Category Archives: Parenting

08 Jul

9 Tools for Healthy Communication

1. Communicate directly with the person.

First make sure the situation has something to do with you directly. Decide if the situation is really worth your time and energy. Then go directly to the source, and try not mentioning things to others or posting comments on social media. Be respectful by being direct. Example: “I understand that you are angry with me, can you tell me why?” Or, “I heard that you are the manager for the new department and I would like to talk with you about possible upcoming positions”.

2. Start with a genuine compliment or positive statement.

Research shows that starting a conversation with a compliment or positive comment increases receptiveness in others. “Thank you for taking time to speak with me”. Or, “I know you were very angry last night and I appreciate your willingness to talk with me today”. With a child, it might sound like: “I really like how you calmed yourself down, good job”.

3. State your needs in a clear honest way.

Clarify in your mind exactly what you are asking for and why. Communicate that in a non-defensive tone. Research shows that too many words can confuse the listener. Try to state it 2-3 sentences. For example: “I wanted to talk with you about the fight at the table last night with your brother”. Vs. “I wanted to talk to you about that terrible tantrum you had at the table last night in front of our family, when you were acting like a 3 year old and picking on your brother”. Another example might be: “I would like to talk to you about the promotion. I understand I was not a candidate and would like to know why?” Vs. “I heard so-and-so got the promotion and I was so bummed to hear that because I thought I was a better candidate”.

4. Use “I” statements.

“I feel”, “I need”, “I want”. “I” statements are about you and no one can question your feelings or needs. It also outlines the place you are coming from. Then state your need. “I felt disappointed about the fight at Christmas dinner. I really wanted everyone to get along”. Or “I would like to apply for the promotion and would like to know what I need to do”. Stay out of their backyard and away from blaming. It puts people off and makes it harder for them to hear what you want. Focus on what you would like to see happen. “I would like to advance my position and use more of my skills to help this company increase it’s sales”. Or, “I would like for us to have family meals without fighting and am wondering what you think we could do together to make that happen?”

5. Listen.

Yes, to their response. Often we have a script already running in our head about what they will say or what we need to say next. Turn that off. Make your statement, pause, take a breath and listen for their response. Be in the moment as much as possible. And let go of outcome. We can’t control others or the outcome, even if it’s with the best intentions.

6. Ask questions to clarify.

Coming into the conversation without a singular result in mind will allow for exploration and curiosity. Ask questions with an engaged curiosity. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective, their experience and their opinion.

7. Try phrasing it in a different way.

If the person does not understand what is being said, try phrasing, literally using different words. For example” “I feel like we haven’t spent any time together” (They don’t understand). Second try: I really like you and would like to spend more time together, what do you think about that?” If you are on the receiving end of communication and don’t understand what they are saying, ask for clarification. Ask for specifics. “ Can you give me an example of a time when I talked over you?”

8. Take a break if things start to get heated.

You can take a break anytime, especially if you know the next line of defense is going to be slinging hurtful insults you won’t be able to take back. Revisit it when you are both calm and level headed. Check-in with yourself to see if you missed something or maybe could try to say things in a different way. And if things can’t get resolved, try mediation or communicating through someone else, like a counselor.

9. Apologize and reconcile when possible.

They are healing acts that help move relationships forward. Some people think that apologizing is sign of weakness but it’s actually a sign of respect towards the self and others. We are after all human and fallible. Admitting that actually takes courage and emotional maturity. Some say that reconciliation and forgiveness are the most important parts of the communication process.

