Mindfulness and Regulation

angry-child-boyMuscles clench in your belly, your chest tightens. A shortness of breath and a sense of panic. The blood seems to have rushed to your core and you don’t have much awareness of your feet or of your surroundings. Your mouth is dry and your thoughts are racing. This is a glimpse into what can happen when the nervous system dys-regulates. When your unconscious mind has picked up a signal that you are unsafe and your body needs to activate for protection. When something happening now stirs up an implicit memory from a past time when you felt similarly—even though the situation is completely different and you’re all grown up now. The response is fast, unexpected, intense. It often happens before you have any control over its whirlwind effect on you.

This is what can happen in the body when we become dysregulated. When our children become dysregulated the same thing happens for them, as well. A child, however, does not typically have the tools and skills to express this rush of intensity, so s/he will often act out or shut down in order to discharge or suppress this energy. So how do children (and adults) learn to respond more effectively when they are triggered?

Mindfulness is key. It requires the recognition of our internal experience in order to shift our internal experience. When we are aware of what is happening for us internally, then we have more freedom to make a different choice in our response.

Helping our children develop a sense of authentic self-awareness allows them, in the moment of overwhelm, to stay connected to themselves, thus having more of their rational brain online and thus eliciting more choice and control over how they respond. We teach mindfulness and self-awareness predominantly by modeling these capacities and cultivating them in ourselves. Checking in with ourselves regularly throughout the day—particularly with the body, which is where emotional regulation and dys-regulation begin to be activated. Throughout the day, notice what is happening in your body. What is the temperature? What sensations do you experience? What parts of you are tight and clenched? What parts of you are relaxed? Are you numb? Overgripping? No judgment, simply notice and breathe. Unknown

When we bring our attention to the body the impulse to judge or create a story about our experience dissipates. The less we do this, the less our mind remains an active participant in the process. The mind fights for our survival, but it often sabotages our ability to regulate by getting caught up in the need to solve the problem or make sense of the situation. There are times when this is necessary. But most of the time, when we are dys-regulated, it hinders our capacity to move forward.

IMG_1160Stay with the body and teach your children to be in the body. Over time, patterns that we have been stuck in will begin to soften and release. Tensions will fall away. Emotions will move through paving the way for more spaciousness and more calm. Be playful and fun in the ways you teach children to have this awareness of the body.

The Greatness of Gratitude

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
==Meister Eckhart

It is said that gratitude is the highest level of human emotion. To feel and express gratitude can shift us from a perspective of lack to one of abundance and fulfillment. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading gratitude researchers has determined that a gratitude practice leads to an array of benefits including higher immune functioning, better sleep, lower blood pressure and less pain, more positive emotions, more compassion, more helpfulness, more joy and pleasure, just to name a few. In children, gratitude improves the quality of their social relationships, their ability to self-regulate and their overall levels of health and well-being.

Gratitude is a skill that we can teach and a tremendous gift that we can offer to our children. Moving toward greater expressions of gratitude in our lives doesn’t mean that we bypass the emotions that arise in response to our challenges, stress or traumas. We allow these emotions to move through and, in the case of our children, we offer our presence to hold space for what they are feeling. And we can teach and model for them to widen the lens and see that even difficult emotions can serve us.

Over time, children can learn to be grateful even for the adversities in their lives. In fact, true healing takes place when we are able to move from a place of feeling overwhelm and difficulty to feeling grateful for the way the situation has led to our growth. John DeMartini’s unique approach to personal growth involves (among many other facets) creating extensive lists of the benefits we gain from our adversities and challenges. For example, if your parents divorced when you were five and this was quite troubling for you, you can make a list of 100 ways this actually benefited you. Perhaps it helped you be more compassionate to others’ loss, or you had to learn to be very conscious and self-regulated in response to change and transition. Again, this is not a bypass. When there is grief, we must grieve and move through the five stages. Eventually, however, these practices can lead us toward a paradigm shift that takes us out of victimhood and into tremendous growth and healing. As Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness says, “When we think of failure as something to be thankful for because it is a necessary step in learning, we get better at overcoming challenges.”

