What if, in two weeks, you saw huge progress in your child's behavior?

Posted: January 28, 2022

ou might think I'm inflating the 2 week thing, but I am writing this because I see it happening with my coaching clients and I don't want to keep it a secret.
Yes, I've helped parents whose children were feeling very distant, acting out their pain by running away, flinging foul language, stealing and limiting their food intake. After 2 weeks, the communication between these parents and children has improved to the point that the behaviors are dramatically decreased and they are on the road to a brand of connectedness they've never imagined.
How? One of the main tools I use from my book, Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child is "I see you" letters.
The letters are written in a notebook and placed on the child's pillow. The components are:
  1. When I look at you I see ... (all the good things you can name about your child.)
  2. I also see ... (all the painful things your child is going through.)
  3. I apologize that I came down hard on your when I thought your behavior was something I should control (I was afraid.)
  4. I'm working on making it better.
  5. I love you.
  6. Please feel free to write back to me if you feel like it. Just put the notebook on my pillow. No pressure at all, though.
And then NEVER mention the letter.
Just watch for softening, which is the sign that the child is feeling connected to you. Also watch for a decrease in negative behaviors. All along, the behaviors were a message: "See me! If you don't see me, I'm not going to survive!" Being connected to you is what makes the behaviors lose their purpose. Being seen via a written letter is profound, and it goes deeply into the child that he/she is emotionally safe with you.
To understand how this works in your child's body, watch my TEDx Talk, "How to Stop Meltdowns and Gain Kids' Cooperation!"
And if you like these ideas, please share them with someone who could benefit. All we want is a world of children who feel safe so they can fulfill their potential.
With warm wishes from the frozen MN tundra,
P.S. For parent coaching or to buy my book for yourself or someone you love, click here.

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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