parenting

How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids – An 8-Step Plan…

I don’t know about you, but it seems like for many parents, yelling has become their “go-to” reaction, especially in these stressful times of pandemic living and learning. Many well-meaning, well-intentioned parents often tell me they feel that yelling is the only way they can get their kids to listen or take them seriously. Been there? Yep, me too!

You see, even though I’m a parent coach, I *still* find myself losing my temper from time to time, even though I know I “shouldn’t.” Because, like all of us, I’m human. Those triggers can often take us by surprise and show up when we least expect it. Can you relate? You’re not alone!

Although yelling may feel like the answer in the moment, it’s not our only option. This is a habit worth breaking and I’d love to show you how.

Before I do, I invite yo to consider what it feels like to be yelled at. I’m guessing we can agree that it’s loud and scary. Not to mention, all that goes along with yelling – tone of voice, look in the yeller’s eyes, not knowing how long it will last and its overall unpredictability. According to author and psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, “Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain and body in a multitude of ways including increasing the activity of the amygdala (the emotional brain), increasing stress hormones in the blood stream, increasing muscular tension and more. Being frequently yelled at as children changes how we think and feel about ourselves even after we become adults and leave home. That’s because the brain wires according to our experiences—we literally hear our parents’ voices yelling at us in our heads even when they’re not there.”

In other words, yelling signals the brain that a threat is near. When the brain senses a threat, the amygdala becomes activated and moves into fight/flight/freeze mode. This is when you may see, for example, defensiveness/back talk/yelling back (fight), running into another room (flight) or blank stares (freeze). Unfortunately, by this point, our kids have already tuned us out and for good reason. They’re focused on self-preservation and will do whatever their unique temperament dictates, as a way of instinctually protecting themselves. Our original message gets lost and the relationship enters shaky ground.

Many parents turn to yelling as a way to feel “in control,” but have you ever noticed that you may resort to yelling when you’re actually feeling OUT of control?? We can’t expect our kids to control their behavior if we’re unable to control our own.

As Positive Discipline author Jane Nelsen says, “Children DO better when they FEEL better.” We all do. The calmer and more connected we can be as parents, the calmer and more secure our child will feel. And the healthier their brain and body will be as well.

What I’ve learned over the many years of doing this work, is that managing our own emotions, triggers and responses isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible. It just takes practice, patience and loads of self-compassion! To reduce (and ideally eliminate) yelling, it’s helpful to begin by coming up with a plan for yourself.

Here are 8 steps to help you yell less and connect more:

1.) Think about the situations that trigger you the most – Maybe it’s when your child ignores you after you make a request. Or maybe it’s when they talk back to you. Or maybe it’s when they throw that wonderful meal you spent hours preparing across the room?

2.) Notice the feelings that come up – Anger? Fear? Frustration? Powerlessness? Shame?

3.) Pay attention to the thoughts that arise – “I can’t believe he/she just did that! How dare him/her!” “I need to get a handle on this or he’s going to turn into a delinquent!” “She sounds like such a spoiled brat!”

4.) Challenge and replace those thoughts – “My child is still learning and isn’t out to get me.” “He’s having a problem, not being a problem.” “I can help her learn a kinder way of speaking to me.” “This isn’t an emergency.” “I can handle this calmly and respectfully.” “I need to focus on connecting before correcting.”

5.) Commit to PAUSING when you notice any of the above and do something to TAKE CARE of yourself – For example, BREATHE (slowly and deeply), walk out of the room, count to 10, close your eyes, give yourself a hug (yes, a hug!), go outside and notice something in nature, grab a piece of paper and write out your thoughts/feelings or just scribble! Whatever works best for you.

