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Back from maternity leave part time and hoping to get things started again soon! Our first offering is FREE FREE FREE. Don’t we all love free? Join us for a no-cost, 3-Part parenting series based on TBRI and The Whole Brain Child. Some snippets to whet your appetite are below; REGISTER HERE!

  1. Connecting—how do our brains work? How powerful is personal connection?
  2. Empowering—Let’s discuss the art of mindfulness and why it’s so important for parents.
  3. Correcting—Based on Karyn Purvis’s Trust Based Relational Intervention, I will be discussing how we can increase trust and compassion and decrease guilt and shame.


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


  1. “Won’t all the mirroring I do just make my kid more dependent on that kind of support, so that he starts looking for it from other people? Won’t it turn him into a wimp?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 210)

Kolari argues that it is just the opposite! The more you mirror for your child, the less dependent they will be as you will be helping them build their “resilience and independence” (Kolari, 2011, p. 210).

  1. “Won’t all that empathizing just make her think it’s okay to be rude?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 211)

Kolari’s answer is “no.” If it is done correctly, a “corrective component” will directly follow the mirroring (Kolari, 2011, p. 211). Mirroring keeps your child engaged enough to be receptive of the corrective component.

  1. What if my spouse/partner won’t do it? Will it still work?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 211).

Although it might take longer without the support of your partner, it will still work. However, Kolari says that the technique will be so effective that your spouse will realize that they would like to utilize it as well.

  1. “How am I going to find the time to do all this mirroring? I’ve got enough to do already.” (Kolari, 2011, p. 211).

This technique takes a lot less time and is much more effective than any of the techniques you’ve been using in the past. According to Kolari, this is because “when you mirror, you put more of that energy into the beginning of the conversation. When you fight, more energy is expended as the conflict escalates” (Kolari, 2011, p. 213).

  1. “I can’t believe my kid is really going to go for that baby stuff. What do I do if he rejects it?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 212).

It’s okay if your child rejects you at first – don’t take it personally. Go slow, take your time, be mindful, and he will eventually come around. If he is really resistant, Kolari encourages parents to do something like “leave a note or a baby picture or some other token on his pillow. And don’t talk about it” (Kolari, 2011, p. 212).

  1. “How do I mirror when my kids are fighting with one another?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 212).

Ideally, you want to separate your kids when this is happening. If you can get them to separate, go to the “more compliant” one first, mirror, then move to the next. If you can’t get them to separate, you will have to channel your inner family therapist. Use your reframing techniques, and make sure each sibling feels heard and understood.

  1. “If I do all this mirroring with one of my kids, isn’t that unfair to the others?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 213).

Yes! You should be mirroring with all of your children.

  1. “I did all this mirroring and our relationship improved, but now it has deteriorated again. What do I do now?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 213).

Did you get comfortable with the improvement and forget about mirroring? That makes sense! You should keep mirroring even during the “good times.” If your relationship has deteriorated again, you’ll have to start again at step one, but this time it won’t take as long to get to your goal.

  1. “My difficult kid is much, much better, but now my ‘good’ kid is starting to act out. What do I do now?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 214). 

We look at families as a system. When one part changes, the other parts are bound to change. Kolari reminds parents to “just be aware that this can happen so that it doesn’t throw you for a loop. Use the same techniques with this child as you did with the other, and you’ll be fine” (Kolari, 2011, p. 214).

  1. “What if I really don’t want to do it?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 214).

If you are feeling really resistance about this technique, that probably means you and your family really need it. The CALM technique can even be helpful for yourself! And of course, if your child needed a surgery or to see a doctor, you would take them. Think of this the same way; your child needs this to feel empowered and build resilience.

  1. “Isn’t It manipulative to use this technique on your teen?” (Kolari, 2011, p. 215).

According to Kolari, if you are truly being empathetic, and this mirroring and connecting is coming from a “place of love,” then this will not be manipulative (Kolari, 2011, p. 215).


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


Disabilities are Relative 

Kids with disabilities need “support, advocacy, and to feel that home is a place where they’re loved and cherished” (Kolari, 2011, p. 200). If they have this, they will have the strength needed to survive whatever their outside world throws at them. Overtime, kids with disabilities will learn how to advocate for themselves, but this will always be more of a challenge for them than for other kids who do not have a disability.

Anxiety Can Also Be Disabling 

Teens get hit with anxiety from multiple different sides, including social and educational anxiety. Kolari reminds parents that teen’s frontal lobes are still developing, which causes them to “have a hard time acquiring a sense of perspective on their life” (Kolari, 2011, p. 200). To make things harder, everyone they hang out with can’t help them because are in the same stage of development! Kolari reminds parents that “oxytocin blocks cortisol, the stress hormone, so lots of love and oxytocin are the best antidotes to anxiety” (Kolari, 2011, p. 201).

Physiotherapy For The Brain

Sometimes, there are gaps between the subjects your teen excels at and those that he struggles in. Usually, this is simply because your child is focusing solely on those he excels in and has abandoned those he needs to work on. Highlighting these gaps, and the importance of practicing, can be very helpful. “Practicing actually builds new neuropathways. There may be parts of the brain your child never choosesto use, but with your help, he can learn to strengthen those parts in the same way he would exercise particular muscle groups to make them stronger” (Kolari, 2011, p. 208).

Finding The Balance

“Exceptional children pose particular challenges for their parents, not least because traits that make them exceptional are invisible. It can be easy to forget the things that set them apart. Different strategies are called in for each case, but the CALM technique is the starting point of them all” (Kolari, 2011 p. 209).


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


ADHD: Mental Overload

If you have a teen with ADHD, you’ve likely dealt with the phone calls from teachers letting you know that your teen is having trouble focusing, forgetting their books at home, forgetting to get permission slips signed, etc. You might even get those phone calls enough that it feels like you have had the same conversation with your teen fifty times. Of course, that can be frustrating for a parent, and make you want to react out of frustration. However, Kolari reminds parents of the CALM technique and encourages them to “help them by first using the CALM technique and empathizing and then presenting the problem” (Kolari, 2011, p. 184). She also encourages parents to have their teens help them come up with possible solutions to the problem. “If he walks away feeling bad about himself, feeling that he can’t do anything right and that you don’t love him, then he won’t have been given the support and guidance he needs to change” (Kolari, 2011, p. 185).

Kolari also writes about the importance of allowing your child to grow through experience – including consequences. “That parental rope needs to be slack enough for them to feel the fall but tight enough to protect them from getting seriously hurt” (Kolari, 2011, p. 188).

Extra tips from Kolari:

  • “…try to enlist the aid of the guidance counselor to help your teen choose the courses most likely to engage his interest” (Kolari, 2011, p. 189).
  • “…speak to the principal or another appropriate administrator and explain that your child has ADHD and may need to get up and walk around for a minute during class” (Kolari, 2011, p. 189).
  • “…help your child improve her skills at teacher management” (Kolari, 2011, p. 189). You’re not asking your teen to fake it, but her ADHD might be preventing her from using “behavioral signals” that the teachers are looking for in order to determine if a student is paying attention or “trying.”

Kolari also touches on medication for ADHD. Some parents are hesitant about ADHD medication because of its potential side effects. However, Kolari believes medication “…acts as a kind of life preserver: if someone is drowning there is no point in standing on the shore yelling out instructions on how to swim” (Kolari, 2011, p. 191). However, once they have the life preserver on and are no longer drowning, they’re able to listen to you and learn from your teaching.


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


Kolari reminds parents that behaviors like cutting or eating disorders are actually our teens crying out for our help. In fact, “these are behavioral manifestations of emotional issues to begin with” (Kolari, 2011, p. 172).

Cutting, Bingeing, and Starving to Escape the Pain

For teens and kids who cut, the physical pain allows them to forget about the emotional pain for a moment. It also reminds them that their alive during a time when they feel so numb. Similar to cutting, eating disorders provides teens with a “false sense of control over their lives” (Kolari, 2011, p. 174). Kolari encourages parents to seek professional help if their child is engaging in these behaviors, and to use the information in this book to act as extra support.

Denial: Yours and Theirs

Teens who engage in these behaviors really want you to see them and to know how much they are hurting, but simultaneously don’t want you to know. This can be so tough for parents to navigate, and Kolari again encourages parents to seek professional help if they are experiencing these issues with their teens.

Kolari also encourages parents to not minimize the issue, “because then the underlying message you’re sending to your teen is that he(not his problem) isn’t important” (Kolari, 2011, p. 174).

Looking for the Signs 

Kolari provides an extensive list of signs for parents, included below:


  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, or other marks on their body
  • Weird excuses for wearing long sleeves in July
  • Difficulty expressing emotions (especially if this is a change in behavior)
  • More time than usual spent in their room


  • Baggy clothes to hide their weight loss
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Avoidance of foods they used to eat
  • A habit of weighing themselves more than before
  • Exercising after eating
  • Being fat as a recurring topic of conversation when they’re clearly not fat


Bulimia (bingeing and purging) may be more difficult to recognize than anorexia because many bulimics maintain a normal body weight and may even be overweight. But the toll it takes on the body and the emotional pain it expresses are just as devastating. Here are the signs that a teen is bulimic.

  • Excessive eating without any weight gain
  • An accumulation of food wrappers or packaging in the garbage
  • Entering into an almost euphoric or a trance-like state while eating
  • Going to the washroom right after meals” (Kolari, 2011, p. 175-176).

Could Your Teen Be Suicidal?

Possible signs:

  • “Radical changes in behavior, such as a generally outgoing teen suddenly becoming withdrawn
  • Flatness of affect, meaning that a teen doesn’t get particularly excited about anything
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Carelessness about appearance (which doesn’t mean that a kid who’s always been a slob has a mental health issue)
  • A drop in grades or loss of interest in school
  • A sudden disregard for authority
  • Unexplained headaches or stomachaches
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • The harming of animals” (Kolari, 2011, p. 178-179).

If your teen says anything about suicide, listen to him. If he leaves the room after saying that, follow him and do not let him be alone. If your teen says anything about a plan, or how he would kill himself, take him to the hospital immediately or call 911.

Providing a Safe Haven

Of course, no matter how closely we follow these directions by Kolari, our teens are likely going to experience a “serious emotional problem” (Kolari, 2011, p. 179). However, “…if you’ve established a strong connection with your child and if he’s comfortable confiding his feelings, the more likely it is that you’ll recognize when he’s in danger while the problem is still in its early stages” (Kolari, 2011, p. 178).

Now, if you’re reading this you are likely already involved in treatment with Creative Counseling Connections or another center. As a reminder, here are a few alternatives to cutting and self-harm:


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


Our teens are growing up in a culture with high social and educational expectations. With this kind of culture that focuses so much on social media and social status, our teens will more than likely deal with lying, gossip, and bullying.

According to Kolari, “the most effective way you can ensure that your child is an empathetic and resilient teen is to practice the mirroring and connecting that will strengthen not only his bond with you but also the bonds he forms and maintains with others outside your home” (Kolari, 2011, p. 146).

Teens lie for a dozen different reasons but two of the biggest reasons are to avoid getting in trouble or to seem important. According to Kolari, we need to work on our connections with our teens in order to “build a solid enough connection with our teens that they know (because we’ve proved to them) that if they tell us the truth, whatever it is, that we’re not going to freak out” (Kolari, 2011, p. 51). This includes not punishing our kids when they tell us the truth after telling a lie. This can be so hard, but it’s important that we don’t inadvertently encourage our kids to lie.

Helping Teens Cope with Bullying and Gossip

Knowing that your teen is struggling with bullying and gossip in school is devastating for any parent. So, what do we do? Kolari says “the first and best thing you can do is to CALM and connect and make sure your teen feels included and loved at home” (Kolari, 2011, p. 163). We also don’t want to sound panicked when they talk to us, because that will “just make him even more desperate and could lead him to stop confiding in you” (Kolari, 2011, p. 164).

What if you notice something is wrong, but your teen isn’t coming for you to help? Kolari says that the best thing you can do is to notice the problem and let them know that you notice there is something going on. Let them know that you want to help, but don’t want to nag, and just want them to know that you are there for them if and when they are ready. Let them know you will try your hardest to remain calm and listen to what they say.

Quick tips from Kolari:

– Encourage your teen to take a few minutes to think before responding to a nasty or hurtful text message. Also, let your teen know that they can text you any time if you aren’t there to help them in person.

– Help your kids learn to stand up for themselves. The “stand-up-for-yourself” statement should “cut off the exchange while transferring the power from the bully to the victim. The statement needs to be strong but subtle: if she either over-or underreacts the social aggressor will know she has succeeded” (Kolari, 2011, p. 166). If they’re up for it, you can help your teen practice these statements through role play.


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


Late, Late, Late 

Research says that it’s normal for teens to have funky sleep schedules. It also goes without saying that some people are just late – it’s part of who they are. But staying up until midnight and sleeping until 11am just isn’t conducive to real “adult” life, nor is It conducive to student life. So how do we avoid those early morning battles? Kolari encourages parents to remember to “mirror, present the problem, find the solution” (Kolari, 2011, p. 125). Kolari says that parents should take a moment when things are relaxed, and they aren’t rushing somewhere, to try to make a “pact” with their teen. Give them some control; explain the issue, take some responsibility for the frustration (i.e., if you’ve been yelling at them in the morning), let them know what the expectations are, and give them the option to collaborate on a solution. Your child might have a preference about how they want to be woken up – listen to them! The solution might be as easy as that.

Procrastination: Waiting for the perfect moment  

This is one of the most frustrating things a parent has to deal with. Kolari recommends parents talk about the consequences of procrastination by using “now self” and “future self.” She says, “explain that you totally understand that his now self believes it’s a really good idea to play that video game and that he’s absolutely positive the optimal moment for beginning his homework will come – but it won’t. It didn’t last time he thought it would, or the time before that, and it isn’t going to happen this time either” (Kolari, 2011, p. 131). Then, explain to him how his future self will be forced to deal with the consequences: a failed grade, a sleepless night, missing out on hanging out with friends, etc.

Of course, there’s a good chance you’ve had this conversation, or something similar, with your teen countless times. As Kolari (2011) notes, “parenting is one of the few areas in our lives where we keep doing the same thing over and over again even though we’re not seeing any results.” That’s why Kolari encourages parents to use the language in the example above, leaving your teen in a pensive mood instead of angry one. Let them know that you will give them a few weeks to work on the issue and that you will check in with their teachers in a few weeks to see if things have really improved, at which point you will intervene if they haven’t. Again, this tactic gives your child the power to collaborate and to have a choice in the matter.

When it’s your issue, not theirs

Sometimes as parents we feel that we have the rightanswers to all of children’s problems. Sometimes, that means we feel frustrated when they don’t do things ourway. Kolari encourages parents to ask themselves a simple question: Is it getting done? If it is, let it go. If it’s not, it’s time to intervene.

Choosing your Battles

 As it turns out, Kolari looks to Dr. Ross Greene’s book The Explosive Childwhen discussing the idea of choosing battles! If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we just summarized this book in our last summary series. If not, scroll down this page and you’ll be able to quickly catch up!

She encourages parents to decide “what’s okay, what’s maybe, and what’s a no-wayissue” (Kolari, 2011, p. 144). Take some quiet time with your partner or spouse to make a list of recurring issues that come up in your house and divide them into the sections we just mentioned. This tactic will allow your child to know the answers to some of his questions before he even asks which will help you avoid blow-ups.

“Kids need to experience failure so that they can store the emotionally charged memory for future use” (Kolari, 2011, p. 143).


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


In this chapter, Kolari goes into detail with examples of how to handle certain situations with your teens when it comes to sex, drugs, and/or alcohol. Without going into too much detail, I’d like to point out some common themes I found in Kolari’s suggestions.

The first important note is that we must be mindful of the likelihood of our teen experimenting with sex, drugs, or alcohol. Unfortunately, it is very high. Thankfully, in Kolari’s experience, it usually just stays in the “experimental” phase and then they move on. But being mindful of this likelihood allows us to better prepare for when the time comes. Our reaction is everything. If we overreact, if we become angry or sad, our teen won’t look to us for advice or wisdom. We want to continue to employ our CALM method and remember that your teens “don’t want to be able to intimidate you. If you cry and get upset they’ll see this as a weakness – a sign that they’ve been able to get to you” (Kolari, 2011, p. 116). We want to remain firm, open, and connected.

The second suggestion is to always encourage open and honest conversations about these topics. There shouldn’t be just one “sex talk” because honestly your teen will probably just laugh, and they’re probably much more informed than you think thanks to the media and their friends. Kolari reminds parents to never lie, and if you need a few days to think about your answer to a question it’s okay to be honest with your teen about that. You can tell them that you want to wait and think about it, because it’s an important topic and you want to get it right. But always, always go back to the question. Don’t leave them wondering why you’re dodging a question. Keep the communication ongoing, open, and honest. Kolari suggests trying to have tougher conversations in places like the car, or on a bike, when there is less face-to-face pressure.

“The more open and honest you can be with your teen, the better the conversation will go. And the closer your relationship, the less likely he’ll be tempted to blindly follow his peers or to self-medicate to reduce feelings of anxiety” (Kolari, 2011, p. 119). 


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


When your teen starts doing what you’ve been asking them to do – doing their dishes, cleaning their room, coming home before curfew – it’s important to be mindful of your reaction. You want to let them know that you notice and are appreciative but be careful not to go overboard. If you bombard them with praise, they might start to feel pressure. They might start to feel concerned that they won’t do it “as well” the next time, and then decide that it’s just not worth the risk of disappointing you.

Implementing consequences is hard and Kolari suggests we do this methodically. She suggests that parents don’t snatch a cell phone right after the consequence has been stated – calmly tell them the phone will be only be gone longer if they don’t give it to you. Then, wait until they are asleep to call the cell phone company or take the phone. Your child may wake up in the morning and frantically and angrily search for their phone – they might even threaten to take something of yours. But if you remain calm and continue to mirror, they will begin to calm down and will likely start doing the things you asked them to do in the first place.

“It is absolutely essential to remain calm and neutral as you correct and impose consequences” (Kolari, 2011, p. 95). If you don’t remain calm you are doing two things: 1. Letting your teen get the rise out of you they intended to, and 2. Showing them that you are unable to keep them safe, which is what they are really looking for.

“Bad behavior is your teen’s way of communicating that he has a problem, and your job as a parent is to help him find a solution” (Kolari, 2011, p. 96).

Letting Them Know It’s Their Choice

In their teenage years, it’s important for kids to feel that they have some control over their lives – that they have a choice. When your child behaves unacceptably, knowing the consequences, they have made a choice. The consequences need to be realistic – not too wildly restrictive that you will give up on them, and not too little that your teen won’t take them seriously. The best way to do this is to work with your kids to decide on the consequences.

You should also always make your child aware of the consequences of their behavior priorto a triggering event – Kolari calls this “frontloading.” For example, if your son is going to the movies with friends, and he tends to stay out to late with his friends after movie nights, remind him of the importance of coming home on time, and the consequences that he has if he misses curfew. Frontloading allows you to avoid confrontation after the event.


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


To Be CALM Is to Be Flexible  

When your teen is being difficult or inflexible, you might want to “pull back and protect yourself” (Kolari, 2011, p. 75). But it is during these moments when it is most important to utilize the CALM technique (see previous blog post for further explanation). It might be hard to see in the moment, but in the long run it will make your life easier. The calmer you are, the easier it will be to connect with your teen, and the quicker you will be able to solve the issues at hand.

When the Bond is Frayed 

Some of us have teens who have withdrawn and pulled away from us. They don’t want to connect with us. But according to Kolari, connecting with your teen is how you get them back. Kolari recommends parents use the CALM method for 10-15 minutes a day to build a deeper connection with their teen children.

According to Kolari, a frayed bond can affect the entire family. It can cause polarization between parents, creating confusion and chaos. As we know, some teens can be very good at using this to their advantage – “playing one parent off against the other” (Kolari, 2011, p. 86). Kolari reminds parents that the change must begin with ourselves. She uses the perfect analogy to explain the family as a system of multiple parts:

“… being in a family is like sleeping in a water bed. When one person moves, everyone feels the ripple. A family is a system, and every member’s behavior affects everyone else” (Kolari, 2011, p. 87).

Everyone in the family needs to make changes if “they are going to reconnect and stop living in a war zone” (Kolari, 2011, p. 87)

Children of Divorce 

In an ideal world, divorced parents are still able to work together and co-parent with ease. However, we know that many divorces lead to polarization and parenting differences. One parent might end up being the “cool and relaxed” parent while the other is the “strict and boring” parent. This can be hard to navigate, but Kolari tells parents not to get too sucked into this. If your teen comes home from a “freewheeling weekend” at Mom’s house, continue to implement your normal rules and techniques.  It might not seem like it, but your teen actually needs your home to be their place of “safety, predictability, and love” (Kolari, 2011, p. 90).


