Tips for Managing (and Understanding) Challenging Behavior…

Looking back on your childhood, were your emotions acknowledged and accepted? Did you feel validated? Was it ok to feel what you were feeling or was there a different message you received?

Many of us certainly “turned out ok,” but looking back, imagine if your parents or caretakers would have handled your behavior/feelings/attitude differently? Perhaps with more patience, acceptance and understanding?

It’s been said that all behavior is a form of communication. “Misbehavior” often happens because a child is simply lacking the skills and resources he needs to get his needs met appropriately. Hard as it can be, we have to remember that our children haven’t been on this planet very long – they are doing the best they can with the (limited) skills they have. So are we!

What is your child’s behavior trying to tell you?

The thing is, children learn “right from wrong” and how to “be” in this world through loving, patient and calm guidance from the adults they trust most – us!  Limits do indeed need to be set, there’s no doubt about it. However, when limits are too strict or enforced without an understanding of where a child is developmentally, those limits only fall on deaf ears and the behaviors continue. Children then end up focused more on our anger, irritation or frustration (or what’s been taken away from them), rather than on the important lessons we’re trying to teach. Reminding ourselves “This too shall pass” and “My child is acting like a ___ year old because he/she IS a ___ year old” are truly sanity savers!

Contrary to popular belief, we are much more effective in improving behavior (and equipping our children with the skills they need) when we first focus on connecting with our child. This involves slowing down, empathizing, getting curious about the behavior(s) we see and responding thoughtfully, rather than just reacting out of anger, frustration or impatience. It’s about understanding that there are needs and emotions beneath the behavior.

Connection also involves acknowledging those needs and feelings and then focusing on teaching our child what to do instead of what not to do. In other words, we allow feelings, while limiting hurtful or destructive behavior. For example, “I know it made you angry when your brother grabbed your toy. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s never ok to hit/yell/throw. What words can you use to tell your brother how you feel and what you need?” Because kids are natural pleasers, they can more successfully follow our guidance when they are clear on what’s expected and when they feel connected. This of course all takes time, patience and lots of practice, which is why it’s so important that we have realistic expectations – of our child AND ourselves!

We know from neuroscience (notably mirror neurons within the brain) that children learn how to manage and regulate their emotions (and actions) by how we regulate and manage ours. We can’t expect our child to “behave appropriately” if we’re frequently in the throes of our own adult tantrums!

Here are some steps you can take the next time you’re being faced with challenging behavior…

1) Do your best to pause. Take a breath. Slow down and focus on connecting with your child.

2) Be mindful of your tone of voice, body language and non-verbal’s – I find it helpful to ask myself, “How am I showing up right now?” “What is the message I’m sending my child?” “Am I inviting cooperation or resistance?”

3) Be mindful of your self-talk. Telling yourself “What is the matter with her???” isn’t helpful. Instead, try telling yourself something more along the lines of, “My child is having a hard time and needs my help.” or “This isn’t an emergency, I can handle this.”

4) Get below your child’s eye level and acknowledge the need or feeling your child may be having. Author Dan Siegel refers to this as “name it to tame it.”

5) Ask for the behavior you want versus what you don’t want.

As Positive Discipline author Jane Nelsen says, “Children listen AFTER they feel listened to and DO better when they FEEL better.” We all do!

I’m convinced that parenting is the hardest job out there. Raising little humans isn’t easy – the struggle is real! Please know you are not alone on this journey and that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We’re all in this together!

With ❤️ and gratitude,

Do you feel like you could use some support in navigating parenting? You’re not alone! Consider a 15 minute “exploratory call” to see if parent coaching is right for you! Email for more information.

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Gratitude: What it’s all about and 3 Simple Ways to Practice it Daily…

Since November is typically the month we focus on giving thanks and expressing gratitude, I thought I would join in on the fun ? For me, practicing gratitude involves intentionally looking out for and noticing things, whether big or small, that I appreciate, and I must say, it’s been a game changer!

Several years ago, I took part in my first day-long silent retreat, which was part of an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. Unsure of what to expect, I decided to go in with my eyes and mind wide open. This meant letting go of any judgments, comparisons or evaluations that typically come with new experiences. Part of this day was spent outdoors, exploring our surroundings (which, ironically, included a large parking lot along with some incredible eucalyptus trees!)