So how do we teach gratitude to children in this culture of affluence and constant sensory stimulation? You’ll need to make a conscious effort to incorporate gratitude into your day-to-day practices. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a gratitude board- Find a fun chalkboard or white board (or better yet paint part of a wall with chalkboard paint). You and your family members can write on it the things you are grateful for. And everything is ok. They may be grateful for their video games and you wish they were grateful for the food on their plate. Let it go. We are teaching gratitude, not imposing our agenda for what they should be grateful for.
  • Dinnertime Gratitude– Go around the table at dinner and each take turns naming something you are grateful for or something you appreciate about someone else in the family.
  • Snuggly Bedtime Thanks– Ask your kids as you tuck them in at night, what’s one thing they’re really thankful for.
  • Thank you notes– Write thank you notes to friends, family members, teachers, neighbors. In her book Raising Happiness Christine Carter talks about a research-based method called the “gratitude visit”. Your kids write a thank you note and then pay an in-person visit to the recipient and read their thank you note aloud to him/her. Children feel so great about expressing their appreciation and having it be received.

Get creative and have fun. Over time you and your children will develop this skill more fully and you will notice the difference that gratitude and appreciation will make in your kids’ lives.



young-girl-fairy-princessChildren are brilliant. They are wise, honest and authentically themselves at each and every moment. When I say to my niece, “Do you like my new scarf?”, she doesn’t bat an eye before she sweetly, lovingly, candidly says, “No, I don’t.” It’s a precious gift we come into this world with–this ability to inhabit our fullness: our entire range of emotion, our preferences, our personality and, on a deeper level our radiance and our essential nature.

Tragically, as we move through the world our authentic self receives messages from the world around us to shrink, hold back, be polite, conform, be less of ourselves.  To me this is the greatest tragedy of human kind and that which leads to the myriad of darkness and pain on our planet. It breaks my heart when I really sink into it. But, as Mary Oliver says, “I tell you this to break your heart,by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” Like you, my heartbreaks lead to my greatest openings and this one guides me on my path and strengthens my intention for this upcoming year: To trust deeply in my authentic self, allowing her to radiate and shine in all her brightness. In turn, I create space for the children I work with and heal to radiate and shine in their brightness and authenticity.

870436Child-Flying-a-Kite-at-SunsetAs Lance Secretan says, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet–thinking, saying, feeling and doing the same thing consistently. This builds trust and followers love leaders they can trust.” Trust is the foundation for relationship. And children are those followers who not only love but need leaders they can trust. They need us to provide context and ground for their experiences. When we are inauthentic, a child feels it and becomes very confused. When met with a caregiver who offers an inauthentic response, the child becomes extremely dys-regulated. She will unconsciously either up the ante or shut down emotionally. It may be a process that happens bit by bit, but it happens.

So what does authenticity look like?

Imagine this, you just walked by a neighbor who is aggressively yelling at his family and even you yourself are terrified. When you tell your child, “It’s ok, everything is fine,” your child will doubt her own experience and internalize a sense of mistrust in herself and her environment. She will form a mis-association between a deep sense of confusion, fear and things being fine. When inauthenticity takes place repeatedly, children learn that their feelings are not trustworthy, because mommy or daddy isn’t ok with feelings. She will stay in a subtle state of stress and this dys-regulation makes it difficult to relate, learn, focus, set boundaries and express. She will not know that it is safe to feel because no one every taught her that. Authenticity is the cornerstone of children’s emotional development and we need to do our own work so that we can offer this to them.

A child who is met with authenticity understands that humans have feelings and this is ok, it’s actually preferable. She trusts in her environment because she has experienced alignment of energy, words, body language and behavior from her caretakers–it has been consistent and it makes sense to her. As such, she knows how to express herself in a way that honors the truth of who she is and the boundaries she has. She can stand up for herself and have deep compassion for others. She feels safe allowing her radiance and her light beam through her by way of words, deeds, relationships and more.images1

When we were the child in the former scenario, it isn’t always easy to be authentic as an adult. But it is essential if we want to raise our children in this conscious, loving, Truthful way. So we do our own work. We set out on a journey to reclaim the parts of ourselves that were not allowed to show up. We allow our children to see us doing this and we even let them know that this is our path.

And I leave you with this–a quote from Marianne Williamson, a woman truly embodied in her authenticity. Oh and, she’s running for Congress on a very unique platform. Check her out… http://www.marianneforcongress.com

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


From Power Struggles to Connection

sad_womanShe sits in my office on the verge of tears, the feelings of desperation and helplessness emanating through the quakes in her voice. She says things like, “Is there something wrong with him?” “I feel like this is all my fault,” “He’s running our house–we all walk on eggshells around him.” She has tried everything she can think of. She is scared for him, she is scared of him. And she doesn’t know what to do to turn the nasty undertone in their household around.

