Back to Blog
In last month's blog post, I shared common reasons playing with our kids can be hard for many parents. Reasons like not having enough time, being too exhausted and in some cases, simply not enjoying little kids’ games were discussed. Missed that last blog post? Check it out here.
But, there’s another barrier I didn’t touch upon last month, which is: “Is my kid even having fun playing with me?”
So many parents – myself included at times – don’t know how to properly gauge whether their child is authentically having a good time.
Questions like, "Are they having fun playing with me?", "Do they even want to be playing this game right now?", "Are they bored?", are just a few of the questions that can arise when we are doubting our ability to engage our child.
All of these worries are super common and normal for parents to have. I especially find this to be common among parents who are single parents and/or divorced. Today, I’m here to offer you some signs to look out for that will let you know your child is having fun playing with you. Tips on how to play with your child in a way that’s enjoyable for both of you will also be provided.
Signs that your child is having fun with you
First, I want to acknowledge the fact that while I'm trained to look out for these signs, I'm in no way an expert on your child and your relationship dynamic. I firmly believe that when parents are attuned to their child, they know them best and will instinctually know when their child is authentically having fun. So, do pay attention to your instinct. On the flip side, for some parents, it can be hard to pay attention to that instinct because they may have been taught to not trust it. Whether you are attuned or not, here are some signs to look out for.
1) Your Child is laughing in an amazing, almost contagious way
Kids who are having a good time will often let out a deep belly laugh. You know the one – that silly, amazing laugh that sounds like pure joy. It’s that laugh that they’ve had since they were babies.
Researchers say that babies’ laughter is so infectious because it’s authentic. And our ability to recognize genuine laughter (vs. a “fake laugh”) is universal across nations and cultures.
So that’s what you’re looking for – that genuine belly laugh that lets you know that your child is having a great time.
You may be wondering, can kids “fake laugh”? Yes, they can. Sometimes this laugh sounds like a nervous giggle or an exaggerated loud laugh.
In my practice, I've noticed that a fake laugh most commonly comes up when a parent is tickling a child and/or playing a competitive game. What starts out as genuine play and laughter can easily turn into a nervous laugh when the child is starting to feel uncomfortable and wants to stop playing but doesn't know how.
Being mindful of when your child's authentic belly laugh changes to a nervous giggle or almost yelling laugh can help you gauge when you may want to take a break and change to something else.
2) They are focused and not disconnecting
Another sign that your child is having a truly good time playing with you is that they’re focused on the play and are not trying to distract you with their “antics.”
Often in my play practice, I notice parents who are excited to play a new game/activity with their child only to be met with a child who either gets up and tries to play with something else or tries to annoy the parent by doing something silly.
This can look like poking the parent, using language that the parent doesn't approve of, moving away from the parent. etc.
I refer to such behavior as a disconnection. Such moments of disconnection can often be accompanied by a lot of giggling.
Typically, when this happens, it is usually the child's way of letting us know that they are not enjoying themselves and want to move on to something else.
If your child is not doing this, then great! They are more than likely enjoying play time with you. If they are disconnecting, then move on to something else.
3) They directly tell you they’re having fun and don't want to stop
Don’t underestimate the power of words. Kids will often tell you if they’re having a good time as well as when they’re bored. If your child tells you that they don’t want to play with something because it’s boring, believe them!
If they also tell you how much fun they are having, believe them too! Sometimes parents can doubt how much fun a child is having because the type of activity/play they are doing doesn't fit into the parents' definition of fun.
Kids don’t tend to lie about these things and by honoring their likes and dislikes it can make them feel more comfortable to return again for some more.
Why isn’t my child having fun playing with me?
Now, let’s talk about the next burning question, which is: Why doesn’t it seem like my child is having fun? For some parents this can feel devastating but try not to take it personally. Instead, ty to understand that it may be more about what and how you’re playing.
Some of the most common reasons children don’t have fun when playing are:
While there are certainly other reasons your child may not enjoy playtime with you - like sound and touch sensitives, the important thing is to pay attention to your child's verbal and non-verbal signals. Doing so will help you identify patterns during their play and will ultimately allow you to address barriers that are coming up.
The last thing I will leave you with is information about a Summer Camp I am hosting for parents this Summer.
One of the things I love about my practice is being able to help parents and children learn how to play together in a loving and joyful way. Witnessing their moments of connection and hearing their genuine laughter brings a true sense of fulfillment to me.
Due to my time limitations, unfortunately, I'm unable to help as many families as I would like to, so I've put together a "camp" for Parents in the hopes of helping more families.
This two-hour, four day, in-person workshop is aimed at helping parents learn how to play with their child and connect with other parents in the same boat.
Essentially, the Summer Camp for Parents will focus on helping parents of 3-8 year old's:
I'm limiting this camp to four individuals so that I can provide tailored suggestions and have one on one time with each person as we play with various toys/tools.
Toys, light refreshments and snacks will also be provided.
Get in touch with me for more information and to sign up!
Thank you as always for taking time to read this!
0 CommentsRead More
Back to Blog
Picture this: you’re finally home from a long day of work. Your child has already had dinner and is playing with their toys. You’re trying to relax. But then, they come up to you and ask you the often dreaded question: “Will you play with me?”. You groan. But then you feel guilty. You wonder, "Aren’t I supposed to like playing with my kid(s)?"
First and foremost, I want you to know, you are not a bad parent if the scenario described above is true. After all, you are a human being with your own interests, stresses and relationship dynamics. It's understandable, that the last thing you may want to do is carve out time to interact with another human. And.... just because you are a parent, doesn’t mean you should love playing with your child.
