Validation is a powerful parenting tool that is a part of many parenting programs.
So, what exactly is validation? Validation is the recognition and acknowledging the inner experience and feelings in the moment without judgment. Holding the situation and the internal response as a valid experience given the circumstances and the child’s history.
And as simple as this sounds, it can be a really complex skill for parents, especially if they did not have an attachment system that validated their feelings and experiences.
A quick example?
Let’s say there is a child who absolutely LOVES the color green. Let's set the stage that maaayybe it’s summer. And this child might be at soccer practice, and at the end of practice the coach pops open a cooler with Freezies! YES!
Well, maybe this child is the last to the cooler and there are only red, pink, and blue available options. Whoa. This child really had their heart set on green (see previous note that it is their FAVORITE color) and then the child begins to cry saying it’s not fair.
Validation sounds like “I can totally understand how sad and frustrated it makes you feel to not have your favorite color, that is really tough”.
Invalidation sounds like “Stop crying, it’s just a Freezie - you are going to get a treat so you should be happy! Here, let’s pick the blue one - blue is close to green right?”
Invalidation can also sound like “Don’t cry, you can have a green Freezie when we get home”.
And sometimes parents think the last example or a number of other different responses are validation when they might not be!
Sometimes it’s easier to identify what validation isn’t. It isn’t attempting to fix or solve the problem, correcting, providing consequences, or focusing on what should have happened.
It is simply honoring the feelings and experiences of the child.
I wanted to offer you a resource and handout for parents HERE. It details the 6 levels of validation with specific tips for both verbal and nonverbal validation.
The levels of validation were developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Dr. Linehan recommends engaging in the highest level of validation you can, which means that there is an understanding that not every parent can be at Level Six at all times.
Check out this summary of all the levels below:
Level One: Active Listening
With level one we verbally and nonverbally indicate to the child we are listening. We are present in the moment with the child and their feelings and difficulties.
Level Two: Accurate Reflection
We summarize and paraphrase what the child has said to demonstrate we are listening. This can also help children untangle and make sense of their own thoughts and feelings.
Level Three: Stating What Hasn’t Been Said Out Loud
This level is a bit more complicated and involves assessing behaviors and context to guess what they might be feeling or thinking, worried about, or wanting.
Level Four: Validating Using Past History or Biology
In level four it is all about context. We help the child understand how the response is reasonable and makes sense based on their history. It gives context to their feelings. Often times we can convey this with an “Of course” statement. For example “Of course not having a partner in gym class was so upsetting given your history of being bullied at your old school”.
Level Five: Normalizing
Here we recognize that feelings are human and normal. We normalize that the current reaction is one that anyone might have.
Level Six: Radical Genuineness
This level is about deeply understanding and relating to the child’s experience.
Don't forget to grab a copy to print off and share with parents HERE!
What about you? What are your favorite tips for helping parents with validation in your child and teen therapy practice? Share your favorites below!
How often do parenting strategies and techniques work effectively and perfectly the first time you teach them to parents?
Not ever? Me too.
What about how often do these strategies and techniques work 100% of the time once a parent gets them down?
The truth of being a genuine human being and a parent is that there is no one “quick fix” or “one size fits all” in parenting. And dysregulated and unhelpful behavior is present even in kids with the least amount of clinical symptoms who don’t qualify for a mental health diagnosis.
Now, if you need some concrete tools and resources for parents I would urge you to run (not walk!) to grab my free downloadable guide for parents on how to stay calm and regulated while trying to co-regulate with their child.
You can also check out the differences between consequences and punishment, why reinforcement is a powerful tool over consequences, the power of positive reinforcement (and why you should throw it around like confetti!), 7 tips for when natural consequences are hard to find, and how to decode what children are actually trying to communicate to us!
All of these articles will help you support your parenting work with techniques, tips, and strategies…BUT what I wanted to share today is a mindset shift that is essential for parents as they apply these tips, techniques, and structures.
Are you ready for it?
Parents can’t be attached to outcome.
Okay…one more time for the parents in the back….
Parents can’t be attached to the outcome, whatever their child picks, chooses, or decides (with the appropriate structure) the parent will remain in control.
