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When Your Teen Has a Friend in Crisis

When Your Teen has a Friend in Crisis

It’s important to support teens who are dealing with a friend’s crisis. Coaching them to make good choices in responding to their friend’s issues will not only help the friend, it will model for your teen how to handle difficult situations.

Whether your teen openly tells you that he is worried about a friend or you just have a “sixth sense” that something is wrong, the first step is to encourage your teen to speak to someone if he is worried about a friend. It may not be you, but as a parent, you should follow up with your child about his having shared his concerns. Let him know that talking to someone is the right thing to do, even if the friend has asked for secrecy. You know that your teen is still a child—and needs your guidance– even if he thinks that he and his friends are “grown-up.”

Supporting friends is hard work and emotionally draining. Your job to parent your teen. Show empathy, ask “Are you okay? I’m here to for you if you want to talk.”

Help your teen make a plan. How is he going to act on his concern? Guide him to make good choices, especially about sharing concerns with his friend’s parents. Prepare him for his friend’s reaction, which may be anger at your teen. Remind your teen that he acted out of concern and that he may just have to weather his friend’s anger or hurt.

Dealing with a friend in crisis may be the first time your teen has to wrestle with big emotional issues and the challenges that life throws us all. Remember that how you support your teen models how you want him to support the people that are important to him.

Resources for Parents:

How to Talk to Your Teen About A Suicide

When A Child’s Friend Attempts Suicide

How to Help Someone In Crisis

Supporting a Teen with a Friend in Need

Consider reviewing this webpage together with your teen, as it contains disturbing content.

Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose

Resources for Teens:

Save a Friend: Tips for Teens to Prevent Suicide

Four Key Things That Can Help You Support A Friend


Setting Limits: Why saying no may be the most important gift you give your children

            It’s hard to say no. Ask any parent of a young child, especially when it has been a long day at work, near the end of a long, rainy weekend day, or in the cookie aisle of the supermarket. There are plenty of times when it feels easier just to say “yes” just to get a little peace and quiet. These are the times to refocus yourself and remember just how important it is for children to have clear, consistent limits.        

            When parents set boundaries and expectations, they are helping their children feel safe and secure. If the rules are clear and children know what is expected of them, they learn not only how to regulate their own behavior, they also learn what your family values.

            This doesn’t happen overnight. When you begin establishing rules and limits and consistently making your expectations clear over time, you are providing your children with a toolbox of skills they can use to navigate the emotional and behavioral challenges they will face throughout their lives.

            It’s both impossible and undesirable to manage setting limits at all times and in all circumstances. What matters most? Protecting your child from harm, looking after personal property, respecting and caring for other people—these are commonly-held principles for everyone.

            The other limits and boundaries you set depend on what is most important to you as a family; while the guiding principle remains the same (“A good night’s sleep is important”), the details (actual bedtime) will of course change over time as your child develops physically and emotionally. Other situations to consider are screen time, food choices, being left unsupervised, and of course, phone and driving privileges. As children mature into teenagers, these boundaries evolve into a means of helping them become responsible adults, especially when they are challenged by peer pressure.

            Here are some things to think about when setting limits for your family:

  • Knowing why a limit exists can make it easier to respect the limit.
  • Keeping rules simple and consistent also makes it easier to help your child follow them.
  • Use clear and straightforward language, focusing on “do” rather than “don’t.”
  • Offering your child choices when possible helps exercise decision-making skills.
  • Labeling behaviors rather than the child avoids the trap of promoting a poor self-image.
  • Praising success makes everyone happy.

            Most boundaries are not set once in stone for the entire course of a child’s development.  You can also think of boundaries as a set of evolving expectations that reflect your child’s developing brain. Involve your children in setting the rules and routines that structure everyday life in your family. Talking about why you have certain rules helps them to understand the reasons for having them and the consequences for not following them. You may also find that they see novel solutions that work for everyone!

Taking Action

Remember that children learn by pushing up against limits; as a parent, setting those limits and holding firm isn’t conflict. The boundaries parents set for their families keep everyone safe, reinforce a family values, and teach children how to live with others.

Toddlers and Young Children

It’s all about safety and establishing a routine for babies and very young children, but even when speaking to young children, how you communicate these limits is important.

Explain the limit in a positive way that explain why there is a boundary:

  • “Hold my hand when we cross the street. There are lots of cars and you might get hurt.”

Use an “I-message:”

  • “I can’t let you throw sand, you might hurt someone in the sandbox. Unless you stop, we’ll have to go home.”

Consequences should be logical:

  • “If you yell loudly at the movie, we’ll have to go home because other people can’t hear.”

Use “when” statement to communicate your expectations:

  • “When you have washed your hands, you can have a snack.”

Offer choices:

  • “It’s cold outside, you can wear your sweater or your jacket.”

Older Children and Teens

It’s important to keep your cool when talking about limits with older children and teens. Not only are you teaching self-control and responsibility, as a parent, you’re modeling that behavior.

  • Rules need to be specific. Have a family discussion so that everyone is on the same page and understands both the rules and the consequences. 
  • Create dialogue by involving your child in developing the rules and consequences; that way, even if they are not fully satisfied with the boundary, they will have a better sense of the rationale behind it.
  • Consistently follow through with consequences.
  • Recognize and encourage success and effort
  • Keep the conversation going so that the boundaries you establish change both as your child grows and matures and can handle more responsibility. If rules aren’t respected, keep talking so that problems can be addressed before they get too overwhelming.
  • Reach out for help. There are lots of resources in the community: counselors at school, clergy at houses of worship, community organizations like COPE or others on our website (hyperlink to website listings).

