Positive Parenting

The Need for Revenge


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Shouting hurtful words, spitting, hitting, destroying beloved toys or family photos. Does your child ever say or do things that shock or disgust you? Do you ever feel hurt or bewildered at how they could act that way towards you? Today I am continuing my series on Decoding Four Needs Behind Misbehavior (catch up on the needs of Power and Attention) with understanding when and why a child has a “Need for Revenge”.

An angry, vengeful child can intensify when parents intervene.  The problem often does not end well, as the child can keep pushing until the parent loses control and yells or breaks down and cries.  Often, this is the goal of the child’s misbehavior — to push the parent to the place where the adult is equally as upset as the child. Why would a child want to do this, you wonder? A vengeful child is often a hurting child.

When a child is overcome by negative emotion, they are often scared and in need of help. Sometimes those painful emotions are coming from hurt within the parent-child relationship.  A child needs a parent to contain them — their needs, emotions, and behaviors.  When a child is hurt by a parent, they will often try to communicate that they need healing in the relationship by expressing how badly they hurt.  Many children do not know how to assertively communicate this painful reality in a polite and healthy way (to be fair, how many adults can do this either?), so they do whatever they can to explain exactly how badly they hurt. The fastest way to convey how much someone hurt you is to hurt them back.

This is a backwards and damaging way for a child to find comfort and healing with the parent.  It often backfires and (understandably) makes the problem worse. Reacting to the behavior itself does not address the need for comfort and healing.   So how can you address and prevent this type of behavior? 

  • Be humble.  Remind yourself that no one is perfect, including your child and yourself. Misbehavior and hurt feelings are a part of relationships and so is repairing and healing.
  • Ask yourself, “How have I contributed to this misbehavior?  Could my child be reacting to something I did that hurt them?”
  • Notice your own feelings as they come up (rage? hurt? victimization?) and allow them to signal to you that your child may be feeling the exact same way.
  • Reflect feelings and communicate that you see the child is hurting. “Wow, you really hurt me when you said you hate me.  I wonder if you feel really hurt right now too?”
  • Model assertive communication by directly addressing the behavior and the emotion.  This will teach the child how to use healthier and more effective communicate skills in the future and decrease the need to seek revenge out of lack of better options.
  • Apologize for hurting the child. This is the healing the child (and parent) longs to find. Even if you don’t disagree with your behavior, you can still apologize that the child is hurt.  “I am sorry that you are hurt that I won’t let you go out with friends tonight.”
  • Set limits.  After connecting and addressing the emotional needs, set limits on behavior.  “I am glad I understand how you feel and we can work through it.  You are not allowed to scream and break things when you are upset.  Please tell me when you are upset so we can address it in a better way.  Next time you can say, “Mom, I feel really mad” but don’t scream, say hurtful things, or break anything.”

Through connecting and reflecting feelings, a child looking for revenge can find comfort instead.  As a parent tunes into this need they can not only heal the breach in the relationship with the child and avoid the misbehavior in the future, but they can also teach healthy assertive communication skills.  These skills are critical for your child to have healthy relationships in their future.

Home Alone gif found via Thoroughly Modern.

Coping Skills, Mindfulness

Boost your mood with gratitude

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Did you know that research shows looking for things to be thankful for improves your mental health, increases your happiness, and strengthens your relationships?

I’m thankful that mental health is not fixed state and there are simple ways to boost my mood each day.

What are you thankful for today?

Happy Thanksgiving!




Bibliotherapy, Play Therapy

Reading is healing.

Reading is healingReading is not only one of my favorite coping skills, but also one of my favorite interventions with kids in therapy.  Reading storybooks out loud to children is a wonderful and gentle way to normalize issues that they are facing, comfort them, give them attention, and instill hope that their problem won’t last forever. I cherish the moment a child’s eye widen with hope when they see themselves in a story; the moment they realize they are not alone if a real book exists about the same problem.   What a gift to know you are not the only one struggling and that others have overcome exactly what you’re facing.

Here’s a few of my favorite story books that address hard issues in gentle ways:

You’ve Got Dragons  – A boy talks about dealing with and overcoming “dragons”, a purposely vague problem that lends itself to mental health issues like depression and anxiety,  hard changes in life like divorce or moving, or even just the heartache of growing up.  We often expand the “dragon” theme into an art activity and working metaphor for the issues we are working on in counseling.

Jack’s Worry –  A wonderfully illustrated book about how a young boy learns to understand and overcome his overwhelming feelings of anxiety. This simple and yet powerful book appeals to both young and older children dealing with anxiety.

Living with Mom and Living with Dad –  The pain of missing a parent can be a taboo topic for kids of divorce to bring up with their mom or dad.  This sweet book gives words to the mixed feelings that come up and validates a child’s sense of self during transitions in living arrangements and family structure. Reading this with your child will give them permission to open up about feelings and thoughts they may otherwise feel they need to protect you from knowing. The book includes large flaps to lift that encourages engagement.