In this month's blog, I'll talk about what it means to play with your child, common barriers you might face when it comes to playing with your child, and offer suggestions that might help you move past those barriers.
Why don’t I want to play with my child?
In order to reduce our guilt, it is first important to understand what our barriers/struggles may be. Some of the most common reasons I’ve heard from parents and personally experienced, when it comes to playing with children include:
Does any of the above resonate with you? Great, you've just solved the first problem - understanding what makes engaging in play so hard for you. The second step- understanding what play really is.
What does it mean to play with your child?
Play is generally defined as an enjoyable activity that has no clear “purpose” or “goal” – it’s something that we do spontaneously for the simple joy and fun of it. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines it as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.”
Researchers have characterized different types of play. There’s the work of Mildred Parten, who identified 6 stages of play that children go through as they develop:
The National Institute for Play has also named different types of play that are relevant both for adults and for children:
So, to sum it up: Playing with your child means doing anything with them that is for the sole purpose of their (and your!) enjoyment. Yes, playing has many real benefits – it teaches children important executive functioning skills and is critical for their development. But playing is about more than just boosting skills. It’s about enjoying spontaneous, fun time together.
And for those who may be wondering whether being in the same room on a device or reading a book while your child plays with their toys, doesn’t meet the definition of playing together. Doodling with markers next to your child who is also drawing with those markers? That could absolutely be parallel play.
What are you to do with all of this?
Now that you have all of this information, the next step is to figure out the best way for you to move past your barrier and engage your child and your inner child.
Step 1: If your barrier is related to time, then, you WILL have to schedule time to play with your child. I know, I know. You don’t have time. But I can honestly say, the best advice I ever got, from my own therapist ;), was to schedule time to play with my daughter.
At first I resisted, but when I actually took on the challenge and penciled time in my calendar to play with her, I found something amazing happened - I actually saved that time for her and worked other things around that allotted time. And when I did, I was ready and present to play.
Granted, this took a lot of practice to get used to and my resistance was still a bit present, but it eventually set in motion a behavior that has become more of a self-care routine vs a chore. Yes, play is a form of self-care when you end up laughing and having fun.
Step 2: If your barrier is you don't know how to play, then figure out what kind of play you like. For this, I would recommend two books that I credit with understanding my own play interests and helping me reinvigorate my inner child.
The first is Play by Dr. Stuart Brown and the second is a book geared to women entitled The Gift Of Play: Why Adult Women Stop Playing and How to Start Again. Whether you get them in book format, kindle or audiobook, they are two that can help you on your play journey.
Step 3: If your barriers are more deep rooted like feeling you are being manipulated then I would recommend you get some guidance from a therapist to help you flush out barriers from your past that may be preventing you to connect with your child.
If you simply are just confused on how to play and don't know how to use toys to facilitate a fun time with your child, then I would recommend joining my Summer Camp for Parents.
Beginning in July, I will be hosting a hands-on "camp" for parents where you can learn all about how to play with your kids. This is an in-person, 6-week camp for parents of young children (aged 2 to 8) who struggle with play. I'll teach you:
Space is limited to four individuals. Toys, light refreshments and snacks will be provided to make this a fun experience vs a lecture type group. Get in touch with me today if you’re interested in signing up! Let’s make it a playful summer.
Back to Blog
Let’s be real: co-parenting a child is hard – and that goes even for couples who are still together.
You’re two different people. You might have been raised differently or come from different backgrounds. And that means that you may not always agree on how to parent the child(ren) that you share. So, what can you do when you and your partner/ex disagree about something as important as parenting?
It sucks to be in this position, but it’s really normal. I see a lot of parents in my practice trying to come to an agreement about parenting styles. Maybe you want to try gentle parenting, while your partner/ex prefers a more authoritarian approach. Maybe you’re having disagreements about how much responsibility your children should have around the house, or what type of discipline is the most appropriate.
Some other common parenting disagreements include decisions about bedtime, screen time, what they should eat, religious beliefs and practices, how much money to spend on the kids, and more. There are so many varying expert opinions out there about all of these things. Even if you and your partner/ex have completely opposing views, you could probably both find experts to support you. It’s hard to know who’s “right” in these types of arguments!
But the thing is, it’s not about who’s “right.” And it’s important to deal with different parenting styles in a way that sends the right message to your children. You might have heard the saying that parents need to be a united front or as my pediatrician told me, “kids will learn how to divide and conquer if the parents are on different pages”– and there’s so much truth to this. Consistency is always key when it comes to parenting, and that remains true even if you’re having parenting disagreements.
How to deal with different parenting styles: Do’s and don’ts
This isn’t the ultimate authority on how to navigate this challenge with your partner/ex. You know your relationship much better than I do, and it could be possible that you need a deeper intervention (like mediation or therapy) to come to an agreement.
But, in general, following these do’s and don’ts when dealing with different parenting styles can help you protect both your child’s well-being as well as your relationship dynamic.
1. Do find a compromise, and try different approaches togethers.
Even if you agree only to try something out for a few weeks as an experiment, it’s important that you are unified. For example, let’s say that one parent wants to use grounding as a discipline method while the other doesn’t believe it’s useful. If your child learns that they’ll get grounded by one parent but not the other (for the same misbehavior), then this will cause a lot of confusion for everyone involved. When you agree to try something out, both of you need to back each other up.