The instructions were simple – just notice what you see, hear and feel. Keep in mind this was a *silent* retreat, so we weren’t sharing our observations with others; instead, we could “be alone with our experience.” I will never forget the moment I stood and really noticed the beauty of the trees around me. They were magnificent – I was completely in awe!

The setting felt like a beautiful forest with leaves everywhere, a minty smell in the air and colorful tree trunks that seemed to go on for miles. It was in that very moment, I burst into tears. I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts about how much I had missed over the years; so much beauty (among other things) that I had taken for granted, mainly because I was “too busy.”

That day, I decided it was time for me to slow down and show up better. Like many of us, I was living my life on auto-pilot – hurrying from one thing to the next, completely stressing in the process, trying to do it all and get it all ” just right,” (some might even say “perfect”). What I didn’t realize at the time was the effect my frantic attitude of, “Sorry I don’t have time for that, hurry up, are you kidding me?, we need to go NOW,” was having on those around me, especially, my two kids!

The thing is, slowing down, even just 5%, makes us better parents, friends, spouses, co-workers…you name it. I could go on and on about the incredible benefits of mindfulness, but for now, I will just say that slowing down and becoming mindful helps us become more grateful. The more open and aware we are to what is around us, the more we find to be grateful for! The best part? Research shows that practicing and expressing gratitude actually makes us happier! Sign me up!

With this “attitude of gratitude” in mind, I wanted to offer 3 simple ways to make gratitude a daily practice:

1. Keep a gratitude journal – Aim to record 3-5 things, little or big, you are grateful for daily. The simple act of writing it down has been shown to dramatically improve our physical and emotional well-being.

2. Take time to express your gratitude to others, especially to those who help and support you – Go beyond “thank you” by letting the person know what they did or do that you are grateful for, acknowledge the effort it took on their part and specifically how it was helpful to you.

3. Understand that gratitude is a choice – No matter how difficult things may be, there is always something to be grateful for. Choose to be on the lookout.

Do you have a gratitude practice that works for you? I’d love to hear about it!
With ❤️ and appreciation,

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Words all Parents Need to Hear…

As parents doing one of the hardest jobs on the planet, sometimes we just need to feel (and hear) that we’re not alone. For example, maybe you…

-lost your temper and/or yelled at your child
-let your child spend way more time on an electronic device than you planned
-haven’t showered today
-locked yourself in the bathroom for what you hoped would be 1 minute of peace (and screamed, cried or threw a fit)
-cut your child’s sandwich in rectangles instead of triangles (and suffered the consequences)
-endured the full.blown.meltdown in a store (maybe even on several occasions)
-turned your back for one second and an accident happened
-heard “I hate you” from your child
-feel fear, anger, worry, shame, guilt, doubt, insecurity…

The truth is, we’ve ALL been there! We’ve all felt and feel these feelings – more often than we let on. If only we could give ourselves a BREAK. If only we could show ourselves the same kindness, compassion and support we give to so many others. If only we could stop being so hard on ourselves and *let go* of trying to be the “perfect” parent, spouse/partner, friend, daughter/son, co-worker, volunteer, PTA president – because the thing is, it doesn’t exist.

Our children (and others in our lives) don’t need us to be perfect. They need us to be as fully present, engaged and attuned as we can. They need to feel that we are doing our best to understand them and what they are experiencing without judgment and with a sense of openness. They need to know we are capable of caring for ourselves.
Imagine how much more relaxed, patient and peaceful we could be if we took all of this pressure off ourselves to always get it right or have it all together or do it all or make everyone happy all of the time. It’s exhausting!

If you are feeling isolated, I hope that you will reach out in whatever way feels comfortable for you. Asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it’s just the opposite. It takes great courage and strength to acknowledge (and ask for) what you need (and deserve!).

Sweet parents, you are not alone. We are all on this crazy journey called parenthood together, doing the very best we can with what we have. Let’s do all that we can to really notice and be there for each other each step of the way 

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Perfectly Imperfect!

“Strive for progress, not perfection” is a common saying that I am constantly reminding myself of, especially when it comes to parenting. You see, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We may hear this from time to time, but what if we could really accept it? What if we could simply allow ourselves to make mistakes (we are human, after all) and not always have it “together?”