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


According to Kolari, teens are in a stage where, although they are separating from you, they still need to know the attachment exists. Therefore, it’s up to parents “to let our kids know that the attachment is there and, if the bond has been frayed, to get it back in place” (Kolari, 2011, p. 48).

Looking for the Silver Lining 

We often spend a lot of time focusing on our teen’s bad behaviors, but Kolari encourages parents to “look for the things he does well and the times he does what’s asked of him” (Kolari, 2011, p. 51). In other words, we need to look for the silver lining.

Kolari also points out that as parents, we sometimes talk about our kids in front of them as if they can’t hear us, when in fact they are listening. “If we keep talking about how impossible they are, that will be the story they believe about themselves, and then they may just shrug and think, why even bother? It’s just who I am. We need to let them know when we notice something good and use that as an opportunity to mirror and connect” (Kolari, 2011, p. 52).

Change Begins with Us

As parents, sometimes we think that yelling at our teens and making them feel badly enough about their behavior will make them change that behavior. Kolari, however, finds this tactic to be less effective. According to Kolari, “When we yell at him, and even when we patiently explain what he’s doing wrong, what we’re really doing is letting him know his feelings aren’t valid, that he shouldn’t be feeling what he’s feeling” (Kolari, 2011, p. 53-54).

We also need to work to rewire what Kolari calls our “fight or flight responses.” If we notice that our teen “is stuck in the moment we need to take a step back, calm down, and remember what we’re trying to achieve” (Kolari, 2011, p. 55).

Staying CALM to CALM Your Teen 

Kolari’s CALM technique has two purposes: “to de-escalate emotions in the moment and, over the long term, to help your teen become more emotionally resilient and better able to organize and regulate his own emotions” (Kolari, 2011, p. 55).

The steps for this technique are:

  1. CALM
  2. Present the problem
  3. Find a solution

Kolari says that parents will find this technique useful “whether you’re helping your teen deal with a painful issue, asking him to go to bed, dealing with the fact that she’s smoking, or getting him to be nicer to his siblings” (Kolari, 2011, p. 56).

Connect: “Giving your undivided attention, making eye contact, and using your body as well as your voice to match the urgency of the message your teen is trying to send” (Kolari, 2011, p. 56-57).

Affect: “When you’re mirroring, you’re joining with your teen by reflecting his affect back to him” (Kolari, 2011, p. 59).

Listen: You can let your teen know you’re listening “by using her own words to convey your understanding. There are four ways you can convey the fact that you’re listening, you can paraphrase, you can summarize, and you can wonder out loud” (Kolari, 2011, p. 60).

Mirror: “When you connect, use your affect to reflect your understanding, and truly listen, you’re mirroring and creating a moment of deep connection” (Kolari, 2011, p. 61).

Of course, you may try this technique and your teen might reject you. Kolari anticipates this and encourages parents to “stay neutral and don’t appear offended. Just say something like, ‘You know, I have been thinking about how often I don’t really listen to you and I’m really working on it. I guess I still have a way to go” (Kolari, 2011, p. 62).

If You Get It Wrong, You Can Always Redo it

Thankfully, the CALM technique provides parents with the time to really think about what they want to say to their teens. It also encourages parents to take a moment to think about how they may have felt if they were in their teen’s shoes.

That being said, Kolari notes that “the key to using the CALM technique successfully is to get out of your head and inside your teen’s” (Kolari, 2011, p. 69). To do this, parents should become aware of their own triggers and memories that drive their reactions.


“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


In order to better understand our teens, we need to understand the world they live in. Today, the world is both “more permissive and more sheltered than the world we grew up in” (Kolari, 2011, p. 32). Children are faced with pressures that we couldn’t have imagined coping with. Even the evening news can “trigger the release of stress hormones that affect the brain” (Kolari, 2011, p. 32).

Then there is the pressure your teens feel at school and with their friends. We’ve all had moments when we’ve stressed about what we’re wearing, how we’re behaving, or what we look like. For us it can be fleeting, but for teens that feeling is almost constant (Kolari, 2011, p. 33). When our teens come home and beg for the newest “thing” because “everyone has it,” they’re probably right. But according to Kolari, “if you’re constantly there to smooth away every obstacle in his path, give into his every whim, and basically allow him to believe he’s the center of the universe, you really aren’t doing him any favors” (Kolari, 2011, p. 34).

The Perils of Overprotection 

Kolari notes that parents may feel a sense of false security in this new era of constant communication thanks to cell phones. Some parents – “overprotective” parents – may call their child every five minutes to find out what they’re doing, who they’re with, and where they are. Your child might tell you the truth now, but eventually they could become resentful of the constant phone calls and just stop answering. At times, this “hovering” can continue into college and beyond. College should be a time that encourages students to gain independence and grow and progress independently of their parents. Hovering or “overprotective behavior” does not “build resilience and independence in a child of any age” and instead, it “creates an unhealthy resilience that leads kids to believe they are incapable or solving their own problems” (Kolari, 2011, p. 35-36).

The Gift of Making Their Own Mistakes

Kolari encourages parents to resist the urge to fix our children’s mistakes and instead actually “teach our kids that mistakes are a gift from which they will learn and grow” (Kolari, 2011. P. 39). As parents, “we need to help our kids understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process and that being comfortable with the blunders will make them more likely to stick with whatever they’re doing long enough to learn to do it well” (Kolari, 2011, p. 40).

The Stress of Constant Communication

With the rise of social media – Facebook, Twitter, texting – teens these days are constantly dealing with social pressures. When kids are dealing with drama, the “24-hour social media cycle” really doesn’t allow them to just “sleep on it.” That’s stressful, and Kolari encourages parents to “help these superkids become more aware of their stress levels so that they can take control of the stress before it takes control of them – and becomes a pattern for life” (Kolari, 2011, p. 41).

It’s All About Them 

Kolari finds that “if an adolescent grows up believing someone will always be there to smooth the path ahead and to clean up afterward, if he lives in a world where he has instant access to almost anything his heart desires, and if, on top of that, he believes he’s gotto be the best, whatever it takes, he’s in grave danger of believing he’s the Sun King” (Kolari, 2011, p. 45).

Kolari reminds us that, as parents, “our goal should be to parent our children in a way that allows them to make their own choices and learn naturally from the consequences” (Kolari, 2011, p. 45).

Preparing Them to Launch

Kolari notes that adolescence is a difficult stage – no longer a child, but not quite an adult. Thus, “their behavior swings between these two poles” (Kolari, 2011, p. 46). Our reaction to these mood swings is usually to treat our teens “as adults one minute and as babies the next” (Kolari, 2011, p. 46). Kolari will talk more about this in the coming chapters and help us navigate these parenting challenges.

“The whole point of parenting is to nurture and create independent people. If our child is in his or her mind-twenties and still dependent on us, then we haven’t done our job” (Kolari, 2011, p. 47).

“You’re ruining my life!” (but not really): Surviving the teenage years with connected parenting

By Jennifer Kolari


Jennifer Kolari, MSW, RSW, knows that parenting a teen can be a confusing, frustrating experience. Your teen is going through one of the most intense and scary phases of their lifetime, and instead of coming to you for help, sometimes they treat you as the enemy. The good news is: You’re not alone and Kolari has a solution!

According to Kolari, giving your teen more nurturance, understanding, and love can “regulate their moods, increase their sense of trust, and improve their overall brain functioning” (Kolari, 2011, p.1). She encourages her readers to “think of nurturing, compassion, and deep understanding as brain food, the emotional nutrition that we all need and that our teenagers may need most of all” (Kolari, 2011, p. 2).

Kolari uses the therapeutic model she calls “Connected Parenting” with her clients. This model is a two-step program “based on the understanding that correcting and guiding behavior cannot and will not work unless preceded by and linked to empathy – the ability to identify with and have a deep understanding of the feelings of another person” (Kolari, 2011, p. 2).

This book is loaded with detail, examples based on Kolari’s experience, and scientific evidence. Over the next few weeks we’ll be covering the basics, but we encourage anyone who is interested to consider purchasing the book here:

“Empathy creates a bridge over troubled waters” (Kolari, 2011, p. 5)


Early scientists believed that brain development started and ended in early childhood. Today, with the use of MRI and CAT scans, researchers have discovered the brain’s remarkable ability to “make new connections and rewire itself throughout our entire life” (Kolari, 2011, p. 15). Today, we know, that both the brain’s structure and functionality can change “in response to experience” (Kolari, 2011, p. 5). In fact, researchers have found that there are two major neurobiological growth spurts that occur: during infancy/ early childhood and during adolescence/early adulthood.

The Importance of Mirroring and Attachment 

A baby’s initial experiences are “essentially limited to interactions with her parents, particularly her mother” (Kolari, 2011, p. 16). Meaning, “when you’re stressed, your baby senses and absorbs that stress; when you respond to him with joy, he senses your mood and responds joyfully” (Kolari, 2011, p. 17). When a child feels love from their part of guardian, the hormone “oxytocin” is released. On the other hand, the hormone “cortisol” is “activated during periods of stress” (Kolari, 2011, p. 20). That puts a lot of pressure on parents, right?

Thankfully, Kolari’s model is so forgiving, based on real scientific evidence! According to Kolari, “because the brain is so malleable, or plastic, and so capable of adapting to experience, we can make amends, repair, and redo what we may not have done as well as we would have liked the first time” (Kolari, 2011, p. 18).

The Toddler in a Teenage Body

“Stop acting like a two-year-old and pick your clothes up off of the floor!” Have you ever said something like this to your teen, or maybe just thought about saying it? Well, it makes sense. According to Kolari, it can be hard to reason with teens in the same way it is hard to reason with a toddler. Except now the needs are different; “now it’s not more juice that he wants, it’s permission to go to an unsupervised party at his friend’s house” (Kolari, 2011, p. 23).

Kolari believes this is the case for two reasons: “it is during these periods that the brain undergoes a neurological growth spurt and that attachment issues are most likely to occur” (Kolari, 2011, p. 22).

This metaphor is too perfect to not include verbatim: “Your teens are like astronauts orbiting in space, and you’re the home base which they return for guidance and security. You need to be brave enough to let them be out there, understanding that, although they’re separating from you physically, they’re still attached to you emotionally” (Kolari, 2011, p. 26).

Counteracting Automatic Thoughts

Taking more of a cognitive behavioral approach, Kolari takes the time to discuss “autonomic thoughts” and how to counteract them. When we start to think something, “our brain sends out a chemical message that matches that thought” (Kolari, 2011, p. 29). So, Kolari encourages parents to put these negative thoughts on our radar and recognize them for what they are: “annoying creations of our own mind” (Kolari, 2011, p. 29).


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


Often times, behaviorally challenging children are not challenging at school. According to Dr. Green, this can “reinforce the false belief that a kid’s challenging behaviors are intentional, goal-oriented, and completely under his control” (Green, 2014, p. 226). Dr. Green takes some time to debunk this narrative.

  1. The Situational Factor: Behaviorally challenging kid’s challenging behavior comes into play “when the demands of the environment exceed a kid’s capacity to respond adaptively” (Green, 2014, p. 226). Generally speaking, the demands a child must respond to at school to not exceed their capacity to do so.
  2. The Embarrassment Factor: Many behaviorally challenging children would hate to have their friends or classmates see their challenging episodes (Green, 2014, p. 226).
  3. The Chemical Factor: Often times, behaviorally challenging children are medicated during school hours, but those affects wear off by the time the child returns home (Green, 2014, p. 227).

Of course, there are children who do still have challenging episodes in school. Unfortunately, implementing the skills we’ve learned so far is difficult in the school setting. Most teachers operate under Plan A: unilateral decision-making. Many teachers feel ill-equipped to use the skills needed for Plan B and C (Green, 2014, p. 228). Green lists a few necessary components that are needed for Plan B to be implemented in a school setting:

  1. Awareness: Educators must become informed of different ways to help children with special needs (Green, 2014, p. 230).
  2. Urgency: “Understanding and helping these students has to be a priority” (Green, 2014, p. 230).
  3. Mentality: Schools need to adopt the “kids do well if they can mentality” (Green, 2014, 231).
  4. Expertise: “Educators need expertise and experience in two realms: identifying lagging skills and unsolved problems, and using Plan B” (Green, 2014, p. 231).
  5. Abandoning Blame: Educators need to stop blaming parents for their behaviorally challenging children (Green, 2014, p. 232).
  6. Time: Although educators often say they don’t have the time to deal with behaviorally challenging children, using Plan B effectively is more time-sensitive than Plan A (Green, 2014, p. 231).
  7. Assessment Mechanisms and Tools: “Identifying lagging skills and unsolved problems usually requires a meeting or two involving all of the adults who interact with the child at school, and the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems should be the standard discussion guide in these meetings” (Green, 2014, p. 233).
  8. Practice, Feedback, and Coaching: Similar to parents, in order for educators to become efficient in implementing Plan B, they will need a lot of coaching and practice (Green, 2014, p. 233).
  9. Ongoing communication: “…advance preparation and good communication among adults are successful” (Green, 2014, p. 234).
  10. Continuity: “…the adults working with a given child must reconvene periodically to assess progress and revisit unsolved problems” (Green, 2014, p. 235).
  11. Perseverance: Adults working with behaviorally challenging children must understand that “there is no quick fix” (Green, 2014, p. 235).

Parents and teachers of behaviorally challenging children often find it hard to work together because they both play the blame game and fail to work collaboratively to help the child in need. According to Green, “When parents and teachers are able to exchange specific information about a child’s lagging skills and unsolved problems, they start trusting each other” (Green, 2014, p. 244).

Chapter 12: BETTER

It is our hope that you have learned and practiced the skills taught in this book.  Remember that it takes time and patience for both you and your family to adapt to this new mentality and method of collaboration. “Kids do well if they can. So do parents. And if things aren’t going well for you and your behaviorally challenging child, now you know what to do” (Green, 2014, p. 258).

Please visit additional resources, podcasts, and events.


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


How do your different family members play into this process? Dr. Green explores:


  1. Although it seems as though your behaviorally challenged child is behaving “over the top” in response to sibling arguments, Dr. Green reminds parents that “it takes two to tango” (Green, 2014, P. 190). However, Dr. Green also notes the importance of safety during these incidents.
  2. It is important for all siblings to receive the nurturance and attention they deserve and need; however, parents should keep in mind that the behaviorally challenging sibling may require more time, “at least until you get some problems solved and skills taught” (Green, 2014, p. 191).
  3. It is important for the siblings to understand why the behaviorally challenging child is behaving the way they are; however, it is equally important that the siblings do not feel they need to “walk on eggshells” or that “their needs and concerns always take a backseat” (Green, 2014, p. 191).
  4. Parents should empathize with the siblings of the behaviorally challenging child, while making sure it is delivered in a way that “isn’t disrespectful or dismissive of the challenging child’s genuine and significant needs” (Green, 2014, p. 191).

“Over time, siblings of behaviorally challenging kids feel better when problems are resolved through Plan B because they see that their concerns are being heard, understood, and taken into account”(Green, 2014, 194).

Communication patterns:

Dr. Green suggests seeking the support of a family therapist to improve the communication within your family. Effectively dealing with the challenging behaviors of children is difficult when communication skills are lacking. (Green, 2014, p. 201)

Here are a few communication patterns you should avoid (Green, 2014, p. 205):

  • Sarcasm
  • Put-downs
  • Catastrophizing
  • Interrupting
  • Lecturing
  • Dwelling on the past
  • Talking through a third person


Sometimes, it is necessary to inform and teach grandparents about the process you are using to help your behaviorally challenging child. This is especially important in families where the grandparents are a vital component of the child’s upbringing. (Green, 2014, p. 211)


Dr. Green emphasizes the importance of both parental/caregiving figures to be working together, collaboratively. It is imperative that the caregivers remain on the same page. This involves communication between the caregivers, as well as taking care of yourself and “creating a support system of your own” (Green, 2014, p. 214)


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


  1. Holding your child accountable

Many parents will begin this process and continue to worry that they are not “holding their child accountable” for their behavior. Normally, this means adding more punishment. However, Dr. Green reminds his readers that their previous methods of punishment did not work. That is why he suggests using this fresh, new approach.

  1. Setting limits

Yes, you are still setting limits even when you’re using Plan B! The difference is that you are doing so collaboratively and setting realistic, mutually satisfactory solutions, while “decreasing adversarial interactions” (Green, 2014, p. 160).

  1. Letting your child know that you disapprove of his explosive behavior

This is where “defining the problem” comes into play. In this step, you are letting her know that you disapprove, while working together to find a solution.

  1. Using Plan B “too late”

If your child has already exploded, you were probably using Plan A, working from a unilateral perspective. In this case, Dr. Green recommends parents “defuse and de-escalate the situation so as to keep everyone safe” (Green, 2014, p. 165). At this point, if you feel that your child Is still able to think rationally, you can use “emergency plan B.” Otherwise, prioritize the problems, using Plan C. Perhaps this is something that can go on the backburner for now, and can be revisited at another, calmer time.


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


Did your trial run of Plan B not work as planned? No problem. Dr. Green offers the following suggestions:

  1. “You haven’t tried Plan B yet. You’re still only using Plan A and Plan C” (Green, 2014, p. 136)
    1. It’s normal to feel hesitant about trying Plan B. Perhaps you’ve only ever used Plan A, so it’s all you have practice with. However, try to remember that “if you never give Plan B a try, then you and your kid will never become good at it” (Green, 2014, P. 136). As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable using Plan B, for both you and your child.
  2. “You’ve tried Plan B, but you’re relying primarily on Emergency Plan B instead of Proactive Plan B” (Green, 2014, p. 137)
    1. Emergency plan B is when you are trying to collaboratively solve a problem in the heat of the moment. This is rushed and hard to do. You have a better chance at solving problems collaboratively if you use Proactive Plan B. Try solving the problems before they come up again. Did you complete that “Lagging skills and unsolved problems” template? If you didn’t, go back and complete it. Knowing your child’s triggers is the most important part of this whole process.
  3. “You still have your old lenses on” (Green, 2014, p. 138)
    1. Are you still concerned that your child will never grasp the skills needed to solve these previously unsolvable problems? Go back and read the summaries of Chapters 1 and 2.
  4. “You’re beginning the empathy step thinking you already know your child’s concern or perspective” (Green, 2014, p. 138) or “You’re entering Plan B with a preordained
    1. You should be entering the empathy step only after throwing out all of your preconceived ideas about the unsolved problem. In order for this to be a collaborative experience, it needs to start off on a clean slate.
  5. “You’re agreeing to solutions that aren’t realistic and mutually satisfactory” (Green, 2014, p. 139)
    1. If you have any doubts about whether the solution you have agreed upon is realistic and mutually satisfactory, stay in this phase until you are confident. Collaboration means exploring multiple ideas.
  6. “You’re trying to bake the cake without one of the three key ingredients” (Green, 2014, p. 139)
    1. These steps are equally important and must go in the correct order. Don’t move onto the next step if the previous step is not fully completed.
  7. “The empathy step never gets rolling because your kid’s first response to the unsolved problem is ‘I don’t know’ or silence.” (Green, 2014, p. 142)
    1. Remember to give your child some time to explore the unsolved problem in their own head. This might be the first time they’ve truly had the chance to do so!
  8. “Your kid didn’t care about your concern, so your enthusiasm for Plan B dissipated rapidly” (Green, 2014, p. 151)
    1. Try not to be too discouraged. Your child might be so used to Plan A that this sudden switch might be confusing to him/her. According to Dr. Green, “He’ll start trying to address your concerns not too long after you start trying to address his” (Green, 2014, p. 152).
  9. “Your kid didn’t have any ideas for solutions” (Green, 2014, p. 152)
    1. That’s fine! That’s why this is a collaborative process. Keep sharing your ideas, and he will soon catch on.


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


As stated in previous chapters, Plan B has three steps. The first step is the Empathy Step. During this phase, parents should “gather information from your child so you can achieve the clearest possible understanding of his concern or perspective on a given unsolved problem” (Green, 2014, p. 101). Dr. Green notes that in this step parents do not lose authority, rather they “gain a problem-solving partner” (Green, 2014, p. 102). When you begin the Empathy Step, you should assume you know nothing about the unsolved problem, even if you have some ideas about a possible solution. Dr. Green recommends parents begin this step by saying, “I’ve noticed that…” and end your statement with a nonconfrontational question like “What’s up?”

