Posts Tagged ‘Tina Feigal’

PostHeaderIcon Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the difference?

Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the Difference?

My fellow parent coach, Becky Fischer, just shared a powerful resource with me about Self-regulation, and I thought it would be a great topic for parents. Stuart Shanker has a new program called “Self-reg,” if you want more info.

Two types of self-regulation and self-control come into play – parents’ and children’s.  We could all, even as adults, be struggling with self-regulation and mistaking it for self-control.

Self-regulation issues come from the body’s sensitivities.  If our bodies are wired to overreact to input (compared to typical responses), then we are in the realm of self-regulation.  This comes from brain wiring, where some of us, and some of our children, are simply more responsive to input to one or more of the five senses than are other people.  The sensitivity can be to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell. It can also be to other people, which is a sixth sensitivity I’ve identified in children. We and our kids are not making a choice to react in big ways to the things that trigger us. The reactions are built in to our wiring, just as “knee-jerk” reactions are unavoidable in the doctor’s office when she uses a little hammer to check for reflexes.

Another source of these knee-jerk reactions is trauma. If we experienced trauma as children, or even in adulthood, the reactions remain, unless we’ve sought help to relieve them.  The brain’s amygdala and hormonal responses (flight, fight, flee) are constantly alert to threats to our survival, left over from actual previous threats, and they don’t give up easily, even when we’re not in danger. This is why we over-react to some events that others would not. It’s never our “fault” and therapists who specialize in trauma can definitely offer techniques that help to relieve its effects. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is quite effective for this, as are some somatic (body) techniques.  Just search EMDR and your zip code online to find practitioners in your area.

If our children have experienced trauma, often trauma that we or they don’t remember (it can even happen in utero) they will over-react to us in ways that we can easily interpret as disrespect.  This is where parent coaching and occupational therapy can be highly effective.  Parent coaching can help you identify the over-reactions as out of the child’s control.  Occupational therapy and EMDR for kids can help the child self-regulate.

Co-regulation is another wonderful tool for helping parents and kids. With small children, holding the child in a loving way and deep breathing together works like magic, if the child is able to do it. Preparing in advance will be the ticket here – rehearse co-regulation when there’s no issue, just so it’s familiar and safe-feeling to the child. Co-regulation has the effect of calming you both down. With older children, advanced rehearsal and deep breathing together can also bring about the calming effect. Take a breath in, hold for a count of four, let it out naturally. Do this slowly, as rushing can cause light-headedness.

We know that self-control is a learned response that occurs with maturity and guidance from parents. It comes over time, and requires help from adults. When we as adults are regulated, our job is much easier, which is why it’s a great idea to seek help if we have triggers that could interfere with our effective parenting.

The good news is that the effects of trauma and sensitivities can be relieved by learning ways to decrease them through occupational and mental health therapy. This can have an incredibly positive effect our daily interactions with our loved ones!

For more information on parent coaching, click here.




PostHeaderIcon How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

How Can I Tell if My Child Has Trauma Effects?

You hear a great deal about trauma in the news these days, and you wonder if your child is showing the signs of having been traumatized.  It’s often hard to tell if the trauma is having ongoing effects on your child or if it was even traumatic to him at all!  Here are some examples of trauma and the signs of their effects:

The most traumatic event for a child is the death of, or removal from, a parent. Due to the internal imperative to survive, the child is biologically wired to connect with her parent, and if that connection is broken, even at birth, the signs of trauma can be seen.  But not in every single case. Some children are adopted at birth or later, and never show signs of trauma. Some who are adopted at birth feel the separation deeply.

If the connection to the parent is broken by physical abuse on the part of the parent or other adult, the effects are also significant, and trauma signs are likely to be evident.  Physical abuse is spanking, hitting, choking, restraining for long periods, burning, cutting, and more.  It’s hard to think that a parent would ever do such things to a child, but when a parent has mental illness or a chemical addiction, the urge to protect the child or avoid harming her is dampened or obliterated, and impulse control goes out the window. The child does nothing to provoke this, although the parent will insist that she does. It’s the parent’s lack of restraint that leads to physical abuse.

Similarly, sexual abuse will bring signs of trauma.  Again, it’s never the child’s doing that brings on the abuse, but the parent will insist that he or she caused it somehow.  It’s very likely that the adult has deep pain which is causing the sexual abuse, and also that the adult has been abused as a child. This is why sexual abuse is so horrific. It makes a criminal out of the victim. Sexual abuse profoundly confuses loyalty to the adult with sexual involvement, and can have lifelong effects on the child’s ability to form a healthy sexual relationship. There is no form of sexual interaction with a child that is OK.  Hugging, kissing, massaging, and washing are all part of normal child raising, but touching of genitals for pleasure – either the child touching the adult or the adult touching the child, is abuse. Showing pornography to children or photographing them in sexual positions or without clothing is also sexual abuse.

