect before you correct” rule. It’s important that your child feel connected to you before you attempt to take charge. After the connection is well-established, a parent can begin to learn how to lead effectively, which in PCIT includes the use of effective communication and consistent consequences. Effective communication means providing a child with a clear, simple, developmentally appropriate instruction when necessary. The consequences used in PCIT are a timeout. My preference is for naturalistic consequences and the use of timeout only when absolutely necessary.

Try it Out

Start your day off with 15 minutes of special play time per child. See how it sets the tone for the day, for both you and your child.