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

My Child Seems Addicted to Screens - Help!

Posted: February 5, 2020

Video gaming
The screaming, the tears, the arguments, the negotiations when it's time to stop ... could your child be on the way to a video game or screen addiction?  Or  is he already there? 

You are the first generation of parents who have had to cope with this amount of screen time and emotional pull of progress ("I just have to finish this level!")  No wonder you're struggling!  There's no map, no established parenting history for handling this. 

And let's face it, modern day living has gotten so full for parents that it's very tempting to let your child spend time with screens in order to collect your thoughts, get things done around the house, or dare I say it? ... talk to each other or a supportive adult.

In generations past, the TV was the babysitter, but it couldn't hold a candle to a video game, addictability-wise.  Kids were still willing to turn of the TV and go outside to ride bikes, play neighborhood games, and even rake the yard.  Now there's a major scene whenever anyone suggests that it's time to turn off the device.  Why is this?  Because of the sophisticated way the games are designed, pleasure hormones are activated when success is achieved.  The brain seeks the pleasure over and over, especially in children.  Their brains are much more susceptible to addiction, both to screens and substances, than adults' brains.  This is a crucial point.  Do not allow an addiction to continue because it is happening in a vulnerable developing brain.  

I  know. You hate this conflict with your kids, especially when it's EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  

Here are some (edited) guidelines from Melbourne Child Psychology (

Consider the following signs of possible ‘digital dependence’.

  1. Lack of interest in normal daily activities.

Has your child stopped enjoying or seeking out the other things they used to enjoy? Does he always choose screen time over any other leisure activity?

  1. Constant distraction by technology.

Are you unable to communicate with her or get her attention when she's on her phone? Is she always anxiously waiting until she can get back to her phone?

  1. Problem behaviour when he's not able to be online.

Are there tantrums or disrespectful language (name-calling, profanity, swearing) when he's not able to access his video games? Do you see aggression that's typically out of character?

  1. Constant discussion about, and begging for, screen time.

When she's not using screens, is she frequently referring to them, such as discussing things she's seen or done online? (Some of this is normal, but watch for hyper-focus.) 

  1. Withdrawal.

Does he seem anxious, distressed or upset when he can’t access his devices, then calmer once he can?

If your child is showing these signs of being dependent on screens, an intervention can help!

Just like any other addiction, these things are most successfully dealt with ASAP. There’s no better time for that when they’re still kids — and you’re still actively parenting them.

Just as with all parenting topics, setting up healthy screen habits while they’re young will equip them to handle screens in adulthood.  They'll be more mindful navigators of the digital world, and more engaged in their actual lives.

In weaning your child off his screen obsession, consider the following:

  • Don’t ask for ending it cold turkey! This will make the transition seem like a punishment, rather than efforts toward their highest good. Slowly reduce their screen time, rather than cutting if off.  Include them in the discussion, always, even if they balk at the idea of cutting back.  That's natural when there's an addiction, but it's not a reason to abandon your efforts.  
  • Gather together in a family meeting to set healthy boundaries.  You'll need a two-hour/day limit, ultimately (recommnended by the American Association of Pediatrics) and periods during the week where there's no access (the AAP recommendation is no screens one hour before bed to allow for healthy sleep.)  You may think, "But what if he gets around my blocking of his device?  Use Qustodio, an app which allows you to control all devices in your home from your phone.  NEVER do this without a calm discussion of your reasons:  "All your life we've made sure you were safe and healthy by providing a home, food, education, transportation, love, affection, and by teaching you the rules of safety.  This is just another one of those areas.  Overuse of screens is not safe for kids, emotionally or physically. We're just still doing our job."
  • Are the household tasks and homework done?  Then it's screen time.  Two hours max per day for school-age children.  Zero for those under age 2.  One hour for preschoolers.  
  • Access educational content before simple or violent games.  No violence, as it is shown to increase aggressive behavior. Check the age recommendations on games and follow them without waffling. If your child wants to negotiate by saying, "Everyone at school plays this!" stop right there and say, "We know better than to allow this type of game. It's our job to keep this out of our home.  If other kids are using them, maybe their parents just need more information on this.  We're not changing our minds. End of discussion."  
  • Keep drawing, reading, playing board games, outdoor activities, cooking, baking, cleaning with raucous music, exercising together the focus of your lives.

As you take control of the screen use in your home, you may see less resistance than you anticipated.  Children, despite their protests, WANT their parents to set limits.  It helps them feel secure.  They become more relaxed, and you will soon see these effects.  

Please note the difference in approach between adolescents and children:

Children need clear boundaries that don't vary.  Adolescents need some input into the decisions, so never implement new boundaries without including them in the solution.   Say, "I want us to come to a daily screen time limit together, one we can both accept." If they negotiate and you can't accept it, remind them that it needs to be mutual.  If you land on something like 2 hours and 15 minutes, accept it.  This is collaborative decision-making, and it works the best.  Dictating the limits guarantees resistance and sneakiness.  

Be sure to monitor your own screen time hours - a rule of thumb is, "Should I be giving my child my attention now, or should I be on this screen?"  You'll be setting the example and sharing your values:  "Family time is our priority every day."  Nothing you can do beyond this will be more effective, as children learn what they live.  


Keep in mind that the video game industry wants your child dependent on video games.  As a family, you can discuss this and help your children join you in the campaign against corporate greed.  That was one way I helped my kids with limiting TV and its constant marketing to kids back in the day, and it really worked.  

Our society will need strong parents, teachers, and leaders when this generation of children grows up.  We can't let them waste time - learning to navigate  life is vital to their development.  They need to learn about respect for others, sharing, problem-solving, managing strong feelings, decision-making and relating to family and friends.  If they're on screens, this is what they're missing.  Do not let this happen. 

If you need help with this or any other parenting issue, click here to learn about parent coaching.  

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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