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home : columnists : kids & families first
January 21, 2020

Kids & Families First: Our Negative "Hooks"
As parents, we've experienced power struggles with our child at one time or another. We think we know best, that our agenda is what's most important. We can force that until our child finally digs in and says "no!" This scenario can also play out between adults. Sadly, this never becomes a gain, but rather a loss that . . .
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Kids & Families First: Hit & Run Emails
Q: What makes people use email to attack others, by yelling (caps, large font) at the receiver, and yet avoiding addressing the problem in person? It seems they hide behind email to say anything without any regard for how hurtful it is to the other person. Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with this? . . .
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Kids and Families First: The "Kramer vs. Kramer" Tech Upgrade
Q: My ex-wife is totally unreasonable and impossible to get along with. She doesn't respect me or my space. She continues trying to control me and comes over to my house whenever she feels like it. During my parenting time, she wants to stop by with a forgotten jacket or bathing suit and then starts . . .
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Kids & Families First: "Whirlybird" Parenting
"Whirlybird" is my term, contrived from what we normally hear as "helicopter" parenting. I happen to like "whirlybird" because it conjures the image of frenetic activity. And that's what I'm talking about. Many children today are so scheduled, overseen, managed, and directed, they're unable to embrace the true . . .
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Kids and Family First: You Don't Want My Advice?!
That last frustrating conversation you had with your adult daughter stays with you for hours. Could you have said something differently? She often abruptly ends the conversation. Doesn't she realize your advice is "tried and true"? As you relive the exchange, you don't understand why she didn't accept your feedback . . .
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Kids & Families First: Parent Question - Friendship Struggles
Q: My 9-year-old son has problems keeping friends. He complains that no one likes him, that some kids are too bossy, others are mean or unfair. He can't seem to establish a good relationship with anyone, which breaks my heart. I've told him he should call more kids to invite them over . . .
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Transitions of Summer
The closing of school with the start of summer vacation is often bittersweet. This transition might evoke excitement in closing one chapter while anticipating the start of the next.

Friday, June 26, 2015
Kids & Families First: Celebrating Dads
"I've got a couple of pretty good friends who I can count on for some of the small things. But when something big comes up or I'm feeling really down, I go to the one guy who really understands and who can really help - and that's my dad." - 12-year-old boy . . .
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Kids & Families First: Communication - Conflict Partnership (Part 2)
There are as many different communication styles as there are people. What is fairly universal is the reaction to conflict, typically sending us into "fight or flight" survival mode. It's so much easier to deflect tension onto an uninvolved party, that trusted friend or family member, who can better absorb and help us . . .
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Kids & Families First: Communication 101 (Part 1)
Are we losing the art of direct communication? Messages are left on Facebook pages, text messages replace person-to-person contact, and engaging conversation is often supplanted with screen time. Of course, it's certainly possible I'm overreacting. I'd like to believe that, within the safe home environs . . .
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Kids & Families First: "Am I Grounded Again?"
Q: My son, 16, stomped off to his room yet again, after I told him he's grounded for two weeks. He was twenty minutes late Saturday night again. He can't seem to follow our rules. When he's grounded, which is most of his middle school and the first two years of high school, he tells us his friends think this is . . .
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Kids & Families First: The "How" of Behavior
Temperamental differences. Strong-willed . . . low key . . . intense . . . quiet . . . "locked in" . . . dramatic. Just a few of the inherent characteristics that define how each of us behaves in certain situations. We all have our "trigger points," eliciting powerful reactions to our child's behavior. Given children often . . .
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Work of Marriage
A colleague was recently sharing her angst about preparations for her daughter's fall wedding, with detailed descriptions of what sounds like a fairytale extravaganza. Her concern seemed more about her daughter, and future son-in-law, being consumed with the wedding plans, while seemingly having no concern . . .
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Kids & Families First: Every Day Is Mother's Day
Raw emotions. Unrequited love . . . guilt . . . joy . . . remorse . . . pride . . . despair . . . the intense emotional experience of being a mother. Whether our children come to us from birth or adoption, we will never be the same again. They hold us accountable to be our truest self. They teach us the lessons we . . .
