Parenting Matters

Learning To Persevere: Talking To Children About The Pandemic & Racism

By, Anastasia Galanopoulos, PhD

We are living in dangerous, sad, but also hopeful times. When the global pandemic began months ago, we didn’t know how long we would have to endure changes to our way of living; now we know that these changes may be longer lasting.  Similarly, though many of us in White communities may have known that racism still exists in America, the fact that it was not overtly visible or affecting us directly allowed us to think that it was not our problem to address. Now we know differently.  Maya Angelou had many beautiful and wise sayings but two that come to mind and seem most relevant for our collective, current life moment underscore the fact that if we want action toward change, emotions must go hand in hand with knowledge.

People remember not what you say or do but how you make them feel, and when we know more and simultaneously are made to feel empathy toward one another, we must do better.  The best way we can take action is to start at home.  Let’s have the difficult conversations with our children. Even in a place like Lexington, where we strive for equity and justice, we can do better.

I was almost 10 years old when I arrived in the United States with my parents and sisters, emigrating during the political turmoil of Greek dictatorship. I grew up in a working- class family that valued tight family bonds, education, and democratic ideals.  My dad was born during the Great Depression and both my parents lived through German occupation and the famine of WWII.  Parenting with those sensibilities of adversity and loss, our parents instilled in us the notion that things could always be worse than they are at this moment but also with the hope that we would get through things together. My Greek heritage is something sacred to me but when I was younger, I did not know how significant the upbringing in my particular family and culture would prove to be as I grew into adulthood navigating parenthood, work, and life events, not least of which are the Coronavirus pandemic we are all living through and the witness-bearing of racism.

Anyone who can check the box of otherness, for whatever reason, can tell you that they have developed more empathy and resilience as a result of their not belonging to the dominant group, however that may be defined.  Just ask any Asian-American what their experience with racism has been in the wake of the pandemic. The thread that can bind our earth-shattering life events together and lead us through to the other side is perseverance: it is through perseverance that we develop empathy and resilience and can become agents of change. I learned and honed this skill growing up in my family and studied it in my chosen field of human development. I know many of you are hard at work doing the same thing in your own families. My hope in this piece is to empower you to continue to do the hard work, to have the uncomfortable conversations, and to help your children persevere in the face of adversity through action. You will be actively making them not only stronger but better human beings.

When we look at adversity and resilience research that examine how children fare in times of war, illness, or natural disaster what we find is not only that relationships are key but that leveling with kids is also crucial.  Depending on the age of the child, parents need to balance how much information to provide without pretending that all is well.  When we lie to children, they know it even while acting normally.  Adults may be subconsciously using non-verbal cues to communicate their own anxieties and fears about the pandemic, police brutality, or even the possibility that schools may not reopen in the fall.  Most of our thoughts and feelings are communicated non-verbally and when we say one thing but believe another, that is also being conveyed to our kids.  So, a good rule of thumb is to answer kids’ questions with as little information as necessary to satisfy their curiosity while assuring them that you are always there to talk about their feelings and to keep them as safe as possible. With younger children, parents should limit exposure to the news and aim for conveying facts pragmatically and calmly.  With all children, there can be conversations of personal responsibility to protect self and others by wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding facial contact.  Some kids and teenagers will be more cooperative by virtue of their temperament, so parents will need to use different tactics for kids with different personalities; you already know what works for each of your children.

Optimize the goodness-of-fit, as we say in human development, between your parenting and the needs of the child at this moment. Kids who have lower thresholds of response and are more intense may need more reassurance, more practice with deep breathing or other calming techniques, and more help holding and expressing their strong feelings.  Those who are already biologically predisposed to positive mood, persistence, and adaptability will need less coaching and modeling from you.  Three popular Greek sayings that echoed in my childhood home and I use often in my own parenting and teaching might be helpful here.  They remind me that hard work and patience, the definition of perseverance, may be two sides of the same coin.

That’s Life (“Έτσι Eίναι η Zωή”)—Life is full of ups and downs; go with the flow.  Work on yourself, your own anxieties, and speak with your children when you are calm. Be patient, work hard for what is right and just, persevere toward your goals, keep moving forward even through life’s big and small disappointments and obstacles. This too shall pass.

It Can Always Be Worse (“Μη Xειρότερα”)—Find and practice gratitude with your children. Slow down and discover joy in the little moments you ordinarily take for granted.  Make a list of needs and wants and notice that you already have all you need to survive. Take in some nature, declutter, create projects you can do together as a family.

Never Say Never (“Μη Λες Μεγάλα Λόγια”)—No one can predict the future so let’s not try.  Focus on today and on your family’s mental health.  Use flexibility.  Relax rules.  Redefine productivity and success. Anxiety lives in the future and depression in the past. Happiness is found in the awareness of now.  Stay present and hopeful.

Hope, I was reminded a few weeks ago by Marc Lamont Hill, a BET news anchor, is different than optimism. Optimism may be more idealistic in nature whereas hope intrinsically contains struggle in the context of progress, while on the path to positive change toward social justice. The witnessing of George Floyd’s death has reminded us of the systemic and institutional racist beliefs and practices that are imbedded in American culture, whether we like it or not. That is the truth. But let’s not forget that we have come some way from segregation and Jim Crow to today, albeit slowly and painfully. Mr. Floyd was not the first African-American human being to die at the hands of police in modern society. Police brutality and racist policies in law enforcement are not new nor are they the only institutionalized policies that create and maintain white privilege. There is indeed generational trauma in black and brown families in this country as Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley so eloquently described recently, and until white parents and white adults fully see their privilege as a contributing factor and actively act to change that, we will never move toward equity under the law for all people.

To get at equity under the law, we must also face inequity in health care, in housing, in education, in hiring practices, in all facets of society. This is why talking to children about racism right now through the lens of what is currently happening in the country is crucial. I’ve heard many scholars and others talk about the present time as a tipping or turning point in American culture and I agree. The largely peaceful protests that occurred in major cities and small towns across the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death are multi-generational and racially diverse, in contrast to the protests of the 1960s. Though those peaceful protests are growing and continuing, we are also witnessing increasing unprovoked violence at the hands of federal agents dispatched in the name of protecting federal buildings. All eyes who do not fear seeing the truth, especially the eyes of young people, can see what is plainly in front of them. There is systemic racism in all American institutions, including government, policing, and education.