Resources and References


The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns

How to talk to anyone; 92 little tricks for big success in relationships by Leil Lowndes

When Anger Hurts, Quieting the Storm Within, by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers and Judith McKay

Articles & Blog Posts:

Counseling Advice: Healthy Communication & Relationships by Amy McNamara, LMFT,

The 7 Cs of Communication: A Checklist for Clear Communication on

Tips for Better Communication on

5 Habits of Highly Effective Communicators by Susan Tardanico,

14 Very Effective Communication Skills on

10 Effective Communication Habits of the Most Successful People, by Marcel Schwantes,

6 Surprising Ways to Communicate Better With Your Partner by F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W.,

Simple, Powerful Tools for Becoming a Great Communicator on


27 Jun

4 Ways to Help Your Children During a Divorce

TIP #1:  Make the Children Your Priority

“As we go out into the world, we will face challenges and we’ll need both of you to help us through them. If we’re struggling, in need of help or you’re worried about us, we hope you will pick up the phone and let each other know. We get that this won’t be easy. At one time you loved each other enough to become parents. Please do your best to see the good in one another instead of always expecting the worst.”

A quote from an adult child of divorce


Research shows that helping others is a great way to get through a loss or stressful event. Transitions and change are normal. Divorce isn’t necessarily a life skill but going through a transition that comes with stress (like in a divorce) is.  Shift the focus and your energy onto them.

Talking about the divorce is important, especially with your children.

This means less or no talk about why the divorce happened and focusing more on the struggles each child is going through at that moment. Less drama and more focus on kids are good modeling and leads to helping the family move forward in a healthy way.

What the children come to the parent for help with may not really be what they want or need. It may be more about seeking parental support and making sure they won’t be abandoned. They may need help telling their story to others, problem solving, assistance with time management or scheduling changes, or handling missing a family member.

To see a quick outline of developmental tasks for children by age group, read Does Divorce Inevitably Damage Children? by Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. on the Huffington Post. 

TIP #2: Create a Support System for Your Kids

One of the most important developmental tasks for children is social development. Part of this process is explaining what is happening and how to maneuver through relationships. The process of divorce can impact family members in a variety of ways. It can include the break-up of a family system, the loss of seeing or living with one parent regularly, or dealing with the stigma sometimes associated with divorce.

Providing support for children going through divorce can help them with the adjustment and changes happening. Others can play a vital role in needed support, such as family members, family friends, a church community, theirs peers or even a therapist. Not only do others provide a feeling of security and normalcy, they can also provide unconditional love and support.

About therapy: There doesn’t need to anything wrong with a child for them to be in therapy. Whether it’s a counselor at school or a therapist at a clinic or in private practice, therapy can provide an additional layer of support for family members.

TIP#3: Stick to Consistency and Routine as Much as Possible

This can include morning routines, school schedules, sports, social outings, attending church, family meals, holidays, going on vacations etc. Routines create a feeling of normalcy and familiarity for everyone. After school activities and hobbies help children gain their own sense of autonomy in the world and solidify their identity. Help the children develop their own hobbies and interests, to do at your home and at the other parent’s home.

TIP #4: Don’t Speak Badly or Gossip About the Other Parent

When we are hurting, it’s easy for us as adults to fire back with hurtful comments or actions. Children hear what parents are saying on the phone or to the adult in the other room. They often tune into what their parents are feeling, even if they don’t come right out and say it.

Model healthy communication and boundaries. Avoid blaming and negative talk about the other parent. Save personal feelings and negative thoughts for friends, therapist or a journal. If you find you can’t stop talking about it, try counseling. It’s a safe place to express yourself that won’t due unnecessary damage.

Communicate directly with your ex partner in a healthy way, not through the children or through others (unless mandated by the court). State your needs to them in a clear honest way. Use “I” statements. Try phrasing your needs in different ways, literally using different words. Keep accusations and blaming out of it, instead replace with compliments. Research shows that starting a conversation with a compliment or positive comment increases receptiveness in the other person. They will be more likely to hear what you are saying. If or when the communication starts to get heated, take a break. Revisit it when you are both calm and level headed. If things can’t get resolved, try mediation or communicating through a counselor.

References and Resources:


Something Gained: 7 Shifts to be Stronger, Smarter and Happier after a Divorce, by Deb Purdy.