2. Don’t argue in front of your child, especially if you know that the argument will cause either one of you to explode.
It’s okay for your child to see that you have disagreements that you work through sometimes. But it’s best that they don’t witness shouting, name-calling, or other ugly things that can come up during parental fights. They also shouldn’t be the decision-maker of who “wins” the argument – for example, don’t ask them their opinion on which parenting style they prefer. Keep it between the grown-ups.
3. Do know that it’s normal to have disagreements about parenting styles. Most couples talk about parenting, at least a little, before they have a baby. But unfortunately, there’s no way to really test parenting styles out until you already have a child. You and your partner/ex don’t have to agree on everything, and this doesn’t have to mean the end of your communication. Many parents work through these disagreements and find some common ground.
4. Don’t make it about proving your partner/ex wrong.
This isn’t about being “right” or “winning” the argument. It’s about doing what’s best for your child – and when arguments like this happen, it’s because both of you want to do right by your child (and you think your way is what’s best). Express concerns rather than trying to win. Explain to your partner/ex why this parenting style or decision is so important to you. If possible, talk about how you were parented, and what you want to do differently (or similarly) to your parents.
5. Don’t make shady comments about your partner/ex to your kids.
You know what I’m talking about – those sly or sarcastic comments that throw your partner/ex under the bus. I get it; it can be hard to bite your tongue sometimes. But kids pick up on more than we think, and can tell when you’re not being genuine. All this does is teach your child that it’s okay to be passive-aggressive and fight “dirty.”
6. Do consider getting outside support.
If you can’t come to an agreement yourselves, then a therapist/religious leader/trusted family member may be able to help. Such individuals, including a couples or parenting therapist can provide a safe, neutral space where you can talk through your disagreements. They could give some education and guidance on what has worked for other parents as well as what the research says about some of the best methods for parenting. They may also help you both find common ground and come to a compromise. Another reality is sometimes parents are overwhelmed and fighting because they don't know how to connect to their child and/or their child has unique needs. Family therapy is another source of support that can help.
Lastly, consider a parent support group. There are so many different types of groups but one that is aimed at helping parents improve their skills of communication and compromise can be beneficial. While I don't work with couples directly, you should know of two groups I am facilitating.
One group is the Single Moms Support Group for Women of Color. This group is for single mothers who identify as a Woman of Color and want to connect with other single moms who understand the hardships of raising a child in a single parent household as well as trying to raise their kids differently than how they were raised. Check it out here.
I'm also excited to announce that open enrollment is starting soon for my Summer Camp for Parents group. This "camp" is an in-person camp for parents of children ages 2-8 who are looking to learn how to play and connect with their child. Camp begins in July and will be held for six sessions in Middlesex, NJ. Click here to learn more and sign up to be notified when enrollment begins. Space is limited to four parents so don't wait!
Thank you for reading!
Back to Blog
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about the importance of developing an attachment with your child. It’s especially important when your little one is a baby, in their first 18 months of life.
Okay – so we know it’s important. But what, exactly, does “attachment” mean? How do you know if your child is “attached,” and whether or not that attachment is a healthy one?
In the world of mental health, we’re referring to something specific when we talk about parent-child attachment. This concept is rooted in attachment theory, which was developed in the 1960s by a psychologist named John Bowlby.
According to attachment theory, we all develop one of 4 attachment styles to our caregivers as young children. These attachment styles continue to affect us through our lives and into our adult relationships. Adults with secure attachment tend to have higher self-esteem, better mental health, and healthier relationships.
Secure attachment tends to form within the first 18 months of life. But even if – for whatever reason – your child wasn’t able to form a secure attachment early in their infancy, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. And vice versa: Even if your child did develop a secure attachment as a baby, that attachment can still be affected by your relationship later in their life.
In today’s blog, I want to share some information about what different attachment styles can look like in young children, and how to start developing (or continuing to strengthen) a secure attachment as your child gets older.
What are the 4 attachment styles?
Attachment styles are split up into two umbrella categories: secure and insecure.
Secure attachment is the healthiest form of attachment – what we’re all striving for with our kids. When your child is securely attached to you, they care about your opinion and presence – but they also trust you enough to be able to do some things on their own.
In a young school-aged child, some signs of secure attachment might be:
Insecure attachment is an umbrella that includes 3 different attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
Kids with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style have a hard time trusting. In young kids, this might look like:
Kids with an avoidant attachment style reject their caregivers; it’s almost like they want to reject you before you can reject them.
Kids with an avoidant attachment style often:
Kids with disorganized attachment show a mix of both avoidant and anxious-ambivalent behaviors.
What causes insecure vs. secure attachment?
A child’s attachment style is mostly based on parenting style and early childhood experiences. For example, a child who has gone through a separation with their parent(s) might develop an anxious attachment style. A child who has an emotionally absent or unresponsive parent might develop an avoidant attachment style.
But instead of focusing on the negatives, let's focus on the positive - what leads to a secure attachment style. Parents of securely attached kids tend to:
So does your behavior matter to your child? Absolutely. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your “fault” if your child has developed an insecure attachment. There are so many variables. Maybe you lived with an illness when your child was an infant, which prevented you from being fully present. Maybe there was a separation that was out of your control.
Let's not also forget to mention that none of us were given a parenting how-to manual when our kids were born. Most of us end up simply repeating what we observed our parents doing when we were young – and they weren’t given manuals, either. If we, ourselves, had/have an insecure attachment, then that’s probably affected the way we parent our kids.