Parents must seize this historical moment and begin or continue their conversation about racism in developmentally appropriate ways. They can read books, watch documentaries or movies but also have uncomfortable conversations at the dinner table. When the Attorney General of the United States can say that he does not agree there is systemic racism in police departments, we as citizens, parents, educators, and human beings must notice this discrepancy between facts and conclusions and discuss it with our children helping them to develop critical consciousness. We must use Representative Sheila Jackson Lee’s calm and inviting response to him at his July 28th House Judiciary Committee hearing as an example in our conversations with family, friends, and others: “That’s what we need you to join us on Mr. Attorney General, [substitute anyone’s name here, child’s, neighbor’s, colleague’s, etc.] and to recognize that institutional racism does exist, and until we accept that, we will not finish our job and reach the goals and aspirations of our late iconic John Lewis.” But conversations are not enough. Civil Rights leader John Lewis’s legacy has left us with instructions to do something when we see injustice, to stand up for what is right, to get into “good trouble.” Let’s talk to and model for our kids, then, about getting into good trouble not only by standing up for their friends but also for those they don’t know so well when they’re in need, by teaching them about democracy, about asking the right questions, about speaking up and using their voice, about calling their representatives, about writing letters, about starting and signing petitions, about supporting businesses owned by people of color, about voting.


Several organizations and websites (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, etc.) have compiled wonderful resources for adults talking to children as well as for ones’ own journey towards understanding racism. Some of my favorites are the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds (Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You), Debby Irving  (Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race), Ava DuVernay (13th), Ronald Takaki (A Different Mirror) and the following list compiled by The Children’s Trust Fund (

Teaching Tolerance —

Parents – “How to Wipe Out Prejudices Before They Start”

CNN — “How to Talk to your Children About Protests and Racism”

USA Today — “George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our Children?”

National Museum of African American History & Culture – “Talking About Race”

NY Times – “These Books Can Help You Explain Racism and Protest to Your Kids”

For a more academic collection of books recommended by Harvard University faculty exploring the history of racism, white privilege, and otherness, see The Harvard Gazette’s 6/15/20 article by Liz Mineo, “A Reading List on Issues of Race.”

In order to be able to talk truthfully and openly to children about injustice, we must first start inward. I hope the above resources will help you and your family on your journey, and I hope the focus on perseverance will serve as your guide.


Dr. Anastasia Galanopoulos

About the Author – Dr. Anastasia Galanopoulos has over 25 years of experience as a professor, facilitator, trainer, and coach. She holds a B.S. in Psychology, B.A. in French Literature from Tufts University, and a M.S. & Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Studies from The Pennsylvania State University. She has taught at Wheelock College and Penn State, and has worked with the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at William James College. She offers education and coaching to families, professionals, and institutions at her practice in Lexington.

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How Using ‘QPR’ Can Prevent Suicides Ask a Question and Save a Life

By David Susman Ph.D.

Originally published by Psychology Today



Chances are you’re familiar with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), a well-established emergency procedure used to save lives when a person is in cardiac arrest. But have you ever heard of QPR? QPR stands for “Question, Persuade, Refer,” and it’s used to intervene to prevent suicide.

Recently I was given the opportunity to attend a comprehensive training program to learn about QPR. What’s really interesting about this approach is that you don’t have to be a mental health professional to use it. In fact, QPR is designed to train anyone how to offer hope and take action when they are concerned that someone may be at risk for suicide.

The term “gatekeeper” refers to anyone who may benefit from learning how to use QPR to intervene to stop a suicide. Gatekeepers are people who may be in a position to recognize warning signs of suicide and that someone is considering taking their own life.

Gatekeepers can include school and college personnel, clergy, law enforcement, correctional staff, work supervisors, community volunteers, health care providers, family, and friends. In other words, virtually everyone can benefit from learning QPR.

Over the past 20 years, more than 2,500 communities and organizations have implemented the QPR Gatekeeper training program. Over 8,500 instructors have been certified, who have delivered the QPR intervention to more than one million people throughout the US and several other countries.

Having worked with many persons who were at risk for suicide, I was already quite familiar with many of the statistics on this issue. Nonetheless, some of the facts and figures are staggering and bear repeating:

More deaths occur by suicide in the US each year than by homicide or automobile accidents.

In 2013, over 41,000 Americans took their own lives or about 113 per day.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and the second leading cause among ages 15-24.

For each death by suicide, about 25 people around them experience a major life disruption.

Firearms remain the leading method for suicide, followed by poisoning and suffocation.

More Vietnam War veterans have subsequently died by suicide than were killed in the conflict itself.

Currently, it’s estimated that 22 veterans die by suicide each day.

It’s also important to understand that about 90% of people in a suicidal crisis will give some kind of warning to those around them. Warning signs can include previous suicide attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, statements revealing or suggesting a desire to die, sudden behavior changes, depression, giving away personal belongings, and purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills.

Although we can’t predict suicide for any one individual, we can prevent a suicide if someone reveals their plans and we can intervene quickly and effectively. This is where QPR comes into play.

The QPR approach has three steps:

Q = Question

If you believe someone is considering suicide, ask them directly “Are you thinking about suicide or wanting to kill yourself?” Don’t say “Do you want to hurt yourself?” as self-harm can be non-lethal and it’s not the same as wanting to die. Also remember that if you ask someone if they want to kill themselves, this does NOT drive them toward that action. That’s a myth that’s not accurate. Don’t be afraid to ask the question.

2) P = Persuade

Persuade the person to allow you to assist them in getting help right now. Say “Will you go with me to get help?” or “Will you let me assist you to get help?” Another option can be to enlist their promise not to kill themselves until you’ve arranged help for them. If persuasion doesn’t work, call a local mental health center, crisis hotline or emergency services.

3) R = Refer

Refer the person to an appropriate resource for assistance. It’s ideal if you can personally escort them to see a health care professional. Next best would be to assist in making arrangements for help and getting their agreement to follow through on this plan. Less preferable is to provide referral resources and have them seek one of the options on their own.

An excellent crisis intervention resource in the US is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. To access the lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This same number also connects military personnel to the Veterans Crisis Line, a hotline providing confidential help to veterans or service members and their families.