Further Reading

Toddlers and Young Children

How to Set Effective Limits With Your Child

Everyday Rules and Limits

Making Rules and Setting Limits

5 Ways to Set Limits: By Eleanor Reynolds

CDC: Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers: Creating Structures and Rules


Questions for Setting Limits

Understanding Challenging Teens

Keeping Teens Healthy by Setting Boundaries


Internet Addiction

Limiting Screen Time

Divorced Parents: Setting Consistent Limits


Taking Care of the Caregiver (resources)

Taking Care of the Caregiver

Being a parent is hard work, and when a parent has the additional emotional and physical responsibility of being a caregiver to a family member, it can strain even the most resilient person. It’s important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

The Caregiver Coalition of United Way of Northern New Jersey has resources online and programs to support caregivers, including a handbook:

The Caregiver Coalition website:

Taking Care of Yourself: Self -Care for Caregivers

25 Simple Self-Care Tools for Parents: Quick Ideas to Renew Energy, Strengthen Relationships, and Be Good to Yourself

Why Self-Care Is Essential to Parenting: Caring for Children with Intense Needs Can Take an Emotional (and Physical) Toll on Parents

How to Practice Self-Care When Your Child Is Living with Mental Illness


Raising a Resilient Child

As a parent you know that a healthy diet, exercise, and a good night sleep are important for your child to grow and thrive. These are all about keeping the body healthy as well as nurturing social and emotional well-being. For a child to truly thrive, their mental health and intellectual development are two – but not the only other – aspects of development to pay attention to as a parent. And you can apply these same concepts to your own well-being. You’ve probably heard the term “resilience.” Resilience is, very simply, the ability to quickly recover from adversity.

How does resiliency fit into your parenting goals? You can think about it as teaching your child to be a “half-full” kind of person and fighting the negativity of seeing the bad stuff in life as what defines you. Being able to adapt well in the face of challenges: turning around your day when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed; using “not doing well on a test” as a challenge to figure out how to do better next time and learn from less than satisfying results; not being devastated after losing the big game; how to mourn falling out with your best friend or breaking up with a girl or boy friend and not being defined by the ended relationship; as well as more serious adversity, trauma, or tragedy.

What is the key to thriving in the face of the bad stuff? It is a kind of balance, of having the “muscle memory” of thought patterns and behaviors that replenish physical, mental and emotional reserves to bounce back.

Like so much of parenting, cultivating resiliency in your child means that your behavior and responses set the example that your child will mirror. Being resilient means developing your own emotional bank account. To do this includes:

  • Be aware of your own thoughts and feelings
  • Form and maintain strong relationships
  • Cultivate optimism; fight pessimism
  • Learn from experience and be explicit in modeling this for your family
  • Practice self-care, including making physical exercise part of your routine as well as some mindfulness exercises
  • Lighten up; don’t take yourself too seriously, be able to laugh and be silly sometimes

Another piece of this puzzle is having a “growth mindset,” an outlook that encourages you to see challenges as an opportunity and not a barrier.

Through decades of research, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, found that people’s beliefs about their intelligence differ. Some people believe that their intelligence and abilities are unchangeable. In other words, you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t do much to change it. This is called a “fixed mindset.” Think about the phrase, “I’m not a math person.” This statement indicates a fixed mindset about math, because it attributes math ability to an unchangeable quality. Others have different ideas about their intelligence and abilities. Some people believe that it is possible to grow your intelligence through effort. This is called a “growth mindset.” Think about the phrase, “Math was really confusing at first, but I’ve studied hard all year and I understand it a lot better now.” This indicates a growth mindset, because it shows a willingness to dig in deep.

(Fixed vs. Growth: Understand the two basic mindsets that shape our lives

There are tools to help you consciously shift your language toward a “growth mindset.” A useful one is this simple chart about changing how you, and in turn your family, thinks about problem solving:

From: Greater Good Website/Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. Click here for more resources.

The next step is how you encourage and praise your child. You want to praise a child for her hard work rather than for being smart, emphasizing the effort and not the innate ability. Think about great musicians; every child prodigy who turned into a brilliant soloist got there through working hard, sports superstars train every day. It isn’t enough to innately be good at something, you need to work hard at it. For most of us mere mortals, the ability to persevere and keep working on solving a problem or mastering a skill is an essential part of accomplishing anything. The ability to do that is like a muscle, it needs to be cultivated and exercised.

As a parent, you need to “walk the walk” through how you approach challenges, and you need to “talk the talk.” Just as you need to shift how you think about problem solving, shift how you talk about it. Offering sympathy may at first seem like the best approach when your child is struggling, but instead try encouraging a child to chip away at a challenge saying something like “Maybe it’s time to try a new strategy.” Of course, as a parent you need to know when a child has reached his limit and redirect him toward something that builds his confidence. And there are challenges that can’t be overcome, from something as trivial as a child being tone-deaf to something serious like a learning disability. As a parent, it is important to be attuned to this and a part of a parent’s role is to balance a “growth mindset” with your knowledge of who your child is.

Resources and Further Reading

How resilient are you? Take this test:

A listing of resources to build resiliency

Ken Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, in a 7 minute YouTube video introduces the 7 C’s Model of Resilience – competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It is a plan for helping children develop the skills to make them happier and more resilient.

The Road to Resiliency

Carol Dweck’s TedTalk on growth mindset and kids and challenges

This is a great set of short lessons on the role of the parent in Growth Mindset. Includes short videos, surveys, and activities. Includes a Spanish version.

How does this fit into school; an interview with Carol Dweck: How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success?

Looking for a deeper dive into your own resiliency and well-being, this article has links to a variety of resources.

Want to read more, the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S. Charney, M.D. provides a range of strategies for developing resilience.

For Teens

Creating Your Personal Stress Management Plan

When to Ask for Help

Ryan Leak: Chasing Failure (YouTube video)


Parenting Positively

Parenting is hard, and good parenting is even harder.  Good parenting is parenting the child you have at this moment, proactively exercising some basic parenting skills, while being positive and supportive.  Kids need structure and limits. This may seem daunting, but these will become easier and smoother to establish if you think them through ahead of time and base them on your family values–what is most important to you. These limits may change as your family and circumstances change; but as long as they are rooted in the values most important to you, they will remain consistent.  It also really helps if you keep your ultimate objective in mind:  a well-adjusted, independent, and resilient adult. Maintaining a sense of humor (especially about yourself) and not micro-managing your child’s life are also part of the recipe for good parenting.

Your child’s current social and emotional stage determines how they feels, thinks and interacts with others. So not only is each child unique, but each child changes almost daily as they pass through the various developmental stages on their way to adulthood.  This means that you, the parent, also have to change almost daily, adjusting your approach based on where your child is today, and don’t forget that social and emotional development don’t always synch up with intellectual (or physical!) development. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, how you communicate within your family is also critical.   