In any case, I’m not here to point fingers and find the person “responsible” for an insecure attachment. The important thing is to assess your own attachment style, your child’s attachment style and figure out the best way to move forward.
How to work on building a secure attachment with your child
No matter where you are on this journey, there are ways to build and strengthen a secure attachment with your child. And remember – this isn’t just about your relationship with them. It’s about the way they will relate to others for their lives to come.
The first step is to figure out what attachment style your child does have. If you aren’t sure, I offer the Marschak Interaction Method assessment for almost every family I work with. This is an evidence-based tool that can give us some insight into what your and your child's attachment is like and what areas need to be strengthened.
Second, examine your own attachment style. Like I said before, those of us who have insecure attachment styles ourselves are more likely to create that attachment style in our children. But there’s hope. Not only can you repair your child’s attachment style, you can also heal your own. Therapy can help.
On top of these things, there are some other pointers to keep in mind when trying to repair the attachment with your child.
Helping our children develop a secure attachment is one of our most important tasks as parents. And no matter how old our children are, it’s never too late to start fostering this bond and helping them feel secure in the relationship they have with us.
If you need some extra support, I’m here for you. Feel free to get in touch with me any time. Also head over to my support group page to learn about the latest group I am running and reach out if you are interested in joining.
Wishing you much happiness and love on this Valentine’s day!
Back to Blog
Happy New Year!
Let’s start 2023 off with a question that parents ask me often,, which is: “Why is my child testing me, and what can I do about it?”
This is an inevitable, but extremely frustrating, developmental stage that almost all kids go through. Let’s say your kid is kicking against the back of your seat while you’re driving. You patiently ask them to stop.
Then, looking you dead in the eye, they lift their little feet… and keep kicking. Argh!
Rest assured -- this is a normal, and an even healthy, part of development for children, especially when they’re around the preschool and early school year age. But why do they do this, and how can you, as a parent, react? Let’s delve in.
Why do children test their parents?
First of all, know that you’re not alone. Many young kids in the preschool years -- maybe even all of them -- test their parents’ limits at least sometimes. This is normal behavior for a child this age, and there probably isn’t anything “wrong” with your child. Testing parents’ boundaries and challenging rules is actually a sign that your child is developmentally right where they need to be.
But why do kids do this? There are many reasons. Mostly, it comes down to this: children often test their parents to make sure that their relationship with you is unbreakable.
Think about it like an experiment your child is conducting. They know the rules, but they need to test them out to see what the consequences are for themselves. In other words, what will happen if they boldly disobey you immediately after you’ve asked them to do something? How will you react? Will you react predictably, in the same way that you did the last time they broke the rules? How much can they get away with?
And, perhaps most importantly, will you still love them when they misbehave?
Sometimes, this type of behavior can be stronger in kids with an insecure attachment style. Studies show that up to 30% of kids have an insecure attachment with their caregivers. A child with an insecure attachment could either be too clingy and needy, or too avoidant or aloof. They could feel less secure in the connection they have with you and be more inclined to test its breakability more often.
But that doesn’t mean that testing boundaries is always a sign of an insecure attachment. Like I said before, testing your limits is a normal part of the toddler to early school-aged years.
On top of testing your relationship, young children can also test boundaries just to assert personal freedom and their own identity. They’re see-sawing between being completely dependent on you and wanting to try things out on their own. They’re still learning who they are and are developing new skills every day.
Children this age can also experience big emotions that they need your support managing. They might test you or break the rules simply because they’re tired, hungry, angry, or cranky.
Lastly, preschool and early school-aged children need a lot of attention. If they learn that testing your limits is a sure-fire way to get your attention (even though it’s negative attention), then they will do it.
What should you do when your child is testing you?
How you react when your child is testing you is the most important piece of all of this. Trust me when I say, I know firsthand how hard it is to know how to react when your child is blatantly pushing your limits.
But, there is a way to deal with it in a way that’s compassionate both to your child and to yourself.
Reframe “challenging” as “testing the connection”
When we think of our child’s behavior as “challenging” or “disobeying” us, this naturally makes us feel more upset as parents. Try to reframe testing behavior as, literally, testing the connection with me. Your child is just experimenting -- they’re testing the waters and trying to figure out what happens when they do so. They aren’t intentionally trying to manipulate you or push your buttons.
In this “experiment” of theirs, how you react is what matters most -- it’s the answer they’re trying to get to.
Connect with your child in the way they need
No two children are alike. How does your child best feel loved and cared for? Is it through having some one-on-one time with you? Is it through physical touch, like a hug or a snuggle? Is it through play?
In those tense moments when your child is testing you, remember that the most important answer they’re seeking is: “Will you still love me no matter what?” Show them your unequivocal YES in the way that they need you to. Make sure they feel loved in this critical moment.
Read my 3-part series on How to Show Love to Your Child!
Be clear and consistent
As they say, consistency is key. We’ll save the discussion about logical consequences and behavior reinforcement for another day. But at the very least, try to react consistently when your child tests you. If you react with anger sometimes, patiently and kindly at other times, and simply ignore them at other times, then your child won’t get the answer to their “experiment” that they’re seeking.
Identify their needs
Try to help your child figure out what their needs are and get them met in a different way. For example, are they testing you because they’re hungry or tired? Do they simply want to see for themselves whether they are capable of doing something?
Be patient with yourself
Lastly, be kind and patient with yourself! Parenting is a hard job, especially when your child tests you in this way. Just like it’s normal for your child to test boundaries, it’s normal for you to be upset about it. Take it a day at a time, and allow the love that you have for your child to guide you.
