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:

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.


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!

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.

Supporting Kids Through Stress

Play Therapy: Trauma, Stress and Dysregulation

Often I am asked by curious, perhaps sometimes skeptical parents, what Play Therapy is and how it will help their child be calmer, more resilient, more mentally healthy. Play Therapy is the preferred approach in working with children, speaking to kids in their language of choice. Each model of Play Therapy has something unique to offer and can be beneficial in its own way; however, when it comes to working with children’s stress, trauma and their emotional (and therefore behavioral) dys-regulation, it is critical to have a Play Therapist who understands the biological mechanisms of stress and its impact on the developing nervous system.

Leading trauma author and researcher Dr. Peter Levine says, “Trauma happens when any experience stuns us like a bolt out of the blue; it overwhelms us, leaving us altered and disconnected from our bodies. Any coping mechanisms we may have had are undermined, and we feel utterly helpless and hopeless,” (from Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes by Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline) The flight/fight/freeze response in our brain has been activated in response to a perceived threat, neurochemicals and stress hormones are released signaling to the brain and body to either mobilize (fight/flight) or to “play dead” (freeze) and the nervous system is flooded with information. When the danger has surpassed, if we are not able to discharge the flood of nervous system energy and integrate the experience, it will likely be stored in the nervous system and the body as trauma and can be debilitating to the life of the individual, particularly to children.

How Can We Help Children Move Through A Traumatic Experience

Integration refers to the linking of different parts of the brain in order to help them function well together. Trauma is primarily a function of the brain’s right hemisphere, which is more closely associated with the lower, or more primitive parts of the brain. In fact, our fight/flight/freeze response is governed by our brainstem, the very back of the brain close to where the back of your head meets your neck. In order to heal from trauma and integrate an experience, we must create connections between the sensory information that is stored in the right hemisphere (the imprint of the traumatic experience) and the rest of the brain, particularly the left hemisphere and the pre-frontal cortex (the area behind your forehead responsible for more sophisticated functions such as rational thought, sequencing of events, empathy and intuition, etc.)

Now that you know a bit about the biology of stress and trauma, what can you do in the aftermath of a frightening event to help a child calm his/her nervous system and ultimately to integrate the experience? Here are some pointers:

  • Use the oxygen mask philosophy: attend to your own state of regulation and do what you need to do to regulate: deep breaths, feel into your body, shake your hands out, feel your feet on the ground, say a calming phrase to yourself (such as, I am ok).
  • Attend to your child’s basic needs first—safety, human touch (rubbing his back, holding her hand), nourishment (a glass of water), rest.
  • Maintain an authentic attitude of empathy and compassion. Even if your child was in the wrong in some way (i.e. made a mistake and fell off his bike), now is not the time to discuss this. Let him know he is safe now, that you are here, that you’ll talk about the details of what happened later and that now is the time for him to just get safe and calm himself.
  • Repeatedly orient your child back to his/her body. Ask her to feel her feet on the ground. Tell her to let you know where it hurts or what it feels like right now. If she has a specific sensation, ask her for more detail about this. Does it have a color, a size, a shape? As humans, one of our coping mechanisms during trauma is to dissociate or “check out”. One way to keep the trauma from developing into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is to interrupt this dissociation by “getting back in the body”.
  • Crying, trembling, shaking and movement are normal and healthy once the shock of a traumatic experience has worn off. Allow this to happen naturally and stay present with your child while he/she releases these waves (this is energy that has built up in the nervous system as a result of the frightening experience and it needs to be discharged). Assure your child that this is normal and it’s ok to cry or shake.
  • When the child is calmed again, has rested and had his/her basic needs tended to, now is the time to talk about and integrate the experience. This is the time in which parents can ask questions and allow the child to tell his/her story. Draw a storybook or comic describing his memory of the experience, focusing on how it felt for him/her. This allows integration between the two hemispheres of the brain and can lead to greater resilience and healing from the experience.

When To Consult a Professional Play Therapist

There are times when we are not able to fully help our children integrate and bounce back from an experience. Here are signs that it may be time to consult a Play Therapist with a background in trauma work to help your child process and feel better:

  • Changes in personality or drastic changes in behavior
  • Regression: suddenly acting younger than his/her age, reverting to old stages of development—reverse progress in potty training, sucking thumb, talking baby talk, bed-wetting
  • Mood swings and/or the child is unusually sullen, sad, angry or controlling
  • Unusual themes and feelings in the child’s play that suggest he/she is working through an overwhelming experience
  • Sleep disturbances, Nightmares
  • Social withdrawal or isolation for a previously social child
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Physical symptoms that don’t have a traceable physical cause

How Play Therapy Can Help

Here is how Play Therapy with a trained and experienced Play Therapist can help your child move through this difficult time and come back more resilient, confident and emotionally regulated.

