New Things Happening!


klndonnelly via Flickr

As many of you know, I’ve been kicking around some different ideas about what to do with my passion for all things parenting. I knew that I wanted to support families by focusing on parenting, and I’ve been mulling over my options.

Recently I decided to take the plunge and open a private practice. I launched a new website, and I’m eager to begin working with parents locally and electronically. I’ve moved my blog over to the new website, so please follow me there or on social media. Thanks for joining me on this adventure!

The new blog can be found here, and I’m also on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.



5 Reasons Parents Get Defensive


Photo Credit: Madstreetz via Flickr

We all know that telling someone not to be defensive doesn’t usually work. It’s like telling someone who is upset to just calm down. Say that to your three year old and see how well that suggestion is received.

In my work with parents, I’ve encountered an abundance of defensiveness. Parents often feel the need to vociferously defend their parenting choices. Yet just pointing out to other parents that they are defensive probably wouldn’t help, and here’s why: people likely feel defensive because they’re parenting the best they can, but they are struggling. Most of us get defensive about something having to do with our children at one time or another. There are a few common reasons why we get defensive about our parenting, and knowing them helps us to remain open and supportive.


Parents are defensive about their choices when they have no idea why they made them. How much thought do most of us put into how we intend to raise our children? When I was pregnant with my son, I spent hours reading about pregnancy and childbirth. It was only after he was born that I realized I hadn’t read a single book about infant care or parenting. We make intentional decisions about so many aspects of our lives, but most of us choose to parent on autopilot. We content ourselves with parenting the way we were parented, whether it was healthy and effective or not. What if we thought critically about the values we intend to impart? What if we approached parenting like any other passion we pursue: with verve, purpose, and humility?


As Dr. Shefali Tsabary astutely observes, “Many of us fall into the trap of allowing our sense of worth to become entangled with our children’s behavior.” When my son was a toddler, I took personal responsibility every time he yanked a toy out of another kid’s hands. Typical toddler behavior became proof that I was failing as a parent. Any suggestion for how to address this behavior was met with defensiveness since it was obviously a critique of my ability to parent effectively. There’s no such thing as the perfect parent. By striving for perfection, we miss the authenticity of recognizing and learning from our mistakes. We miss the chance to model humility for our children. What message do we send when we are hell bent on perfection? That not only do we expect perfection from ourselves, but we expect it from our children as well.

Our kids are whole, complete beings separate from us. They are their own people with their own ideas and their own desires. Sometimes we’ll be proud of their choices, and sometimes we’ll be disappointed in them. Regardless, it isn’t our job to mold them into the people we think they should be. Assuming their choices are a reflection of us as people is dangerous. Our children may choose a career path we don’t value or a religion we don’t condone. When we assume every decision has to do with us, we take our children’s life choices very personally.


Often we think something is being done to us rather than our life being a series of moments in which we make decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously. For example, I have worked with several women who chose to formula feed for a variety of reasons. One mama chose to formula feed because she was a single mom who worked full-time and had twin baby boys along with an older special needs child. She knew she would be spending up to 13 hours a day away from her babies, and she decided formula feeding was the best choice for her family given these many factors. She made this decision intentionally and never felt the need to apologize for it.

On the other hand, I also worked with a woman who weaned her son when he was a few months old because her bipolar disorder was worsening, and she needed to stop waking at night to pump. Protecting her sleep was the single most important thing this mama could do for her mental health, and by extension her family. Yet she felt she had no choice and took any mention of breastfeeding very personally. This mama became defensive because she felt powerless. If she had felt empowered by her informed decision to wean, recognizing it as a healthier choice than risking a worsening manic episode, she could feel confident in her decision.


Researcher Brene Brown describes shame as a “…web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be.” She also points out, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” We may be afraid of feeling vulnerable and instead choose to react to our shame with defensiveness. When we’re steeped in shame, we can’t admit that we might need support or education. That level of vulnerability feels unsafe and unobtainable. Yet it’s also the only antidote to shame and its accompanying defensiveness.


Sometimes we know what we’re doing is wrong. Our behaviors are contrary to our beliefs and values, and that makes us very uncomfortable. This state causes stress and thus defensiveness. For example, a parent may not believe in spanking, but she feels overwhelmed and resorts to using punishments she doesn’t actually condone. When we judge ourselves, we’re apt to see judgment everywhere.


The best way to avoid becoming defensive is to remain mindful. Having a greater awareness of our triggers and emotions means we can begin to observe when we react in a knee-jerk manner. When we can identify our bubbling emotions and name them, we can choose a different reaction. Recognizing our defensiveness and choosing a different way means making peace with our vulnerability.

When we observe defensiveness in others, it’s not our job to tear down their walls. These situations call for increased empathy. We may be seeing a small snapshot of a complex life we can’t begin to understand. We can best support each other when we remember that parenting is difficult, and we’re all in this together.

The Toxicity of Shaming


Photo Credit: John Hain via Pixabay

Thus far in our series about punishment we’ve discussed spanking and time outs. It’s impossible to have a discussion about punishment and not address the issue of shame. Often we shame when we want to discourage an undesired behavior and we feel we’ve lost control over our child. We might shame our children when we feel embarrassed by their behavior or because we’re really angry and something our child has done has triggered a shame response in ourselves. I fall into this trap when I’m attempting to belabor a point. Just this morning my three year old asked me, “when can we move on?” Usually we shame with no awareness that what we’re saying is shaming.

Shaming Unconsciously 

Recently I toured a preschool where I witnessed the teacher call a little boy “lazy” and a girl “bossy and sassy.” The little boy was clearly an observer who needed time to acclimate to a chaotic environment, and the little girl was simply organizing a game while the teacher and I talked. I was appalled to hear these labels roll off the preschool teacher’s tongue so naturally, reminding me that shaming happens insidiously and subconsciously.

Not long ago, a picture of time out chairs was circulating around Facebook. The picture shows separate chairs for boys and girls, both explaining why the child requires a time out. The one for girls says, “Whining and being sassy is not nice, maybe next time you’ll think twice because little girls who throw a fit will be little girls who have to sit.” Some versions even include a picture of a crown, implying that the little girl is acting like a princess. The one for boys isn’t much better, “Shouting is not nice, and kicking hurts. Nobody likes their face in the dirt. So boys who fight, kick, and shout will be boys that sit in time out.” I’m sure the creator of these chairs found them to be clever, but in actuality they only succeed in adding shame to an already ineffective punishment.

What Is My Goal? 

When providing discipline, we must continuously come back to this question: what skill am I teaching my children? In a given moment, we can choose to respond to a meltdown with empathy: “Are you feeling frustrated that you can’t use the blue cup? It’s dirty right now, but how about you use the yellow one?”  or by minimizing and shaming: “Stop whining and being bossy, you’re not getting the blue cup!” If we choose the latter, we’re choosing not to empower our children with any useful words or acknowledge their inherent lack of power and control. When we view a child having difficulty as “throwing a fit” or being naughty, we’re shaming her for having a developmentally appropriate reaction to intense feelings. This is another example of how we can miss an opportunity to teach emotional intelligence and mood regulation. Shaming invalidates feelings, suggests that showing emotional vulnerability is unacceptable, and is completely devoid of empathy.

The Dark Side of Shaming 

Shaming causes our children to question themselves, their feelings, and their self-worth. Severe shame is theorized to contribute to the development of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder since it promotes a negative inner dialogue based on self-doubt. As Peggy O’Mara observes, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

The problem with shaming time out chairs is they label our children and focus on ambiguous, seemingly meaningless values. How do we even define “nice” for our children? Often “not nice” is a catchall for behaviors we don’t like. “Not nice” is too vague and doesn’t give a child any information about what is actually expected of him. What he will understand, however, is that he isn’t nice. Instead he is naughty, violent, or somehow bad. Children who continuously receive the message that they’re bad eventually internalize this message and believe there is something wrong with them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s both tragic and avoidable. Rebecca Eanes points out that we can become so focused on a behavior that we forget to see our child as a whole being. Instead we reduce our children to one action rather than viewing them as growing people still learning to navigate the world.

Just as importantly, shaming damages our relationship with our children. As with other forms of punishment, our children feel betrayed when they look to us for guidance and instead their feelings are invalidated. When we meet their need for direction with shame, we essentially tell our children that we are untrustworthy. Their feelings and fragile sense of self aren’t safe with us. We discourage them from trusting us with their big emotions because we aren’t able to manage our discomfort with them.

Intention Matters

As Dr. McBride states, “It is an expectation [by children] that the parent will provide safety, protection, acceptance, understanding and empathy.” We have the power to teach our children that they’re sassy or that when they need guidance and gentle boundaries, we can be the safe container they need.

The Trouble With Time Outs


Photo Credit: Russ via Flickr


Given the popularity of the time out on parenting websites, it may come as a surprise to many parents that time outs aren’t the most effective form of discipline. Parents may be in complete agreement about the damage that can be done by spanking, but the same parents might be surprised to learn that time outs are also largely ineffective and potentially harmful.

Why Time Outs Don’t Work

In No-Drama Discipline, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson explain that very few children actually sit in time out and think about what they could have done differently. More frequently, children sit in time out and fume about the injustice of being in time out. They feel angry at their parents and can become even more upset. Therefore, the intended outcome is rarely achieved.

When children are in a state of high emotional reactivity, their brains are stressed. Stressed brains operate from a “fight, flight, or freeze” mode, meaning the brain is focused solely on survival and is not equipped to act rationally or solve problems. Correction and discipline are ineffective and counterproductive in such a state. We must first offer empathic coaching to assist our children in identifying and regulating their emotions before we expect them to process what has taken place and what they could have done differently.

As with other forms of punishment, time outs reduce the opportunity for meaningful discussion and connection. Time outs send our children the message that their behavior makes them unacceptable, rather than it being a result of overstimulation, lack of skill, or developmentally appropriate frustration. “Putting them in time-out deprives them of a chance to practice being active, empathic decision makers who are empowered to figure things out” (No-Drama Discipline). Similarly, parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham states, “When you send him off to his room by himself, he’ll calm down eventually — but he’s no closer to learning to manage those emotions next time.” If our intention is to give our children the opportunity to reflect and brainstorm solutions, they would be better served by a collaborative approach which take places with a loving parent, “…the biggest reason we question the value of time-outs has to do with a child’s profound need for connection. Often, misbehavior is a result of a child getting overtaxed emotionally…It’s during these times that a child most needs our comfort and calm presence (No-Drama Discipline).

Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson also point out that time outs are often commanded from a place of anger and frustration rather than thoughtful intention. In this case, it isn’t so much about giving the child space to reflect as it is a way to isolate a child for a negative behavior. This punitive approach teaches our children that we only love them when we find their actions acceptable. As soon as they behave in a way we don’t like, they are separated from us until they are once again deemed “good.” Alfie Kohn keenly identifies this as a “time out from love” (Unconditional Parenting).

Time Outs Aren’t Developmentally Appropriate

Parent educator Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains that time outs with toddlers are an exercise in futility as it assumes young children have the neurobiology of adults, “Under the age of three the neocortex (the frontal section) of the brain is exceptionally immature, the neural connections are not yet fully formed and as such we may consider it grossly underdeveloped….The frontal cortex of the brain is the segment that is responsible for impulse control, emotional self regulation and critical, analytical and hypothetical thought.” In other words, small children are entirely incapable of accomplishing what time outs are intended to give the space to provide: the opportunity to reflect, problem solve, and regulate their own emotions. Those are skills which come with time, experience, and empathic coaching. Expecting toddlers to possess them is unrealistic. Ockwell-Smith explains that time outs may change behaviors, but it’s only because children learn that sharing their emotions is not safe and will be met with punishment.

Our most powerful tool in parenting is our connection with our children. Therefore, our discipline is only as effective as our relationship. By sending our children away, we weaken that connection, however slightly. In doing so, we also set ourselves up for a power struggle. Many parents who have tried time outs unsuccessfully explain that it was nearly impossible to keep their child in the time out. When this happens, it’s our will against theirs, and often physical intimidation is needed to make the child comply. Rather than choosing a collaborative method wherein we’re encouraging trust and mutual respect, we’re choosing to adopt a “parent vs. child” dynamic. Very little learning can take place in such an environment.

What If I need a Time-Out?