In the QPR training, it was stated that if, as a result of learning QPR, just one person uses the approach, and that person saves one single life, then the training will have been worth it, and then some!

So, what can you do to make a difference? Attend a QPR training, particularly if you fit one of the “gatekeeper” categories or you believe you may come into contact with people who may be considering suicide.

Just as CPR prepares you for stepping in to assist with a cardiac emergency, QPR will give you the skills and knowledge to intervene to possibly prevent a suicide. Remember: if you ask the question, you may just save a life.


David Susman, Ph.D.

About the Author:
David Susman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mental health advocate, and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky.

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Identifying Depression in Children and Youth

By Alicke Grobler

There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about clinical depression perpetuated by media and pop culture. Although there are some common signs and symptoms of depression that occur in most cases, depression can look very different in everyone. The presentation of depression can also vary significantly across different ages and genders.

Depression is not an uncommon occurrence in adults. Recent research indicates that about 16% of adults experience depression in their lifetime. Depression is significantly more common among women and the elderly. Additionally, approximately 65-75% of people with depression are initially diagnosed in adolescence. This indicates that depression is a chronic disorder and most often develops in the teenage years. Because of this, it is essential to know and be able to identify the signs of depression as early as possible, in order to ensure that your child has access to resources and support and develops coping skills early on in the course of the disorder.

Although rare, it is possible for children younger than adolescence to be diagnosed with depression; according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 2.5% of young children in the US suffer from depression. Under the age of 12, depression is slightly more common in young boys than young girls. However, once children hit adolescence, the rate of depression jumps up to 11%. This rate is the average for all adolescents between 12-18, but the risk of depression increases substantially for older adolescents. Adolescent girls are 2-3 times more likely to develop depression than boys.

This article is not meant to scare parents, but rather to provide them with information and resources to best help their children who may be struggling. However, because depression can manifest differently in everyone, it can be hard to identify it in teens and children, and to distinguish it from the typical and developmentally normative angst of the teen years. As such, the following information will include ways to recognize depression in children and teens, risk factors to look out for, ways to help your child cope with depression, and resources available to parents and children.

Depression most often presents, across ages, as persistently low mood, hopelessness, fatigue, and lack of enjoyment. However, in children, other symptoms may be more obvious including:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite – eating too much or too little
  • Changes in sleep pattern – sleeping too much, not sleeping enough or at all
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Difficulty functioning and completing day to day tasks at school, with friends, or at home.
  • Physical complaints such as stomach or headache that do not respond to treatment
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Lack of motivation
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

In children under 12 years old, irritability or anger, changes in sleep pattern or appetite, vocal outbursts, and physical complaints may be the easiest to identify and the most strongly expressed symptoms. In adolescents, depression looks more like adults, with major changes in mood and functionality. However, all of the symptoms listed above could apply to a child or adolescent suffering from depression, so it is important to be aware of your child’s mood and behaviors. Children will likely display different symptoms in different settings, and most with significant depression will display a noticeable change in academic performance, social activities, and even appearance.

Some children may be at greater risk for depression than others. This is especially true for children who have a parent with depression. Depression has been linked to a genetic predisposition, and tends to run in families. Children whose parents have depression are also more likely to develop depression earlier than children whose parents do not. Other risk factors include substance use. Depression may also lead to substance abuse in older children and adolescents, which is likely to worsen the symptoms. Children may also develop depression based on major life events, loss of loved ones, or biochemical disturbances.
If you notice some of these behaviors in your child, especially if they are persistent for more than two weeks, do not be afraid to consult a mental health professional.

Depression is a cyclic disorder. This means that those who have depression typically go through periods of feeling healthy and functioning well, and periods or episodes of depression. Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosed if an individual has a depressive episode lasting two weeks or more that significantly interferes with their daily functioning. However, depressive episodes often end on their own after a period of time. The end of a depressive episode does not mean that depression has been cured and is no longer a cause for concern; rather, it is highly likely that a depressive episode will recur in the future. Therefore, even if your child is not currently exhibiting the symptoms or signs described, or if the symptoms stop or improve naturally, it is still essential to seek resources and support for your child.

There are a variety of effective treatment options for depression, including psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. Mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms, and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of relapse of a depressive episode. If you are concerned that your child is depressed, you have a number of options to seek support.

Your pediatrician may be able to help you find suitable antidepressants for your child, and can likely refer you to a psychiatrist and/or therapist.

Your child’s school counselor can connect you to resources both in and out of school.

The Youth and Family Services Social Worker, Kristie Demirev, at the Community Center can work with families on an individual basis to assess their needs and connect them to supports they need. She can be reached at 781 698 4843 and is free to all residents.

The following articles are also helpful for educating yourself about depression in children and adolescents. If you are concerned about your child, please reach out and find support for yourself and your family:

Hankin, B. L., Young, J. F., Abela, J. R., Smolen, A., Jenness, J. L., Gulley, L. D., … & Oppenheimer, C. W. (2015). Depression from childhood into late adolescence: Influence of gender, development, genetic susceptibility, and peer stress. Journal of abnormal psychology, 124(4), 803.

Avenevoli, S., Swendsen, J., He, J. P., Burstein, M., & Merikangas, K. R. (2015). Major depression in the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement: prevalence, correlates, and treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 37-44.


Alicke Grobler is a Master of Social Work candidate at Boston College, studying clinical social work with a focus in mental health. She is currently an intern with the Lexington Human Services Department, and aspires to help increase access to and awareness of mental health care for low income families and military families. She can be reached by calling the Human Services Department at (781) 698-4840.


Parenting Matters columns are presented to the Lexington community through a collaboration with the Lexington Human Services Department of Youth Services. Information provided in these columns is general in nature and not intended to be a substitute for a personalized clinical evaluation. Please see a professional for any concerns you may have about this topic or any others in a Parenting Matters column. LEXINGTON COMMUNITY CENTER 39 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421. Open Monday – Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM

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PARENTING MATTERS: Launching Creative Kids

Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC


“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at, last, you create what you will” -George Bernard Shaw

With more than 100 theories of creativity in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to psychology, economics, and philosophy, it can be dizzying to land on the best way to invoke, evoke and sustain our children’s innate creative drive.

What is creativity?

Perhaps the late Steve Jobs put it best: “Creativity is the ability to make connections”.