Emotional/psychological abuse is particularly damaging to a child. The reason this type of abuse (which is also often present with physical and sexual abuse) is so hard to identify and treat is that there are no outward signs of the abuse. In fact, the way systems operate, the abuser is often not stopped, as the law depends on physical findings to prosecute. Emotional abuse, in the form of  blaming children for everything that “goes wrong”, accusing them of things they didn’t do, playing mind games with them, calling them names such as stupid, filthy, unwanted (and worse) has more impact that physical abuse on the future mental health of the child.  It’s insidious, hidden where it cannot be healed, in far too many cases.

Neglect is also highly traumatizing for children. It conveys to the child that he or she is not worthy of parental care, which can go deep into the psychological landscape to create feelings of lack and low self-esteem. Physical neglect, emotional neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, and exposure to violence are all types of trauma.

What are the signs that a child has had the trauma of abuse?
Children who have experienced trauma often have difficulty trusting others.  When they look to their caregivers as infants or at any age, really, and they don’t get their emotional and physical needs met, their brains undergo a change that involves not being able to trust.  This is not a choice, it’s a physiological response. Once the child touches that hot stove of connection that results in being abandoned, he or she is wired not to touch it again.

Other ways that trauma shows up are: decreased mental ability and memory, lack of “executive functioning” which means they have trouble remembering their homework, remembering to hand it in, organizing their rooms, backpacks or desks, and planning ahead. Constant anxiety is another sign of trauma, as are bed-wetting, lying, stealing, and emotional outbursts for no logical reason.  Sensory sensitivities are also frequently seen in children with traumatic histories. Visual, auditory, smell, touch, and taste input is felt as 1,000 times stronger than for those without trauma.  Another one is “interpersonal sensitivity” where a child is hyper-reactive to the presence of others.  Sensory seeking can also be a sign of trauma, particularly with sexual abuse. These children are absolutely compelled to replay the sexual scene, all on an unconscious level.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the signs of trauma, often also referred to as “stuck grief” for all the missed nurturing the child has experienced.  The next article will offer tips for helping the traumatized child overcome the effects of trauma.

For help with this or any other parenting issue: click here.

To order the book: “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child” with chapters on help for parents of children with trauma, by Tina Feigal, Amelia Franck Meyer, and Mechele Pitt, click here.

To download the audio book of “Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child, click here.




PostHeaderIcon Being Vulnerable as a Parent

Being Vulnerable as a Parent

Tina Feigal, MS, Ed. Copyright © 2016 Center for the Challenging Child

Dad and sonMaybe the last thing you ever thought a parent coach would tell you is “be vulnerable with your child.” You’ve spent your whole adult life making sure your child knew who was boss, working hard to never let him take advantage of you. You thought if you did that, you would lose your authority and never get it back. Who wants to live with a child who thinks he’s the boss of his parents? Wouldn’t being vulnerable give him the wrong idea?

Dr. Brené Brown, a social work researcher, talks about “leaning into the discomfort” in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. She was NOT built to accept anything uncertain, and railed at the thought of it, as many of us would. You might ask, “What does leaning into the discomfort mean?”

Dr. Brown also talks about “connection” being the reason we’re all here. And she says that shame is the manifestation of disconnection.  Underlying this is “excruciating vulnerability.” To truly connect we need to be vulnerable, she says.

After 6 years of listening to people’s stories on shame, she wrote a book and  published a theory, realizing that the people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they’re worthy of it.  Our fear that we’re not worthy of connection is what causes disconnection, which leads to shame.

Dr. Brown says that “wholehearted people” live from a deep sense of worthiness  and had a “sense  of courage” in common.  This courage is made up of telling who you are with your whole heart, the courage to be imperfect, compassion for self and others, connection as a result of authenticity, and fully embracing vulnerability.  These courageous wholehearteds believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.  They say it’s necessary to do something where there are no guarantees, i.e. willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. In the words of my dear friend Artem Kuznetsov, this describes “beautiful uncertainty.”

To me there’s nothing more beautiful nor more uncertain than raising a child. Without guarantees of any kind, we rush headlong into the most compelling, uncertain, vulnerable experience of love, usually without a map or compass. And then the children we love so intensely defy us.  They develop their own will, they want what they want, and we feel utterly broad-sided after pouring so much of our hearts into their being. Where’s the gratitude?  Can’t they tell how much we’ve cared?

Frankly, they can’t. Because they’re children.  And it’s completely understandable that parents start to want control, in order to protect themselves from the strong will of their child and the rejection of having your beloved, cherished offspring turn on you. 

