Breaking Old Patterns in Parenting

I knew I wanted to be a parent from the time I was very young. I dreamed of having a big family and being a full-time mom. I didn’t really have aspirations to be a perfect wife or a perfect mom, I just knew that I wanted to make sure my kids knew that they were the most important thing in my life and that they were my priority. And then I had my first child. I remember the first night we were home; I was up in the middle of the night feeding him, and I thought “What was I thinking? I can’t do this!” I had never experienced a love as intense before as I did when I was sitting up in the middle of the night feeding that perfect little baby. I was terrified. My heart literally hurt because it was so full and the feelings were so intense. All of the injuries from my childhood hit me hard, and I felt like I didn’t even come remotely close to having the tools I needed to be a good parent to this child. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I felt so inadequate that for a few minutes I thought that it would have been better for my baby if I had given him up for adoption.

The good news is that we can come from pretty messed up childhoods and still turn out to be pretty darn good parents. According to Daniel Siegel, M.D., it’s more about how we make sense of our childhood that impacts our parenting than the things that actually happened to us. Let’s face it, few people come from an ideal childhood. Many adults grew up with very little adult interaction because both parents were forced to work to make ends meet. Parents just weren’t able to be home when their kids get home from school with a plate of cookies and lots of time to talk about their day. Many adults had childhoods disrupted by divorce, and either ended up with an absent parent, or they were shared between both parents, shuttled back and forth between 2 houses. There are people who grew up in foster care, people who were sexually abused, and people who were yelled and called stupid their whole lives. These stories could belong to any one of us who become parents. These kinds of stories and histories can make us feel inadequate and unprepared to be parents. They can make us feel like even if we do our best, we will still end up falling short and make the same mistakes that our parents did with us.

The trick is not in having the perfect role models or the ideal childhood, nor is it in working through every single one of our issues in therapy before we can become parents. The most important thing is understanding and finding a way to make sense of our childhood. Therapy can be very helpful in this process, so can a wise friend, a religious leader or perhaps a meditation teacher. By reflecting on and bringing light to our histories, we can understand them in a new way, and hopefully stop the cycle of blindly repeating past mistakes. By understanding our own emotional experiences, we are better able to understand our children’s emotional experiences, and in turn create a healthy attachment with them.

Making sense of our experiences involves reflecting on our past with kindness and understanding. It involves identifying emotions that we had, and how those emotions show up in the present. When we examine our own stories, we find ways that we are triggered, and ways that we respond out of habit. Seeing these things clearly allows us to identify where we might still be stuck in these old patterns without even realizing it. It allows us more choice in how we respond to our children rather than reacting out of conditioned patterns. So having a less than ideal childhood does not mean you will automatically become a terrible parent. Take some time, work with someone, and reflect on your own story. Then you can begin writing the rest of your story with more freedom, more choice, and more awareness. The story of you as a parent, does not have to be a repeat of you as a child, not unless you want it to be.