The Define the Problem Step is when parents acknowledge their concerns. This step should begin with the words “My concern is…” or “The thing is…” (Green, 2014, p. 116). Here are some examples:

  1. Difficulty going to school: “The thing is, if you don’t go to school, I’m concerned that you’re going to miss out on important learning. Plus, we wouldn’t really be solving the problem of Sophie hitting you” (Green, 2014, p. 117)
  2. Difficulty brushing teeth at night: “The thing is, if you don’t brush your teeth at night, the food you’ve been eating all day sits on your teeth and can cause cavities. I don’t want to have to spend money on a dentist” (Green, 2014, p. 117).

The invitation step “involves brainstorming potential solutions that address the concerns of both parties, concerns that have been identified and clarified in the first two steps” (Green, 2014, p. 120). This invitation step emphasizes the importance of collaboration, rather than the parent attempting to solve the problem unilaterally.

Using Plan B in a proactive manner is a learned skill. Try it out at home before moving onto the next chapters!

“The solution must be realistic(meaning both parties can actually do what they’re agreeing to do) and mutually satisfactory(meaning the solution truly and logically addresses the concerns of both parties)” (Green, 2014, p. 123).


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


Dr. Green explains that there are three plans a parent can choose when dealing with unsolved problems and challenging behavior.

  • Plan A: Solving problems unilaterally. For example, “I have decided that you need to brush your teeth and it does not matter how much you cry.”
  • Plan B:
    • The best way to deal with unsolved problems is collaboratively. Some parents read that and worry about not being “in charge.” However, “being in charge means that you understand why even the most mundane of problems can set the stage for challenging episodes, and that you’re willing to change the course” (Green, 2014, p. 91).
    • There are three steps in plan B:
      • Empathy step: “gathering information from your child to understand his concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem” (Green, 2014, p. 92)
      • Define the problem: “Involves communicating your concern or perspective about the same problem” (Green, 2014, p. 92).
      • Invitation step: “When you and your child discuss and agree on a solution that is realistic and mutually satisfactory” (Green, 2014, p. 92). For example: “Let’s think about how WE can solve this problem.”
    • Plan B is proactive. You want to attempt to solve the problem beforeit comes up again. For example, have the discussion about making the bed long before the time even comes up to make the bed.
  • Plan C: This plan is really about prioritizing unsolved problems. For example, if brushing teeth is not “high up” on your unsolved problems list, then don’t have your kid brush their teeth for now. You can address that problem once the “higher up” unsolved problems have been solved.
    • “The unsolved problems you’re setting aside for now (Plan C) will make it easier for you to work on your high-priority unsolved problems with Plan B” (Green, 2014, p. 96).

Dismissing kids’ concerns isn’t ideal to begin with, but if you dismiss the concerns of a behaviorally challenging kid you’re going to increase the likelihood of a challenging episode” (Green, 2014, p. 102).


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


             Some parents of behaviorally challenging children blame themselves by saying, “he knows when he cries he gets what he wants!” or “he is a manipulative child and knows just how to push my buttons!” A generally accepted theory of parenting says that parents need to be more “strict” and “show the child who’s boss.” However, Dr. Green emphasizes a different idea of unlearning and reteaching behavior. Here is what Dr. Green suggests (Green, 2014, p. 76-77):

  1. “Providing the kid with lots of positive attention for good behavior and eliminating all attention associated with challenging behavior.”
  2. “Teaching parents to issue fewer and clearer commands.”
  3. “Teaching the kid that compliance is expected and enforced on all parental commands and that he must comply quickly because his parents are going to issue a command only once or twice.”
  4. “Teaching the child that his parents won’t back down in the face of challenging behavior.”
  5. “Maintaining a record-keeping and currency system (points, stickers, checks, happy faces and the like) to track the child’s performance on specified target behaviors.”
  6. “Delivering adult-imposed consequences, in the form of rewards (such as allowance money and privileges), loss of attention (in the form of time-outs), and punishments (such as loss of privileges and grounding) contingent on the child’s successful or unsuccessful performance.”

“Your new approach will be focused on solving problems rather than modifying behavior, centered on solving those problems collaboratively rather than through imposition of adult will, and focused lenses on what you do in the heat of the moment and more – much more – on what you’ll be doing before the problems arise” (Green, 2014, p. 83).


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.


              According to Green, parents should identify the “lagging skills” before attempting to solve the unsolved problems. The following is a list of skills behaviorally challenging children may be lacking (Green, 2014, p. 20-30):

  1. “Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mind-set or task to another.”
  2. “Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem.”
  3. “Difficulty considering past experiences that would guide one’s actions in the present.”
  4. “Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of one’s solutions or potential courses of action.”
  5. “Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words.”
  6. “Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration in order to think rationally.”
  7. “Difficulty seeing the ‘grays;’ concrete, literal, black-and-white thinking.”
  8. “Difficulty deviating from rules or routine.”
  9. “Difficulty handling unpredictability, ambiguity, uncertainty, or novelty.”
  10. “Difficulty shifting from an original idea or solution.”
  11. “Difficulty adapting to changes in plan or new rules.”
  12. “Difficulty taking into account situational factors that would suggest the need to change a plan.”


             When parents take the time to identify unsolved problems that are triggering the challenging behavior, the explosive episodes become predictable and therefore parents can become more proactive. According to Green (2014), “most behaviorally challenging kids are reliably set off by the same five or six (or ten or twelve) problems every day or every week.”

Before identifying these unsolved problems, Dr. Green highlights a few guidelines for doing so (Green, 2014, p. 44-47).

  • “Whenever possible, start each unsolved problem with ‘difficulty’”
    • Words matter! For example, try using “difficulty taking the trash out in the morning” instead of “screaming and crying when having difficulty taking the trash out in the morning.” ‘Difficulty’ is more neutral and your child is less likely to become defensive. Remember, you are allies!
  • “Make sure the unsolved problems are sufficiently specific and ‘split’ rather than clumped.”
    • For example, your child does not have problems with all homework. Be specific about which homework he has problems with.
  • “Keep your theories about the cause of the unsolved problem out of the unsolved problem.”
  • “Keep solutions out of the unsolved problems.”
    • For example, saying “Difficulty laying your clothes out the night before school, so you don’t have difficulty getting dressed in the morning.” If that solution were working, we would not have an unsolved problem. Instead try, “difficulty getting dressed for school in the morning.

Now that you understand the guidelines for identifying lagging skills and unsolved problems, visit for a template. The template is under CPS resources and “The Paperwork.”


The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Green, Ph.D.

            Today we will begin reviewing the book The Explosive Child written by Dr. Ross Green, clinical psychologist. This book provides helpful insights and guidance for parents whose regular parenting techniques have fallen short. Dr. Ross Green explains that some children, particularly “behaviorally challenging children,” do not respond well to tactics such as explaining, redirecting, insisting and reasoning. In this book, he introduces parents to a different method and offers an easy-to-understand and relatable explanation of your child’s explosive behaviors.


            According to Dr. Green, behaviorally challenging children are lacking the necessary skills to handle stressful situations and events. Examples of these skills include flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving (Green, 2014, p. 9-10). Kids would rather not behave this way and, in fact, when they are able to hone those necessary skills their explosive behavior subsides. When parents begin to understand the triggers, they are able to be proactive in solving situations that may be hard.

            The “reward and punishment” tactics that parents have used for years do not work with behaviorally challenging children because they are not teaching the skills needed for the child to solve them on their own (Green, 2014, p. 13). Thus, children and their parents must be “allies” who work together to build the skills and solve stressful problems.

            This can be a foreign concept for parents. Will I lose control? Will I still be in charge? According to Dr. Green, “inflexibility + inflexibility = meltdown” (Green, 2014, p. 33).  If your child is being inflexible (for example, she will absolutely not brush her teeth that evening) and you are insisting that she does so, what will happen? In the words of Dr. Green – Kaboom! Instead, Dr. Green suggests parents take on more of an “ally” role to prevent explosions. If this concept is still confusing and hard to wrap your head around, don’t worry. We’ll talk more about it in the coming chapters.

“Challenging episodes don’t occur in a vacuum. It takes two to tango” (Green, 2014, p. 42).


Last week, we discussed some tips from ETC & Hand in Hand about school issues. There were so many great resources and articles, I decided to continue the series today. First, Connected Parenting guru Dr. Laura Markum shares adoptive & foster family-friendly tips for surviving “Arsenic [Homework] Hour” through the lens for connected parenting.

Second, I’ve included a “Letter to My Child’s Teacher: Trauma Informed Classrooms” for those who need some serious support at school. Enjoy!

Letter to My Child’s Teacher: Trauma-Informed Classrooms

Surviving Arsenic Hour


Some of you have already started school, so here is a resource list from Empowered to Connect and Hand in Hand Parenting (known for their connected parenting advice) on the following topics:  1) advocating for your child 2) supporting sensory issues 3) behavior issues at school and 4) tears and fears starting the school year. You choose the article or resource best for you!


Have you read word for word The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel? No? You are not alone. For those who don’t have time to read a full book (like most parents!), here is a brief infographic summarizing the book.



Today’s blog regarding family vacations is quiet unnecessary, right? Everyone on this list has vacations filled with perfected moments of connection, with a beautiful beach backdrop! And quiet sunset dinners together at nice restaurants? Hmmm, perhaps not. Dr. Laura Markum is a great therapist and author who never ceases to disappoint with connected parenting strategies, perfect for the adoptive and foster family. My favorite tip: #2 (FRONTLOADING) and #13. What’s yours?

Summer Vacations Survival Guide: The Connected Way

Also, I’ve included a post by Empowered to Connect with an interesting story about a mother’s summertime camping experience with her kids“What Do You Need?”


Loss is a theme this week after the deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade due to suicide. As a therapist with plenty of teens who report some level of suicidal ideation, I try my best to tread the middle ground- not to panic at every mention of wanting to escape from the pain, but also not to minimize a risk. Click here for an article meant to help adoptive and foster parents specifically with this issue:


Check out this amazing resource, written and created for adoptive and foster families: Confessions of An Adoptive Parent

They also have a podcast with some interesting titles such as, “Loving a child who won’t love you back,” and “How to Provide a Healing Home for Wounded Children,” and “”The Stuff I Learned from Unexpectedly Becoming a Parent to Special Needs Child.” Enjoy!



As some of you may know, I attended the Barker Adoption Foundation’s conference last month. The speakers, including Angela Tucker (transracially adopted person in her 20’s), were amazing. Here are my notes of the greatest “takeaways” or new resources I discovered while there:

Parenting Across Race, Angela Tucker

Episodes of interviews w/ teens:

Code-switching, used as a survival method: the way a person switches between racial identities, depending on the social situation (acting “black” with friends and “white” with teachers or parents; wearing certain clothes or wearing hair a certain way). Watch the documentary about search & reunion: “Closure”

Helpful Resources gathered from the conference:

The Viva Center: brainspotting, neurofeedback, EMDR ($165 an hour)

Jennifer Fairfax & Caitlyn Slattery: adoption attorney; will legally complete private adoptions as long as the “matching” has already occurred

Asia Families (school, support, events, for Asian adoptive families) Susan Schulken

Calo (Lake Ozark, MO):

  • residential treatment for adopted teens and pre-teens (canine assisted therapy, dyadic developmental psychotherapy, adventure-based initiatives, biofeedback, neurofeedback
  • residential treatment for emerging adults
  • Wilderness therapy for preteens, teens & young adults
  • Week-long therapeutic intensive assessment (assessment, therapy, experiential experiences accommodations at Lake Ozark)


  1. Week long family camp (CA & VT), for adopted children of color, their parents /sibs
  2. Webinars
  3. Placement of same-race adoptions

Sienna School & Auburn School (the school serves many adoptive children)

Trauma, Debbie Schugg, therapist: and mother of 8:

Finding joy: “If I child has already lost the most important thing in her life, the woman who birthed her, why would canceling her soccer practice because of poor behavior make any difference in her life? It will make it worse, because she NEEDS it to have hope. “Debbie Schugg

Telling Difficult Adoption Stories:

The most important to consider is HOW information is presented

Be conscientious/purposeful about sharing information

Just because you have a close relationship with your child, does not mean you shouldn’t talk to them about adoption…. Because every child is thinking about it. Don’t wait for your child to ask questions. Tell the story over and over again so it can be processed.

The adult adoptee panelist shared that when she found out that she was adopted, she felt, “Like the world stopped, the room went dark, as if I had just died. I was jealous that I wasn’t born from my mother’s body.”

Children need the support of their foster or adoptive parent as they do search for information or contact with their birth parent. It’s important to include child in the search for their family (and preferably allow them to lead, otherwise it is too overwhelming; this is your child’s story, not yours. As the presenter said, “I clung to my adoptive mother as I met my birth mother for the first time.”

Secrecy as a theme in your family will begin to send the message to your children that adoption is “dirty.”

For those in a transracial family, it is “impossible” to forget the racial differences due to comments in the grocery store, questions from friends, “is that your real parents?” The presenter stated her adoptive parents helped her practice (role played) how to answer questions from friends in a cheeky way: “She’s my real mom, it hurts when I pinch her.” Try to weave little “pebbles” of information into conversation naturally: “Do you ever wonder how you got to be so artistic? Because it wasn’t from me!!” Progressively share more detail according to age/developmental capacity.

Sharing hard parts of their story will DEFINITELY BE HARD but as the adult adoptee panelists shared, the “not talking about it” or having parents who were sensitive about being replaced, was much more difficult for them in the long run.

[Note: Barker offers an adult adoptee support group monthly]


IEP in Maryland (Montgomery County)…what you need to know! (For all ages)

What is an IEP? An IEP in an Individualized Education Plan that is set up for your child if it is suspected that he/she has the need for extra learning support at school. So, if your child needs help reading, or with math etc., an IEP needs be put into place before your child can obtain those services from the school.

Who can refer a student for an IEP evaluation? Parents, guardians, and school staff can request that a student be evaluated for an IEP.

When can I request an IEP evaluation? Anytime! Anytime you suspect your child might have a disability, you can request an evaluation by the IEP team.

What is the evaluation looking for specifically? The evaluation looks for areas that your child might be struggling with: a learning disability. The evaluation also looks at which specific education needs your child has, and which specific supports and services would address your child’s educational needs (if any). Built into the evaluation are ways to mark your child’s educational progress as well.

The evaluation may also rule out the need for services.

How thorough is the evaluation? Very! The student must be assessed in all areas of the suspected disability. The determination of a disability is never made on any one single factor, but rather on the basis of the results of the entire evaluation.

Who conducts the IEP evaluation? Evaluations are done by the IEP team. The team is made up of various people who have expertise, and information about your child, and how your child should be performing given his/her age etc.

The team includes: The parent/guardian, one of your child’s teachers, a special education teacher, a school district representative, an expert who can interpret your child’s evaluation results, (your child- see below), and an interpreter if one is needed.

Why are those people present during the evaluation? You are there because you have valuable information about your child, and his/her struggles, and because by law you have an equal say in the decision making process as the others in attendance. Your child’s teacher is included because he/she knows how your child is doing in the classroom, and knows the curriculum. A special education teacher is included because he/she offers input regarding what your child needs to succeed in the classroom, including how to modify instruction to accommodate his/her learning. A school district representative is there because he/she has the power to approve school resources for your child. This person must be qualified to provide or supervise special education services. An expert who can interpret your child’s evaluation results – this may be someone already on the team such as the special education teacher, or someone else like a school psychologist. Your child can advocate for himself/herself from the age of 16 and up. An interpreter must be provided if you need one! Let the school know ahead of time so they can make sure to arrange to have the translator at the evaluation.

What is an IEE? An IEE is an Independent Education Evaluation, and it is conducted by a qualified examiner NOT employed by the state.

Why is that important? Parents can request an IEE if they DISAGREE with the findings of the IEP team.

What if I want my child to evaluated privately? Parents may arrange to have their child evaluated privately, but parents are responsible for paying for the evaluation, unless the school agrees to privately evaluate, or unless the evaluation is court ordered.

What is the evaluation process? When anyone on an IEP team suspects a disability, your child will be evaluated for a disability after you have consented to the evaluation, and have filled out the appropriate forms. During the initial IEP meeting the disability will either be confirmed, or denied. All decisions are documented.

The initial IEP meeting must take place no later than 60 calendar days from the screening team’s receipt of parental authorization for assessment, or no later than 90 calendar days from the date of receipt of the initial referral.

Will I be notified when the meeting will take place? YES! Parents MUST be notified within 10 calendar days, written notice, of the evaluating IEP teams meeting.

What happens when the school year ends? Do my child’s services continue into the next school year? Every year there will be an annual review of your child’s IEP evaluation. The IEP team decides what, if any, services your child needs for the coming year. All decisions are documented.

What about my older child, the child who is transitioning? There are also transition plans for students who are ready to leave school.


 The 6th stage of attachment: Being Known

In this layer, the child desires to be psychologically and emotionally understood and seen. When you really listen and understand your child — especially when they reveal something vulnerable about themselves — they feel incredibly close to you. When connecting through this layer of attachment, children will tell their secrets and innermost desires and feelings to you because to withhold is to feel disconnected from you in some portion of their being.

As children attach more deeply, they can become more independent from you.

Each new layer of connection provides a little more space for the child to individuate and become their own person without a loss of connection.

  • When your child can be like you, it frees them up to not be physically with you.
  • When your child can be faithful to your wishes, it frees them up from having to be exactly like you.
  • When your child knows they matter to you, they aren’t required to be possessive of you.
  • When your child’s heart is filled with feelings of love, they can disappoint you without it feeling like the end of the world.
  • When your child feels known and accepted by you, they can continue to feel connected even if the love isn’t flowing in the moment.


The Fifth Progressive Stage of Attachment:  Love

Today, we continue our series on Gordon Neufeld’s “Six Stages of Attachment.” There is a progression to these stages and with each stage comes more depth.  The fifth stage of love in a deeply connected relationship is not the same as “love at first sight”. It comes in the form of emotional connectedness, where warm and affectionate feelings begin to help deepen the attachment.” This kind of romantic love has not progressed through the previous four stages.  However, whether it be a parent-child relationship, a deep friendship, or a romantic relationship, if the previous four stages have been attained, then this next stage of love will be the nourishing kind of love that we all need.  This is the kind of love that can be conveyed through a hug, a squeeze on the shoulder, a smile and a wink.  It is not related to accomplishment, achievements or behavior. Again, if a child/teenager does not feel this kind of love from his/her parents he/she will look to friends to fill this void, and often these peers are not the ones who have demonstrated the previous four stages. A child who feels truly loved will also be able to tolerate physical separation and yet still manage to “hold the parent close” (

*** I attended Barker Adoption Foundation’s conference this past weekend and would like to share some wonderful resources with you:

Jennifer Fairfax & Caitlyn Slattery: adoption attorney;

Asia Families (school, support, events, for Asian adoptive families) Susan Schulken

Calo (Lake Ozark, MO):

  • residential treatment for adopted teens and pre-teens (canine assisted therapy, dyadic developmental psychotherapy, adventure-based initiatives, biofeedback, neurofeedback
  • residential treatment for emerging adults
  • Wilderness therapy for preteens, teens & young adults
  • Week-long therapeutic intensive assessment (assessment, therapy, experiential experiences accommodations at Lake Ozark)


  1. Week long family camp (CA & VT), for adopted children of color, their parents /sibs
  2. Webinars
  3. Placement of same-race adoptions

Sienna School & Auburn School



Today we will be discussing the 4th stage of attachment (for all ages).

Dr. Gordon Neufeld calls the 4th stage of attachment “Significance.” He is referring to how parents come to view their child’s uniqueness. As children grow and begin to master skills such as eating, drawing and more, parents praise them for their accomplishments. Indeed, children begin to develop special talents, and unique qualities that parents comes to enjoy and hold dear. When you let your child know how special they are, you are strengthening the sense of closeness you share with your child. After all, we all hold dear what is precious to us! So, when you genuinely appreciate your child for who they are you are sending the message that “I am special” and “I am appreciated,” and therefore “I am significant!”

How can you foster a sense of significance in your child? Don’t forget that you are the most important person in your child’s life. Using appropriate praise for a job well done, or for putting forth a valiant effort is an excellent way to help foster significance. However, praise must be genuinely offered, and not in excess.

Another terrific way to help your child feel significant is to organize a group activity in which your child plays a role. Working cooperatively gives your child a chance to realize that he is a part of something, and his part is meaningful and significant!

