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Tag Archives: Parenting

Naming Emotions

Child abuseThe Family Institute’s Family Tip of the Month discusses coaching your children to identify and name their emotions in times of distress – and how it can aid them in the future.

From this month’s tip:

“…when we use precise labels for our feelings, we understand more about what’s happening to us emotionally, which then can lead to identifying a smart (and healthy) course of action.”

Read the entire Tip of the Month to learn how making a habit of naming emotions can help your child take on stressful situations.

For additional Tips and to sign up for our Tip of the month, visit our Tips webpage.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about our services on our website.

To get support at The Family Institute, visit our Find a Therapist page.


Modern Issues in the Transitions to Parenthood: Staying Connected with Your Partner

Announcing our newest program, The Transitions to Parenthood, and an exciting blog series, Modern Issues in the Transitions to Parenthood!

The Family InsHolding Handstitute is launching a new program designed to support mothers, fathers, couples and families in the wonderful and overwhelming journey to becoming parents, and the numerous life transitions that come along with this major life change. As part of the launch of the Transitions to Parenthood program, we will be posting a series of blogs on issues encountered by modern parents. Some, of course, are as old as time while others are a function of our current cultural, social and technological climate.

We hope this series provides food for thought, validates what you are going through, and gives you some ideas for working with your experiences.

Today, Nikki Lively, LCSW, Coordinator of the Transitions to Parenthood Program, answers the question, Can the ancient practice of mindfulness help modern couples as they become parents?

One of my clients recently had a baby, and a few months ago she said something to the effect of, “My husband and I are really trying, but even so, it’s really hard to know what’s going on with each other! How on earth do couples stay connected after having a baby?”

Such a great question! That sense of not really knowing what’s going on with your partner is one of the main things that can drive disconnection in the immediate months and years after a baby enters a family.

Becoming a parent is such a massive life change for each person that it will predictably bring up a flood of new and intense emotions, new types of thoughts, and new desires or wishes — though you certainly cannot predict what this new stream of experiences will be. And if all that new stuff is going on inside, you can bet that both people start acting differently — perhaps strangely — on the outside. This is where the lessons of mindfulness can be helpful.

Having our beloved start to act in ways that we don’t understand tends to trigger negative judgments and reactions in us. If it were a mathematical formula, it would be: Confusion + Lack of sleep + Overwhelm = Judgmental Reactivity. This is definitely not a formula that keeps couples connected and close, which is a shame since this is a time when everyone needs support more than ever.

So how can mindfulness help at a time like this? If you are like most people, you’ve seen the word “mindful” everywhere. It has saturated many self-help books and magazines but it may not be a meaningful word to many people or is something that seems outside their reach or not very practical for day-to-day life. However, if we think about “mindfulness” as simply learning how to flex a muscle — our brain– to create a different formula — Awareness + Pause + Curiosity = Mindfulness/Connection — then this can be incredibly helpful for new parents. Add to this formula that recent research found that “one mindful breath” — the equivalent of a 6 second practice — has the potential to improve empathy and communication, and we have a winning equation to help new parents stay connected! (Read more on this research.)

Here are a few tips for using the practice of one mindful breath in communication.

  • Build awareness of your “go-to” thought patterns when you are overwhelmed. For example, do you tend to assume negative intentions? Is it hard for you to ask for help so you think angry thoughts when you aren’t getting the help you need?
  • Learn to “see” these judgmental thoughts as an alarm waking you up to a need (for example, needing help, needing to understand, needing to feel understood, etc.).
  • Here is the most important tip: Pause before doing or saying anything! (Breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly.) The slow, mindful, 6 second breath should build this in, and take more if needed!
  • Commit to Rather than assume you know what is going on, assume you have no idea what is going on with your partner
  • Commit to self-expression and loving inquiry. (i.e. “Hey honey, I am feeling really upset right now and trying to slow myself down so I don’t make any assumptions. I noticed you didn’t buy milk on the way home and we really need some. Did something happen?”)

Be gentle with yourself and your partner as you will inevitably make mistakes and get derailed as you try these mindful communication practices. If you find that you and your partner need more support, couples therapy is an excellent resource to use early and often. (BTW, this is a great practice for dealing with infants and toddlers, too.)