I came into this work because I felt like I had *NO CLUE* what I was doing as a new mom. My years of psychology training hadn’t prepared me for the long, sleepless nights, the “how come I don’t know why he’s crying (and when will it stop)!?!?” moments, the endless bombardment of baby gadgets all guaranteed to make my baby “happier, smarter, stronger,” the conflicting feelings that ranged from the joy of having a new, beautiful and precious child to the sadness and grief over feeling like my freedom was being taken away and life as I had always known it would never be the same.

I wanted so desperately to “do it right” and be the “best mom” I could and put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself. I had so many questions, not so many answers. Eventually, once I started to get the hang of things, I dove head first into the field of parenting and mindfulness to find some answers and support. Knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling flustered, anxious and overwhelmed was transformative.

Parenthood is no joke. The responsibility we have in raising little humans can, at times, feel completely overwhelming. Yet, somehow, we do it. We persevere. We get up each and every day and do the very best we can and that, my friends, is something to be celebrated.

Please know you are not alone – we’re all on this crazy, bumpy and exhilarating ride together. And, as I’m so glad I learned, it’s OK to not have it all together. I do this for a living and *still* don’t always have it together. No one does! The vulnerabilities we *all* have and share are what allow us to feel connected…and that’s a beautiful thing.

The thing is, our kids don’t need us to be perfect – we need to let that idea go. They need us to show up, have patience as they learn, see them for who they are (not who we want or need them to be), seek to understand what they’re experiencing and fully, unconditionally accept them AND OURSELVES – messiness and all!

Here’s to enjoying the journey together ❤️

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A Mindful Way to Deal with your Child’s Challenging Emotions

Watching our kids experience anger, sadness, fear, disappointment or any challenging emotion isn’t easy. It’s so natural to want to shut it all down or fix the issue at hand. It’s uncomfortable. It’s “messy.” It pushes our buttons.

Ever felt this way? You’re not alone!

While there aren’t easy answers, there are some helpful suggestions…

When in these moments, frequent as they may be and as hard as it is, the most valuable thing you can “do” is PAUSE and s-l-o-w things down. Take a breath. Several actually. Walk away if you need to. Imagine pressing an actual pause button. Mindfully and compassionately, tune into what you’re feeling. Become aware of what buttons are being pushed by the emotions your child is experiencing. Whether or not we like to admit it, these buttons are very often about our past and/or they’re related to current life stressors we are facing, such as work, health issues, financial concerns or relationship difficulties. It is in these mindful moments that we can choose to remind ourselves, “These are my buttons, they have nothing to do with my child!”

The biggest gift we can give our children is our presence. Our non-judgmental, non-evaluative, non-critical presence. The time for learning isn’t when we and our children are in an emotional state – the time for learning is when everyone is calm.

girltalkingwithdaddy The path to that calm begins with us. It begins with a mindful awareness and compassionate acknowledgement that the intensity of our reaction often has more to do with our own histories and circumstances than it does with the child in front of us. It begins with an understanding that the only way our child will learn to “calm down” and regulate his emotions is when we can model what that calming down looks and feels like. In this way, we help our child learn to calm himself and accept the full range of his emotions – messy as they may be.

So, the next time you’re face-to-face with challenging emotions, PAUSE. Take care of yourself. Resist the urge to fix, dismiss or punish and instead, recognize whether you’re being triggered. Breathe. Focus on staying present and connected to your child. Become curious. Listen for the feelings beneath any behavior you see. Understand that what your child is feeling isn’t good or bad; right or wrong. It’s her experience. Set limits on hurtful actions. Allow feelings. Model respect while reminding yourself that your child is still learning how to “be” in this big, complicated world. She is doing the very best she can with the skills she currently has and needs your peaceful guidance.

Our ability to stay calm, present and aware of when our own “stuff” is getting in the way, is what builds the trust, openness and connection needed to raise confident, emotionally healthy children who thrive.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

All the best,


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One Question to Ask your Kids for Better Behavior

Have you ever taken your children somewhere, let’s say to a restaurant, a park or a friend’s house, you think all is well and then suddenly, you are blindsided by rambunctious, “out-of-control” and/or uncooperative behavior? The kind of behavior that seems to come out of nowhere? The behavior that leaves you feeling at a total loss for what to do and how to handle it, especially when all eyes are on YOU? The kind that makes you want to run away and hide?

Yep, I’ve been there too!