In this article HERE I talk about ways to set limits and boundaries through choice. Check out why sharing control through giving children choices is essential HERE and check out this free download about our basic emotional needs HERE!
Okay - so one of the ways that parents give structure is where the child can choose [option one] or [option two]. Both options come with related outcomes. Both options the parent is fully in control of. Both are limits and boundaries and rules about how a parent will respond, VS. what a child may be forced to do.
For example “you can choose to get dressed now and have cereal for breakfast or if you do not get dressed now you may choose to eat a granola bar in the car.”
How the child chooses to get dressed (within the child’s control) impacts the available breakfast options and structure (within the parents control).
It might also sound like “you can choose to get off your video games with a calm body and voice and play tomorrow or if you choose to argue or yell that is choosing to lose video game time for tomorrow”.
How the child ends their media time (within the child’s control) affects their privileges for the next day (within the parent’s control).
In both of these cases we are honoring that we cannot literally force a child to do anything (and nor should parents!) BUT parents are putting in structures, limits, boundaries, and consequences if an undesirable choice is made. Both of the examples above are about related consequences.
Either way, the parent is in control.
In the first example, this means that if the child keeps dragging their feet during their morning routine the cereal is no longer a breakfast option. Now, can the child absolutely reject the granola bar in the car? YES!
And…the parent is still in control - the child is not having their desired cereal at the table and there is an alternative option for food available to the child. The child gets to choose how they want to put food into their body in the morning, including waiting until snack or lunch to eat. This is an example of a natural consequence because if the child runs out of time the longer breakfast option isn’t available.
When parents become attached to an outcome, for example continuing to pressure the child to get dressed immediately, the child is actually getting power needs met by controlling the emotional response of the parent.
When parents become more invested in their child’s behavior than their child is, it robs them from a teachable moment or a learning experience. Kids can often then develop the narrative that their parent is mean or “too picky” rather than focusing on their unhelpful choices of stalling to get dressed at the last minute.
And in this example? Another natural consequence could be going to school in their pajamas with a set of clothes a parent chooses in their backpack if they are not able to get dressed by the time it is time to go.
So, since we know that parenting techniques aren’t effective 100% of the time, that also means that children will likely need consequences, limits, boundaries, and rules to help with teaching and learning. When parents step out of the way and let their child choose, it actually creates significantly more effective opportunities for teaching and learning!
What about you? What are your favorite ways to talk about choices with parents and children? Let us know in the comments below!
Did you know that research shows that humans make 35,000 decisions per day?
The decisions that children have are markedly different than adults who likely hold jobs, can secure their own transportation, and are doing the grocery shopping.
Most therapists agree that giving children appropriate choices and freedom has a positive impact on mental wellness. So when kids likely don’t have a choice about when they get up, going to school, or watching a limited amount of time of TV - what choices do they have?
For younger kids there are the ever popular choices of the t-shirt or sweatshirt, doing the chores now or later, or whether their lunch box will be unicorns or puppies. Teens have more decisions about what kind of music they listen to (but sometimes not), activities they want to participate in, and classes they want to register for.
But what about other activities like helping to make dinner, more complex chores, taking their bike off sweet jumps, or posting on social media? What about solving problems like allowing freedom to complete school work on their own timeline, when friends are having conflicts and fights, or refusing to eat anything on the plate because it is “icky”? And what about the smaller things like carrying their own (very full) water glass, using scissors, make the "right" move in the board game, or climbing up that gigantic tree?
I wanted to share with you three questions I usually ask and consider when talking about freedom, choices, and independence in my child therapy sessions. The answers to these questions can help parents understand if they should step in and support or let their child solve the problem or organize the task independently. It helps parents understand if they should be completely hands off OR if they should provide some structure and related consequences.
Are they capable of the task?
This first question is essential. If the child doesn’t have the skills or abilities to complete the task, then of course parents and caregivers are going to step in. Not stepping in creates situations where children might feel defeated, hopeless, and won’t want to try in the future.
Also, if they don’t have the prefrontal cortex capacity to make an appropriate decision, they need more supervision. An 8 year old is not likely to be successful managing their own media limits leading to many broken rules, late nights, disappointment, and conflict.