6.) Let your kids know about your plan and the commitment you are making to reduce your yelling – Invite them to help you come up with a silent signal (peace sign, hand over their heart, finger on their lips) that they can do when they sense you’re about to lose it. Tell them it will serve as your reminder to pause and choose another tone. The discussion may sound something like, “I know I’ve been yelling a lot. I’m sure it doesn’t feel good to you and it definitely doesn’t feel good to me either. I love you very much and, it’s not ok for me to yell at you. It’s not respectful. I want to let you know that I’ve come up with a plan for what I can do instead of yelling. You may see me taking lots of deep breaths, or you may see me walking away. You may even see me give myself a hug! I yell when I’m angry/frustrated/afraid (etc.) and it’s my job to take charge of my feelings and reactions and speak to you with kindness and respect. I may need some support and would love your help in coming up with a signal you can use when you see I’m starting to lose my patience (ask what signal they like best). That signal can help me get back on track. If you forget, that’s ok. I’m working on remembering myself. Please know I love you no matter what and care about our relationship.”

7.) If you end up yelling, do your best to acknowledge your behavior, take responsibility by apologizing, let your child know what you will do differently next time and focus on reconnecting – For example, “I yelled at you and that wasn’t ok. I apologize. It’s not ok for me to speak to you that way, it’s not respectful. Next time, I will walk into the other room and take deep breaths like this (show him/her). Again, I’m sorry. I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a hug!”

8.)  Practice, practice, practice and be kind to yourself – Remind yourself that we all make mistakes. Thankfully, our kids don’t need us to be perfect, that’s a lot to live up to! Be gentle with yourself…you’re learning new skills right alongside your kids.

I completely recognize this is not an easy habit to break! The good news? You don’t have to go through it alone. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like a little support from someone who’s been there! 😉

Do you have a tool that’s helped you reduce your yelling? I’d love to hear about it! Email me at debbiezeichnerlcsw@gmail.com and let me know!

With love and gratitude,
Debbie

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5 Tips for Managing Back-to-School Anxiety (Theirs and Ours!)

Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday we were told that schools would be closing, work would be done from home, we needed to “shelter in place,” distancing ourselves from friends and family and, basically, that life as we knew it would be completely turned upside down because of this ‘thing’ called COVID-19.

Here we are, 5 months later, gearing up to send our kids back to school. Whether your child is going back to school in-person or will be continuing “distanced learning,” many children and families are feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety. And for good reason…

The brain doesn’t like unpredictability!

While there is so much that remains uncertain, what we do know is there there ARE things we can do to help reduce anxiety and ease our children’s transition into the new school year.
Five Tips for Managing Back-to-School Anxiety (Theirs and Ours!):

1) Have a conversation – Although there are still so many unknowns, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Ask your kids if they have any questions about what the school year will look like. Some children will have many questions, others won’t. Follow your child’s lead, answering matter-of-factly, to the best of your knowledge and don’t be afraid to say when you’re unsure. (ie “That is a great question and I appreciate you asking. I don’t know the answer, but let’s see if we can find out together.”) Let your kids know you are there to listen and support them every step of the way.

2) Let them know what to expect – Change is difficult for everyone, especially kids. Discuss how the rules will be different this year. For those going back to school, there will be masks, social distancing, frequent hand-washing, temperature checks etc. Teachers will be in masks and won’t be allowed to get too close to kids. Lunch may be eaten indoors. Recess will look different as well. For online learners, there will likely be back-to-back zoom meetings, with some breaks in between. They may or may not have after school activities. Mom and/or Dad may be working from home.

3) Create rituals and predictable routines – Having a predictable routine, along with fun rituals such as a special way you’ll say goodbye everyday, or playing music in the mornings, creates a sense of safety, security and comfort. In addition, all children have a need to feel a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (that they matter; have something meaningful to contribute). When we involve our kids in problem solving, including coming up with a predictable daily routine together, we help meet these needs and also help our children feel empowered. Before going back to school, include your children in coming up with a plan for what the days will look like. Recognize this is a big adjustment for all, so be open and flexible where possible. Having a visual schedule using pictures for younger kids (of the steps in their routine) or a written out plan for older children, helps them know what to expect and reduces anxiety.