When I reflect on the times I’ve been in situations like these, I realize there’s typically a missing link – either an unmet need within my child such as hunger, exhaustion, boredom, overstimulation, or an unmet need within myself – I’m hungry, overtired, rushing around taking care of everyone but myself! With all this going on and without a mindful thought, I end up reacting to my child and my child then reacts to me. I get upset at his reaction, the behavior escalates and, next thing I know, we’re in a downward spiral of what feels like the point of no return. Ugh!

Sound familiar?

Aside from these overlooked, unmet needs, I realize there’s often another piece of the puzzle I forgot to include – establishing expectations for behavior.

Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “But my kids should know by now what I expect.” I get it, I really do, I often think the very same thing! Yet, what’s important to remember is that our children’s brains are still developing the ability to regulate emotions, manage impulses, plan and problem-solve. We also have to remember that our agenda of what we want/need to happen, rarely matches our child’s agenda of what they want/need.

What’s a parent to do??

Because children thrive on structure, routine and repetition and because they have a hardwired need to feel a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (that they matter/have something meaningful to contribute), I’ve found one simple question, which I always ask when we are going out in public or doing something new, that has helped us achieve better, more cooperative behavior from our kids. This question is…

“What do we need to remember before/when we _________?”

When used consistently in the way described below, it works like a charm.

Let me give you an example of what this looks and sounds like in action.

Recently, we took our 2 kids to Legoland to celebrate the last few days of summer before school begins.  We knew the kids were excited as our car ride was full of singing, laughter, jokes, obnoxious noises etc. As we were getting closer, their restlessness was in full force and we started to hear things like, “Stop it!” “MOOOOOM, she’s singing too loudly!” “Daaaad, he won’t stop looking at me!” “ARE WE THERE YET?”

I felt myself becoming irritated, frustrated and worried that this day we all looked forward to wasn’t heading in the direction I had anticipated. Feeling this avalanche of negativity, I took some deep breaths and reminded myself I had a choice. I could choose to act on these negative thoughts and feelings by threatening to turn the car around, yelling, getting impatient, telling them how lucky they are to go to such a fabulous place OR I could mindfully choose to put myself in their shoes, see it from their perspective and tell myself something more realistic. Essentially, they were excited and simply having trouble containing their emotions and impulses. They weren’t “spoiled,” “bratty,” or “bad” and they weren’t trying to ruin our family day. They were just kids ecstatic about where we were going, tired of being in the car, wanting to be there NOW!

“Deep breaths,” I reminded myself.

With all this in mind, here’s what came next:

Me (in upbeat tone): “Hey guys, I can hear how excited you are for Legoland today!”

Kids: “Yes, are we there yet? We can’t wait anymore!”

With the intention of validating their feelings and engaging their interests, I responded…

Me: “I know, it’s sooo hard to wait when you’re really excited to be going to one of your favorite places. I totally get it! What are you looking forward to the most?”

Daughter: “I want to see the Lego 4-D movie. Madeline saw it and said it was so good! And, I want to drive those fun cars and get my drivers license!”
Son: “I want to do the new Ninjago ride…you get to shoot stuff…And I want to go on that twisty roller coaster!”

Me: “That sounds super fun! I’m excited to do all those things too! You know what? Daddy and I could really use your help. We all want to have a fun day, right? (Both kids agreed). To make our day extra fun, where everyone gets along, what do we need to remember about how we behave at Legoland?

Son: “We have to be good listeners.”

Me (laughing, as he knows me well :)): “Yes, and what does that mean? What does being a good listener look like?”

Son: “It means that when you ask us to do something or stop doing something we do what’s being asked the first time and that we have respectful behavior.” (Respect is something we talk about often).

Me: “Yes, thank you. What else will make our day fun and super easy?”

Daughter: “That we take turns with rides and are kind to each other.”

Me: “Yes, love it, anything else?”

Son: “Keeping our hands to ourselves.”

Me: “These are some awesome ideas guys, thank you for helping us come up with them. What happens if we start to get a little tired or hot or bored and we forget some of these ideas? Should we come up with a special code (a word or signal) that can remind us to get back on track?”

Daughter: “Yes, FBN!”

Me: “Mmmm, I haven’t heard that one. What does it stand for?”

Daughter: “Friends Be Nice.”

Son: “Or K and R for Kindness and Respect.” (This is a phrase we commonly refer to when behavior gets wild :)).

Me: “I love these! Ok, you guys said that to have a fun, easy day, we all need to remember to listen to what’s being asked and follow directions the first time, be respectful of each other, take turns with rides, keep our hands to ourselves and be kind to each other. Did I forget anything? (Both said no). If Daddy or I see you’re getting off track or if one of us gets off track, we can say “FBN!” or “K and R!” to remind us about our agreement. How does that sound?”

Both kids: “Great!”

The beauty of this lies in the ‘asking versus telling’ and discussing it all ahead of time. And, guess what? It only took a few minutes!  You may be wondering, “Why not just tell them what you expect?” Whenever I’ve done that in the past, I’ve found it falls on deaf ears and only creates a disconnect between me and the kids (not to mention some resentment.) Plus, who likes being told what to do all the time?

So, instead, I choose to express faith in my kids ability to make good choices by coming up with “rules,” or more respectfully, “agreements,” that will benefit all of us. Engaging them in this way meets their need for belonging and significance, while fostering the essential life skills of decision-making and problem-solving. This simple question also allows them to feel part of the solution, rather than the problem. It’s a true “win-win.”

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Expect a little push back the first few times. It’s a new skill, which, like everything else, takes time, patience and lots of practice!

All the best,
Debbie 🙂

20160824_113133A successful day at Legoland!

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A Simple Strategy for Smoother Mornings and Evenings

With summer coming to a close and the new school year just around the corner, parents everywhere often struggle with making the big transition from long, relaxing summer days to hectic, rushed school days.

Many of the parents I work with say that either getting out the door in the morning or putting the kids to bed at night is their most stressful time. Whether it’s due to dawdling or outward defiance, it’s no wonder parents feel at a loss for what to do!

One of the best tools for managing those morning and evening struggles is establishing a ROUTINE. Although we may think that our kids “just know” what to do, it’s important we refrain from assuming. Making agreements ahead of time, in the form of a formalized routine chart, is key!

Little child with dental toothbrush brushing teeth

Getting started is simpler than you may think. Here are 5 steps to help your mornings/evenings move from chaotic to calm:

1.) Respectfully define the “problem”– The key to a smooth morning or evening is having everyone involved in the plan. So, as a first step, bring everyone together and define the “problem.”

For example, “Hey guys, thank you for taking the time to chat. We have a problem that I/we could really use your help with. Mornings (or evenings) have been really hectic. I find that I’m yelling a lot and I’m sure that’s not fun for you. It’s definitely not fun for me. I/we could really use your cooperation in coming up with a solution to this problem.”

(If you haven’t been yelling, but just want to introduce the idea of a routine: “Hey guys, I have an idea of something that will help make our mornings/evenings super easy and could really use your help.”)

2.) Establish what tasks need to be completed and in what order – After defining the problem (or introducing the idea), involve the kids in brainstorming a list of all the things that need to get done in order to get out the door in the morning or to bed in the evening.

For example, “Let’s make a list of all the things that we need to do in order to get out the door in the morning and on time. What are your ideas?” Write (or have your child write) down all ideas; even those that seem silly. Remember, it’s about brainstorming and allowing everyone to feel involved in the process. Every idea is welcomed.
(Examples include: get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, use restroom etc)

For younger kids, try taking pictures of your child doing each of their tasks – the visual is extremely helpful for them! (Be sure to get the pictures developed so they can be put on a poster board, hung on a clothesline, ribbon etc :)).

Consider coming up with specific, fun job titles. For example, if your kids are old enough to write, you may choose to invite one to be the “writing assistant” and the other(s) to decide where the list will be displayed (“list hanger”), how it will be decorated (“list decorator”) etc.

Next, invite ideas for the order of the tasks. For example, “Ok, great, thank you for all of these helpful ideas! Now, what order would be most helpful? For example, do you want to get dressed first or eat breakfast first?” Or, for evening routines, “Would you like to brush teeth first or put PJ’s on first?”

With younger kids, invite them to help you put the pictures in a useful order.

Asking kids for their ideas gives them a sense of control and significance, which increases the likelihood they will follow through and cooperate.

3.) Establish time frames – Kids are natural pleasers and do best when they know what’s expected of them. Along with outlining all that needs to be done, it can also be helpful to let the kids know by what time each “activity” should be completed.

