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Posts Tagged ‘connected parenting’

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

How to have a successful play date

Monday, April 5th, 2010 by:

Play dates are an important part of social development and as parents we want our children to not only enjoy these moments, but to experience social success. Kids of all ages sometimes have trouble “playing nicely” together, but this is all part of learning and growing. Children learn much of what they need to learn in life through play: when to listen, how to be heard, when to back off and when to be assertive.

Unstructured playtime without adults hovering is important–and for parents, knowing when to help and when to let them work it out is very important. Here are a few things you can do to make play dates go more smoothly:

1. Keep play dates short and sweet
For younger children, those who have difficulty socializing, or those who are easily over-stimulated, about an hour and a half is a good timeframe. The mistake many of us make is that when things are going well, we’re seduced into letting it go on too long. Rather than letting the date end with the children fighting, end it when everyone’s happy, feels good about the experience and wants to do it again.

2. Work on the graceful exit
Sometimes all goes smoothly until it’s time to leave, and this is often because small children just don’t know what to say, or how to end it. I’ve found that scripting a goodbye for them can make it a lot easier. Try saying, “Okay, it’s time to leave. Tell Josh ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I had a really good time, but I have to go now.’” Use the tone and inflection your child will be using when he says those words. This is called scripting. It can be difficult for little kids to know what to say, and by giving them the words you’re actually giving them the tools to master a new social skill.

3. Provide structure
If your child struggles with positive social interaction, or has had trouble with one friend in particular, it’s a good idea to create structured activities and let the children know what they’re going to be doing. You can even write it down–kids actually love that. So, you might say, “First we’re going to be doing this activity for this amount of time, then we’re going to have a snack, and then we’re going to do this.” For children who are five or six, board games, baking and imaginative play generally work well.

4. Frontload in advance
Before the play date begins, you’ll need to “frontload” your child, basically telling her what kind of behavior you’re going to expect and letting her know that if she’s rude or mean or hits the other child, the play date will be over.

Remember to talk about the expected behavior in narrative terms. With young children you can say things like, “I don’t want to see the ‘no monster’ or the ‘cranky bug.’” You can make a game out of locking the “no monster” out of the car, rolling up the windows so that the imaginary monster can’t get back in, and driving away. Or, have some fun pretending to lock the “no monster” in the closet so he doesn’t wreck the game your child is playing with his friend.

You can also talk about frustration, and make a plan together about how to keep the behavior from ruining the play. Use these moments to point out the connection between choosing good behaviors and seeing good outcomes: when we make good choices, good things and happy faces are more likely to follow. And remember that these strategies can work in all kinds of situations, not just play dates.

5. Leave if the going gets tough

If your child has been struggling with play dates, you may have to explain to the other child’s caregiver that your child is a little bit cranky so this or that might happen, and if it does, it’s not her child’s fault, but the play date may have to end. I also suggest that you have some kind of “door prize” to give the visitor if she has to leave before the date is officially over, because you don’t want her to feel blamed for your child’s bad behavior.

Make sure you’re comfortable enough with the other child’s parent to do this. You probably don’t want to do it with someone you don’t know very well, or someone who’s going to say, “Well, if your child is so terrible why would I bring my child to play with her at all!” And if something does go wrong, remember that there may be times when it is not your child’s fault!

Most important of all, if your child does misbehave, make sure that you follow through with what you’ve told her is going to happen. Following through, letting her know that by behaving as she did she was making a choice and that her choice has a consequence, is what’s going to lead to her making better choices for play dates in the future.

6. Praise good effort
Praise your child for good choices made and for the effort that went into play date going well, and discuss out how much better it is when things go well. To do this, I like to use the “good-brings-good” formula. Point out that when your child makes a good choice, something good will follow, and that if he makes a bad choice (or, if you’re uncomfortable with the word “bad,” an “icky” or “yucky” choice, or whatever other term you prefer), something negative will happen.

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

Are you worried about playing favorites?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by:

Some parents find they feel closer to one child than the other, which can cause terrible guilt and a great deal of stress. We can’t choose our children and their different personalities can mesh–or–clash with our own. It’s not easy when we feel an easy love for one child, and a love that takes more work for another.

Sometimes this just has to do with personality–we often get frustrated by the traits in our children that we don’t like in ourselves. Sometimes we react to behaviors and tendencies our children have that remind us of things we don’t like about our spouse, or a relative we have trouble getting along with. And as we react to our children, they often act out in return–often exaggerating the behaviors we dislike the most.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do to protect your relationship with your child and to ensure that things do not become more challenging between you–or to repair the damage if they already have.

• Make sure to spend special connecting time with this child for a few minutes every day.
• Make sure you tell your child what you admire or appreciate about them, taking special note of things they did that were positive that day.
• Make sure to cuddle and be nurturing to them every day. Stroke their cheeks, look into their eyes and make them feel delicious. Do this even if it’s a struggle–it will help the bond and improve behavior.
• Write them little notes to leave in their lunch, or on their bedroom door.
• Use humor and jokes to bond and enjoy one another. Take time to be silly and playful.
• Catch yourself if you spend more time with one child over the other, or if you speak to one child in a gentler way. If they are complaining about it, there may be a reason.
• Be aware of overcompensating (or protecting one child over the other if you notice your spouse favoring one child).
• Find and celebrate the strengths in all your children. Traits that make them a challenge to parent may make them strong and competent adults one day.
• Don’t beat yourself up, just because you are a parent does not mean you are not a human being. It is normal to react to difficult behaviors. And if you do overreact, you can always go back and repair.

Feeling this way does not make you a bad person or a bad parent, it just means you are reacting to a dynamic and that it is important to be aware of that and to be aware of your contribution to that dynamic. If they push you away or reject you, try not to act hurt. Respond in a neutral way and try again later, or try something more subtle, like finding a cute picture of them and talk about how adorable they are in it. Remember every child needs to feel loved and lovable; it is the single most protective thing in terms of good emotional and social health.

It is also important to realize that the child, whom you feel like giving that nurturing attention to the least, is the one who needs it the most.

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

Keeping your cool

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by:

Never mind dealing with your child’s anger–it can sometimes be hard enough to deal with our own. I have so many parents come to me and say, “I’m a really nice person. I never got angry or yelled at anyone before I had kids.”

The depth of emotion that you feel with your own child can indeed be overwhelming. You love this little person so much you can hardly stand it, but the frustration and anger can be just as overwhelming. It can be surprising how angry we can get and how much yelling we can do.

Being stressed and tired or trying to do too many things can add to our frustration–but the truth is sometimes kids just really know how to push their parents’ buttons. Whether it’s giggling and laughing when you’re trying to discipline, ignoring your request or talking back, it can be hard to keep your cool. But although getting angry and yelling is a popular parenting technique, it’s a very ineffective one. (If it worked, there would be a lot more well-behaved children around!)

The reality is that we yell for us. We yell as a release and we yell because we’re angry and we need to vent. My rule is: if you’re mad and what you’re saying feels really good coming out of your mouth, then it’s probably not the right thing to say. It’s important to stop and ask yourself, “Am I about to say something my child needs to hear? Or am I about to say something I feel like saying?” You will find that the answers to those questions are often very different.

When we yell, we show our children that we’re not able to control our feelings and, in some cases, we are even displaying the very behavior we are asking them not to do. It’s not easy and we all blow up sometimes but the good news is that when we do, we can always go back and repair. Here are some tips to help you keep your cool.

Leave your self enough time. When you’re rushed, you’re much more likely to get angry and frustrated.
Recognize–and reduce–your triggers. If multi-tasking is overwhelming and you’re likely to blow your top at the next person who walks in the room, front load the kids to let them know you need a few minutes and what the consequence will be if they disturb you.
Simplify. Try to do fewer things and go easy on yourself; try to simplify by doing things in advance. If you’ve had a stressful day, order in and forget about bath night for the kids. Keep it simple and manageable. What good is it if they are clean with a stomach full of homemade food but everyone is crying and miserable?
Breathe. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth several times a day when you feel yourself getting stressed. Check in with yourself throughout the day to monitor how you are feeling so you’re less likely to blow your top.
Find the humour. Laughing about a situation can be very helpful sometimes.
Take care of yourself. If you’re exhausted and snapping at people, call in a baby sitter, find a mother’s helper or ask a relative to come in so you can go do something for you. If a spa is out of the question, go sit in a coffee shop with a cup of tea and read the paper, or go for a walk.
Keep everything in perspective. These crazy times are fleeting and they’re the very stuff you will miss, believe it or not, when your kids are grown up and gone.