Maybe your child doesn’t need time apart, but you do. If you know separating from your child and taking a few deep breaths is the only way to stay composed, take care of yourself before attempting to care for your dysregulated child. We’ve all had moments when we know we’re on the verge of yelling, and in such an instance taking your own time out is the better option. Consider explaining to your child, “I love you, but I’m feeling frustrated and need a few minutes to calm down so I can help you.” Then make sure your child is safe and go in your room to beat the tar out of some pillows or practice deep breathing. We’re in no position to calm a dysregulated child when we are operating from a state of dysregulation ourselves.

Time outs aren’t the most punitive form of punishment we can practice, but they also aren’t the most effective mode of discipline. When we see our relationship with our children as an opportunity for collaboration, we naturally gravitate towards interventions which provide them with support and gentle guidance rather than isolation and judgment.

4 Reasons You Should Never Spank Your Child


Photo credit: Ha! Designs via Flickr

Parenting styles tend to change with the times. While corporal punishment was a standard practice 50 years ago, there’s evidence to show that spanking is on the decline. Sadly, while it’s no longer the prevailing strategy for discipline, corporal punishment is not as rare as one would hope. One poll suggests that as many as 65% of women and 76% of men still feel that a child benefits from an occasional spanking.

Why do some parents still advocate spanking? The motives vary but are equally misguided. While many parents fervently believe in corporal punishment, sometimes spanking is just the last resort for a parent at his wit’s end. I’ve spoken to many mothers who apologetically admit to spanking a young child for impulsively running toward a busy street or reaching for a hot stove. The logic seems to be that if they react forcefully, it will leave a lasting impression on a child.

Other parents feel that spanking teaches a child to respect her elders and behave. In an article for CNN, author Ruben Navarrette states, “Fear is essential to respect. Children won’t do what we tell them to do, unless — at some level — they fear the consequences that will come from not doing it.” This statement is fundamentally flawed. We use fear when we aren’t able to command respect, and we aren’t able to command respect when we fail to show it.

I’ve yet to stumble upon a compelling reason to spank, but there are plenty of reasons to refrain:

1. Spanking Hinders Brain Development 

One study suggests that spanking a child twice a month at the age of three may decrease a child’s gray matter in the brain.  Gray matter functions to assist us in processing emotions, controlling impulses, and making decisions. When parents spank a small child for acting impulsively, they are actually making matters worse. As Sarah Kovac explains in an article for CNN, “The sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.”

2. Spanking Is Correlated With Increased Aggression

Given the insight about spanking and the brain, it’s not surprising that spanking is also correlated with higher levels of aggression. One study reports, “Spanking consistently predicted increases in children’s aggression over time, regardless of how aggressive children were when the spanking occurred.” Violence begets violence. When a parent responds to a child with physical force rather than empathy, a child will quickly learn to react to conflict and upsetting emotions in a similar fashion.

3. Spanking Erodes Trust and Hinders Connection

When our children make mistakes, they should feel safe coming to us for support and guidance. If we instead teach them to fear violent punishment, our kids will learn not to trust us to help them. If we set this precedent when our children are little, we won’t be the people our teenagers reach out to when they need our guidance and wisdom the most.

4. Spanking Doesn’t Work

The data couldn’t be clearer, “More spanking is associated with less long-term compliance.” As Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor at the University of Texas and corporal punishment researcher states, “There’s no study that I’ve ever done that’s found a positive consequence of spanking…Most of us will stop what we’re doing if somebody hits us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned why somebody hit us, or what we should be doing instead, which is the real motive behind discipline.”

We must see spanking as the shortcut it’s intended to be. Making the effort to listen to and empathize with a child is time consuming and involves a certain amount of emotional intelligence. Spanking is swift, easy, and requires nothing of a parent other than a willingness to strike a child. Empathizing and collaborating with our children is an investment. The more we do it, the easier it gets and the more we reap the benefits. The more children feel connected to us, the more motivated they are to comply. Furthermore, the more we coach them through difficult emotions and disruptive behaviors, the more they acquire the skills and confidence to choose safe, pro-social behaviors on their own. On the other hand, spanking leads to the need for more spanking, setting parents up for a power struggle. As Molly S. Castelleo states in an article for Psychology Today, “Corporal punishment undermines compassion for others, for oneself, and limits the mutual capacity for gaining insight.”

If we take the time to empathically view spanking from the perspective of the child, we see just how nonsensical it is. Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking eloquently explains this point:

“When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first in his life. She told him that he would have to go outside himself and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, ‘Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.’

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy into her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because if violence begins in the nursery one can raise children into violence.

Source: Positive Parenting


Discipline vs. Punishment




Image: Lance Neilson via Flickr

There are certain aspects of parenting where we can get away with making a decision based on what feels familiar. Family traditions are a great place to see our legacy flourish and teach our children about our family history in a meaningful way. For example, growing up my mom always created a treasure hunt on Easter morning, and my brothers and I would follow clues to find our Easter baskets. I have fond memories of this tradition, and my family has continued it with our son. There are other areas of parenting, however, where tradition isn’t a reasonable justification for our choices.

It’s important that we choose discipline intentionally. Discipline is not the place for the argument, “that’s how it was done when I was a kid, and I survived.” Don’t we all hope to raise children with the hopes that they will thrive, not just survive? Some parents may actually believe that punishments such as spanking are effective, or they may just be feeling defensive about what they perceive as a criticism of their parents. Most likely people who “survived” spanking need to justify how their parents treated them to avoid feeling the pain of being hit as a child. Many parents simply lack the skill to forge a new path which breaks with the tradition of their family of origin. These are all valid feelings and worthy of being explored.

However, I’m proposing that with self-awareness and compassion for our children, we remain open to new information and methods of discipline. Like everything else with children, new information provides new opportunity for improvement. For example, most of us were put to sleep on our stomachs as babies because the risks of SIDS were still unknown. Then experts discovered that placing a baby on her back for sleep is safer and correlated with a decreased risk of SIDS. Does this mean that our parents failed us for putting us to sleep on our stomachs? Of course not. Does that mean we should obstinately put our babies to sleep on their tummies because that’s how we slept and we turned out fine? No, that would be absurd. With that same openness to new knowledge, let’s discuss discipline.

By empathizing, setting a limit, and then redirecting, we’re communicating that we’re on our child’s team.

Discipline is not synonymous with punishment. In their book Mindful Discipline, Drs. Shauna Shapiro and Chris White point out that discipline actually means “to teach” while punishment means “a penalty as retribution for an offense.” Punishment is punitive while discipline offers direction and education in a constructive environment. Often punishment is done in anger with the intention of gaining immediate compliance. Discipline involves an intentional decision to direct our children in a specific way in an effort to promote a set of skills. The goal is long-term mastery rather than short-term control. For example, when a child wildly bounces on the couch, we can observe, empathize, and redirect to teach our child self-awareness and a clear boundary about the house rules, “You’re really enjoying jumping! Couches aren’t for jumping, but why don’t you show me how high you can bounce on your trampoline?” If we just redirect, we miss the opportunity to explain a rule, if we only stop the current behavior, we don’t educate our child about acceptable alternatives. Finally, if we fail to reflect what we see with empathy, we miss an opportunity to attune by acknowledging the intention and desire behind a behavior of which the child might not even be aware. By empathizing, setting a limit, and then redirecting, we’re communicating that we’re on our child’s team. It’s developmentally appropriate for children to have a lot of energy and to want to jump, and it’s our job to support them in finding safe outlets for their energy. Imagine if instead we said, “Get off the couch right now! You know you aren’t supposed to jump there!” How would the child feel in that scenario? Most likely he would walk away from the encounter feeling shamed and misunderstood, and he might not have any idea how or where to release his energy. He might feel like he did something really wrong and internalize an overall feeling of being a bad kid.

Several forms of punishment often take the place of empathic discipline. They may stop an undesired behavior temporarily, but seldom do they yield sustained results. They certainly don’t promote mastery of new skills. In the coming weeks I’ll explore why punishment doesn’t work and how to practice empathic discipline instead.


6 Ways to NOT Raise a Trump Supporter

Donald Trump labeled for reuse

Photo Credit:


It’s fair to say our country is in a period of unrest; politically we are divided. We may have thought that as a nation we were healing from centuries of racism, but what Donald Trump’s candidacy has shown us is that widespread bigotry had merely gone underground. Now many people feel they have full permission to show hate to Latinos, Muslims, and virtually every other ethnic and religious group who Trump chooses to attack. Many therapists have made the assertion that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One of the key features of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a lack of empathy. If Trump had empathy, he wouldn’t make the statements he does. And if his supporters had any, they wouldn’t laud him because “he says what he wants.” Empathy would stop his supporters from sucker punching a protester. Empathy would steal the power of Trump’s deplorable words and actions because they would fall on deaf ears. But they aren’t falling on deaf ears. Instead, he arouses his followers to a froth of rage and violence, encouraging them to assault protesters and assuring them he’ll pay their legal fees. A statement I find hard to believe.

This may come as a surprise, but my issue isn’t with Trump. If America were built on the values of justice, kindness, and empathy, he wouldn’t have an audience. He’d just be the crazy man with a sign in the town square bellowing at passersby. My concern is with his supporters. The truth is he has a sizable audience, and hateful people in large numbers have the potential to do great harm. When people listen and take to heart the words of a narcissist with just enough empathy to know how to manipulate them, they’re treading into dangerous territory.

Babies aren’t born to hate, they’re taught. The messages can be overt or implied, but either way they’re damaging.  If you’re anything like me, raising a child who might someday agree with Trump’s rhetoric is your worst nightmare. Trump has opened the door for future Trumps, so I’m planning ahead now to avoid a future personal crisis.


The subtext of Trump’s hate speech is fear. Trump is a deeply fearful man, and so are his followers. They’re afraid for their safety and afraid of losing power. Trump supporters seem to operate under the threat of scarcity, like if someone else is granted more rights, they will automatically have fewer rights. This simply isn’t true.


Children who grow up with parents who can’t handle their emotions are constantly told not to express them. This can lead to children feeling insecure, misunderstood, and afraid of their own emotions. The truth is that all emotions are acceptable. When we teach our children to appropriately identify and regulate their emotions, the overwhelming ones quickly lose their power. It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to be violent. There’s a difference between feeling a strong emotion and acting on it.


It’s fascinating and entirely unsurprising to learn that the single largest factor which predicts who supports Donal Trump is authoritarianism. One article describes authoritarian parenting as, “a style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. When feedback does occur, it is often negative. Yelling and corporal punishment are also commonly seen with the authoritarian style.” In contrast, “working-with” parenting is a term coined by Alfie Kohn to describe a parenting style that is based on respect, empathy, and support for the child. It’s a collaborative approach which encourages children to openly express their thoughts and feelings. Authoritarian parents expect their children to accept rules and punishments without question. This type of parenting focuses on the short-term objective of having a quiet, complaint child but does nothing to teach life skills. “The critical question is what kind of people we want our children to be -and that includes whether we want them to be the kind who accept things as they are or the kind who try to make things better” (Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting).


Every person has value. It’s that simple. You don’t deserve fewer rights because you’re black or hispanic or gay or female or Republican or Christian or Muslim. All people deserve to be treated with decency, respect, and empathy. Period.


I recently read about a group of Trump supporters who were shown clips of statements he’d made which were antithetical to their lifestyles. The crowd had been so brainwashed by Trump that they assumed the clips were fabricated. Children should be taught to respectfully question authority. Children should be curious and hesitant to take generalizations and broad statements at face value.


Even small children can learn empathy from the culture you create for your family. If a checker at the grocery store is rude, model kindness. Afterwards, initiate a discussion about what may have been happening for that checker and why you chose not to reciprocate their negativity. Enlist your child’s help in picking out food for the food bank. Consider discussing current events with older children in age appropriate ways. Encourage inclusion and compassion, not just tolerance.

We can abhor what Trump and his supporters stand for. We can, and should, reject their toxic ideology. But I challenge all of us to stay unwaveringly civil and kind. Empathy is the antidote to hate, and spreading it throughout the country is the only possible road back from the ugliness Trump has created.

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help the, at least don’t hurt them.” -Dalai Lama

Letter to My Sensitive Son

My sweet boy,

I lied to you last week. When we were driving in the car, and there was nothing but the road and our thoughts to keep us company, you asked me some hard questions. I could tell your brain was grappling with new truths you didn’t quite know what to make of. You were thinking about death and wondering if the people and animals you love will die. When I told you, “yes” I could feel how you lost a bit of your innocence. You were bereft thinking about losing loved ones. So when you asked me if children ever die, I lied to you. And I know I made the right decision. When you shared your fear of growing up, I knew that some part of you was wishing you wouldn’t have to continue to learn about the sad things in life. I think you were asking me to shield you just a bit longer. I meant it when I said you can grow up as slowly as you need to, and that we aren’t going anywhere. I promise not to rush you.


I promise to try my best to show you through my words and actions that it’s possible to be both gentle and fierce.


I didn’t expect you to explore such tough questions at such a young age, and I’m so sorry that your curiosity and keen awareness have led you into murky waters you aren’t sure how to navigate. I wish I could wrap your tender heart in bubble wrap. I too wish you didn’t have to grow up and learn sad realities. I wish you could stay innocent and carefree forever. I know what it’s like to be a sensitive soul, and I know there are things about our world that will make your heart ache. I know what it’s like to feel deeply. Right now I can still protect you from some things. The older you get, the more you’ll learn about the beauty and tragedy of life. I don’t want your heart to harden, and I don’t want you to stop caring. When life has sharp edges and you feel the pains of the universe weighing heavy on you, I want you to stay open and loving. My wish for you is that you learn resilience to balance your sensitivity and a sense of justice to drive your empathy. When faced with intolerance, I hope you can feel a stirring deep within you to stand up for what you know is right and true. I hope you meet suffering with creativity and compassion. I hope that I can teach you what I’ve learned about life: that sensitivity without action will overwhelm you, but that it’s the sensitive people who are able to make great changes in the face of injustice. I hope you know you have the power to help others if you can learn to trust your own strength. I hope you never let the world convince you that there’s something wrong with you because the things that make you unique are the same qualities we revere in leaders and visionaries.

I promise to do everything I can to help you. I promise to try my best to show you through my words and actions that it’s possible to be both gentle and fierce. I promise that I’ll never try to toughen you up. I promise to support you when you need it and challenge you when you can’t see your potential. I promise that I’ll try to give you the tools to protect yourself without becoming jaded. I promise to teach you that you are strong and capable, and that the world needs people exactly like you. As Dr. Laura Markham says, “At the core, every choice is between love and fear.” When faced with the choice, I hope you choose love.






Slowing Down

I’m officially renaming this winter, “The Season of the Endless Cold.” We’ve been sick almost continuously for about two months, and it has really thrown a wrench in our regular routine. We’re constantly holed up in the house and missing our regular play dates with friends. Our current cold kept us home from yet another play date this week. The missed play date, coupled with the fact that it was an extra day of my least favorite month, was the last straw.

“We have to get out of this house,” I told my three year old. We’d spent too much time on the couch watching tv; enough was enough. He suggested we take a hike in our favorite woods, and I agreed. Since we were both still nursing a cough, we took it easy. We meandered, we observed, and we talked. We took our time. We spent a solid ten minutes watching a deer eat grass near the trail. At one point my three year old stopped in his tracks to listen to the wind in the trees. He just wanted to take it all in.

Slowing down helps us to savor the good moments, and it gives us the tools to cope with the challenging ones.

I work really hard to live mindfully. As a therapist, I know practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and encourage healthier self-talk. Practicing mindfulness is also positively correlated with empathy and compassion. Mindfulness can even make us more effective parents. I’m all in on mindfulness. I work hard at it, but it will always be a struggle for me. Yet here was my small child living it so effortlessly and with rapture. I had to consciously make the choice not to rush things along or get impatient. I followed his lead and chose to just be present. In doing so, we created one of my favorite memories. I’m loathe to admit that I don’t often choose to devote my full attention to my son without a time limit. However, “The Season of the Endless Cold” was forcing me to accept a slower pace. It was a good reminder that my son won’t always be fascinated by the sight of a deer (and suggest we too pretend to be deer so as to not scare it). Someday I’ll miss hearing his extensive thoughts on monster trucks. I’ll miss the sight of his curly hair and small body as he runs ahead of me on the trail. I’ll miss allowing the morning to open up in front of us with endless possibilities for adventure. That day I realized that we don’t do enough of that. We don’t go places without a plan, and we’re never not in a rush. It’s rare that I don’t have an agenda, and “mindfully enjoy my child’s company” rarely makes the list.

Taking the time to slow down gave us an opportunity for connection. That sweet morning helped me remember that mindful listening makes our children feel like they’re worth our time. Even though I tire of hearing about Paw Patrol, I know that actively listening to what’s important to my three year old means he’ll grow up knowing I’m interested in what he has to say, and that his thoughts have value. Slowing down helps us to savor the good moments, and it gives us the tools to cope with the challenging ones. When we’re mindful, we’re able to choose our words and actions carefully and with intention. I’m reminded of the quote by Dr. John Trainer, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” They’re also the most important teachers when we allow them to be.

C in Jville

C and deer

C in Jville 2

Why Ask Why?

Recently I went grocery shopping with my three year old, and while we were weaving our way up and down the aisles, I was answering a string of questions about what I was looking for and why. I was getting a little impatient with the current line of questioning when I noticed a middle-aged woman further down the aisle chuckling to herself while she listened to our conversation. No doubt she’d survived her fair share of interrogations.

As the mother of a young child, I’ve heard numerous explanations about why kids love asking “why.” Some claim children often already have their own answer in mind and don’t actually want an explanation. One parenting advice website I encountered suggested that children ask “why” with the intention of changing a parent’s answer which they find displeasing. Others theorize that it’s just a strategy for dragging out conversation or gaining attention. I can’t speak for all kids, but when my son wants attention, he doesn’t leave anything to chance. He prefers the more straightforward strategy of saying, “Hey everyone, look at me!”

Maybe my son’s inquisitive nature has begun to rub off on me, because recently I decided to get to the bottom of the “whys.” Research suggests that young children aren’t simply seeking to exhaust their parents when they ask a continuous stream of questions, though that is likely to occur. Instead, it appears preschoolers are actively seeking new information. And doesn’t this make sense? Facts of life that we take for granted are puzzling to someone who has only been on the planet a few years. They finally have the verbal skills to ask questions and the cognitive ability to grasp more complex topics. Why wouldn’t young children ask why?

Change occurs when brave, confident individuals feel compelled to ask “why?’

But what about when our children not only question our grocery list but also our parenting choices? When children ask for explanations about limits and boundaries, it’s easy to feel as though they’re challenging our authority. Parent educator Nancy Samalin believes that taking the time to explain why rules exist only leads to frustration, “Not only does the child remain unconvinced, but you may find that when your explanation doesn’t work, you become angrier than if you hadn’t offered any at all.” While I can certainly empathize with question-weary parents everywhere, I’m not sure I agree with Ms. Samalin’s summation, particularly for young children. For practical purposes, explaining a boundary can actually be effective. When he understands that a behavior is unsafe, my cautious child is more than happy to avoid it. But he needs that fact explained to him in order to understand it. Explaining a rule also gives us an opportunity to examine why it exists. I’ve had the experience of questioning a rule that made sense when my son was younger only to realize it’s no longer applicable.

Of course, this may not always be the case. Sometimes we may enact a limit for a good reason, and our children may find it unpleasant and ask why it exists. They may disagree with us, and we may need to maintain the boundary anyway. That’s okay! Children deserve an explanation, even if they don’t agree with it or entirely understand it. Providing an explanation sends our children the message that we’re comfortable with their questioning us, and that we respect them enough to engage in a discussion. When parents respond to questions with “because I said so” or “because I’m the parent” we are teaching our children that they aren’t worthy of our time. We’re also teaching them that authority must be followed unquestioningly. Because I value critical thinking and desire my son to feel confident in his ability to think independently, I’m willing to answer his questions. In his groundbreaking book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn makes a compelling case for encouraging our children to be inquisitive. He argues that it’s a matter of social justice and human rights and that by “raising rebels” we can enact cultural change. He believes parents should encourage their children to feel comfortable saying, “‘…If you say or do something that doesn’t make sense, I’ll ask why…” He also states, “…we should invite our children to join us in asking which rules are worth following and why.” If we wish to raise children who feel comfortable questioning the establishment, they must grow up in an environment where respectful questioning is encouraged.

We may grow weary of the questions. We may get impatient and we may even get annoyed. In those moments I encourage you to remember that no progress has been made by accepting what is and has always been. Change occurs when brave, confident individuals feel compelled to ask “why?’