Do you like to read too? Do you have a moving story you love to read to your children? I’m always on the lookout for more books to add to my collection.


Coping Skills, Mindfulness, Play Therapy, Relaxation

Squishies and Self-Soothing

Have you heard of Kawaii Squishies?


Like an adorable update to the classic stress ball, Squishies are a soft toy made for squeezing. Unlike the classic stress ball, Squishies feel irresistibly soft and are addictive to hold.  Described as “slow rising stress relief”, the toy slowly inflates back to its orginal shape while also giving off a light scent.

In therapy we practice “5 senses soothing”, a mindful awareness technique that promotes emotional regulation and relaxation.  By focusing on the present moment– what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell– we experience a shift into a calmer physiological state.  This is a powerful tool that works to soothe both kids and adults affected by stress, anxiety, or trauma.  Engaging the five senses is also a quick way to help a child (or parent!) recover from a meltdown by first distraction and second shifting into a calmer, happier state.  You don’t need a prop to engage your senses in the present moment, but having powerful visual, smell, or object certainly helps.

That’s why when one of these Kawaii (“cute” in Japanese pop culture) squishies made its way into my counseling office last week, I was delighted. The toy is colorful and cute, pliable and soft to the touch,  and lightly scented.  That’s three senses right there!  It is also mesmerizing to watch flatten and inflate — another relaxing element.  I enjoyed playing with it so much that I knew I needed to get a few for my office and home.  They are small enough to stick in your bag and keep on hand as a fidget toy for yourself or your child.  With all the various sizes and styles, I think they would make great stocking stuffers too.


Positive Parenting

The Need for Power

“You can’t make me!”

Does your child ever push back, try to tell you what to do, or refuse to obey?  Do you find yourself feeling challenged, threatened, or even defeated by your child?  Consider these feelings to be a signal that your child is fighting hard for power.

A child may crave power because they are developmentally ready for more responsibility than their life is giving them.  Or, they may be trying to create order in the midst of chaos in their life.  Another reason could be that they have a strong will or are a natural leader and need a positive outlet for those healthy personality traits. By understanding that defiant behavior can stem from a need for power, a parent can avoid wasting their energy in a power struggle or feeling victimized by the child.

Decoding this misbehavior provides a chance to empower and redirect potential conflict. Give your child small opportunities to be in charge you empower them and redirect potential conflict.

Simple ways to give your children power:

  • Give them choices.  By selecting the options you maintain control, but you offer them an opportunity for self-agency by choosing what option they prefer.  For example, “We will read one book before bedtime.  You get to choose if it’s the truck book or the dinosaur book”.
  • Give them small tasks or chores.  Allow them to pour their own drink or help you bake.
  • Do not engage in power struggles, but rather, remind them of their responsibilities. “You don’t want to obey, but I am the leader and your job is to obey.  When you do your job, you get to do fun stuff.  I wonder what happens when you don’t do your job? (And let them tell you).
  • Allow them to struggle with the small stuff without you swooping in to do it for them.  “You want me to do that for you, but I think you can figure it out on your own if you keep trying…. Wow, you did that all by yourself! You didn’t need my help.”
  • Give them boundaries for them to be in charge.  “You need to do this right now, but later let’s play a game where YOU TELL ME what to do.”  “I am the leader of our family, you are the leader of your toys.”
  • Allow them to explain things to you.  Play dumb, don’t correct them.  “Wow, you really know a lot about Legos! Thanks for teaching me.”
  • and lastly, make sure they have lots of unstructured time to play.  Play is where they are truly in charge, and without the time or space to play a child will be at a deficient.

When a child’s need for power is met you will know because they will be confident, content, and capable.  They’ll be less likely to challenge you, because they have been empowered to control the appropriate things in their world.

What little things have you noticed make a big difference in your kid’s sense of power?  My 13-month-old beams with pride when she turns off the light switch and my 3-year-old announces “I did it myself, I didn’t need your help!” after repairing his Lego creation.

Positive Parenting

The need for Attention

It’s no joke that kids need attention.  Actually, every single one of us needs attention. It’s a basic need that when goes unmet, many problems arise.  From physical neglect to low self-worth, a lack of attention comes at a high cost.  So, it makes sense that kids (and some adults) will go to great lengths to make sure that they are seen and heard.  Kids will take any attention, even negative attention, over nothing at all.  This is where a lot of behavioral issues can stem– the desperate, biological need to get attention, even by misbehaving.

So if needing attention can lead to misbehaving, how do you deal with that?  You give the kid attention.  Lots and lots of it.  You heap it on them before they realize they need it.  When you understand that misbehavior can serve as a request for attention, you also understand your child.  Their seemingly “bad” behavior becomes less threatening and shameful, and more resolvable.

The next time you find yourself annoyed by your child, consider if their pestering might be a means to get your attention.  Try to then lean into that need, knowing that it is indicative of the importance of your role in your child’s life.  Simple ways to meet the need for attention:

  • Touch them! Hug them, pick them up, give them a high five.
  • Give words to the behavior.  Help them feel seen and raise their awareness of their actions. “You keep grabbing my phone out of my hands.  I wonder if you would rather me look at you than this article I’m reading? I would love to look at you! Next time ask and don’t grab my phone.”
  • Read them stories.  Play board games.  Get on the floor and look at whatever they are doing. Ask if you can join them.
  • “Track” their behavior by verbally repeating what you see them do, just like a sportscaster would repeat the on-field action in a play-by-play. “I see you putting away your toys just like I asked you.  You are a great helper to our family!”
  • Sing with them.  Make up silly songs that include their name and things they enjoy.
  • What would you add? What works with your kids?

Looking back, can you remember any desperate ways you “asked” for attention as a kid or teenager? Oh the stories I could tell! Do you remember any times you felt truly seen or heard?  Who filled up your tank?  I would love to hear!





Positive Parenting

Decoding Four Needs Behind Misbehavior

Does your child’s behavior ever drive you bonkers?  Do you find yourself not only questioning your child, but also your own ability as a parent?  You’re not alone.

An important value of “positive parenting” is the willingness to separate the behavior from the child.  A helpful way to do this is to view the misbehavior as a form of communication — a dysfunctional way the child is trying tell you they have an unmet need.  Four major needs behind misbehavior are Attention, Power, Revenge, and Inadequacy. By understanding the need your child is trying to meet you can assist them in filling that need, and therefore eliminate the acting-out behavior.

Do you think a need for Attention, Power, Revenge, or Inadequacy could be driving a common parent/child struggle in your home?  Answer the following quick questions with the choice that best suites you to discover what need may be behind your struggles:

When dealing with this issue, you feel:

  1. Annoyed, Irritated, Worried, Guilty
  2. Challenged, Provoked, Defeated
  3. Hurt, Disappointed
  4. Despair, Hopeless

When corrected, the child often responds by:

  1. Temporarily stops misbehavior while parent address it, but starts up again
  2. Intensifies actions, tries to gain control over parent
  3. Tries to get even, acts unlikable
  4. Shuts down, acts helpless


Choice 1 for both questions illustrate the need for Attention.  Choice 2- Power, Choice 3 – Revenge, Choice 4- Inadequacy.

Once you have an idea of the need behind your child’s misbehavior, you can address it proactively and help avoid misbehavior.  Not only does this lead to greater peace in your home, but it also builds a deeper relationship with your child.  You can also use the knowledge of their need to teach them to assertively meet their own needs in healthy ways.

Stay tuned for more about Mistaken Goals and simple ways to help meet your child’s needs.







Coping Skills, Mindfulness, Positive Parenting, Relaxation

Calm down quick with Birthday Cake Breathing

If you’re like me, deep breathing isn’t always as simple and effective as it sounds. When feeling anxious, I have had the tendency to over-think and over-stress (surprise!) just how to breathe. “Is it in through my mouth? Or nose? Do I hold it? I feel like I’m gonna pass out!” Can you relate?

Anxious feelings can be closely tied to not getting enough oxygen due to habitually taking short, shallow breaths. Therefore, simply pausing and taking a long, deep breath is a powerful way to calm your nervous system and move through feelings of stress and anxiety. But what’s an easy and quick way to do this when you (or your child) is already overwhelmed and melting down?

A fun technique I’ve come up with for myself and my clients is called “Birthday Cake Breathing”. The fun visualization of the birthday cake and the special ritual of blowing out candles doubles as a powerful relaxation technique to switch your brain out of its anxious thoughts and feelings and into the rich imagination that helps soothe you — and quickly!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Imagine that it is your birthday and your favorite cake is being placed in front of you, lit with cheerful, glowing candles.
  • Using your senses and imagination, really picture it.  What flavor is the cake? What colors do you see? What shape is the cake? What flavor of frosting? How does it smell? Is the room dim? Are the candles striped and maybe dripping? Do the little flames dance under you chin as you look down at them?
  • Taking a deep breath in through your nose, imagine that you are inhaling the scent of that cake in front of you.  Really smell it.  Anticipate how it will taste too! (Notice how quickly your brain can focus on something other than your anxiety? Keep going!)
  • Now, blow that same breath out slowly through your mouth, as if you are blowing out the candles on your cake. (Try holding out your fingers and pretend they are candles to blow out.)
  • Repeat- deep breath in through your nose while you inhale that scent, blow out the candles.

And that is it!  This is such a fun and simple way to truly experience the power of deep breathing, with an added relaxation visualization to enhance the experience.  I practice this with kids and adults alike.  And what if you don’t like cake or don’t want to think about your birthday?  Switch it up!  Picture a steaming plate of spaghetti or something else to you can smell and then blow.  A Yankee candle is another idea.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Switch it up to suite yourself or your kids.  And have fun with it, as engaging our imaginations to think about fun things is a great way to snap out of an anxious or stressed moment.