If you’re a Single mom who tends to get stuck in a cycle of self-criticism or wonder whether you’re doing a “good enough” job as a parent, then my Single Mom support group for Women of Color may be a good fit for you. This group is for you if you’re longing for a judgment-free zone to connect with other Latina moms and learn ways to feel less guilty about parenting and feel more confident. You can get in touch with me to join. First meeting starts January 21st, 2023.
As always, I believe in you! You got this.
Back to Blog
One question parents ask me often is: What do I do when my child is manipulating me?
Maybe they go behind your back and ask their other parent or another adult in the room, for something you’ve already said no to. Maybe they throw a temper tantrum until you “give in” to what they want. Whatever it is, it feels manipulative, And you’re at a loss for what to do.
The good news is that this type of behavior is common, and is often harmless. And it doesn’t mean that your child is out to get you! But I hear you: It can be infuriating, exhausting and even hurtful, to say the least.
Here are a few things your child might be trying to tell you when they display these “manipulative” behaviors, and what you can do about it.
What causes manipulative behavior in kids?
Just so we’re clear, children – or at least the vast majority of children – aren’t inherently manipulative by nature.
Manipulation, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage.
In other words, we often think of manipulation as someone purposely using their behavior to try to trick or exploit us in some way. Kids at a young age don't understand this level of exploitation. Yes, they are smart and know how to work us but more on this later.
As a mom, I completely understand that our children’s behavior can sometimes feel very manipulative. Sometimes, it feels like they are behaving in a certain way intentionally to push our buttons. And often, children do learn how to use their charms – or disruptive behaviors – to change our opinion and get us to do something for them.
For example, they might whine about a decision we made until we change our mind. You might also notice your child demonstrating "manipulative" behaviors toward their siblings or friends. For example, they might tell a lie to a younger child to get something out of them.
For many of the parents I work with this can be very concerning for them. The question I inevitably get is – why do kids behave in “manipulative” ways sometimes?
The answer is usually they are just doing what they have learned gets them what they want. In other words, kids "manipulate" because it works. They aren’t scheming "little brats" or as some parents will say "a**holes". They’ve simply learned how to get you (or other people) to give them what they want by behaving in a certain way.
These types of behaviors also aren’t usually intended to hurt or annoy you, even though it might feel like that sometimes. Your child probably doesn’t even realize how much these behaviors upset you. They’re simply trying to get their needs met in any way they can.
So, what can you do about “manipulative” behavior?
If you’re anything like me, what usually happens when your child shows manipulative behaviors is: you become upset, take it personally, assume you're being taken advantage of, or that your child is intentionally trying to outsmart you. All of which can make you feel angry.
You may feel like you are being challenged into battle with them and therefore need to “fight” or show them who’s boss and nip this behavior in the bud.
The problem is that children aren’t yet at the developmental level to do battle with us. It feels like they’re inviting us into battle, and I totally get that – but try to remember that what we see as “manipulation” is just a way – albeit a maladaptive way – your child is trying to get their needs met.
Instead, the next time you feel like your child is “manipulating” you, try these things.
1) Reframe it
Try changing the way you think about the behavior you are noticing. Instead of viewing it and describing it as manipulation, focus on what strengths this type of behavior represents in your child. For example, do these behaviors show cleverness? Creativity? A flair for the dramatic arts?
One thing I often highlight to parents is how this type of behavior means their child is smart – they have learned what they need to do to get what they want and they are using it. This skill is definitely something that can serve them better later in life and even when negotiating play with other children.
The next time you feel like your child is manipulating you, you might say to yourself: “They don’t have the developmental capacity to intentionally battle with me. They’re behaving this way because they have a need, and are simply replicating what has worked for them in the past."
2) Check in on yourself
Again, children often use ‘manipulative” behavior in a maladaptive effort to get what they want. They learn that they can influence people in this way. One effective strategy is to check in with how your reactions to your child’s “manipulative” behavior might be causing it to continue.
For example, let’s say that you tell your child they can’t have a certain item from the store. Your child begins to cry and may even escalate into a temper tantrum. Eventually, out of embarrassment, exhaustion, etc. you give in and give them what they initially wanted.
While I understand all the factors that come into play into giving in - unfortunately, by doing so, we are teaching the child that they can change our mind by behaving in a certain way. So, why would they behave any differently despite our reminders, pleads and negotiations.
Be mindful of how you and other adults might be contributing to conditioning behavior. This is not me saying it is your “fault,” but it does mean it is an area that needs modification so you can teach your child that such behavior isn’t the way to get their needs met.
3) Check in with your child
Lastly, check in with your child needs. Remember, most kids show these types of behaviors as a way to get their needs met. Instead of focusing only on the behavior, make sure you’re also looking at what your child needs. For example, are they hungry? Are they tired? Do they need more attention from you?
Or could something deeper be going on? Could they be sick, anxious about something or experiencing any kind of sensory issue? Figuring all of this out can be overwhelming and this is usually when child and family therapy can be helpful.
Young children either don’t have the vocabulary to describe how they’re feeling, express their deepest needs or don’t know which words to use. As a result, we see a lot of "misbehavior". I specialize in working with children aged 3 to 8 and their parents to help figure out what the child's needs are and how to reduce "tantrum/manipulative" behavior.
Get in touch with me to join my waitlist! If you are not interested in therapy right now but want to get some monthly parenting support, check out my latest support groups.
As we close out this year, I would like to thank you for all of your support in reading and sharing my blog posts. I hope they are helpful to you. Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy holidays. See you next year!