woman sipping colorful smoothieHave you ever watched your kid have a meltdown at exactly the wrong time in exactly the wrong place? Of course you have! If you have not, then you probably are not a parent. I don’t care if you are the best parent on the planet, your child will behave badly at some point in time, at many points in time.
I would like to offer you one piece to the puzzle of kids’ behavior. Kids tend to be very sensitive to rises and drops in blood sugar. I say this not from a medical perspective, I say this from the mother of 5 prospective and a counselor of children perspective. So please do not take what I say as medical advice, and always check with your doctor if you have questions or concerns or before making any major changes in your child’s diet.
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get back to kids and blood sugar levels. You have probably seen this in your own home – you give your kids a soda or a high sugar snack and they get really energized, and then they get cranky and want more. They have had a spike in blood sugar, which gives them a bunch of energy, but then instead of returning to normal they often crash lower than normal, making them cranky.
The other thing that I often see is kids getting too hungry and parents miss that cue, so kids get grumpy, defiant, sluggish and whiney and the parents think it is just bad behavior. One of the first things I always ask my kids when they start to show signs of crankiness, is “when is the last time you ate and what did you eat” (this is of course if I don’t know the answer). More often than not, the kids have not eaten for a couple of hours, or the last thing they had was mostly carbohydrate with little or no protein.
As parents, and maybe even as a society in general, we vastly underestimate the importance of regular snacks and the quality of those snacks and how they impact behavior. I see so many people get stuck on the idea of 3 meals/day with no snack in between. Our bodies typically don’t function best that way, especially kids’ bodies. Dips and spikes in blood sugar equal dips and spikes in behavior. I know that I am absolutely that way. I have often told people “don’t talk to me until I get something to eat”, because I get terribly cranky when my blood sugar drops. In fact, my body is similar to many kids in that I don’t usually feel the pangs of hunger, I feel grumpy and moody which means I need to eat. Kids don’t often recognize hunger, but as parents we recognize the grumpy and moody in our kids!
Over the years, I have found it to be immensely helpful to really pay attention to my kids’ food, and in turn I see a dramatic improvement in their behavior. Don’t watch the clock and tell them they can’t possibly be hungry because they just ate. That is the silliest thing I have ever heard. We are hungry when we are hungry. Sometimes our metabolism is faster and sometimes slower depending on other factors that are going on. So, when you see your child’s behavior deteriorating, before punishing them think about if low blood sugar might be the culprit.
Make sure to combine protein with carbs to balance out the spikes and drops in blood sugar. Carbs are the easy part – fruit, crackers, chips, the kinds of things we often use for snacks. Of course, some of these are healthier than others, but I am a realist! Do the best you can to keep snacks as healthy as you can, but as soon as you say “we will never eat this”, or “we will only eat these foods”, you are setting yourself up for trouble. Protein can require a little more thoughtfulness. I like to have several choices on hand when possible – things like string cheese, yogurt, almonds, pumpkin seeds, jerky, or some type of protein drink. Only keep things in the house that you are ok with your kids eating, that way there is not a power struggle over keeping kids away from foods you don’t want them to eat. I keep things like seeds, nuts and fruit within easy reach on the countertop, and let the kids graze on them as much as they would like. I also have a bag or two of chips in the pantry, and let the kids know that they are welcome to those snacks as well, but when they are gone there won’t be any more until next week when I get to the market again. Funny, they seem to be choosing the less healthy things less and less the more they get used to having healthy things in their bodies.
Just try it out – try making sure your kids eat every 2-3 hours. Make sure they get a good dose of healthy protein in the morning before they head out for school. If they start getting cranky, try a little snack first before punishment (even if you think they can’t possibly be hungry). Try it out for yourself as well and see if your moods are more stable. It is amazing how our moods and behavior can be improved by improving our diets!
Call or email me to schedule an appointment for personalized coaching on parenting.
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              I see many parents and their children in my practice.  They come to therapy for a variety of different reasons, but a common theme I see is the need for a sense of humor when it comes to parenting.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what a serious responsibility it is to raise a kid, I have 5 of my own.  There is so much pressure to have kids that are well behaved, smart, polite, athletic, artistic, spiritual, creative, etc.  And when we don’t have the perfect child, we know as parents that it is somehow our fault no matter what anyone says.  Or maybe I am the only one who feels the pressure?

              Something that has helped me immensely is to lighten up and have a sense of humor, both with myself and with my kids.  Over and over I will have a kid in my office who does something that the parent finds annoying, and I can smile or even laugh.  It’s easy for me right, they are not my kid!  That’s the point.  We need to step back sometimes and not take everything so personally and seriously.  For example, next time your kids has a perfectly illogical reason for why he/she just couldn’t get their room cleaned, sit back and admire their creativity rather than instantly getting angry.  Smile, laugh even!  Come on, you know it’s funny!  They are not going to turn out to be a criminal because you found humor in some of their crazy excuses for not getting things done or why something happened.  They still need to get their room cleaned, obviously, but compliment them on their entertaining creativity and thank them for making you smile.

              When one of my kids was young, he used to tell me he couldn’t eat broccoli because it “skinnied his chin”.  I could not get any further explanation as to what he meant or where he got that idea, so I just went with it.  I told him that of course he shouldn’t eat broccoli then because that could be a problem if his chin kept getting skinnier.  No fight, no trying to convince him otherwise, and no tears.  Any time I served broccoli I just didn’t give him any, and the family all knew that for whatever reason it was a problem for him, and we just let it be ok.  It kind of became a family joke which he took part in and we all could see the humor while still respecting that this was important to him.

              Several years later when I made broccoli he decided to try some totally on his own.  He ate some, and decided it was not so bad – not great like chocolate, but not bad.  We finally realized that when I put lemon juice on the broccoli, he was trying to explain that it STUNG his chin he just didn’t have the right word!  That is one of our great family jokes and one of his favorite stories that we love to remember and laugh about now! 