Other times parents may have the opposite problem. They step in too early when the child is fully capable of the task. For some parents this is due to worry that their child will become uncomfortable, dysregulated, or upset by a task. Others worry the child will fail. BUT by stepping in and making it easier for a child or requiring little to no work on their end actually takes away from personal ownership and responsibility and robs them of the experience of gaining the self esteem of finishing a difficult task!
Is it dangerous or life threatening?
Okay, this one is a no-brainer. If it is a task that involves a situation that is unsafe then the child absolutely needs the help, support, and supervision of a grownup. A five year old child likely needs supervision riding their bike on the road, where the fifteen year old may have a bit more freedom.
However, oftentimes parents and caregivers can over exaggerate the dangerousness or risk of certain activities. Sometimes this worry hits the first question above and parents are more worried about the emotional weight of the task rather than the risk of actual danger or harm.
Does the problem have natural consequences?
If the child makes a decision are there natural consequences they will need to hold? If they choose not to study then that might result in a lower grade. If they say something hurtful to a friend then the friend may not want to invite them over. If they smash their video game controller they won’t have a controller left to play with.
If there is a natural consequence that is strong enough to promote teaching and learning, then parents can be confident that they don’t need to step in and intervene any further. Sometimes there isn’t a natural consequence so parents might step in slightly and set a boundary or limit on behavior or offer a related consequence.
The key to this is to focus on the environment or parent’s behavior rather than forcing or pushing the action of a child. This might sound like kids who get off media with a calm body and voice get access to devices tomorrow.
After taking parents through the series of questions it helps to shine light on what behaviors children can hold accountability and responsibility for and when parents need to step in!
What are your favorite ways to assess if a child should have freedom and independence in a task or a caregiver needs to step in? Comment below!
Did you know that kids have an emotional communication dial?
Let’s back up juuuust a bit. All behavior is purposeful. Every last thought and action has purpose.
Check out this free downloadable resource HERE and how parents can meet the needs of children HERE!
Behaviors are informed by our experiences in the world and current situations and past behaviors and experiences help us figure out what to expect in the future. These experiences and outcomes form our schema or core beliefs. They fill in some information about if I do X then Y will happen. AND sometimes they aren’t always accurate.
With trauma we can develop many thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that our bodies think are going to keep us safe and help us survive that were helpful and essential in the moment, but may not be as helpful out of the moment.
Behaviors and emotions communicate complex messages. We know that when a teen says “I don’t know” it usually doesn’t mean they don’t know. It might mean they don’t want to talk about it, they are frustrated with a grown up, or a million other things.
Other times kids will make a noise or give a look and expect you to decode the message and know exactly what they mean. That grunt really meant that they didn’t want you to ask about who they played with on the playground. Tomorrow it might mean something completely different.
So, in short because we are not mind readers we often get it wrong. We make assumptions or sometimes have expectations for behaviors that aren’t, well…realistic.
AND because children's prefrontal contexts aren't fully developed...well sometimes they don't know exactly what the difficulty is either. Or they just may be beginning to develop complex language skills and they have trouble making sense of it all.
Sometimes parents and caregivers think that behaviors are “just for attention” (check out why attention isn’t a dirty word HERE!) Other times behaviors come from when we have unrealistic expectations, like we will be incredibly disappointed if we think a four year old can seamlessly carry out their bedtime routine.
Parents can have thoughts that their child "should be able to do this already" or "shouldn't keep having an issue with this". Let's just get over it! If only it was that simple.
Other times it gets more complex, like when young people’s brains make the split second decision that they would rather take the odds of lying and potentially getting away with something versus telling the truth and holding the consequence.
All of this can lead parents and caregivers guessing about what it means and maybe not responding in the best way. Maybe it’s minimizing, brushing aside, or trying to push through the outcome (think of the stern voice at the door saying “just put on your shoes already!!”).
Check out more resources about co-regulation HERE, this helpful metaphor HERE, and this free downloadable guide for how to keep calm and co-regulate when children are melting down HERE.
But what if we re-wind? To a time when the feelings and behaviors are smaller.
There is excellent data and communication ready to be unlocked when the dysregulation begins. When the grownups aren’t getting it.
AND kids know when you’re not getting it. They know when there is misattunement. When you're distracted, checked out, or about to lose it yourself.
Then, this wonderful thing happens. They think - “Oh, I can help my parent understand just how upsetting this is to me! Let me turn up the volume!”
Okay, it doesn’t really sound like that.
It usually looks like a whining voice that gets louder, larger physical body movements, sighing, eye rolling, and arm crossing. And if you don’t get it then it might sound like yelling, stomping, slamming, or sobbing.
Then you might get it.
One of the most powerful tools we can help parents use is to understand their child’s dial. Understand the small subtle cues of dysregulation. Help them understand that the stomping is communication of inner emotional states.
That the key to helping them turn down the dial is through co-regulation, empathy, understanding and safety.
What are some ways that you notice kids "turning up the dial"? Comment below!
Reinforcement is one of the strongest tools for emotional and behavioral change for children. Certain types of Play Therapy weave reinforcement into Play Therapy sessions, while others work with parents on parenting skills. Check out more about the power of reinforcement HERE!
In the classic behavioral terms reinforcement can either be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement means we give a child something to increase a behavior. This might be giving them a compliment on their work effort to increase studying habits or practicing for a sport or activity.
Now, negative reinforcement isn’t bad. Negative reinforcement means removing something to make a behavior increase. This might mean that we remove chores for the day on Sunday if all chores have been completed on time Monday through Saturday.
By far the most popular form of reinforcement is positive reinforcement, however negative reinforcement can be done and can be effective for behavioral change.
Now reinforcement focuses on changing behaviors and strengthening desired or positive behaviors. The behaviors we want more of! AND usually these behaviors lead to other things too like higher self esteem, confidence, and regulation.
Reinforcement can also be one of the most difficult tools for parents to consistently use.
I often use the following example with families in my practice. When kids are engaging in an undesirable or unhelpful behavior (think calling names, sneaking candy, fighting with siblings, or ignoring all chores in favor of getting one level farther on the video game) this is usually an immediate problem that needs to be solved. Or in metaphor a “fire that needs to be put out”. It needs our attention, like now!
Putting out fires is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy for a parent to regulate themselves, be clear with their child, and co-regulate with their child. Sometimes parents lose their cool and are so exhausted that they do not show up as the best version of themselves.
So, in that brief moment where there are clear and sunny skies (maybe the 15 minutes all of the kids are playing nice with each other, studying at the table, or taking out the trash without a gazillion reminders) sometimes parents just coast. They take a moment to relax, regulate themselves, and to be honest sometimes just take a deep breath. And who can blame them!
Those are also the moments they are focusing on other tasks of the house like cooking dinner, planning the schedule for the week, or maybe getting a millisecond of rest. Those could also be the times the child you see in therapy is regulated but their sibling…isn’t.
BUT these are the moments that are worth their weight in gold long term. They are the moments when parents need to be "on". Catching kids doing well and reinforcing is going to lay down neural networks and patterns to strengthen this behavior so kids WILL DO MORE OF IT!! And doing more if it makes them feel better and long term helps parents to spend less time putting out fires.
Reinforcement helps lay the foundation and give a roadmap for the specific behaviors, acts, and thinking patterns for helpful and desirable behavior. It lets them know the specifics in how to succeed. It builds positive relationships (which is a parenting superpower for emotional regulation, connection, and general happiness) and connection with a child, rather than having the only point of contact be negative.
It also gives kids a better sense of self, empowerment, and self esteem!
In all of this I am hoping we can understand the power and magnitude of reinforcement. And I am hoping at the same time we can have compassion for parents as why sometimes it gets pushed to the back burner or they don't even realize they are focusing more on the unhelpful behaviors than the helpful ones!
In short - don’t be afraid to throw reinforcement like confetti! We want that to get everywhere!
What are your favorite ways to talk to parents about reinforcement? What are your favorite phrases? Drop a comment below!
Just how exactly do you get a grownup under a table? Is this some kind of problem solving exercise or a TikTok challenge?
Before we start, there are a couple of rules in this game. The first is you can’t tell the grown up what to do. Like you can’t just say “please kindly crouch under this table”. The second rule is that you only get to use one tool.
So how do you do it?