Back to Blog
Many parents have gone through this situation, and maybe you have, too. You tell your young child that it’s time to stop playing a game, with their toy or their electronic device and get ready for bed. They’re upset, which sometimes looks like them yelling, screaming and even sometimes throwing things. But, now you notice a new behavior - they are hitting themselves in the legs or banging their head against the wall.
You’re bewildered. It’s confusing, and it can even be frightening. Why is your child hitting themselves? And is this normal behavior, or do you need to be concerned?
Why does my child hit themselves when angry?
It can be really alarming and confusing when you see your child start hitting, biting, or scratching themselves. For many of the parents I work with, their first question is, “Why would they do something like that to themselves?!”
For many kids, hitting themselves is a way of self-expression. Basically, it’s similar to a temper tantrum. Your child may not have gotten something they wanted, or they might feel angry or frustrated for another reason. When this feeling becomes overwhelming, they need to express it somehow.
For young children in particular, they often don’t have the vocabulary or skills to express strong emotions with words. Hitting themselves, or throwing things, might be a way of letting you know, “Hey! I’m struggling and I need you to know it!”
They also probably get your undivided attention when they hit themselves - known as a secondary gain. This gain, inadvertently, might teach them that when they hit themselves they will get your undivided attention - even if it is negative.
Other kids might hit themselves for sensory stimulation. Some kids need more sensory input than others – these are the kids who seek stimulation in all ways, like listening to music really loud or testing their own limits with pain. Sensory cravings are sometimes linked to diagnosis like ADHD or autism, but not all the time. It could just be soothing to them.
If you’re concerned about your child hitting themselves, or if the behavior is getting worse, then a good place to start is by talking with their pediatrician about what you are noticing.
How do I stop my child from hitting themselves?
Although this behavior can be common, it’s natural that as a parent you want to stop it. It can be frightening when your child starts to hurt themselves, and you may be worried that it can become unsafe. Here are some things to keep in mind to try to curb these behaviors when you see them.
1). Keep them safe
Safety should always come first. If your child is hitting themselves enough to actually cause damage, then safety is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Clear the space around them so that it minimizes who or what they can hit.
If they are using their own body to inflict hurt, gently and firmly try to physically restrain them. Try holding whatever part of their body they are using - typically it is hands and legs - so that they can no longer hurt themselves. Some children also respond just by having their loved one kneeling or sitting near them and speaking to them reassuringly.
2). Speak to them calmly
A common mistake I see some parents make, including myself, is to yell at the child when they are hurting themselves. This is understandable because it is usually coming from a place of fear or frustration. It is also how many of us were taught to react. Yelling, however, might only worsen the situation.
Instead, speak to your child in a soft, yet firm voice. Tell them that they will hurt themselves if they continue this behavior, and that you love them and don’t want to see them get hurt.
You can say something like, “I love you, and I’m not going to let you hurt yourself. I’m here to keep you safe.” Keep in mind that some kids (especially younger toddlers) simply don’t know that they could get hurt by hitting themselves.
3). Stay with your child
Don’t let your child go through these big moments on their own. Having big, powerful, and painful emotions like this is hard enough for adults – it’s even harder for kids. Your child needs you to stick around to learn how to regulate themselves and to know that they are still worthy of your presence.
While it may be overwhelming and tempting to give them some space, resist the urge to walk away. If your child is old enough, talk to them about how they’re feeling and help them use their words to express themselves.
4). Reflect and validate
Remember that your child is probably hitting themselves and acting out in this way because they’re having some big, overwhelming emotions. Try your best to reflect these emotions back to them. Be validating, instead of dismissive.
For example, don’t say, “What the h*ck are you doing?! Stop doing that!!.” Instead, you can try, “Looks like you’re frustrated and angry right now. It’s okay to feel angry but it’s not okay to hurt yourself. I am going to help you if you can’t stop on your own.”
It’s also important to reflect on whether this is a learned behavior. In other words, in some cultures/households hitting is what is done when someone has done something wrong. It is important to consider whether your child may be “copying” what they see before jumping to the conclusion that something is wrong with your child.
5). Join my online parent support group
Lastly, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your child having such tantrums (or any other aspect of parenting), consider joining my online parent group- a supportive place where you can learn how to get the support you need. We also talk about how to parent our kids in ways that are different from how we were raised, and work on increasing self-compassion.
Reach out to me to get on the waitlist!
Thank you for reading. I’ll see you next month!
Back to Blog
Is It Normal to Not Want to Be Around Your Child Sometimes? What This Feeling Means, and What You Can Do About It
Being a parent is hard. And no one, truthfully speaking, is in love with being a parent 100% of the time. Almost every parent I’ve worked with, at one point or another, has shared with me their feelings about times when they have not wanted to be near their kids.
Feelings like shame, embarrassment, self-worth also get wrapped up in there. These feelings typically all stem to the fear about not being a good enough parent.
Sound familiar? If so, then I’m here to tell you - it’s normal. Between our kids calling for us every 5 minutes, not going to bed on time, seemingly crying all the time, it’s no wonder we want a break. Especially, if we haven’t had our own time to tend to our own needs.
The problem is not in having such feelings but in when we try to push it away. Pushing our feelings away can cause it to build up, which can make us dread being around our children. It may also lead to us lashing out verbally or physically on our kids– especially if that’s what you witnessed your own parents do when growing up. In my household growing up, it was the chancleta or la correa that did the lashing out. :)
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Today, I’m going to talk about why this happens, and what you can do about it.
Why don’t I want to be near my child?
Feeling fed up with being around your kid(s) can mean many things. But it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent.
Whether they admit it or not, every parent has had moments when they just don’t want to be a parent anymore. For some, these moments are brief and fleeting. For others, they can last for a lot longer. Either way, it’s normal to feel this way.
Not wanting to be around your child is usually a sign that you’re overwhelmed. Parental burnout, sometimes called depleted mother syndrome, is what happens when a parent (of any gender) has run out of resources. They feel like they just don’t have anything left to give. They’re exhausted.
Not wanting to be around your child could also be due to anxiety. It’s so hard to know if you’re doing parenting “right.” We often worry about details like “are they meeting their developmental milestones?, to “are they getting too much electronic time?”
Our parenting world today is so inundated with advice/recommendations from others about what our kids should be doing. So, forgive yourself if you want a break from trying to "follow" all the recommendations on how to raise a “good” human being.
Not wanting to be around your child can also be due to something as simple as being extra-exhausted, hungry or not wanting to be bossed around. Let’s face it, children can be bossy and sassy when they are defiant. And for some of us, it can be a trigger.
Again, not wanting to be around your kids sometimes is normal and does not mean that there is something wrong with you.
There is a point, however, when you may want to reach out for help - like if you’re feeling like this for more days than not. Or, if you find yourself changing into someone you are not. At this point, you should reach out for support.
While it could just be a sign for needing to emotionally vent, it could also be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, like depression. Having depression doesn’t make you a bad parent, either – but it does mean that you need mental health treatment to get better.
What to do when you don’t want to be around your kids
Like I talked about last month, no one wants to lose it on their kids. But if you just ignore the fact that you don’t want to be around them, then that irritation and resentment is bound to build up – and you could explode.
Before things get to that point, here are some steps to take.
When you feel yourself getting more and more irritated with your kids, take a moment and ask yourself - What is making me want to get away from my kid(s) in this moment? Am I feeling overwhelmed? Do I just need a moment to myself? Are my kids getting on my last nerve, and I want to get away from them because I'm about to snap? Am I you just exhausted, and want some quiet time?
It can be helpful to get to the root of the feeling. Sometimes, it’s an easy fix.
You can also use a brief pause to take a few mindful breaths in and out. Many mindfulness teachers say that taking just three breaths in and out is enough to bring you back to the present moment. If you’re getting lost in worries, anger, or exhaustion, this could be a way to come back to yourself.
Ask for some space
It doesn’t occur to most parents that they’re allowed to ask for space and time away from their kids. But it’s true – you can! And sometimes, getting some space away from them is the best way to start wanting to be around them again.
Now granted, I know that the first few times you do this, your kid(s) is probably going to kick it into high gear and cling to you. My challenge to you, try it for at least six times. Here are some ways to try it:
If your child is old enough (5+), let them know you need some time. Say something like:
“Right now I’m ______ (tired, angry, frustrated). I love you so much, and that’ll never change. But I need some time to _____ (take a shower, be quiet, to be alone, etc.) This isn’t your fault, and I’m not angry with you. I just need some time to ______, so I calm down. Can you do that for me?”
If you need more than just a short rest, you can also consider spending a bigger chunk of time away - like for the day or if you are blessed with resources, an overnight trip. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; even going to a movie by yourself could help.
As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. After some time away from your kid(s), you might feel like you want to be around them again.
Remember to play
We tend to take parenting very seriously. And this is a wonderful thing – parenting is serious! We’re responsible for a young human’s life, after all.
But don’t take it so seriously that you forget to play. If you can find ways to have fun with your children, then you might find it easier to be around them even in stressful times.
Dr. Stuart Brown, a researcher and the founder-president of the National Institute for Play, stresses the importance of play, even for adults. He says that play is a natural human behavior – as natural as sleep – but most of us aren’t getting enough of it, especially in adulthood.
Instead of seeing time with your kids as a time for them to play, try to see it as a time for you to play, too. Get silly. Make funny faces. Laugh. Play made-up games with made-up rules.
You might find that the desire to get away from your kids fades when you’re able to have fun with each other.
Join my virtual parent support group
It can also sometimes be validating to be around and heard by other parents who’ve also been through it or are going through it. In my current virtual parent support group, we focus on:
If you’re interested, give me a call or send me an email.
Thank you for reading. You’ve got this. I’ll see you next month!
Back to Blog
September has arrived, and kids everywhere are headed back to school. No matter how well-prepared you are, back-to-school season is most likely a little chaotic – and that’s okay!
But there’s another thing about back-to-school that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough: the relief many of us feel.
All summer long, your kids have been home with you. Which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But let’s be real: having your kids home can also be a lot of other things, like:
… and so much more. If you’re at your wit’s end by the time back-to-school comes around, that’s totally understandable – and you’re not alone! I see so many parents in and out of my practice, who have been saying the same thing:
“I feel so relieved that my child is going back to school. I feel sad too, but I’m just so tired of losing it on them. I needed a break so bad.”
Sound familiar? If you’ve been “losing it” on your kids this summer, try not to feel guilty about it. We’ve all been there; kids know how to push our buttons, and they’ve had plenty of time to do so while they were home from school.
As a mom to a child who entered school for the first time this year, I was soooo looking forward to drop off time. Truth be told, I even came home and did a happy dance!
Not a happy dance because I’m "rid of her", but happy because now I have a chunk of time to myself. Time to do whatever I please without having to coordinate my self care with anyone else. Time to commute with my own thoughts. Any even more of a relief - time to myself that I don’t have to pay for!