It’s normal.  Almost every parent experiences it, especially those with strong-willed children.  So where’s the redemption here? In vulnerability?  Well, yes.

Children who attempt to run the show are often bright.  They may be intellectually bright, interpersonally gifted, intrapersonally astute, highly creative and sensitive, or all of the above. And some average-ability children also attempt to run the show, depending on their own experiences as babies and toddlers.  Whatever the reason, we feel the last thing we should do is become vulnerable with them.  But really, it’s important to do this.

How does it look to be vulnerable to your child? It means stepping off the “perfect, all-knowing adult” platform and getting down to your heart with your child.  When you do this, he starts to realize that you’re human, too, and a switch flips.  He has less to resist when you become less rigid.  Now the grace and light-heartedness for which most parents yearn can begin seeping into your relationship. Herein lies the benefit of “leaning in.”

What do the words look like?  Instead of saying, “I’m your dad and I mean business” when a child is acting out (usually because of a fear), it’s more heart-centered to say, “I know. I had that fear when I was your age, too. Want me to tell you how I got past it? I used to pretend that the monsters under my bed had five eyes, so many that they couldn’t focus well enough to see me.” Here, the father has become a child again, this time for the purpose of connecting with his child. He’s remembering his child-like self, allowing a little vulnerability, and adding a dash of humor to bring intimacy to the conversation.

Dr. Brown’s mission to “control and predict” led her to the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.

Letting go of the need to control and predict your child and building emotional intimacy is the hallmark of a strong relationship.  You get there by being vulnerable, and you can’t get there without it.

If you would like help with this or any other parenting issue, please click here for information about parent coaching.

If you’re dreaming of becoming a certified parent coach, please click here.





PostHeaderIcon Using Silence as an Invitation

Using Silence as an Invitation

Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

fatherdaughterDo you remember a time when purposely using silence actually worked to resolve an issue for you?  Maybe it happened and you didn’t even realize you were doing it.  I’ve become a big fan of silence as a powerful tool, not to “give someone the silent treatment” but to invite their thoughts and feelings into the space between us.  When children are upset or pondering a big question (which happens much more often than we realize) we can offer them an invitation by just giving their thoughts time to formulate.

How would this work in life?  Let’s look at a scenario:

Your anxious child comes to you with an urgent message:  “Dad, I need to have my new swim suit ready for tomorrow, but I left it at Sarah’s and there’s no time to go over there.”

You: “Sounds like a problem. ”

Child: “Yeah, and we need to get my suit!”

You: “OK.”  Pause and let the silence invite your child to think of her own solution.

Child: “Maybe just for tomorrow, I can use my old one and ask Sarah to bring the other one on Wednesday.”

You: “Great idea! That will work perfectly.”

We often get caught up in rapid fire/fix-it-now conversations with our children that seem to solve issues quickly and help us move on with our fast-paced lives.  But when we do this, we actually rob our kids of something so valuable – the ability to think for themselves.  We also subliminally tell them that they aren’t capable of resolving issues, and that they need us to guide their every move.  Then we get mad when they don’t solve their own problems!  “You’re eight years old!  (Or eighteen or twenty!)  You should know how to deal with this by now!” How should they, when we’ve been so quick to “resolve it and move on?”

I’m not faulting parents – believe me, I’ve been there, and my sons have been oh-so-reslient and forgiving.  But I do want to wake us up to the fact that children’s inner wisdom needs to be heard.  And that it’s much more present and powerful than we realize.  But we need to allow silence to invite it in.

Once I was talking to a mom and her seven-year-old daughter.  The mom posed a question about how to get along with siblings better.  Then I encouraged her to wait, wait, wait.  After SEVERAL minutes, the daughter erupted with the most elegant ideas about how siblings should get along.  Mom was stunned.  She’d never dreamed that her daughter had such grown-up thoughts.  It just took her some time to formulate them (after all, she wasn’t used to such a long silent invitation, either!)  But when the silence lasted long enough, voila!  Her inner wisdom blossomed, and mom came away with a whole new appreciation for how advanced her daughter’s thoughts had become.

Emotional child development can catch us by surprise. We’re so used to the “measurable” in our world that we forget about the less tangible, but equally amazing emotional and cognitive growth that kids of all ages experience.  We’ll often say to our nieces, “Wow, did you grow 6 inches since I saw you last? I bet you need new clothes every other month!”  But how often do we allow time for our nieces to demonstrate their emotional growth?  Can you picture saying, “Wow, I love watching how your mind works on the topic of humans and the environment!”  No, we stick to the visible.  That’s a huge mistake, because ultimately we want to raise thoughtful, sensitive kids.  How tall they get is pretty insignificant compared to how deeply compassionate their ideas become. We get to choose what we encourage and cultivate.