We believe that there are four foundational skills that will help you become the best parent you can be. These are: active listening, giving effective instructions or commands, pick your spot and firm and giving meaningful consequences.

Scroll down to the end of the article to see 4 Key Parenting Skills. More detailed information can be found in the Ages and Stages under Topics for Parents on our main menu.

Throughout this article there are links to more in-depth information. In addition, on the website the menu Topics for Parents provides a deeper dive. Our Resources for Parents emphasizes organizations local to Essex County, NJ, but there are many other links to websites and organizations that help support good parenting.

Here’s a quick take on a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development:

Early Childhood is a time when children have become mobile and are actively exploring their environment. Children at this stage experience rapid physical and intellectual development. “Emotional regulation” can be challenging as a child learns to modulate their emotional expression, discover their independent nature, and learn that they can say “No.” Over time, with help, the child also learns how to accept being told “No”.

Throughout the elementary school years is when children reach an understanding of the physical dimensions of the world and develop an accurate perception of events; they are capable of rational, logical thinking and are able to understand right and wrong, but they will say and do things to avoid punishment.

In the middle school years, children identify much more with their peers, while distancing themselves from their parents and families. They are hyper-aware of their appearance and are very self-conscious about it as social acceptance depends on conformity to the norms of their peer group. While they are beginning to be able to think abstractly and logically and are able to consider the consequences of thoughts and actions without experiencing them, they are not yet able to apply these mental processes to themselves.

During the high school years and young adulthood, each teen forms their own identity.  They examine the values, beliefs and behaviors of others, organizing those perceptions into a coherent world view for themselves, sometimes at odds with that of their families.

They are capable of systematic problem solving, able to consider multiple solutions and plan a course of action for themselves. However, reasoning skills are the last part of brain development (often not completed until the mid to late 20s) to occur. This means that they may behave in reactive, impulsive or novel ways, since their brain’s decision-making structure is still under construction. This means that they often cannot explain or understand their own actions. This development doesn’t magically end at age 18.  Social, emotional and brain development continues well into the 20s.

Life lessons often come in unexpected places. While you don’t want to obsess about all of your patenting choices, how you interact with your child, how you behave out in the world, the choices you make about books, television and other media as well as your expectations for your child, yourself and other people all contribute to the person your child will develop into.

Don’t feel burdened by this. Think creatively. Teachable moments happen all the time. Remember that you are always on stage for them. Stopping to let another driver turn, interacting politely with the cashier in the grocery story, volunteering at a soup kitchen, being conscientious about recycling… are these actions are observed and absorbed.  Speak to your child as you want them to talk to others. Please and thank you matter. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have made a mistake and apologize.

There are teachable moments in the everyday.  Use yourself as an example, both good and in the needs-improvement category.  Find stories, books and electronic media that model for your children ways that you want them to be in the world, that show children of different genders challenging gender roles, that show diverse faces and bodies, that show families of all different make-ups.

Beginning in elementary school, help them develop sense of right and wrong, both through conversation and action. Talk about respecting others, and what to do when others are not kind or respectful to them. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.

As your maturing child engages with the outside world, talk about the news and issues that you are hearing about or that family members are involved with. Listen to what your teen is saying. Use open ended questions to try to get them to open up. You can even choose family movie night selections that might start a conversation. Be honest about what you believe and why and why you want them to do (or not do) something.

All along the way, find ways to act on your beliefs, with or without your child.

Remember that you are always on stage for them. Swearing at another driver, using your cell phone in the car, volunteering at a soup kitchen, getting involved in politics, being conscientious about recycling are all absorbed. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.  Don’t be afraid to use yourself as an example whether of what’s happening in your day to day life now or of when you were growing up.

Sometimes it may seem that your teen rejects all of your “good advice”, but give it time. It may take 3, 5 or 10 years, but there is a good chance that they will do you proud.

4 Key Parenting Skills

Active Listening

It’s easy to miss out on the important things when you are busy getting your family’s dinner on the table, helping with homework or making sure your child has what they need for their extra-curricular activity. At times, children are telling us things and we just go through the motions of hearing, but we’re not really listening. When this occurs, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling. 

Giving Effective Instructions or Commands

Effective instructions or commands are specific and direct. They are given face-to-face, and after giving them, the parent remains in charge. Ineffective commands are broad, vague, yelled from another room, and cede control to the child. Rather than asking your child to tidy up the kitchen, tell them to put their dishes in the dishwasher. It is important to make sure that you have your child’s attention when you give the command. Ineffective commands are phrased as a question: “Do you want to take out the garbage?”  What do you do when your child says no?  You are then stuck, having ceded power to your child.

Pick Your Spot

It is important to know your limits (what you will and will not accept) and stick to them. Typically, your child will push those limits in predictable ways in routine situations. Ahead of time – before you get into one of those situations – know what your limit is going to be.

Giving Meaningful Consequences

When giving consequences it’s important to be fair, firm and consistent.  Try to give the consequence in a friendly manner; you are enforcing consequences for a behavior or action.  Ideally, we want to reinforce desired behaviors in order to prevent undesired ones.  You want to support the child being good much more than you want to punish an undesired behavior.  If you see your child playing nicely with a younger sibling, praise them for doing so and reinforce the good behavior.  Don’t wait for them to lash out when their younger sibling disrupts their play and then give a consequence such as a time out. 

Communicate clear rules and expectations so your child know what to expect in advance. In all cases, you want to name the behavior to help make things clear, both in the moment and later, when you’re talking about what happened. It’s also helpful to have a menu of reasonable consequences ready in advance so that you’re not scrambling at the last moment to come up with something and then possibly overreacting. Also remember to keep your expectations and consequences age-appropriate.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It is all too easy, when juggling the demands you face as a parent, to put taking care of yourself at the bottom of your to-do list.  We think that’s bad!  To be a positive and effective parent you must make sure to take care of yourself (and your relationships) too.  Effective self-care requires that you know yourself, your own limits and needs. Before you can help someone else, you have to take care of yourself; this is not selfish. Just like on an airplane – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help those around you.  You have to make the time for self-care, not find the time. Plan ahead and create the time slot in your busy schedule, so that you know that you have time to take care of yourself and your partner. This is an example of integrating your priorities into your daily life.