Therefore, whether it’s inventing a new product, playing an instrument, or planting crops to ameliorate world hunger, children’s future ability to offer their creative gifts to the world may, in part, depend on mastering certain developmental tasks their first 18 years.

Polish psychologist Dabrowski’s 1960s research on the characteristics of highly creative students turned up some savory food for thought. Specifically, while we sometimes assume the child prodigy is destined for great things, Dabrowski’s findings suggest that inherited talent, temperament and IQ do not necessarily guarantee success.

Given a problem to solve, creative students will arrange and re-arrange their thinking so as to offer multiple solutions. They daydream; they fantasize. To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, they see the humor where others do not. They don’t like non-acceptance, but aren’t especially bothered by being “different” either.

With a passion that can border on pesky, these are the kids who ask questions until they get a thorough answer. As Dabrowski points out, they can surprise us with their original, silly, or even bizarre representations of what originated in the imaginal realm.

What sets these students apart from others? They possess a rare ability to concentrate and across the board work hard to achieve their personal goals.

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” -Albert Einstein.

Having counseled scores of creative adolescents and adults over the past 20 years, I’m often asked, “How can I nurture my child’s creativity?”

The fact is, some adults who have survived trauma will continue to create as if their next and last breath depends on it. Optimally, however, kids will benefit from parents who find value in the words of a seasoned reading specialist.

“Give me a child whose been read to her whole life infancy and I’ll show you a kid who can imagine her own possibilities. Give me a curious, connected parent and I’ll show you a child who has a thirst for knowledge. Give me a parent who, when their kid shows hem a drawing, focuses more on the thoughts and feelings that inspired it, and I’ll show you the kid who is most likely to draw as an adult.”

When it comes to encouraging our children’s creativity, Swiss Psychologist Erik Erikson’s sequential 8-stage Theory of Psychosocial Development may be worth consideration.

In general, creativity arises when we are invited to trust. According to Psychosocial Theory, if children are consistently fed during their first year, they will develop trust and, by extension, the virtue of hope.

If at age 2, they are allowed to exercise control over their personal skills (especially toilet training) they will emerge from this stage having achieved Autonomy. (Note: when children say NO to us, they are often saying “Yes to ME”)

Age 3-5 constitutes the Play Stage. Kids live in the body. Their explorations  will invariably result in messy experiments involving taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. If, however, we can hold off on teaching that Neatness Counts, they will emerge from this stage possessing Initiative and will.

From age 6-8, children are becoming industrious. In order to become competent, the task is to obtain the knowledge and skills required to move half-baked ideas to fruition. Doing things together helps them become relational. In addition, these are times when, if we actively listen, they will let us in on how they think, feel, and perceive their world.

Ideally, adolescents move from being able to form lasting friendships to having the capacity for intimacy and love as they enter young adulthood at 18. As an example of a young man who evidences a sense of individuality and belonging in the larger world, here follows an excerpt from “T’s” college admissions essay.

“My parents gave me every possible advantage in terms of honing my skills as a sculpture. I grew up with teachers and adults who valued self expression and gave me the tools I need to be my own person.

Looking back, what I value the most are the talks my dad and I have had while making things in his woodshop. We’ve talked about his life, my life, what makes life good vs. disappointing. My mom and I have always gone hiking together. When I was a kid she’d take a picture of something and then have me take a picture of the same thing just so we could talk about how we saw things in the same way and how we saw them differently. My sculptures show how people relate to themselves, to each other, and to nature. I have a lot to learn but I have a lot to contribute too.”

Leading By Example

Theories on creativity abound but as a means by which to model what works with creative kids, this tale of a mom whose 7-year old son hopes to one day be a marine biologist is worth passing on.

Most Saturday mornings, Collette looks forward to seeing what Matthew has created in an area of the family room he calls “MY INNOVENTIONS”.

This particular Saturday, however, she registers horror when she enters the den. With clear intent, Matt has cut into pieces not only a large, very expensive stuffed pig (with piglets attached to her belly) but also a hefty stuffed elephant.

OMG! I’ve given birth to Young Frankenstein, shouts a voice inside her head.

“Hey Mom!” Matt smiles.

Colette grew up with parents who adhered to the Victorian saw, children are meant to be seen and not heard.

“Hey Matt. What’s up?”

With the focus of a heart surgeon, Matt keeps cutting.

“Sea Monster, His name is Borgo.”

Collette is not only an animal rights activities; she’s on an ethics committee that’s protesting the use of animals for scientific experiments. Matt is oblivious. He is now waving her onto the floor next to him, holding out the lacquer-sewing box.

“Mom, I need you to sew the pig’s head to this side of the octopus’s head and the elephant’s head to the other side.”

Collette sits down, says gently, “You know, honey, I just don’t feel up to doing this right now.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, he says, ” If you put your mind to it, you can do ANYTHING!!!! “

“But what I’m telling you, Matt, is I just don’t feel like doing this right now”.

The mix of Matthews’s faith in her and the disappointment in his eyes is poignant.

Colette meditates. Breathe in Love; Breathe out Fear.

“Tell you what, Matt, how about instead of me doing it, I teach you how to sew?”

“Can’t you do it?”

“Hey, everybody knows you can do ANYTHING too, remember?”

One hour later, Borgo, in all his tentacled, Platapyzmic splendor is presented to Collette next to the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter.

Cool, huh? Matt is beaming with pride.

“Wow! Matt! You did it!”

“You think it’s good?

Sticky Wicket. Collette knows that if she has the power to say Matt’s piece is good, she also has the power to say it’s bad.

Alternative: “ What I love, Matt is that you saw something in your mind’s eye and then you spent time making something new – something that has never until now existed in the history of history!”

“I’m bringing him to school Monday” says Matt, “ I’m going to tell everyone the story of Borgo.”

“Cool! So how about I take notes while you tell me the story of Borgo?”

The Story of Borgo by Matt

The Octopus is a busy guy. He gets really hungry looking for food. He’s having a hard time finding lunch, though, because the fish are getting trapped in all the plastic people are dumping into the ocean. Pigs are really smart.

Did you know they can find food even when it’s buried in the earth?

So the pig will help the octopus find food. Also, the elephant can use his trunk like a vacuum cleaner to suck fish who aren’t getting chocked by plastic out of the coral reefs.”

