Archive of ‘Connection’ category

Parenting your Toddler

The toddler years are exhilarating and exhausting. Your little one’s budding personality, interest and excitement for all they are learning, as well as their neediness and desire for independence are bound to make for both amazing and trying times. Following are a few tips about development and how to best raise a capable and confident child based on Positive Discipline, The First Three Years.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Feeling a sense of belonging and significance is a basic need.

  • Engage your toddler by giving them helpful tasks that are age appropriate (holding the clean diaper while being changed, helping put toys into the bath tub, etc). Welcome and encourage their innate desire to be helpful.

We all have mirror neurons that fire when we see an action performed.

  • If you want a kind, compassionate, thoughtful child, you must demonstrate this in your own behavior by being patient, loving, and caring toward your child and others.

Your child will have feelings. Your job is to help them develop their emotional intelligence.

  • Help your child understand emotions by using words to label the feeling(s) they are experiencing. Validate their feelings (there is no such thing as a wrong emotion, only actions that are not), and then provide appropriate ways for them to express their feelings (ie. scribble with markers or run around the backyard, cry, etc).

Use positive time outs for children over the age of three and a half.

  • Little children are not capable of recognizing and managing their emotions so sitting in time out to think about what they have done wrong isn’t fair or helpful. A positive time out, however, can be a great way to teach your child to calm down when s/he is angry or upset. Click here to learn more about positive time outs.

Children do better (and will be more cooperative) when they understand what is expected of them and what will happen.

  • Even if your child is preverbal, take time to explain what will happen or what is expected from them. This is particularly important if you need to do something quickly or if things will be out of the norm for the child.

Say no with actions instead of words.

  • Instead of telling your child no, ask yourself what you do want to have happen and then tell your child what you want. If you must say no, use distraction and redirection (it is helpful to remember that “no” is an abstract idea that little ones don’t really get until they are about four). Toddlers aren’t trying to be disobedient- they are exploring their world and following their developmental intuitions to do so.

Be firm and kind while focusing on love and relationships.

  • Provide opportunities for your toddler to explore their world by creating safe places for play. Use distraction and redirection instead of yelling, slapping, or spanking. Repair with hugs, kisses, and apologies when things don’t go so well

Remember that your child is working toward autonomy.

  • Remind yourself of your child’s developmental abilities and calm yourself before responding. Make time to enjoy the process of raising your little one. Avoid power struggles by offering limited choices (all of which are acceptable to you) and giving them opportunities to say no when appropriate. Teach by doing and being kind and firm.

Remember in moments when there are impossible messes, tantrums and meltdowns, you are shaping little hearts and minds, and with a little patience and grace, there is sure to be a heartwarming, sweet and tender moment right around the corner.

Reel Therapy

What’s your favorite movie? I’ll give you a few seconds here … Got it? Great! Okay, now WHY is it your favorite movie? Your answer may be that you loved the story, or the acting, or it shifted your perspective, or it taught you something important, or one (or several!) of many other reasons. Here’s the thing: Regardless of your reasons, I’m wiling to bet it’s because of how those things impacted you emotionally. Movies are an incredibly powerful art form ultimately because of how the story, or the acting, or the perspective shift, etc, makes us feel. The most memorable and impactful movies go beyond engaging just our thinking brains (aka the prefrontal cortex). What makes a particular film stick with us is largely due to how it impacts us emotionally, reflecting involvement of a more primitive part of the brain called the limbic system.

Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Therapists sometimes recommend that their clients watch a particular film in an effort to achieve some level of therapeutic gain, a practice commonly known as cinematherapy. There are lots of ways that viewing films can be beneficial in a therapeutic context, but like stated above, one of the most impactful is through the emotional experience of a film. The emotional journey one takes watching a film can be healing just in and of itself. It’s been said that emotion is a bridge between a problem and a solution, and if you are able to fully go on that emotional journey, whether in a film audience or in life, when that particular emotion naturally subsides, you will typically find yourself in a new and better place. Additionally, films sometimes gives us permission to feel things we may otherwise suppress, and sometimes just being able to talk with co-workers or friends about a particular film can provide deeper social connections and consequently a feeling of inclusion, or being “in the club,” (also very true with so many popular TV shows nowadays, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, etc).