4) Be open to any and all feelings – Be prepared for a wide range of feelings around going back to school. Kids may feel anxious/scared/worried, sad, disappointed, even angry. Others may feel excited to see friends and be back in the school environment. You may also notice feelings fluctuating – happy one day, worried the next. It’s all normal! Whatever your child feels, be open to listening with curiosity, empathy and compassion. Also know that some kids, especially younger ones, may express how they feel via their behavior. For example, it’s not uncommon to have an increase in power struggles, regressive behavior (bedwetting, clinginess, trouble sleeping etc), separation anxiety etc. during uncertain times and transitions. When challenging behavior shows up, get curious about what’s beneath it. Remind yourself that your child is doing the best he can with the skills he has and needs your calm, patient guidance during this unprecedented adjustment. Mantra’s such as “I can handle this.” “She’s acting like a child because she is a child and needs my help.” “Connection first.” are helpful in keeping ourselves grounded and centered, especially when we feel triggered.

5) Manage your own anxiety – It’s completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions yourself. This is an incredibly stressful time with so many unknowns! Find a supportive tribe with whom you can share your worries, fears and frustrations. If support is limited, even writing in a journal can be helpful. Keep in mind that our children pick up on our energy and tend to manage and regulate their emotions by how we manage and regulate ours. So, when you’re with your kids, do your best to model a “calm confidence.” The reality is, you and your children ARE CAPABLE of doing hard, new and challenging things.

Ultimately, be sure to take care you YOU! Carve out time for yourself and do whatever it is that brings you joy, reach out for support, take breaks, acknowledge and honor your feelings, get outside when you can, move your body, hug those kiddos, notice what *is* going well and remind yourself that
you and your kids will get through this!

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The Power of a Thought

Did you know that our reactions are typically driven by what we’re telling ourselves in any given moment?

For example, if my child is having a meltdown and I tell myself, “This AGAIN!? What’s wrong with him/her? I don’t have time for this!” Imagine how I’m going to show up.

Now, if my child is having that same meltdown and I tell myself, “My child is having a hard time. I can handle this. I’m going to take a breath and focus on connecting with him/her.” Imagine how I’m going to show up.

What do you notice?

Here’s the thing. We are constantly making interpretations of our child’s behavior and how we think things “should” be, which is often based on our own histories as well as our fears (i.e. fear they’ll fail, fear their behavior will reflect poorly on us, fear we’re not a good parent etc).These expectations and fears get passed down from our childhood (generations, actually) as well as our culture. They become so ingrained in us, that we rarely stop to question them. We then end up projecting these unrealistic expectations onto our child (Ever find yourself thinking, “I never would have gotten away with this in my house!”).

Yet, if we were to slow down and get curious, we’d find that, more often than not, these expectations we cling onto are quite unrealistic, even unreasonable, for our child’s age and stage of development (just as they were likely unrealistic when we were young). When you really think about it, this whole projection “process” isn’t so fair to our child, is it?

Fortunately, we are always in choice. For starters, we can choose to take ownership of our feelings, including our fears, seeing them as our own (often based on old, unhealed wounds), which have nothing to do with our child. Once we have this awareness, we can pause, let go of our unrealistic expectations and begin to practice responding with empathy and compassion, instead of reacting out of impatience, frustration or anger when challenges with our children show up.

Is this easy? Heck NO! Yet, what’s the alternative? I fully believe we owe it to ourselves and our children to acknowledge these painful feelings which underlie our reactivity, while giving ourselves permission to feel, rather than dismiss them. Once we can let go of blame, fear and projection, we’re better able to grow and evolve into the conscious, present and empowered parents we’re meant to be. AND, we become better able to guide our children in evolving into the conscious, empowered individuals they’re meant to be!

It just takes time, patience, practice and lots of self-compassion.

The good news…We’re built to do hard things! ❤️

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An Important Announcement Regarding the “Becoming an Empowered Parent” Online Series

In recognition of the the racial injustice and civil unrest that continues to plague our communities, I have decided to *postpone the launch* of the Becoming an Empowered Parent Online Series (which was scheduled to begin 6/9) for the time being. I am using this time to pause, reflect, listen and educate myself and my family.

I can do better. I will do better.