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Kids & Families First: Renegotiating the Relationship
Q: Our oldest child will soon be finishing her first year in college and coming home for the Summer. We're excited to have her home for a few months, but to be honest, I'm also ambivalent about it. Lately when I text or call her, she is not as available, or talkative. She's made lots of friends and seems to love . . .
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Morning Meltdown
Q: How do you make the morning transition to school/work go smoothly? My kids never get that there are just so many minutes for us to get ready and out the door. I work and have to get there on time, so I need them to get dressed, eat breakfast, and be all ready so I can bring them to school and be at work on . . .
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Lessons Our Children Teach Us
This has been a nostalgic few weeks for me. Parenting reflections. My grown children's birthdays are in March and April, so I'm between one, approaching the next. Memories of their childhood birthday celebrations flood my consciousness. Observing parents with young families is quite evocative of many other . . .
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Kids & Families First: Adolescent Separation
As adolescence approaches, trust and honest communication are critical. Power struggles erupting between parents and teens can be brutal, fueling increasing needs to "separate." A parent question speaks to this issue. Q: Our 16-year-old son has a new group of friends, leaving behind good kids . . .
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Kids & Families First: The "Tug of War" of Divorce
Sarah likes mom best. Is that really true? What about dad? After all, he's the guilty party, breaking up the family, making bad choices, always being controlling. At least that's what mom says. Dad counters with how difficult it was living with mom, a very angry woman. Who should she and her brothers believe? . . .
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Kids & Families First: Creating Peaceful Communities: Children Learn What They Live
Although Danny had played well with other children, his mom noticed a change. At first subtle, Danny's overtures to some neighborhood children were rebuffed, with excuses that initially seemed benign. Gradually, his exclusion from some activities became more evident, while also more painful for Danny. He started . . .
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Kids & Families First: Sibling Conflicts
The bittersweet anticipation of weekends. For those whose work/school calendar is Monday-Friday, it's blissful not to be controlled by an alarm clock. A chance to linger longer in pajamas over a pot of tea, read the papers, enjoy a leisurely brunch. With children at home, however, the morning peace may soon be . . .
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Kids & Families First: Things We Should Avoid Saying to Our Children
Ann and 13-year-old Kristen looked forward to their outing on Saturday. Staying overnight in Boston with special time alone was the highlight of their plans. When Ann picked up Kristen from school, Kristen burst into a litany of complaints about a girl in her class. It wasn't what Ann wanted to hear, reacting . . .
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Kids & Families First: Is This Child a Thief?
Sneaky . . . criminal . . . calamitous. The term stealing can evoke catastrophic fear. Conjuring images of pilfering and looting, parents are naturally concerned when a child steals. Adults typically react strongly to the behavior, believing something is terribly wrong with the "delinquent" child. It's easy to panic . . .
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Kids & Families First: Lying?
During a parent consult this week, the question of lying and stealing was raised. As I'd addressed another parent's question on lying in a newsletter not too long ago, I revisited that here. As both are pressing issues, I will address stealing next week. It's about digging deeply, tugging at those roots: the emotions that reveal . . .
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Kids & Families First: Beyond Valentines
Valentine's Day sparks expectations of romance. Idyllic days reliving being in love. For a day or two, we might experience a lighter step. Reflecting on earlier times, we remember everything as better: colors more vibrant, people happier, our world kinder, our life easier. New love transforms us. . . .
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Kids & Families First: Dedicated to "Bobby & Elmo"
One day, at the age of three, my daughter announced the arrival of two new friends, Elmo and Bobby. I understood the significance of these colorful playmates. They were a mix of fantasy and infinite fun, possessing talents and knowledge that my daughter could only dream of sharing. Spilled milk was . . .
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Kids & Families First: Disapproval or Support?
With many "well-intentioned grandparents" and relatives providing unsolicited advice, it can be challenging for parents to fend off judgment and criticism while maintaining firm boundaries. Under those watchful stares, facial grimaces, and even interruptions when speaking to one's child, it's no surprise it derails a parent. . . .
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Kids & Families First: Parent Questions
I've included some parent questions with responses, from my newsletters, thus some readers will have seen these. Please send your questions to my email address, to which I can respond either in newsletters or once monthly in this column. . . .