So the next time your child has an issue with how the world works, offer the silent invitation to his thoughts. “Minimal encouragers”, such as, “What an interesting question,” or “Tell me more about your ideas,” will let the child know the invitation is on the table.  (Also, turn off the video games, so the thoughts aren’t sidetracked by endless electronic stimulation.) You will be delightfully amazed by his emotional development.  Offer silence so you don’t miss the magic!

For personalized parent education (coaching) on this or other parenting challenges, be sure to visit

Copyright © 2013 Center for the Challenging Child






PostHeaderIcon Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another

Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another

As we Minnesotans watch an April snowstorm blanket the landscape with eight new inches of “pretty stuff”, it’s hard to accept “no” from Mother Nature when we yearn for Spring RIGHT NOW.  We desperately want warm sun on our faces, robins and daffodils, not boots, gloves, and snow shovels!

Isn’t it interesting to note how as adults, we have experiences that thwart our desires, just the way our kids do?  Last night, my son texted me an interesting thought to ponder.  “When we say no to something, we’re saying yes to something else.”  Then he typed, in his adorably thought-provoking way, “Opposition.”

When our children are oppositional, they are saying “no” to one thing, such as “brush your teeth”, “get off the computer”, “time for bed”, or “finish your homework.” What’s the thing they are saying “yes” to at that moment?  Of course, you might answer, more freedom to play video games, more freedom to stay up late, more freedom to watch a movie instead of finish homework.  But there’s more to it than that.

When children oppose their parents, they’re also saying “yes” to their own sense of who they are.  As young as 12 months, they’re wired to start opposing their parents’ requests because they are exercising their newfound will.  Is this a disrespectful aspect to all children?  Some may argue yes.  But it’s really more helpful and less conflict producing to see it as a natural developmental phase.  As adults, this is our job and we even benefit from celebrating that our kids with big wills are on the right path. We do better to support their will, rather than try to fight it.

So, you might say to me, “How do we get the bath taken in time for bed, when all they want to do is play?”  The answer lies in recognizing the emerging will as a vital part of the child’s growth as a person.  Acknowledging how much they want to continue to watch their favorite show, play their favorite video game, or finish up their art project, will go a long way toward gaining cooperation.  Say, “You’re really into this game, I can see! I notice that you’re gaining a lot of new skills by playing it. Finish this one game and I’ll meet you in your room, ready for bed in 10 minutes.”

This approach acknowledges the child’s will to play the game and also encourages, rather than forces, the letting go.  (We all know how well it turns out when we try to force a child to do something.)

Here are the 5 steps:
1. Establish a routine bedtime with your children’s input during a family meeting.
2. Tell your child exactly how you will let him or her know it’s bedtime.  Have him sit in front of the computer and rehearse this aspect.  Place your hand on his back if he can tolerate it, and say in a respectful tone, “See what time it is? I’ll meet you in your room in 10 minutes.”  That’s all.  He knows when bedtime is.
3.  Just wait respectfully for him to comply.  If it takes longer than you thought, rehearse again tomorrow, but don’t lecture now.
4. Give heartfelt appreciation for coming when he does.  Even if it’s a few minutes late, you want to let him know he’s been successful in coming to the room.  Reward what you want, and you will see more of it.
5. Have a peaceful, appreciative end to the day.

If you need coaching help with these steps, or any other parenting challenge, click here.

PostHeaderIcon What to Give Your Child for the Holidays

What to Give Your Child for the Holidays

by Tina Feigal © 2011

This holiday season, I’m encouraging you to give your child a different kind of gift than the one you visualized when you read this article’s title.

Each year, kids are excited about the gifts they will receive.  Visions of XBOX 360s, Wii’s, iPhones, skis, dolls, trucks, stuffed animals, Legos, and a variety of other gifts float through their heads.  After the holiday, the gifts often lose some of their allure, and kids are back to saying, “I’m bored.” So let’s focus instead on a gift that keeps on giving.

I’m going to suggest that you give your child a sense of himself as a needed person for a gift this year.  It’s something that doesn’t come to most adults during the annual holiday buying frenzy, but it’s a gift that will keep on giving for a lifetime.  So stop for a few minutes and think of ways you can set your child up for feeling really valued, cared for, and yes, generous, during this holiday season.  After all, isn’t that what we all want?  Kids with a strong sense of their place in the world as contributors?  You have the power in this special time of year to create a kid with a true sense of purpose, something he or she will remember for years to come.

To create a success around being needed, take your child into your confidence around a gift you are thinking of giving his sibling.  Ask, “Do you think she’d like the red sweater or this cute skirt better?”  Then take your child’s advice.  It’s more important to build a giving spirit than to get the perfect gift.