This is not the story of one specific mother that I have worked with. It’s many of the mothers and fathers that have come to my office and asked me for help. While there are sometimes some deep-rooted challenges the child may be facing that need to be addressed, in any situation we can work on turning around the negative dynamic that is pervading the household and leading the parent to feel out of control and inadequate.

Digging Up The Roots colorful_tree_with_roots_poster-r4ca6540c56d044fab5403616c6e8ce34_2zn1_8byvr_512
When we look at a child’s negative behavior and all we see is negativity, we often label it as angry, mean or nasty. But when we excavate further and dig up the roots of this behavior we may discover something that elicits a lot more compassion and empathy. At the root of an angry and frustrated child’s behavior is overwhelm, fear, hurt, sadness, and all-around stress. This is what changes the way lens through which we view it. When I see my child as scared and hurting (rather than angry or nasty) my capacity for compassion is far greater. Ask yourself, what is going on in his world that may be causing him this much hurt? It may be a change in the family, in your work schedule, a situation at school, a recent loss in the family. It’s not always clear what the source of the behavior is but if we can determine the change that may be making him feel this way we can work with it, give him tools to cope with it and give or get him support around it.

What is the benefit?
The next crucial piece that I work with parents around is this: What is the benefit of her behavior? What is she getting out of it? How is it helping her accomplish what she is trying to achieve, even if it feels maladaptive? When we understand the need beneath the symptom, we can address the need and typically the symptom lessens or goes away entirely. It is in a child’s DNA to say “no!”, particularly to parents who are their safety net. When a child learns to say no at home she is getting excellent practice for the real world: for asserting herself, having a voice, having power. When we hear the child’s no (which doesn’t mean we give in to it), we are reinforcing that we want them to be in their power. “I hear how hard that is for you!” “I don’t blame you for not wanting to stop,” “I get it! You don’t want to do it right now.” Each of these validating statements sends the message to the child that it’s ok for him/her to have a voice. It doesn’t always mean they’re going to get their way. That’s where the next piece comes in.

Parents in Charge
Children need boundaries. They feel safe within them. Children want to know that their parents are confident and in charge. Using Daniel Siegel’s terms, it’s that balance point in between chaos and rigidity in which a child feels safe. When the parent can come to the child with a spirit of genuine authority, the child can rest confidently knowing that mom or dad is in charge and he/she can go on being the kid. He no longer needs to be the one in control of the situation. And when the parent shows up confident, empathic and understanding of what is driving the child’s behavior, once again he doesn’t need to resort to those same tactics to be heard and seen, to get connection and to have a voice. She knows that dad is listening without her having to “turn up the energetic volume”.

The Connection Foundation
For all of this to work and make sense for a child, we need to start with a foundation of connection. Children of all ages are longing for connection with their parents, even when their behavior seems to demonstrate the opposite. This may mean ten minutes of listening to music together. It may mean that you sit on the floor and play legos, take a drive to a special place and go for a picnic or plan a movie night together. What is your child passionate about? Get curious about this and authentically take an interest in it, even if it doesn’t directly correspond to your passions. Show your child that you want to connect with him by listening to him and appreciating him. Never dismiss your child’s opinions and beliefs. Saying, “Thanks for sharing that with me. I will consider it,” or (if it’s not up for consideration) “I appreciate your opinion, honey, but that doesn’t work for us today.”ist2_2890658_mother_and_child_holding_hands

What do you need to feel more confident and grounded as a parent? What will help you trust your intuition and believe in your capacity to show up in your fullest? What if your child’s behavior was exactly what needed to be happening in order to make something critical happen in your life and that of your family?

Power struggles are challenging for all parents, but when we reframe the way we see our child and his/her behavior, we can create shifts in the family dynamic that may have gone awry. We can regain an authentic sense of control of our vessel and foster an environment that allows everyone to be heard and seen the way they need to.

How to keep from getting flooded

 Helping our children (and ourselves) navigate the emotional impact of the Boulder floods

The floods that took place in Boulder and throughout Colorado last week changed the lives of so many in our community, perhaps forever. While the immediate danger seems to be over and we are on our way to picking up the pieces and rebuilding, I want to take some time to acknowledge what we have experienced and the emotional impact it may be having on us.