As your child grows, help her identify skills that she wants to master. By mastering her unique skills she will feel she has something significant to offer you, and the world at large. (Robert Myers, PhD)

Lastly, another idea to help foster significance in your child is to make a special memory book dedicated just to your child. Gather up some adorable photos of your child, and of your child doing something they love, as well as photos of your child doing things within the context of the family. You can also put keepsakes of special trips, and events into the memory book-most important though, is making the book together with your child.

The reason for this is twofold:

  1. This will show your child that his/her world is significant to you and
  2. You and your child are creating the memory book together-which also sends the message that “my parent wants to spend time with me” and sends the message that “we are making a book all about me and how special I am” therefore, “I am significant to my parent.”


Today we will discuss the 3rd stage of attachment. Parents interested in using these tips are typically engaged in increasing or repair connection with their child or teen.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld called this stage “Belonging, or Loyalty.” You may have noticed that some young children (around age 3) become very possessive of their parents, or caregivers. This is because at this stage, children become increasingly aware that you are a being who is independent of them! Children realize that you can choose whom to be with, and when. They begin to feel that as long as you are loyal to them, that they truly belong– and that your affection for them is not transient.

However, in many instances foster and adopted children have not had the opportunity to feel that they truly belong to anyone. They want to know that you are loyal to them, and that they truly belong, but trusting may be a real challenge for them. So, how can you foster a sense of belonging and loyalty with your child?

There are a number of ways to subtly (and not so subtly) send a message to your child that he/she belongs! One great way is to simply label everything that belongs to him/her. Labeling items sends the message that “this item is mine permanently.” So, not only is the child important, but his/her things are important too.

Another way to help engender a sense of belonging and loyalty in your child, is to take a day trip, or a car ride with them on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every week, more like every six months. Repeating family activities regularly sends the message that “we often do things as a family, and I am part of the family.”

Another terrific way to build a sense of belonging is to call your child by a “pet name.” Many foster, and adopted children have come from difficult backgrounds, and may not have been spoken to with love, and tenderness. In fact, they may have been spoken to in a derogatory way, so positive affirming names provide a corrective experience. Your older child might balk at the use of a cute name, but inside it will warm his/her heart (refrain from using pet names in front of your child’s friends, so you don’t embarrass them).

Of course, the very best way to let your child know that he/she belongs, and that you are loyal to him/her no matter what, is to simply talk to your child. Make sure you set aside about 10-15 minutes so you can concentrate fully on what your child is saying. Take a genuine interest in what your child says and make eye contact throughout the conversation. These conversations tell your child that you care about his/her hopes and dreams, what he/she enjoys and what he/she fears, and that you will be there for him/her as he/she tackles life. You’ve “got their back!”


Today we will be discussing the 2nd stage of attachment.

According to Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld, the second stage of attachment is Sameness. Sameness (up to age 2) is the attachment created by mimicking you! Children model behavior after their parents and caregivers. They mimic parental words, mannerisms, and behaviors. This helps the growing child stay connected to us. However, with adopted or foster children, they may not have had the chance to be the same as any of the folks whose job it was to look after them– until it was your turn!

So what can you do to foster this kind of attachment? Or help the child create connections never made as a baby? MIRRORING is a core way that parents encourage this attachment stage with babies. They coo and “awe” and reflect back to the baby just how wonderful he is, as seen through the parent’s eyes. Now, don’t try to go “cooing” and blowing raspberries with your 15 year old, ok! Well, just do it in a different way. Mirror, or reflect back, what she is saying: “Wow, sweetheart. That guy in lunch really was something else!” or “This day has NOT been a good one for you.” It’s not necessary to have the same level of angst as they do, but perhaps one step down from it in intensity. The idea is that you are reflecting back the same emotions your child is feeling, creating a feeling of sameness.

Need other ideas? Dr. Neufeld recommends inviting your child to do something with you. If you like to fix cars, invite your child to come out to the garage and hold some tools for you while you bond over the car. Children of all ages model themselves after the important people in their lives. Even the smallest things are often things that children mimic. Think about the young child who wants to wear nail polish and makeup because mom does! Or, perhaps you have a particular interest such as playing golf. Your child might just want to tag along and learn how to play.

Find something you have in common with your child, and devise an activity around it-an activity in which you can be parent, coach, mentor etc. all in one! If this is difficult, you can play this game: take turns walking in funny ways and having your child mimic them, and then try using different voices to say “I love you” and have you child mimic them back to you. This will foster a stage of attachment they may not have gotten a chance to experience with you (or with anyone else, for that matter!). Most of all, have a genuinely fun time, anything too derived and your child will probably be able to tell that you are forcing it.


1/25/18 “The First Stage of Attachment: Proximity”

As we head into February (the “love month”), our focus will be on attachment. Good attachment is important at any age; for the very young child, young children, older children, and teens.

What exactly do we mean when we refer to attachment? Attachment is the emotional bond that forms between and infant and his/her caregiver (in most cases). However, many things can happen to undermine this attachment. Cultivating attachment between adopted or foster children and their new parents is often challenging.

Gordon Neufeld is a Canadian psychologist who is best known for his work surrounding attachment. He teaches us that there are 6 stages of attachment between a child and the person who cares for them. There can be difficulties at any of these stages but Dr. Neufeld has some tips to help you engender attachment with your child.

Here are the 6 stages:

  • Proximity
  • Sameness
  • Belonging
  • Significance
  • Love
  • Being Known

Today, we will consider the first stage. PROXIMITY is by a close physical relationship. Often seen with babies, and very young children this means: snuggling, touching etc. The more we snuggle with our baby, or young child, the more we send the message “You are valued” and “I love you.” However, if your older child, or teen did not get sufficient physical touch when he or she was younger it will be hard for your child to be touched.

If you are working on attachment in my office, we will often attempt to play regressive games to provide for what the child did not receive as an infant or an area that needs to continued work. The child or teen may resist initially, but we don’t give up! [REMEMBER: the level of resistance is equal to the amount of need]. One thing we do here in the office is use games such as the “cotton ball touch” game, placing temporary tattoos on each other and even thumb wrestling to provide non-threatening ways of physical proximity. It helps teach your child how to be nurturing as well. These are all techniques derived from “Theraplay techniques.” Touch is also expected and encouraged in games such as football and basketball.

Need other ideas to be used for both elementary-aged and teens?

1/12/17 “Be Careful, But Not Too Careful!”

This week we will discuss a particularly relevant (in today’s world) type of fear that affects young children, older children and teens: Life’s Dangers.

Fear of life’s dangers is literally fear of life’s possible dangers. For example, a young child who hears her parent mowing the lawn might suddenly cry out “what is that noise, is everything o.k.?” You would reassure your child that the noise is simply the sound that the lawnmower makes, perhaps bringing her to the window so she can see it in action! Additionally, you might take her outside and let her see the lawn mower, and listen to it as you rev it up.

However, there are things to fear in this world so it’s important to be able to instill safe practices with children without overwhelming them with fear. One way we do that is by recognizing, and dealing with our own fear. How can we expect to reassure children if we are overwhelmed by our own fears?

Here are 3 key ways to help with this process–for people of all ages!

  1. Recognize your gut feelings; including danger signals, and safety signals. And take note of the fact that there is a difference between what feels good, and what feel right! This has special meaning in the case of sexual abuse. It sometimes feels good to be touched in certain ways, but it might not feel “right.”
  2. Risking on Purpose; find things to do that are scary, fun, and safe. For example-telling ghost stories under a tent.
  3. There is nothing so bad that it can’t be shared with someone! Teach children that when they feel fear they must discuss it with someone. Teach them that they should keep searching until they find someone they can tell. It helps the fearful child to create a plan for responding to dangers, and how to seek help when they feel fear.

One thing that often perplexes parents of older children, and teens is the desire to watch scary movies, or even horror movies, especially because these movies often give children nightmares. Children want to see these movies because they feel like they will be perceived as grown-ups if they watch them. But these movies are way too violent and they are extremely scary. Older children, and teens want to watch these movie again and again, often in an effort to desensitize themselves. This generally does not work!

If you feel your older child, or teen can handle a movie that has some scary content, watch it at home with your child, rather than at a theater. Pause frequently and offer lots of hugs. Talk about the scary scenes, and lighten the mood with laughter!

We can try to protect our children from overexposure to media violence and real violence, but there is no way we can protect them from everything! Generally speaking, we often assume that when we have done our best to shield our children from the latest violent occurrence, that our child hasn’t picked up on it. This is usually not true. If you are aware of it-usually your children are too. It’s best to discuss it directly with your child. However, don’t create fear when none existed!

It is important to note that children who have anxiety surrounding real life danger, are on high alert all the time. This is called hypervigilance, and it can interfere with every day activities, and sleep. When you encourage them to relax, they get angry! This is because in their logic, to let down their guard is actually dangerous. The solution is to take over guard duty for them! As the parent, you will be on guard so they don’t have to be.

When your child expresses constant concern over real life dangers and needs continuous reassurance, it is extremely helpful to be playful with them. Playfulness conveys the message that “all must be o.k. if mom and dad are having a pillow fight with me.” Try this strategy every day for around 10 minutes!

*It is important to note that when there is news of a world tragedy, or a terrorist attack, all children (of every age, and adults) are unsettled.  When these events occur, the child who naturally worries about life events is especially at risk.  Here are some ways to deal with this.

  1. Listen more than you talk. Find out what your child already knows. Answer their questions, but keep your answers honest and brief.
  2. Focus on reminders of the goodness in some human responses. Direct their attention to the measures we go to in order to rescue people, and to provide aide to the needy.
  3. Help children old enough to show empathy and caring to those affected. They can donate clothing, and toys, or collect money, write letters or attend a prayer service. Empower your child to do something to help!

Lastly, remember to turn the T.V off! The graphic images played over, and over create more anxiety than discussions.



Today we will discuss a type of childhood anxiety that affects young child, older children, and teens: nightmares andmonsters under the bed.”

For older children & teens, dreams may represent anxiety surrounding school, friendships, and bullying. Adoptive and foster children have additional stressors that may pop up in nightmares, such as dreams about biological family, traumatic events or losses.


  • Encourage them to use a private dream journal to be kept beside the bed.
  • Suggest that he/she may draw what happened in the dream and also help them create new endings to bad dreams.
  • Practice relaxation before bed. Parents can search online for “guided relaxation,” or “progressive muscle relaxation” on
  • Set up a soft pallet by your bed so that the child can be close to you after a nightmare.


  • Encourage the child to avoid what is bothering them. Instead, spend 15 minutes earlier in the day talking about the content of the dreams.
  • Minimize their feelings: “It’s silly to be scared of that; we are here.”

No matter what the age, express empathy to your child after a bad dream. For example; “That does seem scary! “I understand why you are afraid of that.” Then, help them understand that it was a dream by explaining the difference between imagination (images), and reality.

When a young child has difficulty articulating her fears, she can become afraid of imaginary monsters. In addition, anxious children tend to have vivid imaginations– which can result in real-life fears.

It is important to keep in mind that to your child, the things they imagine are real. Offer comfort- as you would if the fear was based on reality. When your child is afraid of a monster under the bed, she believes there truly is a monster under the bed. She does not, however, understand the deeper meaning of her dreams.

To combat monsters under the bed you can use: “monster spray” (unscented air freshener) or, you can also try “magic fairy dust” (glitter) to sprinkle away those pesks! But, smile when you use these methods so your child knows this is a game.

Further, some childhood fears have symbolic meanings that, as adults, we have a hard time deciphering. Some children, for example, have anxiety around flushing their bodily waste. They may worry that we are flushing away a part of them!

Fears often appear at night because your child may either be afraid of going to sleep, or afraid of going to bed. These are separate fears, although they sound similar. Fear of going to bed is usually about separation, fear of being left out, or fear of being left alone in the dark. Fear of going to sleep is usually about fear of scary dreams, or upsetting memories and/or emotions.




“Social Anxiety in Older Children and Teens”

Last week we tackled Social Anxiety in younger children. Today we focus on older children and teens.

Let’s recall what Social Anxiety is. Social Anxiety refers to timidity, shyness, extreme introversion, and excessive worry about what other people think. The child with social anxiety suffers tremendously

In older children and teens it is important to help them understand what is happening to them. Teach them that the worries they feel, and the physical sensations they experience have a name…anxiety! Help them by sharing with them that millions of people have anxiety, so they are not alone. This will be a huge relief to them. If they are old enough, you can even help them look up facts about anxiety.

Be aware that teens with separation anxiety will (generally) not cling, cry, or have tantrums. They are more likely to decline invitations, cut school to return home, do not want to plan for college far from home, and may be overly worried that someone close to them will be harmed. There are things you can do to help the older child, and teens with social anxiety. Help your teen to recognize which thoughts are of concern to him. Then help him imagine something different he can focus on—this will interrupt the thought cycle. An example would be;

Teen: “Mom, please don’t go to work today!”

Mom: “Honey, you sound anxious (acknowledge your child’s fear). What is it that you are thinking? Why don’t you want me to go?”

Teen: “I’m scared that something might happen to you!”

Mom: “That is a scary thought, thanks for telling me” (show genuine empathy, and praise your child for sharing his feelings). “I wonder how those anxious thoughts slipped in today.” Use “I wonder” rather than a direct challenge. Another example is; “I wonder what you can do to challenge your anxious thought. I wonder what else could happen when I go to work.” Encourage your child to think of different outcomes.

For more on helping your teen use CBT techniques (cognitive behavioral therapy), visit:

This may take time and practice, but it works!

You can also teach your child to relax. When your child feels safe, sit with him and have him imagine how he feels when you leave the house. While he is experiencing anxiety, help him to relax; turn on soft music, and show him how to breathe in and out. This will help desensitize your child to the anxious thoughts and feelings.

For more on social anxiety, CLICK HERE


10/27/17 “Social Anxiety in Children”

Today we continue talking about childhood social anxiety (next week: “Teens & Social Anxiety”). Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. says that the precise definition of childhood anxiety is elusive. That’s because anxiety can be milder than fear, or extremely severe. Anxiety can be an emotion, a physical state, or troubling thoughts and beliefs.

There are many words we commonly use when talking about anxiety. Stress refers to prolonged anxiety. Worries and obsessions are anxious thought patterns. Nervous habits and compulsions are anxious behaviors. Last week we focused of Attachment Anxiety.

Social Anxiety refers to timidity, shyness, extreme introversion, and excessive worry about what other people think. The child with social anxiety suffers tremendously. Many children with this type of anxiety avoid eye contact, and are embarrassed and withdrawn during social interactions. An extreme form of social anxiety may result in the child not speaking to anyone other than family members.

Children with social anxiety often rehearse upcoming social interactions. Once they imagine the interaction going poorly, they feel certain doom. These children fear being criticized, ignored, excluded, and humiliated. When a child is suffering from social anxiety the child becomes lonely and isolated as they continue to avoid social contact.  Having no opportunity to practice social skills, they struggle to make friends, or join in a group.

So, what can you do to help the child with social anxiety? Show your child genuine empathy. Rather than saying your child is shy, refer to them as “slow to warm up”. Children need to know that you accept them for who they are, and they need a gentle push to engage socially -even though it’s uncomfortable. Avoid minimizing his/her fears.

The socially anxious child takes time to warm up in new situations, and to new people. One great technique to help them is to schedule a warm-up time or “little steps” towards gaining confidence. If you have a social event scheduled, factor in a half hour of lap time, and a half hour of your child making an attempt to join in the fun. Any movement towards participating socially should be seen as a big accomplishment. Provide a safe base for your child to be able to come back to.

A wonderful way to help your child overcome social anxiety is by using puppets. Give the puppet a character- it can be shy or friendly- but the goal is to keep it lighthearted and to make your child laugh. Children learn best when they are having fun. Have your puppets character ask your child questions about how to behave in social settings. An example would be, “Should I look at your eyes, or at the floor when I speak to you?” Your child will say, “Look at my eyes!” Then, you can pretend that it’s a fabulous idea. Pretend that your puppet is slow to warm up, and doesn’t know how to make friends. Your child will teach your character social skills you didn’t think they knew.

If your child fears rejection or humiliation, one effective technique to use is a playful role- reversal game. In this game you act out the voice of the “loser”. You are not teaching your child to be mean in this game. Rather, you are allowing your child to express his fears through fantasy. The goal is for your child to overcome fears eventually through play or playfulness.

10/13/17 “Attachment Anxiety”

As Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. says, “Anxiety has a mind of its own, logic and reassurance often fail, leaving parents increasingly frustrated about how to help their anxious child.”

Dr. Cohen identifies 9 common types of childhood anxiety:

  1. Attachment Anxiety
  2. Social Anxiety
  3. Monsters Under the Bed
  4. Life’s Dangers
  5. Traumatic Fears
  6. Inflexibility
  7. Excessive Anxiety to Please
  8. Matters of Life or Death
  9. Worry Soup

Each week we will tackle one type of common childhood anxiety in very young children through teens. Let’s start with Attachment Anxiety.

Attachment Anxiety is the feeling of fear that a child experiences when they do not feel safe and secure. This type of anxiety is more common in children who were neglected or abused early in life.  It can also occur in children who have suffered a great loss. However, it can happen to any child.

So, how do parents help children get past attachment anxiety, and move towards an internalized (in the child’s mind) sense of security? For young children the answer surprisingly, can be found in games! Playing Peekaboo with babies is a great way to reinforce “I’m leaving, now I’m back”. You are letting the baby miss you, and find you again.

Toddlers sometimes have difficulty saying goodbye at nursery school, or daycare. A fun game to play is “Let’s push mommy out the door”. The child is allowed to lightly bump mommy/daddy, nudging them until they are out the door!

Older children can learn secure attachments by playing hide-and-seek. The child loses someone, and they find each other again (or the child is “lost” and then found again).

Teens can have attachment anxiety too! Try making sure they know when transitions are going to happen ahead of time. Keeping a large calendar on the wall with dates/times you will be away is a good way to normalize your travel. Talk to your teen about travel dates ahead of time so they can prepare. Leave notes for your child to find in surprising places, so your teen knows that even while you are away, you are thinking of them.

Sometimes the anxiety is so severe that it turns into Attachment Panic. This is intense separation anxiety that is characterized by agitation, confusion, and frantic searching for comfort. Being near your child is not enough. In this case, you must give your child comfort, and keep comforting your child until they are calm.

Anxious Dependence is when your child can’t seem to cope without you. Even as your child’s peers are becoming more independent, your child acts helpless, or younger than their years. This type of anxiety worsens when parents rescue too much. These children need comfort but not to be rescued. Balance every little step towards independence with extra cuddle time to fill their need for security.


We’ve been a little out of touch this last month after our office moved to Germantown (approximately 5 minutes down the road), but we are back! I hope and pray that this school year is starting off well for everyone. See below on a great article from Dr. Henry Cloud regarding self-esteem. I heartily agree that some self-esteem philosophies that teach people of all ages to repeat to themselves, “I am great; I am smart; I am ______.” This creates a roller coaster of a ride when he/she doesn’t perform well. What happens to the self esteem then? Enjoy!

Self Esteem Isn’t the Most Important Thing

8/17/17 “Preparing for the New School Year”

Preparing Kids for the New School Year

* Adoptive Teen group is searching for an additional female to join three other young ladies. Please contact me if your teen is interested at

8/7/17 “Don’t Embarrass Me”

            Empowered to Connect brings us another great article about parents’ embarrassment and shame regarding their child’s behavior.

“Don’t Embarrass Me”

Other business:

1. There is another adoptive & foster parenting support group (video support as well) opening up. Visit:

2. The Adoptive Teen Girls group has been very successful and will continue this fall. Please email me if you are interested at

7/17/17 “Defending Against Shame + Parenting the Highly Impulsive, Highly Sensitive Child

            In the book, From Shame to Glory: Your Pathway to Freedom, Dr. Chamberlin lists the below features as defenses against shame. Take a look at the list to identify ways in which your child may try to avoid a “shame attack.”

Defending Against Shame (Avoiding Feeling Shame):

  • Rage * Contempt                  * Striving for Perfection (avoids shame of failure)
  • Striving for power * Transfer of blame     * Internal withdrawal/shutting down
  • Humor * Denial

I also have a short article for you this week entitled: “Parenting the Highly-Impulsive, Highly- Sensitive Child.”“Parenting the Highly-Impulsive, Highly- Sensitive Child.”

Finally, a camp is hosting a weekend for adoptive moms. Check it out!