As humans we are inherently relational, using our relationships to learn about ourselves, develop confidence and to heal when we are facing or have faced a challenge. Play Therapy offers children a unique relationship in which they can express their internal world and explore their struggles in a highly supportive and compassionate environment. As children express themselves, the therapist facilitates the processing and integration of stressful or traumatic experiences. Through their play, shifts in the biology of the child’s brain and nervous system are able to take place thus allowing the child more ease and fluidity in nervous system regulation. This shift leads to greater resilience, the ability to regulate stress and more ease in the expression of one’s emotional experience and states through words rather than through behavior.

Play Therapy is the research-based method of choice for helping children with a variety of issues including, but not limited to PTSD, depression, anxiety, abuse, behavioral challenges, adoption, divorce or separation, separation anxiety, grief and loss, sleep or eating disturbances, bed-wetting, impulsivity, social challenges and more.

Insatiable Appetites: I Want More!!!

imagesThere are times when each of us, young or old, encounters those internal voices that come from a sad scary place called “scarcity”—I’m not rich enough, pretty enough, my house and salary aren’t big enough, I don’t have enough______ (you fill in the blank). In Buddhism it is called “The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts” and it is not a pretty place to be. I’ve been doing some reflection about this in my own life recently. And I think it’s no coincidence that I’ve had several parents report to me this week that their kids simply cannot get enough: “Can we buy this?” “Will you buy me that?” “When can we go to the store?” “You said you’d get it for me if I was good.” Hungry little ghosts with persistent, insistent requests, often more like demands, that leave parents feeling empty, exasperated, helpless and often like there is no other choice than to give in.

Children have a right to ask for what they want. It’s ok for them to want and it is ok for us to validate their desire. “I hear you honey, I get that you want that Star Wars lego set.” We can validate children’s desires, appreciate them for asking kindly and we can say no. It’s ok to say no. It is up to parents to teach children that they are safe by maintaining boundaries, staying consistent and true to our word. Sometimes a child is pushing a parent because they are actually seeking a boundary. Children feel unsafe when they experience mom or dad as being inconsistent and not having the control in the situation. By modeling healthy ways of saying “no” we are setting a vital example for little ones who will, soon enough, be teenagers. For hungry teenage ghosts, it’s no longer just about Legos and Pokemon cards.

It is also up to parents to understand the underlying need and message beneath this insatiable appetite for stuff. It is up to parents to teach children that material goods are not a substitute for love and connection. Our materialistic society teaches that stuff can be a substitute for love. This is a scary message that kids receive far too often through the media. If your child is constantly bombarding you with requests for stuff and for trips to the toy store, likely they are coming from a place of scarcity and they are struggling to feel their own self worth. It is up to us adults to help them feel loved and worthy by being willing to connect and redirect that feeling of emptiness.

Rather than hop in the car and head to Grandrabbits, let’s offer children connection, some special play time, an activity that you can do together. Offer them the love and connection that they are seeking, that can never be satisfied by another plastic toy. Make it a practice to redirect the requests and demands for stuff to an opportunity to experience your abundance as a family. “Honey, I hear that you want that Pokemon card, but we have so many toys already so we aren’t going to get it. Since we aren’t going to the toy store, we can have some special play time together instead.” Then make it a point to substitute undivided attention, connection and love for the ‘stuff’ in question.

Parenting coach Pantea Dunn gave me a fabulous practice for families to shift the focus from material goods to relational connection. You’ll need a jar, some pencils or markers and some paper or cardstock. Together with your child(ren) come up with special activities you would like to do together as a family. You can even color code the activities for things you do on a regular basis and special treat activities. Each week (bi-weekly, monthly—whatever works for you) your child picks one and you do it together. Do not buy gifts or toys for these special days. This is about connecting and spending time together without the interruption of material goods. The one rule is that each activity that goes into the jar needs to be something you are 100% willing and able to do when it is chosen. Activities can range from playing blocks together, going to the park, riding bikes, going out for pizza (more regular basis activities) to going to the zoo, going miniature golfing, swimming… I love this idea because you can get creative and have so much fun fantasizing about all the cool things you can do together as a family.

The change may not happen overnight. Your child may still ask for things for some time to come. But somewhere beyond the realm of the hungry ghosts lies nirvana. As you hold clear boundaries and offer consistent, undivided attention and connection doing things that your child loves to do, positive change will take place. And you will both be able to experience how abundant and blessed you are just simply because you get to be together.