It is clear that our amazing community is flocking together in a powerful way in the aftermath of these historic floods. This is the connection and gratitude that a powerful event such as this can bring to light—we are all in this together. It sometimes takes an event such as this to guide us into acting congruently with that truth. Simultaneously, however, I am seeing a lot of trauma responses that indicate a heightened level of fear pervading our community. Some of us have been in “go-mode” throughout all of this, working around the clock to help others (or ourselves) clean up basements, clear out mud and debris, organize clothing drives, find housing etc.  We have willingly sacrificed health, time, energy and more in order to remedy the situation and/or help others. Others of us have totally checked out and are going through the motions of our day-to-day existence while numbing out to the reality of the devastation that has happened around us.


However you choose to respond to it, the heightened level of fear and anxiety that is in our collective field is having an impact on you. I see it in the children I work with—parents bringing them in saying, “I don’t think she’s too perturbed by it.”—when in session the child demonstrates deep and intense feelings of fear and overwhelm directly related to the flood. I see it in myself and my friends—giving and helping until we become run down, overwhelmed or depleted, no longer being able to serve anyone effectively.  In order to move through this experience without losing ourselves, it’s so important that we acknowledge the emotions and energy that are around us. And for children, it is all the more important that we talk to them about the floods since it has impacted them directly and significantly.

Here are some tips and strategies for communicating with children about what’s happened. And some important strategies for all-around self-care in the aftermath of a traumatic event:

*Stay in your body. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe fresh air.

*Self care is not selfish. We don’t have to be martyrs and it can’t all get done at once. Take time out to be kind and gentle to yourself.

And specifically when talking to children…

*Let them know the truth of what has happened in an age-appropriate manner.

*Talk to children about the feelings that you’ve had throughout all of this and where you feel them in your body. Let them express their feelings to you.


*Let your child know that he/she can ask you questions about any of it and you’ll do your best to answer. Remember that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Never tell a child, “It will never happen again.” Rather, you can say, “Things like this happen very rarely and our community works hard to prepare so that people, houses and schools are safe.”

*Stay focused on feelings of safety and togetherness. Amidst the anxiety it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are ok, even if we have endured a lot. Talk to children about how glad you are that your family is safe, that you can go to the store and get the things you need, etc.

*Help your children stay in their bodies. Massage them, have them dig in dirt or sand, take walks, swing, play, dance and sing.

digging photo 2

*Limit exposure to media. Turn off the news when they are home. Children do not need to be exposed to constant images of destruction. By turning off news when children are home you can better ensure that the information they receive comes from trusted adults, especially yourself.

*Use art and play to allow children to express what they are feeling. Pay attention to the feelings that arise as the child is playing, drawing, etc. rather than the actual content. Play is a phenomenal way for a child to process a stressful or traumatic experience.

*Take time away from your clean-up efforts to spend time and connect with your children. In the wake of a natural disaster, they need that one-on-one time now more than ever.

*Children are concrete thinkers so concrete facts and information can help them understand a situation. Use resources to help them understand the natural phenomena that caused the flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great website for kids on weather: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=weatherforkids.

If you feel like you need more help or support for communicating with your children about the flood, please feel free and call me. I am happy to help you create a narrative to share with your child about this experience or offer any other support you may be needing in this intense time.

Remember, children learn best by observing the adults around them. Practicing good self-care, staying grounded and being open to the emotions that arise are some of the best ways you can help your child move through this experience with greater ease.


Camp Connect: What A Week!


From August 5 through the 16th my colleague Mia Bertram and I brought two groups of kids together, each with us for a week, to be a part of a pretty special summer camp. Camp Connect is a program that helps children learn to cultivate relationships, regulate their emotions, express their feelings, ask for what they need all in a spirit of compassion and staying connected to oneself. We use art, music, yoga, play, theater, story-telling, games and more to give children a rich experience and a variety of modalities through which they can express themselves. With two highly trained and experienced play therapists as the facilitators and music therapists, art therapists and yoga teachers as our guests, the kids got a pretty unique level of support. And the changes that we got to witness over the week were amazing.