“Now that’s what I call an Innovation!” Colette claps.

“But Matt, can I ask you one question?


“How come you sewed the piglets to the elephant’s trunk?

Matt grabs an apple out of the fruit bowl. Takes a big bite.

“I don’t know, Mom. That’s for the future to figure out.”


Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC

Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC

Shawn M. McGivern, LMHC, is a psychotherapist in private practice who specializes in the integration of creativity and mental health. She is an Adjunct Psychology Professor at Lesley University and a former freelance art critic for The Boston Globe. In addition, she is the inventor of a creative writing/storytelling process called My Legacy in Words and Images Email he at:

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Parenting Matters: The Importance of Feelings…Really

By Danielle DeTora, Psy.D.Photo for Colonial Times

“How does that make you feel?”  This is the quintessential therapist’s line that is often mocked in movies, television, books, and everyday life.  It’s unfortunate that feelings get such a bad rap because they are more important than people realize.  In fact, I believe that learning to understand and appropriately express one’s emotions is the single most important skill to promote mental health wellbeing.


People have a hard time identifying feelings.  Often when I ask how someone is feeling (yes, I do ask that question of my clients), I get answers that describe something else.   Statements such as, “I’m just stressed!” or “I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m anxious” actually describe a physiological state of being but they are not feelings.   For example, if a person is “stressed,” then they are likely experiencing a heightened state of arousal.  Maybe the person’s muscles are tense or his/her thoughts are racing or s/he has no appetite.  These are all examples of bodily reactions to some stressor(s).  They are important to attend to, but they are not emotions.  Examples of emotions are:  sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, fear, happiness, love, disgust, surprise, etc.  The difference between physiological states and emotions may seem subtle and insignificant but it’s key in helping manage stressors in our lives.

Everyday, our bodies have hundreds of emotional reactions.  Hard to believe?  Watch a group of preschoolers.  Because they are fully connected to their bodies, you’ll see them get sad (tears in eyes, shoulders hunched, frown on face), mad (knitted eyebrows, clenched fists, red cheeks), delighted (smiles, open arms, skipping), etc.  Typically, they experience whatever emotion arises in their bodies.  Then, often a teacher or parent helps them express it with words.  Afterwards, they move on to the next thing that catches their interest.  They gracefully allow feelings to come and go.  As we grow up, we shift our focus away from our bodies and into our thoughts.   Just because we’re not paying attention to our bodies as acutely as a preschooler, does not mean that we aren’t having those emotional reactions.  But how do you attend to all of these reactions as an adult and still manage all your daily tasks?  You don’t.  You learn how to recognize them, manage your access to them and most importantly, not disregard their existence.


Recognizing an emotional reaction requires paying attention to sensations in your body.  Often, we spend so much of our day thinking of things to do, people to contact, places to be, etc. that we are not aware of our body.  A good example of this disconnection is when people are so busy that they ignore hunger signals and forego eating a meal.  The same process is true for emotions.  For example, if you see an elderly person struggle to walk across the street, are you aware of the emotional reaction you are possibly having?  Or are you so focused on where you have to go or the next thing on your “to do” list that you are unaware of any physical sensations that may be emotions?  If you pay attention to this moment and discover that it is sadness, you may then relate it to your own parents’ current struggles with aging or your deceased grandparent whom you adored and miss.  Allowing yourself to feel this sadness, even if only for a few seconds, validates your emotional self and keeps you connected to your body.

If paid attention to, an emotion is something that comes and goes, like a wave passing over you.  Too often, people will not allow themselves to feel an emotion for fear that they will get completely overwhelmed by it.  If they feel sad, for example, they will plunge into a deep black hole of sadness and not be able to stop crying.  Unfortunately, this thought is the result of not perceiving an emotion as something that occurs in our bodies and is temporary.  When we stop a feeling before it’s been fully felt, it reinforces the idea that feelings are “bad” or that they shouldn’t exist.  Feelings are just feelings – they are neither bad nor good.  If repeatedly ignored, however, emotions have a tendency to build up over time and cause symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and more.


In addition to attending to our own emotions, it is important to recognize them with others.  As parents, it is crucial to validate our children’s feelings.  When we validate their feelings, we validate their existence.  In other words, what they feel in their bodies is just as important as their thoughts.  Regrettably, we often do the exact opposite.  For example, if your child says, “I’m really bummed that we lost that soccer game” (translation, “I’m really sad”), how often do we respond with, “Oh, but you won all your other games.  It’ll be fine.”  Or “It doesn’t matter, you still have a spot in the playoffs.”  These statements are well intended to make the child feel better about losing the game but instead, they are invalidating the child’s emotional reaction.  In essence, we are telling the child, “You’re feeling sad and it is wrong or bad.” What we should be saying is, “Yes, I understand it’s difficult to lose.” Or even better, “Tell me more.” This latter statement creates a unique opportunity for the child to try and connect with the sadness and communicate it.  No matter what the child says, it is crucial for the parent to make it clear that being sad is a perfectly acceptable emotion to have in response to losing a game.  After a feeling is validated, then a parent can add, “Can I share some of my opinions about the loss?” or “Would it be helpful if I offered some ways to think about the loss?”  Asking, instead of launching into a series of statements, is yet another way for your child to focus on what s/he wants and needs in that moment.

Being able to identify our emotions in our bodies and express them appropriately is a skill that we all had when we were young children.  With practice and patience, that skill can be relearned and help us live more emotionally connected lives.


Frederick, Ronald J. (2009).  Living Like You Mean It.  San Francisco, California:  Jossey-Bass.


Danielle DeTora, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Lexington.  She works with adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families on various issues related to emot
ional health and well-being.  Dr. DeTora helps people achieve and live more satisfying and meaningful lives.  Dr. DeTora can be reached at 781-862-6772, or email –



Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of the CTM editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional.


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Winning the Worry Wars

Stephanie M. Kriesberg, Psy.D.

Stephanie M. Kriesberg, Psy.D.