Well… I want to take you back to graduate school with me to an experience that was foundational and completely changed my outlook on behavioral change. AND the emotional change that comes when we witness changing behaviors.
In short, kids that are well regulated, connected, and are the best version of themselves show it in their relationships, behaviors, emotional responses and ability to tolerate distress. Behavior is one piece of this puzzle.
Okay - back to graduate school. I was in a class on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I’m sure it had much more of a sophisticated name I could look up in my course catalog or on my syllabus). My professor was introducing the concept of reinforcement and punishment as a tool for behavioral change.
If you haven’t already dove in check out why I think punishment has a bad reputation HERE! In short, in purely CBT terms punishment is something you give or take away to make a behavior decrease. This often gets tangled up with pop culture images of punishment that are usually tied together with power and shame by the grown up.
So in this class the professor selected two students to go out into the hallway. He shared that with the first student we could only use punishment and the second only reinforcement.
The task? Get a college aged student to get under the table in the front of the class.
Now, at the beginning of this lesson I was really prepared for this professor to look like a fool because there was absolutely no way that with reinforcement or punishment we could get anyone to do something as complex (and socially unexpected) as getting under a table.
The plan was that student A would enter and they were the lucky student that got the “punishment”. When this student entered for every “wrong” move we would engage in positive (giving something) punishment (decrease behavior). This meant that every time the student made the wrong move (ie away from the table, or anything that wasn’t directly toward the past of getting under the table) we would give a response (booing and putting our thumbs down) meant to decrease behavior (any extra movements outside of getting under the table).
After this was over student A would leave and student B would enter. Student B received “reinforcement”. Anything that was remotely close (even a little bit) to getting under the table we would give (positive) reinforcement (claps, cheers, and thumbs up). We wanted any behavior that was close to getting under the table (the end goal) to increase.
So here’s what happened.
Student A came in and for an extended period of time (5-10 minutes) this student was booed and thumbs down. Nothing happened when they made the right move. This student became stuck, paralyzed, and visibly frustrated and upset. The nervous system energy in the room felt hopeless and dysregulated.
This student did not make it under the table.
Student B came in. The energy was much better. Lots of clapping, cheering, and encouragement.
This student made it under the table within a matter of a minute or two.
Under the freaking table!!!!!
And, this experience has been foundational and life changing for me as a therapist. It has taught me to get really clear on the goal or desired behavior, in this case getting under the table, and helped me to see the intense power of reinforcement.
That reinforcement’s superpower is to shape the way towards desired behavior. And the understanding that if we are only focusing on what not to do, we aren’t giving children a roadmap of what to do.
This is an experience I share with parents and caregivers to highlight the importance of reinforcement as essential for helping children learn how to engage in expected, regulated, and helpful behaviors.
What about you? What's your story about the power of reinforcement? Leave a comment below (client data omitted of course!)
Natural consequences are when something in the environment that naturally happens next after an unhelpful behavior that leads to learning.
In short - you don’t study for the test you fail OR if you sneak video games all night you might have a hard time getting up in the morning and miss eating breakfast as you rush to the school bus.
For adults and grownups? If you park in the no parking zone (for just like a minute) you may come back to find a ticket. You forget to pay your internet bill? Well the internet gets shut off.
Second best to natural consequences? Related consequences! Consequences that are directly related to the difficult or unhelpful behavior. Check out more about all the different kinds of consequences and the truth about punishment HERE!
Well…what about when natural consequences are nowhere in sight and as a parent or therapist you are racking your brain and coming up empty handed? Because the secret is that every difficult behavior doesn’t have a nice neat packaged natural or related consequence.
Don’t fear - all is not lost! Now, natural consequences and related consequences usually have more power and are more effective for teaching and learning, but unrelated consequences can be effective as well!
Check out these 6 Tips for When A Natural Consequence Is Hard To Find:
Work on regulating yourself
Check out more on that HERE and a free downloadable cheat sheet for parents to regulate when things are heating up. When parents can be calm the brain opens up, stays in the prefrontal cortex, and parents can be more intentional about what consequences are selected.