By taking care of yourself, you become better equipped to care for your family. Keeping all of the parenting balls in the air at once isn’t always easy and practicing self-care makes that juggling more do-able. And by making self-care and mindful practices part of your own coping tool-kit, they become part of your family’s routine.

Know too that there are resources to support your parenting. On the website are in-depth discussions of these and other topics of interest to parents, a resource guide linking to organizations and information available online, and information about the parenting workshops we run that help parents put these skills into practice.

Sometimes reading something new or getting insight into children’s developmental stages is will help you “up your parenting game.” Our goal is to provide you with the understanding and tools you need to parent your children so that they grow to be independent and resilient adults.


Taking Action: Cultivating Emotional Regulation in Children

Taking Action to Cultivate Your Child’s (and Your Own) Ability to Successfully Regulate Emotions

When young children need to regain their cool try this:

  1. Stretch out one hand like a star in front of you.
  2. Get your other pointer finger ready to trace around the fingers of your outstretched hand.
  3. Take a practice breath, slowly breathe in through your nose and let it our through your mouth.
  4. Slide your pointer finger up the outside of your pinky while take a slow breath in through your nose.
  5. As you exhale through your mouth, slide your finger down the other side of your pinky. Try to finish exhaling just as you reach the bottom.
  6. Keep going until you’ve finished with all your fingers and thumb.

You can find printable pages with suggestions like this to help young children manage big emotions here.

Print a feelings thermometer for your fridge.

Glitter Jars are magical, especially when trying to shift attention away from thoughts and emotions, the basic goal of all mindful practices. Whenever we bring awareness to what we are experiencing with our senses, we are being mindful. When we do this simple act, our minds calm down. This is a jar filled with water, clear gel glue, and ultra-fine glitter. You shake it and the glitter settles slowly, which is very relaxing to watch, providing something to focus on in order to relax.



  • A clean empty water bottle, with label removed, that will fit in your child’s hands
  • Clear gel glue
  • Super glue
  • Glitter
  • Hot water


  • Fill the bottle about 3/4 of the way with hot water, then add a bottle of glitter glue and a small tube of glitter.
  • Screw on the cap and play with the mixture until it takes about five minutes (our standard time out time!) for the glitter to settle at the bottom of the bottle. Add more clear gel glue to make it go slower or more water to make it settle faster.
  • Super glue the cap onto the water bottle so it can’t come off in your child’s hands.


Coping Skills for Managing Emotions is a useful guide for helping a parent reflect and respond to a child’s emotional outburst. These tables provide helpful cues and responses.

When care givers… This helps …
1. Observe

Don’t say anything. Watch first. Pay attention to the situation. What was the build up? (e.g., what happened before the child displayed their emotion?). Watch for facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, as well as listening to what the child is saying to get a complete picture.

Adults to have a better understanding of:

·      what the child may be experiencing and why

·      how the child expresses their emotions.

Click here for all of the cues and responses.

Older children need coaching to help them learn how to manage their emotions. Don’t fall into the habit of being the solution to your child’s problems, your role is to coach them:

  1. When you child is calm, sit down with him to label and validate what he is feeling. Listen, don’t judge what they are feeling. Try to reflect and restate what he is telling you so that you show that you understand what he has said.
  2. Don’t mistake validating his feelings with accepting his behavior. You have to deal with bad behavior. While you want to let your child know that what he is feeling is okay, you can’t accept or condone his actions, especially if they have hurt someone else. “I see that you’re angry and frustrated. I can understand that, but you can’t take it out on your sister.”
  3. Brainstorm with your child ways that he might solve the problem that upset him. Include talking about ways to prevent or avoid the situation in the future. Remind him of ways to “step back” from his emotions and not let them control his actions. Help him to break big problems into more manageable parts. Remember that you are the coach here; don’t step in and manage what he does. Support his efforts, cheer on his incremental progress, be there when he stumbles, and celebrate his accomplishment when he resolves the problem, even if it isn’t a completely happy outcome. He needs to know that the process of working it out can be as important as the result.
  4. Acknowledge his growth when he next faces a similar problem and handles it better. You’re the cheerleader as well as the coach.

Communications are key to giving your child the skills needed to emotional regulation :

  • Make time for talking with and listening to each other. Family meals, time outside together and care rides are some opportunities for these conversations.
  • Don’t skip talking about hard or negative emotions. Be open about the full range of feelings and give your child the vocabulary to express everything he feels. Make sure he knows that it’s okay to have bad or negative feelings and that in your family, no one judges what anyone else feels. By talking about feelings, he’ll learn the difference between feeling something and talking about it. Books, television and movies, the nightly news, and family reminiscences all present opportunities to have these conversations and develop words to describe feelings at a safe distance from what your child may be feeling, especially if those feelings are especially strong.
  • Pay attention to body language and non-verbal messages. These cues may be your opening to start a conversation about what your child may be feeling at the moment and ways to respond to and manage those emotions.
  • Work together to solve problems. Working together on building or fixing something is a good way to teach a lesson about frustration that isn’t burdened by emotional baggage. Next time you’re ready to scream at the computer or remote, ask your child to explain the solution to you, to help you solve your problem. She may be the calm and rational one in the family at that moment. If your child is doing something that makes you crazy, sit down with her and make a plan.
  • Be honest; with your family, with others and with yourself. Acknowledge and apologize for your own mistakes, especially if you’ve lost your cool. Praise your child’s honesty (but don’t skip the consequences if any are called for). Emotion Coaching: One of the Most Important Parenting Practices in the Universe

Further Reading and Additional Resources

Raising Emotion Intelligent Kids and Teens: Anger and How to Be the Boss of Your Brain: Anger is an emotional and physical response. When something happens to make you angry, your brain thinks it has to protect you from danger so it releases chemicals – oxygen, hormones and adrenaline – to fuel your body so it can fight the threat or run from it.