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

Is your kid an early riser?

Friday, November 27th, 2009 by:

Does your little one wake up before the crack of dawn? Peeling your eyes open and starting your day before your own body clock wants you to is no easy feat.

I am not a morning person. It doesn’t matter how much sleep I get, waking up is a process. My five-year-old likes to wake me up every morning at 5:45 by diving on my head. “Good morning Mommy! Hi Mommy!!!!!!…” I can’t remember my own name in the morning let alone my parenting skills. This is when I have to fight my hardest to respond and not react. She needs that wake up greeting and she needs me to not be horrible.

My solution? She can quietly watch TV in the next room until she hears my alarm go off. I leave a little snack by the TV and a drink so I can get in those last few minutes of sleep before the busy day starts. This is a significant improvement. When she was very young, I had to wake up because she needed to be supervised and even though my husband and I would share mornings, this was a difficult thing for me.

Here are some survival tips for when you have an early riser:

Stay neutral: If you are going to end up getting up anyway, then do it in a pleasant, or at least neutral, way. Getting up and being miserable doesn’t fix anything and just makes your child feel bad.

Have morning snacks ready: Have some healthy, but quick and easy, snacks ready to stop their tummies from growling. They will play better and be more relaxed, perhaps giving you a few more precious moments with your pillow.

Say what you mean and mean what you say:
If your child is old enough to go back to her room and play, or to go back to sleep, and this is something you expect–then no matter what happens, you can’t break your rule and get up. If you do give in and get up, all they have learned is that they have to up the ante, reinforcing negative behavior by showing them you don’t mean what you say.

Take turns sharing the early morning duties.
This can at least give you some mornings to catch up on sleep. Even if you are a stay at home Mom, being home with your kids requires stamina and endurance and you need adequate rest for that. Just because your spouse goes off to the office for the day doesn’t mean you should always be the one skimping on sleep. A day at home with the kids often requires more energy than a day at the office.

Prepare a morning toy basket: Keep a basket of new toys, or old ones that your child hasn’t seen in a while, and only have them available in the morning. The novelty of these items might give you that extra few minutes of snooze time.

Remember this too shall pass: Having a child that rises very early in the morning is temporary. Your kids will get to a stage where they can wake up and entertain themselves.

Praise your kids: It is perfectly okay to let your children know that there are times when you have to care for yourself. Thank them for respecting you and letting you rest. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.

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

Dealing with Public Temper Tantrums

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 by:

Ah, the public tantrum–don’t you love those? It can be mortifying when your little one throws herself on the floor screaming and you feel like the whole world is judging your parenting skills.

Some kids know they can use these public fits to get what they want, others are just tired or over stimulated and don’t know what else to do. Either way, it is so important to handle the situation properly, to ensure that the moment becomes a thing of the past–and to make sure that, in the future, your child will be able to regulate her behaviour when you go out.

The first thing we all need to remember is that talking through your teeth and “whisper screaming” (as one child I worked with called it), is not an effective way to handle a tantrum. While we may think that this tactic is less obvious to those around us, it usually has the exact opposite effect. The key is to forget about what others think and react in public the same way you would at home. Just say to yourself “Ok , here we go, everyone enjoy the show.” The child will learn there is not a difference between outside and inside the home. My recommendation in either setting is to be neutral–yelling never works. Stay calm as you try to respond to the behaviour.

Before you even get into a tantrum situation, frontload your child so they know what will happen if they behave a certain way, help them to make a good choice and above all follow through–don’t make threats that you will not follow through on.

For example, on your way to the mall, empathize with them and say, “You’re going to see all kinds of awesome toys and things you really want, but we are buying a present for your cousins, okay?” They will likely agree until you are in the store and they see something they want. This is where you will get that feeling in your stomach where you think “oh no, here we go, I really don’t want to deal with this.” Breathe through this feeling and ready yourself. Never fear the tantrum, it always makes things worse.

As things escalate, make a couple of mirroring statements: “that is such a cool toy; that’s the one you saw on TV; I get why you want it because it’s so cool.” In my book Connected Parenting, I describe how to mirror using the CALM technique. Essentially, mirroring is a therapist’s technique that helps create a safe place for the child, builds resilience and increases compliance. It is also an effective tool to help children organize and regulate their emotions.

If she still escalates, just tell her you have tried to understand, but that she cannot have the toy. Tell her to go ahead and have a fit and you will wait for her to finish. I love this technique because they will often not meltdown because you have paradoxically allowed it.

The final thing to try is what I call an intervention. Go to the mall or restaurant–not for a nice meal or to do some shopping–but for the sole purpose of leaving if they meltdown. Follow the steps above and then leave if you have to. You won’t be upset because you were prepared to leave anyway and they will learn that you mean business. You will definitely enjoy a peaceful outing next time.

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

Understanding your partner’s parenting style

Monday, September 28th, 2009 by:

We get a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and family before baby is born. Some of the advice is excellent, and some, well… it’s a little off. Like my grandmother, for example, who suggested that I let my four-month-old (who she thought was too pale) get some sun to “brown him like a turkey.”

Here’s what I wish people would have had shared with me instead:

I wish someone had told me how much a new baby can challenge your relationship with your spouse. We could have used that knowledge to help us plan and understand one another. There are many similarities between mothers and fathers, but also many differences. These differences can leave you both scratching your heads.

For instance, moms tend to pick their babies up and pull them face in towards their hearts while soothing and cooing. Moms seem to know as if by magic when baby is over-stimulated and just how to cuddle and calm when needed.

On the other hand, dads will more typically hold babies facing out so they can see what’s going on. They are more likely to swing her up high, bounce her around more, and show her the world from different angles. (With mom in the background saying, “Not so high! Don’t spin her, be careful!” )

Moms tend to feel a sudden and intense bond with their babies–it can be so powerful that virtually nothing can compete with it. Research shows that dads tend to bond with their infants more intensely as the baby gets older. He loves his child, of course, but doesn’t always experience the intensity of the relationship right away.

Some dads report feeling a little displaced and unsure of their roles, or even their usefulness, in those early months. Moms often feel overwhelmed. Sometimes after a day of feeding and cuddling, moms may be so exhausted that just when dad wants some time together, mom is asleep.

Here’s what my husband and I learned: I am not a very good dad, but I’m a great mom. He is not the best mom, but he’s a wonderful dad. We learned to value our own (and each other’s) contributions to our children, and to let our kids experience the best in each of us. We learned that these busy baby days go really fast. That there will be time for each other eventually and that you can find your way together by respecting each other, communicating and not trying to make your partner do everything the way you would do it.

Two teenagers and a five year old later, we’ve also learned to take time for ourselves—walks, dinners, even date nights at home. Remember, this time when your children are young is fleeting; these really are the years you will look back on and miss.

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

And you thought you were just playing peek-a-boo

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by:

You know those delicious moments when you and your child are locked into each other’s gaze–laughing, smiling or just making faces? Those moments when the rest of the world disappears and you’re the parent of the most adorable child on the planet? Few things in life can touch those times, and they are much more than just feel-good moments. These interactions are critical to the parent/child bond and to your baby’s health and development.

All that cooing, copying of your baby’s facial expressions and mimicking her sounds lets her know that she is deeply treasured and understood. We reflect that understanding back by copying and imitating our babies in a wonderful back-and-forth dance throughout our day. Babies love and crave this interaction. All this mirroring calms and soothes them and helps them to feel safe with what is happening around them.

In fact, chemicals are being released in the brain that make your baby feel wonderful and elated, which has a profound impact on her brain. Science now shows that the more pleasant experiences she has, the more her brain specializes for resilience and happiness. Most of the brain’s circuitry is developed after birth, and it is through these intimate connections that neuropathways develop and babies learn to organize and regulate emotions. These are also the building blocks for the development of empathy and social skills.

To be honest, these games of face making, cuddling, and cooing are better than any toy or video you could ever buy for your child. This is what your child craves and needs from you. (You don’t have to be in your child’s face every minute of the day, though. That would overwhelm and annoy your baby–rest assured, she will look away or fuss when she’s had enough!)

While there is also nothing wrong with mobiles, smart toys, and videos, remember it’s your beautiful face your child needs most. And keep up the baby talk and silly faces with your toddler, she still needs it. These mommy love games are the best emotional nutrition you can give your child–building security, as well as emotional and intellectual intelligence.

And you thought you were just playing peek-a-boo!