Ask what he thinks he’d like to give his sister, and then offer to help him get it if he’s too young to have his own money. Give him heartfelt appreciation when he makes a selection, and talk up his gift before it’s opened.  Say, “I love how thoughtfully you chose this for Samantha. I think she’s gonna love it.”

Let your kids see you giving to people outside the family who may be in need.  If you are donating toys, don’t just take care of it when they kids are in school, but include them in the selection and the dropping off at the collection site.  This way they feel part of something bigger than the immediate family, and remember how fortunate they are.  Or if there’s a needy family in your faith community, be sure your kids contribute some of their allowance to participate in the family’s giving efforts. If you want grateful, generous kids, put more of your effort into fostering their gratitude and generosity than into trying to please them.

Giving doesn’t have to be material.  If you see an opportunity for your child to push the ottoman closer to grandpa’s chair, give him the gift of quietly suggesting he do so.  If you see him spontaneously sharing his time with a younger cousin, be sure he hears how much you admire that.  If she works hard to maintain a good mood when in a crowd of people, give her positive feedback so she sees what you see, a child who makes an effort for others.

The chances to give your child kudos abound at holiday time.  Plan now to tap the present moment to focus on them, and watch him “glow” with a strong sense of his own strength as a giving person.  The benefits are immeasurable, and everyone receives them!

For parent coaching on what to give your child for the holidays or any other topic, contact Tina Feigal at 651-453-0123 or email

PostHeaderIcon Transforming the Challenging Bedtime

Transforming the Challenging Bedtime

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

“How do we take the pain out of a challenging bedtime?” Among the parents I coach, I find that that this nearly- universal issue arises at some point in the coaching process. Here are some solutions to this often-frustrating everyday issue.

Set up a family meeting. Using the same technique you would with a respected adult, ask your child if she will be available at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss an important issue. This gives the child a sense of being respected and also infuses a feeling of importance into a family issue. I recommend this approach for any topic that needs discussion in your family life.

Use the meeting to lay out the issue of bedtime squabbles as objectively as you can. You might say something like, “I have noticed that we are having trouble settling down without an argument at bedtime. I know that when this happens, we have frustration, delaying, yelling, and tears.  The funny thing is, we go to bed every night.  Let’s do what we always do, which is say it’s time for bed, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, put on our p.j.s read a story, say good night, and turn off the light. Only let’s do that without the yelling!  Would you kids like that?  “Yes!” will be the reply.  Then ask, “What ideas do you have that might help our bedtime go more smoothly? What do you think the rules should be?”

Use Present Moment Parenting for bedtime behavior management. Establish the rules for bedtimes with the child’s input. Rules should start with “no”: no getting out of bed once the light is out, no asking for more time, no stalling, no negotiating, no whining, no bothering your sister, no crying, no excuses. Children know what the rules are, and the ones they offer will typically be more stringent than yours. Use the child’s rules religiously whenever practical, as this creates buy-in, which strengthens the likelihood that the rules will be followed. The clearer the rules are, the easier it is for the child to follow them.  Practice the bedtime routine when it’s not bedtime to help the child get a map in her brain for how it’s supposed to look.  This is great fun for the kids, and it increases the likelihood of buy-in, in the same way as creating the rules.

If a rule is broken, there is an immediate, non-negotiable break. A gentle, unemotional “broke a rule take a break”, is all that’s needed. The break should take place in the bed, since that is where the child needs to be, and should last 30 seconds. No energy (no talking, no negotiating, no engagement of any sort) should be directed to the child during the break. If the child refuses to take a break, say, “The break starts when you are calm, and as soon as you make it start, it can end,” with the firm conviction that you have decided that it is bedtime, and there will be no change in your decision.  This system builds a sense of security in the child. It implies that you are in charge, and also that you have complete faith that she can go to sleep on her own.

All requests for behavior should start with, “I need you to” rather than questions such as, “Would you please” or “Would you like to” which imply a choice. Remember, when you are clear and certain, you are giving your child a huge gift. It may take a few nights of this clarity for the child to adjust to the routine, but it will be well worth the effort. Every minute you spend making this work now will pay off significantly in the future. You are teaching your child that she can go to sleep on her own just like a big person. This is very valuable information for her, as it will help her to believe in herself in other areas, too.