I understand that solving the deep, structural issues causing this unrest will take time, dedication and empathy. It will also take much needed, meaningful action. I am committed to doing all that I can to support ending injustice and systemic racism. I will continue to teach my family what it means to be the positive change we want to see in this world.

It is up to us to educate ourselves and our children and demand change when it comes to the treatment of people of color. What that looks like is up to you. Every voice matters. Your voice matters. With this in mind, I will continue to share resources which I hope will be helpful to you and your family.

I sincerely appreciate your understanding, support and patience and look forward to sharing when this incredible series is ready to go live!

Until then, I wish you and your family good health and safety.

With warmth and gratitude,
Debbie

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Time to Take the Pressure Off!

During this COVID-19 pandemic, and even before it started, I’ve been hearing from so many parents who are putting so much pressure on themselves. I’m guilty of it too. I think it’s time we say enough is enough! It’s impossible to do it all and be all things to our kids, family members, friends, co-workers etc. It’s completely unrealistic, not to mention exhausting!

Here’s the thing, we’re all doing the very best we can with the crazy situation we’re in. I’m sure you’ve been hearing this often and I think it’s worth repeating…many times! Please, sweet parents, give yourself a break and practice being kind to yourself.

It’s ok if you mess up.
It’s ok if you lost your temper.
It’s ok if the house is a mess.
It’s ok if you had cereal for dinner.
It’s ok if you haven’t showered (for days).
It’s ok if you’re feeling overwhelmed, scared, frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad or any other emotion under the sun.
It’s all ok.

You are an amazing person doing your best to keep your family healthy and safe during a very challenging and unprecedented time. Eventually this will pass. Eventually life will resume. And when it does, maybe, just maybe, we will actually realize how strong we really are. For now, let’s stick together, honor whatever it is that we feel and do all we can to lift each other up.

Sending love, hope and comfort your way 

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A Tip for Parenting During COVID-19 – “Look for the Good”

With all of this extra togetherness due to COVID-19’s “shelter in place” order, I invite you to take some time to really notice your child’s “positive” behaviors, no matter how little they may seem. Recognizing and looking out for these moments can have a significant impact on how your child sees him/herself. In other words, by choosing to see our children’s “goodness,” we positively and directly impact their self-concept and sense of self-worth.
Remember, we all long to feel seen, heard, acknowledged and accepted and tend to DO better when we FEEL better!

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It’s Time to Give Yourself a BREAK…

We all know that stress can take a huge toll on us, physically and emotionally. Yet, it’s amazing how, as busy parents, we constantly go and go, always doing for others, rarely slowing down to check in with ourselves and our own needs. When is the last time you asked yourself, “How am I feeling?” and “What do I need?” Many parents I work with tell me they’re not even sure *what* they need; they feel they’ve completely lost sight.

How can we fully show up for those we love and care about if we’re not fully showing up for ourselves? 

With this in mind, I invite you to take a moment to pause and just be. Take a breath. If it feels right, take two more. Look around. Notice what you see and hear. If possible, look outside the window at something in nature.

Bring to mind someone or something that makes you smile or brings you joy. If you’d like, try putting a little smile on your face. What do you notice?
Allow yourself to stay with this image as long as you need. Whenever you feel ready, take a few more deep, cleansing breaths in and out.

Consider trying this little act of self-care, which only takes a few minutes, whenever you feel stressed, overwhelmed or just out of sorts. You need and deserve the same amount of attention and kindness that you offer to everyone else!

Could you use a little support in this area? You’re not alone! Please know I would love to work with you. Feel free to email me at debbiezeichnerlcsw@gmail.com or call me directly at 858.822.8878. I’m here for you!

With love and gratitude,
Debbie


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So Honored to be a Guest on this Amazing Podcast!

What an honor and TREAT it was to be a guest on Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Jenna Parris’s podcast, Mama Said!


These two incredible women are truly a dynamic duo…so fun, so sweet, so open and so REAL about the roller coaster ride of parenting!
We had lots to chat about and could’ve talked all day 
It’s definitely a podcast worth listening to!

