Parenting Quick Tips

Family doing stretching exercises at home

(Note: I personally hate it when people tell me how to parent my child! But, that doesn’t stop me from honestly consider suggestions that might fit my life, me and my child. So, feel free to take and implement what is helpful and leave the rest behind.)

Parents usually enter my office worried and full of questions. My feeling is that many parents today parent out of fear and uncertainty about what exactly is the “right” thing to do.

Newsflash: There is no one right thing to do.

There are definitely things you don’t want to do but, when it comes to helping a child grow into a productive, independent, caring, courageous, and respectful adult who gives generously back to the world, many roads lead to Rome. And the road is dependent on a child’s, as well as a parent’s, personality. Even though the road might be different, there are some basic guiding principles which you might want to take into consideration.

In any profession, there are issues that repeatedly come up which you tend to consistently answer in the same way. This is how it is with being a therapist as well.

Following is a list of the most common things I teach or point out to my clients when parenting questions are brought up. There are grouped under two categories – change your perspective and improve communication. Many (or all) of these may be familiar to you but, it’s nice to have a reminder once in a while.

Change your perspective

1. Consider the resources needed by your child to succeed.

Does your child have the skills and resources needed to comply with your requests and expectations?

2. Don’t get into a power struggle.

Ignore negative reflex comments (“I hate you!”) made my your child and stay focused on the goal.

3. Avoid judgments.

Focus on changing behavior, not negatively defining yourself, your child or their behavior.

4. Be a good example.

Demonstrate through your own behavior what you would like your child to learn.

5. See it through their eyes.

Consider your child’s experience and how you would like to be treated if it were you in that situation at that age.

Improve communication

 6. Teach your child how to express and manage his/her feelings; build their emotional quotient.

They will use these valuable skills for the rest of their lives in more ways than you can image.

7. Anticipate potential problems.

Put strategies in place beforehand instead of responding reactively in the moment.

8. Don’t lecture.

Speak briefly, clearly and with authority (which is not the same as yelling). You don’t need to yell to get respect. Stay in control of yourself.

9. “Catch” them doing the right things.

Children respond to verbal praise much better than they do to punishment and criticism.

10. Be consistent.

Rules, expectations and schedules are important and children find them comforting.

11. Follow through.

Mean what you say and say what you mean. Do I really need to say more?

12. Give them choices whenever possible.

Help children feel and learn that they can choose how they want respond. Life is almost never about only one choice but, one among many.

Ultimately, it boils down to one thing – does your child feel loved?

There are so many great parenting books out there. But, keep in mind that the way someone else parents may not work the same or as well for you and your child because you and your relationship with your child is unique. Take whatever is helpful and leave the rest – trust your instincts as a parent. However, try something consistently for long enough to build habits and don’t give up too soon.

Happy parenting!


Children and Sleep Problems

Bully pulling hairConnie is a young mom who is frustrated with her nine year old son, Matt. “I know he can pull it together because he can do it at school.” Her conclusion, “He’s just choosing to misbehave.” The pattern that Connie describes is one where Matt is well-behaved at school, but when he comes home, he is impossible to manage. He is picking fights with his siblings, wants to run around instead of sitting and doing his homework, “he is defiant and won’t listen to me”, and “his temper tantrums are explosive”.

The scenario described by Connie above is one I hear all the time from parents. Nine year old Matt is well behaved at school, but once he gets home he is his mother’s worst nightmare. (Really, when it happens most days out of the week, this is not an exaggeration.) Moms usually report that teachers don’t have any complaints – “He’s quiet, well-behaved, gets his work done.” So, what’s the deal?

When parents come in wanting to discuss their children’s behavior, one of the first things I ask about is how their child is sleeping. If it’s off, it’s one of the first things we work on. Because children and sleep problems do not mix well.

Think about your own life as an adult and what you are like when you haven’t gotten the sleep you need. Not only are you physically exhausted, but you are also an emotional wreck. It takes a lot of energy and resources to keep your emotionally wrecked and exhausted self contained. When sleep deprived, we adults are easily emotional, exhausted, unfocused, unproductive, and irritable. There are very few physical and emotional resources available to live life, let alone manage relationships well and give your best at your career. Now take all this exhaustion, apply it to your sleep-deprived child and then multiply it a hundred fold.

Why multiply it? Because kids don’t have the knowledge, experience and skills that adults have acquired over a lifetime to manage their lives. Children are still learning how to do this thing called life. They have many developmental tasks they are expected to accomplish and master each day – making and keeping friends, managing and organizing educational demands, extracurricular sports, responding to adult demands, and generally having very little control over how they live their lives and spend their time.