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Magic of Mediation
Questions about mediation recently led me to devote this week's column to addressing some of them. Mediation is derived from the Latin word "mediate," or to be in the middle. This is a way for people to make fair, informed, practical decisions in a divorce, elder care, or any family dispute, with the help of a . . .
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Kids & Families First: He Said, She Said
It's not surprising that male/female relationships have their struggles, with ongoing, challenging impasses an integral part of that. The dance between men and women continues to have misguided steps, to be perceived from disproportional positions. Women want connection and intimacy . . .
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Kids & Families First: The Importance of Imaginative Play
Many of us fondly remember the unstructured, unsupervised neighborhood play of our childhood. There we learned the rules of team-building, negotiation, and conflict resolution through osmosis, rather than attending workshops, reading "how-to" books, or surfing Facebook. As with many others, I was fortunate to . . .
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Kids & Families First: A "Resolution" for Parenting Our Adolescents
Often our approach to parenting teens is setting rules to control, or at least curb, scary behaviors. Drugs, sex, driving fast, or drinking and driving are our worst nightmares. We want to keep our child safe. Rap music, piercing in places we never would have imagined, multi-colored hair - all evoke reactions that . . .
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Kids & Families First: Here Comes Santa
My sister and I spent hours preparing for the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve. I still fondly recall the magic of those holidays, with elaborate images of Santa's sleigh etched in the sky, his reindeers' "navigation system" leading him directly to my house. I am certain I heard their hoofs on our roof, interspersed with . . .
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Kids & Families First: Navigating the Holidays with a "Spirited Child"
Past experience should count for something. How was last year? Are you hoping this year will be different? If only this child would "calm down," transition more easily, fall asleep quickly or without your support, eat what everyone else does, mix comfortably with people at holiday celebrations ... does any of this ring . . .
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Kids & Families First: Presence or Presents?
At this festive time of year, the excitement of the holidays is upon us. . . . It's now Christmas Eve and you're exhausted. Does this scenario sound familiar? You didn't go to work today so that you could finish the last-minute gift shopping, there are still presents to wrap, pies and cookies to bake for tomorrow's family . . .
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Kids & Families First: A Child-Centered Approach
Grieving the end of a relationship is hard enough. The breakdown of a marriage/long-term partnership is a painful process. Feelings of rejection, anger, bitterness, failure, abandonment are all common. It's difficult to disengage from this range of emotions to consider what's best for the children. . . .
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Kids & Families First: The Blessings of Children
This time of year evokes meaningful memories, as well as expectations, while approaching a holiday that is about "giving thanks." While we reflect on our respective "blessings," we temper our gratitude with how we might do something better. This gathering with family and friends around a festive table, raising our . . .
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Kids & Families First: Balancing Everyone's Needs
Shaping healthy boundaries is typically a "work in progress," challenging parents in establishing these between ourselves and our children. Although difficult to be consistent, maintaining clear boundaries is key in sustaining all mutually respectful relationships. Always giving in, never saying "no" to our . . .
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Kids & Families First: Connecting with Our Children
Libby reacted to Phoebe's tantrum with tightening muscles, her temperature rising. Phoebe's tantrums were always intense, brutally exhausting for both of them, leaving Libby feeling like a bad mother. She tried distracting Phoebe, then ignoring, ultimately rejecting her while her anger escalated. . . .
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Kids & Families First: Handling a Biter
I recall the shock of being bitten several times by my youngest child, when he was about a year old. Fortunately, it was a brief period and another child was never bitten. However, when two toddlers struggle over a toy, with one biting the other, parents are horrified. The victim's parent: "How dare your child bite . . .
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Kids & Families First: Where Do Bullies Come From?
The lone boy on the playground becomes the target of two bigger boys. The slow-to-warm-up girl is viewed as someone easy to victimize. It may begin slowly, unnoticed by teachers . . . that is, until the behavior changes the life of that child. Even then, it might remain invisible to those around, because bullies . . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Kids & Families First: Who's Afraid of Witches & Goblins?
