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Iceberg Ahead!


I talk about icebergs at work a lot.

Did you know that the part of an iceberg  you can see above the surface of the water is only 1/9th of the total mass?  This is where the phrase “tip of the iceberg” comes from.  So, I talk about icebergs because the image is a very helpful metaphor. Basically, it all boils down to:

What you can see about another person/relationship isn’t the whole picture. 

When we see SuperMom go sailing by, perfectly put together, with her perfect children behaving perfectly… we sometimes judge ourselves, and come up lacking. But this isn’t fair.  Even Supermom has her insecurities, her imperfections, her failings… maybe even her own secrets.

You can’t help but learn this lesson as a therapist.  Every day, I see people, who, if I only saw them on the street, would probably strike me as so put together, so stylish, so successful.  But because of the nature of our work together, they sit on my sofa and speak honestly about some sort of problem or another.  It’s a real gift to me, one that I would love to share with every one of you:

You are not alone!  It’s not just you! Everyone has something that challenges them, that they struggle with, that they regret!  You just can’t see it in them because we all keep our inner lives (8/9th of us, at least!) hidden inside.

So, beware the icebergs ahead…  Remember that everyone has more going on than is outwardly visible, and be kind to yourself (and them), since we never really know what’s going on for another.

PS.  A related, great phrase–not mine but I don’t know who said it originally: “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.”

Iceberg photo from wikipedia.

Free Parenting Resources, part One–BOOKS!

I often receive phone calls and emails from parents who want my services, but for a variety of reasons, can’t come in.  A mom wrote recently asking if I knew of a way she could receive parent coaching for free.  Unfortunately, my favorite parenting resource in Austin (Family Connections) has recently shut down, so I didn’t really have a referral for her.  Instead, I offered to create a list of books and other resources that offer information and guidance that I think is reliably good.  So, this is the first of a couple of posts that are intended to be a resource for anyone who would like to learn & focus on their parenting–and today’s can all be free, if you visit your local library.  Future posts will include information on where/how to start if you are looking for help for/about your child’s behaviors–in any town.  Stay tuned!


If you want to learn for free, your local public library is the best place to start.  Parenting books are GREAT sources of information, you need only invest your time.  These links below will take you to the books on Amazon, but you can also search for them on your public libary’s online catalog.  Click here for the Austin Public Library Online Catalog.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite books on parenting:

(Updated to include my now favorite parenting book:)  Dan Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson’s “The Whole Brain Child“.  This books is GREAT!  My first recommendation to any parent who wants to understand and better respond to unwanted behavior.

For improving relationships between siblings: Faber/Mazlish’s “Siblings without Rivalry.”

For improving your communication with your children: Faber/Mazlish’s “How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk

Alan Kazdin’s “Parenting the Defiant Child.”  My favorite part of this book is the first 65 pages–he dispels major myths about parenting, discipline, and behavior.  Plus, it’s easy to read and evidenced-based!  The second part of the book is about creating a behavior modification plan (ie, sticker chart.)  Sticker charts aren’t for everyone, but if you’re thinking about using one, this is the very best place to educate yourself on how to do one the right way!  I’ve written about this book before, click here to read.

For a general, positive, refreshing take on the overall parenting relationship: “Playful Parenting.”  We parents can’t use a playful response to every problem or challenge, but I often advise parents to start with playfulness.  It’s a great tool for keeping things positive, and for avoiding putting your own upset into the situation (which pretty much always makes a situation worse, you know?)

For detailed guidelines on determining whether your child’s behaviors are “normal” and age-appropriate, the Gesell Series–one for each age.  I really love these books–they are small and easy to read and very validating.  Sometimes things that look like problems to adults are just typical child development.  (“Oh, that’s just the way a 3 year old IS!.)

For classic, solid, reliable, nurturing and positive information about child development: anything by T. Berry Brazelton.  I especially like his “Touchpoints” series.

