Using the Present Moment to Parent Your

Intense Child

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

Recently my client wondered how exactly to use the present moment as a tool for bringing out the best behavior in children.   Here are some ideas and an example:

Don’t drag the past into the present moment.  Do your best to see the child as “brand new” right now, because she is brand new in every moment.  So instead of fearing her next move, and telegraphing your fear with your tone of voice and body language, assume her goodness.  It’s amazing what a huge effect this has on the child.


It’s 5:30 p.m.  Thirteen-year-old Ava approaches her mom, Sara, who is preparing dinner in the kitchen. For the past three days, Ava has been cranky, mouthy, belligerent and nasty.  Sara steels herself, with subtle body stiffening, for Ava’s upcoming comment about something that’s upsetting her. Sara doesn’t turn to Ava, but just stays facing the cake batter on the counter with a firm resolve not to engage her daughter.

Picking up on her mom’s subtle cues, Ava immediately feels rejection. She then lays into her mother with, “Where’s my blue fleece?  I can’t find it anywhere!  What did you do with it?”  Sara has just had her fear realized, and responds with a defensive, “Ava, I’ve told you a thousand times that I am not in charge of your clothes. If you can’t find your fleece, look again.  That room is such a mess, I’m not surprised it’s hard to find things.”

Ava has had her fear realized, too, and responds defensively with, “You are always blaming me for things that are not my fault!  I just think you did the laundry and lost my fleece in some other drawer, and now you’re afraid to admit it!  I wish I didn’t live in this house!”

“Listen to me young lady! You are not allowed to speak to me like that.  You have been creating havoc in this house for three days, and I am sick and tired of it!  Until you can learn to appreciate living here, you’re grounded!”

“Oh great.  This is the worst place in the world, and now you are making me stay here?  I’m leaving, and you can’t make me stay.”  Ava storms through the back door, leaving Sara at once furious and relieved.  “Good! Stay away all night if you want!”

The cycle of angry communication, fueled on thoughts of the past, has just widened the rift between mom and daughter.

Let’s replay this situation with Present Moment Parenting.  Sara has learned to avoid dragging the past three days of strife into this moment, realizing that the present can be what she wants it to be with a tiny change in perspective.  She remembers, “The present moment is all we have,” which generates a very different response when Ava approaches.

Sara is standing in the kitchen, preparing the carrots for dinner.  She is remembering that Ava has had a rough few days, and she wonders what could be bothering her.  She decides to find out, and make use of the present moment when it occurs.

Ava comes into the room, sensing that her mom is relaxed, but being stressed herself, she says the same accusatory thing: “Where’s my blue fleece?  I can’t find it anywhere! What did you do with it?”

Staying in the present moment, refraining from dragging her fear of the past few days into this conversation, Sara responds with: “I love that blue fleece on you.  It’s the perfect color.  The last time I saw it, it was in the family room on the hook by the door.”  Ava now has an “in” to speak to her mom calmly in this moment.  Her defenses have not been triggered, and she can respond with kindness, even though she’s been stressed.

“Thanks, Mom.  I’ll look there.”

Sara sets up an “appointment” to find out what’s bothering Ava, weaving it into an activity:

“OK, and when you find it, would you come back and see me?  I need your cooking talent tonight.  Do you think this cake would be better as a full size cake or cupcakes?”

“Sure.  I’ll be back in a second.”  She returns, blue fleece slung over her shoulders.

“OK , we’re having the little cousins over, so which kind of cake do you think would work best?”

“I like cupcakes.”

“I’m happy to have you decide, because all day I’ve been making 1,000 decisions, and my decider is worn out.  Thanks a ton.”

“I need help deciding something, too.  Does your decider still work, or should I wait?”

“Let’s give it a shot, and I’ll let you know.”

“OK, I have been thinking about this boy in my class.  He seems to like me, and I like him, but I’ve noticed the other kids making fun of him.  I’m not sure how to handle this, because I don’t want to lose those other friends, but I really think this guy is cute and I want to get to know him better.”

“Good thing I don’t have to decide on this one.  I think you are going to be the one who does the deciding, but I can help you think about it.”  Sara embarks on an interview with Ava about what’s attractive about this cute boy.  She’s staying in the present moment, taking Ava just as she is now, and creating a beautiful, safe landing-place for their conversation.  My guess is that Ava’s recent crankiness is caused by worry about what to do with the boy situation, but she just didn’t know how to bring it up.

Sara has done a masterful job of staying in the present moment, and can now help Ava to resolve the issue.  She’s done more than that, though; she’s also built a stronger bridge to her daughter for the next time she notices that she’s in need of some good “mom time.”

The present moment is enomously effective in healing the relationship with a troubled teen, or any child for that matter.  To learn more about applying the present moment through parent coaching, click here.

3 Responses to “Using the Present Moment to Parent Your Intense Child”

  • Theresa says:

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for the reminder. This time of year always seems to be tricky and emotions run stronger as the end of year approaches – for parents and kids. Thank you Tina!

  • tina_feigal says:

    Thank you, too, Theresa! I love getting your feedback!

  • Angie menk says:

    Tina I’m so glad went to listen to you speak in nicollet afew weeks ago.everything you talked about that night I believe is so true in raising son so remained me of him in the present moment article I just read.thank you I will try that with him I do tend to do the same with him.bring up things that have upset me from 3 days ago.

    ,, thanks again angie

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