Friday, May 7, 2021

Mountain Strong Families give their kids tools to resolve, repair & restore their relationships


     The final session of "Raising Whole Human Beings" took place on a beautiful spring evening ~ tucked gently between May snowstorms.  Parents of 2 to 12 year-olds reflected on their monthly gatherings.  Families referred to these sessions as "invaluable, informative, relaxed, safe, fun, and helpful."  One mom went so far as to consider them "priceless."
     The majority of attendees believe their relationships with their children have significantly improved since applying new parenting strategies.  They also felt more connected to other parents in our community after spending numerous evenings together discussing common issues.  
     We weren't meant to parent in isolation.  The Mountain Strong Families program, hosted by TEENS, Inc offers an easy way to learn positive parenting skills and develop a network of friends who are striving to raise well-grounded children.  Most of us are trying to do this transformative work with little or no prior training, some hearsay knowledge and a lot of 'gut feeling'.  Can you imagine a doctor or plumber doing their job this way?

     This year's MSF Series intertwined the interpersonal neurobiological research of Dr. Dan Siegel into concrete strategies that parents warmly embraced for use with their families.  Siegel has found that children need four things to develop wholeness:  to be seen and soothed, and to feel safe and secure.  The final workshop focused on helping a child feel secure in their relationships.  Security comes from believing that even though there will be problems, conflicts, and hurt feelings along the way, there are also ways to repair and restore wholeness; ways to resolve the dilemma.  The proposed strategies give children hope that there is a pathway that leads toward reconciliation between humans. 

     Facilitator, Angie Sands, illustrated how we often approach problems and conflicts from a rule-based mindset.  We look at what rule was broken and try to come up with a consequence to punish the person for their past behavior.  A contrasting Restorative mindset was then given to aspire to.  A restorative approach asks everyone to be accountable to repair any damaged relationship, where the group works together to heal and transform itself.  When conflicts occur, parents were encouraged to ask "What happened?  Who has been impacted?  What needs to happen to make things right between everyone again?"  The difference between these two approaches is profound.

     Then, instead of quickly imposing an adult-generated solution when siblings or friends squabble, parents can coach children to work through collaborative problem-solving steps.  A stop light visual was used to emphasize the progression of stages in resolving conflicts collaboratively.  

     RED LIGHT:  Stop the interaction.  Stop talking.  Stop acting.  Encourage kids to take a break and de-escalate their emotional reactions.  Children who have practiced calming strategies like deep breathing, drawing, journaling, or outdoor exercise can more easily find healthy ways to re-integrate their brains when they are upset.  "While growing up, we were taught to give each other space to cool down, then revisit the issue later," remembered one mom, because no one can creatively solve a problem when they are elevated.

     YELLOW LIGHT:  Parents can then coach each child to tell their side of the story cautiously and thoughtfully.  Help children to restrain their natural tendency to blame and attack the other person by reframing their story into an I-statement.  "Tell them how you are feeling, what happened that upset you, what you were thinking, and what you need to feel better."  Because it is so hard to listen to another person's perspective, families often use a talking piece to designate who gets to speak while the others work to listen.  

     During conflicts, seek first to understand.  Children can be coached to reflect what they heard the other child say before they try to defend themselves.  "Tell them what you heard them say.  How are they feeling?  What upset them?  What do THEY need?"  Offer children the reflective listening skills of repeating, reframing, asking curious questions, and seeking clarity before they share their own experience.  Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication, offers extensive support for families who find that their communication style often escalates, rather than deescalates, a conflict situation.  

     Once all parties have felt heard and understood, state the mutual problem that needs to be jointly solved.  Ask the children, "What ideas do you have for addressing this?  Children need practice generating an array of practical, silly, and thoughtful solutions to any situation.  After brainstorming, ideas can be evaluated for whether they are safe, respectful, and fair to everyone.

     GREEN LIGHT:  Agree to a solution that works for everyone and try it out.  See if there are amends that still need to be made which can return the relationship to a secure state.  "Does anyone need a hug, a handshake, a genuine apology, a chance to do something nice for each other?"  Ask children what they each need to feel better.