For guidance about childhood sexual development and how to talk to your kids about sex (make sure you visit my other blog on this topic, btw): I like Deborah Haffner’s book” “From Diapers to Dating.”

If you suspect that your child may have sensory integration issues: “The Out of Sync Child.”

For beginning conversations with your child about sexual development, I recommend these books.     (These recommendations are from my workshop called “Beyond Birds and Bees.” )

BTW, please share YOUR favorite parenting books with me in the comments!  It’s a great way for me to add to my list, too!

Stay tuned for the next posts, including online resources and information about finding/choosing & working with a therapist.


Note: the book links are affiliate links, which means that if you click & buy, I get a tiny little percentage of the purchase price, at no additional cost to you.  So, if you do, thanks!

Recommended Books about Death or Grief & Loss

Always & Forever, by Alan Durant, is reviewed in detail here. It is one of my favorite books about grief for kids. Highly recommended.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn isn’t about grief or loss, but it is a book about how hard it is to separate or say goodbye. That’s certainly a related theme when we are talking about grief with children. The main character is a raccoon who is about to start school. He’s sad and worried about leaving his mother–who teaches him a sweet, nurturing trick for self-soothing. I’ve known families that adopted the trick for themselves after reading the book. Very sweet.

The Bug Cemetery, by Frances Hill is about a group of entrepreneurial kids who stumble upon the ‘business’ of funerals.  The brother and sister pair offer “bug funerals,” complete with fake mourners, eulogies, and tombstones  for 10 cents.  But, when their friend’s pet cat is killed, they realize that “Funerals aren’t any fun when they’re for someone you love.”  The illustrator does a great job of conveying sadness, even anguish, in the children’s faces during the real funeral.

I like that this book illustrates that we can pretend to have a feeling, but that it isn’t the same as the real feeling at all.  Very young children often “pretend” to mourn a relative who died before they were born–and that’s normal–but I like having a tool to show the difference.  I also like the way the book shows kids ways that they can cope with death and loss–the children in the book honor their feelings and also honor the dead.

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laura Krasny Brown, is similar to their many other “When Dinosaurs…” books.  It is an informative, non-fiction book on a difficult topic, somewhat cartoonish in style, that explains facts & feelings to kids, and answers their typical questions.  The lack of a narrative makes it a little less interesting to children as a bedtime story, but perhaps makes it an even better choice for an older child who can read and would benefit from having a source of information under his control.

Of course there are many more, but consider this a beginning list.  Please make suggestions about other books to include in this list in the comments section.

Why did you do that?

Ever ask your kid why they did some (dumb, unwanted, whatever) thing?  Yeah, me too.  But!  When I’m running my parenting “A” game, I try not to–for at least 2 good reasons. 

The first reason is that an influential teacher early in my career always said that the only answer to “Why did you do that?”  was something along the lines of “…because I’m a jerk.”  (except when he said it, he usually used a more colorful word than jerk!)  Strong language aside, it’s a very good point–“Why did you do that?” is often a rhetorical question, because what a parent means to say is more along the lines of “I wish you hadn’t done that.”  Better to actually say what we really mean, you know?  It makes for better communication, more honesty, better relationships, etc…

I found a second reason not to say “Why…” a few months ago while listening to the Total Transformation CDs.  The TT folks sent me a review copy of their program, and though I haven’t finished listening to all of it, I have already found lots of good stuff.  One such item was the author (James Lehman) saying that when we ask our kids “Why” they did something, we are in effect teaching them to make excuses for their behavior.  His point is, we’re plainly saying that if they can just give us a good enough “why” answer, then we will understand/forgive/overlook their behavior.  So of course they are going to try to come up with a reason (ie, make an excuse) EVERY time they get in trouble–we taught them how!   I realize that every once in a while there really is a situation where the reasons justify the actions, but that’s much more rare than our questioning.  And certainly with younger children, who may not even have the cognitive development to understand the concept, much less answer it–what parents instead get is a series of guesses that the child intuitively hopes will satisfy the parent (NOT real explanations!)