As you prepare for the next "haunting," with Halloween a week away, you expect your children to share your excitement. After all, Halloween, a favorite holiday, only comes once a year. One child is delighted with her Star Wars costume; another is pleased with his Dracula outfit; and another can't wait to don her . . .
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Kids & Families First: Manipulative Child?
"He's always out to get me!" . . . "She knows just how to push my buttons!" . . . "Why does he always do this to me?" That scheming child, forever strategizing about how to manipulate his parents! Do we really believe our child is manipulating us? Where does he learn this behavior? Perhaps she spends hours . . .
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Kids & Families First: Childhood Legacy
We all have a legacy: how we were raised, childhood influences, family dynamics, the values we learned. Although we may not always connect the dots, fully appreciating how much the experiences, lessons and messages we received from our parents and families affected us, there's no getting around it. This is at our . . .
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Kids & Families First: Children's Adjustment to Divorce
Many parents struggle with how to tell their children their decision to separate. They know the inevitable outcome will be divorce, something they want to avoid telling their children. Each of them is in a different stage of grieving: one may have initiated the discussion about separating, the other acknowledging feeling . . .
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Kids & Families First: Making Sense of the Differences
During a parenting group, with discussion ranging from temperament to gender differences, to effective communication, the seed was planted for this article. The struggles inherent in family relationships and common issues amongst parents/couples with whom I work indicate a common thread weaving through . . .
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Kids & Families First: Maintaining the Connection - Part Two
When we last saw Dan and his mom having their heated exchange, Kate grounded him for his rudeness. The optimal approach for Kate is to connect to Dan's initial anger - disengaging, taking a deep breath, responding unemotionally instead of reacting. If Kate's own issues are triggered by Dan's . . .
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Kids and Families First: Maintaining the Connection
Kate recoiled when Dan gruffly told her: "Get out of my room!" "How dare he speak to me this way! I'll show him who's boss." She re-entered Dan's room, determined to show he can't be disrespectful. "You won't talk to me that way! You're grounded until the end of the month." Dan retorted: "No way! . . .
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Kids & Families First: More on School Separation & Adjustment
The new school schedule brings many demands, hectic activity, with preparations inherent to that. Perhaps a first child has left for college, or a job away from home. Or your child has entered preschool. . . . Parents want to raise happy, well-adjusted children. In launching the school year, parents take stock . . .
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Kids & Families First: A New School Year
The beginning of school signals separation. Shifting from vacation to school means resuming a more demanding pace. This transition may trigger anxiety in children of different ages, and certainly for some parents. For a preschooler, whose first extended separation from home starts with school . . .
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Kids & Families First: A Parent Question
A parent asked: "How do we handle our 5-year-old, who has outbursts of anger and frustration, so we can survive?" The parents' dilemma is that their child is easily frustrated by many different things, resulting in screaming and "melt-downs," with the parents not knowing how to control her anger. . . .
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Kids & Families First: Are You Listening to Me?
How to talk to our children so they'll listen or how to respond to their feelings is challenging. We berate ourselves for a poor exchange with our child, for losing our cool, wishing we could erase something we vowed we'd never say. Connective communication is always a "work in progress." . . .
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Kids & Families First: Letting Go of Our Children
August resonates with impending school beginnings, a relaxed pace soon ending, and for some, painful good-byes. These separations may only be for a few hours, as we reluctantly release a preschooler . . . for other parents, the time may be longer, the distance greater, with the transition into a new stage . . .
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Kids & Families First: Being Your Child's Advocate
It's frustrating watching your 8-year-old son sitting out another baseball game on the bench. You wonder what to do, debating whether to say anything to the coach. After a few days, feeling calmer, you call him: "I see Josh isn't getting any time on the field. What can we do about that?" . . .
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Kids & Families First: Expectations Determine Outcome
A recent discussion with a parent about expectations of his children's behavior helped shape this article. Will picked up his children from their mom's house Friday evening. Backing out of her driveway, he told his children: "We have some new friends. I've invited them over for pizza tonight. . . .
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Kids & Families First: Shy or Warming Up Slowly?