By Stephanie M. Kriesberg, Psy.D. , Licensed Psychologist

Recently I was driving to work and realized I forgot my iPad. Since I had some extra time, I decided to turn around, go home, and get it.   On the return trip, I saw the line of traffic that had backed up. Construction!    An accident!  “Don’t do it!”  said a worried voice in my head. “If you keep going, you will get stuck in that snarl of traffic on your way back to the office.  You will be late.”  That worried voice made a lot of sense, I thought. It was trying to help me.  So I turned the car around again and got to the office on time.  And really, I managed just fine without my iPad that day.

Sometimes, the worry voices we hear in our heads can really help us out.  Worry can help us make good decisions, stay safe, and encourage us to work hard and do our best. But for many children and teens, worry stops being a helpful signal, a sign to slow down and think things through.  Instead, the worry voice becomes a screeching tyrant, convincing kids that disaster lurks at life’s every corner.

For example: Since the summer’s thunderstorms, 10-year-old Lily is afraid to sleep in her own bed at night.  She worries:  “What if it thunders again? What if it wakes me up?  What if something bad happens?”  Lily’s parents have taken to standing guard by her bed until she falls asleep.  Most nights, she winds up in her parents’ room anyway, asleep on the floor.

For Colin, age 8 (not to mention his parents) homework time is torture.  Colin is an endearing, industrious boy who wants to get everything just right. If he stumbles on a math problem, tears are sure to follow.  He wants to please his teacher and is certain she will be upset if his homework isn’t perfect.

Fifteen-year-old Nicole, rising star softball player, feels so sick to her stomach the night before every game her parents are starting to wonder if she should keep playing, as much as she loves the sport. “If I strike out, everyone will laugh at me. Coach wants us to make it to the play-offs.  I need to make every hit a homerun,” Nicole laments.

Each of these young people has a worry voice that has taken residence in their heads and does not want to vacate.  Each of them could benefit from being taught several basic principles about worry and its management.   Worry is part of life.  We have to expect it.  However, we have to figure out when our worry voice is helping us, providing useful information, and when that worry voice is full of hot air and doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

In their book Anxious Kids Anxious Parents Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons describe steps parents can take to help their anxious children.  Parents, like the ones described above, often feel powerless in the face of their children’s worry.  They spend their evenings hovering by their children’s beds or talking their frantic kids through every possible calamity.  No one feels better.  Worry wins every time.

Worry can be brought down to size when children and teens are taught that anxiety is expected and predictable.  Reid and Lyons (p. 59)  write that for most kids anxiety shows up in the same five types of situations over and over.  Anxiety tends to show up when kids are:

  1. Trying something new

  2. Unsure about plans

  3. Have lots of “what if” questions

  4. Have to perform

  5. Anticipating something scary

If your child or teen is struggling with worry, try the following exercise.   First, divide a piece of paper into two columns.  On one side, write the five conditions that tend to create anxiety.  Ask your child to think about which of these situations tend to create anxiety, and write them in the other column. Try to get as specific as possible. Your child will probably see that she does not get anxious in all types of situations.  There are plenty of times when she feels calm and brave. That realization itself is empowering and reassuring.

Second, go back to the situations in which your child experiences anxiety, when his worry voice is chattering in his ear.  Teach your child to picture his worry voice as something outside of himself.  Teach him that he can talk back to that worry voice and let it know what’s really true.  Have fun with this step!  Kids can be kind to their worry voices.  Lily might say: “Thanks for warning me that there might be a thunderstorm tonight.  It’s true,  I hate the loud noise, especially when I’m sleeping!  But I know it’s not dangerous, and I can handle it.”  Colin could reassure his worry voice:  “Listen, worry, I know you are trying to help me with my homework.  But my teacher is really nice.  If I can’t get this math problem, she wants to know so she can help me.  Trust me, nobody expects me to be perfect.”   Kids can also talk tough:  “Listen, worry.  I have had it with you,” Nicole can inform her worry.” Making mistakes is part of being an athlete.   My job is to play the best I can, not listen to your nonsense. So take a hike.”

Finally, when your child begins to worry again, before immediately reassuring, tell her:  “That sounds like worry talking to me!  What can you say to it?”   Over time, your child or teen can learn that worry is part of life, but it doesn’t have to run the show.


Stephanie M. Kriesberg, Psy.D. Is a licensed psychologist who practices in Lexington.  She has twenty years’ experience treating children, adolescents and adults.  Her areas of specialty include parent guidance, anxiety disorders, and treatment of adult daughters of narcissistic mothers.


Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of the CTM editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional.

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“Parenting Is Not Art”

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer.

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer.

By Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Parenting is not art. It’s not a roster of must learn skills. It’s not something to conquer or something you can completely ignore. It’s not a vocation or way of life, a movement, mission or religion. You don’t need training or schooling or even the best possible childhood to “parent.”
And when it happens, there is no turning back but there is turning away and turning towards or standing stock still. Parenting is a happening that permanently changes you – no matter which direction you choose – or don’t.

To parent is to choose, however cavalierly or intensely, or somewhere in between, to let your child belong to you and for you to belong to your child, to commit to the unfolding before you. And in you. It is the only relationship that never ends.

Any adult can attest to the challenges of being an adolescent. Because we’ve all been there. We might remember or choose to forget the intense highs and lows, the awesome curiosity and the constant state of high alert. We might remember the feeling of not knowing who we were, what we were about, or how to get where we thought we should be going.

Adolescence is chaotic but it is also the definition of creativity. “Creativity takes courage,” says Henri Matisse. It’s not a stretch to say, adolescence takes courage. There’s nothing more creative than giving form and meaning to the blank canvas of adolescence, that starting point of defining and shaping identity.

When children enter puberty, they begin leaving the protective cloak of their family identity to seek their own. They leave the sureness of childhood bodies and the security of imaginary play to ponder, explore and experiment with the greatest question of all – “Who am I?” This mighty question ignites the flame inspiring each of us to become artists of our own lives.

Each stage of development presents a crisis which demands resolution. Psychologist Erik Erikson identified the psychosocial work of the adolescent stage as Role Confusion and Identity Formation. The work of adolescence is to trial test new selves while negotiating a rapidly expanding inner world. If adolescents resolve the “crisis” of identity, they develop fidelity, the ability to attach themselves faithfully through intimacy and connection to ones self and to another. If unable to successfully do the work of adolescence, we might feel lost, confused, unmoored.