For example, “We will need to leave the house by 7:30am in order to get to school by 7:50am. That gives you a few minutes to play on the playground before school begins at 8am. Let’s see if we can figure out how long each activity will take so that we’re sure to get everything on the list done and also be on time.” (Examples: 6:30 wake up; 6:40-6:50 get dressed etc.)

For some families this extra detailed step is helpful. For others, the list of tasks (or pictures) alone works fine. Do what works best for your family.

4.) Choose where the new routine will be displayed – Once the list (and timeframes) have been established, write it up on poster board or another paper of choice and decide where in the house it will be displayed. Some families use dry erase boards so they can make changes easily.

There can be one family schedule or each child can be in charge of his/her own individual routine (this depends on age of kids, # of kids in household, preference etc.)

routine chart

5.) Expect some testing and Encourage, encourage, encourage! – If mornings or evenings have been extra hectic, expect some testing behavior. It’s normal for kids to test the boundaries and limits to see if you really plan on following through with the new plan. Change takes time…stick with it!

Now, with the schedule in place, you can allow the routine chart to be the “boss.”  Aim to ask more often than you tell using encouraging statements. For example, “I see you got yourself all dressed, thank you. What’s next in your routine?” Be sure to also acknowledge their cooperation once they complete their tasks. “I really appreciate the way you used your chart to get everything done this morning. We’re on time now! Way to go! Thank you!”

Allowing our kids to be involved in family decisions, while expressing faith in their capability, is how we foster the essential traits of self-discipline, responsibility and confidence.

It starts with us! 🙂

Wishing you all the best,

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6 Gentle Tips for Getting Better Behavior from Your Child

One of the chief complaints I hear from parents in my practice is that their kids “don’t listen.” Parents often report feeling “disrespected” and are “tired of yelling.” Why is it that kids don’t listen? How can parents end the cycle of yelling, threats, bribes and other punishment?

The thing is, listening is not a skill we’re born with, it’s one that must be taught. Like any other skill, it takes practice and patience. What we know is that kids listen after they feel listened to and, ultimately, children learn what we model. When we, as parents, take the time to really “tune in” and pay close attention to our child, we demonstrate what listening looks like and, more importantly, what it FEELS like.


Think about a time you felt upset. Perhaps you had a bad day at work or were feeling stressed after your child’s third meltdown of the day. Now let’s say you went to a friend for support. Which response would you rather hear?:

A.) “Oh, get over it. It’s not that big of a deal. You should hear what happened to me today!”


B.) “Wow, sounds like you had quite a day. I’m so sorry. Tell me more about it.”

Consider what each of these responses elicits in you. For many, response A minimizes and dismisses feelings, whereas response B shows empathy and validation, with an invitation to elaborate on the experience. When your child is experiencing strong emotions (in the form of tantrums, talking back, yelling etc.), be aware that is his way of sending you a message that he needs help understanding and managing his immense feelings. When we understand this, we are in a much better position to choose a response that invites connection and cooperation.

All misbehavior is a communication. Because the rational part of a child’s brain is not yet fully developed (it won’t be fully developed until early adulthood!), it’s unrealistic to expect her to process and manage such overwhelming emotions if we haven’t taught her how to do so. Children need our guidance, not punishment. Punishment derails the trust and connection we have with our child.   While it may work in the short term as far as stopping a particular behavior, the long-term effects can be detrimental to a child’s sense of security and emotional well-being.

If you’re wondering how else you can foster more positive, cooperative behavior in your child, consider these 6 gentle tips:

1. Take care of yourself – emotionally and physically. It begins with us. Get plenty of rest. Exercise. Meditate. Journal. Find something that brings you joy (or just a moment to yourself!). Build a supportive tribe of friends and family you can rely on.

2. Connect before you “correct.” 
Make sure you are in a calm state, and then get down on your child’s level (below eye level is best). Gently put your hand on his/her back. Speak softly and slowly. This is one way in which to model respect.

3. Use empathy and validate your child’s emotions. Unmet needs and underlying emotions are what drive misbehavior. Your child is not out to get you. As discussed above, he needs help with his overwhelming emotions. When our child feels our understanding and acceptance of his feelings, he is in a better position to engage the more logical, rational part of his brain and becomes more receptive to problem solving and guidance.

