Tag Archives: anger

Manage Your Emotions: How to Cool Down Before You Blow Up

By Kassandra Brown, parent coach in private practice at ParentCoaching.org.

Kassandra Brown - family yogaYour baby is crying at 3 a.m. It’s not the first time tonight you’ve gotten out of bed to answer her call and offer her your comforting arms and milk. You know she needs you and get up willingly, albeit groggily. You’re confident in Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting and know you want to form a strong bond with your baby.

A few years later, you’re in the grocery store and your now preschool child is sprawled on the floor, screaming that she wants a candy bar. When you sit down beside her and try to comfort her, she screams louder and shrinks away, yelling, “Don’t touch me!” Your tools don’t seem to be working. You feel angry, embarrassed, confused and ashamed. Even worse, you notice an urge within you to slap her or yell at her to get her to stop. What went wrong?

Many parents, including me, have been in this situation. I know I had some illusions that if I just parented “right” and focused on good bonding behaviors to form secure attachments, then parenting would always be smooth sailing. I had some ideas like:

  • If I wear my baby, I can take her anywhere with me and continue my prebaby life.

  • My children won’t need to melt down, hit, scream or even cry because I’ll be so in tune with their needs.

  • My children will listen respectfully to each other and to me.

  • I will never yell.

  • Weaning will happen easily and naturally in a rhythm that works well for the whole family.

  • A secure attachment means I won’t have to set or maintain clear boundaries because my children and I will be kind and cooperative all the time.

  • Crying is a sign that I’m doing something wrong or that I’m not a good parent.

  • Attachment Parenting will make raising children easy.

Do any of these sound familiar? Yet the real world of parenting has not worked out that way for me or my clients. At first I wondered why not. Doesn’t Attachment Parenting work?

While grappling with these questions, I learned a few things about my own expectations for parenting and my emotional reactions to conflict. I’d like to share some tips that have made parenting a lot easier for me. I hope they inspire you, too.

Does AP Work?

Attachment Parenting is an overarching approach about treating children with love, compassion and respect. API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are wonderful tools that help guide parents in caring for their children. When difficult parenting moments arise, it is not a failure of the principles. AP is not a recipe for turning out angelic kids, but rather one for nurturing relationships.

When we ask the question “Does it work?” we need to define what we mean by “working.” If working means that kids and parents behave perfectly, as in the bullet points above, then no it doesn’t work–and neither does anything else in the real world. Relating to other human beings is hard, no matter what.

If working means building the strong foundations upon which loving relationships can be created, then yes it works. If working means creating an environment in which children are listened to, respected and guided with unconditional love, then yes it works.

Why Do I Lose It With My Kids?

We lose it with our kids for so many reasons: we care so much about them, we feel responsible for them, they remind us of ourselves when we were children, we fear what their attitudes and behaviors may mean for their future, we are sensitive to what other parents think about us and our children, and we are sometimes stressed or ill ourselves. Things that felt overwhelming to us as children will come up again. Children help us develop more self-awareness, compassion, tolerance and strength. Many times they do this by triggering our anger, aggression, shame, sadness, insecurity, fear and intolerance. When these emotions arise, we have two main options: repress the emotions or examine them.

How Many Beach Balls Are You Trying To Submerge?

Repressing a strong emotion can be a useful strategy, especially in emergencies. Imagine your child in a swimming pool. She’s just gotten into water over her head but doesn’t know how to swim. You don’t want to sit beside the pool talking to your friend about how you feel scared and nervous or what you think might happen. You want to put your own fear on hold while you jump in to save your child. In this instance, repressing your own fear is a useful and appropriate strategy that allows you to act now and feel later.

However, we get into trouble when we use repression as our “everyday” coping strategy. Trying to repress emotions over the long term is like trying to submerge a beach ball and keep it under water. It takes a lot of energy, balance and concentration. Then just when you think you’ve got the hang of it and let your energy shift to something else, the ball gets away from you and pops up anyway.

Like a beach ball that wants to float, emotions want to come to the surface. Even when we repress them, they often emerge when we least want them to. Multiply that by several different emotions and the different situations that trigger them, and it’s clear why suppressing emotions is a recipe for both exhaustion and failure.

Most of us want more for ourselves and our children.

Tips for Working with Anger and Other Challenging Emotions

1. Cool down. In the heat of the moment, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to fight, flee or freeze unless you can soothe your stress response. Cooling off will help you more closely align your actions with your values.

10 Tips for Cooling Down: 

  • Take 10 deep breaths and make a wordless sound on the exhale.

  • Resist the urge to rationalize. Let yourself feel exactly what you are feeling without trying to make it better or worse and without trying to justify yourself. Admit out loud that right now you are angry, upset, sad, frustrated, incensed or whatever else you are feeling. Breathe through your feelings and let them pass. For help in identifying your needs and feelings, the Center for Nonviolent Communication offers a needs list and a feelings list.

  • Remove distractions: turn off the devices (TV, computer, music), stop multi-tasking and focus on your child. Both of you will feel better when you’re not distracted or fighting for each other’s attention.

