Summertime Conversations

Here in Charlotte we’re now about a month into summer. Perhaps it’s time to think about how  you are using the extra time and freedom from strict school, work, and sports schedules. During the school year parents are usually very focused on their kid’s classroom achievement and activities. Summer brings the opportunity for extra time together and conversations about things that often don’t get enough attention during the school year. Take advantage of this extra time together and use it to really connect with your kids. The time in the car driving to your vacation spot, or sitting on the beach, or taking a hike can be valuable time to reconnect. Put down the cell phones and the computers. Turn off the book that you downloaded and talk to each other! What can you talk about? Here are a few conversation starters:

  • What were the best and worst experiences of the past school year?
  • What is your favorite place visited so far and where do you dream of going?
  • What’s your favorite book or movie?
  • What’s your favorite music right now? Take turns playing your favorite song to each other.  No criticism allowed!
  • Who do you consider your best friend right now? Why? How do you choose a best friend? What qualities make a good friend?
  • What or who are you most concerned about right now?

Be sure to really listen. Withhold judgement. The point is to really connect with each other… To hear and be heard.  Who knows what you might learn?

Happy Summer!vacation travel

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To All the Dads…


Happy Father’s Day!

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To All the Moms….


Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Most Challenging Part of a Parent’s Day….Bedtime !


What is the most challenging part of your day as the parent of a young child? If you said the evening hours, you are not alone.  Most parents of young children say that the hours from around 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. can be some of the most challenging. Often children and parents  are returning home after a long day of activities that may include, work, school, daycare, and sports. Everyone is tired, hungry and perhaps a bit impatient. And there is still much to be done, including dinner, baths, and hopefully quiet time together. Parents often ask me for help in handling bedtime. They want to be able to enjoy spending time with their children and have the kids in bed on time without tears and tantrums. They want their kids to sleep in their own bed! And they don’t want to have to lie down with them to get them to stay in their beds.  While an occasional difficult evening is normal, there are some general guidelines that may make the evening hours easier for everyone in the family.

  • First of all establish a nighttime routine that includes everything you want to accomplish during those hours and stick to it.  Kids like routine and you can include them in the planning of what that routine will look like.  For example, your routine may include dinner, bath, reading together, a song, prayers, hugs and kisses and lights out.  Include what is important to your family.
  • Make your expectations clear. Discuss the new routine with the child and let them know how the plan will go.  Be specific. If you plan to read only one story let them know that ahead of time and stick to it. As in most things related to parenting, consistency is key.
  • Put them in their own bed. It’s important for them to learn how to relax and allow themselves to fall asleep in their own space.
  • Eliminate all technology at bedtime such as computers, Ipads, video games and television. There’s all kinds of research that supports the idea that the brain stimulation from a screen is problematic for sleep.  Do not allow your child to get into the habit of falling asleep with the television on. (In fact, I think televisions should not be in a child’s bedroom, but that’s a discussion for another day!)
  • Take care of all their personal needs before they get in bed. No more going to the bathroom or getting water after they’re in bed!  In fact, no getting out of bed unless it’s a true emergency.  That means no coming back into the family room or the parent’s bedrooms once you’ve said goodnight.

Possible Roadblocks:

If you’ve been lying with the child until he falls asleep you’ll have a habit to break. Explain to him that he is old enough now to be able to fall asleep without you and that from now on you will leave the room after you’ve said good night. If he is upset, tell him you will come back and check on him every 5 minutes until he falls asleep. When you go back in 5 minutes chances are he will already be asleep!  If not, just stand in the doorway briefly and tell him good night again and return every 5 mins until he is asleep. You can gradually increase to every 10 minutes if necessary. Do not stay long and do not lie down with him.

If your child continues to get up out of bed and leave her room, calmly walk her back to bed with no discussion of whatever it is she is asking for.  No more water, or books, or hugs, or whatever.  Tell her you will not discuss what ever it is until morning. Remember consistency is key!  Soon your evening will run much more smoothly.

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Needing a Dose of Sunshine

The winter months can sometimes be difficult ones for folks who struggle with DSCF2633depression. The shorter days with reduced sunlight, imbalances in melatonin and seratonin, and decreased opportunities for social contact may all play a role along with our genetic predisposition to mood disorders. Some deal with serious issues related to the change in seasons and suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that may require care from a physician and/or a mental health provider. Folks with SAD deal with significant symptoms at about the same time every year, with no other explanation for the change in their mood. Other folks may find themselves just feeling a little more blue than usual.
Here is a list of some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Loss of energy
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Significant changes in sleep or appetite

While it’s normal for us to feel blue occasionally, if these symptoms persist or you’re having thoughts of suicide see your doctor or mental health provider right away. If your symptoms are not this serious but you are feeling a bit blue,  try these things to lift your mood:

  • Increase your exposure to sunlight… Raise your blinds. Bundle up and sit out in the sun. Take a walk on a sunny day.
  • Increase your exercise. Even 15-20 minutes may boost your mood.
  • Increase your social contact.  Call a friend and go for a walk!
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein and fresh vegetables.
  • Engage in mind-body therapies such as yoga, meditation, prayer, massage.