              My point is, some things just aren’t worth the fight, and can bring some humor into your lives.  I could have chosen to believe that he was being rigid and defiant and insisted he eat the broccoli because I am the mom and I said so, which would have made all of us miserable.  I knew that something real was happening for him even if I didn’t understand it, and I just let it be ok. 

              Take a step back; relax.  You are not going to fail your child if you loosen up a little bit and laugh at some of the craziness that goes on in your house.  Save the fight for another day; for something worth fighting over.  For today, see if you can choose laughter.


Pregnancy is a big deal!  I remember being so worried with my first pregnancy – was I eating the right things, was I getting enough exercise, should I be playing classical music next to my ever-growing belly?  I quit drinking any caffeine, which I have to say was not pleasant!  I tried to eat vegetables – and if you knew me you would know what a challenge that was!  I was afraid to swear anymore in case my baby could hear me and one of his first words would not be mommy, but something with 4 letters!  Let’s face it, we get a little crazy when we realize we are starting at ground zero growing a human being inside of us!

There is a lot of advice for your physical health during pregnancy, but not so much for your emotional health and that of your baby.  Here are a few suggestions for you to maintain or regain a sense of emotional well-being during your pregnancy.

o   Pick several times during the day to do some mindful breathing.  Take 4 deep breaths, counting to 4 each time you breathe in and count to 4 each time you exhale.  Do this when things are going well, which will make it easier to do when things are challenging.  Science shows that this kind of breathing has numerous benefits, one of which is helping us come back to our center.

o   When you begin to feel stressed, take a few seconds and remind yourself that you are safe, that you have shelter from the weather, that you have access to food and water, and that you are not under physical threat.  When you do this, it helps calm the part of your brain that goes into fight or flight mode, and then you have access to the calmer, more thoughtful, more compassionate part of your brain.  This way you are not as likely to get caught in panic, and you can think things through easier.

o   When you get stressed, depressed, anxious, angry, etc., start giving names to your feelings.  Just by naming what you are feeling you are helping yourself to calm.  Do not attach any judgment to the feelings, just recognize them by naming them, and perhaps whisper a soft “ok”.  You will be amazed how helpful it is to recognize and not reject what you are feeling.  Then your feelings don’t have to keep getting bigger in order to get noticed.

These may not seem like big, earth shattering ideas, and might even seem deceptively simple.  Don’t let that fool you.  These strategies are based on volumes of scientific research.  Sometimes the seemingly simple things are the most effective.  Try them, I would love to hear about your experience.





There’s nothing like raising a teenager to make you doubt your sanity, your intelligence, even your self-worth! It is amazing to me how 1 person can have such a profound impact on our sense of who we are. All of a sudden I find myself wondering if I really do know anything about life. Have I really even lived at all? Do I really know what I know? How could I have survived so long being so stupid?

Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same child you rocked and fed and adored, the same child you played ball with, that you made cookies with, whom you read countless books to, that you stayed up with all night when they had a fever. But somehow all of those loving feelings fly right out the window when the teenager wakes up in the morning (or should we say afternoon), and is furious with you because he thinks you lost his favorite shirt in the laundry. But that is nothing compared to his wrath if you should bring up his grades or his study habits at the wrong moment. It is as if you never went to school, never took a test, and you don’t know a thing about him!

To be fair, not all teenagers are this bad, and most of them are only this bad sometimes. It’s the sometimes that are so tough to deal with. It’s a lot easier to deal with a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. They don’t have the vocabulary and the knowledge that the teenager does. Teenagers are smart. They know where our buttons are and how hard to push them. They have learned a little bit about the world and throw out just enough information that make us doubt our own argument and our own perspective. And then we either fight back and get into a raging argument that goes nowhere, or we run to the closet in tears, hoping no one else sees us.

There have been a couple of things that have helped me through this difficult stage. The first thing is to remember that this is exactly what teenagers are supposed to do. They are supposed to strike out on their own, to find their own voice, to pull away and become more independent. It helps me to feel one step ahead if I can say to myself “perfect, he was supposed to disagree with me. He is right on track”. Thinking those things also helps me not get caught up in the content of what is being said, especially when he/she is attacking me where it hurts. Internally I have a voice that reminds me that my child is healthy and growing even though it is not pleasant on my end. When children are overly compliant and voice no opinions of their own, that’s when there is a problem. These are the kids who are more at risk to succumb to peer pressure and do things they don’t necessarily want to do because they have no practice at speaking up and having an opinion. When I remember this, it makes it easier to let my kids practice arguing with me. I know that this will help them find their own voice out in the world.