Adolescence is primarily social and emotional. And so, teens need social and emotional mentors and teachers. This is a challenge since our children spend most of their days in schools that are decidedly left brain and tend to throw their hands up when it comes to the inner lives of their students.
As a result, parents carry the weight of their child’s social and emotional education, the “heart” work of their development. And all that at a time when adolescents are trying to create their own identity separate from their parents.

Social and emotional development and learning is the conscious building of interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) and intrapersonal (self-awareness) intelligences necessary for living an connected, engaged life.

Parents can support their child’s social and emotional growth in many ways. Here are eight tips for parents to support their child’s social emotional development.

1. Active Listening – How a parent listens to an adolescent child can positively aid in the work of identity formation. Parents help their children explore the “who am I?” question of adolescence by listening without judgment or fear. Listening with an open heart helps adolescents make sense of their world and their changing selves as they begin the process of taking responsibility for who they are at that moment and who they want to be.
2. Self-Reflection – Where does self-reflection, the foundation of self-knowledge, fit into an adolescent’s busy schedule? Parents can promote this critical developmental need at home in creative ways – conversation around the dinner table or even watching a movie together. Self-reflection needs time to develop and practice to come naturally.

3. Model Authenticity – Adolescents are keen observers of human behavior, especially of their parent’s behavior. They constantly question truth and reality as they experiment with new ways of being. Parents support their child’s search for emotional courage and honesty by living it themselves – or at least by putting ones best effort forward. A good starting place for parents is to not pretend to have all the answers.

4. Promote Creativity – The adolescent work of creating an identity means stepping into the unknown. Like artists, adolescents enter an empty canvas and experiment with colors and materials as a way to accept or reject new ways of being. Creativity gives adolescents freedom to experiment and create themselves in safe and constructive ways. This can be achieved through art, writing, dance, sports, clothing, theatre and music. Parents validate their child’s creative endeavors when expressing their own curiosity with real questions and interest.

5. Celebrate Mistakes – Mistakes mean your child is taking risks and ultimately learning from their experiences. Mistakes are an essential part of growing. Physicist David Bohm writes: “From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others.” This is unfortunate because “all learning is trying something and seeing what happens.”

6. Parallel Process – Parallel process is learning and growing alongside your child. With each moment of your child’s growth, parents are reminded of their own experiences at that age. Simultaneously, perspective is necessary for parents even when they feel there is none. Adolescence joins parent and child in the human journey of self-discovery.

7. The Struggle is Important – Parents often want to pick their child up after they fall down. It is important to recognize that resilience is linked to learned self-reliance. Adolescents need to learn and accept difficulty as part of life and living. They learn what they are made of when they go through something on their own. Parents need to support the important work of struggle as a developmental imperative.

8. Integrating The Dark Side – It can be frightening to witness a once sunny, “problem-free” child transform overnight into a gloomy, irritable adolescent. Some parents find the emerging darker side (self-doubt, anger, fear, self-consciousness) difficult to accept and send the message that the harder stuff of growing up is not accepted. Parents need to integrate the highs and lows, the good and the bad, to support balance and self-acceptance.

Parenting is not art. It’s a relationship that is social and emotional in nature. It is is constant and changing, and demands that we grow alongside our children.

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer. She specializes in struggling adolescents and their families. She helps parents focus on relationship, attachment and connection and helps teens achieve greater developmental well-being.
She is writing a book that explores 21st century parenting. Kimberly is married with four kids and divides her time between her private practice in Arlington and Vermont.
Find out more and read her blog at Kimberly can be reached at

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Relationship Parenting – A 21st Century Requirement

By Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

Kimberly Hackett, LMHC

“She doesn’t need me. She tells me a thousand ways everyday.”

Don’t believe it. She does need you. Now more than ever.

The parent/child connection is our most precious and enduring relationship. Like Yin and Yang, the sun and moon, Laurel and Hardy, one cannot exist without the other. We belong together. We balance one another. When it works, it feeds our soul. When it doesn’t, it is demoralizing and destabilizing – for both parent and child.

Cultivating relational health in your parent/adolescent relationship, even when your teen is actively blocking you, takes reinvention, persistence and a willingness to look inward. It can be a difficult transition moving from parenting an adoring, pretty-perfect, pre-adolescent child to parenting a teen, whose developmental job is to differentiate from her parents.

Differentiation is that growing space between you and your adolescent, where too much space becomes disconnection and too little space hinders growth. The parent/child relationship from birth onward is all about negotiating that precious space.

One way of thinking about and measuring the health of your parent/adolescent relationship is to take a closer look at the quality of the space between you and your child. This can be measured by how reactive you are around your child. Space brings calm, the ability to see more clearly. It is where the relationship thrives.

The parent/adolescent relationship demands flexibility simply because a teen’s changing needs and sense of self is dynamic and in constant flux. Understanding your teen is much like reading a book where crucial plot points are redacted. Teens are literally hard to read. And because communication changes so drastically during adolescence, it’s critical that parents adjust their expectations and perceptions along the way – not only of their child but also of themselves.

This means, quite simply, that parents must grow alongside their teen. It is a parallel process of mutual growth. It is as much internal work as it is external.

Relying solely on grades, friends or other external factors to gauge the well-being of our adolescent children can be misleading. It takes the parent out of the relational space, making them judge and juror, someone who is watching their life, not part of their life. This leads to a power dynamic where both parent and adolescent struggle with who holds the power between them, creating a match of wills.

A relationship is not one of power, but of connection, that includes mutual respect and self-respect.

Because teens want to keep parents at bay, to insure their social-emotional freedom, kids become expert actors, transforming themselves into who their parents want them to be. When parents attune to the relationship, they see beyond the “act.” Because relational parents work at being curious and engaged, teens are less likely to hide in plain sight.

In an age where cyber friending passes as relationship currency, parents are called upon as an antidote to heightening social and emotional alienation.

Real time connection is fast becoming a 21st century parenting requirement. Our children need parents to ground them, to daily sit across from them, face to face, to talk, to listen, to work through the discomfitures of this most important relationship, and to not cave in to the scowl but insist upon what’s beneath.

Only seven percent of communication is verbal, the rest is vocal, facial, gesture and posture. Parents who zero in on their child’s non-verbal language tune into their teen in a more comprehensive way. Kids need to be seen. All the cyber visibility in the world will never replace what it feels like to be seen in real time.

The 21st century parent/adolescent relationship is much like turning the radio on. When there is static, you automatically adjust the dial for clearer reception. Static is important. Static lets parents know something is up, something needs attention. Static catches your attention. It’s the red blinking light. You know to slow down and focus in, to both yourself and your child.

In 1953, pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term, “good enough mother.” The good enough parent is someone who works at it, but is not always successful, someone who doesn’t give up, someone who accepts the messiness and work of relationship.

The success of the parent/adolescent relationship must start with the parent. Many parents don’t like to hear this. Old school parenting thinking creeps in – “do as I say, not as I do.” “How dare she talk to me that way? She needs to change.” But the parent/adolescent relationship must remain an inherently unequal relationship. Parents must be in charge. They must set the relational standard. Your efforts now will be repaid hundredfold in your child’s future relationships, both personal and professional.

Our 21st century teens consider themselves relationship savvy and cooly cynical about connection, especially when it comes to their parents. Yet they are craving authentic connection. Teens today have instant access to escaping any relationship that hints at awkward or scary. This is where relational parenting comes in.

Our children are fast becoming the Disconnect Generation. Whenever they are the least bit relationally uncomfortable, they can block, delete, or un-friend anyone in an instant. Sitting in their room pondering life, sitting with “awkward” or “scary,” without screen escapism, is fast becoming ancient history. Parents are beginning to truly grasp the stark reality that we have no control over what worlds our children enter behind their bedroom door.

All the more reason then, that relational parenting is needed more than ever. Solid, firm and loving connection is the antidote to silence behind closed doors. Our 21st century children are in need of their parents’ presence in their everyday lives. Tenacity is at the top of the list of parenting traits we must all acquire. We must stick to our children with a different kind of glue, a glue that binds parent and child in real time connection.

Finally, parenting takes courage. A lot. It asks a lot of parents to stay connected to children who send strong messages they are no longer needed. But please don’t believe them. You are needed now more than ever.

Everyone benefits when parents commit to relational parenting, to insisting on connection with their child. Our children need us in a new kind of way. They need our presence, our conversation, our ability to be firm and loving and calm. They need us to keep trying, to not forget how important we are to them. They need us to insist on relationship and to remind them that life is all about cultivating those relationships, those real relationships.


Kimberly Hackett, LMHC, is a Family-Focused Therapist, Parent Coach and writer. She specializes in struggling adolescents and their families. She helps parents focus on relationship, attachment and connection and helps teens achieve greater developmental well-being.
She is writing a book that explores 21st century parenting.Kimberly is married with four kids and divides her time between her private practice in Arlington and Vermont.
Find out more and read her blog at Kimberly can be reached at 617-475-0942, or email –


Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of CTM’s editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional, diagnosis or treatment.

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Getting Your Partner to (Really) Listen

Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC

Do you wish you could tell your partner what you are feeling more easily? Are you looking for a way to have a productive conversation without playing the blame and shame game? Do your “discussions” sometimes last into the wee hours of the night leaving you exhausted the next day?

When you have something important to share with your sweetie, you will need these 4 simple steps:

1. Choose the right time for ‘you’ to have the conversation (consider your time & your energy level)

2. Ask your partner if s/he is willing to talk at that time

3. Be willing to hear ‘no’ and ask for a better time

4. Schedule the conversation and agree to an ending time

Getting your partner to listen when s/he is not truly available can feel very frustrating — which only adds to an already charged situation.

If your experience is anything like mine used to be, your life is busy and it’s hard to fit time in for anything extra! It’s “easier” to avoid difficult conversations than approach them. You are frustrated because you often have to sift your way through the fog of blame and shame to get to clarity. You don’t feel deeply heard.

Several years ago, I learned there was a different way. Thank goodness! And I teach it to all of my clients!

You and your partner are going to love how easy this is for you both.

PRACTICE TIP: Sit together facing each other. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths together. Synchronize your breath for a few minutes (feel silly? keep going…trust the process, it works!) When you feel connected via your breath, open your eyes and look deeply at each other.

Make an agreement: one person will share at a time and the listener will reflect back what s/he heard…bit by bi

Slowly….switching speakers as needed. Use “I” statements. If you find yourself saying “YOU”, take a breath and start over! A do-over is a powerful tool to use! I recommend you limit your conversation to 1 hour max.

Now, what if you have something important to share with your partner, but feel like all you want to do is blame him (or her)? Here is exactly what you need to move forward and avoid a screaming match.

Take 5-10 minutes to journal what you are upset about (don’t skip this very important step!)

Re-read what you wrote and highlight every “you” or “s/he” and change them to “I” (this is called “the turn-a-round” according to Byron Katie’s The Work)

Look over the “I” statements and find nuggets of truth (leave the rest)

Now choose the right time for ‘you’ to have a conversation. Ask your partner if s/he is willing to talk at that time. Be willing to hear ‘no’ and ask for a better time. Schedule the conversation and agree to an ending time no more than 1 hour later.

You’ll want to take the steps above to heart and please share them with your partner. The idea here is that you don’t blame or shame your partner and s/he doesn’t do that to you!

It feels terrible to be on the receiving end of someone else’s blaming! “Well everything’s ruined and I’m upset because of YOU!” “I’m disappointed because you did this and you did that…and you made me feel this way or that way…and on and on and on.” We’ve all heard those words before. Sadly. And have those conversations been productive? Are they loving?

There’s more but I don’t want to give you too much at once. So begin with the invitation above (the steps) – and practice as often as you can.

You and your partner are on your way to deeper love already! Congratulations!

Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC

Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC


Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC, is a psychotherapist and intimacy coach who serves the community by offering counseling to couples. For 20+ years, she has been supporting others in creating more love in their lives. Robyn has been trained in several body-oriented modalities which support her spiritual approach to healing and her deep connection to this work.  Some of those include: Conscious Communication, Family Mediation, Internal Family Systems, Sex Coaching and Yoga Therapy. To contact Robyn Vogel, please call 508-380-9254 to schedule a free consultation.


Parenting Matters is a collaboration between the Colonial Times Magazine and the Town of Lexington Human Services Department. This column is not intended as a substitute for therapy and the contents are do not necessarily reflect the views of CTM’s editorial staff. The information contained in Parenting Matters is for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional, diagnosis or treatment.

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