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Coping Skills for Managing Emotions

Coping Skills for Managing Emotions provides 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.

2. Notice all emotions

Both positive and less positive emotions.

·      Children to understand that all emotions, positive and less positive, are valid and worth expressing.
3. Assess

What do you think the child may be feeling? Try not to judge what you think the cause of their emotion may be (although you may have some thoughts about it).

·      Adults to think about what the child is experiencing and be open minded until you have more information.
4. Reflect the child’s emotions back to them

Make a brief statement to the child describing how they appear to you and the emotion you think you observed (e.g., “you look sad”; or “you seem excited”).

·      Children to feel acknowledged and understood.

·      Children to not feel overwhelmed by adults using too many words or complicated language or asking difficult questions such as “How are you feeling?”

5. Use a variety of feeling words

Over time children experience more differentiated emotions (e.g., excited, angry, frustrated, lonely) from the primary emotions (happy, mad, sad, afraid).

·      Children to build their dictionary of feeling words.

·      Children increase their capacity to distinguish between different emotions.

6. Acknowledge

Acknowledge children’s emotions even when you are not comfortable with them or think they are unreasonable.

·      Children feel understood and increases the likelihood they will share their feelings with others in the future so adults can help them develop constructive ways of dealing with their emotions.

·      Adults to recognize the child’s viewpoint which may be different from their own.

7. Revise

Revise inaccurate reflections

·      Adults become better at reflecting children’s emotions.

·      Children to practice using words to express their emotions.

·      Children feel understood and capable which is important for their developing sense of self.

Parents and carers can also use non-verbal communication to reflect children’s emotions. Non-verbal communication includes body positioning, hand and arm gestures, and body language. It is important for children’s emotional development that parents’ and carers’ use of words, visual and sound cues convey a single message. For example, talking in a calm voice with open body language (e.g., holding arms open) and a kind expression conveys gentleness, safety and trust. This helps ensure adults’ non-verbal messages reflect and are consistent with their verbal messages to children.

How you are is as important as what you say or do. Mixed messages can be confusing for children.

Here are some examples of emotional experiences children may have, how parents and carers might respond and what skills children can learn from these experiences.

When a child is upset
They might … A parent or carer might respond by … The child learns …
… sit on the floor not playing and frowning … bending down placing a gentle hand on the child’s shoulder and saying ‘I can see that you look upset. Do you want to tell me what happened? What can we do to help you feel better?’ using a kind and gentle voice. … that someone is interested and cares. It also provides the child with some choice, as well as hope and skills for managing negative experiences.
… shout at another child with whom
they are fighting over a toy
… helping the two children to calm down by using words to describe their feelings and working together to solve the problem (for example, “You seem to be upset. Why don’t we stop and have a big stretch and relax? Then maybe you can each say why you are upset and what ideas you have for solving the problem and feeling better.”). … to calm down and how to solve problems with others.
… cry … giving them a cuddle and be still with them until they have calmed down. … to experience and know what it is to be calm and trust that there is someone there for them.
… be quiet and not draw any attention to themselves … watching from a distance for a while and think about what the child may be experiencing. A parent or carer could slowly move closer to the child and provide some contact and comfort or reassurance, followed by engaging the child in an experience when they seemed ready to do so. … that they are important and their feelings are valued. They may also learn that they can feel better by sharing their feelings with others.

(Source: Kostelnik, M.J., Whiren, A.B., Soderman, A.K., & Gregory, K.(2006). Guiding children’s social development. Theory to practice (5th ed.). Thomson Delmar Learning: NY)



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 and 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

These articles are geared to parents getting ready to send their child off to college:

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


Make New Year’s Resolutions a Family Project

Are you already thinking ahead to the new year? Are you mentally writing your list of resolutions? Here are some suggestions for making those resolutions stick and using them as a teachable moment for your family.

Step 1. Set the right goal. Set specific goals for yourself, ones where progress can be measured, that you know you can reach, and that you define a finish line for yourself. Your resolutions should be relevant to your life now and their achievement will positively impact your life. Ideally, they should serve as way to reset ingrained bad habits. Include making time to accomplish your goal as part of the resolution. Make one of your resolutions something that everyone in the family can participate in.

Step 2. Find community to support your goal. Having a partner or joining a group is one way to get support. Another is to enlist your family. Make your goal your family’s goal. If your resolution is to exercise at least 3 times a week, set a time for the family to get out and move every weekend. Maybe it’s walking in the park Sunday afternoons for half an hour or going to the pool at the Y together for family swim. Whatever it is, make it part of your weekly schedule. Motivate yourself and share that motivation with your family. Make a chart and post it on the fridge; have your kids put the stickers on the chart to mark your accomplishments. Plan for rewards, and include the family in them; they’ll be invested in your success.

Step 3. Plan B and Consequences. You will stumble. Those 2 steps backwards are teachable moments – for yourself and for your family. If your resolution is to skip desserts and sweets during the week and you indulge in a donut one morning, have a plan to walk for an extra half-hour the next day or to pass on desserts the following weekend. Don’t beat yourself up—it’s important to have self-compassion, take responsibility and hold yourself accountable. It’s what you’re trying to teach your kids, right? There’s no better lesson. Not only will you feel good about your own resolutions, you will be modelling setting and accomplishing goals for your family.

For more suggestions about New Year’s resolutions, check out these articles:

How to Make (and Keep) a New Year’s Resolution

5 things to do now for New Year’s resolution success




Taking Action: Summer Fun

A simple outline for teaching your teen responsible decision-making:

  1. Define the goal or outcome
  2. Ask how to achieve the goal
  3. Help them to implement their plan
  4. Assess together whether the strategy is working

Tips for listening without judgment:

  1. Ask your teen to define the problem rather than telling them what you see as the problem.
  2. If the problem is a big one (I hate my life!), help to break it down into something manageable and tangible (I don’t have any fun plans for this weekend.)
  3. Ask what is the problem.
  4. Brainstorm solutions. The key to brainstorming is that there is not wrong answer. Just let all the ideas flow for five minutes, then evaluate the ideas and eliminate those that don’t work.
  5. You, as the parent, are the one with the better developed executive functioning. Have follow-up conversations to make sure your teen is taking action. Discuss any modifications to the original plan. Praise your teen’s efforts. Keep the conversation going until each party is satisfied. There is a difference between win-win and compromise.

Taking Action: Eating Smart; Eating Healthy

Beware of Trans Fats

Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans-fat. But most trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. Get in the habit of reading ingredients labels when you’re at the grocery store.

Trans fat can be found in many of the same foods as saturated fat. These can include:

  • Coffee creamer
  • Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, and other baked goods
  • Fast food
  • Frozen pizza
  • Ready-to-use frostings
  • Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
  • Snack foods (such as microwave popcorn)
  • Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines

Instead, try these healthier alternatives:

  • Unsaturated fats, such as butter, but in much smaller amounts.
  • Substitute saturated vegetable fats, including palm and coconut oils.
  • Use a blend of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oils to get the shelflife, taste, and texture of trans-


How to Incorporate More Whole Grains at Meals

  • To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product:
    • Use whole-wheat bread instead of white bread for sandwiches.
    • Substitute brown rice instead of white rice.
    • Whole Wheat Pasta instead of White Pasta. There are a number of different varieties available, each with different texture and taste.
  • Prepare mixed dishes with whole grains, such as:
    • Barley in vegetable soup or stews.
    • Bulgur wheat in a casserole or stir-fry.
    • Whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs in meatloaf.
    • Rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets, or eggplant Parmesan.
  • Try substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. There are many recipes and cookbooks available that substitute healthier flours for white flour.
  • Try an unsweetened, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salad or in place of crackers with soup.
  • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.


Tips for Adding More Vegetables to Your Family’s Diet

  • Buy fresh vegetables in season. It is most cost effective and they are likely to be at their peak flavor.
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking in the microwave.
  • Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up pre-washed bags of salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes.
  • Prepare and cut your veggies such as baby carrots or celery sticks in the beginning of the week so you can grab them for quick snacks.
  • Use a microwave to quickly warm up your vegetables. White or sweet potatoes can be prepared quickly this way.
  • Try crunchy vegetables, raw or lightly steamed.
  • Add grated or chopped vegetables to meatloaf, burgers or pasta sauces.

Taking Action: Can Meditation Positively Impact Your Teen

Tips on How to Meditate:

  • Choose a time of day where distractions will be limited.
  • Turn off your phone. Better yet, leave it in other room, turned off.
  • Find a quiet place where you can sit without being disturbed. Try to always meditate in the same place.
  • Close your eyes, it’s easiest to meditate without a lot of external distraction. Sitting in the same spot helps you become committed to your meditation setting.
  • During meditation, stick with a natural breath, but remember that it can be helpful from time to time to mindfully soften, deepen, or elongate your breath.
  • Start small with five minutes of meditation each day. Just as you would need to build up your endurance to run for long distances, you need to train yourself to meditate. Over time, try working your way up to 20-40 minutes by increase your time in small increments until you reach a length of time that feels right to you and works with your lifestyle.