approachability for conversations


While parents may assume a teen would rather share their struggles and worries with their peers, teens express wanting their parents to be the ones listening.

When parents create an environment at home that allows for expression of feelings and discussion of difficult topics teens know they have a safe landing place. The best thing parents can do to enable an open atmosphere at home is simple…just listen. Putting distractions down (including phones) and giving undivided attention to your teen shows them you are interested in hearing what they have to say. Focusing on listening rather than problem solving shows your teen you aren’t there to tell them what to do but ready to hear them out. Think of listening 70 percent of the time and empathizing and validating the other 30 percent.

Parents’ approachability is a necessity in today’s climate. Teens are faced with daily challenges and pressures. When parents just listen and refrain from dishing out advice, teens will view you as more approachable.

mom daughter conversation

The Second Conversation

How “View of Self” taints communication between teens and parents

Ever notice how hard it is to “stay present” during a conversation with your teenagers?

Parents and teens often try to juggle too many thoughts simultaneously. We can become “flooded” with things we want to convey.

It helps to take a beat before responding. We can learn to identify “the second conversation” running in our heads by slowing down.

Our “View of Self” creates this Second Conversation.

We all hold beliefs about who we are from messages we receive throughout life, shaping how we see ourselves. This is our view of self.

We may or may not be aware that it’s happening, but a subconscious inquiry is always running in our minds.

There are at least two big questions that we run subconsciously anytime we’re speaking to someone else:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What do others think and feel about me?”

Internal self-questioning can pose a significant barrier to effective communication. We often “hear” things that aren’t actually said. This can lead to assumptions, misunderstandings, and disconnections between parents and teens.

It starts with the silent inquiry, “Who am I?”

I’ll share the second conversation that originates from my family and still comes up often in my communication with others. If I am communicating with my husband, and I historically have held the belief that I am always portrayed as “the bad guy,” I filter what the other person is saying through the lens of me being the one at fault. When listening, I am on the hunt for messaging that leads to this belief.

My own beliefs taint the conversation. My thoughts lead to me hearing things that aren’t said. My behavior reflects this belief of self.

Our mind silently scans, “What do others think and feel about me?”

We carry assumptions about how the other person who is communicating with us views us. This is especially the case when it’s someone we think we know well – like our parents or kids. The unspoken assumptions about how we feel we’re likely to be perceived also shade what we say and what we hear.

Most of the time, these assumptions go unverified, confusing the message received. We can take one comment or look, create our own meaning, then wrap our thoughts and feelings around our hypothesis and run with it. It’s not always a conscious process, either.

Conversation + Assumptions = What We Hear

The frequency of these other conversations happening in our heads is high. It’s a mixture of discussion plus assumptions. The same is valid for teens.

I often feel like an interpreter in my sessions with the parents and teens. I’ll ask, “What did you hear your mom or dad say?”

The response becomes heard as a mixture of what the parent has said and the teen’s beliefs about themselves. They make assumptions based on how they perceive their parent views them.

Teens hold beliefs of themselves just like we all do. They focus on creating their view of self during their teenage years, and parents are a huge part of that process. These conversations, what they perceive their parents think and feel about them, and their view of self can be intertwined.

Teens wonder how their parents think and feel about them constantly. Parents who regularly share their positive perceptions of their teen with the teen can clear up some of these second conversations.

Parents essentially create teens’ own self-talk. Being clear about the positive ways you see and feel about them is crucial.

It’s not just about a teen knowing you love them; it is about your teen knowing you like them. I hear from teens, “I know my parents love me. They do a lot for me.” But I often hear teens saying, “I am not sure they like me.”

How painful for anyone to feel a parent does not like them; parents know them best! We need to make it explicit to clear up any misconceptions and build a healthy view of self.

Build A Healthy View of Self in Your Teen

  • Please share with your teen the qualities you see and value in them.
  • Tell them when they are exhibiting these qualities.
  • Be specific with where you see these qualities play out.
  • Don’t forget to tell your teen you love them and like them, too!


Are you throwing mud

Are You Throwing Mud?

How do you handle yourself when something doesn’t go your way? Do you sit with your feelings, process them and move on? Or do you become grumpy, edgy, or angry… and then carry those bad feelings around with you all day?

We all do it, push unrelated emotional stuff on to someone else.  Maybe it’s a bad day that we can’t seem to let go or a past hurt we haven’t processed or resolved that continually haunts us. Maybe we’re in a bad mood for no seemingly particular reason.  In any instance, our bad feelings can seep into our interactions with others. We end up throwing our emotional mud at someone else.

Here are some “red flags” that you might be throwing mud:

  • Have you ever been rude to the person at the coffee kiosk, for no good reason?
  • Do you jump online making unfriendly comments to strangers?
  • Do you yell at your family when you get home from work?
  • Are you passive aggressive–not letting anyone know why you are mad but they surely know that you are?
  • Are you verbally, nonverbally and or paraverbally (in tone and pitch) aggressive in interactions with others, even if they haven’t done anything?
  • Are you ever just looking for a fight?

If your answer was “yes” to any of those questions, you might be throwing your emotional mud at others. It’s natural, but it’s also a choice.

We have to put mud somewhere

When we feel bad inside we have to do something with those bad feelings.  If we haven’t learned how to express our emotions, self regulate, and move through these tough feelings it can really put us in a bad mental space.

When talking about feelings and emotions, I often share examples of young kids’ behaviors because they are so transparent.  They haven’t had much time to create internal ways of coping.   When they experience uncomfy feelings on the inside they might hit, kick, or bite.   They do this because they don’t have the language to talk about their big feelings and they don’t know how to cope with the energy they are feeling inside.  They also don’t have the developmental capability of solving their way out of a situation….. like adults can.

What contributes to our mud throwing?

Mud gets displaced for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s “old mud,” or it could be the result of a bad mood, our genetic disposition, how we learned to relate to others, our view of ourselves or something we’re picking up in the toxic online environment.

“Old mud” comes from many sources.

Our mud can come from numerous sources. One can be old mud, which we all have.  Past hurts, emotional injuries that we push down so we don’t have to deal with them.  But the old mud can rise, get thick and eventually we get stuck in it.

When physical things happen to our body it self repairs.  We cut ourselves.  It requires a little TLC, some neosporin and a bandaid.  But sometimes the injury is bigger and the band aid won’t work.  We need more attention to repair. It’s the same thing to heal our emotional wounds.

Past experiences can be like a heavy backpack we carry around.  When we feel uncomfy feelings, get triggered or engage in an argument we unzip the backpack and all the contents spill out onto the ground. The old contents in the backpack are muddied with past hurts.

Bad moods rise and fall, sometimes without explanation.

Sometimes we can just be “in a mood”.  We all have them and they rise and fall.  Grumpiness comes with being human.  Commonly the grumpiness is for no apparent reason which can be hard.  We humans like an answer to why things are happening but sometimes there isn’t one.

Genetics contribute to our way of being in the world.

Sometimes it’s how we are wired.  We all come out a certain way, our nature.  We have tendencies of how we deal with our emotions and feelings.  And if we don’t recognize our tendencies and learn how to deal or our parents don’t show us the way to healthy expression (nurture), we may end up not knowing how to voice to others what’s really going on for us on the inside.

Moods can be tied to anxiety, depression and or other mental or physical issues.  Most think that when people experience anxiety they only show worry or frightfulness and depression that someone is always sad.  Not true.  Irritability comes along with both conditions.

Relationships affect our emotions, too.

Our ability to safely express our feelings and emotions in our relationships can play a part in our mud throwing.  When we can’t truly express how we are feeling our action tendency can default to anger.  We can feel like there is a wall we can penetrate to share our hurt.   We can feel stuck.  Exerting anger is an avenue that we pursue in an effort to push through the mud. BUT it only makes a muddy mess causing more disconnection. When we can’t make progress in our own relationships towards stability we resort to throwing our bad feelings onto others including those closest to us.

Our “view of self” contributes to our emotional state.

During the early years of our life we develop our sense of self. This largely comes from how others respond to us, i.e. our parents.  This can be direct responses, verbal and non verbal as well as our perceptions of how others view us.  We carry these stories of ourselves and they can become the chatter we hear inside our heads about who we are.

Unfortunately, about 80 percent of our chatter is negative and 90 percent repeats.  If you can imagine someone whispering into your ear all day negative comments about you and how that might impact your mood. It can create bad feelings and uncomfortableness causing you to feel on edge.   Again, those bad feelings need to go somewhere and we may displace them onto others.

The “online mud bath” fuels bad feelings, too.

Texting, instagram, twitter, snapchat – they’re how we communicate with those close to us and how we often interact with strangers.

Sometimes being online can feel like swimming in one big mud bath.  It’s a venue for people to sling mud at each other. It’s so easy to release your anger into the abyss with no face to face interaction or consequences for behaving so badly towards others.

But mud slinging that happens online does have consequences.   The mud trickles into our psyche and the slinging feels like an attack.  We begin questioning ourselves.  Sometimes the unkind words we hear from others become our own negative self-talk that ambushes our self-worth.

It’s not just mud thrown directly at us that has an impact.  It’s seeing it thrown everyday all around us. We witness the unkind nature of people and it can be disheartening.  The world can feel unsafe.  All the negative energy can take a toll, causing a low-level fog of bad feelings we aren’t even aware of and how they can make an impact on us.

Depending on what our youth have access to, or are following, they may be a spectator to this world that feels very unkind.  One teen described to me that it doesn’t feel like bullying any more, it just feels like people hating on each other.

I always want to ask those who sling mud online —  “What is going on in your life?  Are things not going well?  What is your payoff for being so cruel to others?  Do you know you are throwing your emotional mud at someone else?”

What might another person feel like when we throw mud?

In your close relationships, the person on the receiving end of the mud might be confused.  “I asked this same question yesterday and I didn’t get that reaction…” “I am not sure what I did?”  “This seems very out of the blue,” or, “This seems like an overreaction to what was happening.”

If you are a regular mud thrower, the people around you most likely feel like they are walking on eggshells. Constantly wondering what they can do to mitigate and please.  Feeling a little lost and quickly trying to figure out the puzzle before they get in trouble.  This can create a tense environment with high anxiety and disconnection.

Learn to handle mud “in the now.”

One of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves and in our relationships is own our stuff.  Own our bad moods, our feelings, actions/behaviors, our history and how that impacts how we think, feel and behave.

To own it you have to be present.  Present in your body noticing what energy are you feeling internally and present in your mind listening to what your internal dialogue is chattering about.

AND if you are owning, you’re not blaming.

Become more emotionally mature.

Just like we teach kids non aggressive ways to deal with how they are feeling- we as adults need to do the same.  We may not be hitting or using physical aggression but we are pushing our bad feelings onto another.  It’s kind of the same.

Ask yourself – “How do I handle myself when things don’t go my way? Do I carry it all day?  Do I bring it into my interactions with others? Am I displacing my anger onto someone else? Am I not being upfront about what’s wrong and being passive aggressive towards others? Is there old stuff that I haven’t dealt with that keeps showing up?”

Process the mud instead of throwing it.

In my observation, merely expressing how you’re feeling with someone who simply listens and validates you helps reduce your bad feelings by about 25%. This is because you are processing out loud which helps you organize your thoughts and feelings. You can move through your negative emotions in a healthy way, bringing relief. AND because someone has shown they care by listening, you feel a little less alone in the mud.

Whether it is due to something that has happened recently or something from your past that keeps resurfacing, feeling stuck in the mud never feels good.  It can be lonely in the mud and sometimes we want company.

Before you push the send button to message someone – in person or online – PAUSE and think about what’s going on for you.

In the pause, ask yourself questions like these:

  • “Am I upset with the person in front of me and expressing my true feelings?”
  • “Is there an extra edge to what I am about to say because of something that hasn’t gone my way today?”
  • “Are there underlying past injuries?”
  • “Am I just throwing my emotional mud and it has nothing to do with the other person, they just happen to be in the line of fire?”

I challenge you to notice when you might be feeling stuck in the mud.  Talk about the mud with someone else who will lend an empathetic ear.

Whatever you do, just don’t throw it.

Are we asking too much from our teens?

Under pressure: Are we asking too much from our teens?

I hear the word “pressure” often in my counseling sessions with teens and young adults.  They express feeling pressure related to academics, sports, and life direction.  What is causing this pressure? Are we asking too much?

Adolescence has always been a time of change and transitions. There’s a lot to figure out.  It’s a time of rapid discovery about self, sexuality, and growth – social, emotional, and physical. Getting comfortable with those changes can be hard. The teenage years have historically been met with the stress of dealing with friendships and the related peer pressure of sex, drugs, and alcohol. School, learning disabilities, and bullying have always been common obstacles. Navigating relationships with their parents and step parents leads to confusion and at times contention. That’s the baseline stress of adolescence.

Now, though, life seems much more stressful for teens. The change has been gradual, increasing with each passing year. If we really think about where we have ended up compared to even five years ago, it’s a major difference and our kids are feeling it. Standards for success in school, sports, and just about everything else seem to be reaching higher and higher levels. Teens and young adults feel pushed to do more. They feel overwhelmed by the demands they face and have little understanding of “how to deal.”  Most tell me they think it is just them who don’t know how to deal with all that is thrown at them. They talk of seeing others (primarily through social media) who seem to handle everything with ease. These comparisons can cause them to feel worse about not knowing how to handle it all themselves.

What happens as we ask them to perform at new levels in sports?

Let’s start by looking at sports performance and expectations. Sports were once extracurricular activities, meant to help kids experience something fun, exercise, join a team, feel a sense of belonging, and learn to work with others. Sports may still be all that, but the intention beyond participation is much more intense now.

Children are encouraged to specialize in specific sports very early on. They are encouraged to make that their main or only focus into high school. Practicing five times plus a week for 2-4 hours, sweating it out at additional conditioning practices, and showing up to perform at  multiple games per week is the average dedication required. Further, it’s not just a seasonal endeavor but a year-round commitment.

If teens ever need to take time off to study and miss a practice, they may get benched for a game – because they aren’t making their team a priority. Even tournaments are now scheduled on holidays as opposed to allowing for breaks to spend time with family and friends.

Parent conversations on the sidelines go something like this:  

“Are you getting your kid extra one-on-one training? Do they have a nutritionist? Do they have a conditioning program? What sports camps are they going to? Is your kid going to play in college? What colleges have you visited?”

These conversations escalate expectations of what “should be done.”

What about academics?

When it comes to academics, the early focus is on getting into a good college. They must get “good grades,” and that term’s meaning has changed. When just comparing what was considered a good GPA in the past, a 4.0, to now 4.5, it’s a big difference. I am hearing that a 4.0 will close the door to some opportunities.

Homework means at-home assignments in approximately 8 classes per day. Assuming 10 minutes (which is a low estimate) per class, that’s up to 2 hours a night or more. Some research suggests that homework increases engagement, yet can actually negatively affect students’ overall health.

“… students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives. And that’s in affluent districts. … It seems antithetical, but some research suggests that homework can actually hinder achievement and, in some cases, students’ overall health.” SOURCE:

Imagine going to work all day and getting home after a lengthy workout or league game… then having to do 2-3 more hours of work. Every day. Further, they have less control over their schedule and environment than adults do. A typical day begins around 6:30 am, taking classes all day, dealing with many people who they wouldn’t necessarily choose to be around, in loud, crowded hallways, followed by sports or extracurricular practices, then studying till past 10 pm, sometimes midnight. Sounds stressful, doesn’t it?

Teens are told they need to take advanced courses and college level courses (AP or IB) in order to stand out. Piling on to the stress, they must test well on standardized tests, then fill out lengthy digital college applications and write numerous college essays. They may have tutors and college placement advisors, too.

Further, today’s teens are well aware of the high cost of any college, let alone a top-tier school. The premium price tags AND knowing the high cost of college simply adds more pressure. They’re often applying for scholarships and funding alongside admissions applications. Their first big decision comes along with a huge price tag. They must decide where to spend an average of $37,650 per year for four years – totaling $150,600.00. That’s approaching the price of a small home in middle America. Have we been teaching them to make decisions along the way?

Teens are expected to be “well rounded.”  This means they need to show other parts of their lives align with the high-pressure trajectory, too. In addition to sports, they are encouraged to become active members of clubs and to do volunteer work in their spare time. Basically, they’re building a high-stakes resume from a very early age.

Where is the pressure coming from?

The pressure can come from numerous places. 

Some parents’ are the driving force of the pressure to excel. They may mean well, believing the pressure will help their kids on their way to “success.” In practice, though, good grades seem to mean parents are happy while bad grades translate into unhappy parents, relationship strife, and even punishment.

Sometimes teens perceive the pressure from their parents or simply want to make them proud. If expectations are not clearly discussed, it leaves teens to make assumptions about their parents’ expectations. It seems logical to them that a harder class and better grades would bring more praise and make their parents proud. Kids also work hard believing it will lead to college scholarships to help alleviate financial stress.

Teens can feel external pressure from peers and others (of any age) on social media. Their own competitive nature can lead to perfectionism and self induced pressure.

How are they connecting with family to cultivate stability and belonging?

Time spent doing academics and team sports leaves little time for connecting with the family.

Kids get home from practices late and then head to their rooms to do homework until midnight.  When they do connect with their parents, it is largely about keeping them on track with academics, sports training, scheduling, and logistics.

There is no space for quality time together – relaxing, de-stressing, and cultivating that feeling of connectedness that is invaluable to the mental and physical wellbeing of us all. Teens  often spend more with coaches than with family.

Any down time is left to video games or mindless scrolling on social media, which provides a temporary dopamine hit and seems like a relaxing outlet – but time spent on social media can often lead to distress. Social media bombards teens with information and images that shake their uncertainty. Adolescence is already filled with change and transitions, and no one likes the feeling of uncertainty. It feels like there is no floor to stand on.

Social media also chips away at their time and attention. If they try to avoid it, they may worry about keeping up with their friendships. They develop FOMO – fear of missing out on something important.

Are their brains ready for the demand of this high standard?

We are asking teens to manage a lot at a young age. It feels like by the time they are Freshmen in high school we are requiring them to perform at the level of a college student. Recognizing that their brains and executive functioning skills are still developing,  we might be asking them to do more than they can do.

Somewhere it has gotten a little fuzzy of what they are capable of during adolescents.  And we keep piling on. Maybe we have lost sight of the developmental course for our kids. It is easy to see the developmental milestones and their capabilities when our kids are younger.  They smile, roll over at a certain age, eat solids, walk, have language abilities, and read at specific age ranges.  We know this and our pediatricians tell us if our kids are on target for these milestones. By the teenage years, we tend to lose sight of developmental milestones.

Maybe some teens are ready for the demands they face. There are guidelines for the course of development, but not everyone develops at exactly the same pace. Others start to feel like a failure at every turn. If they feel they just “can’t make the cut” or aren’t doing “enough,” they get down on themselves. Some continue to push themselves. Others give up, becoming unmotivated – resigning themselves because the bar is so high in every endeavor that  they just don’t see a way to get it all done. Their own achievements seem to lose value because there is always someone who is doing it better. Either way, their mental health suffers.

Are they equipped to Problem Solve their way out of the stress?

When the challenge is so great or the reach is too far, that’s when stress spills over into toxic unmanageable places, causing psychological distress.

The frontal lobes of teenage brains that house the executive functioning are still developing, as mentioned above.  Teens are being asked to organize, stay on task, plan, juggle multiple tasks, problem solve, and tolerate stress.  Yet executive  functioning of the brain isn’t completely developed until their early to mid twenties.  That’s like asking a young child to take over the carpool before they can even see over the dashboard, much less be of age to get a driving permit.

Stress to an adult feels very different than stress to an adolescent. They have more impulsive behaviors and greater susceptibility to stress than adults. This is because the brain’s region for reasoning matures later than the part that reacts to fear and anxiety. The amygdala operates in overdrive, with less input from the rational, problem-solving frontal lobe.

So, are we asking too much of our teens?

I am not sure many parents see how different the world is for teens today than when they were growing up. I think of stress in layers. Teens already have a baseline of stress, just by being a teenager. Each new stressor is added on top: highly competitive sports, high-stakes academics, increased school shootings, new technology (and social media, which brings increases in bullying incidents, lack of belonging, comparison pool of false perfection), changes in home life (often including divorce or contentious divorce), and social life (increasing disconnection at home or with peers).

Do we really need to add more stress at their age they can’t handle? We are pushing the limits of a developing brain. Asking them to deal with pressure in numerous areas of their lives when they don’t have the capacity or skills to deal and the emotional regulation abilities to deal with the level of stress the work brings.

The old adage, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” means nothing to them, and frankly it doesn’t apply any longer. When kids hear this, it leads them to not feel understood. It indicates that they are alone, unsupported – it must be “just them” who doesn’t know how to get it all done. We need to spend more time teaching our kids how to manage the long list of To Do’s and the accompanying stress of life, rather than piling on more work and pressure.

To reduce the stress, we can focus on teaching them coping skills and offering unconditional support in their times of need. The following question sets can help prompt an assessment of their situation. ASK!


  • Quantity of work: Are they overwhelmed with their load of classes and homework?
  • Challenge of work: Is it a healthy challenge or a stretch too far? Are they feeling pressured to take certain classes? Where is the pressure coming from? What would it look like if they didn’t feel so much pressure? Would they reduce their academic load or reduce the level of challenge?


  • Pleasurable activities: What is their expectation of their extracurricular activities? Are they finding joy in their extracurricular activities?
  • Manageable schedule: Do they feel overscheduled? Are extracurriculars interfering with academics, family time, or sleep?
  • Time to rest: Are they tired? Teens need an average of 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night.


  • Coping skills: Do they know how to cope with pressures of achieving both with academics and extracurriculars?
  • Outside factors: Are there other environmental factors that are contributing to their stress (news, social media, home life, relationships)?
  • Available support: Ask, “How can I support you?” Simply listen to the answer without giving advice. Reassure them that you care and want to give support.
  • Mental health check-ins: Discussing mental health at home is one of the most important things you can do for your teen. These open and real conversations in itself can reduce stress. Teens knowing you understand how they feel, that you are there to listen and support them is comforting and reassuring.
  • Verified expectations: What do they think your expectations are of them? What expectations do they have of themselves?  Are the expectations healthy? Parents and teens alike may have internal narratives about what parents’ expectations are, but little communication to verify parents’ actual expectations. So be sure to ask.

When parents ask questions and model healthy behaviors themselves around managing stress, it helps kids learn to deal with life’s stressors before they leave home. Stress management is a critical life skill today.

True, a moderate amount of stress can actually be helpful. A healthy level of stress can keep us alert, heighten our memory, and motivate us to achieve higher levels of performance. But too much stress can lead to poor mental health. So talk to them about what may be impacting their stress levels. Teach them balance. Share ways to cope and “dial down” stress. Simply being there to listen is the best support parents can provide for their kids.

How to Stay Connected to Your Kids

How Do You Get Your Kids to Tell You Stuff?

With the rise in mental health issues among young children and teens; it is more important than ever to stay connected and know what’s going on in your child/teen’s life.  I remember hiding in my room when I was a teen, but now our kids not only hide in their rooms they hide behind their phones. Oh the phones, that is a whole other subject I will get into next time.  The point of this blog is to discuss how we can establish a connection with our kids so they come to us, telling us stuff that is going on in their lives, both good and bad.   We want our kids to feel that we are approachable; our home is their sanctuary where they can be themselves, and express themselves.  I am going to let you in on a little secret – one of the easiest ways to establish a ritual at a young age that allows everyone to stay connected and open up to each other daily.

How to Keep Everyone Connected and Communicating

In our home, we have always done Roses and Thorns at the dinner table:

“What is the best thing that happened to you today?”

“What is the worst thing that happened to you today?” 

These two questions cultivate a great emotional connection between every member of our family.  In fact, we even call our daughter who is away at college to include her once in a while at dinnertime.  I would think by now that they would see this is a silly game, but they really enjoy it and actually look forward to sharing every evening.

These two simple questions help each family member discover things that are going on in each other lives. Details that you may not have really known by the generic question, “How was your day?”   “How was school?” Information about what is truly going on in your child’s life is invaluable.  Kids have at least eight hours away from us a day.  A lot must go on during those hours. If we don’t ask we are most likely not going to find out.  As kids grow older they have a tendency not to share as much.  They gravitate to sharing more with their friends than their parents. With this ritual established at the dinner table, each evening sharing becomes the norm.  Kids get into the pattern of telling parents what’s going on and see parents as approachable even with the difficult stuff.

Establishing a Feel-Good Association In Your Home

Your family will connect over celebrating the joys and successes of each family members day.   The feeling and expressing gratitude for what is happening in their lives and each family members life becomes a feel-good association in your home.  Kids can see outside their own lives as well.  Hearing about other siblings or parents experiences help them begin to get outside themselves and their egocentric world.

We all have difficult stuff that happens to us each day.  This exercise provides a platform for talking about the difficult stuff without it feeling so large that it can’t be discussed and takes away the drama that often accompanies tough subjects.   Don’t we all just want to be heard sometimes?  Think about it, sometimes you just need someone to listen and provide an empathetic ear, not solve your problem.  Kids and teens need the same thing.  Parents often feel they need to rescue and immediately begin solution solving.  They will come to you more often if you listen, hear, comfort, empathize and ask if they want your help before running to solve it all.

Preparing For the Future

The relationships’ at home sets the tone for all future relationships.  Don’t you want your kids to be able to feel confident enough in their future relationships to connect, talk about real stuff, not be afraid to bring up difficult topics, openly discuss things when they aren’t going well and feel emotionally connected to the ones they love. This simple ritual actually cultivates all of that.  This ritual will help your kids come to you with the small stuff and when something big is going on in their lives.  You the parent become the outlet for expression of real issues and this alone can help with your child’s mental health.  So ask your kids tonight, “What’s the best thing that happened to you today”?  “What’s the worst thing that happened to you today”? And connect! Your meal might last more than ten minutes too.

3 Steps to Foster Healthy Conflict

Conflict Is Going To Occur AND Conflict Is Needed… to some degree!

Constructive conflict can lead to growth and change.  If you take the time at a young age to show your children the process of healthy conflict, things can go much smoother the next time a disagreement occurs and will serve them in the long term.

Ideally, you establish that even though there is a conflict you are still allies.  Often times a conflict occurs and family members immediately flee to opposite sides of the ring. This breeds defensive behavior, emotional dysregulation and escalation, and what I call dirty fighting (name calling, bringing up baggage from the last fight, overgeneralizing, and blaming). This truly accomplishes nothing.  No one is actually being heard and you remain on the opposite side of the ring.

These three steps foster healthy conflict

Allow each person to put themselves in the others’ position as well as take responsibility for their own part in the conflict.


Acknowledge the conflict is going in an unhealthy direction and there is a need to take space. This acknowledgment can come from each of you tapping into your physical response to what is happening, (i.e., head feeling hot, tightness somewhere in your body, pulse increasing, etc.). Allow each other to call a timeout and take space from one another.  You can establish ahead of time how long you take space.  This is not a way to avoid the conflict.  This is merely a way for you all to regulate yourselves so you can come back and revisit the subject.


When you take time away you both do three things:

Calm yourself down. Use coping skills to achieve a more restful state of mind. This could be a walk, shooting baskets, taking bath, reading, listening to music, or deep breathing.

Each person asks themselves, “What have I done to contribute to the current conflict?” “What is my part?” Everyone has a part. It could be as simple as the tone you were using.

Flip it. Put yourself in the other person’s place:  “What is mom feeling right now?” “Why is she reacting the way she is?”


When you come back together to revisit the conflict, express what you learned in the process when you took space. Express what you felt was your part in the conflict.  Share your understanding of the other’s position.

This process helps your children/teens understand how to have healthy conflict. This process also helps them create and cultivate coping skills that they need for not only conflict with you and others but in general when they feel dysregulated and stressed out.

3 Steps to Keep Your Teen on Track & Keep Your Interaction Positive

What percentage of interaction between you and your teen is positive?

Or should I say, “perceived” positive?  I ask this question with every teenager and family I work with.  You would be surprised by the answers I receive and disconnect between parent and teen on what is actually perceived as a positive interaction between them.

The Disconnect between Parent and Teen

There are so many to-dos during the day for our teens.   Getting to school on time, getting their homework done, getting chores completed, going to their extracurricular activities, etc.  If you can imagine a day in your teen’s life you would see that they don’t have much control over their day.  They are told when to rise when to leave the house when to eat, even when they are allowed to go to the bathroom in school. Parents see the interaction with their teens as the parents best effort to keep their teens on track.  However, teens may view this as negative interaction.  Sometimes it becomes what the relationship is about; coaxing them to stay on task, getting to places on time and their to-do’s done. This perceived negative interaction can drain a relationship and begin distancing you from your teen.

3 steps on how to keep your teen on track and keep the percentage of your interaction positive at the same time.

  1. Ask them these questions:  What percentage of interaction do you view as positive between us?  Ask for each parent independently. Ask what do you attribute the negative interaction to be? How can the negative interaction be reduced?  What can they do to reduce the negative interaction?  What can you as a parent do to reduce the negative interaction?
  2. Putting expectations in place. Sitting down with your teen and asking them what they think should be expected of them with chores, and schoolwork?  What do they need from you to assist them to stay on track so the interaction doesn’t have to be negative? What is their part in keeping themselves on track so you don’t have to be negative Nelly?
  3. Make sure you have downtime with your teen.   This can be throwing the football, watching a favorite show, getting your nails done, checking out and going camping with them and their friends, taking a scheduled hooky day, planning a special vacation of their choice.

Breaking down your interactions with your teens from a place of positive can really change how you interact with your teen.