When a parent recently recounted her school experiences, she told me she was chronically described as "shy." I asked if that was her label or someone else's. "Oh, all the teachers and my parents called me shy," she replied. Inquiring what that was like for her, she answered . . .
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Kids & Families First: Whose Problem Is It?!?
Mornings when my son was little, he'd bounce into the kitchen, demanding, "I want juice." Rather than punishing him for his "rudeness," I soon learned this was my problem. Calmly responding, "Let me know when you're ready to ask me in a way I can hear" worked better. . . .
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Kids & Families First: Unfulfilled Dreams
Some of us have children graduating, or transitioning into the next stage of their lives. How often do we allow our expectations to determine how we parent, the direction in which we steer our children, and the performance we demand of them?
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Kids & Families First: What About Time-Out?
Given the popularity of time-out as a disciplinary tool, it's expected to work well, changing unacceptable behavior to appropriate behavior. With the frequency it's utilized, this suggests something isn't working, that the intended message isn't getting through, that perhaps a different approach is needed. . . .
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Kids & Families First: The Place of Fathers
"My father was frightened of his father, I was frightened of my father, and I am damned well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me." - King George V. Fortunately, fathering today has evolved to a place of deeper connection, rather than of fear. . . .
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Kids & Families First: It's Not Fair!
After a hectic week, Bob and Ellen anticipated relaxing with the newspapers. Settling down with coffee, Sarah burst in, complaining they spoiled her siblings: "Kyle and Anna always have lots of sleep-overs. I never have anyone to sleep over. It's not fair!" Ellen reacted: "No they don't have . . ."
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Kids & Families First: Good Grief
Children face difficult losses throughout their development, yet the most challenging for parents to address is death. With skills and wisdom compromised by a culture uncomfortable with this part of the human condition, we avoid this subject. The only guarantee life holds is that one day . . .
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Kids & Families First: Goodnight, Sweet Dreams. . . .
At some point, we've all suffered sleep deprivation. Blurry-eyed, irritable, foggy-headed days are certainly not fun. . . . We want to tuck our child in at night, and not see him again until morning, ensuring we get a good night's sleep. It's easy to overlook what sometimes could be the reason for our child's "mis"-behavior. . . .
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Kids & Families First: Healthy Boundaries
After a mom's recent question about her children, "They don't appreciate everything a mom does, and take advantage of me every step of the way," was addressed in my last newsletter, I'm expanding on that issue. Her frustration derives from not making time for herself and honoring her own needs. . . .
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Kids & Families First: Children's Adjustment to Separation/Divorce
Understandably, parents struggle with: "How do we tell our children we're going to separate?" Although parents might know the inevitable outcome is divorce, they try to avoid acknowledging that to their children. Regardless of the reasons, everything changes as the separation process unfolds. . . .
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Kids & Families First: Listening So Your Kids Will Talk
Emerging from the shower, you hear Sam screaming. Apparently he hasn't made progress getting ready for school. He's focused on his sister rummaging through his backpack. Annie's still in her pajamas, with the clock ticking. . . . Imagining a quiet cup of coffee before driving them to school . . .
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Kids & Families First: Welcome to Adolescence
Slamming doors . . . eye-rolling . .. hormones . . . . You've shifted from omnipotent parent to interloper. . . . What happened?? Adolescence. When parents ask this question, it helps to understand what this age is about, to navigate through it with minimal bruising. . . .
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Kids & Families First: A Different Perspective on ADHD
Liam was "lost" in his room again, trying to make sense of the disorder. Sifting through papers to find the right one, he uncovered fascinating material: vacation photos; science project notes; a play script. His parents believed he had a serious problem. . . .
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Kids & Families First: Connective Communications
Effective, respectful communication is the foundation of healthy relationships. When our child's behavior seems out of control, "manipulative," it can be difficult to assume an objective perspective. Yet that perspective is what we need to understand that behavior is the clue to our child's emotional state. . . .
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Kids & Families First: Living with Siblings
Perhaps the most frequent question I hear from parents is: "How do I get my kids to stop fighting?" Jealousy, resentment and competition between siblings causes considerable stress in parents. How we handle the conflict between our children determines how this dynamic unfolds. . . .
Thursday, April 10, 2014

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