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Archive for the ‘Jennifer’s Blog’ Category

Parenting sensitive kids

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by:

Highly sensitive kids can be wonderful, but challenging to parent. They are emotionally delicate in many ways and as parents we worry about their ability to cope in the world with everyday struggles. Often these highly sensitive children are very intelligent and many are gifted. Chances are, you have a sensitive kid if your child:

  • tends to give up quickly and melts down when they can’t master something right away
  • is often highly anxious and struggles with peers
  • has tactile issues, such as getting very upset over the feeling of a bump in their sock or a tag in their shirt.
  • has big reactions to tastes they don’t like or overreacts to voices, reporting that people are yelling at them when they are not
  • has trouble sleeping and self soothing
  • is dramatic and gets incredibly upset, and is difficult to soothe
  • tends to be worry about things before they happen

It can be incredibly frustrating to parent such a reactive child. It is very difficult to help them learn to calm themselves and organize their big feelings, but very important that they learn to master this ability and develop resilience.

The parenting bond, as much as you love them, can get frayed by this overwhelming behaviour and can cause us as parents to withdraw, become frustrated or try to constantly talk these kids out of their feelings. This then adds to their anxiety and emotional disorganization. Here are some things you can try:

1. Try really listening to your child’s feelings and try to understand her before you correct her behaviour, even if those feelings seem unreasonable to you.

2. Spending extra time cuddling and connecting with sensitive kids will help a great deal.

3. Be empathic, but neutral, when they are upset, getting mad at them will only make the situation worse.

4. Try not to do too many activities in a day. These kids tend to get overwhelmed and meltdown when they have had enough stimulation.

5. If they continue to have difficulty, talk to your paediatrician. Your child may benefit from a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy to help give them a sense of control over their emotions.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

How to handle an energetic toddler

Friday, October 22nd, 2010 by:

Do you have a child who wakes up saying “no” and goes to bed saying “no” and says  “no” all day in between? I affectionately call these little ones “gladiators.” Gladiator kids are feisty and full of energy. They tend to be smart, inquisitive–and strong willed.

Gladiator kids can fill up a room with their personalities, but often have trouble settling and knowing when enough is enough. They’re amazing kids, but have to learn to control all the big feelings they have inside. Here’s how to avoid doing battle with your little gladiator.

Stay Neutral: getting angry and upset only fuels the fire, adding to the emotional mix (you won’t be able to do this all the time, but try–it really helps!)

Frontload: in each new situation, help your child understand what you expect and how you can help him make the right choices. Let him know what the consequences (natural) if possible will be ahead if time for negative behaviour.

Adrenaline Play: these kids have energy and running around outside is not enough. They will often tantrum or bug to release energy. Try wrestling and chasing games, or games like hide and seek to get their energy out in a positive way.

Name the Behaviour: give their behaviour a name, like the silly bug or the “no” monster. It can really help so that you can work on the behaviour together.

Be Consistent: Be loving, but firm and consistent. Don’t threaten with consequences you know you won’t follow through on. It is better to pick smaller consequences and stick to them then bigger ones that you take back or forget about.

Praise Them: catch them being good–it’s so important to let your child know you see the positive behaviours too. Children listen to the things we say to them and form a sense of themselves based on what we feed back to them.

Connect Through Play: different from adrenaline play, this should be a wonderful cuddle time where you really make them feel delicious and loved.

Use Empathy: I describe how to use it effectively with the CALM technique in my book. It really works to defuse tantrums, helps them understand their own feelings and increases compliance.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

What to do about whining

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by:

Few things are more irritating to a parent’s ear than whining or “nose talking” as we call it in our family. It is very difficult to deal with and can really push buttons for us as parents.

Whining is a behavior and behavior is a communication, in general children tend to communicate with their behavior, not their words. They don’t come home from school and say, “Well Mom, it all started in the sandbox when Sarah took my shovel…” They come home and whine or fall apart when something doesn’t go their way.