A second bonus of grown ups focusing on regulating when giving consequences that when anger takes over kids can miss the point. They can come up with external control narratives like “mom is mean” or “dad’s in a bad mood today, it’s not really a big deal”. This significantly detracts from handing the child back the problem and ownership and takes away from any learning or teaching.
Don’t feel like you need to act immediately
Usually under pressure we develop consequences as …well… not the best version of ourselves. When grown ups act quickly it usually leads to regret and walking back whatever consequence comes out in the heat of the moment (think along the lines of all your Halloween candy is going in the garbage or I’m taking away your birthday kind of moments.) If we look under the lens of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, just stating there is a consequence and you need some time to think about it is actually a placeholder for the consequence itself AND parents usually develop consequences that are more effective for teaching when they take a minute to breathe.
For parent’s it is so important to know and remember that you don’t have to have it all together in the moment, and it’s okay to take some time to think it over or breathe. Another piece that goes with this is actually circling back to the consequence and not forgetting it!
Identify the essence of what was lost or impacted
When grown ups think about the impact of a child’s unhelpful choice, the consequence may become more clear. Love and Logic has an amazing term for this as the “energy drain”. With this concept the thought is at the end of the day if nothing else, energy is drained from a parent by having to deal with the problem. On that note if a caregiver needed to spend 20 minutes of time handling the problem, then, what is something that could help a parent get that time or energy back? If a parent’s energy is drained in some other way how can their child fill their cup back up?
The most common impacts are time, money, and energy - so these are great places to start! Sometimes filling up a parent's cup can be helping out with a typical parent task (helping with dinner), having the allowance go towards something for the parent (maybe a favorite snack or book), or skipping something extra a parent would have to take time out of their day for transportation. This last one might look like “yes you can have a friend over, but I’m not taking you to the mall because I need this extra time to finish the things I had planned and couldn’t do”.
Identify what has and appropriate value
Have you ever heard the saying “let the punishment fit the crime?”. Well…. that’s what this tip is all about! When parents think of consequences, consider the impact or level of unhelpful behavior and the impact of the consequence. Taking away computer and tablet time for a month for a snuck treat…well that’s a little out of proportion for the unhelpful or undesirable behavior. AND for the child that was just aggressive with their sibling and put a hole in the wall, a 30 second regulation break is likely not helpful either.
This last one is one of my favorite tips. Sometimes as grown ups we feel like we need to have all the answers, come up with the perfect solution, or know just the right thing to do. However, sometimes the biggest expert is the child! When a grown up pairs with a child against the behavior it leads to more positive and connected relationships. AND oftentimes children are excellent brainstormers (is that even a word?) of how they can fix and solve the problem. This not only helps with repair but allows a child to increase decision making, personal responsibility, and actually improves self esteem. It allows the child to have cognitions that they can have power to fix problems and they can make things better. It creates a more internal locus of control!
There you have it! My 7 tips for when a natural or related consequence is hard to find. What about you? What are your best tips for parents? Share below!
There are a lot of buzz words when it comes to parenting and behavioral change - consequences, logical consequences, natural consequences, and punishment. And sometimes it can be hard to make sense of it all! (Check out more about limits, boundaries, threats and consequences HERE and dive deep into how clear boundaries and limits should always come before consequences.)
One thing I want to clear up right away - punishment often gets a bad rep. In the pop culture sense when we think of punishment we think of yelling, scolding, sitting on the “naughty step”, and finger shaking.
AND all of these can be seen technically as punishment - but the examples also include the important distinction of shame, which isn't a part of punishment. And with shame, we fragment the attachment relationship and negatively impact self esteem. Also wrapped in with shame can include grown ups getting needs for power and control met in unhealthy and unhelpful ways.
In the short term these techniques miiiigh be effective - but long term it can be detrimental to the attachment relationship and the child’s self worth.
So what does punishment actually mean? In pure behavioral terms it is something that we give (positive punishment) or take away (negative punishment) to decrease behavior. We might give an extra chore or take away media time to get an undesirable behavior, for example not telling the truth, to lessen.
That’s it. Something given or taken away to promote behavioral change in the form of decreasing the behavior. And to be honest? We can't expect children to regulate their big feelings and make excellent choices if the grownups in their life can't.
And it is my strong believe that punishment should be given in a way that is connected, regulated, and respectful by the grown up in charge.
