Relaxation Exercise: Lightstream Visualization with Ginny Mosby

Foggy Dreamscape by Mike Behnken - CC BY 2.0

[Photo Credit: “Foggy Dreamscape” by Mike Behnken. Used by permission via Creative Commons License CC-BY 2.0]

Meditation and deep relaxation techniques can help our brains build new neural pathways to give us a greater ability to regulate our emotions, decrease our anxiety, and experience more integration in our lives.  Psychiatrist Dan Siegel writes at length about the power of mindfulness training to bring symptom relief and psychological healing in his book Mindsight.  Here is a short relaxation exercise led by Ginny Mosby, MFT, a therapist at Community Presbyterian Counseling Center and my former supervisor and colleague.

Lightstream Visualization with Ginny Mosby – YouTube.

How to Stop Bullying Before It Starts: The Math of Human Relationships

How to Stop Bullying Before It Starts | Counseling Kids and Teens.

What can teachers, youth counselors, and other leaders do to prevent bullying in their communities?  In the blog post above are a few tips inspired by the field of sociometry (the study of interconnections within groups) and the tools of psychodrama.

[Photo Credit: Photo modified from “India Black and White” by anthony kelly, used via Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0]

One Powerful Truth to Help Your Kids Succeed

One Powerful Truth to Help Your Kids Succeed | Counseling Kids and Teens.

Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck has identified that a person’s mindset profoundly impacts how they approach life. My article above explains the simple mindset that will gear your kids up to succeed, and the opposing and unfortunately very common mindset that holds many kids back.

[Photo Credit: “Victorious” by Marina Del Castell, used via Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0]

What Kind of Relationship Do You Want to Build?


warszawianka_Mother_and_child_silhouette.svg.hiBy Joy Liu

Recently, I was reminded of an inspiring quote by renowned psychotherapist Virginia Satir. It presents a beautiful vision of a safe relationship–one in which each person is free to be himself or herself, in which each person is able to give and receive acceptance and respect.  I love how Satir entitles her poem “Goals for Me.”  It reminds me that a good relationship is something to work towards.  When I fail, I can try again.  The change begins with me.

Goals For Me

I want to love you without clutching,
appreciate you without judging,
join you without invading,
invite you without demanding,
leave you without guilt,
criticize you without blaming,
and help you without insulting.

If I can have the same from you
then we can truly meet and
enrich each other.

— Virginia Satir


How Many Teens Are Affected by Mental Health Issues?

By Joy Liu

I made the following graphic to give a visual picture of how mental health issues affect teens in a typical classroom.  It is based on statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, and it shows what percentage of teens ages 13 to 18 have experienced various mental disorders in their lifetime.  The graphic does not take into account the fact that some of the teens surveyed had experienced more than one disorder.  Thus, the overall percentage of teens who have experienced a mental health disorder in their lifetime is slightly less than depicted, about 46% or 14 students in a classroom of 30.

Mental Health Class Statistics w text


Deescalation: Calming the Storm

twin-orange-tornado-mdBy Joy Liu

Sometimes in a conflict a child may escalate until s/he has passed her/his “point of no return.”  At this point, the child is emotionally flooded and can no longer access the reasoning part of his/her brain.  Due to physiological changes when a person reaches a state of “fight or flight,” the reasoning part of the child’s brain won’t kick back in until his/her body has calmed down.  Behaviors may include yelling, screaming, threatening, physical aggression, destruction of property, self-harm, and/or other out-of-control behavior.

When this happens, the first goal is deescalation, not giving a consequence.  Don’t worry, the child will get an appropriate consequence eventually; but s/he won’t benefit from hearing about it when s/he is at this crisis point.  Reminding the child of consequences will only escalate him/her further and prevent the child’s body from calming down and letting his/her brain re-engage.  Here are some tips to help you weather the storm and create an environment that will help your child calm down more quickly.

Talk about the child’s feelings with empathy.

  • “You are really angry right now.”
  • “You hate what I just did.”
  • “You wish you could hit someone, you’re so angry.”
  • “You are so sad, it feels hopeless.”

Talk about things the child enjoys.

  • e.g. video games, sports figures, TV shows, etc.

Praise client positive behaviors — create successes.

  • Be creative in noticing what positive choices client has made by not doing something worse.
  • “I see how angry you are, and I appreciate you using your words to tell us how you feel.”
  • “You are so angry right now, but you are not breaking anything. That shows real inner strength.”

Walk away if needed.

  • If your presence continues to escalate the child and it is safe to do so, walk away to give the child some space and time to cool down.

Do not bribe the child.

  • Don’t say, “OK, OK you can go to your friend’s house. Just stop yelling.” This might stop the behavior briefly, but in the long run it will teach the child to use negative tantrums to get what s/he wants.

Wait until the storm has passed before giving any consequences.

  • Wait at least 1 hour after child has fully calmed down before giving a negative consequence for any negative behavior. (Make sure you are calm, too!)
  • Once the child’s body has calmed down and his/her reasoning brain is back in the game, it is fine to let the child know whatever consequence he/she will face as a result of his/her behavior.

Finding Ways to Be Positive

happyBy Joy Liu

Every strong relationship needs a high ratio of positive to negative interactions. Unfortunately, when times are tough or when you are just plain tired, it can be hard to remember how to be more positive with those you love. Here are some ideas!


  • “Thank you for putting away the dishes!”
  • “I appreciate how you started your homework right away today.”
  • “I can see that Annie and Bryan enjoy playing with you.”

Love and accept

  • “I love you!”
  • “That was a bad choice, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “That was hard.”

Notice effort and small improvements

  • “Wow, you sure put a lot of time into this project.”
  • “I noticed that this time you got a B- instead of a C! Way to go!”
  • “I see a lot of intricate details in your picture.”

Show faith in the other person

  • “I believe in you.”
  • “Sure, you can help! You can do it with me. Here’s how.”

Encourage through actions

  • Smile
  • Nod
  • Wink
  • Pat on the back
  • High-five
  • Rub on the head
  • Hug
  • Cheer

Add surprise!

  • Throw in a positive interaction when it’s totally unexpected.

Use a “P-N-P Sandwich”– a great tool from 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Thomas Phelan

  • If you have something negative you must say (e.g. a complaint or correction), sandwich it between two positives.
  • “It was so responsible of you to start your homework right away when you got home.  Please double-check your answers to problems 3 and 7.  I really appreciate your hard work.”

Keep it pure – don’t negate the positive by tacking on something discouraging

  • DON’T say: “I enjoy hearing you practice…why can’t you do this all the time?”
  • DON’T say: “I trust you to be home on time…so you’d better not be late.”

Dealing with Power Struggles

tug-of-war-long-hiBy Joy Liu

If you get into a power struggle, there is no way to win–it’s a lose-lose situation!  Thus, the best way to deal with a power struggle is to avoid getting into one in the first place.  Don’t make threats or try to control what you can’t control.  Stay calm and focus instead on what you can control so that you can side-step the power struggle with dignity.  Once you’re clear of the crisis, develop a long-term strategy to decrease your child’s need to pull for power and control.  If you find you’ve accidentally gotten entangled in a power struggle, don’t be too hard on yourself.  It happens to all of us, once in a while!  Just keep practicing, and soon you’ll find it easier and easier to avoid getting ensnared.

Why do kids struggle for control?

  • Their lives feel out of control.
  • They believe they can only belong if they are the ones in control.
  • They have anxiety or overwhelming feelings and being in control is one way to manage the feelings inside.
  • In their lives, they have not yet learned that “following directions the first time” and “accepting ‘no’ gracefully” are really worth it.

What can’t you control?

  • The child’s body (unless the child is very small and you know how to give safe restraints).
  • The child’s attitude.
  • The child’s actions.
  • The child’s facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.

What can you control?

  • Rewards you give.
  • Physical items that belong to you or ones that can be locked away/confiscated.
  • Whether or not child is allowed in a location.
  • What you say/how you frame the situation.
  • Your tone of voice and mood.

How can you give commands or respond to defiant or controlling behavior without getting into a power struggle?

  • Pre-empt with a reminder: “This is a chance for you to follow directions the first time. I need you to pick up your toys.”
  • Practice: “Let’s try that again!” (Repeat prompt and ask child to “practice” doing it right.)
  • Give transition time: I need you to clean up your toys. You have 1 minute left.”
  • Set a contingency (also known as “Grandma’s Rule”): “If you want to play video games, you will need to finish your homework first.”
  • Offer a limited choice (both choices must be completely enforceable): “You may either turn off the TV, or I will do it for you.”
  • Model politeness and reward the politeness: “Please ask me again politely. ‘May I please play for 5 more minutes before cleaning up?'” (After the child asks politely…) “Wow that was so polite! Because you asked me so politely, I will say ,’Yes.'”
  • Be a broken record (Repeated limited choice calmly. Refuse to get into reasons): “That’s not a choice. I know it’s hard/frustrating, but you may either do X or Y.” (If child takes a long time making a choice…) “If you do not choose, I will choose for you. I guess you’ve chosen Y.”
  • Express surprise and confidence in child’s good character: “I know how good you are at following directions the first time.  I’m surprised you didn’t do it this time.  I don’t think you’re the kind of person who would do something impolite by not following directions.  Let’s try that again.”

What long-term strategies will help your child decrease his/her tendency to engage in power struggles?

  • Reward your child when s/he shows respect, follows directions promptly, or accepts “no” gracefully.
  • Share power with your child, by giving your child options and by refraining from micro-management.
  • Decrease your child’s feelings of anxiety by increasing structure.  For example, set up a daily routine and give your child reminders about upcoming transitions (e.g. “You’ll need to start your homework at 4 pm.  That’s in 10 minutes.”)
  • If there is anything chaotic going on in your lives (e.g. on-going, unresolved conflict or stress), work to find resolution and shield your child from involvement.