Blog Posts:

The 18 Best Things You Can Do For Your Kids After Divorce by Brittany Wong on

How to Keep Yourself From Yelling at Kids Even When You are Hopping Mad by Sumitha Bhandarkar on

Four Things to Keep Stable with Children of Divorced Parents by Shannon Philpott on

Establish Post-Divorce Traditions on

Helping children adjust to two homes after separation or divorce on

Why routines are so important for children of divorce from

The importance of safe, stable and nurturing environments for young children by Dr. Rachel Wood on

8 Things Adult Children of Divorce Desperately Want You to Know by Christina McGhee on

Find information about ending a marriage or registered domestic partnership see the Divorce or Separation resources page on the California Courts website.

Divorce Etiquette 101: What to Say on

Tips on Communicating With Your Spouse During a Divorce by Joseph Pandolfi, Retired Judge on

Find resources on Coping in Divorce Support on

4 Tips for Effective Communication During Divorce from

5 Ways for Better Communication During a Divorce by Nicholas Baker on


24 May

Helping Kids Maneuver Through Technology and Social Media

Social Media is a growing industry. For kids, this means there are more devices, more things to do on devices and more ways to communicate. It’s also cool to have a device (like a phone) and have your friends watch that cool video on your phone!

As parents we often hear about how bad it is for children to watch too much TV or spend too much time on the Internet, but some studies have shown that children can actually build communication, social or technical skills. And for special needs children, often programs specifically designed for TV, I pad or computer can be a “saving grace” as a learning tool option.

For those of us on the hunt for the best way to help our kids, here are some ways parents can help kids maneuver through the world of social media and technology. Please check out the references at the end for additional information:

  1. KNOW WHAT YOUR CHILD IS DOING. Take the time to get to know which devices your children spend the most time on.

A NOTE ABOUT PRIVACY: experts, across the board, suggest that parents get involved, yes, even with teens. Their privacy is important but making sure they are safe should always come first. This includes teaching them smart choices good boundaries, critical tools for maneuvering through media.

  1. KEEP AN OPEN DIALOGUE WITH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE VIEWING. Ask questions with curiosity, not judgment. Ask them to tell you about it. Gather information first so your child doesn’t feel attacked. If there is a concern, start with a positive statement like “wow that’s great you like that site and know so much about it” and then bring in your concern, “I’m wondering about that guy you mentioned that keeps hacking, does that effect your account?” Follow up with an action option “so what can you do about it?” or “did you know you can block people like that?” Turn it into a teaching opportunity.
  1. LIMIT THE AMOUNT OF TIME CHILDREN SPEND ON DEVICES WHEN POSSIBLE. Less is better. It’s better for the brain. Extended use of computers and devices has been correlated with higher rates of depression. Moderation is good.
  1. BE AWARE AND TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT SECURITY. Explain to them about why security is needed and what is not appropriate behavior, for them and for others. Kids need to learn to protect what is theirs from the beginning, not after they have lost something valuable. They also need to know how to put up appropriate boundaries. Educate children about the importance of screen names or gaming names, and never stating their full name or their age. They also should never provide their address, phone number, your credit card information or an IP address. Also educating them about keeping passwords private is a must.

There are online filtering software apps like “Net Nanny”, that allows you to monitor sites, block chats and filter content. Xfinity has a parental control feature to password protect certain channels. Search for “filtering software” to learn more about this option. Some phones also have a location device feature on their phone, allowing parents to track the physical location of their child.

Subscription service for smartphone monitoring and control capabilities by

Info about parental controls for cell phone carriers: 11 Mobile Parental Controls from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile from

Info about parental controls for computer sites and online gaming: Parental Controls by

Info about parental controls for Xbox One and Xbox 360 from Microsoft.

Info about parental controls on gaming devices: Gaming With Guidance: How to Set Up Parental Controls on Modern Consoles, Handhelds, and Computers by

Info about parental controls for Facebook.