Let us know how the practice is going for you. Email us your questions and comments at

For more information about The Transitions to Parenthood program or to reach our team, visit our website, email us at or call 847-733-4300, ext. 899.

Be sure to follow TFI Talks to read upcoming blogs on the topic of Transitions to Parenthood!

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.

Tempering the Tantrum: Growing alongside our children

boy_having_temper_tantrumParents may observe their children have “temper tantrums” in many different contexts. You could see your child have a tantrum before school when they are asked to get their backpack ready. You may see your daughter become upset when she can’t figure out how to fix her hair in the morning. You could also see your son throw a “temper tantrum” in the grocery store when he is told that he cannot buy the candy bar he is eyeing by the counter.

For a child, learning about their emotions is similar to learning how to tie their shoes or play sports or how to write their name. They need someone to model what they are supposed to do and then practice, practice, practice until they master that task. Yet as a child is learning and trying to handle their feelings and how to express them, their parents see these emotional outbursts as “temper tantrums.”

In today’s blog, Christie Stiff, MSMFT, explores temper tantrums and how parents can work through them with their child.

Children often have emotional outbursts when they lack – or are still learning – certain skills to address the situations that cause them anger, frustration, sadness or anxiety.

So what can parents do?

  • Parents can model how to effectively calm themselves down, make compromises with others, communicate their needs and problem-solve ways to receive attention rather than responding with behaviors that are unhealthy or ineffective (ex. hitting, kicking, screaming).
  • Parents can identify and empathize with their child’s feelings of sadness or anger while communicating that some of their behaviors are not acceptable.
  • Parents can begin by attempting to notice the child’s triggers to an emotional outburst. If you notice that your child acts out when something specific happens, try to plan ahead and problem-solve early before the tantrum happens.
  • Parents can connect with their child by validating their feelings of sadness, distress or anger. It is helpful to validate, or support, the feeling, not the ineffective behavior (hitting, kicking, throwing things).
  • Parents can address the behavior by giving the child effective and healthy coping skills for dealing with distress (talking to someone about it, deep breathing, taking a time out in a calm spot, asking for help, etc.) and praise the child’s efforts to practice these new skills.
  • In addition to verbal praise, parents can create a sticker chart to positively reinforce the child’s effective coping.

Decreasing ineffective behaviors

Parents can attempt to decrease these ineffective behaviors by simply giving them less attention during a tantrum. The more reactive a parent gets about a tantrum, the more attention it brings to the negative behavior. When a parent ignores or disengages from the undesired behavior (as long as the child is safe), they can practice managing their own feelings in response to their child’s outburst, showing the child that they are allowed to feel upset while also teaching the child that their tantrum will not get them what they want.

A child’s outburst can often trigger an emotional response in the parent. For example, if a child has an outburst at the grocery store when they are told they cannot buy a candy bar, the parent can feel angry, anxious or embarrassed at their child’s emotional expression. It is helpful for parents to be kinder and more open to their internal reactions, focus on their own feelings and focus less on changing/controlling their child’s behavior. Instead of attempting to change the child’s behavior, it is helpful to validate the child’s feelings of sadness, offer a replacement behavior and then look inward to manage your own feelings of distress. When a parent becomes more open to their own reactions, they can positively model emotional awareness for their children.

When we become more aware of our own reactions and are able to soothe ourselves, we can help to avoid habitual patterns of control and power and learn to authentically grow alongside our children.


Christie Stiff, MSMFT, is a Clinical Program Fellow at The Family Institute. She has a special interest in and significant clinical experience working with child anxiety and young children with behavioral issues. She is the Coordinator of The Family Institute’s Rainbows program. Ms. Stiff also has training in utilizing Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) techniques and exposure-based therapies to treat anxiety, depression and emotion regulation issues. In addition, through the Parents in Charge program, Ms. Stiff has experience with parent training for children under 7 with acting out behaviors, challenges due to the regulation of their emotions or academic concerns.

TFI’s Child, Adolescent and Family Services includes therapists who are dedicated and passionate about helping children, adolescents, young adults and their families. They are trained to work with a wide range of child and adolescent issues including anxiety, depression, and grief and loss, among others. They work with families from a wide variety of backgrounds including diverse ethnicities, income levels, educational backgrounds and sexual identities.