Special thanks to parenting coach and guru mama Pantea Dunn for the invaluable input, creative ideas and hands on experience she offered to this article. Visit her website at

The Whole Brain Child: A Must Read

Daniel Siegel continues to publish fascinating, applicable and well-researched material on shaping the parent-child relationship in ways that will most optimally foster a child’s emotional development. In this book he teams up with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and the two set out to teach cutting-edge parenting strategies that speak directly to a child’s brain. Bryson and Siegel demonstrate what language to use and when to use it, in order to most effectively help a child integrate the various parts of the brain as he/she processes emotions. They explain their ideas not just through neuroscience but with comics, cheat sheets that you can keep on the fridge for quick reference, and hands-on techniques for explaining the concepts to children (even very young children) in order to help them understand their own brains.

Most parents want their children not only to survive and make it through life, but to thrive, to flourish, to be the best they can possibly be. Siegel and Bryson explain that the integration of the various parts of the brain is the key to developing emotional well-being and mental health. How to facilitate the integration process? Speak to your child, both verbally and nonverbally, in ways that take into account their logical, linear left brain and their creative, emotional right brain. Like a married couple, ideally these two sides of the brain connect, communicate and work together, especially when the going gets tough.

When kids are struggling or upset, Siegel and Bryson teach us to “connect and redirect”. First start by meeting your little one’s upset with a big dose of empathy and understanding. “Wow, I hear that you’re feeling really angry right now!” (I’d add, really sink into his experience and feel what it’s like to be him in this moment—sometimes parents tell me that they are concerned that empathy can feel condescending or feigned. Not if you’re truly being empathic and seeing the world from your child’s perspective.) So light up his right brain with some emotional connection. Once his big, intense feelings have settled, bring in the logical, linear left brain. Now you can offer discipline (which means teaching or a lesson, not punishment) and help him form a coherent story of the upsetting event.

In my practice, I often recommend books to parents as I think they are useful tools for normalizing our experiences and giving us strategies to work with. This one is not just a recommendation. It’s a MUST! Siegel and Bryson have given us such an accessible, hands on tool for helping kids through difficult times and, for those of you more left-brain types—it’s backed by neuroscience! What more can a parent ask for?

Parenting Through the Deep End

the-deep-end-of-the-pool-deep-end-of-the-pool-crankyhead-demotivational-poster-12809828113I believe that parenting is the most challenging and important occupation that there is. And yet it’s a job for which we don’t have to submit a resume, show up for an interview, read the employee handbook or attend trainings and workshops to upkeep our skill set. Parents are thrown into the deep end with no floaties on their arms and sometimes it may feel like you are flailing your way across an Olympic size pool, clumsily dog paddling to keep afloat you and the puppies holding onto your feet for dear life.

So we often turn to the resources at our fingertips to help us through our journey. But with all the myriad of parenting philosophies, books, websites, approaches out there, an Amazon search for “parenting books” can leave us feeling more overwhelmed and helpless than we felt on our own. Google “Parenting Philosophies” and you will come up with over 996,000 search results. So where do we begin and how do we sift through the information we are given in order to decide what is best for our families?

When I work with parents I start with the underlying Truth that they, not I, know their child best. Different things work for different children. While I am not a big proponent of “time out” as punishment, some children do very well with a time out in order to take a little break and calm themselves down. For other children, it can be a painful trigger and send them into further dys-regulation and shut down. It depends on the kiddo and on the way you are framing it as parents. If you have tried something, it comes from a place of love and compassion and it works well with your child, trust in it.

I encourage parents to trust in their intuition. When we read a parenting book, attend a class or ask for help from others, we are not surrendering our responsibility over to another. We are expanding our resources and our repertoire of possibility, giving us more options to draw from; but we are certainly not obligated to take what “the experts” tell us at face value. These so-called experts (myself included) are human…They have their own stories, their own wounds, their own “stuff” (if you will) and there is nothing on Earth that has made them fully capable of knowing what is best for your child 100% of the time. So trust in yourself. Be compassionate with yourself. Take away what feels right for you and gratefully add it to your tool kit. You are welcome to leave the rest behind and just know that it’s there if you’re needing to try something entirely different.

My final bit of advice stemming from my own philosophy of parenting and relationship…sink into the child’s experience before doing anything else. What was she feeling? What was he trying to communicate through his behavior, but didn’t have the words to express? How might it feel to be all alone up in his room while he’s feeling sad and helpless? Once you have allowed yourself some space to be curious and empathic, then you respond to the situation from a place of love. This doesn’t mean you forego limits and boundaries or that you let children run rampant. It’s your job to be the container and provide the boundary to help them learn and feel safe. What it does mean is that you take the time to understand that at the root of your child’s negative behavior is a scared little person who doesn’t have the tools to communicate. So you let him know that you got the message (to the best of your ability) and you understand how he may feel. This is hugely empowering and liberating for a child.