Check out the episode here.

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6 Parenting Tips to Start Off the New Year

Happy New Year! With the holiday hecticness behind us, now is a wonderful time to slow down and give yourself permission to take some time for you. How have you been feeling? Drained? Energized? Somewhere in between? What might you need to better nurture yourself? I recently read a quote which really touched me, “You matter because of who you are, not just who you parent. Let that sink in!

At the start of a new year (and daily!), I love to set intentions. Intentions are focused on how we want to live our lives; how we want to “be” in the world. Unlike a goal, which is about achieving or attaining something, intentions reflect our values and a sense of purpose. For me, intention setting typically involves asking myself “How do I want to “show up” – in my life and in my parenting?” I invite you to give it a try and see what comes up for you!

With this in mind, I wanted to offer 6 positive discipline parenting tips to support you as you ease into this new year:

1.) Know your “no” – The endless list of events, parties and volunteer requests is enough to drive any of us to the point of exhaustion! Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Before saying “yes” to an invitation or request, take a moment to pause. Do an honest self check-in. Ask yourself if this “event” realistically fits into your busy schedule and if you’re attending or helping out of joy or obligation? Just know, it’s ok to say “no.” Remember, saying “no” to one thing creates space to say “yes” to yourself!

2.) Look for “yes” – On the flip side, when it comes to our children, “no” and “stop” are words that kids tend to hear all too often (“No hitting!” “Stop jumping on the bed!” “No, you can’t have a cookie.”) Hearing these words can easily trigger our child to break out their boxing gloves, ready for a fight – they instinctively raise anyone’s defenses! Instead, see if you can look for a “yes.” Some examples, “Yes, you can have a cookie after dinner.” “Yes, we can read stories as soon as your jammies are on.” “Yes, you can go to your friends as soon as your homework is done.” Save your “no’s” for when you *really* need them.

3.) Set realistic expectations AND make agreements ahead of time – Children thrive on structure and routine and do best when they are clear about what’s expected of them. Let your kids know what will be happening ahead of time and together make agreements about what behavior is expected. For example, “We’re going to be going over to grandma’s today. There will be a lot of people there who are very excited to see you and it’s kind to acknowledge them. How would you like to greet everyone? High fives? Hugs? Fist pumps?” The other most helpful question to ask your child/children is, “What do we need to remember about how we ______?” As in, “What do we need to remember about how we behave at grandma’s/a restaurant/our friends house?” Once decided, come up with things they can do to take care of themselves if they start to get tired, feel overwhelmed etc. Problem solving with your child models respect and increases the likelihood of cooperation.

4.) Ask more than you tell (and offer choices) – All day long, children are constantly being told what to do, when, how, where and why to do it. It’s no wonder they tune us out! Engage their critical thinking, decision making and problem solving skills by asking questions such as, “What do you need to bring with you so you won’t feel cold outside?” “Would you like to walk the dog or take out the trash?” “Would you like to hold my hand or have me carry you when we cross the street?” “What’s supposed to be happening now?”

5.) Create “special time” – It’s so easy to get caught up in the mad rush to get things done that we may not realize the effect this has on our children. What our kids want more than anything is to feel significant and connected. I like to think of our kids as having little “love tanks.” When these tanks are low, we’re more likely to see acting out. When they’re full, the day tends to go more smoothly. So, aim to spend dedicated, uninterrupted, device-free, 1:1 time with each child. Even 10-15 minutes can do wonders for your relationship. Life is hectic, so just do the best that you can. The message you’re sending is “I’m all yours!”

6.) Don’t sweat the small stuff – At the end of the day, it’s important to know and remind yourself that the way things are today won’t last forever. Our children are always growing, maturing and evolving, especially as we guide them in learning the skills they need to thrive in this big, complicated world. Ideally we’re evolving too! This too shall pass. ❤️

Wishing you and your family all the best!
With warmth and gratitude,
Debbie

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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,
Debbie

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 debbiezeichnerlcsw@gmail.com for more information.

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