So then, what is a consequence? Well…according to the CDC it is what happens immediately after a behavior. The CDC also breaks down consequences into natural consequences and logical consequences. So, consequences can improve behavior (ie studying for a test and getting an A) or decrease undesirable behavior.
Now, let’s break down the different types of consequences!
Natural consequences are what happens next in the world without a parent having to intervene. A child who doesn’t study for a test or turn in their homework may get a lower grade than they would like. A child who says unkind things to their friends without apologizing may not get invited out as often. A child who throws their video game controller at the TV doesn’t have a working TV to play video games on anymore.
Logical consequences are something that is directly related to the undesirable behavior. Logical consequences needs the support and intervention of a parent and should provide teaching and learning. For this one we might think of the child who can’t transition off video games takes a break from playing video games. A child who puts a hole in the wall in anger should need to be in charge of helping fix and pay for the repair. A child who sneaks treats has the treats removed from the home.
In the text Child Centered Play Therapy VanFleet, Sywulak, and Sniscak break it down a little deeper in a way that I LOVE to be natural consequences, related consequences (or logical consequences), and unrelated consequences. They identify unrelated consequences as something that doesn’t relate to the undesired behavior, but is used to help decrease the undesirable behavior.
Unrelated consequences make so much sense because sometimes natural consequences are hard to find. An example of this would be the child who wakes up late for school and nearly misses the bus loses video game time. Now, I would argue that under certain circumstances this could be a related consequence, for instance if this child was sneaking video games and up until 3am leading to difficulty in sleep and waking up on time.
So overall, when you are working with parents on parenting skills and techniques whatever word or term you are using the two most important questions to ask are:
Parenting and behavior change is a wildly complex and deep topic, with no one-size-fits all. We need to consider a multitude of things when working with family systems including attachment, trauma, and culture.
Overall, the clearer we can get about what specific techniques to use, when, and why the more we can empower parents to be the most effective versions of themselves, all while keeping the attachment relationship intact!
Another resource that might be helpful when thinking about consequences? Looking at what need is underneath the behavior and grab this FREE downloadable worksheet for parents!
What about you? When you are working with parents what are your favorite recommendations for reducing undesirable behaviors and increasing positive, adaptive, and connecting behaviors? Drop a comment below!
Staying calm and regulating when a child is melting down, tantruming, or losing control is one of the most difficult tasks of parenthood. One of the reasons is something called mirror neurons - where when you observe the behaviors or emotions of another the neurons in your brain fire as if you were having that same experience. This is why if you are walking down the street and see someone smile, well… you start to smile too!
The sad news is that when the person in the room with you is a very angry, distressed, or enraged child - your neurons in your brain start to fire the exact same way too, leading to you as the grown up to become dysregulated too!
Our nervous systems also “talk” to one another and can pick up energy, cues, and clues from other human beings. This is why you can walk into a room where an argument just occurred and something “feels off”. We are wired to get clues of safety or danger from other human beings and just being in the presence of a dysregulated nervous system can make your nervous system dysregulate too.
And sometimes? The behavior of children can be pretty dangerous or aggressive, so a parent's nervous system is doing exactly what it thinks it needs to do to keep itself safe. By powering up your body with a fast heart, fast breathing, and chemical responses, it is getting their body ready for action to fight or run away.
But, here is the hardest part, the number one thing children need from grown ups is to be a container for regulation, or as Dr. Alan Shore refers to it as external co-regulation. It’s the task of using your regulatory capacities as a grown up (with a fully developed prefrontal cortex) to help co-regulate with the child from a dysregulated to regulated state.
So, in order to help young people calm down and regulate - you have to first start with yourself. I wanted to give you my FREE guide for the 9 ways I discuss helping parents regulate themselves and co-regulate with their child.
In this free downloadable guide you will get the exact ways and phrases that I use to support parents in regulating themselves when their child is dysregulated as well as the specific skills they can use to co-regulate.
This is an excellent resource to give parents a quick step-by-step guide for co-regulation and helps increase parent buy-in by covering some of the brain science behind regulation. This is also a great resources for busy parents who don't have time to read an entire book or go through a class, but are in need of regulation skills now!
