Finding a better way to get positive behaviors by acknowledging the real reasons for them. "It Was Never Your Fault"

These are some of the most powerful words I use in coaching parents.  "It was never your fault," carries a healing message to children that releases them from undeserved guilt.  When children are free of guilt, they're learning, listening, and functioning well.  

When parents are also freed from guilt, they, too, learn, listen and function well. That's my aim, to help you, as a parent release guilt that you never deserved.  

"How does that work?" you might wonder.  I offer parents forgiveness because I truly believe you/they have always been doing what you knew how to do. When my kids were young, I made a lot of mistakes. If I'd had a parent coach back then, I would have loved guidance and forgiveness from a trusted professional. I think it would have made all the difference. Now that that ship has sailed, I feel privileged to be able to lead parents through Present Moment Parenting in a way I never was. I feel honored to say, "You did your best. It was never your fault when things didn't go well."  

And for kids, it's the same. There's not a child in the world who doesn't want to be in close connection with their parents. After all, parents are their survival, so it makes sense that they would strive to maintain the bond. But their emotional state, undeveloped as it is, prevents them from making the bond stronger. They falter, they have meltdowns, they make their parents feel frustrated and angry. 

As the adults, it's our job to realize they never intended this disruption in the closeness with us. They just lacked the brain development to control their outbursts, their refusals, and their nasty words. Once we realize that undeveloped brains is the issue, and not bratty, controlling, impossible kid, we're miles ahead of the game of healing the break between ourselves and our children.  

So, what's the first step? Changing our automatic reaction to defiance from one of upset and consequences to one of understanding, calm, and listening to the underlying emotion. When we can do that, our kids feel seen, heard, felt, safe. And from there, we can gain their cooperation.  

Recently I heard a quote from a parent that went: "Once I dropped the parent role and focused on strengthening our relationship, everything got better."  That to me, is gold.  

What do kids need? A loving, accepting, guiding presence. This enables them to learn, follow, and emulate their parents' behavior, especially forgiveness.  

If you'd like more information on how parent coaching works, click here. I'd love to help you form that strong, healing bond with your children that reduces defiance, strengthens your relationship, and brings peace to your home. 

To read or listen to my book, click here: QR codes Present Moment Parenting; The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child

Disempowering Anxiety

Posted: October 5, 2019

Disempowering Anxiety:  Empowering Adult-Child Relationships

Tina Feigal, M.S.Ed.


Definition of anxiety in children:

Fear where there’s no real threat.

One problem is that we’ve named anxiety, which makes it seem powerful, and somehow unchangeable.  We can change neural pathways. 

For evolving humans, it’s very difficult to tell when there’s a real threat and when there’s not.

It’s remarkably easy for children to land in “victimhood” when anxiety seems to run the show.

The desire to control adults becomes the default response.   

Contributing factors:

  • “Just wired that way”
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • ODD
  • Giftedness
  • Attachment Disorder
  • Anxiety in children
  • School stress
  • Bullying
  • Family discord
  • Family separation
  • New situations
  • Illness
  • Anxiety in children
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Learning disability
  • Parental anxiety (also “fear where there’s no real threat”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Time pressure

What can we do to help?

  • Understand that the child is having a physiological response, not being “impossible,” “picky,” or “looking for attention.”  

Decide it can be different. 

What Adults Can Do
Get into the child’s experience
The only effective solutions come from understanding what he’s experiencing.  More on this later …

Manage your own anxiety

  • Allow room for children in your life
  • Get regular exercise
  • Sleep whenever you can
  • Say “no” to commitments
  • Plan ahead

Ask: “Will this really matter in the long run?”

Silence the “parents-should” and “children-should” voices inside. 

Attunement: join the child in the present moment.

Stay with the emotion the child is having. 

Don’t try to talk her out of her feelings by reassuring her. 

Listen deeply.

Ask what that felt like.  If the child says, “I don’t know,” say, “If I guess, will you tell me if I’m right or wrong?

Be willing to be wrong.  Then just listen to the child’s true feeling.

“You’re really worried.”