Social Emotional Development Checklists for Kids and Teens

10 Tips to Help Your Child with Anger

Practical Steps for learning skills for Managing Your Feelings, includes material from The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Lisa M. Schab, LCSW.

A helpful article about Anxiety in Kids

How to Explain Mindfulness to Kids

How to Practice Mindfulness with Kids is a website with many resources for understanding mindfulness and integrating mindful practices into your family.

Managing Big Emotions with Kids: Printable Resources has links to posters you can print out to post on the fridge door to help young children learn how to manage their emotions.

These YouTube videos are helpful to share with your child

An easy to understand YouTube vide for kids and their families explaining Why Do You Lose Control of Emotions.

Take 5 Breathing for Kids: YouTube Video (A technique for calming)

What Your Child Needs Most When They’re Angry: Helping Kids Manage Big Emotions (YouTube)


For parents of teens

Teen Flare-Ups: What You Need to Know to Make a Difference helps explain teenage brain development.

Hormones Affect How Teens’ Brains Handle Emotions explains the role played by testosterone in the teen brain.

That Teenage Feeling: Biological Clues to Quirky Teen Behavior

Experiencing Teen Drama Overload: Blame Biology includes an excerpt from the book Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.

Emotion Coaching: One of the Most Important Parenting Practices in the Universe

Help your teen by making sure they get enough sleep, limit screen time at night, diet, exercise, recognize signs of depression: Help with Teenage Mood Swings

Read this if you’re awake at night wonderful if you’re too tough on your teen:

What Adolescents Really Need from Parents explains how parents can help younger teens avoid depression and anxiety as they become more independent.

Keeping things in perspective and maintaining a sense of humor:

It’s a Magical World: 7 Essential Parenting Lessons From ‘Calvin and Hobbes’



Cultivating Emotional Regulation in Children

Developing Your Child’s Muscle for Emotional Regulation

An outsider looking at your family would likely see your behaviors, reactions, mannerisms and yes, jokes, echoed in your child. This isn’t deliberate, children naturally learn from their environment, and they observe you all the time, taking in how you deal with a frustrating phone call, respond to their needs, and relate to your spouse. Those unconscious lessons are sometimes the most powerful ones. While you shouldn’t get performance-anxiety thinking about what kind of role model you are for your child, you should consider what you want them to see. Getting it right for your child is a powerful motivation to get a better handle on managing your own emotions.

There is important work to be done throughout childhood to give your child the tools needed for developing emotional resiliency. One way to think of this is that you are making sure they get the daily vitamin that allows them to develop a healthy relationship with their feelings. Just like the vaccines your child receives to protect them against disease, your work to help them develop the ability to regulate their emotions provides them with the inner strength and coping mechanisms to weather the challenges that your child will inevitably face throughout their life.

This emotional self-regulation begins in infancy as a child learns to sooth himself, for example, being able to fall back to sleep when awoken in the middle of the night. Learning how to share and take turns or developing the ability to concentrate on a given task or activity are also steps along this path. Even at this young age, parents play an important role.

  • Pay attention. Name and label feelings to help your child understand what they are feeling
  • Remain calm when your child gets upset.
  • Support and comfort your child when they are frustrated, tired or angry
  • Simplify tasks into manageable steps and help your child understand how each “bite” connects to the others. Acknowledge accomplishment and mastery both of the steps and the larger goal
  • Comfort using words, gestures and touch as cues like “You sound angry,” “You look sad,” or stroking a sobbing child’s back to comfort and calm them.
  • Show empathy, responding to what a child says or is trying to communicate

Most important is to be a good role model for your child. How do you handle stress? What happens when you get angry? Click here to read Emotional Regulation: A User’s Guide to learn more about managing your own emotions including suggestions for techniques you can use to do so.

Set your child you for success. Don’t push him beyond age appropriate experiences, activities or challenges. Emotional regulation develops over time, in synch with overall growth (click here for a checklist for kids and teens) Remember too that even if he is physically or intellectually precocious, their emotional development is likely not.

By the time your child begins school, her ability to reason will be developing. When she gets angry, you can help her rate her anger and talk through it, so she begins to understand what she is feeling, both emotionally and physically—you can print a chart to post on the refrigerator door for everyone in the family to refer to.

Start to link relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or visualizations you are already practicing, to managing feelings. Try this one: you go from being a robot with all your muscles clenched tight to releasing them to be a limp rag doll. This is an effective way to release tension without having to use a lot of words to explain what is happening. Try it together before watching an episode of a television show or playing a video game with your child, or after coming home from the playground. Make an observation about how doing it makes you feel; you’re planting a seed for your child to understand how he can use his body to help control how he feels.

As a child becomes more verbal and able to name the emotions he is feeling, you can practice coping “self-talk,” teaching them how to coach themselves through a stressful moment. This is something you can model. When a driver cuts you off on the way home from school, narrate what you are doing not to lose your cool. You could say: “That driver makes me crazy, but I’m not going to blast the horn. I’m taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulders so that I can pay better attention to the road.” Another is to choose a silly word to use (like “marshmallow” or “fizzywhizzy”) when you want to swear at another driver. Adding humor into the equation of letting off steam is another great lesson.

Throughout childhood, talking about feelings is an important step in learning how to manage emotions. Name the emotion, whether it is negative like anger, sadness, stress, or positive like joy, excitement, anticipation. Accept the reaction; let your child know that whatever she is feeling is o.k. and is hard to control. What she can change is her actions, how she responds to the emotion. Find a way to help her to release it by expressing or acting in response to it, as long as she doesn’t hurt herself or someone else, whether it is by writing about them, talking to someone she trusts, giving herself permission to cry or laugh, taking time to relax, working out or channeling her feeling into an intense activity. These are all valuable steps to managing strongly felt emotions. Lastly, help your child figure out what she needs to take care of herself, what sooths her; it may be getting a hug, listening to a favorite playlist, taking a walk or nap, or getting support from a trusted friend. Just as it is important to name emotions, it is important to acknowledge and name what provides comfort. Naming is one way of knowing in both cases.

As your child approaches the teen years, as a parent, you need to step up your game. Adolescents react impulsively and instinctively. Their gut-level interpretation of emotions is controlled by the amygdala. It controls the fight or flight response, the basis of so many poor decisions made by teenagers. Remember that the part of the brain that reasons, plans, considers consequences and counteracts impulses, the pre-frontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. Throughout the teen years, the pre-frontal cortex gradually reins in the amygdala. As a parent, you can short circuit the gut impulsive reactions your teen is feeling.

As the parent, you’re the coach. By calming your teen, slowing her down to think through feelings, actions and consequences, you are helping her make better decisions, and a boost to her developing pre-frontal cortex. You can say: “I want to understand what you are saying – I know it is important. Can you speak to me calmly?” You can then help her consider more rationally what she is feeling and what she wants to do. This can be challenging because you need to juggle your own judgment with your teen’s and you don’t want to take over and draw conclusions and make decisions for her. Another way to think about your role as a parent, is to think about your guidance as providing options which she can explore and choose among. For example, if she sees an upsetting post on social media and she wants to immediately respond by posting something to get back at someone, you can lay out several alternatives that you know are safe and she won’t regret once she’s cooled down. While you have limited the choices, you haven’t taken away your teen’s ability to make a choice – while being a good parent, you’re also an empowering your teen to choose for herself.

Throughout the teen years, all parents and their offspring ride an emotional roller coaster as the push and pull of dependence and self-reliance, a teen’s emerging independent identity, brain development that allows for good judgement to blossom over time, are mixed together in a potent stew. To achieve the result every parent wants for their child, a successful launch into adulthood, instilling the skills of emotional regulation is a cornerstone of good and effective positive parenting. Read Taking Action to Cultivate Your Child’s (and Your Own) Ability to Successfully Regulate Emotions for ideas and suggestions for cultivating emotional resiliency in your family as well as links to additional articles and resources, including helpful YouTube videos to share with your family.


Taking Action: Emotional Regulation – A User’s Guide

Taking care of your physical health enables you to cope better with mental distress and emotional challenges. The acronym PLEASE Master can remind us what we can do regularly in order to keep ourselves healthy and stable.

Treat Physical Illness (take care of yourself both physically and mentally)
Eat healthy (diet, especially sugar, affects your mood and can cause mood swings)
Avoid mood-altering substances (don’t use alcohol or drugs in response to emotional distress)
Sleep well (practice good habits: no electronics before bed, limiting caffeine)
Exercise regularly: walking or stretching for 15 minutes in the morning or evening counts even if you’re not a gym rat.

Master: Do something daily (outside of your job or family responsibilities) that gives you a sense of achievement or ability.

Strategies for Controlling Anger: It can be hard to harness anger and keep it from getting out of control. These strategies aren’t about how you handle the anger when you’re feeling it, but setting yourself up to better respond to the feeling.

  1. Learn how to identify warning signs your body gives you, like suddenly your muscles tense, your breathing quickens, or it feels like your blood pressure jumps higher. Now’s the time to use the relaxation technique you’ve been practicing. Step away when you begin to get annoyed or frustrated. Take a time-out. Calm yourself before engaging.
  2. Let go. Don’t dwell on what made you mad. Learn to recognize and avoid the triggers to your anger.
  3. Think differently, Focus on solutions, actions, flexibility. Think before you speak. Use humor to release tension. Use “I-statements” to talk about what made you angry.
  4. Take care of yourself: relax, this includes getting enough exercise. Use the relaxation/mindfulness technique that works for you: deep breathing, relaxing imagery, progressive muscle relaxation.
  5. Sharpen your communication game: listen before reacting–make sure you understand what someone is saying; before speaking then pause to think through what you want to say, then take a breath before you say anything. Make the conversation about the issue not the feeling.
  6. Don’t go it alone. Know when to get help, whether it is turning to someone you trust or a professional.

Homework for becoming a more positive thinker:

  • Think about how your mind may race when you’ve got a few minutes to spare – sitting in your in the car-pool line or at the corner waiting for school bus to drop-off your child. Are you replaying the feedback you got at work from your boss, or the argument at breakfast that morning? If you focus your awareness on the present moment, feeling each breath, how the sun or drizzle feels on your skin, or how the ground feels under your feet, you are detaching your mental energies from your usual preoccupations.
  • By working these muscles routinely, when faced with an upsetting situation or confrontation, you will be able to respond from a position of better well-being, a position of strength; the kind of strength that allows you to draw on your inner resources not in an impulsive, emotional way, but in a manner that will allow for a resolution where everyone comes out a winner.
  • This may not come naturally, and you learn to do it by repeating the effort; think of the movie “Groundhog Day” as a kind of metaphor for working toward developing this kind of mental refocusing.

Active Listening:

The basics:

  1. Be present. Don’t multitask – that means put the phone on mute and put all electronic devices away.
  2. Re-set your own mind to assume that you can learn something from the conversation.
  3. Show that you are listening: use non-verbal signs to show that you are listening: make eye contact; sit or stand facing the person, give them your full attention.
  4. Give cues along the way: nod your head, smile in encouragement, or say “un-huh,” “wow,” “oh” or by repeating something the other person has said, restating it to show that you heard and understand. You can also echo what they say to show you understand: “it sounds like you are still upset.”
  5. Ask open-ended questions. Use who, what, where, when, or how. Ask “What was that like?” instead of “Was that terrible?” or “How are you feeling?” instead of “Are you still angry?” Ask questions that seek to make clear what the person is telling you.
  6. Summarize what the person has said. This demonstrates that you heard what was said and allows the other person to clarify any misunderstanding.
  7. Show that you hear what the other person is saying. You don’t have to agree, but it’s important to acknowledge that you understand what the person is saying.

Hints on putting this into practice:

Active Listening Skills – 4 Tips to Practice

Tune in to any (or all) of these TedTalks/YouTube videos hear and see what it takes to really listen to someone and turn any conversation into a meaningful exchange.

TedTalk–Celeste Headlee: 10 Ways to Have A Better Conversation

6 Tips for Active Listening

The Power of Listening

A Teen’s Summary of Active Listening


Emotional Regulation – A User’s Guide

Read the comments made about almost any online article about politics today and you’ll see unrestrained, unfiltered, emotional reactions. Imagine that you respond to everything that triggers a strong emotion in that way. That is a scary thought, also exhausting and unhealthy. Here we’re not talking about politics, but coping with the challenges and stress of the daily routine, family life and simply how you feel about yourself.