  1. TAKE AN ACTIVE INTEREST IN WHAT YOUR CHILD IS POSTING. Children will not automatically know what boundaries to use when texting or posting on Facebook, Instagram etc., so this is a great topic to keep an open dialogue. Children up to the age of adulthood often will feel something but may not be able to put words to the experience or know what their choices are. Dialoguing about what bullying is, what safety means, what boundaries are is a language they need help to develop. Educate them about bullying, what it is, what is sounds like, how it makes people feel and what they can say in response. Give kids words or statements to choose from so they are ready when the conversation comes. Information and choices give kids power.
  1. ADVOCATE FOR YOUR KIDS WHEN NECESSARY. Yes, they do need to learn to fight their own battles, but sometimes a parent’s support can go a long way. Some online games have “reporting” features so players can report kids who are hacking and doing inappropriate things. Developers often have contact information on the site. It doesn’t always work but having a child see a parent advocate for them is a good thing. It also offers the opportunity for the parent to talk with the child about they could have done differently to avoid the situation. And it reminds your child that even though they saw someone else make bad choices, it’s still wrong and they should never follow suit.


References and Resources:

Media Benefits for Children and Teenagers by

The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families from

Top Social Network Demographics 2017 [Infographic] by

40 Essential Social Media Marketing Statistics for 2017 by

Six Tips For Keeping Teens Safe On Social Media from

13 Tips for Monitoring Kids’ Social Media by

6 Expert Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on Social Media by Kyli Singh on

Social media related articles from

Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids by Devorah Heitner from the

Best Facebook Parental Controls Review by

The Good Digital Parenting blog from Family Online Safety Institute(

15 Nov

4 Ways Parents Can Help Their Tween or Teen

1. Talk with your kids: Keep an open dialogue about the changes that are happening to them physically, emotionally and socially. Don’t accuse but rather ask open-ended questions that will illicit thoughtful discussion by both parties. Ask your child if they have any questions you can answer for them. Don’t tease, but instead, normalize the changes. If you’re not sure how to answer a question your child is asking, try looking up the answer together. Or talk to a professional together to get the answer. If your child doesn’t like to talk, ask 1 or 2 open-ended questions and build on that when you can. Normalizing changes and situations can be very soothing for children, even if they act like they don’t need it or don’t care.

Here’s one great resource: 5 Secrets for Communicating with Teenagers
By Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC from

2. Schedule family time together: Even for an hour or two. Quality is the key, not quantity. Keep routines the same and make yourself available to offer help, even if it’s driving places or hiring a tutor for a subject. Teens are launching developmentally. That means they leave (in a variety of ways) and return. This process is similar to a bird learning to fly out of the nest. Most people think that’s when a parent should leave their child alone but actually the opposite is true. Be available and spend time with your child. Stay engaged and find a way to let them know you care and are there. They need to know you are present in the relationship and that home is still a safe place to return to so they can keep trying to launch. And remember, they still need your support, even when they pushing you away. Don’t take it personally.

More about this: 3 Tips to Help Nourish the Family by Karen Atkinson on

3. Monitor social media: Check out who is talking to whom and how your child feels about this dialogue. Ask questions to get your child’s perspective. Don’t make it about not trusting them. Tell them it’s your job to make sure everything is ok socially and to monitor it to some extent. Tell them that you care and this is important to you. That’s normal for a parent to do. If there’s a problem, listen to the problem your child is identifying and help find a solution. Ask questions. All sorts of things happen with “posting” these days including comments and pictures. What does your child post? What kinds of messages and pictures do they receive back from others? Use these situations as learning opportunities for your child. And be patient. Our generations didn’t have to deal with all of these dynamics. This is new territory for everyone.

Here’s an example: Are sitcoms harmful to children? Do they teach sassy, disrespectful behavior? What are some alternatives? from

4. Moderate the amount of violence your child gets exposed to:
Between TV, phones, iPads/Tablets, gaming consoles and computers, kids are seeing images at a record level. The amount of time children spend in front of a screen has increased, as well as the exposure to violence. What they see matters to development and how the brain processes information. Moderate what you can. Pick your battles and stand by them. It’s important to teach children boundaries, and it’s ok to limit or have them choose what they can and can’t see. These exercises are modeling for them how they will some day set boundaries for themselves. These exercises also teach them how to make choices. There is a reason why games and moves are rated. And watch little brother or sister. They can be adversely influenced and exposed at a much younger age simply because they have older siblings. It’s easy to let go in this area and checkout. But don’t. It matters.