So, experiment for a while–try to banish “Why” questions from your parenting vocabulary for a couple of weeks, and see what happens.  Let me know how it goes!


De Jure versus De Facto Parenting

(I’m excited to get to pull out 1 of 3 Latin phrases I know with today’s post.)  ;^)

Wikipedia defines the “De Jure” versus “De Facto,” as what the law says versus what actually happens in practice.

I talk about this difference with parents frequently.  We parents often say things like “She needs to understand that no means no” or simply “He doesn’t listen!”  Behind these complaints is often a big ugly truth that just happens to have a Latin description: sometimes what we parents say isn’t what we actually do. 

An example:

Mom:  “Zachary, we’re leaving in 5 minutes.”
5 minutes go by unnoticed, Mom’s still chatting with friends, Zachary is still playing.
20 minutes later, Mom tells Zachary that it’s time to go and he resists.  Mom feels annoyed that he isn’t listening, and gets frustrated with him for it.  She yells, and then–only then–does he get up to leave.


But, what’s really going on here?  Is it:

A.  The child is really not listening, and/or needs to be yelled at to get his attention.

B.  The mother is not being real about the messages she’s sending.  She has taught her son that “We’re leaving in 5 minutes” is a throwaway comment, and that the real indicators of her meaning business are when she is (a) upset and (b) yelling.

Yeah, it’s B.  And we all do some version of this.  The hard truth is that if we want our kids to consistently do what we ask them to do, we need to be consistent with them first.  First step to consistency–paying attention to what we say & do, and making sure that they are one in the same. 


PS.  The #2 Latin phrase I remember is “Rara Avis,” which is what the fun professor who taught my Latin class called herself.  :^)


Interview on

Probably more than you’ve ever wanted to know about parent coaching, therapy, magic, and apples & giraffes, too.  Thanks to interviewer Nicole Basham!

Click here to read the interview.

Q: What should I do when my child unbuckles his seatbelt?


Question:  My child keeps unbuckling his carseat, what should I do?

Answer:  This is a great opportunity to fabricate a teachable moment.  Make sure to do these things ahead of time:

  1. Talk to him about the reasons for staying buckled in
  2. Completely clean the car out ahead of time–no toys, etc
  3. Set your own emotions to the side here.  They will sabotage your plan.  


  1. Set up an event where he’s likely (and then does) unbuckle. 
  2. When he does, pull over as soon as you safely can.  Don’t react.
  3. Let him know that you were going to go to ‘x’ (must be somewhere he would want to go) but that you can’t drive him places when he isn’t being safe. 
  4. Sit (have a book or magazine for yourself).  Pretend to read the book if you have to, your goal is to not interact (ie, reinforce) his behaviors.  Be boring.  The car should be boring.  You want him to get bored. 
  5. Wait until he gets back in the carseat, buckles as much as he can.  (this may take a while.  Be prepared.)

6.  Now go home–not to the desired destination. 

7.  Talk to him about safety and that if you can’t trust him to stay in his carseat, you can’t drive him to fun places/events.

8.  Plan to repeat this a few times. 

Be extra sure to be totally on your game.  Don’t feed/reward the behavior by providing ANY excitement.  Don’t even talk (after your initial request) until he’s back in the seat.  He needs to learn that cars are a method of transport, and that the supercool stuff happens once you get where you’re going.  Chances are he needs to unlearn that there is a lot of (parent-provided) excitement (conflict, power struggles, yelling, strong emotions, oh my!) to be had when he removes his seatbelt.

After you’ve done this at least once, you can ‘front-load’ for success by talking to him ahead of car rides, reminding him of how hard it can be for him to choose to keep his body in the carseat, but also reminding him that when he does not choose to keep his body buckled in, he really feels upset and disappointed when he doesn’t get to go to the fun places he likes going to.  You can also ask him–again: ahead of time–if there is any way you can help him make good choices during the ride, offering a suggestion if necessary (play his favorite song, sing something together, bring a favorite book in the car…)

This isn’t a foolproof plan (what, in parenting, ever is?) but it’s a great jumping-off place.  Good luck!


On his travel blog, Rick Steves once explained the ‘secret’ of the Oracles at Delphi, saying this:

Two thousand five hundred years ago, movers and shakers from throughout
the ancient world went to Delphi to get advice from the Delphi priests.
The priests weren’t in cahoots with the gods. They just interviewed
everyone who came to them, thinking that they were. Because of that,
the priests knew what the competition was up to (politically,
militarily and so on) and could give divine-quality advice.

I was reminded of this explanation the other day, when I realized that I often repeat conversations from client to client.  Mr & Mrs Smith might be in my office today for help with, say, bedtime troubles.  The suggestions I offer to them come from different sources: some I probably got from a book, some from a friend, maybe one I ‘invented’, and without a doubt a few came from previous clients.  Then the next week the Smiths come back and tell me which ideas worked/didn’t work for them, and invariably they’ll tell me a new solution that they themselves invented, or heard from a friend, or read in a magazine… and I promptly add it to my trusty bag of tricks. 

Anyway, I’m no oracle, and I don’t think my advice is divine quality (!!!) but I can surely identify with the strategy.  I am constantly listening and learning and sharing what I learn.

3 Parenting Tips Worth Repeating


Who has time to read an entire parenting book these days?  It’s amazing how much time & energy it takes to chew through a 350 page epic on how you “should” parent.  Even the really good books are tough to get through.  It’s made me particularly appreciative of brevity, so to that end here are just 3 thoughts/comments that I frequently say in my role as a parent coach & therapist.  It’s a little like a 15 minute parent coaching session, or a super, super condensed parenting book.  ;^)

  1. It’s our job as parents to help prepare our kids for the real world.  We parents typically want to protect our kids from the evils and heartbreaks that exist out there.  That’s normal and healthy and generally encouraged.  But.  Our other very important job is to help our children acquire the skills, habits, resources, and strength to be able to handle the problems of the world on their own.  We can’t protect them forever, so we’d better equip them.  Start now. 
  2. Kids intuitively know that they are half-mom and half-dad.   When kids hear/see/perceive criticism from one parent to another, they internalize it and file it away under “things about MYSELF that
    aren’t good.”  While I say this one more to parents who are divorcing, it’s also true for married parents.  Every couple has conflict (it’s healthy, actually) but the way we handle that conflict is
    so important.
  3.  The single best way to get your kid to change is to let them see you changing.  I say this one so often that I joke I’m going to embroider it on a pillow one day.  But it speaks to the power of
    role modeling, the power of acknowledging that-even though we’re the parent-we’re still not perfect, and it also sends the message that in your family’s home-everyone is committed to growing.  Such a powerful and positive message!

Book Review: When I Feel Sad

“When I Feel Sad,” by Cornelia Maude Spelman, is a great book that I frequently recommend to parents.  It’s a book for children, ages 2-9 or so…  There are only a few words on each page, and the book starts with descriptions of times that kids feel sad:

“Sometimes I feel sad.  I feel sad when someone won’t let me play.”

After several pages of examples of age-appropriate sad situations for kids, the main character (a guinea pig) describes what sad feels like.  It’s a wonderful explanation for a child:

“Sad is a cloudy, tired feeling.  Nothing seems fun when I feel sad.”

Then main character talks to a loved one, which starts her on the road to feeling better.

“When I feel sad, there are ways to feel better.  I can tell someone I’m sad.”

She plays with friends, feels even better, and the book closes with:

“The sad feeling goes away and I feel good again.  When I’m sad, I know I won’t stay sad!”

While the plot isn’t quite as entertaining as “Knuffle Bunny” or “Where the Wild Things Are,” it’s still an excellent book to have on any child’s shelf.  Teaching our children about emotions is a very important gift we can give them, and this book is a useful aid.  Click below to buy it on Amazon.