We observed children going from feeling overwhelmed and dys-regulated in the group setting, to making friends and connecting in meaningful ways. We witnessed kids self-advocating, standing up for themselves and asking for what they needed. Children who struggle to focus and regulate in group settings were doing yoga and learning the inherent value of listening to and staying in their bodies. And the brilliance of these groups of children in working together and coming up with invaluable strategies for expressing emotions (especially the big, hot yucky feelings), staying safe, respecting personal space and more… It was so much fun to watch and learn from these little ones.


exploring what musical sounds we can make with paper


breathing and listening in downward facing dog


sitting in our personal space bubbles while Mia reads a story about personal space

Let’s Regulate!

images-2Self-regulation is the cornerstone for being in relationship. If I am not regulated, then it is very difficult for me to be in relationship with you (or myself).  The same is true for children. When a child is dys-regulated he is disconnected from his/her body, has difficulty expressing him/herself in words, may be struggling with behavior or may shut down and all-around has difficulty being in connected, engaged relationship. The good news is that through modeling and through practice, we can actually teach children’s nervous systems how to go from a state of dys-regulation to regulation.

And the benefits to this are tremendous!

A regulated child is more able to focus, stay calm and listen, have a greater window of tolerance and express emotion without reactivity and impulsivity—just to name a few qualities. Here are some strategies for helping children regulate—use these consistently as ways to teach your child what it feels like to be regulated.

  • Model and name out loud the ways that you regulate your emotions. Take deep breaths, feel your feet on the ground, shake your arms and legs out, wiggle your toes, give yourself a little squeeze…
  • Play fun dance music and boogie with your kids. Then stop the music and everyone freezes!images-4
  • Hula hoop, shake it out, make a band and get in rhythm with each other.
  • Nature time! Spend time outside playing, skipping, moving like animals, noticing what you see, hear, smell, feel, taste. Being in nature is extremely regulating for most children so get outdoors and have some fun.
  • Warm bath with some lavender oil or bubbles. This can be especially regulating when a child has been hyper-aroused and acting out. Stay close and help your kiddo feel safe. Pour water over his/her body with a funnel or sieve (ask if this is something he/she wants first).
  • Wrap your little one up like a burrito. This can be great for hypo or hyper aroused children. Ask them what they want in their burrito (toppings, love, sprinkles—there’s no wrong answer!). Then wrap them up and give them a sweet and loving squeeze.
  • Play “I Spy” or, for older children “I Am Aware”. The first one is self-explanatory. The second one I do like this: we toss a ball back and forth. When you have the ball you say something that you are aware of (something you notice). I alternate each round—first round something you’re aware of in your environment, second round something you feel inside of you (emotion, sensation, body, etc).


  • Dig in the dirt, mud or sand. Move rocks. Throw a weighted ball back and forth. How earthy can you be?
  • Find your inner animal—walk and talk like an animal. If you were an elephant how would your body move? What sounds would come out of you? How much space would you need around you?
  • images-3Order a sensory brush and brush your child. I’ve found this extremely beneficial to my hyper-aroused clients lately. Ask them how they want the strokes (pressure, direction, where on their body, etc). Brush each other. This is a great thing to do each night before going to bed or each morning before the day’s activities really get under way. You can find these little plastic brushes on Amazon—they are inexpensive and so easy to use.


Regulation activities like these can be done every single day to help kids’ nervous systems develop an imprint of what it means to be relaxed and present. Get fun and playful with the ways you regulate yourself and your children. It may seem simple but the rewards are many: more resilient, communicative, focused, relaxed and relational children. What more could you possibly want? Now go regulate and have some fun!

On Addiction and Compassion

This morning I had the privilege of attending a lecture with Dr Gabor Maté, a renowned physician and bestselling author who has worked with hardcore drug addicts in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside district. Unlike traditional western approaches to treating addiction, Dr Maté started his presentation with a provocative question, not what’s wrong with addiction, but, “What’s right about addiction?”
Addiction refers to a repetitive pain-relieving activity with long-term negative effects. Any of us can be addicted and the scope goes far beyond drugs and alcohol. We can be addicted to food, shopping, gambling, sex, exercise, work… In fact, anything can be potentially addicting. Rather than looking at the subject of the addiction, it is vital to look at the source of the addiction.
Addicts are addicted because they seek relief or escape from their pain. Addiction goes far beyond poor willpower or genetic predisposition. In fact, the field of epigenetics tells us that our genetic tendencies are turned on and off by our environment (read The Biology of Belief by Dr. Bruce Lipton for more on this). So, in understanding addiction, we need to look at the individual’s environment, specifically his/her earliest relationships and psychosocial environment during infancy (including fetal development) and early childhood. Stress on an infant or young child determines the way his/her brain organizes. Stress and trauma have a direct impact on the child’s nervous system, leading to an organization that is based on self-protection, on fear, on feelings of unworthiness and shame. The ACE study (Adverse childhood experiences) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates that traumatic experiences in early development lead to increased risk for alcohol and drug addictions, depression, fetal death, heart disease, liver disease, obesity, risk for partner violence and more.
Stress and trauma have a tremendous impact on our nervous system, our emotional development and our overall general health. It is a tremendous issue and one that we have the potential to solve! Neuroscience research continues to prove that it is the presence of compassionate relationships that heals the brain and allows it to re-pattern and re-organize–moving away from fear responses to more love-based, open-hearted connection with the self. Compassion is the healing agent. Love is the healing agent. When we meet our infants and our children with love and allow them to express and release their pain in loving, supportive relationships with us, we eliminate the need to escape it.
According to Dr. Maté, compassion is the key ingredient in stopping the cycle of addiction. Without it, we are only treating symptoms and completely overlooking the root of the issue. I am so blessed to do the work I do, helping children move through and heal from their trauma. This healing then opens the window to their ability to love themselves, respect themselves and make choices from a place of self-acceptance and health.
For more information on Dr. Gabor Maté visit www.drgabormate.com

Treating the Terrible Twos (and Threes)

Your sweet little bundle of joy has accomplished many milestones. He’s walking, feeding himself, being a helper, even talking a bit–more and more every day. But, oh boy, does he have his moments. Those inconsolable, uncontrollable, loud, intense, overwhelming tantrums. That state of utter confusion when she wants to do it all herself and is falling apart under the frustration that comes along with that. The morning gone from blissfully wonderful to a total nightmare and you don’t even know what the problem is. You ask yourself: Why is all this happening and What can I do to help make this easier?tantruming-toddler-getting-scolded-md

Bad news first? The terrible twos (sometimes it’s the terrible threes) are a stage of development that many children go through and that we can’t take them out of. It’s their natural way of expressing themselves at a time in life where they experience great frustration and don’t have a lot of tools to deal with it. We may just have to accept that this is where they are at and do our best to support them through it. The good news is that this time provides ample opportunity for teaching children emotional language, self-regulation, social skills and more. They may not implement these new skills right away, but the long term effects will be apparent.

Here is some important information about toddlers and some strategies for supporting their healthy emotional development.

  • Toddlers are in a transitional stage of development: a part of them still wants to be a baby (closeness, difficulty separating) and a part of them wants to be a big kid (independence, I can do it myself). Meet them where they are at with this. Understand that there’s a part of them that still needs to be young and attached to you. And respect their need for independence. It’s a balancing act, but it helps your tot develop a healthy sense of self.
  • Toddlers need help expressing their emotions. Give them words and tools to express the entire range of feelings. Have a feelings chart up on the fridge at eye level for your little one. Model healthy expression of feelings and name the feeling for them when they are expressing emotions.
  • Give children tools for expressing themselves. Model emotional language. Teach them feelings words. Guess their feeling experience and speak it to them. “I hear you’re upset right now.” Or. “I get it. You’re really sad that you have to wear a coat to the park.” The terms “big feelings” or “upset” are good catch-alls.
  • Young children are quick to tantrum because their brains are not yet “wired” to respond with calm and logic. They need your help to calm themselves. Toddlers’ brains are undergoing huge amounts of development. Model self-regulation techniques like taking deep breaths, counting to ten, becoming aware of what’s in your environment… whatever works for you to get calm and in your body again.
  • Toddler’s tantrums are not rational because their brain’s frontal lobe is not developed. What seems irrational to us may feel incredibly important to your child. Validate this and never discount their feelings. It’s ok to set limits on behavior, but always start by validating the feelings that are driving the behavior. “It’s ok to feel mad. But it’s not ok to hit Tommy. Let’s find another way to show your feelings.”
  • Toddler tantrums very often stem from the frustration of feeling stuck, unable to express one’s needs and have them met accordingly. Empathize with this frustration to help your child feel understood.
  • It is impossible to help someone regulate if you are dys-regulated yourself. Use the oxygen mask philosophy and make sure that you are regulated (5 deep breaths) before trying to help your child regulate.images-1
  • Give children a consistent space where they can go to calm themselves down. They may need your comfort so go with them, take deep breaths or just “stay with” (be emotionally present with your child) until he/she is calm.
  • Stay consistent with your limits but validate the emotion: “I get it. You feels so sad that you can’t eat a cookie right now. And we have to wait until after dinner.”
  • Spend one-on-one quality time engaging and playing with your child. At least 10-20 minutes per day in which phones are off, no other tasks are being performed. This is just about connecting and playing with your child.
  • Use “I” statements: “I feel…”
  • Talk to your child respectfully.
  • Your child will not listen to you unless he/she feels listened to.                                                                 
  • When you change the way you look at your child, you see change in your child.


Try this approach to parenting your toddler and you are sure to see a shift in his behavior, the frequency and duration of tantrums and, in the long-term, in her ability to express her emotions and self-soothe. Respect, understanding and empathy are key components of communication at any age–toddlers need these with consistency and repetition for healthy brain development.

Scary Therapy

images-3“Deep breaths, regulate, feel your feet on the ground, keep breathing,” went my inner dialogue as I sat there shocked and horrified.  “This is therapy?” a little voice in my head kept asking, “Where is the compassion, the attunement, the healing?” I worked hard to stay regulated and to keep from bolting out of the room; but every cell in my body held the knowledge that this video I was watching, of a prominent play therapist working with a young adopted child, was fundamentally wrong. The child crying and begging for the therapist to “stop it!” and the therapist continuing to impose her jarring interventions, completely disregarding the 3-year old’s desperate pleas. It was horrifying. For a young child who has experienced the level of disempowerment and helplessness that inherently go along with trauma, an experience like this (with an adult she is told is safe and trustworthy) can have detrimental effects and risks.

Psychotherapy and psychology have the capacity to help people deeply heal and reach their highest potential. But there is also the possibility of doing harm and re-traumatizing individuals in the name of therapy. This can happen with an unaware therapist who is not doing his/her own growth work, but allowing his/her “stuff” to cloud the relationship with the client and the client’s relationship with him/herself. Right here in Colorado there have been cases of children who have been killed in practices related to Attachment Therapy, through techniques such as “holding”, “re-birthing”, “rage reduction therapy” and others. I am by no means trying to fear-monger here and these cases are incredibly rare anomalies. But they reflect a desperation and helplessness that families of traumatized children feel and an egoic, pathological approach on the part of some practitioners.


I am writing this because I feel a need to share with my readers the tremendous importance of finding a therapist whose approach and core values are aligned with a child’s fundamental needs for love, understanding, attunement, empathy and respect.  And sometimes this is not the most experienced therapist or the therapist with the most degrees or certificates. I know many therapists in their first five years of private practice who do absolutely brilliant work and have a deep, essential understanding of human psychology and behavior. And, as in the workshop I sat through this weekend, there are therapists with years of experience under their belt who suffer from compassion fatigue and project their repressed emotions onto their clients. Therapy is about a relationship that is based in empathy, compassion, openness and positive regard. Techniques or approaches that shame or belittle an individual and do not value his/her sense of self are probably not going to have a sustainable positive impact.

When choosing a therapist for your child, it is vital to trust your intuition and to ask questions. If you are wondering about changes you see in your child’s behavior, techniques the therapist may be using, how you can support the therapeutic process, or anything else simply ask your therapist. And if your therapist is not able or willing to consult with parents and explain his/her approach, it’s probably not the therapist for you. While resistance is a normal part of the therapeutic process and children don’t always come eagerly (particularly when working on some difficult material), a good therapist is able to distinguish between resistance and re-traumatization. The former can be worked through, the latter can be very risky for a child.

images-2The majority of psychotherapists, counselors and psychologists working in the field today are good practitioners: well-trained, knowledgeable, empathic and genuinely caring for the well-being of their clients. Therapy is a powerful tool that can change lives for the better and can allow children to heal from stress or trauma and to live happier, more balanced lives. I believe so strongly in the power of the work I do. It is truly amazing. And I want to encourage families in search of a therapist to do their research and ensure that the therapist they choose is practicing with integrity and openness.