It is hard work to effectively manage and respond to strong emotion, but gaining self-mastery on this front will contribute to better physical and mental health, stronger relationships and family life lived on a more even keel. A big piece of this work involves what is commonly called “mindfulness,” which is a catch-all for a range of strategies, practices and practical steps you can use to build up your emotional immune system, your resiliency, so that you have more inner resources to call upon when facing some emotional challenge.

First, you need to understand the interplay between thoughts (including reactions to any given situation), feelings, and behaviors. We all have a reflexive response to something upsetting, like a driver cutting you off on the highway. Your thought:  that person is such an idiot.  You’re feeling: anger–you’re pissed off.  Your behavior: your body may respond, you may grip the steering wheel more tightly, you blurt out some curses or lay on the horn. Not good right? Best case scenario is that the moment passes without any consequences, but it is possible that your moment of road rage escalates into something ugly or more serious where someone gets hurt.

Second, you want to break that cycle. The goal of emotional regulation is not to deny the feeling, the anger at the other driver, but to respond in a way that breaks the connection between the angry thoughts and your behavior. You know how you react in that situation, it’s happened a thousand times before. Instead of laying on the horn, you want to regulate your emotional reaction by a conscious effort. When you feel your grip tightening on the steering wheel, you want to be able to recognize and acknowledge your anger and let go of it. You might: take a few deep breaths, relax your arm and shoulder muscles, or focus on the traffic around you by checking your rear-view mirrors.

It may not be easy to take that second step, but there is a set of strategies that you can learn, commonly called “emotional regulation,” based on a reset of your response to difficult situations. To accomplish this, the first step is to reduce your vulnerabilities, physical as well as emotional. Yeah, taking care of yourself is key.

It goes without saying that when you are well rested, healthy, and feeling positive about yourself and your life you handle stress better. The question to answer, and act on, is: “What can I do to improve my “baseline” well-being?” Using these questions as a framework, here are some suggestions for helping yourself:

  • When I get angry, what do I do? It can be hard to harness anger and keep it from getting out of control.  First, you have to recognize the feeling that is building in you as anger.  Then you have to make the conscious decision not to give in to the anger, but to let go of it.  Move beyond your anger and don’t dwell on what made you angry.  There are techniques and strategies that you can learn that will enable you to accomplish this important step.  The key is that these strategies aren’t about how you handle anger when you are feeling it, but about giving yourself new habits that will kick-in automatically.  This will take a lot of practice.  You have to do the work, and figure out what works for you.  And then you have to practice, so that when you are in a situation where you can feel your anger building, you will be able to better manage your emotions.
  • Am I taking care of myself, getting enough sleep and exercise, is my diet healthy? It’s no secret that healthy habits inoculate you against life’s inevitable hard knocks.
  • Self-care; am I able to carve out time for myself when I need it? More basically, do I recognize when I need to take a time-out? It’s important to build some time to decompress into your routine—it can be a simple as sitting at Starbucks to drink your morning coffee rather than jumping back into the car as soon as the barista hands you your cup. Why do you think the adult coloring books are so popular? Why not try it out?
  • Are you a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person? Ask yourself: “What can I do to change my thinking?” Your outlook really does affect your outcome. Shift your perspective: practice gratitude, adopt a positive posture (stand up straight, smile, look for the ray of sunshine), hang out with optimists and activists; believe in yourself, form a mental picture of success while setting clear achievable goals. Practice kindness; helping someone else does contribute to feeling better about yourself and it does good in the work.
  • Are mindfulness techniques in my tool box? Mindfulness is a mental state where you step back from what you are feeling and thinking and focus on the direct and immediate experience of what your senses tell you. This attention on what you are doing, the space through which you move and the environment around you, allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings without self-judgement. This kind of thinking is like doing a set of crunches for your mind. Just as having a stronger core is essential to having a strong body, a mindful practice has a positive impact on well-being, physical and mental health.

Can you imagine a world where reading the comments to an online article or following a twitter thread leads you to say “Wow, what an interesting perspective, now I see the issue in a different way.” rather than screaming at the screen or adding your own angry or sarcastic diatribe? The life most of us live today isn’t very forgiving, and with its rapid pace and stresses, it is essential that to learn how to regulate and manage your emotions so that you still feel them but that they do not determine your actions. You should do this not only to live a healthier life yourself, but also be a role model for your family.

In TAKING ACTION, we have further suggestions for strategies for controlling anger, mindfulness practices and other ways to build up your emotional resiliency—for both yourself and for your family. In FURTHER READING there are links to learn more about the ideas, concepts and practices discussed in this article. 


Successfully Launching an Independent Young Adult

The trajectory of the teenage years is a process of moving toward independence. Teens grow increasingly independent, disconnected from their parents, and become their own persons. This “launching” is never completely smooth; in fact, conflict is a necessary part of the separation process. This isn’t easy. It’s hard to let go and watch your child embark on their own life and it is challenging for teens to begin to be independent, to make decisions and act for themselves, and not to rely on parents for everything. However, there is much that you can do as a parent to facilitate your teen’s take-off and help them launch successfully. By acknowledging the milestones, you are recognizing that the time is coming. At the same time, you’re helping them to check off the skills necessary for living a successful adult life.

This process is normal, natural and necessary. Fight it and you’ll lose. The solution is to work with it as well as you can — by understanding what’s yours to control and what isn’t.

Doing your own laundry, making decisions about healthy eating, figuring how to get stuff done are all steps along the way. Fighting boredom, sorting out conflict with peers, tolerating discomfort, finding solutions to problems are all skills that are essential to coping with life as an adult. So much in our culture makes it hard for children to develop these skills – helicopter parenting, the explosion in technology, so much structured play and activity and simply the amount of time parents spends on “parenting” are all contributing factors.

