Unpacking kids feelings

May 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by Hilary Akman

I had an encounter with my son today that highlighted a truism about how kids experience and express emotions.
We had wrapped up a rousing game of Uno in which he lost after several near misses at victory. This ended in tears and walking off towards his room. But as he walked off he looked back at me as if to say, “I need you, Are you coming?” Ah…1st attempt at seeking connection, I’m in!

So we talked and cuddled on his bed about how hard losing can be. And I suspected that this big upset was an outlet to unpack other feelings he had carried around throughout the day.

You see, we had spent the day at a drive thru Safari/waterpark. And just as he got in line for a waterslide that he was waiting all day for they closed down the waterpark due to lightning. So we had to head out of the park in order to beat the pending thunderstorm. Major Bummer!

So he began to unload about all the “no’s” he received throughout the day.

As I listened and empathized, I notice some annoyance brewing as I heard him recount all the mishaps of the day. A well thought out lecture on gratitude had crossed my mind. But now was not the time. Now was the time to allow him to be heard. Isn’t that what we all want? That annoyance was more about me and my judgments that I was projecting in the moment that could have gotten in the way of coaching my son through his overwhelming feelings

If we recounted the disappointments of our day to our spouse or friend and they told us to write in our gratitude journal we would probably put an end to that conversation walking away feeling unheard.

So whenever your child has an emotional reaction that seems to to be a mismatch to the situation, that is always your clue that there are other emotions that need to be unpacked that your child has been carrying around for days, weeks, or months. That seemingly erroneous event was just the trigger to release the pent up emotions they didn’t even know were there.

Our job is to coach them through the big feelings so that they can be released. When we do this repeatedly, they begin to recognize this on their own and can then do it for themselves. That is called emotional regulation. Don’t we all want all kids to learn that skill?

So it isn’t personal, we can still have values of gratitude, and we even keep gratitude journals, but there is a time a place for that once big emotions have been worked through. Make sense?
Can you look for the next opportunity to coach your child through big feelings? With kids, it won’t be long until they come up again!

The 3 great questions!

December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized by Hilary Akman

708436_NIMI want to share 3 great questions you can ask yourself whenever you are about to engage your child to cooperate with you. Put simply, to listen! There are times when we just want our kids to do what we ask because it would make our life easier. I get it! We have places to go and things that need to get done.  It would make our lives so much easier if our kids would just listen so we can get on with our day.

But people, and kids are no exception, don’t always do what they should.

When children feel right on the inside they can act right on the outside.  But when something doesn’t feel right because they have a basic need that is going unmet, that gets manifested through undesirable behavior.  Behavior is a symptom of something much deeper that is going on for your child.

If we can stop taking their behavior so personally and stop making judgments about their behavior (She’s being such a brat!) and stop ourselves from becoming so reactive, then we can create a space of figuring out what is going on for them so we can help them feel right.

These are  3 questions you always want to have in the back of your mind when you interact with your child:

1. What is my child likely to conclude after the interaction we just had?

  • All that really matters are the beliefs your child forms about themselves, because these beliefs formed in childhood continue with them throughout adulthood. Will they conclude, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a failure”, “I don’t matter”, “I’m only lovable when I do what others want me to do”.  As a therapist, I work with clients whose core beliefs such as these are still ruling their life. These beliefs manifest in behaviors such as explosive tempers, approval seeking and people pleasing, dissatisfaction in relationships or multiple failed relationships, depression and anxiety.
  • Threats and punishments, rewards and brides can all impact children to conclude negative, dysfunctional beliefs about themselves that do not set them up to succeed in adulthood.
  • As parents, we really have the power to help children conclude positive core beliefs about themselves so that they can thrive and create meaningful change in their life.  When you grow up feeling that you are a failure- these things don’t happen.

2. What is the COST to get my child to do what I want them to do?

  • We all want our children to learn how to function in society. Without a doubt, there are things that are absolutely not tolerable.  You might be able to stop your child’s undesirable behavior through punishments, time-outs, taking privileges away, withholding your love and affection, but at what cost to them? The cost is usually low self -esteem, increase aggression, and lower emotional intelligence. Because the focus is only on behavior and not the underlying feelings. Once you peel back the layers of the onion and get to the feelings the behavior typically resolves it self.  Now they don’t need to act out their feelings anymore!
  • Many parents think, “But they need to learn…”. Yes, children do need to learn what behavior is OK and what is not.  They are experimenting with all of that into adolescence.  How are we teaching them? They usually aren’t learning the lessons we think they are through these methods.
  • How can we expect our children to stand up to a bully when we demand blind obedience from them? How will they learn to question when something isn’t right when we don’t allow them to respectfully question us?  We are the ones they feel safest with.  If they can’t do it with us, they are not going to be able to do it to a boy pressuring them into something they don’t want to do, or that bully who is harassing another child, or the employer asking them to compromise their values.

3. What would best serve my child right now?

  • Negative behavior is just a symptom that something doesn’t feel right for them on the inside. Our job is to be little detectives and help them to feel right on the inside so they can act right on the outside. That way they can get really good over time at identifying when they don’t feel right and how they can regulate themselves.  We are the emotional coach for our children so that they can do it for themselves later on.  What a gift to give them!
  • We have all had those moments on the playground when our child’s behavior mortifies us! When their behavior is not in alignment with the values we are teaching at home.  I have been there. We feel the judgmental eyeballs boring a hole through us.  This is the moment to ask, “What would best serve my child right now?” Not, “What are all those parents expecting me to do so that they will think I am a good parent?”
  • Sometimes what is best for your child is leaving the playground, not to punish them, but so that you don’t explode on them because you need some time away from judging eyes to calm down so you can best think about how to handle the situation. Or maybe it is leaving in order to make sure other children are safe and your child isn’t able to do that now.