For steps that are completed with cooperation, use heartfelt appreciation to show that you are noticing and valuing her actions. This creates a powerful heart-to-brain neural pathway for goodness, which strengthens the desired behavior significantly. You might say, “I see that you have your teeth brushed and are headed for your room. Thank you so much for following our plan, Kristi. Every time you do this stuff, I feel like you are making this house such a wonderful place to live!” Using the formula “When you … I feel … because …” for this feedback makes remembering how to deliver it much easier. (For more information on Present Moment Parenting, visit

Set a definite bedtime. Younger children should go to bed earlier than the older ones if there is an age difference of two years or more. Usually a half hour is ample time to separate the two bedtimes. If you have four or more children, you may want to make bedtime more uniform so that you assure your adult time at the end of the day. This is very important. Knowing that you, as a single parent or with your spouse or partner, can definitely count on some winding down time helps you to handle the challenges that will come tomorrow. Do not consider this optional. You need your time alone or time together. It is very good modeling for your children, as well. They need to know that time to oneself or as a couple is vital to healthy adult living, and that it also ensures that mom and dad will be in a much better mood tomorrow.

Include any special rituals in the bedtime routine that the children deem important, and that are acceptable to you. Rituals might be as simple as: wash your face and brush your teeth, take a drink of water, put on p.j.s, say goodnight to the fish, read with mom or dad, settle in for sleep. To communicate respect for her process, indicate that you are as bought in to the ritual as is the child; be sure to remind her to say goodnight to the fish if she forgets. Rituals are very important for children’s transition to the next activity, especially at bedtime. They provide a sense of continuity and comfort, which is vitally important to raising healthy kids. Reading together is my favorite bedtime ritual, as it points out that you value reading and learning, it offers a great opportunity for snuggling, and most important, it truly allows the child to feel your slowed-down, caring energy.

Requests for extending the reading time will be lovingly denied when lights out time has arrived. Make a comment such as, “It makes me so proud to see that you love to read this much, Honey, but tomorrow is another day, and you can read during any free time you have. Now I need to see the light out. Good night. I love you very much.”

Then leave the room and consider the day with children completed (unless, of course, there is a true illness.)


If your child has a problem with separating from you or with nightmares, here are a few options to consider: Place a nightlight in the child’s room. As part of including your child in the solution, have him go with you to the store and pick out a special one. Some nightlights are in the shape of child-friendly characters, but young imaginations can turn them ugly in the night. Neutral nightlights are probably the best. Some have fragrances that can be calming, but they do run out of scent. You may avoid trouble by buying two or three, so that there is always a back-up on hand.

When my youngest son was four years old, he had severe nightmares and was afraid to go to sleep. A friend gave me some room spray that made dreams sweet and not scary. We sprayed the room every night for a few months, and that, with some gentle reassurance, took care of the nightmares. Any type of pleasant spray can serve the purpose. Of course, if your child has sensitivities to chemicals, perfumes, or odors, you will want to avoid this one. Dream catchers are Native American creations in which small hoops with weavings, beads, and feathers, serve to filter out the bad dreams and only allow the good ones. They are wonderful, durable devices for helping children make the transition into a restful night’s sleep. They are fun and easy to make, as well!

Use lovies (dolls, stuffed animals, blankets) generously. Assigning characteristics to them gives the child a sense of control over the night. “My bear knows how to scare away the monsters” is a good indicator of coping in the child whose ability to tell truth from reality is not yet fully developed (typically after age four.) “My dolly can help me dream good dreams” is another helpful statement of empowerment over the night’s threatening feelings. If your child has not ascribed these characteristics to the stuffed animal of choice, it is all right to gently suggest them. “Do you know that this doll came with instructions that said it can help kids sleep well?” Never take away, or threaten to take away, an object that comforts the child at night for any reason. A break is always a better choice for helping the child to gain control of her behavior.

If the child seems too old for the blanket, doll, or stuffed animal, do not be the one to decide whether it is time to give it up. That decision is the child’s, and will be made when he or she is ready. It hurts no one for him to hang on until it’s time to let go, and may be a crucial aide in his emotional development. And never make a decision about the appropriateness of a lovie based on the child’s gender. Little boys who love baby dolls and little girls who carry around their G.I. Joes need the same love and acceptance as their counterparts who depend on same-gender lovies. A positive approach is to ask after the well being of the lovie. “How is Lucy Light today? Have you and she been having fun while I was away?” If spending the night at a friend’s house with the lovie becomes an issue, leave the decision about whether to take the lovie along to the child. Many friends are relieved to see their buddies unpack their lovies when bedtime arrives. It indicates that they are all part of the same “child club” still in need of certain comforts at night. If your child does receive some ridicule for having the lovie along, she can decide what to do about it. She may want to come home, or she may keep the lovie with her and let the ridicule go. She may decide to put it back into her bag for the night. Trust your child’s sense of what will keep her the most comfortable in the situation, and assure her that she can call you to consult on it at any time.