“You really want me to take you to the store right now.”

“You feel very upset that you have to wait.”

Stay in the conversation with no judgment, no fixing, no fear.

Since the child will expect a “fix” or advice, he’ll ask for that in some way.  Just say, “I don’t know what will happen, but I trust you will know what to do. I’m here if you need me.”

Give your emotional energy to what you want, and withhold your emotional energy from what you don’t want. 

Brain Matching and The Institute of Heartmath

Adults have so much power to strengthen neural pathways for positive emotional responses.

We can change the child’s body. 

Have family meetings every week.

Let the child know there will be a change in the old patterns. 

Allow plenty of TIME.

Say, “Take your time,” to the child. 

Realize the anxious child is saying, “See me.”

Use the phrase
“I trust you to …”

Rather than focus on what shouldn’t occur, give the child grown-up tasks.  Having appropriate power decreases the need for seeking inappropriate power. 

Inappropriate power:

  • Opposition
  • Defiance (delaying, refusing)

Appropriate power:

  • Being trusted to do grown-up tasks with little or no supervision

Ways to give appropriate power:

  • Ask the child’s advice and follow it. Give feedback.
  • Engage the child in the care of someone younger.
  • Encourage self-advocacy at school, after breaking it down and rehearsing it. 

  • Instead of approving of the child’s experience, plant the reference point in the child.

“You must have felt so happy and relieved when you handed the assignment in on time.” 

“I can just imagine that it feels so good to be able to find your clothes after you do your own laundry.”

“Seems like you’re not getting along with your brother.  What do you want to do about it?”

Ask a question rather than issue an opinion or a directive.  Use “How … ?”

Our own “how” question:

How does this reduce anxiety in children?



Build self-efficacy by including children in your thoughts and letting them solve problems. 
They become thinkers, rather than order-takers. 

  • Old way vs. new way
    “You want to do what? You can’t go outside!  You’re homework’s not done!” 
    “You want to go outside right now.  How will that work with getting the homework done before 8?”
  • Mindfulness in parenting
    John Kabat Zinn, creator of “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”
    “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
  • What adults can do

Limit technology use.

Hold regular family or class meetings.

Let the kids plan the space, the music, the snack, and the candlelight.

Let the kids’ sports and grades be their sports and grades.

Certainly support them, but over-involvement only hurts by taking away their appropriate power.  

A gifted 19 y.o. who had anxiety in high school said, “Asking me how I felt never worked as I grew older.”

“Learning about my brain’s process helped a lot.  I could stand outside, look at what was happening, and not be ‘in’ the anxiety so much.”

“Knowing that my brain was mis-firing with anxiety chemicals gave me power over it.”

  • Strategies reviewed

You can’t stop all the anxiety from affecting your family, but you can learn to disempower it by:

  • Understanding the contributing factors
  • Getting into the child’s experience
  • Strategies reviewed
  • Managing your own anxiety
  • Being in the present moment with the child
  • Attuning to her current state
  • Empowering her with your trust
  • Encouraging grown-up tasks
  • Building self-efficacy
  • Strategies reviewed
  • Holding family meetings
  • Fostering appropriate power
  • Planting the reference point in the child
  • Including the child in your thoughts, asking ‘how.’
  • What adults can do

The pressure is off parents today.  All you need to do it listen to children.  The flash cards and Baby Einstein videos are not needed. Attunement to the child is the biggest predictor of healthy attachment and adult mental health in the child.

                                               -paraphrase from David Brooks, NY Times Journalist and author of The Social Animal



Anxiety in Teens

John Kabat Zinn

EEG Biofeedback

Tina Feigal, MS Ed, Parent Coach and Trainer
St. Paul, MN 

                                                                            Copyright © 2019 Center for the Challenging Child/Anu Family Services



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I See You Letter

“I See You” Letter

Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.

               You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.

               If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
               The components of the “I See You Letter” are:

  1. I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
  2. In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
  3. I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
  4. Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______

An example:

Dear Ana,

I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.

I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.

I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.

If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.

I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.


Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Other caregiver

I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!

I See You Letter