Children also tend to build up emotions and then let them out in different ways. Unfortunately, whining is one of them. Whining can mean that kids are uncomfortable, not feeling listened, to or are feeling uneasy, but it can also mean that they have figured out that this behavior gets results.

How to stop the whining
First make sure that you are listening to your child, they may have been trying to tell you things in a more appropriate way and you were missing it or not really listening, so they have escalated to whining to get your attention. The CALM listening technique in my book usually stops whining in it tracks, (which is basically listening to the message first and reflecting it back).

Never give your child what she asks for if she uses that whiney voice, or you will be reinforcing the behavior. Behaviors don’t stick around if they are not rewarded. Ask your child to repeat their message without whining. Use positives when she does say things differently and be patient, getting angry rarely helps and often makes things worse. It won’t get better overnight, but you should see steady improvement as she learns other strategies.

You can also try calling the whining something else, like “the complaining bug” that can sometimes help you to work on a problem together.

Give her lots of attention throughout the day, lots of tickling, cuddling and “baby play” – wonderful moments where she just feels delicious. This alone can often reduce whining and other negative behaviors.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Coping with back-to-school blues

Saturday, September 11th, 2010 by:

The first week of school is usually not too bad – kids are excited about school starting and parents are renewed and ready to make sure everything goes smoothly. We often impress ourselves with a great first week, congratulating ourselves on a job well done. But for most families, it’s during the second week that things start to deteriorate: the kids don’t want to wake up, they doddle, get distracted and fight.

Then, the evening homework battles begin and reality sets in – summer really is over. I call this delayed reaction the “fall crash” and it is when we most often see our children’s reactions to summer ending and a new school year beginning.

For some, this delayed reaction can come as late as October when the novelty of a new school year has worn off and reality finally sets in. Transitions are not easy for some of us and can be really tough for some kids. The good news is that most of us adjust well after a few weeks and we eventually get into the rhythm of our busy lives. Here are some ways to ease that transition.

1. Mark summer’s end with a celebration of some kind. Have a special dinner, a slide show of pictures from the summer. Share memories and stories to mark the end of summer and toast the new school year.

2. Label any feelings or behaviors for your children you think may be related to summer ending. Talk about how transitions can be hard and reassure kids that it’s normal to have mixed feelings like excitement and sadness.

3. Don’t cheerlead: fight the urge to talk kids out of sad feelings. Let them express how they feel by listening and empathizing, there will be time for encouragement later in the conversation.

4. Expect a delayed reaction for some later in the month and help everyone understand what may be happening.

5. Be aware of your own feelings of sadness or stress as summer ends. Even if you are looking forward to the kids getting back to school, transitions can be hard on us too.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Being the parent of “that kid”

Friday, June 18th, 2010 by:

It’s not easy being the mother of “that kid.” Being the parent of the child who whacks other kids in the playground can mean constant worry and heartbreak. Being the mother of “that kid” means holding your breath during playgroups and hoping your child doesn’t push or pinch an unsuspecting child–and apologizing profusely when he does.

Before you know it, you become known as the mother of “that kid.” You know other mothers are saying things like “Oh, that kid, I don’t want that kid playing at my house,” or “I don’t want my son playing with that kid.” Sometimes other mothers stop seeing your child and see only a “bad kid.” They forget he is little person, with feelings, that he is young and he is struggling. (If we’re honest, we have all thought this way about certain kids and often sit in detached judgment, blaming the parents.)

As a family therapist, I work with the parents of “those kids” all the time and so often see parents who are trying everything to help their children to behave. I see their frustration, fear and tears. These parents love their children deeply and it is so painful to know the rest of the world does not feel the same way. They are often doing everything they can, removing their child from the situation, trying rewards and consequences.