The other thing that has helped me is the mantra “they are not for or against me”. I know that sounds really simple, but it has been a lifesaver for me. So often I take things personally, as if a person, a situation or an event is either for me or against me. “The reason it rained is because someone didn’t want me to go to the lake today. The reason I didn’t get that job is because someone wanted me to learn a lesson.” Sound familiar? It’s the same with a teenager. “The reason he is yelling at me is because he hates me. The reason she tried alcohol is because she wanted me to look like a bad parent.” That line of thinking is a bunch of nonsense. It had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the teenager’s normal developmental stage. The teenager is not for me nor against me. She is for herself and finding out who she is as an individual.

I am not suggesting that anything really makes it easy going through this difficult stage, but keeping in mind that it is a normal stage, even a positive one, and to stop taking it so personal can help make it more bearable. There is another side. It will pass. Keep breathing. Cherish the moments of peace because they are there, sometimes we just forget to notice them.


Crossed legged outline meditation

A body scan is a very specific type of guided meditation, although you can do it on your own as well.  In this type of meditation, the instructor guides you to experience your entire body from head to toe, and to notice what each part feels like.  This type of meditation can be very useful in becoming more present and anchored in our bodies, and in noticing places that might need attention, but it can also be very triggering for people whose bodies have been violated.


            Ron Siegel describes the body scan as a concentration practice because it dictates where we put our attention.  During a non-guided meditation, we decide where to place our attention – the breath, sound, a mantra, etc.  During a body scan we are instructed to place our attention on different areas of our body.  Although similar, this is different than Edmund Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique.  Progressive relaxation involves tensing and relaxing muscles and is intended to promote relaxation.  The body scan does not involve the tensing and relaxing of muscles, and has the intended purpose of increasing mindfulness and awareness of the body but not necessarily relaxation.  If relaxation is a by-product of the body scan great, and if not, great. 

            The body scan can be particularly helpful when the mind is active and more prone to wandering than other times.  It is also helpful for new meditators who need help developing the muscle of concentration.  Siegal says that the body scan can help because the brain tends to stay more interested when we shift our attention to various parts of the body.

            The body scan can also be helpful in noticing physical symptoms that might need attention, and in noticing our emotional reaction to physical symptoms.  When we become more attuned to our bodies we notice shifts in sensations and we begin to notice which sensations normally shift and which ones might need medical attention. When we struggle with injury or pain, the body scan can help us notice our emotional response to the pain, and we can then learn how to relate to the pain more skillfully.

            John Kabat-Zinn uses the body scan in his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  The benefits, he says, are to help the nervous system rebalance itself by bringing awareness to the physical sensations of the body.  According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of meditation can increase our sense of balance and peace, it can reduce stress, and help us have a more positive state of mind.


            If reading the above description of the body scan did not make the hair on the back of your neck stand up at least a little I would be very surprised.  Usually the idea of being more present in, and more aware of your body makes survivors anxious and want to run the other way.  Why in the world would you want to be IN your body?

            When your body has been violated, it usually involves pain.  Sometimes excruciating pain.  The smartest, most helpful thing you could have done during the abuse was to dissociate, to shut down, to leave your body in some way.  Being abused is more than your body and mind can process.  Your brain literally has no way to make sense of what is happening, and so it is forced to leave the experience floating around in your head without filing it properly because there is nowhere to file it.  Your body does the same thing.  There is no way for your body to process the things it experiences during the abuse, and so it is forced to deal with it by trying to pretend it is not happening by shutting down.  It really is quite amazing how your body and mind can take you somewhere else or go into a foggy place so that you can somehow get up the next day and manage to function in the world as if nothing happened.  It is a brilliant strategy. 

            There are a couple of problems with this brilliant strategy however.  At some point the experience catches up with you.  For some, it catches up right away, and for some it can take years.  But it can’t stay hanging out in a black hole forever and at some point, you have nightmares, or body memories or other things that let you know it really happened and you must deal with it.

            The other problem is that keeping the experience in a black hole takes its toll on you.  It requires a lot of energy to keep pushing something away.  It can also cause physical complications like headaches, lowered immunity, autoimmune diseases, heart problems, etc.  Survivors often have trouble sleeping and struggle with intimate relationships.  So, while the strategy of staying out of your body works temporarily, it does not work for the long run.

            Knowing that staying out of your body does not work permanently, does not fix the issue of bristling at the thought of a body scan however.  Going thru each part of your body at the slow pace of a meditation can be excruciating.  Not literally excruciating, but it can seem like that.  Your body has not historically been a friendly place to be, so focusing on your body inch by inch very slowly just does not have much appeal for many survivors.  Especially staying focused for 30-60 minutes!

And yet, it has many benefits to offer, things that would be very helpful dealing with many of the problems survivors deal with.

            Just like taking on anything new that is difficult, it can be very helpful to keep in mind the reasons why you want to do a body scan.  And if WANT is too strong of a word, keep in mind the reasons you are willing to give it a shot.  Keeping motivations for the things we are doing at the front of our mind is always a good idea. 

            Prepare yourself.  In every body scan I have ever listened to, the instructor has always spoken in a very soft, slow voice.  For many, just this style of speaking can be triggering.  Having someone even talking about your body can be triggering.  Having someone directing you where to place your attention on your body can be triggering. 

For all of these reasons, consider recording your own body scan.  It is not hard to find a written transcript or an outline of one.  Find one that appeals to you, or just get the idea of what is involved in a typical body scan and write your own script.  I would suggest keeping it shorter than a full body scan to begin with – maybe 10 minutes.  If you don’t like the sound of your own voice, you could always enlist a friend or counselor to record it for you.  But even then, you need to direct the recording.  Tell them the volume and tone and pace you want them to have.  This is your creation so take your time and get it right.

Make several short recordings focusing on specific areas rather than trying to do the whole body all at once.  Start with the least triggering part of your body.  For some that might be feet and legs, for some it might be hands and arms, for others it might be neck and shoulders.  As you become more able to tolerate being in your body you can include parts of your body that are less comfortable and more triggering.  But make sure to include those parts when you are ready.  Those parts need healing just as much, if not more than the other parts. 

If you can only tolerate being in your body for a minute or two, that’s where you start.  There is no benefit to doing more than you can tolerate.  The aim is to be kind to yourself, not to traumatize yourself even more.  Remember that it is not your body’s fault that you were abused, and it deserves just as much compassion as any other part of you.  Bringing your attention to your body is a way of offering it compassion.  Our attention is one of the most loving things we have to offer to ourselves and others. 

Maybe when you first begin, the safest place is your head.  Great, start there.  Notice what your eyes feel like behind your eyelids.  Notice your forehead.  Is there tension, wrinkling of your brow, softness?  Notice where your tongue is in your mouth – is it resting at the bottom of your mouth or is it at the roof of your mouth.  Remember you are not trying to change your experience, just notice. 

With any practice of this type, if you are in therapy make sure to let your therapist know what you are doing and enlist his/her help if appropriate.  If you are not in therapy, make sure a trusted friend knows that you are trying something new, so they can lend support if needed, and seek out a counselor if you need to. 

For some ideas on how to adapt other mindfulness practices, follow the link for a journal that has lots of suggestions for customizing some popular mindfulness practices to make them more accessible for trauma survivors:

MINDFULNESS SKILLS FOR TRAUMA AND PTSD: Mindfulness Practices Adapted to Fit the Needs of Survivors: Kay, Jeni: 9798856277752: Books








parent bowling with child happy            I recently read something that compared parenting to sales.  The book was totally unrelated to parenting, so at first I didn’t really think too much about it, but later the concept started to nag at me. Are parents really salespeople?  How do I feel about that?  Am I offended? Am I curious?  What does that really mean?

            To be honest, my immediate response was that I was offended.  As parents I thought we were supposed to lead, educate, mold, and discipline our children, aren’t we?  We show them by example and when they don’t get the hint then we TELL them what to do.  We don’t wait for them to decide they are going to buy into this being an obedient kid thing, we expect them to do it.  I admit it, that was my parenting ego jumping in and asserting her opinion.  It was also a stereotypical view of a pushy, slick salesperson.  I am a parent, not a slick salesperson who has no morals and just wants me to buy something I don’t need! 

            After a few seconds of being on my soapbox, I stepped down and let my higher self weigh in on the conversation.  That’s the part of me that looks at things with curiosity and less judgment.  I decided to expand my idea of salespeople.  Yes, there are those who don’t listen and just come in with lots of practiced lines and don’t relent until you either buy something or you have to get downright rude to get rid of them.  But that’s not what good sales is all about.  Sales is about getting in your customer’s shoes, taking on his/her perspective, and seeing what their needs are.  A good sales person will look at things from your perspective and then find the best fit for your needs.  They will follow up to see how things are going and attempt to correct any problems.  They will be polite, respectful and friendly.  Of course, their aim is to sell you something because that is how they make their living.  But if they sell you a defective product or something you hate, then how likely are you to go back to them or recommend them to someone else?  Their livelihood depends in large part upon their reputation, repeat customers and referrals.  So, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell you something you will hate and then tell everyone you know that they are terrible.  The basic idea is that you do want to buy something which is why you are there (unless we are talking about telemarketers, which we are not), so why not find the product or service that best fits your needs?

            Let’s look at those ideas in terms of parenting.  I absolutely think as parents we need to walk in our children’s shoes frequently.  As adults, our brains and emotions work one way, and our children’s brains and emotions work differently.  If we try to impose the logic of our more evolved brain to that of a much less evolved brain we are not likely to get the results we want.  For example, if we tell our 6th grader he needs to get good grades because it will benefit him in the future, we aren’t likely to get a lot of buy-in because the part of their brain that can plan for the future is still developing.  Some kids might get this concept, but for the most part their world is much more immediate until that part of their brain develops more, which won’t be until their early 20’s.  It’s not his fault and he is not purposely being difficult, the wiring just isn’t there.  So, a good salesperson would take on the perspective of someone who needs more immediate reasons to get good grades because that’s what their biology requires.

            What about the toddler who has a tantrum at the market?  Our goal is to get them to behave and not cause a scene, right?  We are trying to “sell” them on the idea of being polite in the market.  Being a good salesperson, we would look at things from her perspective and figure out what she needs to “buy” our idea.  First, is she hungry?  Adults can put off being hungry but a toddler can’t.  Her blood sugar levels affect her greatly, and she has no control over her behavior if her blood sugar is too low.  Also, if she is hungry, that’s a little mean to take her to a place full of what she needs but tell her she can’t have it.  Her world is still limited to food, nurturing, and emotions that she can’t control.  Her body is simple – feed it frequently, give it lots of rest and lots of activity.  As a salesperson wanting her to buy into the idea of behaving at the market, it is our job to make sure her body has what it needs first.  She depends on us for this; she is not yet able to do it herself. 

            Checking in after the “sale” as a parent doesn’t mean getting your kid’s approval on your parenting.  To me it means checking to see how they are doing, what’s going on in their world so that we can continue to see life through their eyes.  If we know they are being teased at school it makes their moody behavior at home much more understandable.  We can then figure out the “product” that is the best fit for them.  Maybe they need some help with self-esteem.  Or maybe they need help with some words for when they get teased.  Or maybe it is more serious and we need to step in.  The point is, knowing their need helps us adjust our parenting to fit the situation.  And then we can check in to see if the intervention or “product” is working, or if we need to adjust something. 

            I think too often we miss the very basics of being friendly, polite and respectful.  We want to make sure we are seen as their parent and the one in charge. Since when does that mean being rude and unfriendly?  I am much more likely to follow a leader who is respectful and friendly to me than I am someone who is a jerk.  Our kids are no different.  They respond to being treated kindly.  Fear of parents is not the same as respect.  Fear will only go so far.  If you want them to “buy” something, don’t alienate them right off the bat by talking to them in a way that immediately shuts them down or puts them on the defensive.  You want them to stay engaged, to listen to you.  Talk to them in a manner that would make you want to listen.  It will probably work with them as well.

            Perhaps the idea of being salespeople is not that far off.  At the very least, borrowing some tools from the sale profession might help us be better parents. I think the things we are trying to instill in our kids will last a lot longer if we set up the conditions for them to want to buy what we are selling.  This is not to replace the times when discipline is required, or in other unusual circumstances. In general, though, just like salespeople who have several different products, we have a lot to offer as parents, and finding the best way to offer that to our children can’t hurt. 


For more parenting help give me a call or send me an email.  I would love to help!

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC

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            Even if you don’t say those words out loud, I can see them in your eyes.  That is one of the biggest fears, if not THE biggest fear of those who come to see me for help with an eating disorder.  I recognize that look because I saw it in the mirror right before I went to every counseling session.  That thought went through my head when I went to see my dietician.  I just knew there was a conspiracy to make me fat.  That’s all anyone wanted, I was sure of it. 

            Never mind the fact that you are probably losing hair, you get winded walking up the stairs, your skin is dry and flakey, your brain feels like it’s in a fog most of the time, you get chest pains sometimes, and you can’t eat even when you want to.  Never mind that you are miserable both physically and emotionally.  The worst thing you can imagine is going to counseling or treatment and becoming fat.  It sounds crazy to people on the outside, but I get it.  Even if the rest of the world falls apart, at least you are thin.  Even if I couldn’t do whatever it was I thought was important at the time, it didn’t matter because at least I could be thin. 

So what is the answer?

            The answer to the question is NO, I am not going to make you fat.  I have no interest in making you fat.  Truthfully, I prefer to leave your weight up to your doctor and your dietician.  I don’t want to fight that battle with you.  Except for the fact that I want you to be healthy enough to do all the things you want to do and more, your weight is really none of my business.  I am far more concerned about your emotional well-being than I am your weight.  I know that sounds hard to believe because everyone makes such a big deal about your weight, right?  After all, if people weren’t on your back about your weight, you probably wouldn’t even be thinking about going to counseling, right?

            I don’t fully believe that.  If being thin felt that great, if it fixed all your problems, then you would not be reading this.  My guess is your world has become so small that all you think about is food and weight, and that it is hard to imagine a life without those thoughts consuming you.  I bet there are times when you cry because you want to eat dinner with friends but you have to turn them down because you just can’t do it.  I bet there are times when your joints ache when you get out of bed and you feel like you are 90 years old.  I bet you feel like shit much of the time, but you have convinced yourself that’s normal, that everyone feels that way.

            Living with an eating disorder is miserable.  And to be quite honest, recovery feels miserable in the beginning as well.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has not been there.  Even though I have no interest in making you fat, and your weight is not my business, helping you deal with the discomfort of getting healthy is my business.  It will take time before getting healthy feels good.  But you CAN handle it.  It will be uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.  But you CAN handle it.  Living with an eating disorder is difficult – you handled that.  I know you have it in you to handle recovery.  You might as well give it a shot – you can always return to your eating disorder if this recovery thing doesn’t work out. 

If I’m not gwoman with shirt flying in wind in fieldoing to make you fat, then what does happen in counseling?

            Great question.  Every therapist is different, so I can’t speak for how other people do it.  And every client is different so I can’t even say for sure what counseling will be like for you.  What I do know is that at some point the eating disorder behaviors served a purpose; they made sense.  I am in no rush to get rid of those behaviors until we figure out how they served you.  I really want to understand what your life is like, what you feel, what you think, what is it like to be in your shoes.  From there, we can decide together the best plan. I won’t take control away from you.  You get to be part of the process.  In fact, I expect that you are the expert in your life, not me, so it would be silly for me to tell you how to live your life.

            There will be times when you hate me – that seems to be part of the process for most everyone I have worked with.  That’s ok.  I hated my therapist too.  And I kept going back.  And I got better.  And, guess what, she didn’t make me fat!  I understand the terror you feel when you talk about food, or try and do something different with your food.  Sometimes it actually feels like you will die if you have to eat one more bite.  I don’t mean that symbolically, I mean it literally feels like you will die.  I know how intense those feelings are and I will walk through all of them with you.  I am not afraid to go anywhere we need to go.  I won’t give up on you no matter what.

            I think the best way to describe what therapy will be like is to say that it will be completely unique to you.  It will be a creative, collaborative process between the two of us.  Even if something has worked for hundreds of other people, if it doesn’t work for you we will throw it out and try something else.  It will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, it will be inspiring, it will be funny and tearful, and it will be worth it.  It’s ok to be afraid and come anyway.  As much as you don’t want to hear it, this can kill you, and I refuse to let that happen if I can help it. 