It is about taking the long view of parenting vs. the short view.  It is about considering the whole child vs. solely focusing on behavior. We are raising future adults! Parenting isn’t for wimps!  Our job as parents is to help our children form positive beliefs about themselves and the world. I hope these 3 questions will help you do that.

A Peaceful holiday season is possible!

December 13, 2014 in Uncategorized by Hilary Akman

STRESS1 (2) Does this happen to you every year?   You envision cherishing the holidays with your children during their winter break from school or homeschooling.  Finally you get to spend one on one time with them without schoolwork taking up the majority of your time… and then it seems that all your good intentions of a relaxing break got hijacked by the busyness of Christmas festivities…work parties, pageants, recitals, decorating, baking, cookie swaps, a trip to Santa Claus, shopping, wrapping. And if your like me, my son has a December birthday in the mix of it all! No wonder it becomes such a stressful time.

So I’m going to give you an unusual analogy for holiday events.  Think of this time of year like going to a restaurant.  When you go to a restaurant you, you look at the menu and order a few items, maybe an appetizer, an entree, perhaps dessert.  There might be many choices on the menu that look good to you but you don’t order everything on the menu!

I think the same goes for deciding on how you want to spend your precious family time during Christmas.  There might be a lot of festivities that look really appealing…it would be fun, your kids would like it…but how much are you going to cram into the season?

The question I would challenge you with is, at what cost are you willing to have your intentions of a peaceful, relaxing holiday season chipped away at by attending one more event?

So here are some strategies to finally creating the peaceful winter break you crave:

1. Gather the family around the table, if everyone is old enough to participate, and make a list of what events/activities sound appealing, and pick and choose 3 activities that are not to be missed. And then select 3 more as back-ups that if you don’t actually attend or make then that is okay too. Resist the temptation to fall back into old habits to participate in every event the community has to offer.

2. Remember what your kids really want the most is your time, as cliche as it sounds, it is true. Even older kids! Plan a special one on one time with each child.  It can be as simple as going into another room with one of your children and cuddling up and reading a stack of Christmas books.

3. Manage yourself! Your kids feed off of your energy.  If your relaxed your kids will be relaxed.  When you notice yourself becoming frazzled, model for your children how you can self-regulate.  Make an announcement that you need to take care of yourself, “I’m getting really cranky, I’m going to take some deep breaths/spend time with God/put music on/ in order to feel better so I can play with your guys.”

4. Let go of the picture perfect holiday…your kids don’t need it and they don’t want it.  Where are you willing to let go?

My prayer is that you will be blessed beyond measure this holiday season!



High spirited and strong willed children by Hilary Akman, LPC

November 8, 2014 in Uncategorized by ndfspeed1971

I have always felt my children have been my greatest teachers. And boy, did my first child give me a crash course! My son is a delightful high-spirited, intense, and sensitive boy. This means he feels his feelings strongly! The good, the bad, and the ugly!  While this makes him extremely affectionate and loving it can also leave him overwhelmed with big feelings, which gets expressed through behavior the best way he knows how in the moment. And it ain’t always pretty!

Outside looking in, the world would say, “That child needs to be hit, spanked, punished”,  fill-in-blank.  You get the picture! dcz_boy being abused or abducted by adult femaleBut I knew that wasn’t the answer and I struggled to find the best way to meet his needs without wearing myself out AND leaving everyone’s integrity still in tact!

I knew the behaviorist approach, like sticker charts, rewards, incentives, praise, time-outs, only contributed to a sense of  conditional love that so many children and adults struggle with today. In addition, I didn’t want to foster a sense of, “What’s in it for me?” and greed and approval seeking that these approaches can unintentionally create.

I wanted something deeper and more authentic for my family. I read lot of books and tried to integrate a lot on my own but found out pretty quickly that my triggers kept getting in the way.

This desire lead me to become a parent coach.  I knew that in my worst sleep deprived, frazzled, rage filled moments as a parent that these experiences were shaping me for something more, something greater in order to help other parents. It was in those moments that the seed began to take root to help other parents on their path to transformation.

First of all, let’s talk about what a high spirited child is not.  They are not a brat, they are not spoiled, they are not entitled.  These are all judgments that only look at behavior vs. examining the underlying needs and feelings that are driving the behavior. And if you just look at the behavior you are truly missing the greatness of these children.

So what does a high-spirited child look like? Dr. Michael Popkin gives an excellent acronym in his book, Taming the Spirited Child,  that I have listed in my recommended reading page.

The acronym is CAPPS: Curious, Adventurous, Powerful, Persistent, and Sensitive.  Does any of these describe your child?  While I encourage you to delve into the book to learn more, the purpose of this post is for you to begin to consider that all these traits that are so exhausting and seem so troublesome now are really going to serve your child well as they mature into teenagers and adults.  These are the traits of champions! When properly harnessed and cultivated these characteristics will serve your child well throughout their lifetime.  And spirited kids are much less likely to tolerate being bullied as well!

The questions to always ask yourself when triggered by these qualities and the behaviors that result are :

1. How can I BEST help my child use these characteristics in order to instill the values I want them to have?

2. At what cost to my child do I really want to continue to “change” them in order to extinguish these behaviors?

3. Am I willing to see beyond the behaviors, look deeper into their emotions underneath, and learn new skills so I can make a shift into how I parent them leaving their unique personality characteristics in tact?

One final thought I want to leave with you is that all people, kids included, are only behaving in ways to get their needs met.  Our job as parents are to help them meet their needs in a way that doesn’t violate others and helps them to function in the society in which we live.

If you want to know more and are ready to do something different so you can create a different kind of family life then, please contact me.  I can promise you that if you do nothing then nothing will change.