A caterpillar struggles to break from its cocoon – teenager sympathizes. However, if you were to cut it free prematurely, it would not survive. It needs to develop the strength it takes to break out of the cocoon in order to survive in the natural world. Similarly, children need to develop the skills, overcome struggles, and see others’ trust in them in order to develop their abilities to succeed. Home should be nurturing and protective but also offer reasonable obstacles to allow children to struggle and gain strength.

Teens should earn what they want with the demonstration of their abilities. For example, your daughter wants a new guitar. She needs to show a willingness to practice and to do some work to earn the instrument. Challenges should strengthen the child’s abilities to follow her dreams. Initiative must come from the child. The cocoon of home must challenge a child’s weaknesses and emphasize her abilities. The goal is to have young people pursue their interests yet experience reasonable consequences.

Sometimes parents vacillate between holding tight reins on behavior and using coercive methods to limit autonomy, and stepping back and allowing complete freedom and excessive leniency. You want to establish a reasonable degree of authority – teens still need a sense that there are boundaries and limits in their lives – and at the same time allow them the space to develop their independence.

As a parent, you need to be able to recognize and allow normal adolescent behavior, while identifying and addressing those behaviors that are linked to severe dysfunction or negative consequences. You don’t want to foster dependence by keeping your teen from their natural movement toward autonomy. Excessive caretaking leaves your teen unprepared to negotiate the world on their own.

At the other extreme, forcing autonomy, prematurely thrusting the adolescent toward separation and greater self-sufficiency before they are ready, is a recipe for failure that can undermine your teen’s self-confidence and willingness to take the necessary risks towards independence. This premature “push” toward independence, may be a result of frustration, giving up, feeling exasperated or burned out.

When you’re trying to break out of the habit of solving your teen’s problems, you need to find the balance between clinging or stifling caretaking and pushing your teen away too soon. This should be an on-going conversation with your teen. The goal is find a balance between your child learning how to negotiate their environment with you modifying the environment for him. Problem solve with him to find ways for him to ensure that take ownership for himself that takes you out of the equation. This ranges from helping him figure out how to get to school with all of his homework and lunch to turning in a major school project on time. At the start of this journey, your teen will be working on getting the simple stuff right and over time, building to more complex and significant accomplishments. (Check out the Taking Action section of our website for practical suggestions.)

There are going to be bumps along this path. As hard as it may be, realize that experimenting with drugs, alcohol & sexuality; changing goals or self-image; frequent break-ups of romantic relationships, interpersonal conflicts – especially with parents; moodiness does not mean that your teen has a mental health issue. However, if such behavior results in self-harm, hospitalization, school avoidance, or other life-threatening or severe quality–of-life impairing consequences, there may be a more serious issue and you should consult a health care professional.

Be aware of offering guidance before your teen asks for it. If there is an issue or problem to discuss, think about the language you use. Ask open-ended questions where your teen comes up with alternatives and possible solutions. Help your teen think through the steps to take or the possible consequences. Your role is to provide advice and direction but your teen should come up with the solution. Afterwards revisit the decision. Ask: How did it go? Would you do it differently next time? What problems did you have? What help do you need? You are teaching them how to learn from their experiences and to avoid making the same mistake multiple times as well as identifying what works well for them.

Just as it is difficult to be in the passenger seat when your teen is first driving and you find yourself pressing an imaginary brake pedal, letting your teen problem solve independently can be a challenge. In the end though, it is satisfying to see your teen begin to successfully navigate life’s challenges.



While going to college is, for many teens, the big transition to independence, it isn’t the only one. When adolescents turns 18, they legally become adults. Before your child reaches that milestone, use this checklist of life skills to help them become confidently independent and to have a positive sense of competency in coping with routine life challenges.

  1. Make a meal and clean up afterwards
  2. Wake themselves up on time
  3. Do laundry from sorting to folding and putting it away
  4. Pump gas, even better, know what to do if they’re in a car accident
  5. Pitch in, best: without being asked; second best: only have to be asked once!
  6. Advocate for themselves — coach them the first time
  7. Pack their own bags
  8. Order and pay at a restaurant
  9. Talk to strangers, including: asking directions, clerks and cashiers in stores, at the bank
  10. Go grocery shopping
  11. Plan an outing
  12. Take public transportation including buying the tickets and navigating the system
  13. Online finance skills: how to use online services and understanding keeping personal data secure
  14. Make a medical appointment, pick up prescription at the pharmacy, call health insurance company with question or to find a doctor
  15. Know what to do if they’re in a car accident

Even if your child is still in elementary school, check out “12 Basic Life Skills Every Kid Should Know by High School” . This is a helpful list for figuring out what to expect from your growing child. Think about how you can help your child master these life skills. (

Teens Taking Responsibility for Themselves

Give your college-bound teen the link to CDC’s webpage (College Health and Safety:, which addresses these and other issues:

There are all kinds of tests in college–beyond those you take for a grade.

  • Social and sexual pressures.
  • The temptation of readily available alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy food.
  • The challenge of getting enough sleep.
  • Stress from trying to balance classes, friends, homework, jobs, athletics, and leadership positions.

One way you can do this is to have them add it to the contacts list in their phone.

They’re leaving home in a few weeks…Worried that you’ve forgotten something? This checklist is a useful reminder:

  • Make a plan – what do they do if they get sick?
  • Make a contract – if you’re paying, what are your requirements? Have your teen sign consent for you to get grade reports
  • Nuts and bolts – do they know how to do laundry?
  • What supports did they have in High School that will disappear?
  • Do they need to register with the Office of Students with Disabilities?
  • Create a budget together; identify who is responsible for which expenses
  • How will they choose classes? Plan their schedule?
  • What should they do if they feel homesick?



Watch the Julie Lythcott Haims’ TEDTalk How to Raise Kids Without Over Parenting and check out her book How to Raise An Adult
Grown and Flown: Parenting Never Ends is a website for parenting teens and young adults from high school through the college years.
It’s not too early to start practicing:

The Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child

The following articles are geared to parents getting ready to send their child off to college.

How to have the pre-college conversation before you’re in the car driving them there.
Launching Conversations: Tips for Parents of College-Bound Kids

Letting go: Tips for Parents of New College Students

Launching your College Student

Feeling melancholy about your child going off to college?
Struggling to Let Go of My College-Student Daughter