light night skyIs it really that important to get 7-8 hours of sleep? I mean, is that just something people say because it sounds like a nice thing to do, or does it really make a difference? Let’s start with the basics. You feel better after a good night’s rest, right? You are probably moodier if you don’t sleep well, and you are less able to focus. I know that I am certainly more grumpy and less patient if I have not slept well the previous night. I might be able to hide my grumpiness, but it takes a lot of energy to do that which means I have less energy for other things.
Other than just making us less moody and more alert, let’s look at some specific things sleep does for us.
1. Sleep helps your brain prepare to learn new things, and then it helps your brain store what you have learned so that you can recall and use it. For example, if you are in school, or learning a new job, when you sleep your brain is getting primed to learn new information the next day. Then, after you learn the new information, when you sleep that night your brain is busily processing and filing the information so that you can remember it when you need to. That could be helpful for passing a test, or getting the promotion you want, don’t you think?
2. Sleep is good for your heart. When we sleep, our body takes that time to heal our heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Since we are dependent on our heart to live an active and healthy life, it might be a good idea to do everything we can to keep it healthy, which includes getting enough sleep.
3. There are several ways in which sleep helps us with appetite and weight management. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, so if you are concerned about being overweight, getting enough sleep needs to be part of your daily practice. Sleep also helps balance our hormones that regulate our appetite. Lack of sleep might make you feel hungrier during the day because your hormones have not had a chance to regulate themselves.
4. If you want to make better decisions, get enough sleep. Making good decisions is a critical part of achieving your goals. Who do you think gets into the better college, the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? Who do you think does a better job at saving money for a car or home of their dreams – the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? And who do you think has a better relationship with their partner – yep, I’m guessing the person who is able to make better decision. Research shows that sleep helps you process and organize information, enabling you to make better decision.
I kind of like the idea of being able to think better, being at a healthy weight, not having a heart attack and being able to learn new stuff. Those things all sound appealing in my quest to live a healthy and happy life, what about you? Do you like the idea of spending your days with plenty of energy, being able to think clearly, and achieving the goals that are important to you? If your answer is yes, it sounds like getting enough sleep might be more than just a nice idea, it is critical to getting what you want. If you are having trouble sleeping, stay tuned for part 2 for some helpful tips.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC


retirement glasses on wood table            We hear all the time that we need to plan for retirement – we need to have a solid financial plan so that we can enjoy our retirement years rather than spending them in poverty.  But how much do we hear about investing in our cognitive future so that we can spend our retirement years enjoying our loved ones and our memories rather than being fed and bathed by strangers and not recognizing our friends and family?  Personally, I have heard very little about the latter topic, which seems to me to be just as important. 

            Did you know that the damage from Alzheimer’s Disease can begin anywhere from 20-50 year before symptoms appear?  The beginning stages of the disease are very slow moving, but the last stages are much quicker.  So, the time to do something is before you even see signs of a problem.  Just like a financial savings account, the time to make deposits into your mental savings account is before you need it.  Here are some ways you can build your cognitive savings account:

1.      Nutrition:  Unfortunately the typical American diet is not great for our brains.  Full of chemicals, sugar and unhealthy fats these foods don’t do anything help prevent getting Alzheimer’s Disease.  One of the best things you can do to invest in your future self is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.  Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which help protect your brain from brain cell deterioration.  When you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetable you get lots of nutrients that are often lost when foods are processed.  Studies show that people who eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables have a 40% slower decline in cognitive abilities than those who eat 4 servings or less.

2.     Exercise:  Keeping fit can help lower many of the risk factors associated with cognitive decline, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.  Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, and it can help keep blood vessels soft and pliable, reducing the risk of stroke.  Recommendations are that you get approximately 20-30 minutes of exercise/day, including both aerobic and resistance activities.

3.     Social:  Study after study shows that isolation is not a good thing for humans – feelings of isolation and loneliness actually increase your risk for dementia later in life.  Friends can help reduce stress, reduce depression, and support positive lifestyle changes.  Those of you who tend to be introverts don’t worry – I am not saying you must become social butterflies.  For some of us, it only takes 1 or 2 friends to fend off feelings of loneliness.  The idea is to know how much social interaction you need, and make sure you get that.  You can even incorporate social with other things – work out with a friend, have a dinner party, join a cooking club.  Look for ways to include connection in your life, and make sure it is real life, face to face connection rather than just social media.

4.     Sleep:  Sleep is more than just downtime; it is the time our brain uses to clean house.  Our brains need this time to get rid of toxic substances, thoughts and memories accumulated during the day.  How much sleep do we need?  Apparently, there is no definitive answer.  It was thought that 7-9 hours is optimal, but studies seem to say that individual needs vary.  Rather than going by the number of hours, go by how you feel.  Do you feel energized throughout the day or do you get sluggish and need large amounts of caffeine to get you through the day?  If you have enough energy, you are probably getting enough sleep.  If you feel like you are dragging your feet, you might need a little more sleep.  Being sleep deprived is not a badge of honor; it is making withdrawals from our cognitive savings account.

Losing our memories, losing our independence, these don’t have to be the inevitable results of growing older.  We have some choice.  There may be factors beyond our control, but there are a lot of areas that we can influence.  Don’t try to overhaul your entire life.  Pick one or two things to start with.  Practice them until they become habit.  When those one or two things become easier, then pick something else to add in.  Before you know it, you will be well on your way to having a great mental savings account!


Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC, Certified Brain Health Coach

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