  • If you can safely leave the room for a few minutes, let your child know when you’ll be back and take a parent time-out. (This may or may not be appropriate based on your child’s age, developmental stage and the presence of another caregiver.)

  • If you are shopping, leave the shopping cart and go outside. You can cool off together in the car, do jumping jacks on the sidewalk, or run around a grassy space.

  • Move your body. Exercise is a great way to discharge energy without hurting anyone.

  • Change the scenery. Just walking into a different room or outside can help.

  • Look through your child’s eyes. Bend down or sit at his level. Look in the direction he is looking. Notice what the world is like from this point of view.

  • Write or draw in a journal to express how you feel, what you are thinking, what you want, and any blocks you see to getting what you want. Give your child paper and markers to join you and call this an “art time-out.”

  • At a time when you are calm, make a list of ways to cool off, and post it in a visible place in your house. When stress is creeping up on you, look at your list and do something from it.

2. Listen. Every moment of upset is an opportunity to parent in alignment with your values. Listen to what your child is saying. Then put yourself in her shoes and listen to what you are saying. Your child is small, dependent and not sure of how the world works. What do you want to say to her?

Listening Tip: To support your listening skills, try this visualization exercise:

Take a quiet moment at the start of the day. Listen to your breath for 10 breaths. This will help you settle into your body and feel calm. Then imagine a situation with your child that really bothers you. Imagine how you usually respond. Then imagine how you’d like to respond. Allow this new response to become very vivid; try to connect with the love and compassion you feel for your child. Taking the quiet time in your own mind to rehearse how you want to respond makes it more likely that you will respond that way in the future.

See the Listening Exercises at the end of this article for more in-depth listening tools.

3. Stop the Blame Game. Taking ownership of your own needs and feelings allows you to stop blaming your child for why things are not going right. The situation then becomes an opportunity for self-reflection and adjustment rather than a sign of failure. Listening for needs and feelings can be like learning a new language. It takes time, but it’s worth it as a way to de-escalate conflict and establish connection. It’s worked with inner city gangs, and it can work in your family.

Communication Tip: Ask yourself–What am I feeling; what do I need right now; what was I thinking right before I got upset; are my expectations reasonable? Then you can communicate in age-appropriate ways how you feel and what you need. If you practice using “I” statements, it’s easier for others to hear you. For example: “I feel angry and sad. I want to live in a clean and peaceful home where everyone helps out. I’d like to hear what you want and how you feel. Then I’d like to brainstorm about ways we can both get our needs met.” This is more respectful and effective than saying “I’m mad at you because you didn’t wash the dishes. You never wash the dishes. You’re so ungrateful.”

4. Reframe the Conflict. This step is also a good starting point for next time. When you can examine the conflict with an open heart and the intent to learn and be changed, you set the basis for a new and more powerful way to live your life and parent your children. Conflict happens. The question is, what are you going to do with it?

4 Tips to Open Your Heart After a Conflict:

  • Assume good intent. When you choose to assume your child is doing the best he can  to meet a valid need with the tools he has, you respond differently than when you assume your child is a manipulative, ungrateful or lazy. Try it and see.

  • Tell yourself you are an awesome parent. Imagine that it’s true. It is.

  • Look for the gifts. What can you take away that will help you next time? Conflict can be a way to gain more understanding of the needs you share with your child.

  • Let the conflict be a way of creating more teamwork and shared problem solving with your child. Brainstorm about ways for both of you to have your needs met. Examples include time in nature, rest, good food and loving attention.

5. Forgive Yourself. Taking the time to work with the intense, challenging or disappointing moments is hard. Your own high expectations make it harder. Do you expect yourself to be perfect, and feel guilty or angry when you’re not? Just as punishment won’t help kids learn and grow, treating yourself harshly won’t lead to positive changes.

Forgiveness Tip: Forgive yourself for your breakdowns, tantrums and less-than-desirable behavior. When you are gentle with yourself, you model self-kindness to your children. Taking time to admit your mistakes and apologize to your children is also good modelling and a way to build connection.

What’s the Payoff?

Using conflict as an opportunity to wake up, grow and heal will change your life. Viewing conflict in terms of people clashing over different strategies for getting their needs met is very empowering. This work can offer big rewards in the quality of your parenting and your enjoyment of time with your children. The strong bonds that API’s Eight Principles of Parenting help you form make it easier. I know this has made a big difference in my life, and I hope you will find it valuable as well.


Talk to a good friend with as much honesty and vulnerability as you can.

Join a women’s or men’s group.

Join or start an API support group in your area.

Join the API Neighborhood.

See API’s resources for nurturing empathy.

Learn more about Nonviolent Communication.

Listening Exercise, Part 1

This part of the exercise can be done in a quiet moment during your day, when you know you will have at least 10 to 15 minutes alone. Get comfortable and breathe deeply for 10 breaths, just to help you settle in and be calm. Then imagine a situation involving your child that really bothers you. As an example, perhaps your child ignores you when you ask for help around the house. Remember a recent time when this happened. Think of what you were doing and saying, how you felt, what your child did and what you imagine he was thinking. You might need to pause and come back to your breath here because it takes effort not to get upset all over again while remembering. Now think about how you usually respond. Again, you might need to reconnect with your breath because it’s easy to get caught in this story.

Now try a radical shift. Imagine someone asks you to do something. But maybe you don’t really hear them or know what they mean. You don’t understand why it’s important. You don’t want to stop what you’re doing and do the thing that’s being asked or demanded of you. Allow yourself to travel back to a moment like this when someone–maybe your spouse, your boss or your own parents–asked something of you. How did you feel? How did you respond? Noticing what you felt and the validity of those feelings is a great first step towards change. Take that moment of insight and allow it to bring you into more compassion for your child.

Use your insight to imagine how you want someone to treat you in that situation. Would you like that person to be sure to get your attention? Maybe touch your arm and make eye contact rather than just throw words over her shoulder as she walked through the room? Maybe you want some context as to why the job is important? Maybe you want to be able to say you don’t think it’s important or it’s too hard or you just don’t want to do it? Maybe this job seems easy to everyone else but is hard for you, so you take on a belief that you are stupid or incapable every time you attempt the job? Allow yourself to be curious if any of these things are true for your child. Then offer him the same compassion and courtesy you’d like to be offered.

Listening Exercise, Part 2

This next part can be done with your child Suppose the task in question is something like washing the dishes after dinner. Suppose your child knows the dishes need to be done, she knows why, and she even agrees it’s important, but every night it’s a nagging, foot-dragging pain in everyone’s butt to get them done. The first step might be to uncover why it’s such a big deal. Why does your child resist, and why do you insist and nag? What are the underlying needs and feelings that are being triggered by the dishes? Is there something else your child would rather be doing? Does your child feel she has a voice in this situation? Is this a microcosm of resentment for you and a reminder of how you didn’t even want to cook dinner, let alone do all the dishes too? There could be any number of needs and feelings for both of you.

When you look at what’s going on, you’re better able to address the real causes of the behavior. Maybe after you uncover the needs and feelings about the task, you propose to your child that you both brainstorm three different solutions and then try them for one week each. At the end you will agree on one of them or try something new to make sure everyone’s needs are met. It may seem like it takes a lot of time to do this. But you don’t need to do it every night. Do it once, thoroughly. Then put a plan in place and try to stick to it.

This is just an example; both you and your child will bring your own creative genius into solving the problem once you are able to bridge the gap between you with listening and respect.


Beyond Red Ridinghood: Protecting Children From Our Pain About the World

By Tamara Brennan, Ph.D., executive director of The Sexto Sol Center for Community Action and writer at Mindful Moms Blog. Originally published on www.NationOfChange.org.

If, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when “bad things” keep showing up to disrupt the calm in that village?  For those of us in the United States, watching the news with so many reports of war, shootings in public places, and information about policies that fly in the face of decency and fair play, well, it’s enough to ruin what inner peace we may have left despite of the hectic pace of our lives. Then it starts to rain too much in Colorado, creating yet another of the natural disasters that seem to happen all too frequently these days. As caring people, we carry an awareness of tragedy in our pockets as we go about our daily lives.    1418479_35492784

Each of these events is a part of an endless stream of bad news and tragedy. When they come out of nowhere too close to home, they shake up our sense of safety that we usually take for granted. But as we react to the news of each new shocking happening, the children in our lives are watching us, feeling our reactions and wondering what it all means about the world that they are just beginning to learn about. How we respond to their questions and fears is a test of the depth of our commitment to peacemaking.

Not everyone agrees about what information should be withheld from young children. Decades ago I was involved in informing people about the realities of the dirty wars in Central America, with their characteristic and systematic violation of human rights. On the way to a speaking engagement, I asked my speaking partner if he would consider not mentioning the details of a particularly horrendous and upsetting recent event if children were present in the audience. To my dismay he argued that the good to be gained by telling people the shocking truth about our country’s foreign policy outweighed the possible impact on a child or two.

Sure enough, there was a young girl sitting right in the front row. My partner did not censure his remarks. All I could do was watch helplessly as the child visibly recoiled with the telling. It was like witnessing desecration of holy ground. Afterwards, he and a close friend argued that children “need to know” what is really going on in the world, as if that experience somehow was ultimately for her benefit.

That is a sentiment that I have heard many times from activists, but I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason for this kind of early education about the ugly side human affairs. In a world of terrible atrocities, infuriating betrayals and devastating disasters, teaching young children about “the way things really are” goes way beyond telling them the story of Red Ridinghood and the lecherous wolf.

In order for children to develop in a healthy way, they must be allowed to have a fundamental sense that they are safe and that this is a benevolent universe. Their relative feeling of trust in the world will be the foundation on which they will build all their future experience – no small thing. The world is complicated, absolutely, but how is it beneficial to allow young children to believe that it is threatening, chaotic and loveless?

A child’s ability to comprehend the nature of life develops over nearly two decades. Being mindful that young children do not have our sophisticated ways of coping with news of tragedy, disaster, violence and danger will help us make decisions about what information we expose them to at home or while they are in school.

But let’s be honest. For politically committed and well-informed parents, there are moments when we get full to the top with feelings about the world situation. For all of us, parents or not, whenever our feelings are aroused, it takes self discipline to not blurt things out just to relieve the tension we feel or to register our outrage. If we do, the impact could hit like a careless stone hurled into the waters of the immature awareness of the children in our lives. Is that really what we want to do? After all, isn’t it for their sakes that we work for a better world?

If we are serious about creating a peaceful and sustainable world, we would not do violence to children’s precious and basic trust in life by exposing them to frightening information they can’t assimilate. It is a matter of respect then, to protect our tender children from the fear and anger we feel about the mess things are in. We would do well to face our own pain and disappointment so that we can heal the angst we have been carrying. Not only is doing so good for our families, but when we take back our power that has been trapped in fear, rage and grief, we become more effective as proactive change-makers.

Our world, more than ever, needs healthy people capable of envisioning and creating a human culture based on love and compassion. We need people who are emotionally responsive and thus able to act decisively while leading the way to higher ground with kindness.

There will be plenty of opportunity ahead for “real life” education for our children as realities become apparent to them in a more natural way without premature exposure. Our job as parents, teachers, friends and relatives is to protect them long enough to allow them to develop a healthy faith in a loving and safe world. It is their birthright to have the opportunity to develop a feeling of being empowered before the daunting challenges facing humanity make them feel overwhelmed. If we succeed in creating the conditions for their empowerment to occur, we will see them become the realization of our deepest hopes as they step into their roles as part of the shift toward a the better world we dream of.

Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

Reclaiming Happy Hour: Responding with Sensitivity during Meal Preparation

By Stephanie Dahl, Responding with Sensitivity editor for The Attached Family

happy hourThe hours of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., known in the restaurant and lounge world as “Happy Hour,” have not been historically happy in my house. A more accurate term would be the “Wicked Hours.”  The reason for this is that two essential parenting principles were in conflict with one another during that timeframe: Feed with Love and Respect, and Respond with Sensitivity. I wanted to be both fully present to help facilitate positive play and lovingly cook a healthy homemade dinner — at the same time. It seemed impossible to do both.

Around 4 p.m., I would start to cook dinner. Because I use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch, my attention would be on meal preparation. I can’t see the living room while I’m in the kitchen in my house, so supervising my toddlers while preparing dinner was a challenge. Most often, I would be a frazzled mess, bouncing between the kitchen and living room.

By 5:30 p.m., my husband arrived home and we all sat down at the table to have a meal together. But the children were cranky, I was cantankerous, and he was tired. Family mealtime was not shaping up to be as positive as I had hoped. Change was needed.

In order to cook dinner and meet my children’s needs, I had to either adjust how I was approaching dinner or adjust how I structured my children’s time. As it turns out, I ended up doing a little of both, depending upon the meal.

Here are two meal preparation techniques I’ve found helpful for streamlining cooking:

  • Slow Cooker — While the kids are napping in the afternoon, I can prepare our dinner ingredients and pop them into the slow cooker to cook on high until dinner time. There are very diverse recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. (Not everything will be a casserole!)
  • Freezer Storage — You can take this as far as you’d like, but the basic idea is to prepare ingredients or meals ahead of time and freeze them. Some people dedicate a day to making and freezing their meals for the next 30 days, but I’m not that organized. Instead, I do some basic ingredient preparation that saves time, such as chopping onions and freezing them flat in a plastic bag. When a recipe calls for onion, I just break off what I need from the freezer pack. You can also chop fresh herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays –- just pop out what you need for your meal.

If I’m cooking more traditionally, I know I’ll need great activities to keep my kids nearby and occupied:

  • Sensory play allows children to experience different textures
    Sensory play allows children to experience different textures

    Sensory Play

    — I partially fill a long, shallow tub with dry bulk goods (such as beans, peas, or flax seed), drop in some measuring spoons, and let the girls scoop, stir, and experience soothing tactile sensations.

  • Little Chefs — While I’m not yet comfortable sharing the stove with my children, I’ve begun to incorporate tasks that they can safely do to help. Plastic knives are safe for little hands and do a nice job of slicing soft fruits and vegetables. (We hand-wash and reuse the knives.) My girls also enjoy measuring and pouring ingredients and taking turns stirring (nothing hot!).
  • Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape

    The girls have their own drawer with their tableware and they love getting the things they need for dinner. Sometimes they end up with a few too many bowls, or need a reminder to grab a spoon, but giving them the responsibility for collecting their own dinnerware has been such a joy for all of us. And you’d be surprised at how engaging this activity can be!

  • Floor Art — Coloring can be such a fun activity, but somehow it is even better when done on a giant piece of paper on the floor. Check your local newspaper to see if they offer end rolls of newsprint, try butcher paper (available at most office supply stores), or use large scrap paper (we recently used the backs of used wrapping paper).

These little changes have made a tremendous difference in our afternoons. Now I’m either letting the slow cooker do the work or I have engaging, constructive activities for the kids to do while I cook. And 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in our home is now known as our “Happy Hours.”

Why Timeout as a Punishment Doesn’t Work

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Judy ArnallAre you tired of holding the bedroom door handle closed when your school-aged child is trying to leave during a timeout? Fed up with your child trashing his room during timeout? Frustrated because you can’t get your child to calm down and think about restitution during his timeout?

Perhaps it’s time to re-think the way a timeout is used. Timeout is a popular behavior modification technique designed to punish unacceptable behavior. Much like the use of a penalty box in a hockey game, the absence from positive play is supposed to teach children to stop doing the behavior that got them sent there. However, it rarely works.

The Origin of Timeout

When parenting experts advised parents not to spank, timeout grew as a replacement for spanking. It was promoted under many names: quality time, reflection time, thinking time, timeout. It is promoted for children as young as one year old up to 13 years old, because then children are usually too big to be dragged off to their rooms. Parents loved it, because it sounded respectful and it gave them something concrete to do in times of misbehavior, rather than “not doing anything because spanking is not allowed anymore.” As the popularity of timeout grew, experts turned the purpose of timeout from a punishment that extinguishes behavior into a more acceptable-sounding purpose as a tool that enabled a child to “calm down.” However, as more and more parents used timeout to help their child “calm down,” they began to use it less as a calming tool and more as punishment. Continue reading Why Timeout as a Punishment Doesn’t Work

The Playgroup Altercation: Part 2, Your Child is the Victim

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, ProfessionalParenting.ca

Judy ArnallYou hear a loud thud, an ear-piercing scream, and then your child appears before you wearing a tear-stained cheek and red eyes and is pointing to another child. Apparently, your son was hit by another parent’s daughter in the playgroup and you are wondering what to do. The mother is busy chatting away to another parent and is missing the whole scenario. What is the best way to handle playgroup altercations that leaves everyone feeling content and supported?

Hear are seven easy steps:

Calming Down

  1. Comfort your child. Attend to any first aid necessary. Acknowledge his feelings. Say, “You are sad and hurt because you were hit.” Wait until he is done crying. Keep comforting him until he is fully calm and able to listen to you. Ask him what had happened and what he would like to occur. Remember to stay calm yourself! Continue reading The Playgroup Altercation: Part 2, Your Child is the Victim

The Dead Balloon: Resolving Sibling Rivalry

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, LifeCenter.org.il

Shoshana Hayman is director of Life Center, Israel's Center for Attachment Parenting. She is also a faculty member of the Neufeld Institute Canada, and a lecturer at the Lander Institute Jerusalem Academic College.
Shoshana Hayman is director of Life Center, Israel’s Center for Attachment Parenting. She is also a faculty member of the Neufeld Institute Canada, and a lecturer at the Lander Institute Jerusalem Academic College.

It was a typical birthday party: Balloons, ice cream, games, and party favors filled the day with happiness and excitement for Karen and the group of friends she invited to celebrate her eighth birthday. Her older sister went to the neighborhood gift shop to surprise Karen with a special helium balloon in her favorite colors.

While Karen wasn’t looking, her younger sister pierced the prized helium balloon with a pin. Her mother caught her daughter in this mischievous act but decided to handle the situation after the party. When all the guests went home, she went with balloon in hand to find Karen in her bedroom.

“I have something to tell you that’s going to make you very disappointed and sad.  All the air came out of your helium balloon,” she said sadly, showing her the limp balloon.

Karen’s eyes opened wide. She immediately knew the culprit was her little sister. “I’m going to beat her up!  I’ll kill her!  I’ll smash her face in!  I hate her!”

Mother continued: “You’re so furious at your sister that you can’t think of enough bad things to do to her! But you’re mostly frustrated that there’s nothing we can do about the balloon. It’s dead.” Continue reading The Dead Balloon: Resolving Sibling Rivalry

To Intervene or Not? Deciding When and How to Get Involved in Another Parent’s Situation

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

To intervene or not?We’ve all seen it – a mother losing her temper toward her child in the grocery store, or a father treating his child in a detached, ignoring or even hostile, way at the park. What should we do? What do we say? Perhaps the parent is usually loving and understanding and is just having a tough time at this moment. Or, maybe this is the parent’s standard response to his child.

For some people, they wouldn’t hesitate to intervene. Many attached parents are so passionate about children’s rights that they simply cannot turn a blind eye to another child. For others, like me, I can think of lots of reasons why not to get involved with another family’s affairs. I tend to think the best of others and believe that this moment of weakness is not characteristic of their usual parenting approach. We all have those moments when our minds are on something else, perhaps our to-do list or another stress, and we aren’t as understanding of our child as we normally are. How would I react if another parent chose that moment to criticize my parenting style?

But child advocates, such as mental health counselor and former social worker Laurie Couture, call it everyone’s duty to protect children. And we all have our breaking points – situations that would trigger us to say or do something on behalf of the child. Obviously, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to intervene should we see outright child abuse, but most situations that we’ll witness don’t qualify legally as abuse, although they may still be damaging to the child’s emotional development. Continue reading To Intervene or Not? Deciding When and How to Get Involved in Another Parent’s Situation

Diverting Anger in Toddlers

By Gaynell Payne

angry toddlerWith toddlerhood comes tantrums. While some parents are taken by surprise by the seemingly violent appearance of a child raised in a non-violent home, it is a perfectly natural rite of passage for any child. The reasons behind it are simple: lots of emotions with little logic. The emotions that can overtake a toddler can be a floodgate of overwhelming proportions.

I’m OK, You’re OK

While watching their sweet angel turn into a hitting and kicking tornado may leave some parents at their wits’ end, the idea is not to suppress your child’s anger or frustration but to teach him to control them. In a young child, the strength of his emotions can be scary for him, also. That’s why it’s important that the parents stay in control of themselves during a tantrum. When you do, you are showing him by example how to maintain calm in stressful situations, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s getting that picture yet. If you’re out of control, then you are in effect asking your child to do what you cannot: calm his intense emotions. In this situation, a child’s fear of his “out of control” emotions may eventually escalate into what psychologists call magical thinking, according to Abnormal Psychology by Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones. “If mommy can’t handle my emotions, who can? They must be too strong for anyone.” This could lead to an abundance of issues in adulthood.

No one is perfect – at least, no one I’ve met. The best of parents will occasionally fail to maintain perfect calm and no one will be injured for it, but on the whole that is the goal. If you empathize – put yourself aside and try to see things from your child’s point of view – it is easier to be compassionate and not lose your cool.

Give It an Outlet

Anger isn’t a very fun thing to have bouncing around in your insides. It’s got to come out somehow and  preferably in a way that is acceptable to the rest of the family. For me, I’ve found that some wonderful advice, such as handing my son a crayon and asking him to draw his emotions, didn’t apply to a child under three. When my two year old would try to hit me, I’d take his hands and say, “You’re really mad! I know you’re mad! Hit your hands together!” I’d pretend I was mad, too, to show him. I’d clap my hands together, growl, and say “I’m mad!” He’d clap his hands together as hard as he could and growl.


Part of why this tactic works for him is he feels validated. Validation involves listening to your child, then reflecting back to him what he is feeling.

We all feel sometimes like we are speaking a foreign language. We’re trying to talk, but the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it.” If it’s someone very important to us, this can lead to a rainbow of very ugly feelings like frustration and despair. To a child experiencing this, those feelings can quickly escalate into rage and hopelessness. This is true from birth. Crying is the only language that infants possess. Picking up our babies to comfort them instead of letting them “cry it out” is the earliest form of validation.

When our babies grow into toddlers, their ways of communicating have evolved a little bit but not that much. It’s still a rare child who can always rationalize what he is feeling and communicate his needs. Many adults haven’t mastered that skill! It is still up to us to help them recognize what they are feeling, identify it, and work through it.

To a baby, it is enough to pick them up and change his diaper when he’s wet. They learn that “Oh, I was uncomfortable, because I was wet. Mommy fixed that.” They not only get a clean diaper but two added bonuses: They learn why they were unhappy, and they learn that someone cared enough to see it and fix it. Knowing that someone cares enough to do that for you is one of the basic emotional needs of humanity. Relationships of all types are won and lost in that regard.

A two year old is just entering the real meat of the emotional arena. Some see their constant need for emotional reassurance as manipulation or a weakness that must be toughened up. But humans are hard-wired to seek out validation at any age. We must know from someone that we are OK as we are, cared for, and loved. A toddler especially is in an age of discovery: so many new challenges and things he is learning to do, and having trouble doing, and things he can’t or isn’t allowed to do. It can all tie in to a child’s sense of self-worth. The newness that a toddler finds herself suddenly experiencing leaves her needing more reassurance.

Most of the time, it is relatively easy to validate a child. All you have to do is pay attention, and reflect back what you see. ”I know you’re mad, (sad), (frustrated), (you’re smiling, are you happy today?)” A validated child feels loved and in sync with the world.

I could tell that my son and I were making progress when we were in the mall and he wanted to go play in the toy store. Again. We were on our way out, and we had already stopped there earlier. I told him “No, it was time to go home.” He drug his feet and finally sat down and said, “I’m mad!”

“You’re mad?” I replied. “I know you’re mad! I know you wanted to play with the toys. But we still have to go now.”

He climbed to his feet and came with me without any more protest. He had just wanted me to know that he was mad. I was proud of his ability to tell me what he was feeling instead of throwing a fit.

Play It Out

Children love to play pretend, and it can be rewarding and fun for an adult to play, too. It is also a wonderful learning tool. Adults can use pretend to teach a child what to do when a real situation arises.

“Pretending that you’re mad” is a fun game for most children. This is the easiest time to show them healthy ways to be angry. This play time gives your child the opportunity to decide what works best for him, or to even come up with his own stuff. One of our favorite books, My Two Hands, My Two Feet by Rick Walton and Julia Gorton, has a line that says: “When I’m mad, I stomp my feet, like drummers as they beat, beat, beat.” My son would joyfully pretend that he was mad and stomp his feet.

The next time he’d get really mad, I’d say, “You’re really mad! Stomp you’re feet; you’re so mad!” And he would, crying through his tears, “Beat, beat, beat!”

It takes repetition for a child to learn to use their new diversion instead of hitting mommy or daddy, or the cat. That’s when you’d just gently take their hands and say, “No, don’t hit Mommy. If you’re mad, clap your hands together.”

Anger Management: Ways to Say ‘I’m Mad!’

  • Clap your hands
  • Stomp your feet
  • Growl
  • Say “I’m mad!”
  • Color a picture with angry scribbles
  • Get a cloth and twist it really tight
  • Hit a pillow

I’m Mad, Too

Sometimes, the best way to teach is by example. Some days we all just get overwhelmed. When you’re upset and he’s yelling, an honest “I’m mad!” said in a childish, exaggerated way may feel silly coming from mommy, but you’re showing your child that you’re human, too. This could be when that light of dawning association may occur: “Mommy said it like I say it. Is she feeling like I felt yesterday?” This is the beginning buds of empathy. As parents, this is one of our ultimate goals! A child who learns healthy ways of handling his emotions will feel emotionally balanced and more in tuned to everyone else around him.

Keep a Sense of Humor

You’ve talked, you’ve validated, he’s still “mad,” and you’re both a weepy mess. It’s time to change the subject. Children have a harder time walking away because for them, everything is now. Joke, make light of the situation (but never make fun of him!), and have fun. Kids are very eager to play – it’s what they do! As parents, it’s important for us also to remember that it’s not the end of the world. Tantrums happen. It’s not a personal attack; it’s just childhood.

Whatever methods you prefer, the important thing is that, as parents, we work towards showing our children what to do when they are angry or upset.  When we do that, we are also showing them that it is OK to feel the way they do. There is no shame in feeling angry. With this validation, they can go on to eventually learn more mature ways of dealing with their emotions.

Sources for Adult Anger Management

  • Boy Town – BoysTown.org,  1-800-448-3000
  • United Way – LiveUnited.org
  • Child and Family Support Center – 1-877-900-CFSC
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • Domestic Violence Hotline/Child Abuse – 1-800-4-A-CHILD
  • Family Violence Prevention Center – 1-800-313-1310

How do you help your toddler deal with her anger?

Helping Your Adopted Teen Develop an Identity

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

The teenage years can be hard on your adopted childParenting during the teenage years is as trying on the young adult as it is on his parents. But if your child was adopted or if you’re fostering, the teenage years can be an especially tough time as your child tries to sort out his identity without knowing his birth parents or understanding the reasons why his birth parents are not a bigger part of his life.

Who Am I? Where Do I Belong?

As the teen years loom, many parents anticipate that their child will have some difficulties, perhaps more so than teens who are living with their birth parents, in answering these questions. Gloria Hochman and Anna Huston list a few questions parents ask themselves in this period of time, which will ultimately prove just as hard on the parents as their child, in their article “Parenting Your Adopted Teen” at Focus Adolescent Services, FocusAS.com:

  1. Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort?
  2. Is my child behaving in a way that reflects inner turmoil about the past?
  3. Will being adopted make adolescence harder for my child?

How Can Parents Help?

Nothing about these questions is simple, but Hochman and Huston do have a couple tips that make the teen years easier on your child:

  • Don’t ignore the fact that your child was adopted — Being adopted is an undeniable part of her history, and how she learns to deal with it will continue to impact her in the future.
  • Don’t underestimate your child’s abilities to sort out their own challenges – Trust that your child can successfully confront and resolve his identity issues, as you offer extra support in areas that take on special meaning for him.

These special areas include:

  • Identity formation – Not knowing about her birth parents can make your child question who she really is, and it’s a real challenge as they try to sort out which character traits come from which set of parents. It becomes even more difficult as your teen tries to sort out the traits that are genetic or wants answers to questions you may not have, such as: Where did I get my musical talent? Did everyone in my family have glasses or curly hair? What is my ethnic background? Do I have brothers and sisters?
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment – Your teen may suddenly become afraid of leaving home. Other teens may want to reconnect with their birth families to have their questions answered: Where did I get my writing ability or my height? Did everyone in my family have to deal with acne? Some teenagers may worry, just as their adoptive parents do, that they have a tendency toward an unhealthy behavior or mental illness and would feel more comfortable knowing more about their birth parents’ tendencies.
  • Issues of control and autonomy – This is a normal struggle for all parents and teens, but it may be more intense for your adopted teen who feels, especially, that his life’s direction has always been based on someone else’s decision: His birth mother made the decision to place him for adoption; you made the decision to adopt him.
  • Feelings of not belonging – These feelings arise when your teen cannot identify the source of her traits such as her red hair in an adoptive family of brunettes or a Hispanic ethnicity in a family of Native Americans or an artistic talent in a family of math whizzes. These feelings often first arise as her friends begin to question her differences (or similarities, mistakenly) to her adopted family. If her friends do know that she is adopted, she may struggle with answering questions such as: Who are your real parents, and why didn’t they keep you? These feelings of uncertainty then fall back to their secure feelings toward her adoptive family – she may not feel like a “real” member of the family or that you love her as much as you love (or would have loved) your biological children.
  • Heightened curiosity about the past – Your teen will think more about how his life would have been different had he grown up with their birth parents or had been adopted by another family. This is a healthy exploration of his past and necessary to helping him learn ways of coping with the realizations that some possibilities have been lost.