Many moms cry themselves to sleep with worry, guilt and shame, wondering why their child can’t be like the other children. Many of these parents have other children who are not like this at all, which adds to the bewilderment. I work with so many moms who tell me when they walk into school they can barely stand it because they know all the other moms are looking at them and talking about their child.

So if you are the mother of a kid like that, it’s best to be open and honest. Let the other mothers know you are aware of the problem and that you’re working on the issues. Keep play dates and play situations short and sweet and keep a close eye on your child without hovering. If your child does hurt another child, give them a time out or leave the park or play date and have your child draw a picture for the other child. If your child was rude to the other parent, have them write a note or draw a picture for that parent, as a way of saying sorry it can go a long way.

If you can help the other parents to see your child as a child who is trying and struggling and not as an aggressor, this can really help. You just have to try to keep your chin up and get through it. Eventually when the behaviour changes, the kids figure it out–and so do the moms.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Harnessing the power of play

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 by:

As parents we often talk at our kids, telling them to stop doing something or to do something we want them to do. But we should be talking to them and not just correcting behavior or directing them all the time. The solution?

Try using different strategies, such as play, distraction, humour, games or contests to motivate your little one when it’s time to brush teeth or get ready for bed. Not everything has to be boring–it’s important to add a little fun sometimes! Here are some examples:

1.How to make hair-brushing less horrible:
Little girls with long hair can make hair-brushing seem like torture, crying and screaming “You’re hurting meeee! Stop it!” These daily fits can be so exhausting, it can sometimes seem better just to leave her hair looking like a bird’s nest. We often resort to angry threats that we’re going to take her to the hairdresser and have it cut short. What we need to do is stay neutral (and use a good de-tangler) along with imaginary play. You might, for example, ask your child to pretend she’s a princess and you are a friendly ogre, or a nice witch who has to brush her hair to undo a spell.

2. Ending bath-time battles:
For bathing or tooth-brushing, use superhero images to get your little boy to comply. Add some intrigue, imagination and excitement to the task, pretend the bathtub is a raft on a river or the shower is a waterfall in the rainforest. Be sure to choose a theme that’s fun and appealing for your child and make it a game. Using play will help change the behavior and create new habits so that, over time, you will no longer need to do it. In fact, you’ll be amazed how well this strategy can work. It’s also a nice way to connect with your child, and it may even be fun for you too!

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Perfection is overrated

Friday, June 4th, 2010 by:

I remember years ago when I worked as a family therapist at a children’s mental health center, my kids would come to visit occasionally and I would feel really stressed about how my clients would view me if my kids acted up. My supervisor had some very wise words for me, she said: “It’s not whether your kids will misbehave, because all kids will sometimes, it’s how you handle it when they do.”

That’s what people will notice. Those words stayed with me and have helped me through many situations. I have even chosen to talk about my own children and my own parenting experiences in my book. I thought it was important to share with parents that no child is perfect, and no parent is either. There are many moments when I think it’s hilarious that I’ve written a parenting book. When I’m impatient with my kids and losing my cool, when I ignore the voice in my head telling me to empathize and stay neutral.

I have great kids, but sometimes that everyday stuff (like my son taking forever to get out of bed, my teenage daughter having a fit because she has “nothing to wear,” or the bickering in the back seat of the car) can get to me like nails on a chalkboard. I can hear that voice in the back of my head telling me to use all the strategies I coach clients to use and even though they work incredibly well, there are still moments when I just can’t do what I know I should do in these situations.

As parents, we need to work towards doing the best we can, but we also have to be realistic. Families are wonderful and complicated. Siblings fight, kids melt down, some moments go well, and others just don’t. This is the stuff that life is made of and these are the very things we will miss one day when our children are grown up and gone.

Family relationships are dynamic and there will be moments when we bring out the absolute best in each other–and moments when we bring out the worst. Children need to learn to deal with other people’s emotions, and they need to know sometimes that they have hurt or upset others. All we can do as parents is work towards being loving and empathic, but firm and consistent, and the rest will take care of itself.

So when my son has trouble getting off the computer, my older daughter gets hysterical because her best pair of jeans is in the wash, and my six year old decides she wants to wear her dance costume to school, I just have to breathe and remind myself that we’re not perfect, but we are perfectly imperfect.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Dealing with separation anxiety

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by:

One of the hardest things to cope with as a parent is anxious separations. Seeing those big eyes begging you not to leave and trying to pull away as your child clings desperately to your leg is often more stressful for the mother than for the child.

Here are two common mistakes parents make when dealing with separation anxiety:

1. Many parents don’t tell their child they’re going to be leaving until the moment arrives.

But the longer your child has to get used to the idea, the better she’ll be able to handle the situation when it actually happens. The problem with the “sneak out” is that the general feeling of anxiety in your child can rise because now she’s worried that at any moment, without warning, Mommy could leave. This can also extend to worrying that you won’t come back when you walk out of the room, or if you are out of sight for a few moments.

2. The other mistake parents often make is drawing out the act of leaving.

If your child is upset or crying, the worst thing you can do is to hold on to her, stay there and try to soothe her. At that point, you’re no longer capable of soothing her because you’re the reason she’s crying. The longer you stay, the longer she suffers and the faster you leave, the faster she can get over it. (And the longer you stay, the more you are confirming that this really is a terrible thing that is happening.)

Here’s what to do instead:

1. Empathy first
The more you try to talk your child out of what she is feeling, the more invested she will become in proving to you how upsetting it is. In other words, her behavior and anxiety will escalate. What you need to do instead is make a few empathic statements first. I call this the CALM technique. Try saying things like, “ You just want to be with Mommy, you love me and it’s so hard to see me go.” Children will relax to some degree because they know their feelings are understood.

2. Give messages of competence
Try saying something like, “Sweetie, you’re going to be just fine. I wouldn’t leave you anywhere I wasn’t sure you’d be safe and fine.” Or, “You can do this, I know you can because you did it yesterday and you will feel like playing in a few minutes.” Then give her a hug and a kiss and walk away—and don’t go back, no matter how tempted you may be!

When you return a few hours later or at the end of the day, don’t make a big deal of that either. If you overdo the reunion, you may be reinforcing that it was an awful thing that you both went through. A warm hug and casual statement like, “I missed you” and “I knew you could do it” will suffice.

3. Give them lots of notice and plan your exit
Make your comings and goings as predictable as possible for your child. Give her fair warning so that she has time to get used to the idea and when you do leave, don’t make a big deal of it. By telling her in advance that you’re leaving, you’re giving her that message of competence, letting her know that you believe she is capable of handling the information.

4. Practice leaving and coming back
If your child really struggles with separation, you can try leaving for a short period of time, or leaving the room (with a sitter of course) for awhile, but don’t leave the house. From there, you can extend the amount of time you leave and go from leaving for a short period of time—perhaps a half hour—until your child both knows the sitter and has gotten used to the idea that when you leave, you do come back.

Remember, for many children this is a stage and as they get a little older and accumulate more experiences of your comings and goings, they will be fine and the stronger for it.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Guilt-free time away – without the kids

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by:

Here’s a difficult scenario that many mothers may relate to: Your partner surprises you with a getaway to spend time together and reconnect. You should be excited: what a privilege, what a treat! But for some moms, the thought of leaving their kids is not exactly a thrill and instead of feeling a sense of excitement and relief, they feel anxiety.

Many women are caught between bonding with their partner and worrying about their children. Some moms simply don’t enjoy being away from their kids. If they do go, they spend the whole time counting the days, phoning home and walking around thinking “I hope the kids are ok.” And your partner then feels sad or resentful that he can’t get your undivided attention.

Here’s what to do:

Before you dismiss the trip or pretend to be happy only to break the bad news later that you don’t want to go, acknowledge the time and thought put into this and the fact that you recognize how important time together is for the two of you. Then let your partner know that emotionally you worry that you will not enjoy being that far away, for that long, and such a trip may in fact make matters worse.

