How To Plan For Your Next Parenting Chapter

How To Plan For Your Next Parenting Chapter

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Modern Parenting is all about transitioning from one chapter to the next. As much as you might want to, you just can’t stop change.

There are some common chapters that all parents experience at one point or another:

  • The transition of going from parenting babies to toddlers, then toddlers to big kids, then big kids to teenagers, etc.
  • The kids are now dating chapter
  • The kids are now driving chapter
  • The empty nest chapter.

Then there are some transitions or chapters that not all families experience, but can be disruptive to the family:

  • Divorce and or re-marriage
  • Employment changes (i.e. new jobs, loss of job, going from part time to full time)
  • Moving from one home to another (maybe even to a whole new state or country!)
  • Illness or death of a loved one.

Family transitions happen whether we like them or not, and the more we can plan for these transitions to happen before they get here, the better off we will be.

I recently had a huge family transition occur – my youngest child went off to college and I became an empty nester. You can read all about that event HERE. I started planning for this new chapter of my life three years before my daughter, Belle, actually went away for college – and I’m so happy that I did.

Because of this planning, I’m feeling like this chapter of my life is just as meaningful as the previous chapter that was spent raising wonderful humans. 

I did not go through a period of re-discovering who I was (as is common for new empty nester parents). I put effort into this during my planning stage, so I was all ready to dive head-first into the friendships, interests, and career that I spent time envisioning during my planning stage.

YOU can have better family transitions too with a little planning. This post today is all about how to plan for the next big stage in your life – whether it’s a common transition such as the empty nest stage or the new driver stage; however, planning for the disruptive life transitions is just as important.

Read on to find out how to feel confident in your next stage of parenting.


Identify Where You Are Now and Where You Might Go Next

It’s super important to know exactly where you are now, and where you might go next. For example, if your oldest child is in middle school now, then you know that high school is next. That is your next big transition. 

It’s best to always have in mind one to three possible transitions coming up.

Now that you know your next possible transition, what do you want that transition to look like? How do you want to feel during that parenting chapter?


Once during a training I attended, the instructor reminded us that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Be intentional about where you want to lead your family – and how you want to grow as a parent and as an individual  in the next stage; otherwise, might end up on a whole other path.

Let me use my recent transition into empty nesthood as an example. I have two kids who are three years apart in age. My son’s transition into college was the trigger that got me to thinking about my next stage. When I dropped him off at college, it made me think that in three years when my daughter was scheduled to go off to college, I would have a lot of time on my hands. 

Here are some of the questions I asked myself:

  • What did I need to be happy when I wasn’t consumed with parenting 24/7?
  • How did I need to bring meaning into my life?
  • Who did I want to be a part of my life, and why?
  • What interests did I want to make time for in my next chapter?


These questions allowed me to start having a vision of my next chapter.


Keep In Mind Your Passions, Values, and Beliefs

I’m a broken record about knowing your personal passions, values, and beliefs and aligning all of your parenting and personal decisions with these important guidelines.

Don’t know your personal passions, values, and beliefs? Download the workbook that I created that will help you uncover them now.

Using your passions, values, and beliefs as a guide in making your parenting and personal decisions gives you the confidence you’ll need to tackle that next stage of life.

For example, one of my passions is Modern Parenting. By asking myself the questions mentioned in the previous section and using my passions, values, and beliefs as a guide, I determined that I needed to have a career that I not only enjoyed, but allowed me to work on my Modern Parenting projects. 

Another example is that one of my values is connecting with good people. I also knew that I wanted to feel connected to family and peers that made a positive impact in my life. Unfortunately, by working on this exercise, I came to the realization that I had let many of my friendships go over the years because I simply didn’t have the time or energy left over after parenting my kids to maintain good relationships with many of my family and friends. 

Over the three years that I planned my empty nest next chapter, this is exactly how I used my passions, values, and beliefs as a guide in determining how I should prioritize my planning.


Design the Big Picture

Research tells us that the hardest part of any project is starting it!

Before you get overwhelmed and give up on your project of planning your next transition or chapter, simply give yourself permission to just design a rough outline of the important things that will need to be accomplished before the next stage gets here.

Don’t get tempted to look at the details yet. Just design the big picture.

So, using my empty nest example, I knew that career, family/friends, and Modern Parenting needed to be prioritized in the planning of my next chapter. 

As I considered my empty nest life, I roughly envisioned myself going to a job that paid me enough where I didn’t have to worry about my bills and would also allow me to financially help with my kids’ educations. This job made me feel good about myself because I was helping people as a child psychologist and making a difference in people’s lives. Most importantly, this job would either allow me to work on Modern Parenting full time, or leave me enough time to work on it outside of work. Finally, I also saw myself spending time with family and friends.

Once the overall picture felt right, I moved on to planning the details.


Now Plan The Details

Once you have the big picture nailed down, begin planning the details.

What steps do you need to take to accomplish the goals included in the big picture?

What tasks need to be completed before the start of the next chapter?

Who is involved in your next chapter? How do you need to prepare them? What conversations need to be completed?

Take as much time as you need to plan the details. However, once planning is done, then execute on your plan.

Again, let me give you a glimpse into my planning process for my empty nest stage. As stated above, I wanted to have close connections with positive family and friends in my empty nest chapter. Because I had not kept up with a lot of my family and friends over the past several years, I knew I had some work to do to get this area where I wanted it to be by the time my daughter moved to college.