Parents Need to Be Aware of Their Own Emotions

Parents have their own strong emotions and need to recognize and understand them first before they can support their teen:

  • Anger or frustration at your teen’s anger – Your child may become very angry toward you. He may withdraw, run away, or act-out toward you. Understand that most teens have difficulty in handling anger, and that expressing anger is often the only way any teen knows how to deal with other strong, even more painful, emotions such as disappointment or guilt. For more information on helping your teen deal with anger, see The Attached Family article, “Dealing with an Angry Teen.”
  • Fear about your teen’s past – You may struggle with concerns centering on issues from your child’s past, such as exposure or family history of alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness. You may have a heightened fear toward your teen’s sexuality and view of parenthood. You may wonder what would happen if your daughter became pregnant or your son got someone else pregnant – how would their birth mother’s choices influence their choices?
  • Hurt about your teen wanting to seek out her birth family – You may second-guess how you raised her  – did you do a good enough job? Is there a problem in your attachment with her?

Listen, Support, Affirm

Adopted children, even those who have been in their adoptive families since birth and who have secure attachments, can feel a sudden emptiness when they hit the teen years, explain Hochman and Huston. Encourage your child to talk about her feelings and try to support her emotionally, even if you don’t fully understand what she’s going through.

Parents of adopted teens who are struggling with feelings of not belonging in their family, especially those of transracial adoptions, may benefit from learning about their birth family’s ethnicity and culture. Parents can help them celebrate by supporting this quest for information, talking about their feelings as they explore this part of their past, and spending time with other families of the same ethnic background as their teen.

At home, parents of transracially adopted teens – or any adopted teens who are struggling with wanting to belong – can benefit when you point out any similarities between family members, such as “Everyone in our family loves to sleep late on the weekends” or “Mom and you are both cat lovers.”

But, Kenneth Kirby, PhD, of Northwestern University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Clinical Psychiatry in Chicago, says that the most effective technique parents of adopted teens can use is their listening skills. The families where adopted teens will have problems are those where the parents insist that an adopted parent-child relationship is no different than a biological relationship. Teens do better when their parents acknowledge their fears and uncertainties and allow them to express their grief, anger, fear, and other strong emotions.

Families that encourage open communication will have an easier time than others who may have to rely on professional counseling to support their teen. Many states also offer adoptive parent support groups or post-adoption workshops to help parents better connect with teens. It’s the parent’s responsibility to encourage a supportive atmosphere for the teen to discuss his emotions, and especially if open communication is not a norm in your family, you will need to initiate these discussions.

For More Information

“Parents who recognize that their teens have two sets of parents and who don’t feel threatened by that fact are more likely to establish a more positive environment for their teens, one that will make them feel more comfortable to express their feelings,” explain say Hochman and Huston. “Secrets take a lot of energy. When there is freedom to discuss adoption issues, there is much less of a burden on the family.”

Seek Cooperation, Not Control

Because of their own fears and strong emotions, parents have a tendency to want to control their teen’s choices, but Anne McCabe, a post-adoption specialist at Tabor Children’s Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, explains that teens need the freedom to develop their personalities and identities: “Kids see it as, ‘You don’t trust me.’”

McCabe advises parents of adopted teens to use positive discipline techniques in working toward solutions to disagreements between the parent and the child. The goal is to build trust between the parent and child. She suggests parents and children work together to identify options in dealing with areas of conflict such as schoolwork, chores, choice of friends, choice of leisure time activities, and curfew. Just as Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish explain in their book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, McCabe explains that the best solutions are those in which both the parent and the teen come to an agreement on what constitutes trustworthy behavior and what the consequences will be of untrustworthy behavior.

Always Consider the Possibility of Professional Help

Parents of adopted teens – especially if they were adopted at an older age – may be confronted with serious challenges such as extremely low self esteem and severe emotional and behavioral difficulties, according to Hochman and Huston. These are often the results of a past of abuse or neglect and broken attachments throughout their young lives as they were moved from foster home to foster home. It can be extremely difficult for them to learn to trust adults who, in their past, were unable to meet their emotional needs and had broken any attachments they once had.

In addition, teens adopted at an older age bring with them the memories of these broken attachments. Hudson and Hochman advise allowing your teen to talk about these memories with you as well as with a professional counselor. Working through the emotions surrounding these memories is essential to getting your child to a point where he will be able to create and maintain emotionally healthy relationships.

Seek out professional help if you observe any of the following behaviors in your son or daughter:

  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Troubles in school, such as a drastic drop in grade or skipping classes
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Risk-taking
  • Suicidal threats or attempts.