6/30/17 “Shaming Messages”

This week we continue our series on shame. Attached you will find an excerpt on “shaming messages” and attachment from Kathryn Chamberlain’s book, “From Shame to Glory: Your Pathway to Freedom.” If you read any of resources in this series, this would be the one to take time to review. Enjoy!

Shaming Rules and Attachment Styles

6/16/17 “Finger-pointing, Blame Games and Lying as Indication of a Shame Issue”

Ever noticed your child’s unique ability to blame her poor choices on someone else? Is your child defensive and seemingly unable to accept responsibility for his actions? Unable to demonstrate remorse? Shame and low self-concept may be playing a role.

For instance, an individual may say the following in response to an error or correction, “You are completely right. I really messed up and will work on doing something different next time.” What level of confidence does that indicate? Fairly high, right? There is no fear about being the odd one in life who is imperfect.

Let me explain it in the opposite way. Keep in mind that guilt is about WHAT was done, while shame goes deeper into WHO we must be if we did ____. Not being able to tolerate being wrong means that it’s too scary (read: anxiety) to be wrong. Why is it too scary? Because it means, “I am worthless; I am stupid. No one will ever love me if I admit to this. I must avoid being seen in this light at all costs.” Of course, these aren’t the only reason why children blame or lie; perhaps it was modeled by others in their life. But most often, the core issue to address: anxiety and trust.

What to do when your child attempts to blame others or lie:

  1. No need to validate the lie or distortion. Simply empathize- attempt to understand-the deeper feeling that is likely at play. “Honey, we all made bad decisions from time to time [addressing personal shame]. I’m wondering if you worry what I’ll think of you if you admit to it [addressing relational shame or potential rejection].”
  2. Reassure and rewire the anxious thoughts: Have your child repeat a mantra that is fitting for your family or the situation. Perhaps: “Family love is unconditional” or “God accepts me with all my faults and so do my parents.”
  3. Suggest the way that the child/teen could admit his faults or confess a lie in the future.

6/1/17 “How to Break the Cycle of Shame with Your Child”

It has been quite a busy time in my practice and unfortunately, the blog production has slowed in order to handle client needs. However, I am back and excited to start the series I have been promising on shame. Let’s get started with a wonderful article from Dr. Laura Markham. Keep in mind that 1) the alternative to punishment is not chaos or lack of boundaries; it’s just more connected and creative than the way most of us were raised 2) adjustments need to be made for each child’s personality and needs. Enjoy!

“How to Break the Cycle of Shame with Children”

Two other notes:

1. If you have not joined the ” Parenting with Connection” Facebook page, you are missing out. It’s an easy way to commiserate with other parents, ask for advice, etc.

2. Interested in a teen group this summer? Contact me at


5/8/17 “Mother’s Day”

Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for the children we serve: missing birth moms, questions, resentments… the list can be long for some. Some may propose they are fine but act out behaviorally. Here are two articles- one from the perspective of mothers and one that focuses on how to help the child manage through all the emotions.

4 Ways to Help Your Adopted or Foster Child Through Mother’s Day

“Remembering Birth Mothers on Mother’s Day”

FREE Webinar “What is Attachment-Based Parenting?” sponsored by the Center for Adoption Support:


4/28/17 “TBRI & Basic Attachment Review”

“6 Easy Ways to Create Attachment”




Great article: child and adolescent sleep issues.

Effective Ways to Deal with Sleep Issues

2/25/17 “Empathy vs. Sympathy”

Enjoy a Brene Brown video re: Empathy vs. Sympathy. Love her sense of humor!


“Connecting with Teens, Part II:”

  1. Just smile and be silly together!

Play the Mad Libs game:

Engage in theraplay techniques promoted by the Karyn Purvis Foundation on your own or find a therapist who can lead you.

Pull out a board game that’s been collecting dust or buy a new one like “Pie Face” for some major laughs!

For those with a strong stomach, play “Bean Boozled” game together.

  1. Express love

Write a handwritten letter to your teen that expresses your unconditional love, regret, or a quality you admire about them.

For Valentines’ Day: Post 1 heart on your teen’s door with specific reasons why you love him/her, every day leading up to February 14.

1/26/17 “Connecting with Teens”

Our current series has been focused on connected parenting. The most frequently asked question: “How do I connect once they are teens?” Below you will find some ideas- some that perhaps you will find somewhat success, another that won’t fit your teen at all and hopefully one or two that become a perfect fit! Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but one to get your “juices flowing,” so feel free to write to me with something you do as a family and it will be shared with the group next time.

  1. Take an active role in their social life.

Get to know your kids’ friends; make your home an inviting place for all

“Feed them, and they will come:” One family sets aside a budget of $100 each month to prepare yummy snacks or even a meal for their son’s friends. “Nachos Friday” is a favorite. Not only can the parents provide a safe place for teens to hang out, but it also allows them be a part of their adolescent’s social life.

  1. Find ways to engage in conversation.

100 Questions to get to know your teenager:

Have a teen who loves TV? Watch a TV show together and discuss her emotional reactions, issues presented, etc.

Invite him to a dinner out with just the two of you

Talking points: Did you know that the following people were adopted-Faith Hill, Bill Clinton, Dave Thomas of Wendy’s?

More to come!


A great read for both teens and younger children alike, from the blog, Parenting with Connection: 5 Steps for Handling Misbehavior

12/29/16 One Reader’s Review of: Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected by Susan Stiffelman

Susan Stiffelman seems to be a wonderful therapist with a talent for generating specific, feasible strategies for caregivers in need of guidance.
In order to create joyful, resilient kids, Stiffelman urges parents to take a “Captain of the Ship” role which derives unwavering authority from a foundation of empathy-based parenting. Her approach essentially combines “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” – the empathy bible – and “Parenting with Love & Logic” – the definitive source for “consultant parenting” whereby a parent distances herself emotionally from her kids’ problems in order to remain a steady and firm source of support. That said, Stiffelman has an interesting take on a few of Gottman’s and Cline/Fay’s best points – and a softer, more maternal tone – that might be a better fit for some readers:

– “Focus on loosening your need for your child to behave properly so that you can feel you’re a good parent, [and e]xplore the meaning you’re assigning to your child’s problematic behavior.” After all, “it’s always our thoughts about the events of our lives – rather than the events themselves – that cause us to get upset.” (In other words, try not to generalize from your kid dillydallying after you ask her to put on her shoes to the conclusion that she’s a passive-resistant little brat who has no respect for you and has begun a lifelong struggle with authority that will only end when you can force her to put on her darn sneakers.)

– “Give direction from connection.” Begin an interaction with “Act I” which is essentially listening and prompting disclosure with nonjudgmental, noninvasive questions like (“`What is it like to be you?’ and `Tell me more?'”), and then, only if your kid “invites you to the party” proceed to “Act II,” offering assistance. Sometimes Act II must be delayed for quite some time. “[D]uring the storm of your child’s misbehavior, avoid lecturing, explaining, or advising. This is not a teachable moment.” (File this last bit in the easier-said-than-done folder.)

– When your child flips out, respond to the “neck down” feelings prompting the outburst, not the “neck up” words the child chooses to express those feelings.

She also offers a few pearls of parenting wisdom that I haven’t encountered in written form:

– “I am not a big fan of forcing children to apologize . . . [because] children who chronically violate others and are coerced into offering up an apology simply become good at apologizing; they don’t generally modify their behavior very much.” (Hear, hear!)

– Create attachment by following the six stages of relationships: “proximity, sameness, belonging/loyalty, significance, love, and being known.” In other words, start – or begin to repair a relationship – by just being near the kid, then point out interests you share, etc.

– “[I]nstead of [trying to figure] out how to fix a problematic situation, . . .think back to the point at which you could have prevented it from happening and resolve to take action at that juncture in future interactions with your child.” (My husband and I figured out this little gem – that falls under the general rubric of “let go of the guilt when you go wrong and focus your energy prospectively” – for sidestepping the crushing feeling of powerlessness that accompanied our daughter’s first year.)

– View your kid’s behavior surrounding minor disappointment, like getting to the end of a bag of chips, to the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and enable her to experience each stage. This downright mind-blowing trick has given me the ability to step outside the current emotional dynamic and watch my daughter’s fit unfold with a sort of lovingly detached interest.

Want more? Watch Susan Stiffelman’s short video on “Love Flooding:”

12/15/16 “Rough-Housing: Part II”

Our connected parenting series continues with more on roughhousing. Last week, we discussed the importance of touch and allowing our kids to “play out/work through” within the safety net of mom or dad.
Play to Encourage Confidence: parent can slowly increase resistance with each game or physical activity (allowing child to win each time does not increase confidence) (67). Watch for boredom or comments like, “This is too easy” as a sign they are ready for more challenge. There may be times when they want challenge, or other times when it seems they really need/want to win. If child is maintaining eye contact, giggling and exerting energy (sweating, etc), then you are doing well! Stop if you notice otherwise. Try not to end abruptly if a boundary is being crossed, but use it for further discussion or connection.
• Some children who have been physically abused may simply need to touch you, and watch you fall over with howling pain

“But shouldn’t there be some rules in this kind of play?”

1. Provide basic safety (no headlocks, kicking, biting, teasing/real humiliation, tickling by holding down the child, etc + code word to use when hurt)

2. Connect (cuddle breaks for younger kids; “Before we fight to the death, let’s do the ancient warrior custom of looking deep into each other’s eyes!”)

3. Increase their confidence (provide right level of resistance and encourage them to get stronger each time)

4. Play through old hurts (replay bullying situation with you, etc)

5. Provide the right amount of resistance to the child’s need

6. Pay close attention

7. Let the child win (usually when you first start playing in this way or building confidence or whenever he seems to need a “win”)

8. Stop when someone is hurt

9. Keep your own feelings from getting in the way (if wrestling brings up strong feelings in the parent; it’s worth exploring) (95)

Other tips: If child is maintaining eye contact, giggling and exerting energy (sweating, etc), then you are doing well! Stop if you notice otherwise. Try not to end abruptly if a boundary is being crossed, but use it for further discussion or connection.
• Some children who have been physically abused may simply need to touch you, and watch you fall over with howling pain

Want more?

How to Beat Cabin Fever: The Art of Roughhousing

12/1/16 “Roughhousing”

This week I am highlighting the importance of roughhousing in connecting with your child. Even if you are mother who has previously said, “I refuse to wrestle!” or “I just let their father do that,” please still take a moment to consider it.

This type of play helps children explore physical power, develop confidence and assertiveness. This is especially important for boys, who often don’t sit long enough to get the cuddling they need.

“But, should we encourage aggressive play? What if my child/teen becomes an aggressive monster because I am fostering it?”

However, children will do it in play or in real life. Which is better? For aggressive children, do a role reversal. Pretend that YOU are the one learning how to control aggression and it keeps “tripping you up.” What better way to learn emotional regulation than to be “revved up” by mom or dad, then practice together calming down? And what about the teens? They rarely have the opportunity for touch with you and will be more likely to hug a bear than you, so what a better way to foster touch than to do it in play or competition?

“But, what if someone gets hurt accidentally?”

“Bones heal faster than timidity and fearfulness” (Cohen, 108).

Getting started: Ask child to try to push you over (parent in kneeling position) or pin you to the ground; brag that the child cannot do it. For a teen, perhaps the winner gets ______ (something he/she likes- a Starbucks, 15 minutes extra phone time, etc). Perhaps thumb wrestling, or tug of war with rope or an old pair of jeans is a better fit for you- anything that’s physical and connecting for the two of you. Some other ideas:

Straight-armed push:

Two people stand facing each other with arms out straight, and hands clasped with the other person.  On the count of 3, begin trying to push the other person backwards (still on their feet), keeping arms straight.  This is surprisingly good exercise and fun!  A More Structured Rough and Tumble Activity:

Another way to handle the need for roughhousing as kids get older and bigger, is to begin a martial art or similar activity involving two people. To-Shin Do is a defense-oriented martial art which involves strength, strategy, and physical contact.  While practicing a martial art isn’t as free-form as roughhousing, To-Shin Do seems to meet a good many of the roughhousing drives.

Want more?

How to Beat Cabin Fever: The Art of Roughhousing

11/14/16 “Playfulness, Laughter and Connection”

This past weekend I had the honor of meeting with 5 families to discuss using playfulness to connect with your child. Questions emerged among the parents: How can I use playfulness with an older child or teen? How can we reverse the disconnection that has set in as the months or years have passed? Dr. Lawrence Cohen states the following in his book, Playful Parenting: “Sadly, when older children don’t connect, it goes unnoticed… distance and awkwardness sets in. Adults seldom play with such freedom and ease as they did during the early games of peekaboo” (Cohen, 49).

Dr. Karyn Purvis notes that “playfulness disarms fear,” thus allowing deeper connections to be made.

Dr. Lawrence Cohen states that play:

1) Provides way for children to practice adult roles [learning]

2) Establishes or re-establishes connection

3) Assists in recovery from emotional distress

In the next several weeks, I will be providing some follow up notes to answer some of those “how to be playful” questions.

Laughter is an key piece of playfulness, so let’s begin with an attempt to hear some giggles.

For a younger child: exaggerate, ham it up, talk in a funny voice instead of a normal one or sing instead of talking! If it doesn’t seem natural to you, use a puppet.

For an older child, getting laughs requires a bit more effort. Start a pillow fight, pretend to cry (one of teens’ worst fears!), loudly sing her favorite song, “fight” over child, etc. Or play the “sock game,” particularly fun with 3+. Each person attempts to take the other’s sock off, while keeping his on.

Stay tuned for more fun! And keep watch for an “parent & child” workshop for pre-teens and teens in January!

10/27/16 “Parent-Child Journals”

Whether you have just started your journal as foster or adoptive parents, a parent-child journal is a wonderful way to connect. Great for elementary ages or teens!

Don’t miss the free printable journal included in the blog: Parent-Child Communication Journal

10/7/16 “The Four Horsemen of Relationships”

            This week, we continue the series on connected parenting. Read this article from “Creative Child” about the behaviors and attitudes that can destroy attachment and connection. Excellent article!

Four Parental Behaviors to Avoid


In the below video, Dr. Karyn Purvis of TCU’s Child Development Center discusses what it means to discipline (no, we don’t stop disciplining) with the goal of connection. Her soft voice makes me smile every time, but her sincerity is evident. You’d be surprised at how well her approach actually works even with struggling teens; I’ve seen her in action in a teen camp. No, there isn’t a lack of boundaries, respect or protection from natural consequences, but the idea is that whoever you are- you get the sense that she truly does care. How does that translate into YOUR own unique personality, YOUR child and YOUR approach? Does your child get the sense that discipline is a control battle and something that brings you anger? In what ways can you connect after a disagreement or instance of correction? Perhaps it is a verbal reassurance of your love, a display of affection or request to join you in a fun activity.


This week, we will be starting a new series on connected parenting. Out of the 60+ families on this list serve, a good portion of you have teens, so I will be including some special blog posts focused on adolescents. Some of you have reached out to me recently in regards to placing boundaries while maintaining (or pursuing) attachment. Enjoy the below recording from the blog “Connected Parenting: The Blog” on creating connection through communication! [NOTE: There is an example for use with younger children regarding cuddle time. For teens, substitute a fun game or activity together, such as playing a game of basketball alone or painting nails.]


            Rounding out our series on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) is one of the best resources I utilize as a therapist. I named it “Tough Questions” to get you thinking not just about the feelings, but about the facts in the upsetting situation.

Tough Questions

  1. Am I making this bigger or more extreme than it really is?
  2. What is the evidence that proves it is true? (Has this happened to you/ other people before?)
  3. What is the evidence that proves it is not true? Are there other facts I am forgetting?
  4. How likely is it to happen? What is the most likely thing to happen?
  5. Will this be a big deal in a week? Month? Year?
  6. Is there a different or less extreme way to understand this situation?
  7. Am I placing unrealistic expectation or standards on myself or others?
  8. Am I over-estimating/under-estimating my responsibility or control?
  9. What would I say to a friend about the situation?
  10. Is there anything I can do about this?
  11. Have I been able to cope with _____ in the past? Can I live through it?
  12. What would happen if I didn’t believe this anymore? What would change?

Compiled by: Sara Rodriguez, LCSW-C

7/28/16 “Using the CBT Mood Log”

            Last week, we learned how to catch ourselves in common thinking errors. This week, we will learn how to use a CBT mood log. The idea is to be more aware of your negative or unrealistic thoughts, catch the error and use that to substitute a more realistic and positive thought. When teaching a new client CBT, I ask them to keep a Mood Log CBT. David Burns of this for the first couple weeks. Eventually (and with some hard mental work!), it becomes more natural to simply do it in one’s head. I have some clients who text themselves a thought that popped up while they were, say, standing in the grocery store checkout for further review at home or with me. Let’s do some practice. One mother on our list serve has offered to use her negative thoughts to be used as an example. Notice that catching the thinking error or distortion helps lead you to the substitute thought. 

1) Negative Thought: “Our foster/adopt situation is going to cause 10-15 years of distress in our family.”

Thinking error/distortion: Jumping to conclusions; predicting the future

Possible substitute thought (no “correct” answers): “Just because we are having difficulties now, doesn’t mean it will be like this for 10 years” or “We’ve gotten through tough things as a family before, we can do it again with God’s help.”

2) Negative Thought: “Our daughter doesn’t care at all about us.”

Thinking error/distortion: Overgeneralization or Mental filter

Possible substitute thought: “Our daughter pushes us away because she is afraid/hurt” or “She DID do/say ______ last week, which is evidence that she cares deep down.”

Submit your negative thoughts + thinking error + possible substitute thought to me at and I will email you some CBT goodies!

7/14/16 “CBT for Post-adoption and Post-foster care Depression”

We continue our series on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) as a tool to use for depression, particularly adoption or foster-related depression. Last week, we learned about the basics of CBT. Today, let’s try putting the ideas into practice. Attached is a list of common thinking errors/distortions from a book by author and psychologist Dr. David Burns: Common Thinking Errors

Use that list to identify the distortions in the following thoughts:

“I must not be a good mother, because this child rejects everything about me!”

“This is never going to get better. I should have never become a foster parent.”

“I really messed up this time and totally forgot to use TBRI or Love and Logic Concepts. Now she will never trust me!”

“My teen acts like this because he just wants to get on my nerves! I can’t take it anymore!”

“My child is going to become a criminal; I can just tell.”

“I should really feel happy and connected to my child like other foster or adoptive parents do.”
Write to me at about 2 of your negative thoughts and the common thinking error it demonstrates, and I will send you a free CBT packet via email!


When dealing with depression or anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) is the top candidate to help you or your family member heal. CBT proposes that it is not your FEELINGS that trigger thoughts and actions, but THOUGHTS that begin the process. The goal is not to become robotic, without feelings, but to tame the intense emotions that cause distress. It’s important to catch yourself with the thoughts and the beliefs that lie beneath the surface. For more on this, watch the below video by Kati Morton, Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor. She’s a bit quirky and does a great job of keeping your attention.


Below is a great article that emphasizes techniques I shared last week, but includes others. I particularly like the section on “reaching out to others” (copied below) and the section on health and depression. It’s a great read and wonderful intro to next week’s focus on “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” the #1 treatment for depression and anxiety.

10 tips for reaching out and building relationships

  1. Talk to one person about your feelings
  2. Help someone else by volunteering
  3. Have lunch or coffee with a friend
  4. Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly
  5. Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together
  6. Call or email an old friend
  7. Go for a walk with a workout buddy
  8. Schedule a weekly dinner date
  9. Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club
  10. Confide in a clergy member, teacher, or sports coach


Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to journal about or share your adoption or foster experience. One tip I can give you for more in-depth journaling for the purposes of healing: write about your emotions, your thoughts and your physical reactions to the experience.

So you’ve journaled and shared with friend what it’s been like to be you, but you still often feel down, easily irritable or hopeless. What now? Keep a diary of days when you felt this way. If you’ve felt down, easily irritable or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day for more than two weeks, chances are you are struggling with post-adoption depression. Seek out a professional counselor who can help you pull out of it and start creating a list of self-care and coping strategies (see below).

For those of you who have some of the symptoms but do not have full-blown depression, you will still benefit from engaging in better self-care and healthy thinking. Here’s a list of coping strategies to get you started:

  • Depression sometimes keeps people indoors and isolated. Push yourself to call a friend even if you don’t feel motivated or if you feel “silly” for needing to talk
  • Don’t minimize the situation or your needs. You are a caretaker and caretakers must have reserves if they are expected to do any caring. GET AWAY! Even if you take just 2 hours at a park, either by yourself or with a friend, it better enables you to handle all that awaits you at home
  • Green tea- contains natural chemicals that are known to be calming; Starbucks offers a Green Tea Frappuccino (actually tastes good!) that contains several shots of green tea.
  • EXERCISE! After 20 minutes of exercise, the brain’s stress hormones decrease and serotonin increases. No medication need for this lift!
  • Funny cat videos- ok, not everyone likes cats, but studies show that laughing and humor is therapeutic; find something that makes you laugh

Keep in mind that every person is different and what works for someone else does not work for you. Or, like someone I know, sitting by the fish tank and listening to the sounds is the most calming part of their day! Be as creative as you’d like in finding what works for you.


This past weekend I had the privilege of meeting 7 incredible foster and adoptive mothers. It was amazing to watch them “soak in” each other. In isolation, a lie- that you are bad mothers, abnormal, and the only parent who feels this way or has these challenges- that lie has much more power. Within community, it loses steam and “the truth sets you free.”

Like the last blog entry, I will occasionally give you “homework” that includes talking, writing or other creative ways to face things that were or continue to be difficult. idea is that while we “process” (as a computer does) that information, our brains discover new interpretations of what we’ve experienced. Perhaps we talk to God about it and ask Him to help us see what value it has, or to see the bigger picture. If you decide to join in, please be patient with yourself. It takes time and effort (and help from up above)! Don’t worry; the plan is not to leave you stuck there in the muck and mire. In the coming weeks, you will be learning some healthy coping strategies and thinking techniques after you’ve had a chance to download a bit.

Last time, I asked you to write about your expectations coming into motherhood. So crack that journal open again or call a trusted friend. How have your expectations been different than reality? Write down or talk with someone about those.


This week, we continue our series on adoptive and foster mothering. Allow me to assign you a bit of “healing homework.” Dust off that journal you haven’t had time to write in for years. Spend at least five minutes considering what expectations for motherhood you envisioned for youPic. Not std Way. Niarself as a child or even as an adult. Did you expect to become pregnant, experience birth? Did you expect to add to your family via adoption or foster care? Anticipate raising a child who looks very different from you? After writing, keep that page marked as we will be adding to it in the near future.


For those of you who haven’t heard, Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child and director of TCU’s Child Development Institute passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. Five years ago her books, model of compassionate understanding of “children from hard places” and research with relational trauma completely revolutionized my work with adoptive and foster families. I hope that I can continue her legacy in whatever small ways I can. If I could summarize the greatest takeaway from her example, it would be the importance of playfulness in disarming fear and a compassionate understanding of what’s happening. Although it’s easy to become frustrated with behaviors, “Scared children do scary things.” Interpretation is everything.

This month, we will focus on the support of other heroes: the adoptive and foster mother. Yes, that’s YOU! After all, Mother’s Day is about a month away and will complement the topics I will cover in the mother’s workshop on May 7.

I have attached two articles: one for those who adopted or began fostering when their child was young: Click here

And one for those who adopted or fostered older children:

A combination of both: Click here


How can parents respond when a child or teen shares a traumatic experience or event in their lives? Parents can ask the child to:

  1. Draw what happened
  2. Journal in a diary or on the computer
  3. For younger children, show you with dolls, toys or animals

Ask him to write what the emotions, thoughts and physical sensations she experienced. If your younger child has drawn a picture, simply inquire if she can explain the above. If your child does not or cannot answer your questions, do not continue to push the inquiry; her passive avoidance is evidence that she cannot recall the information or is not ready to discuss it in detail. If that’s all the further you get into the subject, don’t feel that you have not been helpful; the expression itself (however limited it may have been) was beneficial for the brain’s processing of the event.

Then, respond with empathy:

  • “That must have been hard seeing ____”
  • “Being dropped off at the orphanage without saying goodbye to your birth family was so sad for you.”
  • “It really makes you angry when you think about _____”


Adoptive.Foster Moms Group 5.7.16


We continue our series on trauma with some tips on how to help traumatized children. Here is a review:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones
  3. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch.
  4. Predictability: Creating a safe place for children can be accomplished through preparing your child with the day’s schedule, making him aware of any changes and familiarizing her with new surroundings.

Today, we add the following to this list:

  1. Control: Giving appropriate levels of control as a strategy for helping children feel safe. If your child has experienced a loss of their birth family, which most often means a loss not of their choosing, he/she has experienced a tremendous loss of control. What they wanted or needed seemingly did not matter and had no impact. Ongoing research has repeatedly demonstrated that having a sense of control over the environment greatly reduces anxiety.

Offering choices is not only applicable to times of discipline (“You can either sit quietly with us at the table or go to your room and do that.”), but also to general family life. For instance, giving appropriate control can be as simple as asking a child: “Would you like to do your homework first or your chores?” or for a younger child, “Would you like to hold my hand or just walk beside me?” or “Would you rather hang out together at the mall or go bowling?” By simply giving children choices, parents can help them learn to make good choices, but also help the child feel appropriately empowered and will learn make good decisions. And a child who feels empowered and is in an environment that feels predictable is far less likely to have negative physiological and emotional responses.


In our current series on trauma, we have discussed its impact on children and we’ve begun to discuss how to become a part of their healing.

So far, we have discussed:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones
  3. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch.

Now let’s add the following from “Empowered to Connect:”

  1. Predictability:Creating a safe place for children can be accomplished through the mechanism of predictability and control. Predictability can be established by telling the child what will happen next. Parents can do this naturally throughout day, by saying “In ten minutes we’re going to bed.” “In 10 minutes, we’re going to leave for church.” By “marking the task” and making it predictable, parents can allay their children’s anxiety about what happens next. We encourage parents for example, when they go to the home of a new friend, to seek permission from the hostess to take their children on a tour of the house, and show them where different rooms are—where the toys are—where the family puppy sleeps. By familiarizing a child with the strange house, the child can feel safer. Most adults remember times during their own childhood that they were afraid of “something” sinister in their dark closet, or under their bed. Because it was dark, it was easy to imagine fearful, terrifying things. Simply turning on the light and looking under the bed was enough to ensure us (and I do means “us”) that we were safe. In many ways parents can “turn on the lights” for their adoptive children and let them see that they are actually safe. Predictability about their environment is a major element in helping children experience this type of “felt safety.”

Creating Safe Places for Our Children


Let’s continue this week with some additional tips on how to help traumatized children to heal.

So far we discussed:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones

This week, we will add:

  1. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch. Remember that old research that references how premature babies who have daily massage excel much more quickly than those who don’t? It’s the same concept with trauma. Safe sensory/touch experiences = a calmer nervous system. [* Note: if your child has experienced sexual abuse, please use discretion and extra sensitivity with touch! If you need further advice on how to navigate this area, consult a therapist in your area, or I’d be happy to consult with you over the phone].
  • Some adoptive parents say, “Yeah, right! Getting my child to accept touch is like pulling teeth!” To that I say: “The amount of resistance= the amount of need.” Slowly increase the touch you offer, perhaps beginning with high fives, increasing to a pat on the back or shoulder squeeze and work up to hugs. An even less intrusive way to do this is within activities or games. Consider using theraplay at home or with a trained therapist (more on that to come; watch for a workshop on this in the next several months!)
  • Create opportunities for other sensory experiences. Examples include swimming, swinging, cooking, sand play, etc. I am currently “eyeing” a nearby trampoline park as a potential place for my next teen group. Something like this is an excellent choice for toddlers-adults.


Many of you were stuck at home for the past several days during the Northeast blizzard. Did you notice any “fight, flight or freeze” responses? What can parents do to help children or teens whose anxiety is being triggered by an event that subconsciously reminds them of an abuse, neglect or abandonment they experienced in the past? Here are some tips, some of which originate from the Empowered to Connect website:

  1. Create safety
    1. Parents need to stay calm themselves, often a difficult task…
    2. Provide empathy: be a place where the child’s feelings can be tolerated and accepted as legitimate
      • Say this (empathetic): “I can see ____ really upset you” or “When ____ happens, it feels very scary to you.”
      • Not this (minimization of feelings): “This isn’t a big deal; why are you getting so upset?” or attempt to fix the problem before verbalizing your empathy for the situation, even if he/she is the cause.
    3. Encourage at least 20 minutes of physical activity during and after times of stress, which will bring down the stress hormone, cortisol.

Creating Safe Places for Our Children


Last week, we discussed some initial information re: fight, flight or freeze responses that can be triggered in those who have experienced trauma. In week one of our mini-series on trauma, we learned that although your child may not have experienced a event you would typically think of as a trauma, the loss of his/her birth parent is in itself traumatic (“relational trauma”). Trauma creates anxiety of re-experiencing the event, creating a “fight/flight/freeze” reaction in their brain, setting the stage for “scary behavior.”

So, how do you recognize the signs/symptoms that your child is going into “fight, flight or freeze” mode? You will see notice either hyper-arousal: ADHD or oppositional-type behavior, dilated pupils, racing heart OR hypo-arousal: looking “out of it” (dissociation) when fear has overwhelmed the child. At times, this response will be triggered by a seemingly inane situation. Keep in mind that when this occurs, it FEELS like danger even when you as the parent know that there is no danger. Provide empathy and be careful not to minimize their feelings. It may sound like this: “I can see that just talking with us about this feels very scary” or “That really upset you.” This week, note if your child or teen displays these symptoms and provide empathy. More on helping your child heal next time!

Want more details on this? Go to:


Today, we continue our focus on relational and developmental trauma. We’ve discussed what “counts” as trauma and how fear impacts behavior. One more note on that detail: You may have heard about FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE reactions to stress or crises. Most trauma will produce avoidance, a major component of anxiety. Susie has been rejected by her parents and doesn’t want to be rejected again by her adoptive parents, so she avoids discussing all feelings or being vulnerable. Bobbie doesn’t like driving in cars because it reminds him of how his drunken birth mother thought it was funny when he was hit by a car. Liz was dropped off at a hospital by her birth mother when she was 6 months old. She doesn’t seem to “let anyone in” or trust anyone, but doesn’t understand why. These are all examples of avoidance in relational trauma. Think now for a moment…. What avoidance behaviors do you notice in your child or teen? What seems to trigger negative behaviors (ie: FEAR, ANXIETY)? Next time, we will discuss how you can help your child though these moments.


We continue our focus on trauma and attachment this week with some excerpts from Heather Forbes and B. Post. While some of their parenting advice tends to be a bit permissive for my liking, I thoroughly recommend their book, “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control” for their superb understanding and explanation of the behaviors you see in your children.

Examples of Childhood Traumas:

Examples of Childhood Traumas
Physical AbuseSexual AbuseEmotional AbuseNeglectAdoptionFoster CareSurrogacyFrequent moves Automobile accidentPre and Perinatal birth traumaLoss of caregiverDepressed parent caregiverProlonged experiences of unmet needsBullyingWitnessing domestic violenceMedical trauma
*Childhood traumas are not limited to this list

According to the Stress Model, all behavior rises from an unconscious state of stress; and between the behavior and stress is the presence of a primary emotion, either love or fear (see below). It is through expression, processing and understanding the primary emotion that you can calm the stress and diminish the behavior (Forbes and Post, 7). Instead of viewing behavior as manipulative and willfully disobedient, parents should remember that “scared children do scary things” When a child experiences trauma, the child’s ability to develop a sufficient regulatory system is severely compromised, constantly perceiving the world as threatening (Forbes & Post, 4-5). What we see on the outside is anger, defiance, stealing, killing animals, setting fires, etc. These fear-based behaviors then create fear in US. Thus, we become constricted and angered by the behaviors that can literally scare us to death.

Do you notice… even our anger as parents can easily be traced back to anxiety. It is even more so for children from hard places. This idea is also promoted by The Child Development Center at TCU and author Dr. Karyn Purvis, leading researchers and trainers for adoption/foster care-competent therapists.

Lying, stealing, hoarding, gorging, aggression, defiance, arguing, screaming Smiling, conscious, empathy, reciprocity, obedience, motivation, compliance, helpful
Angry, hostile, shameful, frustrated, envious, jealous, scared Happy, joyful, glad, excited, proud, confident


Our next series of articles and videos will be focused on trauma and attachment. The following video explains what trauma looks like in an adoptive or foster child. Even if you can’t watch the entire video, check out the first 3 minutes and minutes 13:45 -15. For those of you who have 15 minutes to spare, I suspect you will be relieved to know there are other parents out there who “get it!”

Two Pieces of News:

  • I know there are several of you who have younger adoptive children. One adoptive family with whom I work was gracious enough to share that TCU’s Institute for Child Development has begun creating a series of books to teach children the concept of “redo’s,” trauma, accepting no, etc based on the book The Connected Child. The author is Cindy R. Lee: TBRI books for young children

Attachment and the Importance of Family Traditions
Yes, Thanksgiving does have an impact on attachment! Think back to how your family celebrated holidays and how it created a sense of security for you. In a recent mother’s group, one woman spoke about how her teen still seeks confirmation that they will create the “Thanksgiving tree” this year. There are many ways that adoptive families weave their adoption stories, their differences and their common love for each other into family traditions. Here are two great articles with great ideas, such as getting matching clothing made with messages in your child’s first language. Enjoy!
Using Family Traditions to Bond
Being Intentional in Holiday Family Traditions

It’s great to be back from maternity leave! I am definitely busier with two kiddos under two, so our weekly tips will likely be back as the “biweekly tips” instead. Nevertheless, I am back just in time to remind you to be thoughtful about Halloween and your child’s reaction. Should you avoid turning on the TV on because the scary movies causes your teen to have nightmares? If you have a young one, will she react to the scary costumes others are wearing? Is the excitement over-stimulating for your child? Trigger impulsivity and poor decision-making? If you have a child who tends to be hyperactive or impulsive, here is an article from Play Attention (a company who provides high-tech and non-medicinal treatment for ADHD… I use the product in my office). Enjoy!

[* Seeking young adult “launching” adoptees, ages 17-22 for a group here in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Contact me if you are interested at If you are interested but out of the area, we can certainly consider an online Skype-type group! ]

ADHD Does Not Have to be Scary!

Halloween is an exciting time for all children, but your ADHD child may seem a bit overly excited during this time. The costumes, the change of schedule, the candy, and parties can all add up to over excitement, less sleep, and more impulsive behaviors.  Make certain to take some steps to keep your child safe and happy.

  • Have your child try on his costume and walk around your home prior to wearing it outside. You want to make certain there are no sensitivity issues, dangerous lengths, or obstructed sight.
  • Discuss the limitations of the costume; your child is not to act like a monster just because he’s dressed like one.
  • Review safety rules for trick or treating; look for cars before crossing the street, only go to homes of people we know, hold my hand, say please and thank you.
  • Review & practice Halloween door etiquette.
  • Prior to trick or treating establish an agreement regarding how much candy can be consumed at one time.
  • Have a flashlight available for darker areas.
  • Make certain your child’s costume is not too dark so he can be seen easily by drivers.
  • Try to keep regular bedtime hours.
  • Establish an agreement about how much candy may be taken to school the next school day.
Another great mini-article from the Love and Logic Institute on healthy relationships. As a therapist, I would also refer to this important information as relevant to healthy boundaries, as well!

he dysfunctional family makes great TV sitcom material…probably because we recognize many of the themes from our own childhoods…and probably because these shows leave us thinking, “What a relief. At least our family isn’t as big a mess as that one!”Dysfunctional families may be entertaining to watch on TV, but they’re horribly sad to belong to. Fortunately, mental health experts have learned a great deal about how to help families operate in healthy, happy ways. One of the most helpful discoveries involves who family members talk to when a problem arises.

In healthy families, Mom talks to Dad when she is upset with Dad.
In unhealthy families, Mom talks to the kids when she is upset with Dad.
In healthy families, Dad talks to Mom when he’s upset with Mom.
In unhealthy families, Dad talks to his friends when he is upset with Mom.
In healthy families, Junior talks to Dad when he wants something from Dad.
In unhealthy families, Junior talks to Mom when he wants something from Dad.
In healthy families, Junior talks to his teacher when he doesn’t understand an assignment.
In unhealthy families, Mom and Dad talk to Junior’s teacher when Junior doesn’t understand an assignment.

I bet you see the pattern here! In the healthiest families, family members share their concerns directly with the person involved with the concern…rather than dragging a third party into the mix.

For more tips on keeping your marriage solid while raising great kids, check out our book, Marriage – Love and Logic.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend

Dr. Charles Fay

Hello to everyone!
 Please see below for a “infographic” from the Love and Logic authors re: dealing with a defiant child.
Soon we will be having a hiatus from weekly tips, as I prepare to go on maternity leave. dealing-with-defiant-infographic. Love and LogicLikely, next week will be the last tip for a little while. I promise I will return!


Have you heard of Debbie Riley, director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Maryland? She has written some fabulous books on teens and adoption issues. For those of you who have older elementary-aged children, I still recommend reading it in preparation. Want more? She is also the author of Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens.


“How to Talk to Your Teens: Exploring Stuck Spots”


Last week’s topic empathized with the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that adoptive parents feel. If you are a single adoptive parent, this issue is more pronounced for you. So here are some follow up questions for how you are caring for yourselves (and therefore able to take better care of your children):

  1. Are you having regular “alone” time?
  2. If you have an emotionally draining day, do you “tag in” a friend or spouse to help finish the night so that you can re-charge?
  3. Do you hire a babysitter or swap babysitting with a friend on a monthly basis to have a date with your friends or spouse?
  4. If spiritual, are you spending time meditating on Bible verses that pertain to strength, PATIENCE, and wisdom. Are you praying specifically about the struggles you are experiencing?
  5. If your child’s struggles are moderate to severe, have you contacted a counselor or therapist for direction, advice and support?


This week, Michael Monroe from “Empowered to Connect” discusses the importance of expectations in adoptive parenting.

“Taking a New Look at Your Expectations”

The connection between adoptive parenting expectations and post-adoption blues in mothers: Purdue article

Yet another article that claims, “Realistic Expectations Key to Positive Outcomes in Special Needs Adoptions.” So important!


Enjoy a wonderful article in Good Housekeeping about 2 adoptive families (1 adopted a baby, the other an older child) and their adventures in parenting. Page 2 is a bit blurry, but the rest is quite clear. The Cheney’s describe how theraplay was a key component of healing for their child.

“Love Medicine” Good Housekeeping


Enjoy the latest edition to the adoptive and foster parent blog: “Adoptive Parenting: How It’s Different and Why” by FindingMagnolia, adoptive mother and blogger. She has great tips about how they dealt with the transition and great things they are doing now to set their daughter up for success within their family.

“Adoptive Parenting: How It’s Different and Why”

Happy 4th of July!


Do you have a tendency to love your children in a hard or soft way? Take the quiz!

Quiz. DistanceCloseness vs. Soft Love


Excellent article by the Attachment and Trauma Network on the topic of: “Cannot or Will Not?” Enjoy!

“Cannot or Will Not”


Today, we are reviewing Baumrind’s 4 types of parenting styles (Diana Baumrind). Are you generally permissive? Authoritarian or Authoritative? Uninvolved? Open the attached document and find out! This is important to know for classic parenting, but even moreso for the adoptive or foster child.

And yes, this is a teaser for tonight’s webinar on bringing unity in parenting styles.Click here to register!

Quick Overview of 4 General Parenting Styles


This week’s tip is for all you single adoptive mamas! Find support in unlikely places- online! Even reading someone who “gets” what it’s like to be you can be cathartic. Below is a list of blogs and books where you can find support. * Disclaimer: I have not read all the content of these books and blogs; I may not agree with everything the authors have to say. Read with your own discretion!

Handbook for Single Adoptive Parents by Hope Marindin


This week’s tip comes to us from Barbara Frazier, author and blogger on “The Successful Parent.”

Unconscious Approach to Parenting

For some parents, the old blueprint is simply played out again without much thought as to whether it is an effective style. For parents in this category, the representative statement is,

“If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kids.”

When questioned from the outside as to the effectiveness of the style, they might say something like “I turned out all right, didn’t I?” These parents automatically accept the parenting style they are handed without really questioning whether it is effective. The underlying values are well internalized and accepted almost as if by rote. These parents really have no conflict internally about how kids should be raised. The approach is black and white and defined.

When I was working in child abuse services, I once had a conversation with a colleague on the subject of corporal punishment. He said “My father beat me many times, but I turned out fine.” I didn’t know this person well enough to make a judgment as to whether that was true or not, but the point is that in his mind the parenting style of his father was a given. It was the way it was and the way it should be and there was no need to question it. He had just internalized it and saw no problem with continuing to use this style with his own kids.

Semi-Conscious Approach to Parenting

Other parents have a more conscious approach to their parenting style which means they begin with the blueprint they are given, but may along the way question some of its practices. They are not comfortable going too far from the tree, but they are willing to examine specific practices if they are experiencing a good deal of discomfort with a strategy.

For example, they may come from an extremely authoritarian parenting style background and they accept the basic premise of that style which says that parents should exert total authority and control over their children. At the same time, they may decide that the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary strategy is an ineffective practice, and so they come up with alternative disciplinary tactics.

They tweak parts of the original blueprint to make improvements. These tweaks are accompanied by some degree of deviation from the family of origin values. Overall, these parents are not comfortable with a full examination of the blueprint for its effectiveness. Such an examination would lead to anxiety and a feeling of separation from their families.

Conscious Approach to Parenting

There is a third group of parents that want to know all they can about how to parent, regardless of whether they think they have a good beginning blueprint or not. These parents consciously do research on a variety of subjects including child and adolescent development, discipline, sibling rivalry, education, temperament, and all aspects of parenting.

They also clearly define their values and goals for themselves and their children so that they formulate a parenting style that is in keeping with these values. They are more likely to ask the question,

“What am I trying to accomplish with this parenting strategy and is it in the best interest of my child?”

They decide what they think are the best ideas and tools and start with these, keeping in mind that they may change as they go along depending on what they learn. These parents may end up accepting a large portion of their parenting blueprints if they find them to be effective and healthy, but they are not afraid to deviate from them if they feel that is called for.

If these parents have come from a highly ineffective background or one that is abusive, they are willing to start from scratch. These parents have a very conscious method of selecting parenting strategies.

Most Common Approach to Parenting

The largest group of parents fall somewhere in the middle, or the “semi-conscious approach to parenting”, which means they have some thought as to whether the parenting style they were raised with needs some tweaking. Unfortunately, I also believe there are a large number of parents who parent from a more unconscious point of view which means they simply repeat what they learned and/or parent without giving much thought to issues such as child development, individuation, discipline versus punishment, a child’s individual temperament and particular parenting needs, etc. More often these parents were raised with a style that did not promote evaluation and assessment, but rather rote conditioning.


This week’s tip, “Don’t Cross the Line” comes to us from Dr. Jim Fay, author of Parenting with Love and Logic. No weekly tip next week; I will be out of town. Have a great 2 weeks, enjoy the weather and avoid those fighting words!

Tony’s mom has had it. She’s tired of waiting for him to empty the dishwasher.

“I’m tired of this,” she yells. “Get in there and take care of your job, and do it this minute! And I mean it this time!”

In Tony’s mind she has crossed the line between him feeling some control over the situation to him having no control. Typical kids, at this point, will try to regain control, and when they do, it’s not a pretty situation.

“Yeah, you can forget it,” he screams. “You can’t tell me what to do. I’m not your slave!”

Here Mom used fighting words as she tried to take total control. Tony retaliated by escalating the fight.

We create thinking words when we tell others what we are going to do. We create fighting words when we tell others what they are going to do.

After learning the difference between fighting words and thinking words at her Love and Logic class, Mom tried a different approach.

“Tony, I’ll be driving you to your soccer game when you’ve got the carpet vacuumed.”

“I’ll do it later, Mom. I’ve got to get my equipment ready.”

“No problem, Tony.”

“What do you mean, no problem?”

Mom turned and walked away.

When she reported the results, she said, “A few minutes later I heard the vacuum running. I didn’t recognize it because that was the first time I ever heard it from a distance. It was at that point I knew my life was changing for the better.”

Enjoy this entire story and many others on our famous audio, Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend.

Jim Fay
If you’ve never attended one of our summer workshops, you haven’t lived! I don’t know anywhere else you can experience world-class speakers every single day. The kind of people who make things happen come to these events from all over the world. They’ve been attending for over 30 years. They tell us it’s an experience of a lifetime. Call us and we’ll tell you all about it.


Last week, we discussed the importance of maintaining a united front in parenting your adopted/foster children. I was tempted to continue this series since it seems such a hot topic for parents right now, but we will return to it in next month’s webinar on handling different parenting styles.

Today’s reminder is the importance of the use of “time-in.” No, that’s not a typo! Most of us are very familiar with “time-out” which is entirely appropriate in general discipline situation, however; to separate yourself from your adopted child during times of distress or tantrums is NOT recommended as it can easily trigger a reaction to fears of abandonment, traumatic or abusive situations. You may be aware that this fear is irrational, but to your child or teen the fear may be very intense and real. Keep in mind that this is relevant even to children adopted as infants and not just children who were adopted as older children (and therefore were likely exposed to abuse or neglect); even “unaware” babies suffered abandonment by their biological parents. Let’s review how to respond using time-ins and TBRI principles (Trust-Based Relational Intervention).

Situation: Jane calls her brother “stupid” and plows into him as she walks away.

Parent response: does not begin with playfulness since it involves aggression. “That is not ok. Please come sit in the chair next to me and I’ll help you start some breathing to calm down. Let me know when you are ready to talk about what happened. I’m right here.”

When child is ready to talk: “What happened? How can I help you calm down more? How do you think he felt? (teach cause and effect/emotional impact on others).” And finally the re-do, “Let’s practice telling your brother with words why you were upset instead of telling him with our body.”

Parent response for toddler/young child: Ask the child to tell his her body part to “obey” her. I like to have fun with this and tell the child to shake her finger at the body part, “Arm- no more punching! I mean it!”

Parent response for teen/tween: Obviously, you will need to tweek this response and use different words, like insisting that you spend some time together until things calm down.  “Jane, that is not ok. Come sit in the kitchen with me while I cook dinner and while you calm down. You can do some breathing or use your stress ball. Let me know when you are ready to talk about it…. What happened? How can I help? How do you think he felt?” In regards to the “re-do:” discuss what she could do in the future and then bring the brother in if there was indeed an interpersonal conflict for her to work out.

Move on and return to playfulness!


This week’s topic focuses on marriage, a topic we rarely consider! Click below for a wonderful article from The Child Mind Institute entitled, “Don’t Let a Child’s Disorder Destroy Your Marriage.” Even if your child is not specifically diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder or an anxiety/depressive disorder, chances are that you experience some level of difficulty managing his/her behaviors or emotional reactions and this WILL INDEED affect your marriage. In addition, research has demonstrated that children have a great deal less anxiety and depression when they know that Mom and Dad love each other and are united together. It gives them a great sense of security and feeling that there is good in the world.

Go ahead parents! Read the article, take Dr. Marshak’s advice and spend 4 hours in a motel!


Today’s topic coincides with the webinar I will be presenting this Thursday: “How to Manage Lying and Deceitfulness in Adoptive/Foster Parenting.” Click here to register! Remember how we’ve been learning that the parent’s interpretation is key? Well, how you typically interpret LYING as a parent will be dependent on how lying was handled when you were a child. Was it met with horror? Ignored? Were you ever scarred by a hurtful lie? If so, you may consider thinking about, talking to your friend/spouse or even journaling about the impact your life experiences have on your reaction to your child’s deceitful behavior. It will be great prep work for Thursday’s webinar. As you are all learning, we have to be free and clear of our own “stuff” so that we can calmly deal with a child or teen who lies to protect and to avoid because of his/her traumatic past.

“How to Manage Lying and Deceitfulness in Adoptive/Foster Parenting:”

Class Objectives: a) Explore parent reactions to lying b) Discuss various goals for these behaviors, including Heather Forbes’ “Stress Model” concepts; c) Learn a balanced approach of nurture and structure in your response in order to the reduce need for these behaviors

NEW! NEW! Want the chance to meet other adoptive or foster parents via a Skype-type program immediately following the webinar to further discuss the topic and commiserate??? EMAIL ME at and simply click on the emailed link from “AnyMeeting” to meet up to five other families. Space is obviously limited, so be sure to sign up now! FREE for those who would like to try on 4/23/15.


Reminder: Webinar next Thursday, “Managing Lying, Manipulation and Control in Adoptive/Foster Parenting” 4/23/15 7:30 PM  Register here! Refer two others who register and get the next webinar free!

Last week, we learned about The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis’ book for adoptive parents and helping professions. This week, we will focus on the “IDEAL” response for adopted kids/teens, which encourages parents to only respond at the level of intensity that’s truly needed for the situation. This means beginning with playfulness and only increasing the intensity or sternness based on the child’s level of resistance.


Immediate: Respond immediately, within seconds when possible

Direct: Engage directly with eyes, proximity and touch when possible

Efficient: Maximize playfulness when possible and use ONLY the level of response that is essential for addressing the challenge.

Action-based: Give the child a chance for a “re-do.” Maximize learning by creating body memory for the proper way of behaving.

Leveled at the behavior; not the child! Make it clear that you are their advocate, not adversary

Levels of Response

Levels of Response is drawn from E for efficient in the IDEAL Response. Solving behavioral challenges quickly and effectively, without breaking the connection between caregiver and child, is a primary feature of TBRI.

Ask the following to help disarm fear: “Can you tell me what you need right now?” and “How can I help you get what you need?”

Level One Response: Playful Engagement

Challenge: This is a low-level challenge in which a child/youth is disrespectful or sassy. They may roll their eyes, speak without raising their hand, grab something without permission, etc. At this level, there is no threat of danger or physical harm.

Goal: Simply give an opportunity to “re-do” the behavior. Since motor memory is formed through active participation, deep learning occurs.


First keep it playful or non-chalant: “Hold your britches/Hold your horses! I see an attitude with your request, pumpkin/honey. Try that again.” If the child follows, then immediately praise the correction (“Thanks for saying it that way”) and return to a normal, non-agitated relationship. Situation: A child rolls their eyes when the caregiver talks to them. Response: “I want to hear what you are saying, but could you please try that again with a respectful face?”

WHY RETURN TO a NORMAL LOVING RELATIONSHIP IMMEDIATELY? You are demonstrating to the child that although you had to place boundaries on the child, you will not withdraw your LOVE from them. Also, research shows that playfulness and feeling accepted despite mistakes works to reduce constant fear in these children. If we disarm fear, we disarm many negative behaviors that stem from fear. 

Level Two Response: Structured Engagement

Challenge: This is a higher level challenge and/or one that did not yield to playful engagement. No one is in danger and there is no physical threat, but if mishandled, there is potential for escalation. More structure is needed for this challenge.

Goal: Providing “choices” gives the child a sense of safety and “buy in” towards the resolution. Again, give the child an opportunity to re-do the behavior.


If child says “no” to your re-do, provide empathy for the situation then offer two choices, bending down to his level.

* “Sweetie, you can either do ____ or you can do this_____ ” in a non-threatening but firm voice (must be REAL choices!)

Example: “Honey, you can either talk to me nicely, or I am not able to consider your request. My answer will always be no. So please ask me again in a different way.”

* If she corrects herself, then “the problem is over,” the child is thanked/praised and the child is not reminded of the incident again unless further reconciliation is needed with others. RETURN TO LEVEL ONE.

Compromise: “This time I will allow _____, but next time you can expect ________.”

Situation: A child refuses to pick up their toys. Response: “You will need to pick up your toys but you could do it now or after lunch. Which do you choose?”

Level Three Response: Calming Engagement

Challenge: At this level, the challenge is accelerated and the child/youth may be at risk for becoming violent. Adults must also remain calm and focused. Voice should be firm, not threatening. Use fewer words and talk more slowly because cognitive areas of the brain are less active during these fight-flight-freeze times.

Goals: Give child an opportunity to self-regulate. Another goal is to prevent a full-blown crisis.

Note: When the child has returned to a calm state, a re-do can be requested when possible. Only request a re-do to encourage learning, never to shame or punish.


Return to Level 1 of playful engagement.

Situation: If the child continues to refuse to correct the attitude/behavior, then use a firm but calm voice and say, “It is not ok to talk that way to me, and it sounds like you need to slow down and think about this for a minute (or, “You’re not ready to talk”). Take a minute in the chair behind me or in your ‘calm space’ and let me know when you’re ready to talk.”

When child says “ready,” ask, “Why was I upset by your response?” (child answers: “Because of the way I asked it without respect.” ). Parent: “Ok, so how can you make that request with respect?” If the child corrects the attitude/disrespect with a re-do, then immediately thank/praise the child and return to a non-serious, non-agitated, accepting relationship. 

Level Four Response: Protective Engagement

Challenge: At this level, there is an active threat of danger and physical harm. Opportunity: The most powerful message an adult can give an acting-out child is the knowledge that the adult can keep them both safe, and that the adult still knows that the child’s behavior is not what defines him/her.

Goal: The immediate goal is to provide safety for all who are involved, including the out-of-control child. More importantly, when it is over, the goal is to demonstrate that the child’s worth (preciousness) was never in question and they are not defined by the episode.

Situation: Child becomes physically or verbally threatening and/or begins a behavioral meltdown, doing damage to property or persons nearby.

Response: Remove either the acting-out child or the “audience.” If necessary, seek help from an adult who can stay with the other children while you stay with the acting-out child. Find a private, quiet space where the child can be kept safe and no harmful objects are available.

Some professionals recommend “calm plus 5,” which means after the child begins to calm the adult asks him to breathe and relax further for five minutes. When the child is coherent again, the adult asks him to sit and talk. Looking into the child’s eyes, the adult asks, “Buddy, can you tell me what you need now?” Based on the belief that an unmet need or fear drives most aberrations in behavior, this question disarms the child and helps them begin to problem solve with the adult. Meet any physical needs, since the episode may have left them exhausted.



This week, I received an email notice about TCU’s “50% off” all videos from adoption specialist and author of The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis. Visit: to order now until April 15. I highly recommend them as I have them all in my collection! The series includes topics such as attachment, trauma and the brain, trust-based parenting, playfulness, etc.

Since Karyn Purvis is on my mind, why don’t I share a little introduction to her work or a review for those who are already familiar? The following excerpts are from her “pocket guide” for parents, with a focus on connecting, empowering and correcting principles to use with adoptive and foster children. If you would be interested in a more in-depth training on TBRI that includes information from my time training with her in Texas, please feel free to contact me. I am always open to suggestions for future webinars! Also, if you are in the MD/VA area, please let me know if you would be interested in an elementary-aged adoptive group– either a series or occasional Saturday workshops. Enjoy!

TBRI Overview

Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is designed to meet the basic relationship and developmental needs of children and youth from “hard places” as well as the needs of adults who seek to help them heal, learn and grow.

Parents should be perceived as “coach” instead of “warden.”

TBRI has 3 sets of principles:

  1. CONNECTING PRINCIPLES: Create connections that disarm fear, gain trust and enhance learning.

*Use of empathy, full attention, close proximity, calm voice tone, body language, etc

*How does this child perceive me (welcoming, threatening, rejecting)?

*Giving voice is one of the most powerful connecting gifts that can be given by any adult. Giving voice is a prime aspect of the attachment relationship between nurturing adults and children. Children and youth who have come from “hard places” typically feel they  have no voice and are much more likely to use aggression, violence, manipulation, triangulation and control to deal with others.

*Offer choices (activities during the day, etc) and compromises when possible. These both enhance trust, connection and learning.

*Share power: While it may seem counterintuitive, allowing children and youth to help make some decisions is called sharing power. Sharing power reinforces the adult’s authority (parent is confident enough to share) and at the same time creates connection and trust/avoids control battles.

  1. EMPOWERING PRINCIPLES: Empower learning and regulation by meeting physical and environmental needs.

*Physiological needs (food, water and sensory activity in last 2 hours; blood sugar monitored)

*Environmental factors (check for predictable routines and transitions {“in 5 minutes we will…”}; under or over-stimulating environment such as too much noise, light, smell, etc)

*Model and practice self-regulation/coping strategies in physical and/or nurturing activities throughout each day (ex: Check Engine plates, breathing/”soup”, chair sit ups/pull ups, weighted blankets, stress ball, etc)

  1. CORRECTING PRINCIPLES: Shape beliefs and behaviors, are dramatically effective because kids feel safe, connected and empowered!

Proactive Strategies:      *What does the child need to learn in order to be successful day-to-day and in life? How can I teach these things during calm/alert/teachable moments? How can I use playfulness/nurturing activities to teach these skills proactively?

Responsive Strategies:   *What is this behavior really saying? What does this child really need? What level of response is needed here? Am I using the IDEAL response? How can I quickly reconnect with the child after a correction?


Today’s tip comes to us from the book, Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens. Debbie Riley, LCSW-C and director of Adoptions Together discusses the pivotal psychological hurdles that teens must jump in order to successfully reach healthy adulthood.

  1. Greater independence and self-sufficiency: This refers to the gradual dependence on parents which ends with the realization that interdependence on others is best. This neither means rebellious behavior that verbally demands independence yet ensures the parent will stay close and neither does it include complete separation.
  • Additional adoption issue: these teens are very “relinquishment” sensitive; this can cause additional anxiety during this time. Some have great difficulty leaving the parents’ home.
  1. Re-structure and internalize conscience: The teen takes on his/her own morality. The teen stops worrying about getting caught and begins to consider the real issues.
  • Adopted teens: exaggerate parent faults and are at risk for completely rejecting positive characteristics and idealizing unhealthy individuals or celebrities outside the family
  1. Appropriate adjustment of increasing hormones: The teen must consider self-control, timing and natural consequences of sexual behavior.
  • Some adopted teens believe that their birth parents were poor or hyper-sexual; therefore, they are genetically inclined to be the same.
  1. Healthy sense of identity: “Identity is based on personal characteristics such as similarities with and differences from parents, cultural and racial background, talents and normal beliefs, physical appearance, personal tastes and preferences, energy level, and a host of other defining variables” (8). It also includes goals and plans for the future.
  • “Accepting and incorporating the positive personality and cognitive contributions of parents while asserting differences from them” (13).
  • “The presence of two connections to early childhood- one biological and one historical, the other parental and present- may make it difficult for the adolescent to totally emancipate from either. The normal regressive pulls created by the sometimes fearful prospect of independence may draw the adolescent first to one dependent tie and then to the other, confusing the effort to establish identity” (13).

Thus, consider that these are normal developmental changes. “Adoption does complicate the necessary developmental progression through adolescence… Adoption should not be confused with psychopathology. Adoption is not something that is wrong. However, it is a factual circumstance of great emotional importance” (10). Understanding these developmental milestones may shed some light on the challenges facing your teen!


In between tips and recommendations, I would like to include blogs or posts from other adoptive parents. Melissa Dunn Corkum, blogger and adoptive mother of 6 (!) writes about her reactions to a Dan Rather special on adoption. Very interesting, I think especially so to those who have older-elementary children or teens:

Click here for her blog post!

Join us for the NEXT parenting webinar for just $12:

“When Your Kids Drive You Crazy: Managing Parent Anger”

March 26, 2015; 7:30-8:00 EST

Click here to register!


In this week’s tip, we return to the idea of the importance of interpretation. When our child slams a door, rejects us…. what could be the reason? Click the below link on “The Goals of Misbehavior” to find some clues!

Goals of Misbehavior


For those who took January’s parenting webinar series, you know the importance of healthy eating- particularly avoiding dyes, pesticides and other GMO food items that can increase your child or teen’s agitation, impulsivity or general propensity for meltdowns. Click here for a great article entitled, “A Great Guide for Food Dyes: Food for Learning”

In my private practice, I have transitioned my “reward snacks” to those that either are dye-free or are organic. In my search for appropriate snacks, I discovered a wonderful website where parents can type in the name of a snack and learn whether or not the snack contains unwanted ingredients.

What snacks did I find that met my expectations? Here is a list of some of them!

Motts Medley Assorted Fruits (dye-free; not organic but less expensive than Annie’s)

Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies or Annie’s bunny fruit snacks Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks Variety Pack (24 ct)

Cascadian Farms chocolate chip bars/granola/cereals

Simply Fruit Roll Ups

Yummy Earth organic lollipops YumEarth Organic Lollipops, 4.2 Ounce

Yoplait Trix Yogurt (states “No articifial dyes” on packaging)

Cheetos Simply Natural

Stretch Island All Natural fruit strips Stretch Island Original Fruit Leather, Summer Strawberry, 0.5-Ounce Bars (Pack of 30)

Unreal Candy Unreal Candy Coated Chocolate, 41, 1.5 Ounce (Pack of 12)


This week’s tip comes to us from Dr. Charles Fay, author and creator of Love and Logic principles, great for all kids but particularly those who tend to get into control battles with their parents. It’s certainly anxiety-producing to “let go” as parents, yet the resulting behaviors and decision-making skills are often much better when using these strategies!
“Helping unmotivated kids is one of the most complex challenges we face as educators and parents. Therefore, giving a quick and easy solution in less than 300 words would be impossible…and downright irresponsible.
In approximately 99% of cases, the child’s lack of motivation results from far more than simple laziness or a conscious desire to act out. The roots of apathy go far deeper, into feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, lack of control, or loss. The majority of these feelings lay at the subconscious level, where they wreak havoc on a child’s ability to engage in higher-level thinking tasks, such as sustained attention to detail, problem-solving, memory, perseverance, and self-control.
This is why punishing children for getting bad grades usually backfires. Since they are already feeling bad about life, how is making them feel worse about it going to get them motivated to succeed?
In my award winning book, From Bad Grades to a Great Life, I teach a variety of alternative strategies for getting at the roots of apathy…rather than making it worse with anger, lectures, threats and punishments. At the core of what we teach is the importance of loving kids for who they are…rather than who we want them to be. Yes! The healing process begins when we end the power struggle by saying, “We will love you no matter how well or poorly you do in school. Your grades are your grades…not ours. That’s why we are no longer going to fight with you about them. Just let us know how we can help.”‘


“Control as a Foil to Loss”

Today’s topic is control. Do you ever wonder why your child wants to control seemingly everything… control how you parent, control what happens next in the day or what her sibling should do? “One of the ways in which children (and adults too!) try to prevent future losses is to try to be in absolute control of every situation… It isn’t just a matter of opinions or taste, it is a matter of survival. The child was not in control of the situation at the beginning of his life [or at the time he lost his biological parents] and look what happened! It becomes intolerable to these children to ever again allow anyone else to be in control of their lives…. The battle for control appears to the parents as obstinancy, which it technically is, but it emanates from a tremendous fear on the parent of the child of another abandonment.” (Verrier, 78-79). Just like someone who struggles with an eating disorder and counts (controls) every calorie and activity, control is always linked to fear and anxiety. So, here you are again, adoptive parents, back to the importance of interpretation and its effect on how you will handle their need to control. Remind him, “It seems like you are worried I might not choose the best discipline for your brother” or “you seemed concerned about our plans for the day” or “sometimes it’s hard to trust someone else, right?” After an empathetic statement, reassure her that she is a child and doesn’t need to worry about those things. You as parent, are the one who has the responsibility to be concerned about those details.


Last week, we read a portion of Nancy Verrier’s book, The Primal Wound on relational trauma. Here’s the link if you are interested in buying the book (highly recommended!): 
What can adoptive parents do to help their children? First, accept what seems like unwarranted trust issues or over-reactions. You could be the most perfect parent and still have a child who tells you straight to your face, “You don’t love me” or an adoptive teen whom I recently heard say, “I don’t trust you; you are untrustworthy.” IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. (Of course, there are always things that can be improved in order to help your child, but I am referring to the trigger). Recognize or interpret these statements as evidence of their deepest fear: to be abandoned again… be “bad” and prove that he/she is unwanted just as happened when he was “given away.” DO NOT TAKE IT AS A PERSONAL ATTACK or you will get caught in the negative cycle. Remember that to love and to accept love is extremely vulnerable, a risk that some children and teens feel too scared to take- so they push away. Remember INTERPRETATION. Yes, repeat it in your head again, “It’s all about interpretation!” So when your child says something like the above, as her to explain what she is feeling and why instead of taking it personally or becoming angry.

This week’s tip comes to us from Nancy Verrier’s The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child and piggybacks on the topic of tomorrow night’s free webinar. It’s certainly tough to read (avoid the temptation to believe that Nancy is anti-adoption, she is an adoptive parent herself!), but is crucial in developing empathy for your adopted child. These are concepts of understanding you can remind yourself of, especially when you don’t feel your child’s reaction matches the situation.
“What the general population considers a concept, a social solution for the care of children who cannot or will not be taken care of by their biological parents, is really a two-part, devastating and debilitating experience for the child. The first part of the experience is the abandonment itself. No matter how much the mother wanted to keep the baby and no matter what the altruistic or intellectual reasons she had for relinquishing him or her, the child experiences the separation as abandonment. The second part of the experience is that of being handed over to strangers (Verrier, 14) “
The adoptive mother is recognized as “an imposter, a substitute for the mother with whom he spent the first nine months of his life…. Dr. Chamberlain and others in perinatal psychology have documented the evidence that babies are not the unaware, simple beings which scientists once supposed. We now know they are cognitive beings with a wide range of abilities, such as recognizing their own mother’s face, smell and energy… (Verrier, 15)”
She goes on to say that the abandonment is much worse when babies are left alone to cry. Adoptive parents cannot simply throw up their hands and say, “What’s there for me to do, then? I am not the biological parent.” It’s not a lost cause! As Karyn Purvis says, “Children were harmed in relationship and they will come to experience healing in relationships.”
More to come on this topic!
Putting an End to Arguing and Backtalk
Does it ever seem like children carry around a little book called, “Arguing for Fun and Profit?” To put an end to this draining behavior, experiment with repeating the same loving Love and Logic “one-liner,” regardless of what your child says. The key, of course, is to maintain a soft, empathetic tone of voice. Listed below are some examples:“I love you too much to argue.”
“Probably so.”
“I know.”
“I bet it feels that way.”
“What do you think you’re going to do?”
“What did I say?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“There’s no time for making kitten britches.” (Some of the most effective one-liners are really strange!)
You can find more techniques in the Ages 7-12 Parenting Package.
Ready for Cell Phones, Social Media, etc.: At What Age?
At what age should our kids be allowed to have their own cell phones? When is it appropriate for them to begin using social media?
The overly simplistic answer: 
Not before their early to middle teenage years.
Few kids have the maturity to handle the pressures of these privileges prior to adolescence. In fact, many adults lack the maturity!
“Maturity” is the key word. Since the stakes are so high, I encourage parents to take the following survey to see whether their kids might be ready. Rate your answers from 1 to 5 for all the statements below. Total your score at the end.
Not at all                                                      Absolutely
My child is respectful and fun to be around most of the time.
My child typically makes good decisions when he or she isn’t being watched.
My child takes responsibility for his or her poor decisions without blaming others.
My child typically makes good decisions when he or she isn’t being watched.
My child takes responsibility for his or her poor decisions without blaming others.
My child believes that using technology is a privilege…not an entitlement or “right.”
My child understands that not everybody online is their “friend.”
My child completes chores and other responsibilities without needing to be nagged.
My child isn’t hooked on drama or gossip.
When I ask my child to turn off the TV, video game, etc. they do so without arguing.
My child handles conflict, teasing and other social trials without “falling apart.”
My child understands the risks of sharing too much information online.
Obviously, the higher the score, the more confident you can be that your child possesses the basic maturity required to handle technology responsibly. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
For great techniques to lead your child to responsible decision making, check out:


Welcome, to those who are new! Last week, we were reminded about the need for parents to be physical and playful with their children. Enjoy PART TWO this week, courtesy of Dr. Markum and “AHA Parenting” (see below for link if you like her ideas- she has written a couple books!):

So when your child asks you to play, make a deal. Sure, you’ll play dollhouse, or build a train track. But first, will they play a roughhousing game with you for a few minutes? Don’t be surprised if your child loves this kind of play so much, he begins begging for these games over and over.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

When your child is annoying, or in your face. “Are you out of hugs again? Let’s do something about that!” Grab your child and give her a LONG hug — as long as you can. Don’t loosen your grip until she begins to squirm and then don’t let go immediately. Hug harder and say “I LOVE hugging you! I never want to let go. Promise I can hug you again soon?” Then let go and connect with a big, warm smile, and say “Thank you! I needed that!”

A more intensive version, for when a child has a new sibling, or you’ve been doing a lot of disciplining. Convince your child on a very deep level that you LOVE him by chasing him, hugging, kissing, then letting him get away and repeating — again and again. “I need my Michael….You can’t get away…I have to hug you and cover you with kisses….oh, no, you got away…I’m coming after you….I just have to kiss you more and hug you more….You’re too fast for me….But I’ll never give up…I love you too much…I got you….Now I’ll kiss your toes….Oh, no, you’re too strong for me…But I will always want more Michael hugs….” This is my favorite game, guaranteed to transform your child’s doubt about whether he’s truly loved (and any child who is “misbehaving” harbors that doubt). (I call this the Fix game because it Fixes whatever’s wrong. From a parent: “I’m kind of shocked how much my son is loving the Fix game!? I don’t think I’ve ever heard my son say, “Let’s do it again!” so many times :)”

A stepped-up version involving both parents.
Fight over your child (jokingly), vying to see who can snatch him up and hug him. “I want him!’ No, I want him!” “But I NEED him so much!” No, I need him! You ALWAYS get him!”

When your child is grumpy. “You seem to be in a NO mood. I have an idea. I want to hear you say NO as much as you want. I will say YES, and you can answer NO in the same tone of voice. So when I say YES in this low voice, you say NO in a low voice. When I say YES in this squeaky voice, you say NO in this squeaky voice. Okay?”

When your child has been screeching or complaining: Give permission. “Ok, there’s been so much complaining (or loud screeching)! This is your last chance to complain (screech) for the rest of the day. I’m setting the timer and putting on my earphones. I want you to complain (screech) as loud as you can for the next three minutes. You only have three minutes so make the most of them. After that, we’re all back to normal inside voices. 1, 2, 3, GO!”

As long as your child is laughing, that game is working to alleviate anxiety and increase well-being. Don’t be surprised if your child wants to play these games over and over. They relieve stress, help your child master emotion — and believe it or not, they’re fun!


Enjoy this article from Dr. Laura Markham on “playing” or enjoying physical activity with your child. Whether you have a youngster or teen, the concept of spending time with him/her on his level is very relevant. Notice (or ask) what your child would like to do during the rest of the break, put down your work and enjoy time together!

Playing with Your Child: Games for Connection and Emotional Intelligence

“Play can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child. Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful Parenting is a way to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.” — Lawrence CohenPlayful Parenting*

I know, you think you hate playing with your child.  But what if I gave you permission to set a timer and forget about your To-Do list and just connect with your child for ten minutes?  What if I promised that if you do this on a regular basis, your child will become more cooperative, and you will feel more energized?  What if it helped you become a happier parent?

Children need to play. It’s their work. All mammals play; it’s their way of learning skills they’ll need when they’re full-grown, from finding food to getting along with others. It’s also the way small humans process their emotions.

All day, every day, children have to manage complicated feelings: Fear (What if there IS something under the bed?), Jealousy (Maybe you do love their sibling more!), Humiliation (The teacher acted like he should already know that, and all the kids laughed!), Panic (What if she doesn’t make it to the bathroom on time?), Anger (It was my turn!), Disappointment (Doesn’t anyone care what I want?!)…. The normal challenges of every day for a growing child of any age stimulate all kinds of feelings. Children release these emotions through play. Laughter, specifically, transforms our body chemistry by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones.

Kids are more physical than adults. When they get wound up emotionally, their bodies need to discharge all that energy.  That’s one of the reasons they have so much more energy than we do, so they wear us out.

But we can use this to our advantage, because when we play physical games with children, they giggle and sweat and scream — and they release the same pent-up stress hormones that they’d otherwise have to tantrum to discharge. Playing is also how kids learn, so when you “teach” an emotional lesson by playing, your child really gets it.  Best of all, playing helps parents and kids feel closer.

I realize that at the end of the day you might be exhausted. I personally would much rather snuggle on the couch than initiate an active game.  The good news is that these games don’t have to last long — maybe 10 minutes at most, or even as little as 2 minutes.

And believe it or not, most parents find them energizing.  That’s because the tension and irritation we carry around makes us tired.  When we play, we discharge stress hormones just like our kids, giving us a little more energy as we head into the evening.

Like what you just read? Check out her book: “Attached at the Heart”


” A Time for Family “

Courtesy of: A Family for Every Child

Many people think of the holidays as a time for family and tradition. If you have adopted a very young   child who has never known anything but your home, those traditions may be theirs as well. But children adopted at an older age who remember holidays with biological parents or in foster care can have very different expectations for the season. Here are some tips on how to weather the last few months of the year.

  • Create all-inclusive celebrations that acknowledge the situation. Does your child h ave   memories of holidays with his or her birth family? If so, they may have established traditions that you know nothing about. Simply talking to your child about how he or she has celebrated the holidays in the past can allow you to graft new traditions onto new. If your adoption is open, the biological family may actually play a roll in the end-of-the-year celebrations. More layers of family means more relationships to navigate.
    • If possible, maintain a relationship with the biological family throughout the year so that the holidays don’t become the single focal point of the relationship. This can ease stress and lower expectations for creating the ” perfect ” holiday.
    • Let go of expectations. Now that you have new   members of the family, your holidays may not look like they did in previous years. That big meal at Grandma’s house with everyone gathered around the table may not be possible this year if, for example, large groups are anxiety-provoking for an adopted child who has experienced abuse. Only take on what you can handle.
    • Keep lines of communication open, and take your cues from your child. Ask him or her what he or she envisions for the holidays.
  • Accept the grieving process. Holidays can spur a feeling of loss for children who have had to say goodbye to their biological families, no matter how imperfect those families may have been. The parenting pages of offer the following suggestions:
    • Make memories a family activity. Go around the room and have each family member share a memory of past holidays. Your child may have a strong memory from his or her biological family, or – if he or she has been with you long enough – he may choose to share a memory of his new family.
    • If your child has a lifebook or scrapbook detailing his past, work on a holiday page. Even if you don’t have pictures, your child can draw what he or she remembers.
    • Buy a special ornament or decoration that represents the biological family, if the situation had positive aspects. If not, the ornament can symbolize the coming together of a new family. Another option is to light a candle representing the biological family at a holiday dinner.
    • Allow your child to work through his or her sadness. If he or she is old enough, encourage journaling or sharing memories aloud.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Don’t expect Christmas or Hanukkah to automatically stir up warm, happy memories. It may be second nature to deny that your child is sad – ” But Christmas is a happy time! ” – but try to be open to your child’s feelings. Withdrawal, sadness, and acting out are all potential responses to the   holidays.
    • The blog Adoptivity suggests asking questions and performing a little guesswork to draw the child out, especially if she or he is reluctant to share his emotions. You might ask, ” Are you thinking about your birth mother? ” or state, ” It’s hard not having your biological family here, isn’t it. “
    • Holiday movies with adoption themes like ” Elf ” or ” Snow Dogs ” can provide a starting point for conversation. Check out the adoption pag es at for a longer list of Christmas movies about different family situations.
  • Be aware of your child’s state of mind. Busy, bustling get-togethers can quickly overwhelm a child not used to so many people. It’s easy for children, especially those who have difficulty dealing with change, to be overstimulated. Try to keep gatherings as low-key as possible, and maintain eating and sleeping schedules as much as you can. Perhaps it would be possible to have a small family gathering, as opposed to a huge dinner with far-flung aunts and uncles, this year.
    • Be mindful of how your child interprets innocent stories or traditions. The emphasis on ” being good ” for Santa Claus can frighten a child with a history of abuse or neglect. ” You’d better not pout, you’d better not cry ” may seem to be a harmless line from a song, but adopted children can interpret it to mean they will be sent away – or back to their previous situations – if they are not ” good ” or happy during the holidays.
    • If you haven’t already spoken to your child’s teachers, this is an ideal time to remind them that questions like ” how does your family celebrate the holidays ” can be uncomfortable for children who feel they have two families or who haven’t experienced a holiday with their adoptive family. Many schools ” adopt ” a low-income family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and while this is a wonderful tradition that encourages giving, using the language of ” adoption ” can be confusing, especially to younger children.
  • Respect ethnic and cultural differences. If your child is of a different ethnicity or race than the rest of his adoptive family, he may feel that he sticks out like a sore thumb at family gatherings. Relatives who ask probing or insensitive questions or favor the children they see as the family’s ” real ” kids can be especially problematic. Try to educate relatives before they meet your child so that potentially hurtful interactions can be kept to a minimum.
    • Try to blend your child’s traditions with yours. Cook a special dish they remember or perform a familiar ritual. If your child came to you without specific traditions but with limited knowledge of yours, explain events well before they occur. Midnight mass or the lighting of the menorah may feel alien to children not raised in those religions.
    • Use stories like ” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ” to begin a conversation about how looking and feeling different can make people feel that they don’t belong, even when they are deeply loved and needed.
  • Deal with Extended Family. If your holiday gathering will be a big one, prepare your child for the bustle and try to keep routines as normal as possible. Relatives need preparing, too, so that they can appropriately interact with your child and with you as parents. Explain things that may seem confusing – why, for example, you maintain contact with the child’s biological family (if indeed you do), or why you are dedicated to preserving your child’s heritage if the adoption was a cross-cultural one.
    • If possible, introduce your child to extended family before the pressure of the holidays hits. It’s always easier to meet new people when the situation is low-key and not fraught with expectations. While relatives may feel entitled to all the details of your child’s adoption story, remember that it is perfectly within your rights to keep the experience within your immediate family.
    • Gently encourage connections between your child and compassionate, understanding family members. Observe similarities – maybe your child likes to bake cookies like Aunt Ruth, for example – and use them to make your child feel like part of the family.

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Sources and Further Reading:
Adopted Children and the Holidays (Adoptivity)
Foster Children and Your Extended Family During the Holidays (
Holidays Can Bring Up Lots of Emotions (Adoptive Families)
The Holidays: Challenges and Opportunities for Adoptive Families (CASE)
Holidays with an Extended Family: An Opportunity for Connection (CASE)
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Enjoy this short video about helping kids to respond positively to requests. Author Adele Faber: “How to Talk So Kids Listen, and Listen So Kids Talk”

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IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN! School is back in session and parents need all the help they can get. Here’s a wonderful little article from the Love and Logic Institute.

School Work
By Jim Fay

You’re on your way home from work. You’re anxious for some encouraging talk and a little relaxation after a hard day. You need all the support you can get to recharge your batteries and feel strong enough to go back tomorrow and face another working day.

You are greeted with, “Hi, Honey. How was it today? Where are your papers? I want to see how you did all day.” “It was OK,” you reply. “I really don’t want to talk about it. I’m really beat.” “Well, no wonder you don’t want to talk about it. Look at these papers. You can do a lot better than this. Where was your mind today? You sit down right now and we’ll go over these proposals you wrote and get the spelling straightened out. And look at these paragraphs. You’ll never get promoted at this rate. I don’t understand this. You have so much more potential than this.”

How long would it be before you find a more comfortable place to go after work? “Who needs this?” you’ll say.”I can find someone who can show me a little more appreciation for my hard work!”

Many school–age children face this same situation daily. They are greeted after school with, “What did you learn today?” and “Where is your homework? You get on it right now!”

Children are also requested to bring home their papers so that the mistakes can be corrected. Even though this is done with love and caring, it trains them to focus on their weaknesses.

The problem faced by students is that they can’t choose to go somewhere else after school. They can’t avoid facing a replay of their daily failures. They must return home and listen to whatever their parents have to say. It is very difficult for a child to say,”Mother! Do you realize you are training me to keep my school progress a secret from you?” Soon they quit bringing home papers. They make excuses and blame it on their teachers. “She never gives me my papers to bring home.”

The next step is for the parent to go to school demanding that the teacher develop some sort of foolproof reporting method. Teachers are actually faced with writing daily and weekly reports for parents. This never provides a long-term solution because it addresses the wrong problem. It also robs teachers of valuable teaching and preparation time.

The real problem is that the child has learned that it is unsafe to discuss school with his or her parents. Rather than developing a reporting plan, it is much wiser to work on the real problem–helping children and parents learn to talk to each other in safe and supportive ways. This solution works, and it lasts a lifetime.

You can teach your child to discuss school with you. While you are doing this, you can also lay the foundation blocks that will build a true winner out of your youngster.

STEP ONE: Sit down with your children two to three times per week. Have them point out the best things they did on their papers.

STEP TWO: Make sure your child describes to you the reasons for his or her success. As they put these into words, the reasons for the success will be imprinted on their brain, never to be erased. They will start to believe they are in control of their success.

STEP THREE: Work with your children on their mistakes only when they ask for your help. Let the school work on deficiencies. Teachers have training to help with the deficiencies in effective ways.

STEP FOUR: Be patient. This is a real change in operation. It will take the child a period of time to believe that this is not just a new phase his parents are going through. Look for the real benefits to show up in several months or maybe during the next few years, depending upon the child’s past history.

Winners always think about how they are going to succeed. Losers always think about their possible failures.

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