If your child is in need of mental health services, please reach out to a member of TFI’s Child, Adolescent and Family Services for help by calling 847-733-4300, ext. 263.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.

Are You Helicopter Parenting Your High School Child?

Mother and daughterTiger moms. Momma dragons. Wolf fathers. Panda papas. Free range parents. Bulldozer parents. Lawnmower parents. Helicopter parents. Some parents, whether they realize it or not, adopt one of these styles, with the best of intentions. Helicopter parents in particular take a very active role in their child’s life. But what happens to those parents when their children enter high school?

In today’s post, Dr. Adam Fisher discusses specifically the pros and cons of “helicopter parenting,” and offers two key areas a parent can think about as they navigate their child’s adolescent years.

You care. A lot. You want to make sure your adolescent is successful and happy. You freely give advice, provide direction, and try to minimize negative outcomes in your child’s life. You don’t like risk, but what parent does? You work to protect your child at every step. You are caring and involved, and that is great.

During your child’s younger years, maybe you were a room parent or a chaperone for field trips. You may have gone to every practice. Maybe that worked well for your child at that age. There may be problems with it in adolescence, however. Having an over-involved, helicopter parent during late adolescence and young adulthood has been found to be associated with lower self-efficacy, difficulty managing emotions, a greater sense of entitlement, lower levels of trust and connection in peer relationships, and worse parent-child communication, just to name a few.

As you parent during your child’s high school years, here are two things to think about while adapting to a style of parenting that fits and grows with your child.

  1. Your own emotional world. What happens inside you when your teen pushes you away or makes a bid for more freedom? Does your worry lead you to meet your child’s needs for a new level of freedom? Or is your worry harmful? What’s appropriate for your child at this age? Although each teen is different, many need additional support in exploring their world and adapting to high school away from their parents. Consider what drives your parenting – your fear or your child’s needs?
  2. Being “good enough.” Good enough parenting is all about having problems and then working to fix them. When you’re too intrusive into your teen’s life, you can step back. If you don’t have clear limits and boundaries, you can clarify. And if you have too many limits, negotiate. This is all “good enough.” Whether your child is 3, 13, or 23, it’s not too late to better prepare them for adulthood. Resist the urge to tell your teen that you’re changing your parenting style. Know that it’s not too late, and quietly get to work.


Dr. Fisher has extensive training and experience in working with families with adolescents labeled as having “behavior problems.” His areas of expertise are in attachment-based parent education, couples and sex therapy, and struggles related to religion or spirituality. Learn more about Dr. Fisher on our website.

The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

The Business of Co-Parenting

Torn apartEnding a long-term romantic relationship is difficult and painful. Most people choose to refrain from seeing or communicating with a former partner after a breakup in order to heal and move forward. However, ending a romantic relationship when children are involved is infinitely more difficult. Once two people have children together, they enter into a lifelong relationship with one another. Although the romantic relationship ends, the co-parenting relationship remains.

In today’s blog, Dr. Jenna Rowen explains how former partners with children need to redefine their relationship. In these instances, the relationship gets redefined as a business partnership, where the business is raising happy, healthy children.

How do co-parents create that business partnership? Dr. Rowen offers some tips for redefining the relationship while keeping children’s needs at the forefront.

Discuss boundaries around communication and keep communication limited to child-related issues. For example, if you know you and your co-parent scream on the phone but can remain professional over email, limit communication to emails. Whatever form of communication is agreed upon should not serve to rehash old arguments or jab at one another; rather, communication should pertain to concrete, child-related issues (e.g., “The school play is November 11th. Will you be able to attend?”).

Keep kids out of the middle of the conflict. Messages should not be relayed to the other parent through children, and children should not witness conflict between co-parents. These experiences are very stressful for kids and often lead to them feel caught in the middle.

Create a parenting plan that is feasible and flexible. It is important to have some type of custody plan in place so that both parents have a clear understanding of when they will spend time with their children. A plan also provides a resource for parents to refer to in times of disagreement. A consistent parenting plan can also help children feel like they have a weekly or biweekly routine, which may aid with adjustment. If you and your co-parent feel unable to create a co-parenting or custody plan, mediation is an excellent option that facilitates collaborative problem-solving.

When talking directly with your children or within earshot of your children, discuss your co-parent with kindness. Children often feel sad and hurt when parents put each other down because they love both of their parents and often have traits that reflect both parents. It can be tempting to make negative comments about the other parent (especially if s/he is driving you crazy at the moment), but it is not a healthy choice for your kids.

When co-parenting becomes difficult, envision how you would like your children to look back on their childhood in 20 years. Bringing the focus back to what is best for your children always helps parents make healthier short-term decisions. At the end of the day, both you and your co-parent just love your children and want what’s best for them.


Dr. Rowen specializes in research and treatment of high levels of family negativity and interparental conflict, which adversely impact the co-parenting relationship, parent-child relationships, and child psychological well-being. She is committed to providing high quality, empirically-supported treatment to children, families, and couples. Learn more about Dr. Rowen on our website.

The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.


Homework Tips for Parents

Father helping his son with homeworkAs the school year begins, most households will experience a change in their treasured “family” time. Evenings together that were unstructured and relaxing all summer are now dedicated to completing homework assignments.

For parents of all children — and especially those with learning and behavioral challenges — this nightly occurrence can be quite stressful. There are, however, many things parents can do to make the “dreaded homework hour” less difficult for all involved. Today, TFI’s Education Specialist, Barbara Resnick, MS, offers hints for parents to make homework a success this school year.

Some good ways to make the process less stressful include:

  • Check the nightly planner when your child comes home so you see how much time should be devoted to homework.
  • Establish a homework time and routine.
  • Reduce the number of extraneous materials present in the homework area.
  • Clarify assignment expectations by reading and highlighting instructions.
  • Re-explain and/or paraphrase the assignment if your child is unsure about what to do.

While assisting your child with nightly assignments, it is important to monitor the amount of time needed for completion. If you feel that the time is excessive or that your child clearly does not understand the assignments or requires total supervision in order to complete them, share your concerns with the classroom teacher. This difficulty could be an indication that your child may need more formalized academic support from the school (homework accommodations can be provided informally as well). Parents should feel comfortable having their child stop working on an assignment if completing it is turning the evening into a disaster.

Although most parents are not formally trained as educators, the homework time spent together can be used to teach a variety of learning strategies such as:

  • Teach prioritizing of assignments, i.e., completing those that are most difficult first, completing assignments that are due tomorrow before working on a long-term project.
  • Explain homework time management. Ask your child to estimate the time it will take to complete an assignment. Set a timer and compare the estimated time with the actual time.
  • Break longer assignments into manageable steps.
  • Review the assignment expectations prior to reading the material. This will help focus your child as he/she reads.
  • Relate concepts in a reading story to your child’s personal experiences.
  • Break down multi-step math problems.
  • Create graphic organizers for writing assignments. Graphic organizers visually break written assignments into short segments and specify what information should be in each section. (Ideas for graphic organizers can be found online.)
  • Act as a scribe when your child’s assignment requires an extended response.

While supporting your son or daughter with their school work, be mindful of his/her self-esteem. Acknowledge efforts that your child makes to complete an assignment, and not just the result. Remind your child that everyone makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. Be sure to explain that a person can survive when making an error, and share an example of your own mistakes and how you overcame them. If a project comes out less than perfect, monitor for signs of frustration and keep in mind that these signs may be secondary to anxiety and insecurity over perceived task difficulty.

Here’s to a wonderful school year!!

Learn more about Barbara Resnick, MS, on our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable therapy and assessment services at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.



Enhancing the Role of the Father in Children’s Development

Father with 3 sons“Research on fathers’ influence on child development has gradually moved beyond simple measures of the quantity of father involvement towards reliable and meaningful measure of the nature, or quality of fathers’ relationships with their children,” writes Mark Lynn, PhD, in his Clinical Science Insight white paper, “Enhancing the Role of the Father in Children’s Development: A contextually informed approach”.

This white paper discusses how a fathers’ involvement in parenting is more heavily influenced by a variety of personal and contextual factors, including religion, than a mothers’ involvement.

Read the entire white paper.

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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