     Parents readily admitted that they didn't necessarily learn healthy approaches to conflict when they were growing up.  "I just learned to appease others to defuse the situation," said one mom.  "We just yelled at each other and then forgot about it," said another.  "I learned that silence doesn't make problems disappear," mentioned one parent.  One dad was grateful that he was taught "if you lose your temper, you can always circle back later and say you are sorry."  Practicing a "do over" works wonders to restore the relationship.

     Using a weekly family meeting to discuss and solve problems helps to develop the above-mentioned skills in a child's repertoire of relationship tools.   For practice, parents playfully brainstormed how to solve one of the ongoing problems in many homes -- how to get out of the door on time each morning.  Some chose to bribe their children to get ready; others rely on the natural consequence of the kids going to school with their pajamas on.  But other creative ideas also emerged:  Gently wake up your child with a back rub, work together to pre-pack lunches the night before, have children pick out their clothes the night before and lay out a fake child on the floor made out of their selections.  These ideas brought smiles to the faces of parents who regularly face frustration and stress in the early morning hours.  Imagine the power of generating these ideas along with your child.  Relationships can be restored when we know how to problem solve together.  


     Before we have kids, none of us really thinks of learning about parenting.  And after we have kids, who has the time?  And yet, we often want to give our children tools that we didn't learn as a child.  Set your child up for success next year as TEENS, Inc and Mountain Strong Families will offer eight workshops for mountain parents.  Until then, the Mountain Strong Families Facebook page offers a chance to interact with other parents about parenting issues.  It is full of articles from a positive parenting perspective ~  an approach that helps your child feel seen, soothed, safe, and secure.  For more information, contact 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Helping Children Feel Safe



      Throughout the Mountain Strong Families Series hosted by TEENS, Inc, parents are learning about the latest brain research by Dr. Dan Siegel (conveyed in No Drama Discipline).  His research found that children need four things to become whole human beings and thrive in this world ~ to feel Seen, Soothed, Safe, and Secure.  At the April workshop, parents gathered to discuss how to help their child process the recent tragedy in Boulder and feel safe on a daily basis.  

     In general, psychologists recommend avoiding the topic of violent tragedies if your child is under eight years old, unless they hear about the incident from friends, adult conversations, or the news.  Here are some valuable tips for parents who want to be the ones to help their child process fearful things and make sense of their world:

     Find ways to grieve and work out your feelings before discussing the incident with your child.  You need to be their sturdy rock when the world can feel unstable.  Then prepare for the conversation by thinking of a simple one-sentence storyline that summarizes what happened.  Stop and really think about what beliefs, values, and emotions you want your child to glean from this tragic event.  Hone your message because it will become their takeaway.  Consider whether you want to tell your child that there are bad people or that sometimes people commit harmful acts.  Will you suggest that your child always be on their guard or that they should always be compassionate?  Are you tapping into their sense of helplessness or are you helping your child be solution-oriented in what you say?

     Shield children under eight from the news.  The visuals will be extremely difficult for them to process.  Before sharing your storyline, first ask what they have heard.  See what questions they have.  Listen to how your child is feeling.  Talk about emotions, not just details.  Help your child notice all the helpers who stepped up during and after this tragedy.  This focus reassures your child that even in dark times, there is light, hope, and love in our world.  

     With middle and high schoolers, go beyond what happened to address cause and effect thinking.  Help empower your child to actively work on solutions to this problem.  Ask "What would you like to do?   What can we do together?"  Help your child move from feeling like everything happens to them to realizing they can be agents of social change.  

     Family rules, limits, routines, and rituals also create a sense of order and predictability in a child's life.  But if we want children to internalize our values and learn positive social skills, they have to feel safe with us.  Kids may comply to our directives out of fear when we threaten and yell, but they will lack the self-control and decision-making skills to do right when adults aren't present.  Or, kids may continue to be impulsive and disrespectful if we have not provided them with clear boundaries and structures in their life.


     The key is to be empathetic while offering clear behavioral boundaries.  Even then, it is normal for kids to not comply with our requests a third of the time.  But parents can up our chances for cooperation by allowing for and validating our child's emotional reaction when they don't like our rule.  We can also create safety by being aware of our nonverbal communication.  Children feel safer when we get down at their eye level.  Cooperation is more likely when we purposely calm our tone of voice, soften our body, and decrease the intensity and volume with which we are conveying displeasure with their behavior.

     By responding with empathy and safety, we are wiring our child's brain to expect that their needs will be met (but not necessarily their wishes), so there is no reason not to cooperate with limits, i.e.  "
Let's find a way for you to throw somewhere else since we don't throw balls in the house.

     Here are some specific strategies for placing kind but firm limits on our children:  

     a.  Give transition time.  For instance, "What page are you on?  Ok, finish that page and then set the table.  We are ready to eat." 

     bUse few words instead of lecturing. 

     c.  Use a positive redirect.  Explicitly state what the child CAN do instead of using a stop command to tell them what they can't do, i.e. "Tell your sister, 'It's my turn now' instead of saying "Don't grab!"  Children often lack the skills to do things another way unless we explicitly teach positive social skills. 

     d. Use when/then phrasing instead of nagging, threatening or bribing your children. For instance, "The sooner X happens; the sooner Y can happen."  

     e.  Offer acceptable choices, i.e. "It's time to clean up.  What song should we clean up to? "  Or, "It's time to leave.  Do you want to wear your sandals or your shoes today?"  

     f.  Involve your child's thinking brain in problem-solving with you, i.e. "I've noticed we have a lot of fights about getting ready for school on time.  What ideas do you have to make this go better?"

     Expect resistance from your children when you set limits, but ignore their rude or personal attacks.  Children may spew out the most disrespectful thing they can think of, so you'll know how upset they are.  Rather than reacting to their words or attitude, just say, "Ouch.  You must be upset to say that to me.  Tell me why you're yelling.  I'm listening."   Validate it when your child finds it hard to follow a limit, i.e. "I can see this is really hard for you."  There really is an effective way to stop being ignored or consistently challenged.  These strategies create order and stability in our homes through empathetically enforcing clear boundaries.  

     Finally, parents learned that it takes 25-plus years for children's brains to learn how to organize their time, possessions, and responsibilities.  One of the best ways to support a child's higher order thinking abilities is to create a visual chart (pictures plus verbs) for challenging activities.  Weekday mornings, homework time, and getting kids to bed seem to be some of the most stressful moments of a family's day.  Instead of constantly being frustrated with the child's inability to complete a task, figure out how to break tasks into smaller steps, place them in logical order, build independence, and help children organize and manage their time and materials with a routine chart and a launching pad by the door.  Instead of constantly repeating yourself, point to the chart, saying, "You finished breakfast, what's next on your list?"

     Young children thrive when there are consistent morning and bedtime routines; teenagers blossom when they can follow a list for completing and turning in assignments.  Families can also practice rituals (gratitude at meal time, reassuring goodnight songs and stories, a fun re-unification practice after school, or a morning snuggle before rising) that produce predictability, meaning and connection for everyone in the family.  For more ideas, join the Mountain Strong Families Facebook group.

     When there isn't much structure at home, children feel overwhelmed and tense.  Their behavior will indicate that everything feels out of control.  On the other hand, when authority figures impose their will and rigid rules on a child, the child's behavior becomes defensive and rebellious.  In contrast, with empathetic limit setting, routines and rituals, a child feels safe, and their thinking and feeling brain are able to integrate.  Life has a flow.  They are both energetic and at ease; able to handle whatever challenges come their way.

     "We really value these sessions," said one couple, "and it's so beautiful to know other local families are collectively joining together to raise amazing human beings."   

     "I've taken several training sessions from Conscious Discipline that are similar to the Mountain Strong Families Series, but they are very costly," noted another parent.  Thankfully, "this free series is a community resource for all parents," she added.   For more information about this annual Series, contact 


Monday, March 15, 2021

We begin to heal the moment we feel understood


          At the March session of Mountain Strong Families, one parent acknowledged that parenting their children often felt overwhelming.  A chorus of other Mountain Strong parents chimed in with these empathetic responses:

     I know parenting is so difficult, we all struggle, we're all in the same boat.

     What you are doing is really hard and takes patience, effort and focus.  It's not easy, but you're still doing it.

     Give yourself some grace.  Have you made time to care for yourself?  Can I watch your kids for a bit so you can take care of your needs?   What else can I do so you can breathe and take a minute to yourself?  

     Tell me more about what is going on for you.  You are not alone.  We're here for you.

And so, we gathered once more to strengthen our family relationships and learn practical strategies for raising emotionally intelligent children, surrounded by a group of parents willing to listen and learn together.  

    Local therapist, Kimberly Bryant, explained how a child's developing brain naturally "flips its lid" as our children learn how to express themselves and eventually integrate their thinking brain with their emotional limbic system.  We now know it takes 25+ yeas for the thoughtful, compassionate part of our brains to fully develop.  Our role as parents is to serve as the child's prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) -- helping them to articulate, regulate, and pause to think through choices.

     To this end, parents were encouraged to develop their child's awareness of emotions by intentionally expanding their emotional vocabulary.  If everything that happens to your child makes them "mad", then they don't realize the subtle differences between frustration, disappointment, grief, loneliness, hurt, nervousness, and embarrassment.  The Inuit have 50 different words for varieties of snow.  Our children should know that many words for the different emotions they feel.  We can play feelings charades, discuss character's emotions in books and movies, and use lots of big emotion words with children.  Does your child understand what it means to feel discombobulated or disoriented?  

     We can also help connect our child's emotions to the physical sensations produced by their body.  Ask your child, "what is your body (heart, breath, energy level) telling you right now?"  Do you notice extra energy in your body (anxiety)?  Are your jaw, arms or fists tightening up (anger)?  Do your feet feel like dancing (excited)?  Does your heart feel warm and full (loved or content)?

     We can help our child understand that underneath every emotion is a need.  Uncomfortable emotions are caused by unmet needs (or the perception there of).  Comfortable emotions occur when our needs are met.  When children become irritable and uncooperative, we learned to H.A.L.T. and figure out if our child is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  Using preventative measures (snacks, down time, hugs, adequate sleep, support) and addressing these barriers will significantly shift a child's mood.  

     To develop children's emotional awareness, we need to model what this looks like in our own lives.  At different times throughout our day, we can fill in this sentence and share it with our children:

     "When I notice my body is (sensation)... I realize I'm feeling (emotion)... and I need to (coping strategy or relish the feeling)..."

     Children regularly lash out, act out, and have big emotions when their brains are dysregulated; automatically triggering their fight or flight reactions.  We parents can help rewire their brains from a default reactive mode into a regulated state by responding with empathy to their harsh words and difficult behaviors.  Our children will start to heal (and integrate their brains) the moment they feel understood.  The way we respond to our children either helps to regulate, escalate, or stuff what they are feeling inside.  We practiced ~

     a.  helping children feel safe by communicating with a calm tone, body language, and intensity. (Getting down to their eye level instead of towering over a child makes a huge difference.)

     b.  listening to and validating their level of emotion and uncovering the feelings behind their words and actions.

     c.  responding with empathy before addressing the behavior or trying to teach a lesson.  "It sounds like you're feeling ____ when ____ because you want/need ____.  Is that right?"

     One mom had an "ah-hah" moment when she realized how angry she got when her older child was rough with the younger sibling.  After using the steps above, she realized her oldest was feeling lonely and neglected.  This insight led to a very different solution to the situation.

     Finally, after children begin to develop an awareness of their emotions and needs, they may still need our assistance practicing how to pause to let their thinking brain integrate with their feelings.  None of us can think clearly, learn from our mistakes, or problem solve until we have regulated ourselves.  Traditionally, parents have sent kids into timeout to calm down, but this approach can leave kids feeling abandoned at exactly the moment they need us to teach them how to de-escalate their strong reactions.

     Does your child know which healthy calming strategies work for them while in different emotional states?  "My 7-year-old son refuses to breathe deeply when I ask him to," said one mom.  While mindful deep breathing techniques have been proven to get us out of our dysregulated state, drawing, journaling, movement, stress balls, using our senses, being in nature, music or puzzles may be your child's go-to when upset.  Practice these strategies when your child is calm and then encourage your child to use them when they realize they are about to "flip their lid."

     If we can help our children feel like their inner world of emotions and needs are seen, that it is safe to express any emotion, and help them practice healthy strategies for integrating their brain and regaining control, we will have prepared them to take on life's challenges with strength and resilience.  

     As parents we can help our kids make sense of their lives and memories with a story that retells their emotions from the day in a warm and nonjudgmental way.  My dad used to tell me and my siblings "The Adventures of Hoot, Scoot, and Annie" as he tucked us in.  Other families take turns sharing their "rose and thorn" moments from the day at dinner time.  This is a perfect opportunity to respond with empathy to these tender and joyful disclosures.  For we all just want to be seen, soothed, and feel safe sharing who we are.

     For more information about the Mountain Strong Families Series, contact 


Monday, February 22, 2021

Nurturing Ourselves on our Parenting Journey


      During the first parenting session of “Raising Whole Human Beings”, facilitator Angie Sands addressed how to meaningfully connect with our children in order to forge a strong attachment between parent and child.  “After spending the last month focusing on child-directed play and being totally present with my child for 10 -15 minutes each day, my child is absolutely thrilled! He now asks for ‘special time’ with me nearly every day,”  one dad reflected.  A mom who has been attending the Mountain Strong Families parenting series added, “I feel more in-tune with my kids.  I’m noticing more joy and less family conflict.”  If we want to make sure our children have strong social emotional skills, we need to start with building a rock solid foundation with them, despite our busy schedules.  Finding concrete ways to connect on a daily basis produces kids who are resilient in the long run and more likely to listen to us in the short term, says Dr. Dan Siegel, author of “No Drama Discipline."

     The second Mountain Strong Families session, on February 18th, focused on the wellbeing of parents.  Siegel’s extensive research has shown that the #1 predictor of a child “turning out well” is their caretaker’s self understanding.  Three topics were addressed to assist parents in developing a greater understanding of their triggers, their ability to self regulate, and identifying any unmet needs that get in the way of being their best selves.  


 Parents began by listing behaviors that make them angry with their children.  Everything from  “does the opposite of what I ask”, “talks back”, yells “I hate you!”, to “he ignores me” or “the kids constantly fight” were mentioned as ongoing irritants that can cause parents to see “red”.  We were encouraged to chase the reasons behind our anger.  What childhood experiences and emotional wounds bubble up when we interact with our own children?  Did we have to stuff our hurt feelings as a child?  How are feelings of rejection, disrespect, or shame impacting us today as we raise our kids?  


     Brene’ Brown, a researcher studying feelings of shame, has uncovered adult behaviors that seem to derive from our own painful experiences in childhood.  “We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history,” she learned.  We may need to work through some old memories, and quit trying to numb our pain, in order to show up the way we want to be with our kids.  Diana Underhill, from Tadasana Mountain Yoga studio, led the group in an exercise to check-in with our bodies in order to become aware of emotional baggage we may be carrying.  A list of local counseling resources was also offered to parents wanting to explore more about themselves.  

     Next, parents practiced three helpful steps for managing their anger when they get frustrated with their child’s behavior.  The first step, when we initially begin to get upset with our child, is to (1) stop talking or physically reacting, drop your agenda (i.e. to-do list, schedule, expectation or demand), and take five deep belly breaths to turn off the alarm system in your brain.  Secondly, (2) repeat a mantra you have memorized that helps reframe how you are thinking about the situation at hand.  Parents chose phrases like ~  “My child isn’t giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time” or “Don’t take it personally.”  The third step involves (3) doing an active movement that releases the extra angry or anxious energy in our body.  Our brain is urgently pushing us to react, but we can take that energy and quickly dance, push against a wall, do jumping jacks, or walk out of the room and splash cold water on our face to practice the pause before responding to our children.  “I like these concrete ideas for how to take a moment so I can respond instead of having a knee jerk reaction to my children," commented one mom. Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parenting, Happy Kids, believes practicing these daily anger management strategies for 12 weeks will build the new neural pathways for calmly responding to our children instead of yelling at them.

     Finally, parents explored the variety of human needs we each require to have a sense of wellbeing.  We can often feel irritable, resentful and exhausted while caring for our children because some of our basic needs are not being attended to.  Parents completed a “love languages” quiz to determine their preferences for feeling loved.  Consider how you can use the gestures that make you feel loved to provide care for yourself rather than relying on someone else.  Parents took their favorite love languages and created a self care action plan that illuminated their desire for either more affirmations, acts of service, gifts of love, loving touch, or desire for more quality time.  Parents brainstormed specific activities that would fulfill their intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional, social, and creative needs.  They were also encouraged to write themselves a daily permission slip to take something off of their to-do list.  Every day, I’ll do these two things (______ and ______) to nurture myself.  Every week, I’ll schedule in time to do this:_____.  At least once a month, I’ll make plans to ______.  Parents took time to intentionally plan how to show themselves more self compassion.  

     Ignoring our own needs, or waiting for someone else to fulfill them, does not produce caregivers who feel whole.  Doing errands and taking a shower should not be considered self-care.  They are necessary chores and grooming activities.  Instead, parents selected activities that really fill their cup and bring joy or healthy relaxation into their lives.  Even if you don’t have to unpack too many painful childhood memories, or need to constrain your urge to yell, we all need to prioritize our own wellbeing.  Scheduling time to foster hobbies, be playful, move our bodies, and nourish our souls can’t wait until the kids are grown.  

     “When I first met Laura, she seemed grounded and happy.  After years of parenting her young son, she was frustrated and feeling trapped.  We talked about what she loves to do and how she could schedule those things into her life.  Horseback riding brings her joy.  She made plans to ride twice per month and it has changed her perspective on mountain living during a pandemic.  She now believes she can once again bring her best self into her parenting.  Taking care of Laura is one way she also takes care of her son.”   


    The next Mountain Strong Families session on March 11th will cover how to “Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children.”  You can learn more about this positive parenting approach by joining the Mountain Strong Families Facebook Group. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child


      Has your child screamed at you recently or called their sibling names?   Have you experienced your child melting down as soon as they get home from school?  Is your child often irritable and anxious?  They may just need some help knowing how to manage uncomfortable emotions.  

     Kristina Scully, from, summarizes strategies that our children need to know to get through life.  Coping skills are the supports that help children and young adults manage tough emotions.  Kids are still learning how to manage their emotions.  They are constantly deciding which strategies help them soothe themselves.  If we want kids to use healthy coping strategies (instead of zoning out on screens, numbing themselves with food or substances, or stuffing their feelings), we have to teach them how.

     Research shows that just teaching healthy strategies once is not enough.  In order for children to effectively use these skills and tools to calm down when they are upset, they need to commit them to memory.  Practicing skills before upset feelings occur helps to create the neural pathways which support the child when they will need it most.  Here are 16 different healthy strategies that allow children to feel, express, and regulate their emotions:  

1 Mindful Morning Moment.  Use this simple 5,4,3,2,1 mindfulness exercise to start off the day with your child.  Or, use it at any time of day when your child is beginning to get upset.  

2.  Create a Coping Strategies Menu.  Help kids understand their options for coping skills.  Use this coping strategies list to help kids brainstorm their own list.  Try out a bunch of the strategies to see which ones work the best for different emotions and for each person.  

3.  Utilize Nature to Balance the Nervous System.  Spend time outside (or just gaze out the window) to observe the beauty of nature.  Watching wildlife can reduce stress, improve focus, and promote feelings of calm.  Or, help your child use their senses in the outdoors ~  smell a pine cone or the fresh mountain air, sift dirt or rub tree bark, listen silently to the birds, leaves, or wind.  If you can't get outside to watch wildlife, the next best thing is watching a live cam of any animal your child adores.  


4.  Do regular Emotion Check-Ins with your child.  Teach children how to PAUSE, ask how they feel, identify emotions, and move forward by identifying underlying needs.  

5.  Color or Draw.  Children and adults find calmness by coloring or drawing a picture of what they are feeling inside. 

6. Practice Mindfulness.  Activities like slow, deep breathing and guided visualizations  help kids feel calm and in control.  By focusing on the inhales and exhales of our breath, it can help restore calm and focus. Mindful breathing is one of the best techniques to try.  Utilize these "breathing boards" to trace while slowing your breath, or give some of these calming apps a try ~  Breathe2Relax,  Calm, Personal Zen, and Pacifica.


7.  Create Self Affirmations. Grab a notebook or just a piece of paper and help your child write out compliments about themselves. This helps a child focus on the positives while clearing the mind.

8.  Listen (or dance) to Music.   Listening to music is a highly individualized strategy. Try different types of music and take note of how you feel.  Develop a playlist with your child that helps them feel through their sadness, anger, disappointment, worry.

9.  Read for pleasure.  Reading for pleasure can help us feel cozy and calm. Help find the right reading material for your child; this can be anything from a picture book about emotions or friendship issues to a magazine, or a classic chapter book they are interested in.

10.  Exercise, Move, or do Yoga Stretches.  When we feel either angry or stressed, we need to move the extra energy out of our bodies in order to feel calmer.  Shooting some hoops, walking, jumping jacks and pushups all balance our nervous system.  Research has shown that practicing yoga increases levels of GABA in our bodies. This amino acid fights against feelings of depression while creating feelings of calm. There are many videos (like this Yoga for kids Youtube channel) to help you get started.

11. Write it out.  Writing in a journal helps get thoughts out in a safe way. Sometimes, just by writing thoughts out, you can learn to make sense of things in a different way.  Buy or create a cool journal that your child can use to process their feelings regularly.


12.  Build Something to Show How you Feel.  Use blocks, Legos, or any other tool to build something. Kids can create freely, or build something based on how they are feeling.

13. Use a Fidget.  Fidgets are tools that can help calm the body and mind. While they are fun, it’s important to first teach that these are not toys when we use them to get calm – instead, they are tools. Some favorites includes putty, kinetic sand, liquid timers, and stress balls.

14. Use Brainteasers, Riddles, or Jokes.  Brainteasers and riddles encourage us to think outside the box and challenge our minds. This can be a healthy brain break to reduce stress and refocus the brain in a positive way.  Laughing helps trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, sending out feel-good vibes and reducing stress. Try watching “try not to laugh” videos together or make up your own joke book.

15. Talk it Out.  For some people, talking can be a healthy reset when they are feeling sad or stressed. Talking about topics unrelated to that actual problem can actually be a great way to start because it serves as a quick distraction.  Or, having someone listen to how you are feeling and what you are needing can move mountains as they empathize with and validate your inner world.  

16.  Make a Gratitude List.   Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools when you are feeling down. Try making a list of something you’re thankful for with every letter of the alphabet. 

     The above mentioned strategies demonstrate that there are a variety of coping tools which can balance our nervous system and help us feel calmer and ready to fix whatever is bugging us.  Practicing the six general types of strategies will help your child know which ones work the best for them:

a.  Using your senses indoors or in nature.
b.  Deep breathing and mindfulness practices.
c.  Right brain musical and artistic exercises.
d.  Finding the words to express yourself.
e.  Moving the chemical energy out of your body.
f.   Distracting yourself temporarily with puzzles, jokes, laughter.  

     Consider setting up a cozy Calming Corner somewhere in your home.  Along with your child, find helpful objects and tools to place in the corner.  Help your child know when to advocate for themselves to use these tools when they are feeling upset.  This is not a "time out" space where children are punished for having feelings.  This is a place to express their inner world of emotions, thoughts, and needs and to regulate themselves (or co-regulate with you) in preparation for working through their challenges.