When exhausted, most children work very hard to get through their day at school, holding back the tidal wave of all the behaviors they would rather engage in to express their exhaustion. When they come home (from holding their breath all day at school), they finally take a breath and let loose. It’s a lot like you holding back anger towards your boss all day and then, when you get home, well…you know.

A good night’s sleep can have a huge impact on how your child functions, copes with every day demands and their resilience in the face of life’s surprises. It also makes your job as a parent a little easier. A good night’s sleep is vital to your child’s mood and brain function (not to mention your sanity). Difficulties with sleep can potentially point to bigger issues – ADHD, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, academic difficulties, and worry. It is an early first sign your child’s body uses to communicate, “Something is wrong in my world. I need your help.”

Sleep difficulties fall into five categories

Falling Asleep

Kids who fall into this category often describe that their mind “clicks in” when their head hits the pillow. Anxieties, worries and events of the day can flood their consciousness, rev them up and make it difficult to sleep. They often complain, “I can’t shut it off.” Their brain becomes a place where thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, and imagined futures bounce uncontrollably off one another. Their brain jumps at lightning speed from one item to the next.

Staying Asleep

This sleep difficulty is characterized by multiples awakenings during the night. The repeated interruption of the sleep cycle makes it very difficult for children to achieve Mother comforting her crying little girlREM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is the restorative stage of sleep.

Early Morning Waking

In this scenario, kids wake up super early and then cannot go back to sleep. This can make for very long days and less than stellar behavior at the end of the day.

Restless Sleep

In this case, sleep is…well…restless. Kids toss and turn. They awaken to any noise in the house. They are so fitful they often awake to find the bed torn apart and covers kicked onto the floor. Sleep is not refreshing and they awaken as tired as when they went to bed.

Difficulty Waking

Difficulty waking is usually preceded by an inability to stay asleep or multiple awakenings until about 4:00 a.m. Then, they fall into “a dead sleep”, from which they have extreme difficulty rousing themselves or being roused by someone else. These are the kids that sleep through two or three alarms and family members’ attempts to get them out of bed. They are commonly irritable, even combative, when roused before they are ready. Many of them also say they are not fully alert until noon.

Strategies For A Good Night’s Sleep

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Recent research (see the journal Pediatrics; a study involving 10,000 children) has come out that actually shows a strong connection between an irregular sleep schedule and behavioral issues in children. Thankfully, it is possible to get them on the right track by the time they are 7 – 10 years old. Phew! Kids like routine. It helps them to know what can be expected and many of them find consistent schedules quite comforting. It can be tempting to flex on a sleep schedule during weekends and holidays, but I would recommend you not. Keep things as consistent as possible.

Get their bodies moving – exercise

Exercise helps with burning extra energy as well as helping to manage depression, anxiety and ADHD. I usually recommend something that involves staggered breathing, constant movement or movement that involves a left-right contralateral movement. For example, cycling, running, and swimming. But, exercise is exercise. Get them moving in the morning or at some point during the day, so they’re not moving so much at night. Exercise can also promote deeper sleep and more time in restorative sleep.

No eating and drinking two to three hours before bedtime

This is a difficult rule to follow because kids love their snacks before bedtime. If they must eat something, keep it small and focused on carbs – milk, toast, a small bowl of cereal – whatever your child’s diet can manage. You want to give them just enough to quiet their bellies; avoid overstuffing them or they will need bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. Overfeeding will defeat the purpose. If they are asking for water at bedtime, this is a possible sign they are dehydrated and not getting enough water during the day.

Reduce nighttime distractions

Some kids are very sensitive to light and sound. Kids with ADHD are wired so they can’t not pay attention. So, eliminate as much noise and light as possible. Some options: use a white noise maker, use a clock that lights up only when a button is pressed, put up blackout curtains, use a sleep mask, or use earplugs.

Have healthy bedtime rituals

Evening rituals signal to the brain and body that it is now time to slow down and move towards sleep. It also provides kids with the opportunity to connect with caregivers. Some rituals could include: cuddle time, reading a book, turning all technology off, dimming lights, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, getting a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, and/or saying goodnight to family members and pets.

Dress for sleep comfort

Chilly feet keep some children awake; wearing socks may help to send them into dreamland. Remove any scratchy tags from pajamas. Keep kids cool.
One tip from a client: don’t combine flannel pajamas and flannel sheets. Apparently, this combination makes it difficult for kids to turn over in bed because the fabric has a tendency to stick to itself.

family momentsHave some pre-bedtime relaxation routines

Foot rubs, visualization (imagining they are descending slowly on an escalator as they breathe deeply), breathing exercises where you can help your child focus on their breathing, and prayer (if this is a part of your life) to encourage them to entrust loved ones and concerns to God.
Another way to manage anxieties is to give kids a “parking lot” for their worries. Give them a place to put their worries so they don’t have to take them to bed. A journal where kids can write or draw their concerns works really well. Do this before their bedtime routine and store the journal in a place designated as a “safe place”.

Teach them to use self-soothing skills

Pay attention to what might give comfort to your child. Does he like wrapping himself in a blanket with only his mouth and nose exposed? (Many find it comforting to sleep this way.) Does she like it when you gently rub her back? In this case, you may want to teach your child to lightly rub her own arm as a relaxation technique. Maybe playing soft instrumental music would be soothing?

A self-soothing skill to try – teach your child to tap. One simple way of doing this is to have your child lie on their back with their arms at their sides. All they have to do is slowly tap their hands, bending up and down at their wrists in an alternating left-right pattern. This may help with promoting an automatic relaxation response in the body.

Pay attention to what works for you and your child and leave the rest. Then, be consistent.

Sweet dreams!

What Lies Beneath Your Anger?

Anger isn’t really a feeling.

Yup. You read that right.

To me, anger is akin to Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy – a nice concept, but not real. (Sorry, Virginia!)

In fact, I teach my clients that anger is actually a set of unhelpful behaviors that signal upset. Some of these behaviors include crying, throwing things, yelling, pouting, the silent treatment, slamming doors, stomping around, “huffing”, and arguing. In short, it is any behavior that communicates to someone else that you are upset. They are unhelpful because they create distance in a relationship when emotions bring with them a potential for greater connection.

What exactly is going on behind the “anger”? What drives it? If anger is the behavior, the drivers and the origins of the behaviors are emotions.

Analogy time….

If you look at an ice cube in a glass, you will notice that the ice cube floats, but what can actually be seen above the water line is only a small part of the ice cube. The bulk of the cube rests below the surface. The part floating above the water are the unhelpful behaviors while, what is under the surface are your emotions.

25NOV0346(296).jpgRemember the Titanic? It wasn’t the little part of the iceberg visible above the water level that sank the ship; it was the larger part underneath that resulted in the most damage. In the end, it was what lay underneath that was much larger, more important and the most destructive because the crew didn’t pay attention to it until it was too late. The lesson – pay attention to what is under the water level or it will sink your boat.

When you get below the surface, you can see what is really going on. As they say, knowledge is power; if you identify and name the underlying emotion (or emotions) you can do something about it. After all, an emotion is just an emotion and one of it purposes is to give you valuable information. Behaviors, on the other hand, are something you choose.

Next time you behave angrily, stop, pause and breathe.

Consider the emotion underneath and name it. Some of the usual suspects include:

  • Frustration
  • Disappointment
  • Fear
  • A sense of injustice/unfairness
  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness
  • Exhaustion
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment
  • Disgust
  • Shame
  • Depression
  • Overwhelm
  • Loneliness
  • Jealousy
  • Anxiety
  • Shock
  • Abandonment

We can’t choose our emotions – they are what they are. How you choose to respond to them, however, is very much in your control. Naming the emotion is your first step.

The Number One Barrier to Joy

iStock_000009119092_SmallThis post originally appeared on my other website ( which focuses on managing adult ADHD in life and work. I’m reposting here because I think it is pertinent on this site too. Yes, there are some subtle differences from the original post. I couldn’t stop myself from editing!



Most of us know what it feels and looks like. We all want it. It is quintessentially human to seek out things in our lives that make us feel happy, joyful and content.

So, why does joy feel so elusive?

When I look around, those of us who have the most trouble finding, hanging on to and experiencing joy are those who look for it in and through the approval of others. Let me be clear – approval-seeking is in no way compatible with joy. They cannot co-exist. They are, in fact, diametrically opposed and solely focusing on the approval of others is a guaranteed way of losing the joy we so strongly crave.

Approval seeking is the biggest barrier to experiencing joy and we have become very creative in the ways we try to attain the approval of others. Many of these ways are a detriment to us and actually take us farther from what we are striving to achieve.

Joy is different from happiness in that joy is a state of contentment that cannot be affected by anything outside of us. It is something that resides in us because we approve of ourselves – we esteem ourselves.

Many of us have convinced ourselves that our worth is measured by who we know, what we know, what we do, who we are to others (the roles we fill for others), and what we own. In many ways, this belief is strengthened by others who determine our “approval rating” based on all this information. The ironic thing is that what raises approval for some actually lowers it for others. The approval of others fluctuates depending on the situation and the person. In many ways, joy based on approval seeking is a house built on shifting sands and there is no solid foundation. Joy then, when based on the approval of others, is always at risk, uncertain, fleeting, and elusive.

Truth Nugget: You cannot expect other people to approve of you more than you approve of yourself.

How do you raise your personal “approval rating” of yourself?

1)      Be your best for yourself and no-one else. In difficult situations, be who you want to be and behave in ways that you can be proud when you look back on the moment.

2)      Let go of the belief that you are only okay if you are perfect. Perfectionism is a mirage that always moves farther the closer you think you are to it. You will never get there. To decide and believe “I am good enough only if I am perfect” is to fail before you even get out of the gate.

3)      Value yourself in your humanity – you have worth just because you are. You live, move, are, and exist. You are you and this is all that is necessary for you to have value in the world.

4)      Realize you are a work in progress. Acknowledge those parts of you that are genius, those that are “meh” and those things which you truly suck at. Then move forward towards being a better you in small increments with the dual attitude of self-acceptance alongside a desire and persistence in moving closer to who you know you can be.

5)      Forgive yourself your faults while also working to improve them. We all make mistakes. Learn from them, repair the fallout, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness from others if necessary, decide what you can change to do better next time, and move on.

Truth Nugget: You will find lasting joy when you decide the approval of others is not as important as understanding who you know you are and who you know you can be.

“The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving
to surpass yourself and to be worthy of your own approval.”
– Denis Waitley

Depression and Hypothyroidism

Sadness(Note: The following is not medical advice. It is simply what I have learned in my research to understand my personal experience with hypothyroid, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid cancer, a complete thyroidectomy, and living without a thyroid gland. For medical advice, please discuss your concerns with your doctor.)

A physical, including a full blood panel can signal nutrient deficits in your body that may be contributing to mood swings, depression, fatigue, and so much more. Because a lot of my practice is focused on depression, I will ask my clients when they had their last physical and if their blood panel includes tests for hypothyroid (in addition to iron and Vitamin D). I stress blood work because clients with depression tend to have higher rates of hypothyroidism than those of the general population and women seem more likely to be affected than men.

Hypothyroidism is more common than many think it is. The 2000 Colorado Disease Prevalence Study, with over 25,000 participants, found that almost 10% of those in the study were hypothyroid. This 10% included people already on thyroid hormone replacement, 40% of whom were still hypothyroid indicating they were under-treated. That means that, potentially, over 30 million Americans are hypothyroid. In addition, the study used outdated measures so the real numbers are actually much higher.

This is a really important finding because normal and healthy thyroid hormone levels are essential for optimum brain and body health.  In fact, many of the body’s systems are impacted by the thyroid hormone levels. As a result, hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) can lead to many physical and mental problems.

Some signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Hoarseness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Mood swings
  • “Foggy” thinking
  • Inability to feel alert until late in the day
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Brittle nails

There are a number of reasons that thyroid issues get missed and undiagnosed. Blood work can be very helpful in signaling that there is a problem, but it is really dependent on the numbers of tests that are conducted and how the results are interpreted.

Often, when testing for thyroid issues, doctors normally do a TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test when what is needed is a TSH, free-T3 and free-T4 tests at a minimum. If your doctor wants to be more comprehensive, this number can rise to five or more tests.

When my clients come back with their thyroid hormone test results, they normally tell me that the levels are off or that their doctor reported that their results were “normal”. The normal range for thyroid is big and it can range anywhere from .3 to 5.  These limits can vary even more depending on who you talk to.

My clients are often told their levels fall into the “normal” range and I make a point of instructing them to ask where in the range their results fall – low normal, right in the middle, or high normal. If the number is low normal, there is a very real possibility that you may be struggling with what is known as “sub-clinical hypothyroid”. So, talk to your doctor about your options and whether sub-clinical hypothyroid is a possibility. Patients with low thyroid function, even if it’s not severe, can also have problems with mood, cognitive function, fatigue, and memory loss.

Before you consider antidepressants, you may want to try a few things first:

  • Get an appointment with your doctor for a full physical including blood tests for hypothyroid and vitamin deficiencies.
  • Start exercising. Exercise has been shown, in some cases, to be more effective than antidepressants.
  • Eat well and stay hydrated – your brain needs adequate levels of nutrients and water to stay healthy and function optimally.
  • Get outside and get some sunshine. This will promote the production of Vitamin D in your body as well as increase the production of serotonin (a feel good neurotransmitter).
  • There is a large body of research that shows that a combination of medication and therapy in the treatment of depression is more powerful and effective than medication alone.
  • See a therapist for other areas of your life that you could change to lift your mood – stress management, self-soothing skills, mindfulness practices, journaling, and self-care strategies.
  • Seriously consider tackling your trauma history with a therapist. Past events can and do negatively impact you in later life, but they don’t have to. There are treatments that are very efficient – such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – which have been shown to be very effective in the treatment of trauma or difficult life experiences.

When you suspect depression, checking out what is going on in your body is a good place to start regardless of whether you see a doctor or a therapist as your first course of action.