Slowly and intentionally, I began to make it a priority to re-establish relationships with certain family and friends. Instead of waiting for people to ask me to lunch, I asked them. I texted people encouraging words when I knew they were feeling down or when I knew they had an important event happen. And I gave myself permission (and this was a hard one for me) to balance having a social life with also being a mom.


I can report that by making that effort to reestablish old relationships and encourage new ones over the last year or so, I now have the social life that I envisioned three years ago. I’m so happy that I put in this effort!


When To Start Planning?

You know the old saying about the oak tree, right?

When is the best time to plant an oak tree?

The best time to plant an oak tree is 20 years ago – the second best time to plant an oak tree is TODAY!

The best thing you can do for yourself is to start planning your next transition or stage today. 

Thinking of transitioning from a parent who works part time to one that works full time? Start planning now in order to ensure a smooth transition on your kids and to feel confident in yourself.

Will your oldest child begin high school in 2 years? Start thinking about which high school is best for your child. Do they need to be taking certain classes in middle school to apply for a certain track in high school? What extracurriculars will they need?

You can never begin planning too early – but if you fail to plan then you plan to fail (I know! Cliched, right? But still true!!).

You can do this – I believe in you! 🙂



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Family Transitions and Taking Breaks

Family Transitions and Taking Breaks

Recently, my Modern Family went through a major transition.

My youngest child moved away to college!

Wow! I can’t believe that I’m an empty nester now.


It’s just me, the chihuahua, and the cat roaming around the house all by ourselves now. While the quiet feels strange, I’m also excited – excited to watch my kids pursue their adult dreams and excited to begin my next chapter in life, too.


I had heard horror stories about how the empty nest transition can be a hard one on Modern Parents (especially single parents), so about three years ago,I began planning to make my empty nest chapter a positive and exciting one. I’m glad I did, too, because I definitely feel ready for this next chapter in my life. 


There’s a lot I have to share about my experience with planning for the empty nest stage, so I’m going to share all those thoughts in next week’s blog post


However, in today’s post, I want to share how my Modern Family came together to make my daughter’s college move a special one, and why it was important that I took a break from blogging over the summer in order to be fully present for this important time in my daughter’s life.

I hope that by sharing my experiences, you will 1) feel more confident in developing creative ways to make your family events special no matter what your family looks like, or what unique challenges your family might face, and 2) to give yourself guilt-free permission to take breaks from some responsibilities to focus on your family.


How My Modern Family Handled This Transition

As many of my readers know, I co-parent my son and daughter with my ex-husband and his new husband. We are a mixed orientation family – one parent is straight while the other parent is gay. You can read more about my family here. We’ve been parenting pretty successfully this way (admittedly, with several ups and downs) for the past 11 years.


Jeff (my ex-husband), Keith (Jeff’s husband), and I are not only co-parents, but friends, so this makes co-parenting fun and easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get together because we live about 90 miles away from each other and as the kids got older, they had their own busy lives that didn’t always include wanting to hang out with parents. But overall, we try to make sure that we are planning get togethers semi-regularly.


We also make an effort to ensure that our kids feel special and loved during important life events such as graduations, birthdays, holidays, etc. so coming together to move our daughter to college was pretty natural for us.


As is typical for most Modern Families, sometimes special occasions conflict with work responsibilities and social events, so we had to be creative with fitting in everyone’s goals during this trip. Belle was scheduled to move into her dorm at the University of California Santa Cruz on Friday, September 13th. Unfortunately, I had already committed to speaking at the Diversity in Parenting Conference that same Friday and Jeff and Keith usually attend “Out at The Mountain” at Magic Mountain each year and it fell on the 13th as well this year.


The way we chose to solve this problem was to ask Belle to contact her school to get permission to move in on Saturday the 14th (gotta learn these life skills at some point, right?) and, thankfully, they allowed her to move in a day late. On Friday, I stayed overnight at the conference in Anaheim and Belle attended the event at Magic Mountain with her Dads where they stayed the night at a hotel close to the park. Early Saturday morning, I drove to their hotel, and then we all loaded into the Dads’ SUV and we drove the 5 hours to Santa Cruz together.


We had a fun, but emotional weekend together experiencing moving our last kid into college. Experiencing special moments with each individual kid is always uniquely different. Although I had experience moving my son to college three year earlier, he only moved to Los Angeles which is only an hour away from me. I didn’t expect that I would feel so emotional leaving my daughter in Santa Cruz – she feels so much farther away from me than my son! 



Keith, Me, Belle, Jeff                                              Belle & I Saying Goodbye


Even though driving away from Santa Cruz was hard, my heart feels so happy and proud when I speak to my daughter on the phone each day and she is loving her on-campus job, meeting lots of new friends, and enjoying her classes. This is a great new chapter for her!


All in all, this Modern Family event was a success for us, but it was also VERY exhausting.


Which is why I chose to take a break over the summer from everything except for seeing patients in my private practice  – and this allowed me to soak in all of those last moments of being a full time mom.



Why I Decided To Take a Break From Blogging This Summer


I’ve talked about the benefit of taking a break from optional commitments in order to focus on family before. Sometimes we need to “circle the wagons” around our families in order to provide the support our family needs to overcome a certain event. 


The origin of the expression “circling the wagons” came about in the 1800’s and refers to settlers arranging their wagons in a large circle, protecting women, children, farm animals, and valuables on the inside of the circle from an enemy. 


Modern families, at times, need to “circle the wagons” against the modern enemy of overcommitment, unhealthy relationships, and/or ineffective bad habits in order to provide the support that families require to remain loving, warm, and close. 


This summer definitely called for circling the wagons around my family.


What was my purpose for doing this, and how did I make it happen?


My purpose for “circling the wagons” this summer – or taking a break from unnecessary activities or commitments – was to:


  • Provide emotional support for my daughter when she got nervous about moving to college. 
  • Communicate to my daughter that she was loved and that she mattered to me
  • Soak in all of the “little things” like laughing over the antics of our cat, hearing her complain about having nothing to wear, or even making dinner together – these things won’t happen on a daily basis for me anymore.

I knew I could have dinner or lunch with friends anytime. I could write blog posts and post on social media another day. I could turn down speaking engagements over the summer because there would be many more in the fall and winter. 


This was a unique time in my daughter’s life and I wanted to be there all I could.



In order to make this happen, I relied upon my assistant to ensure that I only scheduled patients in the afternoons and early evenings (it’s hard for me to say no to my patients!). This allowed me to have slow mornings to hang out with Belle. We also cooked together each night and watched a show or two together.



When friends would suggest lunch or dinner dates, I let them know that I was going to be out of the loop of a while to focus on family. All of my friends understood and supported my decision. 


Even after the move to Santa Cruz, I still needed a few weeks to recover from all the emotions and busyness of the past month. Taking this time to myself was great for my own mental health, and now I feel fully recharged.



Great Things To Come


So now my “next chapter” is here – and I’ve got some really BIG plans for Modern Parents. 

You’ll see some new ways to learn about Modern Parenting and I’m working on providing new opportunities to engage more voices in conversations about current Modern Parenting topics.


I can’t wait to introduce these new projects to you, so keep an eye out for announcements over the next few months. The best way to keep up on all of the changes is to sign up for my mailing list and to like me on Facebook. I would love to keep in contact with you!



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How I Became A Modern Parenting Expert

How I Became A Modern Parenting Expert

NOTE: I’m in the middle of writing my Modern Parenting book, where I share my personal experience with the events that happened to make me a Modern Parenting Expert. While writing the intro to the book, I realized that I haven’t really shared my experience on the blog in a while. Now that my kids are older, I especially like to share my story so that Modern Families of all types can find inspiration in the fact that both traditional AND non-traditional families can raise great kids while finding fulfillment and enjoyment in their parenting. 

I became a Modern Parenting Expert out of necessity when my husband of 14 years came out to me as a gay man and I found myself suddenly raising a young son and a daughter within the context of a non-traditional family. There weren’t any parenting experts out there who could advise me on how to raise great kids in a non-traditional family. Pretty much all of the current experts were very traditional-family oriented, which isn’t a bad thing in general, but that wouldn’t work for me. And it wouldn’t work for millions of other non-traditional families either. So I had to become my own Modern Parenting Expert for the good of my family.

This all happened back in the early 2000s, when having a LGBTQ parent was still considered to be controversial. This was before Caitlyn Jenner, before the hit tv show Modern Family, and before many states changed their laws to include gay marriage. Back then, being a good parent meant being married to your children’s father and raising the kids together under one household. It didn’t mean being divorced or, worse yet, having to explain to young kids why their father is different from all of their friend’s fathers.

While my relationship with Jeff, my ex-husband, was long and spanned many years and many chapters in both of our lives, his coming out and our subsequent divorce happened pretty fast. To give you context, let me start at the beginning. Jeff and I had the quintessential boy next door/girl next door relationship. We grew up in a small town in Southern California and attended a small Christian private school starting in preschool and going all the way until 12th grade – we literally grew up tougher. As an example of how enmeshed our lives were from such as early age, to this day  when Jeff’s parents show old family videotapes, I often pop up in the background as one of many young kids running around their yard attending one of the many elementary school pool parties or birthday parties that they hosted over the years. If Jeff and I weren’t in the same class each year, we at least saw each other on the playground every day and had the same, small circle of friends.

We started to become super close when my childhood best friend left our private school for the local public school at the beginning of 8th grade. I was lost. Who did I hang out with, joke around with, and share my most intimate thoughts with now? It seemed so natural that Jeff became my new best friend, and he remained in this role all through junior high and high school. We finally started dating during our Senior year and became even closer in a new, romantic way. We remained dating our freshman year of college despite the fact that we went to different Southern California colleges, but this distance caused us to miss each there terribly and we got engaged by the end of the year. By our sophomore year, I had transferred to Jeff’s college and we married that summer.

I look back on our marriage warmly. I think Jeff does too. After college, Jeff went on to law school and I worked full time to support us. Even though we were often broke, these were fun years together. We had our first child, a son, in our 4th year of marriage and our daughter 3 years later. In case you’re wondering, our marriage seemed normal to me. Comfortable, even. I loved the security and the warmth that our marriage provided. People ask me all the time whether or not I knew deep down that Jeff was gay. No. I really didn’t. Maybe it was my small-town, protected childhood, but I didn’t even think the scenario that my husband might be secretly gay even existed. When I thought of gay people, it was of nameless people I didn’t know living in San Francisco or Palm Springs. I didn’t even know anyone who was gay at the time (or so I thought) and I believed that gay people wouldn’t even want to get married to someone of the opposite sex, so the fact that my husband could be gay never in a million years entered my mind.

It wasn’t until our 13th year of marriage that things started to change. By this time, Jeff had graduated from law school and had been working at a prominent Southern California law firm for about 7 years. After staying at home with the kids for the past 7 years, I just started graduate school to become a psychologist. Jeff was on the partner track at his law firm and he was being scrutinized for partner material pretty intensely at this point, which was very stressful. Many of Jeff’s clients were cities and other public entities, and this forced him to attend city council meetings and other similar meetings late into the night. Initially, these late night meetings occurred about once per week; now they were happening several times each week. He also started going to the gym a lot and staying there for up to 4 hours at a time. He just was suddenly never home.

Things had become strained between us. What was once such an easy and mutually supportive relationship, now had become distant, secretive, and poisoned. As you can probably imagine, I started to suspect that Jeff was having an affair – but with a woman, not a man. Maybe it was my very protective upbringing (remember I went to a teeny tiny Christian school with basically the same 30 kids my whole life) but I didn’t even think to consider the possibility that my husband might be gay.

But gay he was, and he finally admitted this to me. I was devastated, and I know it was hard on Jeff too. Even though Jeff and I have had many conversations about his coming out over the past decade, I still don’t pretend to fully know exactly what he went through on his difficult and emotional path to accepting his true self, and I want to be considerate of that. This is just an experience that I will never have to go through, so I don’t want to misrepresent what he went through.

But I will tell you that I was scared out of my mind about what this meant to me and our 2 kids. Would I be able to support myself? Would my kids find it hard to fit in with other kids, or, worse yet, would they be the objects of ridicule by their peers? Would they develop the stereotypical behavioral problems so many people blame on divorce? Will they be able to be emotionally close to their Dad? And more personally what did this mean about me that I didn’t see this coming?

I was scared out of my mind that this was the start of a whole new and scary chapter for me and the kids – and that’s where I decided to purposefully to do everything in my power to figure out a way to ensure that my kids felt normal, that we would all stay close as a family (including Jeff), and that we would create a family that supported all of our hopes and dreams for the future. I decided that I wasn’t going to rely on the world to come around and make this happen, or to hope that someone would do all this for me, but I knew I had the power to make this happen for my family if I put in the required effort and devotion.

Some people say that it was lucky that I was going through graduate school to become a psychologist at the time, and I will admit that my classes and training experiences provided me with an unexpected support system and a healthy way of looking at my new situation. I intended on specializing in child psychology when I first applied to graduate school, but now my focus became somewhat personal too. I searched out training experiences that would put me into contact with all different kinds of families in order to become an expert at understanding and helping kids and families with whatever modern challenges stood in their way.

* * *

So, Jeff and I were divorced almost exactly 9 months after we made the decision to divorce. Remember how I said everything moved fast? I didn’t even know what to tell people about our divorce at first. Initially, I just told people that Jeff and I had broken up and let them draw their own conclusions. Most people assumed it’s because Jeff had outgrown his stay-at-home, uninteresting high school sweetheart and found a younger and prettier model. I let them think this for the first couple of years because I felt like the alternative might mean that my kids would suddenly become outcasts or that Jeff might lose his high-profile job. I just couldn’t imagine that anyone would understand; I had never heard of this situation happening to anyone that I knew before.

But the funny part is that as I slowly felt more comfortable opening up to people (mostly people that I was close to) over the next couple of years, I began to hear stories of this same scenario happening to people I knew – or people that they knew – and I didn’t feel so alone. Over time, I became emboldened and I began to see that I set the tone of how people treated me: if I acted confident and secure about my little non-traditional family, then others treated me in kind, but if I adopted the persona of a victim, then that’s how I was treated. Again, it was a good lesson that I set the tone for my family, so I began to have an attitude that people could take us or leave us, but we would be fine either way.

Over time, I became more confident about letting people know about my Modern Family. I always let the parents of my kids’ friends know that while Jeff and I were divorced, we were still really good friends and he was at our house a lot. Oh, and that he now identified as gay. I wanted to be fair to others and let them decide whether or not to allow their kids to be friends with my kids or to let their kids come over to my house. I wanted to be respectful of the points of view of other families, but not one family ever had a problem with it.

I think the reason was because even though we were a non-traditional family, we functioned a lot like a traditional family. It was obvious that all four of us were close to each other. Jeff and I were friends (I’ve always felt that Jeff was my biggest supporter while I was in graduate school), and the kids knew that Jeff and I would attend all their school events together without any kind of weird awkwardness.

People began to look at my family as an example of good parenting. Even though we were a divorced, mixed-orientation family (a term for when one parent is gay and the other parent is straight), we had smart kids who did well in school, they were well adjusted and fun to be around, and our family did fun and interesting things together because we enjoyed each other’s company. The parents from my kid’s school began asking my advice a lot. How did I get my kids to be such good readers? What were my guidelines about video games, television viewing, social media use? How was I able to balance work and family? I kind of became this small town guru for practical parenting advice – no matter what the family looked like because the advice was pretty much the same for every family type.

In 2014 I even began this blog that initially was meant to help other mixed-orientation and non-traditional families, but as my kids got older and did not want their personal lives on the internet, it became less about my own family and more about general Modern Parenting advice. I started to see that all kinds of families needed guidance on topics that the current parenting experts just did not touch on. Topics such video games, social media, self-esteem, academic pressure, and mental health problems among others needed to be addressed not only by someone with a mental health background, but by someone with lived experience with tackling Modern Parenting topics.

Flash forward to today and my kids are practically grown up. My son is 2) years old now and is finishing up his studies at USC in the pre-law program where he hopes to become a lawyer just like his dad. He is a great young adult who still loves nerd things like Star Wars (he and I always attend Star Wars Celebration as a mother/son trip every year) and is involved in many activities on campus with his friends. As I write this manuscript, my daughter is a few weeks away from turning 18 and about to graduate from high school. Her Dad has been taking her on weekend trips all over California and Oregon to look at colleges. She’ll be making a decision on where she’ll go to college very soon. She is a sweet, kind, and smart young lady who volunteered at our local medical center in the summers and started her own feminist club at school. Jeff has been married to his husband, Keith, now for about a year and while this changed the dynamic of our little Modern Family a bit, we all still remain close as a family.

All in all, my little Modern Family made it. And this means the world to me. If my family can weather the storm of modern parent challenges, then I know yours can too.



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How To Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of Failure

How To Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of Failure

We want our kids to confidently take part in activities that bring them joy and make them an interesting person, but some kids get so paralyzed by the fear of failure that they avoid participating in activities that could bring them happiness.

Lately, I’ve seen too many kids in my private practice that are avoiding life because they are so afraid of the feeling of failure. Luckily, I’ve had some pretty good success with a technique that I call the Stepping Stone Method.

By using the Stepping Stone Method, kids are able to develop their Mastery skills, which is an important element of the Self-Motivation Success Formula that I believe produces happy and successful kids.

Before I give you the step-by-step plan on how to use The Stepping Stone Method, I think you should understand how Mastery Mindset is related to the fear of failure.


The Connection Between a Mastery Mindset and Fear of Failure


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that Mastery is one of the key principles to The Self-Motivation Success Formula and that I promote parenting that encourages a mastery mindset.

As a review, Mastery is the drive to participate in an activity – and to improve the performance in this task – simply because we enjoy performing the activity. Kids who have a mastery mindset persevere longer when the task gets difficult, need less outside encouragement from parents to engage in the activity, and derive much more intrinsic rewards from the task.

Kids with a Mastery Mindset aren’t as affected by failure as kids without a Mastery Mindset because they generally view mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. These kids believe that the goal of participating in an activity is to improve on their skills in this activity over time.

It’s important for kids to learn a mastery mindset now because this mindset will help them be happier and more successful as adults. Kids with a mastery mindset mature into adults who seek out careers, hobbies, and relationships for the intrinsic value – and not for baseless, showy reasons.

I’ve pointed out before how important it is for your child to participate in a hobby because it leads to so many great things such as higher self-esteem and increased social interactions, but if your child refuses to participate in a hobby (or any other activity) because they fear failing, then what do you do?

That’s where the Stepping Stone Technique comes in.


The Stepping Stone Technique


The Stepping Stone technique will teach your child not only how to develop mastery in a task, but also how to tolerate failure.

The philosophy of the Stepping Stone Technique is that any kind of mastery is a process that includes multiple steps – and some of these steps just can’t be skipped. Kids who have a fear of failure tend to focus only on the imagined BIG OUTCOME of the task and not on current step – or very next step.

For example, I had a client several years ago who refused to participate in any kind of activity where she wasn’t absolutely sure it would result in a success for her.

If she didn’t think she would win the spelling bee, she would purposefully mess up on her first try.

If she didn’t think she would be as good as the other kids in a dance class, she would refuse to even enter the dance studio building.

And despite having a natural talent for singing, she put up a huge fuss when her parents talked to her about  joining the Church youth choir because she envisioned that the whole Church body would make fun of her for her terrible voice (which was untrue – she had a wonderful voice).

Then I taught this client’s parents the Stepping Stone Method and they put it to use right away. Because their daughter had a natural talent and enjoyment for singing, they encouraged her (ok – they bribed her with allowing her to use the family car on the weekends) to consistently attend choirs practice and to participate in all choir performances for the next 3 months.

And after the 3 months, this client was able to overcome her fear of failure. Not only did she thoroughly enjoy singing in the youth choir, but she also became more courageous about trying other activities and tasks as well.

So how did this client have such a huge transformation in such a short amount of time? Let me take you step by step through The Stepping Stone Method.


The Steps:

(Step 1) Start Small. I’ve seen all too many times that when parents start to work with their kids on changing their behavior, they want to begin big, but in reality, it’s best to start small. So, when beginning The Stepping Stone Method, choose one small thing you would like your child to try and focus ONLY on that.

(BONUS TIP: This step works especially well when the activity or task you want them to try is something that they already have an interest in or they are naturally talented at it.)

In the case of the example from above, my client’s parents chose to focus on encouraging my client to join the youth choir because she had a natural interest in singing and had a natural talent for it.

Scientific research tells us that long-term behavior change is more likely to happen when we start small and experience a quick win. Experiencing a quick win allows the child to begin filling their confidence tank, which allows them to have the confidence to try the next scary thing.


(Step 2) Focus Only on The Current Step. Like I mentioned before, many kids with a fear of failure often focus on the ultimate goal – being the winner or the best at the activity – and this paralyzes them from participating in the activity in the current moment.

When this happens, encourage your child to only focus only on completing the current step to the best of their ability.

In the example from above, my teenage client started having an anxiety attack right as her mother reminded her that it was time to go to the first practice. My client told her mother that everyone would laugh at her when she performed with the choir in church and that they would say bad things about her behind her back.

Because I had prepared my client’s mom for this, she stayed calm while her daughter spoke about her anxiety, she didn’t judge her daughter or shame her for feeling these things, and gently reminded her that all she had to do today was to get in the car, get to the Church, and go into the choir room and participate with her friends.

This worked, and my client was still nervous on the way to the Church, but she was able to get through the whole hour of practice successfully.

When my client’s mother asked her how practice went, she replied, “It wasn’t bad like I thought it would be. It was fun.”

My client’s mother repeated this strategy for the next several choir practices and for the next several performances. After about a month, my client didn’t need this encouragement from her mother anymore because she had experienced a month of small wins and she was able to gain enough confidence and experience to know that participating in the youth choir was actually a fun activity.


(Step 3) Focus Only On Intrinsic Rewards, Not on Extrinsic Ones. It super important when using The Stepping Stone Method that you reinforce the intrinsic rewards gained from completing this current step, rather than the extrinsic rewards.

Just as a reminder, intrinsic rewards are those rewards we get that speaks to our inner happiness. The enjoyment we get when working on a task, the pride we get from completing it, or the happiness that our work brings to others are good examples of intrinsic rewards.

Scientific research tells us that people who are successful and happy tend to be driven by internal rewards. People who are internally driven to perform tasks also score higher on scales of perseverance and creativity.

On the other hand, extrinsic rewards are those tangible rewards that we get after performing a task. Examples of extrinsic rewards are earning a paycheck or allowance or getting a bribe for doing a household chore.

Reminding your child of the intrinsic rewards for overcoming a fearful task sets them up for overcoming this fear for other tasks as well. This worked well with the teenage client from our example. When my client’s mother picked my client up after each choir practice, she simply stated to her daughter, “You did it – you must feel great!”

She didn’t say, “See? I told her it wasn’t so bad,” or “I knew you would have fun,” or “I don’t know why you put up such a fuss when it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

I had coached my client’s mother to simply reflect how my client might feel after completing a successful task on her long journey of being a youth choir member. I also reminded her not to be offended if her daughter denied it – just hearing this statement spoken very calmly was very healing for the daughter.


(Step 4) Make Failures/Mistakes a Non-Issue. Kids who fear failure need to reframe how they think about failure. Instead of thinking that failure is a final statement of their abilities or worth as a person, they need to understand that mistakes or failures are just learning opportunities.

I’ve written in the past about how teaching our kids to take smart risks that include learning from failures sets them up for a successful future. If you think about it, every successful person has experienced failures, mistakes, or set, but they did not let these negative events stop them from pursuing their task. Perseverance in spite of failures is what defines successful people.

In order for this step to really make a difference for your child, though, you need to come to terms with how YOU feel about mistakes and failures:

  • Does it embarrass you when your child messes up?
  • Do you feel like your parenting is being judged when your child makes mistakes?
  • Do you unfairly believe that your child’s mistakes are due to their permanent personalities (and cannot be changed)?

If you are as uncomfortable by your child’s mistakes/failures as they are, then you might be unknowingly contributing to their belief that mistakes/failures are horrible experiences that cannot be overcome.  


(Step 5) Turn Negative Self-Talk Into Positive Statements. Finally, the last step is equipping your child with the ability on how to turn negative self-talk into positive encouragements.

It’s natural that we sometimes have some negative self-talk, but the faster we can turn that negative self-talk around, the more likely we are to persevere through tough times.

This worked well for my client on the path to participating on her youth choir. When my client spoke about some of her negative self-talk, her mother helped her see the situation in a more positive light. For example, when my client told her mother that the Church members would say bad things about her behind her back about her singing, her mother reminded her that they might say something nice about her like, “I didn’t know CLIENT could sing so well,” or “I’m so glad to see CLIENT with the other kids singing.”

This is definitely a skill that many kids with low self-esteem or fear of failure need to master. For more on learning how to help your child turn negative thoughts into positive ones, check out this previous article.

If you teach this skill to your child now while they are young, then they will be able to tackle any challenge when they are adults.


Take Home Message


I’ve seen way too many kids stop participating i life simply because they are afraid to fail. It hurts my heart every time I talk to a child with this challenge, but I have seen so many kids enjoy life again once they have learned to take scary tasks one step at a time.

My client who started out tackling their fear by participating in the youth choir is in college and is able to start new tasks and be part of new experiences all on her own. It took some work by her parents and some therapy from me, but she was finally able to take on her own confidence about life.

Once she gained confidence from being in the youth choir, she was able to utilize her stronger “courage muscle” by trying new experiences – and then gaining even more confidence after experiencing even more successes. When she failed, or a situation didn’t go as planned, she now had the skill to realize that these were learning experiences, and she was able to turn her negative thoughts into positive ones.

It might not happen overnight, but your child can have this same transformation too by using The Stepping Stone Technique.

Before leaving today, be sure to download the worksheet about how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. By going through this exercise on this worksheet, you’ll be better able to help your child in the moment when they need some positive thinking!




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How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Teen So That You Get Your Point Across And Create a Close Parent-Child Bond

How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Teen So That You Get Your Point Across And Create a Close Parent-Child Bond

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In my experience, one of the trickiest skills for a parent to develop is the skill of communicating an important message to their child while still maintaining a positive parent-child relationship.

Think about it: How many times have you had a difficult conversation with your child and one – or both of you – ends the conversation with their feelings hurt?

Or maybe the difficult conversation ended with yelling, name-calling, or hurtful judgements.

Worse yet, many of the important conversations we must have with our kids involves a lot of emotions. When this happens, it’s very difficult for the child to really HEAR what we want to get across to them. When our kids feel attacked, judged, and/or not liked, it’s as if they turn off the listening parts of the brain and hyper focus their energy on arguing the opposite side of what we’re trying to get across to them.

The point of this article is to explain where most parents fail at having difficult conversations with their teenagers. Psychological science has identified several key communication techniques that many well-meaning Modern Parents use, but don’t work. Want to know what DOES work? Later in this article, I’ll teach you several effective strategies to use when having difficult conversations with you teenager that actually serve to make your teenager listen to you AND build a close parent-child bond.

But before you implement any new communication techniques, you’ll first need to be able to identify what make a conversation critical – and what mistakes most parents are making that contribute to miscommunication, hurt feelings, and/or a damaged parent-child relationship.


Retreating vs. Competing


So what are critical conversations? These occur when a parent and child have a conversation where lots of emotions are involved.

The following are examples of common parent-child critical conversations:

  • Talking about why your child got a bad grade
  • Discussing why you don’t want your daughter to go out with her boyfriend past 10:00pm
  • Listening to your son tell you that they don’t think the other kids like him at school
  • Confronting your child about the cigarettes you found in their car.

Sometimes conversations can start out as a normal, non-emotional conversation and quickly turn into a critical conversation. You know this is happening when all of a sudden you feel dread, anger, nervousness, and/or annoyance about continuing the conversation.

Most parents react in one of two ways when confronted with a parent-child critical conversation: they either retreat or compete. I’ll admit that when I must have a critical conversation with one of my kids, my gut reaction is to retreat – to avoid having the conversation altogether.

Retreating solves the immediate problem, right? It gets the parent out of the uncomfortableness of having the conversation – but it’s not effective in the long run. Avoiding critical conversations on a regular basis only serves to ignore a family problem and degrades the closeness of the parent-child relationship.

On the other hand, competing is just as ineffective. Instead of retreating, some parents tackle the critical conversation head on by focusing on “winning” the conversation. When this happens, intense emotions cause both parent and teen to stop listening to the other person, and what needs to be communicated never gets across.

Instead of retreating or competing, the smart thing to do is to have the difficult conversation using strategies that help us gain the courage to have the conversation while keeping the emotional level low so that both parties don’t instinctively feel like they have to defend themselves.

When we focus on defending our point of view then we don’t leave much cognitive ability to listen to the other person.

But before the Modern Parent can begin using effective critical communication strategies, they need to set up an environment that decreases the teen’s instinctive need to defend themselves and increases their ability to see their parent’s point of view.


How Parents Set Themselves Up For Conversation Failure


In order to have a constructive conversation with a teenager, we must set up a safe environment for them. When they feel safe, then they are more likely to see the parent’s point of view – they won’t feel the instinctive need to defend their own point of view.

So where are most parent going wrong?

The fight or flight process automatically handicaps clear thinking. When teens enter into critical conversations with parents, their biology automatically switches on the fight or flight mechanism.

When humans experience danger or stress, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear – this is the fight or flight response. During this time, our hearts beat faster, our breathing speeds up, and our bodies release adrenaline.

Our bodies act this way when we feel physically threatened AND when we feel emotionally threatened – like during a difficult conversation.

It makes sense, then, that when our bodies snap into fight or flight mode, we prepare to defend ourselves. This defense can take the form of a physical defense or an emotional one, but during both forms of defense, our ability to critically and intellectually listen to our opponent becomes compromised.

Think of it this way: during fight or flight, our bodies shift energy from cognitive tasks to protective ones. Thus, listening to someone else, empathizing with them, and having the ability to compromise with them is super hard during critical conversations because our bodies are working against us.

Critical Conversations tend to be spontaneous. Kids have great timing, right?

When you have time to have a nice long conversation with your child, they seem to not be in the talking mood. But when ARE they ready to open up and talk? That’s right – when you’re tired, stressed from work, in the middle of a household project, or any other inconvenient time.

Because critical conversations tend to happen during unplanned and inconvenient moments, we sometimes don’t handle the conversations as well as could have if we were totally prepared for the topic beforehand.

We can’t stop these unplanned conversations from happening, but we can develop a system to reacting to them in a way that provides the guidance that your child needs and builds a strong parent-child bond.

We create an Ineffective Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Are you familiar with the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s the horrible psychological principle that says we tend to either directly or indirectly make a situation happen simply by believing that it can happen.

For example, if a parent believes that their child is lazy and does not like to study, this belief about their child will then CAUSE their child to shy away from studying.

This is done directly when the parent doesn’t promote a consistent after school study routine because they believe that it’s too much trouble and a waste of time.

The parent indirectly makes this belief come true by transferring this belief to their child. Kids tend to believe the descriptions they hear about themselves – especially descriptions they hear from their parents. As such, kids will often conform to the negative beliefs that their parents have about them.

How does this relate to difficult conversations with our teens? We inadvertently create self-fulfilling prophecies during emotional conversations by letting our words, body language, and/or our attitudes express our beliefs about our child.

As we’ve previously discussed, there are some really good reasons why we don’t react in the best way during difficult conversations, and we can say things, act without thinking, and/or have an attitude that doesn’t help guide our child or build a good relationship with them when this happens.

So, if there are so many reasons why difficult conversations with our teens can go wrong, what can we do?

Now that you know some of the “traps” that many well-meaning parents fall into when having difficult conversations with their teens, it’s time to transition to learning the techniques that do work.


The Techniques That Provide The Guidance That Your Child Needs & Builds a Positive Parent-Child Bond


As discussed above, you can’t always control when difficult conversations happen with your teenager, but you can control how you react to them.

Having a plan in place is the first step to ensuring that difficult conversations with your teen changes from something that you dread to times that are meaningful to both you and your teen.

In order to make this change happen, you need to make the four commitments described below.

Commit to having difficult conversations with your child. Remember above when we discussed the three options for reacting to a difficult conversation? One typical reaction that many of us choose is to avoid having the conversation altogether.

Going forward, you have to resolve having these conversations with your teen. It might be tempting to avoid the conversation or to give in to what your child wants in order to end the conversation, but this won’t get you want.

When you see that a difficult conversation is about to happen, take a deep breath and remember why this is important: you want to be the guiding force for your child and you want to create a positive and warm bond with your child.

Commit to moving out of fight or flight. So we discussed above how our biology can trick us into being poor listeners and even worse thinkers.

Now that you have resolved not to run from the conversation, the next step is to identify how your body acts to fight or flight and then resolve to actively take steps to return to your norma functioning.

During difficult conversations, take notice of your body: do you start to breath rapidly? Does your heart beat out of your chest? Do you ball up your hands or tense up?

Once you identify how your body reacts to fight or flight, take steps to calm down in the moment. Take long, slow breaths. Remind yourself that your child is not the enemy. If you are worrying about the work you should be doing, or the dinner you should be cooking, or you have a disagreement with your co-worker on your brain, try to push these thoughts out of your mind right now and focus on your child.

Tell yourself that this moment will not last forever, and that YOU can positively influence your child once you are out of fight or flight mode.

Commit to ending negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Get honest with yourself and think introspectively about any judgements you have about your child or yourself.

This step is all about committing to believing in your child and yourself. Your child might have behaved a certain way in the past, but it doesn’t have to define them.

The same can be said for you, too. Perhaps in the past you behaved in a way that you are not proud of. You CAN change. Believe that you can and this self-fulfilling prophecy will come true.

Commit to ending negative self-fulfilling prophecies – and begin using positive ones.

The self-fulfilling prophecy principle has been proven over and over again to work, so you might as well use it to your advantage!

Take the following steps to create positive self-fulfilling prophecies:

  • What are some of your knee-jerk judgements you’ve made about your child or family in the past (i.e. your child is lazy, your family doesn’t care, etc.)?
  • After identifying your usual judgements, now identify what the OPPOSITE judgement would be (i.e. judging a child to be lazy would turn into believing that the child has potential if she just puts forth enough effort).
  • Once you’ve created positive self-fulfilling prophecies, begin to behave in a way that communicates this prophecy to your child or family both verbally and nonverbally.

That’s it. That’s all it takes to make this psychological principle work in your favor. It may feel strange at first – but don’t give up on it! I’ll bet that you’ll see progress in a very short period of time.

Commit to using your new communication plan – no matter what! The biggest factor in making your new communication plan a success is to use it consistently.

New systems always take awhile to feel comfortable and successful. Don’t give up if:

  • You accidentally revert back to the way you used to communicate – learn from your mistakes instead of giving up on your new plan
  • It feels “weird” using the new plan – it will feel more comfortable soon
  • Your child or family thinks you seem “fake” – your willingness to consistently make an effort to improve the communication between you will eventually change their minds
  • It seems like it’s taking a long time to work – success doesn’t happen overnight, and better communication with your teen is worth putting in the effort on this.


Take Home Message


As Modern Parents, we all want a close and loving relationship with our teenagers. Many parents and teens over a long period of time have slipped into an ineffective communication pattern that slowly tore apart what once was a good parent-child relationship.

By using scientific studies to our advantage, we now know specific strategies that help to strengthen the parent-child bond through effective communication.

We can’t avoid having difficult conversation with our teenagers, but we can resolve to have these conversations with the dual goals of providing the guidance that our child needs AND to build a solid parent-child bond.



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The Modern Parenting Blueprint: The 3 Elements That All Successful Modern Parents Use Religiously