We’re about to enter into Oscar contender season. The span between early October and Christmas affords us a huge number of high-quality, limbic-smashing films. Below is a brief list of films I’m personally most looking forward to seeing, with a few non-spoiling words describing each. Once I see some of these, my hope is to get back on here, and offer a bit of a movie review, with an emphasis on psychotherapy and issues of social justice. In the meantime, enjoy!:

  • The Imitation Game – Based on the life of British codebreaker Alan Turing, whose story (the little bit of it that I know) is incredibly inspirational, and ultimately devastating. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and people who’ve seen it are saying to just go ahead hand him the Oscar now.
  • Birdman – Michael Keaton’s comeback, and looks to be amazing. Deals with issues of fame and identity, and is already generating all kinds of Oscar buzz.
  • The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking’s love story, starring Eddie Redmayne, who is just ridiculously talented (you may remember him as Marius in the Les Mis film).
  • Unbroken – Another true story, adapted from the book of the same name, “a story of survival, resilience and redemption.” Directed by Angelina Jolie.
  • Wild – Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. All kinds of inspirational. Starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Foxcatcher – Again, based on a true story, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. Described as a psychological thriller, involving what sounds like a very unhealthy (and ultimately tragic) relationship between two Olympic wrestlers and their wealthy benefactor.

Children and Their Feelings

I was at the rock climbing wall at our gym the other day when I heard a little boy say to his dad, “I don’t know if I can do it. I’m scared.”He was referring to the route he was hoping to climb. His dad, who seemed relatively supportive and encouraging toward his son replied, “You can do it. Big boys don’t get scared.”

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Although perhaps said with good intentions, this statement made me sigh and feel concerned about another generation of boys and men (and even girls and women) being taught that it isn’t okay to experience perceived “weaker”emotions. And more importantly, what they can do when these inevitable feelings do creep up.

Part of the reason it is so difficult to respond well when our children/friends/partners are experiencing difficult emotions (besides all of the gender messages we are socialized to adhere to) is that in order to be empathetic, we have to actually touch that part in ourselves that knows what it is like to feel that feeling. And that is scary! And what is more scary is to imagine your child feeling that, and so the easiest thing to do is brush it under the rug, dismiss or minimize the feeling, shame the feeling, or try to make them feel better. Unfortunately, this generally leads to the other person feeling like they are not heard, that their feelings don’t matter, that they should be ashamed of those feelings and are bad for having them, or that they need to keep their feelings to themselves in the future. And it generally intensifies the feeling while causing isolation.

I’m certain the father at the gym did not want for his response to his son to have any of these outcomes. Likely, he was wanting to help socialize his son to stereotypical gender norms that he learned (without even realizing it necessarily), and he probably honestly didn’t know how to respond. I did keep my mouth shut at the gym, but here are a few thoughts about how I hope to handle these conversations with my children and what you might do when your kids are experiencing painful or difficult emotions.

1. Because we are modeling emotion regulation for our children, it can be really helpful to walk them through our process.

Example: “I sometimes get scared, too. I remember when I was scared (give age

appropriate example). This is how I handled it (give healthy, age appropriate ideas about how to manage that emotion).

2. Simply validate the feeling. Nothing feels better than having someone acknowledge our emotions.

Example: “It does look scary! I would be scared in that situation, too!”

3. Listen and give your child time to talk about what they are experiencing. Having our feelings validated and being given space to talk through them can greatly lessen the intensity of the negative emotion.

Example: “I hear that you are scared. What are you most afraid of? What can I do to support you?”

If you feel like you might benefit from a little lesson on empathy and what it looks like, check out this great animated video based on the work of Brené Brown.



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