Putting It Into Practice….

My recent blog posts about Whole Brain Parenting have led to some great story sharing with parents and grandparents. It is these real life interactions with children that truly open our eyes and hearts to the positive impacts we can make.

One of my friends asked me if I could share an experience where I responded differently to one of my grandchildren, using what I am learning from Whole Brain Parenting. This is what I shared: My five year old grandson was crying uncontrollably, visibly shaken from a sudden scare. Although he was safe, he was still caught in an emotional tsunami. Dr. Dan Siegel’s framework popped into my head. I knelt down beside him, getting just a little lower than his eye level. I wrapped him in a gentle hug and said “that was so scary, wasn’t it?” He nodded between sobs. I assured him that he was now safe and I would stay with him while he cried. He told me that he wanted to stop crying but he wasn’t able to. “That’s normal” I told him. “you are just a little boy and at your age it does take a while to stop crying. It’s okay. I am right here helping you.”

It’s so natural to want to soothe and comfort a crying child, but this time I also could sense that I was in fact the “training wheels” he needed in that moment to help him regulate those really big, scary emotions. I could see how my calmness, my words and my gentle touch were taking effect – his little sobbing body full of tension beginning to relax, his breathing becoming steady, and soon the torrent of tears drying up. I offered him some cold water. After a big sip, he picked up his legos and began explaining to me the complex vehicle he was creating. All of this happened in just under 5 minutes.

As I walked to the kitchen with his now empty water cup, I took a few moments to reflect on what that experience felt like not only for my grandson, but also for me. There it was again — that word “awareness”.

That book – Whole Brain Parenting – informed my awareness about what was happening in the brain and body of a five year old. My full attention turned to meet his needs; needs that I now better understood. And all the while that I was comforting him, validating his emotions and normalizing his inability to tame them right away, I found myself feeling really connected to this new approach.

The “magic” in this integration approach is not lost on me. I didn’t have this whole brain parenting knowledge and accompanying skill sets when I was raising my own kids. I am sure that I soothed them when they were in distress. I am also sure that I inadvertently dismissed what they were feeling in the moment. My most pressing goal was to get them back to calm as quickly as possible. I am pretty certain that my old way took a lot longer than 5 minutes. There may have been a cookie involved too.

To be very candid, I wasn’t very skilled at “co-regulation” as a young parent. My own stress level was probably on high alert so its doubtful I was “cool, calm and collected” while attending to my emotional child — especially if all this was going down at the playground or grocery store. Depending on the circumstances, it’s likely I was as freaked out by a fall from the jungle gym as my child was; or awash in embarrassment watching my toddler have a full blown meltdown in the cereal aisle.

So why was I feeling so “connected” to this new approach? The answer to that question is embedded in all that I have learned (and continue to learn) through my own personal growth journey. When we are not taught the value of our emotions, healthy coping skills and emotional regulation, our life and relationships are so much harder. I know firsthand how it feels to go through life denying or hiding emotions; even being afraid of some of those very natural, human emotions. I’m well aware that stuffing emotions is very detrimental to living a wholehearted life. I’ve got the messy experiences to prove it. A lot of unprocessed emotional baggage kept me from living in alignment with my core values – especially when I was in high stress situations.

The hard work of unlearning, untangling and unearthing all the armor, the childhood behavioral patterns and the invalidating messages we were told takes a very long time. It also takes a lot of awareness, acceptance, self-compassion and courage. It takes commitment, dedication and practice. It can take a lifetime.

Did you know that the self help industry is a $13.2 billion business with average annual gains of 5.6%? Think about all the time and money we are spending to help people address the issues stemming from dysfunctional childhoods and a lack of knowledge about how our complex brains and bodies develop, integrate and regulate. What could we do with all that time and money if we didn’t create these problems in the first place? How might so many of our difficulties in life be reduced or even eliminated?

The bottom line is that we cannot teach what we ourselves do not know.

Ask anyone who has been doing their own personal growth work about how the quality of their life has changed, and they will share insights with you that are revelational. A familiar refrain is “I wish I had learned all this decades ago.”

Children are sponges for learning, so much of it occurring by example and osmosis — often mimicking the coping mechanisms and behavioral patterns of their parents. They will find a way to armor up to protect themselves when they are feeling vulnerable. They will learn how to make sense of their world with or without our help.

The real pivot point is recognizing that our kids can just as easily be taught these better life skills and tools. Dr. Dan Seigel makes it very clear in his book Whole Brain Parenting that “teaching” these skills to kids makes the lessons “stick”. It’s the integration between nervous system and brain that “pre-loads” them with the capacity to engage their upper brain as they get older, when emotions could potentially hijack them.

Proactively teaching our children has positive benefits that go both ways. As parents and grandparents, we get plenty of opportunities to hone our own emotional regulation and better life skills. Children will be witnessing how we are dealing with daily stress and the inevitable moments of emotional hijacking. We get consistent, diverse practice and our children get what we are teaching reinforced by watching us.

When we are using these better tools and skills to live within our core values and integrity, we build strong scaffolding for our children and grandchildren to do the same. They will gain confidence to ask for their needs to be met; it will be second nature for them. They will have a strong inner compass and be able to set boundaries for acceptable behavior with peers and even authority figures; they will have a well-honed sense of right and wrong. Within the safety net of their families, children will learn that we are all unique in our talents, gifts and emotional landscapes. They will come to respect and support differences in how others respond to unfolding events. Again, it will become second nature for them to “meet others where they are” and they will have a bulging toolkit of relationship resources to use for encouragement and empathy.

Think about the self-awareness and tools that we are teaching kids with the Whole Brain Parenting approach as the protection you want them to have when they are out in the world on their own. These are the “forever” life skills that are their helmets, seat belts, guardrails and values.

Parenting is hard work but maybe it has been harder than it has to because of the old parenting models we used. The lessons weren’t sticking. Author James Clear offers this insightful wisdom:

Goals are good for setting a direction but systems are best for making progress. We fall to the level of our systems. Our goal is our desired outcome. Our system is the collection of daily habits that get us there.

Remember that I shared my parenting goal was to get to calm as quickly as possible? I was focused on the immediate outcome. That old parenting approach was like playing whack-a-mole. When the lessons weren’t sticking, the game got old and I was exhausted.

Whole Brain Parenting gets the lessons to stick. I discovered that the “system” actually takes less time too. Each interaction, each intervention that begins with validation and provides integration “training wheels” becomes a much more productive and rewarding building block for parent and child…..or in my case, for grandparent and child.

Both parent and child not only “feel” more connected and in sync in these teaching moments, they both are literally making neural connections that are life-changing.

I’ve spent over seven years on committed personal growth work to unlearn all that I operated on from childhood that made my life more challenging than it needed to be. At long last, I have a life skills tool kit that serves me well and keeps me in alignment with who I really am. What I value the most these days is my calm consistency; my ability to recognize what I am feeling and honor it without letting it hijack how I want to respond to others. I will forever be a helper and a harmonizer – that’s my true nature. The difference is that I am showing up now with healthy skills and tools that support both me and those I love in much-improved ways.

Best of all, I am better resourced now to handle the hard times in life. We owe it to our kids to prepare them for those inevitable challenges. No one gets through life unscathed; there will be heartbreaks, losses, and adversities. We wouldn’t send our kids on a mountain hike without the gear they need to be prepared for any situation that might occur. We can cultivate their resilience, grit, resourceful and problem solving skills by teaching them how to breathe to calm a racing heart, how to disengage from racing thoughts to get to clear-minded rationale, to think through all potential options and choose wisely. We equip them with a mental checklist and a “system” that helps them meet these obstacles more skillfully.

One of the biggest mistakes we made in the past was ignoring how much our children need us to help them process grief. This may be one of the most pivotal changes that we can make. Grief is a very nuanced emotion that is woven into so many “every day” and “normal” life experiences. Grief is present when a cherished toy is broken, when our little souls are crushed by someone’s hurtful comments and we believe what they have said about us. Grief is present when a family has to move, when someone passes away, when we break up with a first girlfriend, or if there is a divorce. Watch the movie Inside Out to gain a deeper perspective on how children wrestle with competing emotions (including sadness and grief). Kids need us and our training wheels most during complex emotional events. We know how our emotions, and our sadness, can ebb and flow for weeks and months after life altering events. We need to be more attuned to our child’s inner emotional world during these long haul life experiences. Trauma can get lodged in us if we are unable to process it. You’d be surprised at the dramatic difference validation, normalizing, and empathy can make in these big moments.

Dr. Dacher Keltner is an emotions expert, and the Director of the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley, CA. He was a major consultant on the movie Inside Out. Dr. Keltner is a renowned resource for learning more about the important role our emotions play in the quality of our life – and especially how we can help our children understand and process complex and competing emotions.

The reason that I felt so “connected” to myself, to my grandson and to the whole brain parenting approach was that it felt so natural, so comforting and also empowering – for both of us. I was in alignment with my values and I was offering to this little emotional guy exactly what I would have loved to receive when I was a small child. He was not only receiving my comfort and support, he was taking it in and all on his own, he was able to gain emotional regulation. He quickly returned to what was bringing him joy in that moment — his beloved legos. I felt “connected” because we really were feeling what happens when we are seen, heard and valued.

Connection allows us to explore, innovate, trust, love, create and simply be. Connection gives us the power to be who we are and to enjoy the things that inspire us.” – Brene Brown

The Whole Brain Parenting approach is the transformational portal to this magical feeling of true connection. I felt it that day with my grandson in the most tangible way. The moment of clarity about the power of connection will be in my heart forever.


GREATER GOOD MAGAZINE ARTICLE: How the GGSC Helped Turn Pixar “Inside Out” (with Dr. Dacher Keltner) https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_ggsc_turned_pixar_inside_out


Present Day Me in my Hometown

Recently I was back in my hometown where I spent over a half century of my life. So much of my history is woven into the streets, the houses, the buildings and businesses of this now expansive community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I marveled as I drove through city and countryside recalling memories of the younger me. I surely must have had a dozen lives to have such a vast collection of experiences and metamorphoses.

It is cathartic to return to my hometown as a much different woman than I once was. I’ve shed the childhood armor that I carried far too long. I’m beginning to recall and recognize the courageous moments in my younger life where my true nature was pushing through all along.

Maybe that is the way that our growth spurts occur over our lifetime — little nudges pushing us out of our comfort zone and into evolving version of ourselves. Most of it is just the natural, organic process of maturing. Some of it occurs through change — unplanned and unwanted, and some of it through change we pursue.

I grew up in the heartland of Amish farm country — nutrient-rich soil, verdant green fields, seasonal harvests of the best local produce, warm summer sunshine and drenching nourishing downpours. The farms and gardens of Lancaster County represent what is possible with the right environment in which to grow and flourish. This metaphor is not lost on me as I reflect on all that I have learned through my personal growth journey. What insights can I share with younger generations to help them in cultivating a healthier, nurturing, supportive environment in which to reclaim their true nature and embrace their full potential?

We are all products of our environment at some level. The earlier in our adult lives that we claim agency about what that environment needs to be in order for us to be our best selves, the better equipped we will be to handle all that unfolds in our lives. Driving through my hometown, reflecting on my life from childhood through 50+ years, I saw things much differently than I did before my deep dive into personal growth. I could readily recognize the origins of behavioral patterns, insecurities and false narratives that made my life harder than it needed to be. At the same time, I found myself feeling an overarching sense of gratitude for all that I was able to accomplish in spite of those tethers. This awareness fuels my motivation to help others untangle themselves from the impediments that hold them back from living their best wholehearted life.

As I drove through Lancaster County, I was often accompanied by my brother or a longtime friend. We’d share our memories with each other as we took in the things that remained the same and those that had changed dramatically in our hometown. It was often in these stories that we would unravel some of our personal history. Our perspective has broadened over time. Our renewed appreciation for each other’s complex lived experiences deepened our empathy and our connection to each other. My brother touched my heart when he shared with me that he hadn’t truly realized just how quickly I needed to grow up, assuming adult responsibilities for our family much too soon.

Some attributes we honed as children served us well. Other attributes became stumbling blocks or major road blocks. It occurred to me that in many cases, we changed our physical environment by moving out of dysfunctional homes when we were 18, but we brought with us unconscious behavioral patterns and childhood baggage. Our emotional environment was still tethered to our past.

We entered marriages with fairy tale-like visions of what we anticipated, but completely unaware of how our family histories and unhealthy coping skills would tear at the seams of those dreams.

Is it any wonder then that well-worn unhealthy familial patterns get unknowingly passed from one generation to the next? This was especially true of my parents’ generation who preferred the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to hard truths.

Long and deep conversations with my friends revealed that many of us operated believing the limiting and false narratives that originated in our childhood. Those narratives became the voices of our inner critic telling us that we were not worthy, not lovable, not smart enough, or we were too much. Our childhood circumstances did not define us, but in many cases, we blindly accepted that others judged us as though it did.

My close circle of friends have worked hard to break free from unhealthy behavioral patterns that stunted personal growth and shrouded authenticity. People pleasing, shape shifting, conflict avoidance and stuffing emotions did not serve us well as we tried to build a network of genuine friends, foster our marriages, raise children or advance in our careers.

Through many of the conversations I was blessed to have on this extended visit, one thread that weaved its way through consistently was that none of our lives turned out exactly as we had planned or anticipated. We all had highs and lows. Yet we got through adversities, with our inner strength, with the support of family and friends, with love and hope. We rebuilt our lives — often.

I believe that this is also the natural, organic ebb and flow of life. As Dr. Bruce Perry says “none of us gets through life unscathed.” Dr. Perry teaches the value of having a relational web and how that web provides the scaffolding we all need to pull us through hard times and show us what is possible. Relational webs are those people who have our backs, who show up and sit with us in our darkest hours, who help us reframe things with a fresh perspective, who help us discover our inner strengths and who encourage our potential.

My friends and I talked a lot about the hard lessons we learned about the people who were in our lives that we wanted to be part of that web, but who often let us down, or made matters worse. Over time, we learned who we could trust. We began to be more discerning about the people in our inner circle. We learned the value of setting boundaries. We now recognize that this is a very important component of a healthy environment in which to grow, mature and flourish. We need to be surrounding ourselves with people who support us in positive ways. That old adage that you are most like the 5 people you spend the most time with is a sound guidepost.

The gold in my visit back to my hometown was in the warm embrace of all those connections I’d made over 50+ years with family and friends. We talk with ease about some of the hardest moments of our life and what we learned from them. I marvel at the strong women I have known most of my life who have overcome so many hurdles and big setbacks and how they are thriving today. They are incredible mothers and grandmothers. In many ways, we’ve become “advance scouts” for others who want to live life more authentically and with a lot less baggage.

I’m so encouraged about the future for our adult children and our grandchildren for one compelling reason. It is awareness. There is a growing awareness of how our childhood experiences, unprocessed trauma and mental wellness can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. There are so many fantastic resources available to us to support our healing and personal growth. And there are a lot of really awesome grandmothers and grandfathers who are doing their own work and in turn, shining a light on that path for their adult children and grandchildren.

Many young adults are hungry for deep conversations, for mentors and supporters who will listen without judgment to their trials and their dreams, for role models for navigating divorce, co-parenting and rebuilding life. I think of these young adults like the starfish on the beach. I envision my incredible friends making a difference in the lives of others in their families and in their communities by taking the time to hold space for the younger generation and to offer the supportive environment they need to heal and flourish.


This incredible book underscores the importance of being truly present for our children, and how repairing our relationships when we mess up contributes to resilience, trust and healthy emotional attachments.


Bestselling author, Harriet Lernerm focuses on the challenges and importance of being able to express one’s “authentic voice” in intimate relationships.

The key problem in relationships, particularly over time, is that people begin to lose their voice. Despite decades of assertiveness training and lots of good advice about communicating with clarity, timing and tact, women and men find that their greatest complaints in marriage and other intimate relationships are that they are not being heard or they cannot affect the other person, that fights go nowhere and that conflict brings only pain. Although an intimate, long term relationship offers the greatest possibilities for knowing the other person and being known, these relationships are also fertile ground for silence and frustration when it comes to articulating a true self. And yet, giving voice to this self is at the center of having both a relationship and a self. Much as she did in The Mother Dance, Harriet Lerner will approach this rich subject with tales from her personal life and clinical work, inspiring and teaching readers to speak their own truths to the most important people in their lives. (Harper Collins)