The challenge is that when we feel blue our tendency is to hibernate and do less. But that is exactly the opposite of what improves our mood! Withdrawing  usually makes us feel worse. So if you can get up and get started with any of these activities you have a better chance to improve your mood.

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A New Year

Many of us start each new year with resolutions. Sometimes they are resolutions to do international-day-familiessomething like eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking, or lose those last few pounds. This year how about considering what your goals are for your family? After all, isn’t creating the healthiest family possible the most important task we have as parents? What would your healthiest family look like? Sit down tonight at dinner with your household and ask them, “If we could create the family of your dreams what would it look like? How would this family interact with one another and with the outside world? What would they do together? How would they treat each other? What fun would they have? What routines would they put into place? Be as specific as possible and write them down. From that list create your family goals for 2014. Be realistic. For example, if your family never eats meals together now, then setting a goal of dinner together every night may be unrealistic and set you up for failure. You want to be able to reach these goals successfully and build on them. So perhaps a goal of dinner together twice a week would be a more realistic place to start! Include everyone in the goal setting, even the youngest family members. You may be surprised at what they come up with. Happy New Year!

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Good Questions about Parenting Adolescents

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a terrific, small group of parents and talkabout adolescent development.  Most of these parents still had young children and were trying to “prepare” for what was ahead of them.  Since I really like adolescents, I was happy to try to reassure them that (1) parenting teenagers could really be fun.  And (2) that they were really already quite prepared because they had raised toddlers!  You  see, teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common. Toddlers are learning increased independence   (Remember, “I do it myself!”) just as teenagers are wanting increased independence.  Toddlers want to wander off and do things on their own while looking over their shoulder to make sure their parents are still there in case they’re needed.  Teenagers do something similar.  And while I had my fancy handout on developmental stages and my outline to follow, one dad cut right to the chase as he asked,”What are a few things that we really need to get right?”  Wow. That’s a great question. I’m not sure anyone has asked me that in the 27 years I’ve been working with families.  Now I will not be so arrogant as to assume that I have the answer. I can not promise that if you do these things well your kids will turn out just the way you’ve dreamed.  But I have found these few ideas to be valuable:

  • Set boundaries and limits.  Teenagers need and want limits. Have reasonable expectations for them. They want to feel supported and to have something to bump up against.  For example, there’s going to be that party where there are no adults and where there will be drinking and drugs and sex. They want you to tell them they can not go.  They won’t be able to tell you that!  They want to be able to blame it on you.  Let them.
  • Listen. Listen way more than speak. Don’t act shocked when they tell you things. Stay curious.  Let them talk and then ask open ended questions to keep the conversation going, ” Hmmm… I wonder how that must have felt.”  “Wow, what do you think that was like for them?”  ” I imagine that hurt your feelings.”
  • Keep your sense of humor. Laugh with them. Have fun together.  Watch the movies they laugh at and laugh too. Watch the videos they think are hilarious.  Don’t take yourself so serious!

This is just the beginning of a list.  There are so many ideas we could add.  If you’ve parented teenagers I’d love to hear what you’d add!

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Anxious Beginnings

For most kids, this month marks the beginning of a new school year.  With that new

Teacher In Classroom

beginning usually comes a mixture of feelings-excitement, happiness, sadness that summer is over, maybe some dread of the work to come, and often some anxiety about what the new school year will bring.  For most kids, that anxiety is not much more that a few butterflies about who their teacher will be and which of their friends will be in their class.  For others, it is much more difficult and they are overwhelmed with fears that leave them panicked, tearful, unable to sleep or eat normally, and sometimes physically ill. These are kids that often deal with high levels of anxiety in new situations, in general, and a new school year brings  their fears to the surface. For parents, this can be especially difficult to handle.  We try to convince our kids that they are safe. That we will not forget to pick them up after school.  That their teacher is not going to yell at them. That she will not call on them the first day of school if they don’t raise their hand.  To an anxious child, these are just some of their very real fears. It is challenging for parents not to get frustrated, especially if the anxiety lasts for more than a few days.  Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Children who are experiencing challenges in other parts of their lives, are more likely to feel increased anxiety with this transition.  This may include difficulties in the family such as marital problems, divorce, parental unemployment, health problems. It may also include their own learning challenges such as a learning disability or ADHD.
  • If children want to talk about what they are worried about, listen to them completely, and then put some boundaries around how much you allow them to talk about it.
  • The more they focus on the fear, the bigger it gets.  So allow them to express it, discuss the facts around the fear and then put it aside for later.
  • Distraction is a good thing!
  • Don’t coddle the anxious child too  much.  I know it is counter-intuitive, but too much coddling also makes the anxiety grow.  When a child is anxious, they need the adults around them to be confident and to send them the message that all is well.  If you are coddling too much you may be sending the message to the child that you agree that he has something to to be worried about! In my 27 years as a family therapist, I have found that this is often, but not always,  more challenging for us mothers than for most fathers.  If that is true in your family, then have Dad take the child to school until the anxiety lessens.

If the anxiety continues more than a couple of weeks, consider contacting a counselor for more help.  Often a few sessions can be very helpful in teaching children and parents techniques to better handle  anxiety

Young actors light up stage in Missoula Childr...

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My Parenting Toolbox–Regulating our own Emotions

As parents we are often concerned about helping our children regulate their emotions.

A toddler girl crying

That is, helping them handle frustration, anger, sadness, excitement, fear and other strong emotions in an appropriate manner, soothing themselves.  This ability is so important for our kids to learn as early as possible.  In fact, some researchers believe that it is the most important interpersonal skill with long term implications. I agree.   However, I often remind parents that we really can’t teach our kids something that we don’t have ourselves.  So in order to best help our children learn to regulate their emotions, we first need to make sure that we are being a good example by regulating our own. Researcher Pat Ogden has developed a way for us to visualize this task.

Hyperarousal>>>>>>Optimal Arousal<<<<<<<<<Hypoarousal

When we are hyperaroused we are in a state of too much energy.  We are too “worked-up.” We may yell, lose our patience, or cry. We may be over excited.  In this state we are not capable of thinking clearly, fully listening to others, using good communication skills or making our best decisions.  If you’re yelling at the driver of the car that cut you off, you are probably hyperaroused!

At the other end of the continuum, when we are hypoaroused we don’t have enough energy.  We are not  present enough to communicate effectively.  We could feel depressed, exhausted, or just “zoned out” in front of the television.  Our loved ones probably do not feel that we are really listening.

What we aim for is a state of Optimal Arousal. When we are in this state we are capable of being calm, but fully engaged. We can make good decisions.  We can do our best parenting. We can listen and express ourselves in a loving manner. We can set limits without becoming angry.  We can discipline without aggression.

We all move from one state to another.  The key is being able to move as quickly as possible back to optimal arousal.  So how do we do that?  First we need to be able to recognize when we are hyper- or hypo- aroused.  Pay attention to your body, your breathing, your heart rate.  These are all signs of your state of arousal.  Then, deep breathing, relaxation, time-out, meditation, prayer, exercise, are all techniques that some find helpful for returning to an optimal state.

This week I invite you to pay attention to your state of arousal as you’re interacting with others. Monitor yourself.  Notice what state you’re in as you interact with your children. How does your state affect theirs?  

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The Parenting Toolbox

Do you ever wish that you had a toolbox that you could reach into and find just the right

A toolbox. For general Usage as an Icon or wha...

tool to handle a particular issue as a parent?  Most of us have wished kids came with a set of instructions. We all muddle through as best we can and for the most part, do pretty well!   Over the past 27 years counseling families I have put together a toolbox of sorts, for parents that I will share with you over the next few weeks.  Along the way, I’d love to hear from you  about what you keep in your own parenting toolbox!

If you know me at all, you already know that I am extremely Pro-Family. All kinds of families- 2 parent traditional families, single-parent families, stepfamilies, families headed by gay couples, families headed by grandparents- they can all be successful at raising healthy children given the love, motivation and tools to do it.  You may also know that I believe that children grow best in a family that has a healthy hierarchy where parents are the respected leaders in the family and the children are provided healthy limits and boundaries where they can feel safe and secure.  One of the important  challenges for parents is developing a healthy parenting style.

Let’s take a look at 4 parenting styles identified in the research*:

Permissive and Hostile parenting is unpredictable. These parents provide neither warmth nor needed limits which leaves these children anxious and unable to regulate their emotions.

Permissive and Loving parenting is caring and warm but not firm enough and does not provide enough supervision and guidance.

Authoritarian parenting  is Hostile and Firm. These parents are  firm but not nurturing. They are rigid and cold. Expectations are too high and discipline is harsh and shaming.

♥Authoritative parenting♥ should be our goal. It is both nurturing and firm.  These parents provide consistent limit setting combined with warmth and affection.  Their expectations are realistic.  They provide the right combination of supervision and independence.  The research firmly supports this parenting style and shows that it’s the best predictor for children’s well being, better school performance, better behavior, and

Harms Family Preview

better emotional regulation.

The parenting style you use depends on many factors including the style your own parents used.  Food for thought:  Which style did your parents use?  Which style are you using in your own family?  How’s it working for you?

*Parenting Styles from the work of Dr. Daniel Amen (2000)

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