While it’s important to let go of any guilt and be kind to yourself, many parents do reach out to me asking for tips on how not to lose it. Losing your patience with your kid never feels good and it’s not something that most of us parents want to do.
We want and strive to stay calm and collected through any disagreement. We want to remember to take a breath when we’re ticked off. We want to patiently look into our child’s eyes and explain to them why what they’re doing is wrong. Right?
Yes, but the reality is it can be a hard ask to stay calm and collected all of the time as a parent. There are, however, some tips and tools you can use to help yourself keep calm and control your anger – most of the time.
The next time you’re seeing red, try these things.
1. Take a deep breath and reset.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. A breath deep enough that your belly gets pushed out as far as it can. You may also want to say something like,
“I’m feeling really frustrated right now, and I don’t want us to fight. I need to pause and take a few deep breaths before we continue.”
Bonus point alert - doing it in front of your child is also showing them what they can do when they are overwhelmed.
Once you have taken your breaths, check in with the anger inside you. Chances are, you will notice a shift in how much you want to lose it on them. From there you should be able to continue the conversation.
2. Know your weaknesses, and do something about them.
When I say “weaknesses,” I’m not talking about physical strength. I mean the other factors in your life that make it more likely that you lose your patience to begin with.
For example, sleep is a big one. When we don’t sleep enough, we’re more likely to be irritable and depressed – the research proves it! Other factors that could make you lose patience more easily could be not eating enough (or not eating the right things), being under a lot of stress, and having conflicts in other relationships (like in your marriage, friendships, family, etc.).
Pay attention to these triggers. Practice self-awareness. Notice when you’re in the “danger zone” – a physical or mental state that makes you irritable and more likely to “lose it” with your kids.
Once you know what your triggers are, do something about them. Practice self-care when it’s possible. Get restful sleep. Manage your stress. Do whatever it takes to get out of that danger zone.
3. Practice self-forgiveness.
I can’t stress this enough. Forgive yourself for the occasional slip-up. Without a doubt, the worst part of losing your patience with your kids is the horrendous guilt that comes afterward. No one enjoys fighting with their children. But arguments are a normal part of parenting. No one is in love with being a parent (or their children) every single moment.
Blaming and hating yourself for becoming angry won’t help anyone. Instead, practice self-forgiveness. First, take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. Let your mind go back to whatever happened between you and your child. If there’s any damage to be repaired or apologies to be made, prioritize that.
Then, talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend who is going through the same situation. You might say something like,
“I know that you feel bad about losing it on (insert your child's name). You’re human, not a superhero. You’re going to make mistakes sometimes. You are not bad person or a bad parent. You’re doing your best. You can learn from this and you will get better.”
If your anger or guilt feels out of control, then you might benefit from joining my parent support group. As a therapist, I work with all sorts of different parents. They all have one thing in common – they love their children more than anything, and want to be the best person they can be for them. I bet that’s true for you, too.
As always, thanks for reading. And congratulations on making it to the end of summer!
Back to Blog
Recently I sent out a survey inquiring about issues parents wanted help with. The feedback I received entailed learning how to manage tantrums, dealing with resistance to transitions and coping with parent guilt.
As each parenting situation is different, I thought it be best to start off with listing a few books I believe are helpful to any parent who wants to feel more in control and less guilty.
1) Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell - The essence of this book is to help you as a parent understand the science behind your emotions and how your childhood is currently influencing your parenting.
What I loved about this book is how much it normalizes what many of us parents are feeling at one point or another. I also loved the parental self-reflection exercise that personally gave me an opportunity reflect on who I was as a child. Forewarning- this part was difficult, at least for me, because it did tap into some pain from my childhood. Be that as it may, I strongly encourage every parent to consider the importance of some of these questions. Once you decide to take on the questions in this book, be sure to also bring a notebook and a box of tissues.
2) Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté - this book is geared to parents who are interested in learning how to keep their child close especially during the teen years.
What I love - it gives hope to those of us who believe it is normal for teens to detach from us and want nothing to do with us. It also informs us of how certain behaviors from toddlerhood end up feeding into this sense of teenage detachment. I also love how real it is about topics surrounding peer pressure and sexuality.
What I don't love about this book is some of the verbiage that may spark insecurities within a parent. There were moments where I thought some people might feel like they are being shamed. Overall though, I would recommend parents read this book even if you don't have a teenager yet because laying the foundation now with your young child can help make things better by the time they reach the tween and teen years.
3) Parenting with Theraplay by Vivien Norris and Helen Rodwell - this book is particularly helpful in understanding how children and parent attach anmd detach both verbally and non-verbally.
What I love about this book - it explains four different ways we can connect with each other, signs to look for that indicate we are having trouble connecting and games we can play with our child to help facilitate a stronger bond.
What I don't like about this book is how overwhelming it may be for some parents because of how much information it provides through the lens of a therapeutic approach that some may not be familiar with. Guidance from a therapist trained in Theraplay can help with reducing any sense of overwhelm. I would recommend this book for any parent who is looking for tips/strategies on how to connect with your child and feel more in control as a parent.
Overall, there is no shortage of parenting books on the market. The three aforementioned, are ones that have helped me on my parenting journey and as a result I have recommended to some of the parents I worked with and have seen it help them.
Would you like to share you the names of books that have helped you on your parenting journey? Feel free to share them below.
If you are you interested in taking the survey to let me me know how I can help you, click here.
Thank you for reading!