How much time do you spend at the beginning of the therapy process with children setting expectations?
Let me backup a minute.
A huge stress of being a child and adolescent therapist is that you are working with so many invested parties. First and foremost you have the child, their symptoms, and what they want to get out of the process. AND this can be tricky because most children don’t sign themselves up for therapy and sometimes, frankly - they just don’t want to go or engage. They can also deny their symptoms (no, I never have outbursts or get upset) or not see them to be an issue (my brother is too sensitive, he needs to get over it).
Then there is the perspective of their parents. Parents are likely impacted by their child’s mental health and may have an agenda of what they want to see happen, how fast it should happen, and what is the path forward that may or may not be in line with your clinical opinion for therapy or what the child wants.
And, this is further complicated if you are working with divorced, separated, or high conflict co-parents who may have opposite thoughts and perspectives than one another. One parent thinks everything is fine and their child has no difficulties while the other one is overwhelmed, struggling, and seeing their child in pain.
Next, we have other invested parties like school or daycare that may be observing behaviors, symptoms, or patterns they are concerned about.
So when we start the therapy process with all of these different perspectives and agendas taking time to set expectations isn’t just a nice thing to do - it is essential to the child’s success in therapy.
Imagine how disappointed and frustrated a parent could be if their belief is that they can drop their child off with you, you will “tell the child what to do differently”, the child will magically do it, and in 4 weeks this problem they have been dealing with for the past 2 years will be gone.
My experience is that it never goes this way. And in fact therapy in this way is not how I do therapy.
Parents may also be informed by a medical model that is more fitting with the doctors office where they go in for a concern or difficulty, get medication or ideas, follow up in 6 weeks and have rapid resolution. This can be a fitting expectation for medical conditions like mild rashes, some broken bones, or transient illnesses, but typically not with mental health difficulties that have likely been present for months (and more likely years) before they present in the therapy office.
And other times they might have had an experience with another therapist or heard about therapy from a friend or a family member that might not be exactly how you do things.
AND the exact ways in which I operate in my therapy practice are likely not exactly the same as yours - and all of that is okay!
Clear expectations from the beginning of therapy with things like schedule, timeframe of therapy, and parent involvement actually makes parents (and children) happier and more engaged in the process. Research also shows that increased parent involvement in therapy and goal setting leads to better therapeutic results.
I have developed an Informed Consent process where I clearly explain to parents and children during the first session the expectations for therapy. I like to say that therapists are like teachers - two can teach the same subject but don’t do so in exactly the same way.
By taking the time to explain to parents and children the structure of therapy and participation you are giving them the opportunity to continue therapy with you (fully knowing the process) or seeking out someone else that might better fit their needs.
This also avoids the distress of 6 weeks into the process parents stressing because their child has not had rapid symptom improvement, is frustrated because they have to take time out of their day to be present at the therapy appointment, or having confusion about why you are “just playing” with their child.
So how exactly do you incorporate this into your therapy practice?
First things first, sit down and clarify all your policies and procedures for how you work with children. See my free downloadable Informed Consent that has my checklist of how I communicate my expectations and practices with families.
You can have this as a printable document, a page on your website (like mine here and here on my practice website), or as a checklist for yourself (like I do) that I go over the first session.
The expectations I find it most important to clarify for parents include my expectation that parents will be an active and involved part of therapy (see more about my parent check in HERE).
Next, I find it essential to clarify how long the therapy process will be and what factors go into determining therapy length. Dive deeper into the 12 factors I talk about with parents when discussing therapy length.
Then, if I am seeing a child with divorced or separated parents I am extremely clear in my role as a mental health therapist, not that of a custody evaluator, mediator, or parenting consultant. And lastly I find it crucial to discuss my schedule. Parents sometimes will come in for an intake at noon, but expect after that to get a 5:00 spot on a Tuesday for the rest of their child’s therapy. Setting expectations with schedule increases your chances of the parent being able to consistently bring their child to therapy sessions. If you need scheduling support check out this course HERE.
I encourage you to set some time aside to get really clear about how you clarify expectations for parents and implement some of these practices into your intake process! What else am I missing? What are other ways or topics you find essential to clarify with parents?
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,