See if you can arrange a shorter trip, or a trip not so far away. This will help you be present in the moment and hopefully see that the kids will be fine so you can do a longer trip next time.

If you’re really struggling with it, and if money allows, you could try a family vacation where the kids are in programs so you have the emotional benefits of being near your children with time to spend together when they’re entertained. You could also go with another family and take turns with the kids so the couple can get away and have some time alone. Or, if you have a good relationship with you parents or inlaws, this can also be a solution.

Realize that things are often worse in your head
Often when we leave our kids, it’s actually harder for us than it is for them. Going away can give our children the message that they are fine away from you and it can give them a sense of competence. Children also love to know that their parents want to be together, it helps them to feel secure and safe to know that they want to spend time together.

Going away can give you a rest and time to connect and be adults again, worrying for a short time only about yourself. What you may find is that you do miss the kids but are able to enjoy this time and that after the initial separation you are fine.

Don’t wait for a vacation to stay connected
You don’t have to take a vacation to stay close and connected to your partner. Taking time to go for walks, go out to dinner or take up a new activity together is really important. (It is to easy to get into the rhythm of being very effective roommates!)

It takes time
Sometimes as our children get older, we find it easier to be away from them. When they are infants or toddlers it is especially difficult for some mothers to make that separation. Helping your partner to see that this is temporary may also be helpful, especially if they know you are working on it and finding other ways to stay close.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Relieving your child’s excess energy

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by:

If your little one often has major meltdowns, is constantly bugging his brothers or sisters, or just seems to have a lot of excess energy, there’s a trick called “adrenaline play” that can really help.

But first, it helps to understand where the behavior is coming from:

• Kids often hold tension and worries that they don’t know what to do with. They haven’t yet learned how to calm themselves or regulate their emotions, so this tension comes out in the form of fits, meltdowns or relentless bugging.

• These behaviors are common late in the day when kids are tired, overwhelmed or hungry.

• Other kids just seem to have an internal battery that’s always charged and if that energy isn’t used up, it can spill over into everyday behavior. It’s like an emotional thunderstorm that has built up–and they attempt to regulate this build up by getting other people upset. Setting Mom up for a big argument or sending their sister running out of the room screaming often does the trick. They get a blast of adrenaline because of the excitement, which provides a release so they feel better afterward.

One way to deal with this is something called adrenaline play—one of my favorite techniques. It is especially helpful for highly active children and children with ADHD.

When you see signs that a tantrum, meltdown or severe episode of silliness or bugging is building, you can use adrenaline play as a way to help your child release excess energy in a more positive way. It’s a great way to connect and, in many cases, ward off a tantrum. Try wrestling, chasing, playing hide and seek, or having a sock-throwing war. Go outside and have a race. Or, if you want to participate directly, have your child set up an obstacle course in a safe place and time him running the course.

Whatever activity you choose must have an element of excitement and a tiny bit of fear, which is why chasing or hide and seek is great. Just sending them outside to run around won’t do the trick. The activity must have a thrill that will give the child’s brain what it needs and help him to self-regulate. Tantrums won’t disappear altogether, but you may find that they occur less frequently because you have provided a release–and a positive one at that.

At this point, if you have a high-energy kid you are probably thinking, “that sounds great, but as soon as we start my child will get out of control and won’t know how to stop.” To avoid this, frontload the rules and tell your child that if he’s hurting anyone, won’t listen, or won’t stop when the game is over, there will be a consequence. A natural consequence—such as not playing again until later or the next day, or having to sit in the “penalty box” and getting ejected from the game after three penalties—is best. He may test you a couple of times, but that should work.

If you have a high-energy kid, I recommend adrenaline play at least once a day, maybe twice, but definitely not too close to bed time. Remember to stay neutral if the child blows it, and follow through with the penalties.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit