React vs. Respond  

In prehistoric times, it was all about survival.  Adults needed to protect their children from saber toothed tigers and fight to survive daily.  Today, it seems parents have carried with them that same innate need to protect their children, but they are stepping in to protect when there are no saber toothed tigers!  

Doone Estey, Beverley Cathcart-Ross and Martin Nash, MD., provide examples of this in their new book, Raising Great Parents.  They compare how a prehistoric adult would react to fight off a big, dangerous animals to how parents today can react when their child is late for school or playing video games instead of doing homework.  They state, parents can react “protectively to our children’s misbehavior as if they are in a life or death situation.”  In most of our daily interactions with children, they are not in a life or death situation and we could change our reactions (instinctual, immediate actions done to protect survival) into a response (logical, thought out action).

In Raising Great Parents, Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott are cited for their 7 questions to consider in order to help decrease a reaction and increase a response.  The 7 questions “move a parent from fear-based thinking to reflecting on their long-term goal, the motivation behinds their child’s misbehavior, and the ways to approach situations cooperatively with the child.”

  1. Are we in saber-toothed tiger territory here or not?
  2. What lessons are most important for my child to learn in this situation?
  3. Am I parenting to get through the day or for the long term?
  4. Am I expecting too much from my child, given his/her age or experiences? Is it my patience that is wearing thin?
  5. If I approach the situation as a puzzle, what can I figure out about my child’s current emotional situation? Is he/she tired, hungry, frustrated, hurting?
  6. Has my approach contributed a piece to the puzzle? Are my tone or facial expressions getting the better of me?
  7. If I can my perception to see this situation as a problem-solving opportunity, how can I involve my child in finding a solution?

Review and practicing using these questions so the next time your child misbehaviors, and you swear there is a saber tooth tiger approaching, you can use these questions to respond to your child calmly and logically.


Is it OK to spoil myself as a parent?     

This question was asked recently by a mother who made many sacrifices for her children. She felt guilty when she took time by herself. Her kids often interrupted that quiet time to let her know she was "needed".

There is nothing wrong with a parent taking time to renew themselves. There is the old oxygen mask example all airlines do pre-flight. In case of emergency and the oxygen bags drop down, put yours on first before you put your child's mask. There is good reason for that. If you pass out even if your child's mask is on, what good will you be to them.

Spoiling yourself and neglecting your kids needs is not OK, but spoiling yourself so you can continue to give to your kids is. I have seen way too many parents who resent their situation as a parent since they are not taking time for themselves. They end up burned out, easily irritated at their children, and feel guilty about their parenting. Don't be that parent. Do something for yourself today.

Be Your Child’s Emotion Coach

It’s spring!  I live next door to a Little League park and it won’t be long until the sounds of bats cracking balls and the fans yelling encouragement waft through our windows.  It reminds me of my childhood spent watching my brothers and their friends play baseball on similar fields.  Coached by someone’s father – but watched by all their fathers – those boys were subjected to significant scrutiny for their baseball prowess.  This was not the era of sensitive dads who took parenting classes and talked about their kids’ feelings.   The ride home from the game was often a long discussion of how to improve the next outing and did not always consider the emotional impact of a tough loss or less than stellar performance.


I was thinking about these “coaching sessions” while reading Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman and Joan Declaire.  The authors’ premise is that the children of parents who act as emotion coaches learn to trust their feelings, regulate their emotions, and become problem solvers.  These children have good self-esteem, fewer learning problems caused by emotional issues, and get along well with their peers.


Parents who act as emotion coaches do so by valuing their child’s negative emotions as a chance to get closer.  They are able to spend time with their sad, angry or scared child without becoming impatient or upset.  Emotion coaches are of their own emotional state and understand that managing the negative emotions of their child are an important part of parenting.  They are sensitive to the subtle emotional states of their children and do not become confused or anxious about their child’s expression of emotion.   They just handle what needs to be done.  Emotion coaches respect their child’s emotion, never poking fun at or make light of their child’s feelings (e.g. “Only little babies cry.” “Oh, you barely bumped your head, it couldn’t have hurt that much.”)  They don’t tell their child how he/she should feel (e.g. “Don’t be sad, you’ll feel better tomorrow.” “Vanessa isn’t a very good friend if she said that to you, don’t worry.”)  These parents don’t feel that they have to fix every problem for their child (e.g. “I’ll call your teacher and have her move your seat.”)  Rather they use emotional moments as time to listen to their children, empathize, soothe, and be affectionate. (e.g. “Oh, honey that sounds so hard, I can see why you would be sad.  Would you like a hug?  Or do you just want to go lay down and rest for a while?”)  They help their children label their emotions.  (e.g. “It looks like you are really angry right now.  Your face is red and your eyebrows are all scrunched up.”)  They may offer guidance to their children on regulating their emotions by setting appropriate limits on the expression of emotions and they teach problem solving skills.  (e.g “I understand that you are really upset with your brother because he took the controller away from you, but we have a rule in this house that we don’t hit.  If you can’t work out a way to share the game, you may come to me and ask for help.  (p. 52)


I have watched my brother raise two daughters and though he has not read Gottman and Declaire’s book, he seems to have innately picked up a lot of emotion coaching skills.  Perhaps he too remembers those Little League days.



Spring Cleaning: Some Tips to Declutter Stress in Your Life

A new season has come and there is no better time than the present to work on cleaning up your home and mind!  Here are some tips to try that can help with clearing out some stress in our lives.

  1. Get outside and enjoy nature with ALL you senses! Look around and see the green grass, the blue sky and the white clouds, smell the new flowers, feel the sun on your skin and taste a fresh piece of fruit.
  2. Move your body! Go for a walk, run, bike ride or dance.  If any of those don’t seem doable, cleaning is a great way to move the body.
  3. Watch a funny movie or youtube video! I know a good video of a cat missing their jump always puts a smile on my face.
  4. Use positive language! We often are quick to say what we DON’T want to happen instead of what we do want to happen.  One way I constantly have to remind myself to rephrase a thought deals with my cat.  I often think, “I don’t want to clean the litter box!”  Which puts me in a bad mood, so I replace that thought with, “Im thankful my cat is litter box trained!”  Just a simple switch to a positive does a lot for our frame of mind and level of stress.
  5. Clean your space &/or thrown things out! There is some therapeutic relief when we throw out or donate things that we do not need, have not used or have bad memories attached to it.  Even running the vacuum and doing nothing else can give a clean, decluttered feel to a room which can in turn help declutter the mind!
  6. Get a new look! Treat yourself to a new item of clothing or a fresh new accessory. If you are bold enough, change your hairstyle! 
  7. Express love and/or gratitude! Love and gratitude can be good defense to stress.  Tell you kids you love them or tell you partner you are grateful for something small they did. 
  8. Help out someone else! Invite a neighbor over for coffee or tea or make a meal for someone in need.  It does not matter if the deed is small, helping others often springs good feelings.
  9. Get creative! Get a coloring book, take photos, sing out loud or draw a picture.  Creativity is a great way to declutter the mind and get the mind moving!  Just remember, it does not have to be perfect…..
  10. Have courage to be good enough! Like all these tips, this takes a lot of practice and practice makes progress, not perfection.  Striving for perfection often springs failure because who is perfect!? No one!  All you need to do is be good enough.

Take a Timeout

Many of the parents I work with struggle with adhering to consistent discipline strategies in order to change the unwanted behavior of their child. This is perfectly understandable in our fast-paced, always something to attend to world. However, I’ve noticed that often discipline is inconsistent because parents are disciplining or threatening consequences in the moment when they themselves are frustrated or angry. When this happens, the resulting discipline or consequence is often unrealistic (e.g. “You’re grounded for a year!”).

To avoid falling into this trap, you can take a personal timeout. Not only will you be modeling how to calm down and the importance of maintaining self-control, but you will also be more consistent in your approach to discipline, as you will no longer be over- or under-disciplining your child. Want to give it a try? Follow these steps:


Parent’s Personal Time Out*

  1. Say to your child, “I’m going to take a minute to calm down before I say something I don’t mean/I’ll regret. This doesn’t mean you are getting out of this, I just need a little break.
  2. Leave the area for calming activities. This is any activity that works for you to feel calm. Some examples include shutting your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, reading a few pages of a book, or going for a short walk.
  3. Return to your child and say, “I am glad I took that time to calm down and think about what I really want to say to you.
  4. Discipline realistically.


Like any change, this is going to take practice to become the norm, but the results will be worth it.