4. Establish 1:1 time with your child/ren (aka “Special Time”). Set aside time each week (daily, if possible) with each child where they get 100% of your undivided, focused attention (eliminate distractions such as TV’s, cell phones, siblings). This is your time to bond with the message being, “I’m all yours!” Kids who feel connected to their parents have much less need to misbehave!

5. Ask, don’t tell.   When we make commands, we put our child on the defensive and invite resistance. Instead, try phrasing your request in the form of a question. Not only does this invite cooperation, but it also helps build critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving skills. For example, “What do you need to put on your feet so we can leave?” vs. “Put on your shoes!” “What is your plan for getting your homework done?” vs. “Go do your homework.” “Where do the toys go when we are finished playing with them?” vs. “Pick up these toys!”

6. Be playful, silly and have fun! Our children want more than anything to please us and connect. They long to feel a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (that they matter/have something meaningful to contribute). Join your child in what they love most of all – to play and have fun. Isn’t this what childhood (and life) is all about!?

Listening is a skill. It takes time, patience and practice to develop. When we take the time to listen to our kids, not just with our ears, but also with our hearts, amazing things can happen. It starts with us!

All the best,


Posted in communication, parenting | Comments Off on 6 Gentle Tips for Getting Better Behavior from Your Child

How to Get More Enjoyment Out of Parenting

Many of us dreamed of being a parent one day. Some of us spent hours as a child taking care of our dolls, bathing them, dressing them and telling them everything would be ok. We watched and copied everything our parents did or what we hoped they would do to take care of us.

Or maybe being a parent wasn’t something that came naturally to you. Maybe you had a challenging childhood and questioned what kind of parent you would be?

Girl play with baby doll. Mothers day concept. Isolated portrait.

Regardless, parenthood isn’t easy and to our dismay, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. So what’s a parent to do? How do we best navigate those challenging and exhausting moments? How can we bring more balance and harmony to our life and the life of our families?

As a psychotherapist and parent coach, I have spent years researching these very questions. I have found that there are no easy answers, but there are answers. I’ve found that the key to getting more enjoyment out of parenting begins with an openness and willingness to look within (which, I realize, is not always easy to hear!). It begins with an understanding that the way we were parented doesn’t have to dictate how we parent today.

When I was a new parent (and sometimes even now – 11 years later!), I felt completely overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated and baffled by many of the behaviors I was seeing and challenging moments I was having with my kids. I used to think to myself, “None of these behaviors would’ve been tolerated by my parents!” It took me a while to realize that I was playing a big role in the “problem.” Trust me, it wasn’t easy to admit! My expectations of how I thought my kids “should be” behaving simply weren’t realistic and my reactions weren’t helping any of us. Things had to change. For me, it began with taking responsibility for my own behavior and committing to parenting in a more mindful, encouraging way, so that I could build the connected and respectful relationship I knew I wanted and needed with my family.

Life is busy and hectic these days. It’s all too easy to become impatient and easily annoyed. We may find ourselves triggered by something our child says or does, so we either lash out at them, worry their “misbehavior” will only get worse if we don’t “nip it in the bud” or both! In these impatient, annoyed states, how often have you said to yourself, “I sound just like my mother/father!?”

We’ve all been there!

As Dr. Laura Markham says, “We all have our buttons (triggers), but our children did not install them!” The thing is, when we allow ourselves time to pause, slow down, reflect and become aware of these patterns, a beautiful thing happens. We invite the potential to become more present and focused, which, inevitably, leads to more cooperative behavior from our children.

Getting more enjoyment out of parenting, begins with being present – fully “showing up.” We need to practice letting go of the need to control every moment and every behavior and instead tune into and appreciate who our child really is – not who we want or need him/her to be.

Being present is more than simply listening with our ears, it’s listening with our hearts. It’s about appreciating and valuing the amazing being in front of us with all his hopes, dreams fears and insecurities, with acceptance and understanding, rather than criticism and judgment. 

Happy mother and baby having fun near tree

Being present involves accepting our own imperfections and treating ourselves with the same loving kindness we give or hope to give to our child. Our children don’t want (or need) us to be perfect – they need us to accept ourselves so that we can then accept them and all of their imperfections. When we accept ourselves and are willing to make mistakes, we teach our children that mistakes are how we learn, grow and evolve.

Our children are little sponges picking up on every detail of our communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Think about what messages you want to send your child about self-confidence, self-compassion and resiliency. Strive to model the very behaviors you hope to instill in your children as they grow.

When children misbehave, as they all do, they are doing so to get their needs met and because they’re dealing with strong emotions they are not yet able to rationally process. They are also working hard to figure out this big, complicated world and are doing the best they can with the skills that they have – we all are!

If parenting has become overwhelming for you because you have a misbehaving or challenging child, you are certainly not alone! Here are 7 suggestions to help restore your sanity, increase the connection to your child and begin to more fully enjoy parenting:

  1. Pause before parenting.Take a break, walk away, BREATHE and center yourself before responding to your child. Figure out what you need to do to take care of you in those stressful moments. Then, consider the needs of your child and what need she is attempting to have met (is she feeling disconnected? in need of more attention from you? feeling powerless? hungry? tired?). Be curious and try asking questions, rather than lecturing. You may be surprised at the answers.
  2. Become your child’s “Emotion Coach.” Use empathy to help your child understand what he is feeling. This meets your child’s need to feel understood and valued, while building their emotional intelligence. When you address the underlying reasons for the behavior, rather than the behavior itself, you’ll see a change in your child. For example, when faced with back talk, “You must feel really angry to be speaking to me that way. It’s ok to be frustrated, it’s not ok to be disrespectful. What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.” Later, when you’re both calm, you can review with your child your expectation for respectful communication and how he can better handle the situation next time.
  3. Ask for the behavior you want. Children receive thousands of negative commands every day. “Don’t jump on the bed.” “No hitting.” “Don’t do that.” “Stop it already!” It helps to give a child directions they can successfully follow. A child feels loved and capable when she can do what you’re asking her to do. Tell your child the behavior you want to see vs. the behavior you want her to stop. For example, “The couch is for sitting.” “Keep your feet on the floor/hands to yourself.“ “Food is for eating, not throwing.” “We use gentle hands like this.” etc.
  4. Offer appropriate (and limited) choices. Children have a need to feel a sense of power and control. By offering choices, you meet this need and reduce the likelihood of a power struggle. For example, “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?” “Would you like to put out the napkins or the silverware?” “Would you like to start your homework now or after a snack?” “Would you like to brush your teeth first or put on your pj’s first?”
  5. Create “Special Time.” When your child is misbehaving, he’s sending the message that he feels disconnected from you. Carving out time in your day where your child can have 100% of your attention and he directs the play or how you spend the time can work wonders for your relationship. When your child acts out, it’s as though he’s saying, “My heart tank is empty.” Quality, uninterrupted time with your child (even 10 minutes a day) helps to refuel your child and your connection.
  6. Teach your child about mindful breathing and how to ask for what he/she wants. For young children, you can have them hold up both hands. Have them pretend there is a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Show them how to “smell the flower and blow out the candle.” Older kids will enjoy the multitude of mindfulness meditation apps such as “Smiling Mind” and “Stop, Breathe and Think.” Consider developing a mindfulness practice as a family. Once a child is calm, she can then be taught how to ask for what she wants and/or needs in an appropriate way. You can also teach your child to ask for attention versus acting out for attention. Be sure to offer hugs and teach your child she can ask for a hug whenever she needs one.
  7. Bring in PLAYFULNESS. With our endless lists of “to-do’s” and our constant rushing from one activity to another, we often forget the value of simply being in the moment, appreciating the moment and not taking it all so seriously. The beautiful thing about young children is that they are almost always in the “here and now.” Unlike adults, they are not overly concerned with what happened yesterday or what will happen in the future. Take a lesson from your kids – bring in the silliness and playfulness. Throw on music when it’s time to clean up, have dance parties, make your requests in goofy voices, give a piggyback ride up the stairs or crawl like tigers when it’s teeth brushing time. Play is the language children know best!

Finding joy in parenthood begins with appreciating our imperfect selves in order to accept the imperfections in our children. None of us are perfect. We’re not meant to be perfect. It’s our imperfections that make us so colorful and unique! We must also realize that parenting isn’t always blissful and that’s ok! We all have good days and not so good days because it’s all part of the journey. Find your tribe of support and put yourself back on your list of “to do’s.” As they say, “You can’t pour from an empty cup!” YOU matter!

All the best,



Posted in parenting | Comments Off on How to Get More Enjoyment Out of Parenting