“A 2010 review by psychologist Craig A. Anderson and others concluded that “the evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.” Anderson’s earlier research showed that playing violent video games could increase a person’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in daily life. “One major conclusion from this and other research on violent entertainment media is that content matters,” says Anderson.

Here’s one reason why: Does exposure to violent movies or video games make kids more aggressive? from


5 Secrets for Communicating with Teenagers
By Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC from

How Parents Can Improve Communication with Teenagers by Dr. Steven Richfield on

The Parents Role on

Teenagers and communication on

16 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook on

10 Most Violent Video Games of 2016 (and What to Play Instead) by Jeff Haynes on

Is it OK to let my kid play Minecraft for hours? on

Violence in the Media (Psychologists Study Potential Harmful Effects) on the

Violence on TV and How It Can Affect Your Children on the

13 Oct

6 Attributes to Help Parents Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children

What is it emotional intelligence?

“Emotional intelligence means being able to read your own and other’s emotions, and being able to respond to the emotions of others in a cooperative, functional, and empathetic manner. Emotional intelligence is a kind of social “moxie” or “savvy” about even very complex social situations. It requires knowing who you are, knowing your own feelings, knowing your own needs, and being able to handle yourself and compromise these needs with the needs of sometimes very complex social situations.”
John Gottman, Ph.D., The Gottman Institute


What are some of the skills needed raise emotionally intelligent children?

Awareness, empathy, compassion, patience, validation and respect to name a few, are valuable and necessary attributes, and are skills that teach children how to maneuver and manage their emotions while in relationship with others. Research has shown that children exhibiting these skills are more likely to succeed in the world more so than a child with a high IQ and good academic record.

With all of these attributes, as with values and emotions, it helps to talk with children about them, as well as, model them. Dialogue teaches children how to put words to their internal emotional world and that is empowering. It’s also important for healthy development. Modeling the behavior shows the child tangible actions associated with the concept, which they can then try out in their behavior. This is important since children’s brains are still developing.

A note about the learning process in children: parents often say, “I kept having to repeat myself” Believe it or not, that a normal part of development in children. A repetition of concepts is one way we learn. But if you’re child still just doesn’t seem to be getting it, it might be the way it’s being presented. Each child learns differently. Some children learn by seeing (visually), some by hearing (auditory) and some learn kinesthetically (both). Try out different ways to explain something. It’s the difference between watching a video about a sport vs. reading about it vs. trying it out. Take the challenge and find out how best your child learns!

1. Awareness about emotions. It’s bringing a consciousness and a presence to the emotional experience of the child (and sometimes for parents too!) For example, it might be helping a child gain awareness that things will not be “fixed” like they thought. This might include talking about what this different outcome feels like for them. Many children need help making transitions, so this is an added step to help that process. Awareness is an “open” experience, and an invitation to explore emotions. It is not an attempt to deflect, dismiss or control a child’s feelings, or creates an outcome.

2. Compassion defined as “a deep feeling of sympathy”. A necessary skill is for the adult to be able to tap into the emotions of the child. A parent needs to be emotionally available to model compassion. Saying things like “I’m sorry to hear that is happening”. Or “I’m so happy for you”. Or “that sounds like you are excited about that trip” can be invitations to discuss what is happening. One goal is to define in words what the experience is they are feeling. Another goal is simply to be present and engaged, with an open mind and heart towards your child and their experience. The idea is to try and feel what they are feeling in that moment and reflect that back to them.

(Compassion, empathy and awareness can also be applied to our own experience as parents, as we wonder about all the things we should be saying, or our desire to fix it, or our attempt to suppress the feelings of judgment or intolerance at that moment. Buddhist theory teaches that we must first have compassion for ourselves before we can have it for others. So be patient and kind to both of you!)

3. Empathy: defined as “the experiencing of someone else’s thoughts or feelings”. There has been a lot written about the importance of children developing empathy. Modeling empathy to your child is the best way to teach a child about what empathy is. Check in with your child with phrases like: “I hear that what she said really hurt your feelings” or “that sounds like such a great time you had”. Responses like these (without a parental fix at the end of the statement) offer a feeling of unconditional support to your child. That is a quality in empathy. These can be simple dialogues, yet they are critical to a child’s development, because children will, in turn, try out those comments on others to build the skills. Children also need to understand what it feels like and be able to differentiate it from other internal experiences they have, like compassion, sadness or apathy.

4. Patience: If you are naturally calm and patient, you are lucky because sometimes this is hard thing to muster when working with a child. One definition of this is “the ability to suppress restlessness”, something kids need a lot of help with! Patience is great to model because it gives the child the experience of what it feels like to wait, while experiencing calmness and excitement. Calmness is a critical tool when working to harness emotions. Calmness and emotional regulation also go together. Emotional regulation cannot happen without some ability to be mindful and calm oneself. Modeling patience is a vital step in the child’s development; as they see and hear someone else calmly put into words their experience while providing structure -not only to the situation but to their internal emotional world. By experiencing this, children can then internalize that and learn how to use these qualities as a skill. Children also feel safe when adults are calm. As a result, they are more open to learn, and can learn how to regulate their emotions, and be patient with others, yeh!

5. Validation: When a child is really heard, understood and supported, their view of themself and the world around them are validated. It’s not just about a child’s developing ego; it’s also about their identity formation. The message they should be receiving is that they are enough just the way they are, even if they don’t get straight A’s. And if they do get great grades, there is still so much more to who they are which is all good stuff. These types of conversations are also about parents having an opportunity to tell their children that they are important, loved, unique and have something of value to offer the world. Children need to hear that who they are as human beings is ok. It’s critical to healthy development.

6. Respect:

The best way to explain what respect is is to show a child. This is respect for oneself and respect for others. Respect can be modeled in dialogue and behavior. How do you respect yourself? How do you respect your child? Talk with your child about who you respect and why. Or name a respectful action when your child acts in a thoughtful way. An example is the art of apologizing. An apology is actually an act of respect when done sincerely. It is another important skill set to incorporate into their identity. Apologizing helps children learn what is them (ego) and what is “other” (other people outside of themselves). This will help them make a distinction about what things they should or should not say or do, which is directly related to moral development and choices they will make down the road.


The development of a child clearly is a complex process. Incorporating traits such as these, not only can empower you as a parent but help children learn what values and morals are, so they will, not only be more likely to make good decisions, but also like themselves!

*A note about yelling: Studies show that when someone yells and gets upset emotionally, often what is being said gets lost. Instead what the person being yelled at remembers is the other person’s anger towards them and the fear they experienced at that moment. For a child, it creates stress in the child, making it hard for the child to learn, feel safe and regulate their emotions. This, not only, can affect memory, behavior and academic performance but also creates negative emotions like fear, hostility and defiance. Bottom line: if you want your children to develop emotionally healthy habits, and be emotionally healthy, model the behavior you want to see.

Parent exercise: How are your listening skills?

Take 15 minutes and sit down with your child, or go for a walk and listen – to them. The goal is to listen with an open mind and in a space of non-judgment modeling the skills listed above. Ask open-ended questions, get really interested in what they are saying and let them talk.

This exercise also models really great listening skills, which teaches your child how to listen. They et the experience internally of what it feels like to speak their truth, to say what they really want to say without someone taking over their emotional or thoughts in that moment. Good listening gives them the experience to truly be who they are and be free of judgment or ridicule. This is a necessary experience for children to develop confidence and a strong identity. It’s also an incredibly respectful and loving way to be with your child.


National Association for the Education of Young Children: Building Social and Emotional Skills at Home

The Gottman Institute: Fostering Emotionally Intelligent Children, Families and Communities[PDF]
by John Gottman Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and Emotion Coaching – Part 1


Touchpoints by T Berry Brazelton, M.D.

The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, Symbiosis and Individuation by Margaret S. Mahler, M.D.

Emotional Intelligence, Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.

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