This post was inspired by a newsletter I have been receiving from the Love and Logic Institute. When you google “parenting philosophies” Love and Logic is the first of 996,000 entries. So it has a lot of clout. Their overarching purpose is to teach parents to raise responsible children, which  is noble and lovely, of course. And they sometimes come out with tidbits encouraging empathy, which is great. But there are times when I question how they are able to maintain such unwavering support for what often feels like a very unsupportive approach to parenting. So I will leave you with a story from them to ponder over. Remember these simple instructions:

1. Trust in your intuition
2. Find your empathy- sink into the child’s experience
3. Act from a place of Love, not Fear

Now read on and feel free to comment on what you would do in this situation:

from The Love and Logic Institute (Read post here)

Veronica came to the fourth session of her Becoming a Love and Logic Parent® class anxious to get help with a festering problem with Jake. Twelve-year-old Jake decided that he no longer needed to listen to his mom. His growth spurt now made him taller than his single mom.
“I was so embarrassed on our last ‘movie day.’ I’d saved money to take him and his little brother to the movies. You should have been there. He wouldn’t take his feet off the back of the seats in front of us and he made one loud nasty remark after another during the movie. Several of the patrons even told him to settle down. I just didn’t know what to do.”
A couple of the class members offered to help Veronica design a Love and Logic training session for Jake. They had fun putting the plan together.
On their next “movie day,” big sixteen-year-old Preston appeared at her door just before they were ready to leave for the theater. He was the son of one of her fellow Love and Logic class members.
“I’m here to babysit you, Jake. I understand that you were a jerk the last time you went to the show, so you’re not going this time. By the way, this is going to cost you big time. I hope you’ve got fifteen dollars ’cause I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit around the house with a jerk who doesn’t know how to act in public.”
“Hey,” yelled Jake. “I’m not staying with you, and I’m not paying. I’m leaving!”
“Fine, kid. Your mom says that if you don’t pay, I can go through your room and take anything I want as payment. Have it your way.”
Little did Jake know that this plan had been hatched at Mom’s parenting class. What do you think will happen the next time this family goes out in public?

Loving yourself serves all of us

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.

-Marianne Williamson


I have the greatest job in the world. I work with kids and help them learn and experience how loveable they are. And I work with parents and help them access their own strengths and inner beauty so that they can see the greatness in their children. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. My intention is to help everyone who walks through my door, big or small, cultivate a deep sense of love and appreciation for him or herself. This is the force that drives healing.

It sometimes feels as if we live in a world where it is not permissible to love ourselves (often mistaken as ego). That doing so takes away from our ability to show up for others. That we must not take up space in this world if we are to get by. This, however, is a fear-based way of thinking that can lead to senseless acts of hatred and violence. It can cause us to project our own self-loathing onto those in our closest environment, onto those who trigger our vulnerabilities and onto people who are different from ourselves. This is what seems to be happening in the recent race-related killings of Trayvon Martin and Kenneth Chamberlain. As I am reeling from the news of these two killings (and so much other turmoil on our planet), I’m working to step up my personal path of self-love and that on which I work to guide my clients. For me, this is the solution to atrocities such as these–preventing it by loving ourselves (and therefore each other) as fully as we can.

As a child, this sort of relationship with myself was as far from permissible as running out onto the freeway during rush hour. When I was in the first grade I had an experience that left a pretty big impact on me. It was one of those little events in your life whose residue lingers for years to come. My parents had returned from Back to School Night for my classroom. They were mortified and needed to talk to me immediately. Hanging up on the wall of my classroom were worksheets that each of us little 6 year-olds had filled out listing a number of things that we LOVE. What had struck my parents and led them to decide I needed some reprimanding was that I had chosen to write “ME” as my answer. So, I was 6 and I loved myself…was that really such a bad thing? I remember my dad, in particular, scolding me, telling me it wasn’t nice to write that and that I should have written in some member of my family. Now as an adult, I have compassion for my parents and the vulnerable place they were coming from, not having had all the resources for self-love and nurturing that i have. And I think deep down, even as a 6-year old child, I knew they couldn’t fully take away my ability to love myself; but I sure as heck wasn’t ever going to reveal that to anyone. What a sad moment in the life of a child…the day she is taught that it’s not ok to love yourself. Now it’s my mission to shift this perspective and teach parents the benefits and joys of watching little people recognize their own inner greatness.

Hence, my career path and my personal path, as well. And hence, my message to you parents. Let your little one bask in his integrity and his light. Children are uninhibited little messengers of truth. When your child experiences herself as “the best” or “amazing”, admire her capacity for self love. Learn from her self love! Watch him/her shine and think of all the ways that you also wanted to be seen as a child. Give yourself a great big dose of self love and let your child know he/she has permission to do the same. The world will be such a sweeter place because of it.

And a poem whose words you can bathe in today:

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott