The Yin and Yang of Parenting

Sorry I've been MIA for a while.  As my clients know, I went off and had a baby!  I'm starting to get back into the swing of things, literally!  Today my husband and I went to the park with our two kiddos.  I was side lined with the new baby which allowed me the perfect opportunity to go into observation and reflection mode.  

I'll start with this: my husband and I are aligned parenting wise on the important stuff, but we still are quite different in our parenting styles.  Our differences really show while at the playground.  

Just yesterday I took my 3 year old daughter to the local playground, without my husband.  The local playground is designed for children 5-12 years old.  There are lots of big tall things to climb, fast slides, "big-kid" swings, balance beams, and the works.  It is important to me that my daughter learn caution and safety (while still having fun).  So when I'm with her I'm physically right there helping her find her footing, reminding her to be careful as she climbs outside of my comfort zone.  I tell her she'll be able to climb higher, jump further, and slide faster as she gets bigger and stronger.  She behaves accordingly.  She's reserved.  She wants my help doing everything.  She'll refuse to try things I know she's capable of, but you know what... she's careful!  

Back to today, while I was in observation mode, I see my husband and daughter playing, and I am amazed.  I see my daughter moving BY HERSELF from one wiggly, dangling pod to another and another and another.  This is a play structure that just yesterday I had lifted her onto one by one.  My husband is right there, always one step ahead, providing enough presence to communicate safety, but enough distance to push my daughter to try new, harder things.  When she's made it across all the pods I hear her say big and loud "I DID IT!"  Then she moves on to the next big thing.  A windy, tall ladder.  She declares "I can do it by my own!" and then she does.  "Come on daddy, " she says, "be careful!" and he is and she is, and they did it over and over again.  

This is one of those times that my parenting yin and his parenting yang worked out well.  Our daughter has developed a sense of caution but also a sense of confidence and true strength.  

I have met many parents seeking help to become more aligned with their child's other parent (or the other way around), and in some circumstances it does matter that parents be aligned.  However, often times our parenting differences provide a sense of balance in how our kids approach and conquer the big wide world around them.      

Class Review

I've been reflecting on the material I presented in the Toddler (Preschooler) Parenting Class I offered in the month of August.  The class was arranged so that I would present on a topic relevant to parenting a 3-4 year old child, and then provide some fun play/art activities to demonstrate how, as a parent, we can help our children hone important developmental and social skills.  One week we (me and the parents) discussed delayed gratification, learning to wait,  and related skills while the children got to frost cookies (and had to wait to eat them!), make cheerio bracelets (concentration skills), and played a matching game (taking turns/waiting).    

The last week I presented on Positive Discipline.  The play/art activities were not quite as clear as to how they matched the topic of discipline.  We colored "feeling faces" and talked about providing a rich vocabulary and acceptance of feelings of all kinds.  We also made pictures of our hands and talked about the good things we can use our hands for vs. what they aren't used for ("hands are not for hitting").  We didn't get around to it, but we could have played more games like Simon Says, Red Light Greg Light which teach skills like listening and concentration, and group skills.  Free play would have been great too, as children tend to practice social skills, negotiate, and overcome conflict the most in this type of context.  

After the class on discipline I found myself reflecting quite a bit as to how these play and art (and reading... we read lots of relevant preschool age books) activities really are so great for parents who want to practice positive discipline.  Here is why: when children have a rich vocabulary and acceptance for their feelings they are more prone to cope than to act out.  Especially if they have been taught that "negative" emotions are healthy to have.  Everyone gets angry, for example, our anger is informative to us.  It tells us that we have been wronged, or that we are disappointed.  It can tell us that we need a break from a certain situation or person(s).  These are just a couple of examples.  A child that has been taught that they shouldn't express anger tends to either act in (self harm) or act out (hurt others), but a child that knows anger is ok, as long as it is expressed in a healthy way gets through it.  That child will be able to verbalize "when _____ happened, it hurt my feelings" and resolve the problem with the other person.  That child will know that it's ok to step back, take a break, and seek support rather than hit, bite, yell, or do damage.  And that's just the example of anger.  

This all matters in the context of free play as well.  The child with a rich understanding and acceptance of emotions will have an easier time negotiating, sharing, and overcoming conflict.  Of course, this type of coping comes with practice, time, and maturity, but it also happens on a spectrum, and the child who has good understanding of their own emotions is just better at regulating them.  And that matters when it comes to discipline.  Generally speaking, positive discipline is about helping a child learn to regulate themselves emotionally, physically, and socially.  Before I ran the class I was a very firm believer that teaching emotional vocabulary and emotional acceptance from an early age is one of the best things a parent can do to prepare a child to be a social being.  After teaching the class I came away with an even firmer conviction that this is the case.    

New Class: Understanding Your Toddler's Social and Emotional World

Just a quick update to let you know I have a class starting up through the San Bruno Parks and Rec Department.  For anyone interested in signing up go HERE, or you can sign up in person at the Veteran's Memorial Recreation Center at 251 City Park Way, San Bruno, CA 94066, or call 650-616-7180.

This class is for children age 3-4 and their parents.  This class covers 4 parenting topics important to your child's development paired with fun play and/or art activities for your kiddo. It should be an all around good time, and a good way to connect with other parents in the Bay Area.  

The class meets 4 times on Saturdays, August 8th - 29th from 10am-11am at the Veteran's Memorial Recreation Center in San Bruno, in the "Tiny Tots Room".

The topics covered are: brain development, delayed gratification, the importance of imagination and play, and positive discipline strategies.

Trying To Get It Right

Over the weekend I had some friends from out of town visit.  We got together for lunch one day with many of our mutual friends that live in the area.  My two and half year old, who is usually a charmer in small groups, was very nervous with so many adults around with whom she isn't familiar.  She whined, and cried a little.  She was clingy, and didn't want to leave my side.  She didn't want to play with the toys we had brought to distract her, and the only thing that seemed to help was watching her favorite show on the iPhone.  

I was thinking about her behavior later.  I was at first frustrated, but as I followed my thoughts I came away with more respect and empathy for my daughter, and some thoughts about maintaining a little grace with her when situations like this arise.  

I realized that in that moment she was feeling shy, nervous, embarrassed, and unsure of herself.  Being so young she didn't have the skills to maneuver this complex social situation without my help and understanding.  Clinging to me was really her best coping skill and defense.  Of course, over time I'd like for her to be better at self soothing and distraction, but that isn't going to happen over night.  

I was surprised (in the moment) that her toys (a doll and book) weren't more comforting and distracting to her.  However, in hindsight, I see that children only play when they are free of distress.  Play is the luxury of a relaxed mind.  

Watching her favorite show on the iPhone, although not something I want her to rely on always, was one of the few things at my disposal that carried a strong enough motivation to allow her mind to be distracted.

So with these new epiphanies in mind and empathy for my daughters experience here is what I wish I had done:

--I wish I had not been blinded by my wish for her to be on her best behavior for my sake (my reputation).

--I wish I had allowed her a few minutes of comfort from me where I validated her fears in the situation and offered her assurance that everything was going to be ok.

--I wish I'd have been more patient.

--I wish that I had been able to help her soothe in a way that allowed her mind to relax.  

--I wish that I had come into the situation with more age appropriate (and individualized) expectations. 

Being a parent is hard.  I think  reflection may be my very best "tool" if I am to get it right next time.  

Upcoming and Ongoing Groups and Classes

I am happy to report that I currently offer three groups/classes.  Groups are a great way to have a therapeutic experience while learning new information and getting support from other people in similar situations...AND at a much reduced rate than traditional therapy or counseling.  

All three of these courses focus on parenting and learning more about children's emotional development.  

In the Co-Parenting Group you will gain better skills at communicating over stressful parent related conflicts.  Connect with other adults in similar parenting situations, which in my experience, provides for a safe and collaborative environment to tackle some of the less than desirable after effects of divorce.  We'll also do a number of activities to get in touch with our children's experiences of the divorce, and discuss ways to provide consistent, positive discipline to help them transition as best they can.  More Info:   

The Toddler Play Group (for you and your toddler) is hosted at yours or a friends home.  This is a very fun group that will engage both you and your toddler!  Be prepared to have fun and learn something!  The group begins with some singing, followed by a structured play activity and/or art, and ends with a goodbye song.  The educative portion for the parents happens throughout the fun.

The Positive Discipline Class is a collaborative environment for parents of all kinds to come together to learn positive discipline techniques and strategies.  In this group parents will share about their particular situations, and the group will work together to come up with solutions and ideas.  This class is highly influenced by the book Positive Discipline and the course material was developed by Jane Nelson.  I am a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, meaning that I've had extra parent-education-training via Jane Nelson's program.


For more information on what other services I offer check out my "services page".


Co-Parenting Group Starting Soon

I'm currently recruiting clients to join a co-parenting group.  The group meets once a week for 8 weeks.  It is very affordable, just $25 per session ($200 total).  

It may be comforting to know that most children adapt quite quickly post parent split up if a couple of things are in place: 1.  Parents resolve any ongoing and persistent conflict between themselves.  2.  The children return to a consistent and predictable routine.  And 3.  They can maintain a healthy and happy relationship with each parent without interference from the other parent.  

Of course, there are many heartaches and unmet wishes a child of divorce may have.  Like they might hope their parents get back together.  This is very common, but this unmet wish is something they will understand with time.  It isn't something that they will carry with them forever.  Ongoing and persistent conflict, unpredictable parenting, and fear of ridicule or disappointing a parent has much further reaching consequences.  

This group is designed to help parents resolve ongoing conflict between each other that involves parenting matters, helps you get in touch with your child's experience, and introduces parenting strategies so that your child has as consistent and predictable a life as possible.  

If you're interested, or know someone that might be, give me a call or shoot me an email!  I also offer co-parenting sessions on an individual basis.



The Preschool Dilemma

Choosing between home-care, daycare, and preschool can be a worrisome and gut wrenching decision.  We live in a day and age that places strong emphasis on education, and education is not necessarily an equal opportunity experience.  So it is no wonder that parents, more than ever, are pushing their preschool age children toward preschools and daycares that emphasize an academic environment in hopes of giving their child an extra leg up.  Other parents stay home with their children, and worry that they are not doing enough.  It seems that almost all parents at some point are left feeling guilty or second guessing their decision.  Today I'd like to help ease everyone's concerns about which option is best, and explore what aspects of any of these environments are beneficial, or not.  My intent is not to provide a comprehensive list of pros and cons, but to set out some important information to help you get thinking about what option is right for your family.  Spoiler alert, they are all good options!

The optimal commonalities of home-care, daycare, and preschool:

Caretakers and parents should provide "quality care", defined as frequent interactions that are sensitive, responsive, and cognitively stimulating.  This kind of environment is found in all three types of care, but is most common when the caretaker is caring for a small number of children. The environment that the child spends the majority of their time in should be clean, safe, and physically stimulating (with age appropriate toys, art, and activities).  The competency of the caretaker also matters.  Caretakers with rich vocabularies, or those who read and sing to the children often will provide for an environment that encourages cognitive and language development.  From a social perspective daycares and preschool provide for many opportunities to engage socially which builds empathy, self-esteem, and social competence.  Home-care can do a great job of this as well, but sometimes more effort is needed on the part of the parent to seek out social engagements.  The style of care matters.  Play-based care over academic teaching is more developmentally appropriate.   Children at this age are primed for social and play-based learning.  What I mean is at this age children are learning how to be social beings (sharing, turn taking, mutual imaginative play) as well as mastering gross and fine motor skills (jumping, climbing, dancing, drawing).  Although it is good to learn the ABC's and counting, all kids will get there.  In fact, children that are pushed academically during the preschool years typically are not any further ahead by the time they get to first grade.  By all means, this age group is learning all the time, they are soaking in everything!   Encouraging academic growth isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't be stressed as more important than social experiences, play, and imagination.    All in all, these three options are most beneficial when the care that is given is stable and consistent.  

Some differences among home-care, daycare, and preschool:

One difference that should be noted is the relationship that develops between the child and it's parents.  Children that spend a lot of time in daycare may be less compliant with their parents.  Although they be more "school ready" when they hit kindergarten.  There are multiple reasons why this relationship dynamic may develop.  Sometimes a family is not equipped to provide a consistent engaging environment appropriate for this age, in which case daycare and preschool can be that place that provides consistency, predictability, and opportunity.  Some daycares are more preschool like in their orientation, and others are just a place for kids to be kept out of danger.  Preschools and daycares have a wide range in their approach.  Some are academic specifically, others are play based specifically, and some are a combo.  Home-care varies widely on the commitment of the care-taking parent, and their particular style of providing engaging activities and experiences.  When choosing the option that is right for your family, hopefully this information will help to guide you.  


To sum it all up, "quality care" is what matters most.  If you find a quality daycare or preschool that is great!  If you have confidence that you provide quality care from home, that is great!  So don't worry about which option is the right choice, but rather which option fits your personal circumstances.   

Ring-around-the-rosies on an outing with the grandparents.



Some information for this post was taken from the 9th Edition of Development Through Life: A psychosocial approach by Newman & Newman





Bi Weekly Roundup

Welcome back from the holidays!  I took a bit of a break, so this week's list of good reads is pretty short.  Below I give my take on what I like about each article... which isn't necessarily the takeaway meant to be taken.  Read on....

1.  This article summarizes a 30+ year study that looks at how different childhood experiences and parent relationships impact our relationships, social aptitudes, and sense of self in adulthood. Basically, a child's temperament combined with parenting behaviors in the first 3 1/2 years of life do influence a person 20-30 years later.  As a therapist I know that there is an infinite number of emotional, behavioral, and psychological combinations that can result  from a child's natural disposition/temperament, the parenting style/methods, socio-economic status, and life opportunities.  However, I think it is important as a parent to think about how our parenting styles might be influencing our children down the line.  It's a mental exercise that when used often enough helps us to parent "mindfully".  That isn't the point of this article particularly, but that's my personal take-away.

2.  This next article is a nice reminder that stereotyping someone with a drug addiction isn't a helpful to you or the person with the addiction.

3.  This is a nice description of what it's like to have ADHD, an often times misunderstood and over diagnosed condition.

Biweekly Roundup

Good new about marriage today!  The 50/50 divorce rate is not true any longer!  However, that does not mean you shouldn't keep working on your marriage!  Today's articles discuss attitudes and reasons why marriages are working, tips on communicating your needs/wants more healthily with your partner, a heart-warming story about when co-parenting with a step parent goes RIGHT!, and a new study about how daily chaos influences your child's sense of self and family stability.  Read on!

1.  Marriage rates are up!  If you got married in the last decade you are 70% more likely to stay together until death!  The 50/50 split and stay rate is a myth!  Divorces peaked in the 1970's and 80's and is correlated with the beginning of a cultural shift spurred by the feminist movement, but these days people have adapted, attitudes have shifted, and the results are in: if you get married you are likely to stay married!  Read more here:

2.  On the subject of marriage this article has some tips on improving your communication with your partner.  It lists a few "what not to say" followed by a healthier way to talk about getting your needs met.  It's short and might help you get thinking about communicating more effectively and carefully :D

3.  However, if you are divorced, with kids, this is a heart warming best-case-scenario of what life could be like when both partners move on, co-parent cooperatively and involve new step-parents.  It is not easy, nor wanted (by most) to have a new "parent" in the mix.  When your ex moves on and has a new partner that can lead to a myriad of reactions: anger, jealousy, mistrust, relief, fear, sadness, anxiety, you name it!  However, in the best cases, when the new step-parent bonds with the children, is a positive role-model, and co-parents cooperatively with both parents things can end really well for the child and parents!  I know this is not always the case, but I think it is heartwarming to know that this can happen for some families.  Read the story here:

4.  This next article is based on a study done with six year olds.  The six year olds drew pictures of their families, a common diagnostic tool used by clinicians.  Then the drawings were analyzed for distance between family members, sad, angry faces, etc.  These were then cross referenced with the child's home life.  What the study reveals is that children with chaos in the home (referred to as "a function of poverty") which could be loud noises, excessive crowding, lack of structure, and clutter down the line leads to children with poor self-esteem, poor family relations, and higher levels of family dysfunction.  The study suggests that daily disorganization leads to negative outcomes more so than occasional instability in the home.  read more here:

and the original article here:


Bi-weekly Roundup

Hey all, I'm back with more interesting reads (and a radio program)!  Today you can learn more about positive characteristics of long term relationships, how stress impacts the brain, how to teach kindness and empathy to our children, a few pros to playing video games, and a discussion on surviving and thriving through traumatic experiences.   


1.  Want to know what characteristics make for lasting relationships?  Kindness and Generosity.  Based on years of relationship studies done by John Gottman and Robert Levenson at the University of Washington, it was found that couples that are kind and generous in their interactions with their partner stay together, and are happier.  Couples that leave out these core ingredients were found to have higher physiological responses in their partner's company (high heart rates, less calm) and seemed to be in a constant state of "fight or flight".  Their interactions were more often critical, dismissive, passive/passive aggressive/aggressive, and pessimistic.  

What does it look like to be kind and generous?  It means being happy for your partner when good things happen, considering the partner's intentions rather than actions, giving warmth and affection, and responding to your partner's "bid" for connection (showing interest when your partner attempts to share with you).  Read the full article here:  

2.  Did you know stress changes the physiological structure of your brain?  It does.  Parts of the brain affected: the hypocampus shrinks (important for learning, memory, and regulating emotion); the prefrontal cortex shrinks (important for decision making, memory, and regulating impulsive behavior); the amygdala gets bigger (storage for memories with high emotional impact).  

A good antidote for managing stress:  EXERCISE.  I'd also suggest scheduling an appointment with me ;) Read more here:

3.  Today's first article demonstrates how important kindness is to our personal relationships.  Kindness and empathy (understanding other's experiences) help individuals have healthy happy relationships of all kinds.  This article discusses some ideas for how you can help your child develop kindness and empathy.  It suggests making caring for others a priority (demonstrating in our own lives is important, it teaches responsibility, and helps create balanced individuals), providing opportunities to practice caring and gratitude, expand your child's "circle of concern" (develops empathy at a larger scale), and guide children in managing feelings.  For more details on how to teach/guide your child read here:

4.  Are you for or against letting your child play video games?  There is a lot of advice out there on this topic.  I personally think that video games have great potential, but parental discretion and overview of content and age appropriateness, time limits, etc should be in place.  This article suggests that some games help kids hone the following skills: focus, problem solving, thinking and reflection (metacognition).

5.  This last addition isn't something to read, but something to listen to!  If you have about an hour, this is a really interesting discussion.  It is an edition of KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny.  Michael Krasny interviews David Feldman and Lee Kravitz on their new book "Supersurvivors".  The book and discussion are about how people survive and thrive post very difficult and traumatic experiences.  David Feldman was a professor of mine at Santa Clara University.  I have only good things to say about him and his work.


Have a great day!


Bi-weekly Roundup

I've been thinking it might be nice for me to share interesting therapy/psychology related articles now and then that have caught my attention.  I'll be doing a post like this every other week.  Who knows, maybe you'll find a few of these articles relevant too!

In the last little while I've been reading about:

1.  Do you struggle with getting your child to "behave"?  This article suggest a number of "play" strategies to help reduce frustration, stress, and "misbehaving" such as story telling, launching a game, and singing songs and nursery rhymes.  The article explains why these strategies work, and gives some examples of appropriate times to implement them (transitioning activities, acting out behaviors, building a routine, chore time).

2. This next article describes a recent study done by researchers at the University of Washington.  Toddlers as young as 15 months were shown a play toy and how to use it by a demonstrator.  Then an "emoter" enters the room and expresses anger and annoyance about the toy to the demonstrator.  In some instances the emoter leaves the room, stays (but remains neutral), or turns around.  The 15 month olds had a variety of responses, but the significant response was that the children were less likely to play with the toy in the presence of the emoter.  Signifying that children as young as 15 months are making decisions based on the emotions of those around them, even strangers.  There are other factors to consider, such as impulse control, previous exposure to conflict, and natural temperament.  

3.  This next article is for those parents who have a toddler that has difficulty sleeping alone at night.  It discusses how separation anxiety comes into play, and causes the child's young brain to go into panic mode.  My favorite quote from the article sums it up pretty well: 

"First, you make sure there is no physical reason for her actions. Call the pediatrician to be safe. Barring that, you must relax her brain. The role of the parents is not to train a child to sleep. It is to provide the child with a feeling of safety so that sleep naturally ensues."

4.  This next article is about what is thought to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that comes and goes seasonally.  The article says that a serotonin transporter protein (SERT) transports serotonin to nerve cells where the neurotransmitter is inactive (during the winter months), this causes lower levels of SERT in the winter months, and higher levels in the summer resulting in a serotonin deficit in the winter, and hence the depression.

5.  This is a fun article about what many people think therapy is, and what it actually is.  Enjoy!



Hope you found something interesting here, I know I did ;)  Happy Monday!


Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?

In my daily internet crawling I came across an interesting parenting piece in the Huffington Post called Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?  (Click to see the whole article).  I thought it might be a nice piece to get this blog rolling :D

I like some of the suggestions the article makes for parenting differently.  To give you an idea the article says:

  • "Let 3-year-olds climb trees and 5-year-olds use knives."  Do this to help the child "hone their judgement".  (Of course, I'd recommend that you continue to use your good judgment about your child's capabilities).
  • "Fuel their feelings of frustration."  Do this to help your child develop "the art of waiting and self-control".
  • "Spoil thy baby."  More specifically it says co-sleeping and responding quickly to an infant leads to "independent and self-reliant children".
  • "Children need to feel obligated."  This will help motivate your child (older children to adolescents) to achieve.  

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with these parenting strategies?