An example of implementing the plan:

Alan and Alicia Elberg had had it with their children, Madison, age 6, and Josh, 11, at bedtime. They were in a constant state of disruption and sleep deprivation especially from Josh’s behavior. He was getting out of bed after lights out, arguing that he was not being treated fairly, saying he was scared, and insisting on more water and food. By the time the battles had been fought over each of these issues, Alan and Alicia were so exhausted and angry that they were at the end of their rope. They were open to any and all suggestions, and decided to give Present Moment Parenting a try.

The Elbergs had their first family meeting, and included their children in creating solutions for the bedtime routine. They made sure that they paid close attention to the input and used a talking piece for the meeting. Whoever has the talking piece at the moment gets the full attention of the others with no interruptions. When finished, that person passes the talking piece to the next person and then gives him full, uninterrupted attention. The talking piece serves as a powerful physical symbol of respect for children and adults alike. The Elbergs wrote down all ideas and used ideas from each family member in their final plan. Josh, who has had the most trouble settling in to bed without conflict, suggested that Alicia or Alan give a ten-minute warning before bedtime. Madison said that she would like the warning to be given in a quiet voice. Alicia responded to their input by saying, “I notice that you are really thinking hard about ways to make our household happy at bedtime. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing your ideas. I wouldn’t have thought of some of them myself.  That’s what makes all of these thinkers together so valuable!” Alan contributed the phrase, “I need you to get ready for bed” as the signal for bedtime and said it would be delivered only once. Alicia added that there would be a break for anyone who doesn’t listen. She set the start of bedtime preparation at 7:30 for Madison and 8:00 for Josh, with lights out at 8:00 and 8:30 respectively, and all agreed on the plan.

The Elbergs wrote out the kids’ rules that started with “no.” Their list included no whining, no dawdling, and no getting out of bed, no bothering your sibling, no calling for mom or dad, no arguing, and no excuses. Although these rules struck Alicia and Alan as a bit more harsh than they had envisioned, they thought about the pleasant nature of an evening without these behaviors, and decided to go for it. Each child gave input to the bathroom routine, which ended up with Madison brushing her teeth and using the bathroom first, and Josh following with a nighttime shower to make the morning routine more simple. Madison added, “I want to say prayers with daddy every night, and I want to sleep with my new stuffed giraffe.” Josh said, “I want mom to help me set out my clothes every night so I don’t have to decide in the morning. That will be a lot quicker.” Contingency plans were created for evenings when Alan or Alicia would not be home at bedtime. Alan and Alicia stated that they would read or tell stories with each child, and that they would alternate reading with them. Dad would read a page and Madison would read a sentence, and mom and Josh would work out their plan as they went. A three-minute back-rub for Josh and a head-rub for Madison completed the plan for the nightly routine.

The Elbergs decided that lights would go out at the designated time and that Alan and Alicia will continue with their evening’s activities. If Madison or Josh breaks a rule, s/he will serve a break in the bed with no discussion at all, other than, “Broke a rule, take a break.” Alan or Alicia will be present in the room for the break to monitor it, but will not have any interaction with the child. After the break is completed, the parent will leave the room. (These steps may have to be repeated several times at first, until the child realizes that there is no emotional energy from the parent for breaking a rule.)

Alan and Alicia expressed their heartfelt appreciation for a great meeting to both children and to each other. They followed through with more appreciative expressions the next morning by saying, “I just love it that this is the way we do bedtimes now! I woke up so full of energy today and it looks like you did, too! You kids are the greatest.”

For many parents who read this, the preceding may look like a lot of extra work. No doubt it is extra energy out-put, but the amount of energy is about the same as the energy expended on negativity, and in contrast, it actually results in great improvements! Parents soon realize that the forethought and follow-through they give to bedtimes pay off in a huge way, and they get hooked. And once the children realize that their bedtime routine is solid and predictable, their need to test the limits diminishes significantly, and the chaotic bedtime scenes subside. There is, of course, no guarantee that every single night will be quiet and serene, but progress toward that vision is very possible. Parents who put in the effort toward planning bedtimes and thoughtfully implementing their plans say that it is well worth it when they realize the rewards: peaceful evenings, well-rested children and happy parents!

Copyright © Tina Feigal 2011

PostHeaderIcon Using the Present Moment to Parent Your Intense Child

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.

PostHeaderIcon To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s Motivation

To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s


Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

Children of all ages are motivated by their internal urges (hunger, fatigue, mood, preference) which are influenced by outside forces (time constraints, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, and teachers.)  We forget that the internal urges and outside forces are frequently out of sync. To gain the best cooperation possible, our own instincts tell us that we should deliver the expectation, and the child should comply, and if compliance doesn’t occur, we should use anger to make it occur.  As we fail to consider the child’s inner urges, and only consider our own perspective, we keep running the same script over and over with no improvements.  A simple request turns into a major tantrum or disrespectful scene, and behavioral storm clouds start to gather. Harsh language, slamming doors, threats, and physical attacks follow what parents thought was a reasonable request.  What happened here? 

To know the answer to this question, we need to study the child for signs of what’s motivating him or her, in other words, what are his current internal urges?   Often some internal negative message, such as “I’m not a good kid, so why should I act like one?” or “I only want my way, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,” make a child behave the way he does.  When a child feels this down, compliance is just not in the offing. 

Considering the motivation for behavior is a much better way to actually get the results we want.  Now some people think this might be coddling the child.  I would argue that with all human beings, listening to internal motivation results in better performance, so why not use this in parenting difficult children? The real “magic” here is to lift the child up so that he feels seen. 

Children with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Giftedness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of just plain hard behavior need to be regarded as having their own internal agenda, based on the messages from children’s bodies.  If we fail to see them as having these internal urges, we will be in non-stop combat mode. 

So the next time you have a request, consider the child’s internal urges before you deliver it, and include an acknowledgement of the child’s inner state in your words.  It can look like this: “I realize you hate to be rushed, so I am going to allow extra time for us to get out the door in the morning.  You can take your time getting up and dressed, so you can feel more relaxed. We can leave at 7:30 without having to hurry.”  The child’s ability to comply is directly related to the amount of sensitivity to his internal urges.  The outside force of the need to be on time for school, camp, or practice now seems less foreboding, and he is free to cooperate. You feel better, too, knowing you have a technique to use that’s compassionate and gets positive results. 

To create success with your child at home, click here to learn about parent coaching.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

PostHeaderIcon What Your Child Can’t Tell You

What Your Child Can’t Tell You

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Parenting Speaker
You have probably heard the phrase, “All behavior is communication.” The more I think about this, the more I see that it is a crucial thought for raising children. I want everyone to emblazon this idea where they will see it every day. Children misbehave because they lack the communication skills and insight to tell us what’s really happening. It’s our job to look beyond the behavior to the root feelings.
When a child whines, it is not because she likes the sound of whining. It’s because she lacks the maturity and experience to say, “Mom, Dad, I am frustrated right now because you are asking me to hurry for school, but I am a kid and I’m just slower.” Instead, she’ll exhibit all kinds of unwanted behaviors: whining, delaying, arguing, and even getting physically aggressive.
When a grade-schooler refuses to do his homework, it’s not likely that he is simply lazy. His behavior is communicating that he is discouraged in some way. Our first impulse as parents is to make him seethat he needs to get the work done so he can be successful. We remind, cajole, threaten, and eventually explode. Our first impulse would be much more helpful if instead, it was to determine what to do about the discouragement.
When a teenager doesn’t listen to our advice, it’s not because he is just being a jerk. His behavior is communicating that he is in a new phase of development. He needs to make his own decisions, and we are inadvertently calling him incompetent whenever we advise him. He takes it as an insult every time we make a suggestion. He can’t say, “Mom, Dad, I appreciate that you care about me, and that you are more wise than I am. But I need to make these decisions myself because I am becoming a young adult, and that’s what young adults do. Please bear with me as I struggle and even fail sometimes.” So he leaves the house in a huff, giving the door an extra hard slam for emphasis. We would be much better off if our first impulse was to support him in his decision-making, rather than tell him what to do.

It’s essentially a short-cut. If you want cooperative behavior from your kids, take the short-cut by training your mind to see what’s beneath the communication. Practice seeing your child’s innocence first, and working to understand what lies beneath the foul language, the time spent with the door locked, and the “interesting” style of dress. You will find a vulnerable, changing child who simply doesn’t have insight yet. That’s our job as adults … to gain the insight and act accordingly.

Rather than exhibit anger over disrespectful behavior, acknowledge there’s an emotion that the child cannot express directly lying just under the surface. Kids get hurt a lot easier than most adults realize, so they are compelled to protect their tender hearts by lashing out. If we don’t give them cause to protect themselves (by seeing what’s really going on) they won’t have to be so defensive.

So the next time you see a child “acting out”, ask yourself what’s being communicated. It will be an emotion that the child is too young or too immature to express directly, such as hurt, frustration, disappointment, hopelessness, or something else you can help to identify. Then address the child in those terms, rather than with your own irritation. Say, “You seem upset. Want to tell me what’s up?” or “How about you take some time in your own room until you feel better and we can talk?” or “I remember being your age and feeling that same way. Sit down, and let’s try to make this better together.” You are getting to the root emotion, rather than placing judgment on the child’s behavior. Congratulations! You are on the short-cut to better communication and better behavior with your child.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal