I have gained valuable experience and knowledge through my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I enjoy writing and sharing that knowledge.


Forgiveness is difficult. Why is so hard to forgive? Part of the reason is that it is hard to forget. Research demonstrates that we tend to remember events and experiences to which we have a strong emotional reaction, whether it be positive or negative. Simply put, we remember situations that are emotionally impactful, where our emotions are aroused.

BUT, we do have the power to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It takes energy, effort, and time, but it is possible. In fact, in many situations, forgiveness is the very thing that heals us from pain and helps us move on. We are not able to control others’ behavior, but we can control our own actions and reactions.

The first step is understanding and believing that forgiveness is even possible. The next step involves an intention to forgive. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Consider your own anger. It is difficult to make progress toward forgiveness if your level of anger is high. Take steps to address your anger. This could involve deep breathing, meditation, and other relaxations exercises, talking to a trusted friend, writing your feelings, or consulting a professional.
  2. Consider the other person’s situation. Cultivate empathy. While there may be no excuse for the other person’s behavior, understanding the other person’s situation may help in achieving your goal of forgiveness. As the saying goes, hurt (emotionally wounded) people hurt people. How has that person been hurt? Not necessarily by you, but how has that person been hurt?
  3. Keep in mind that it is truly in your best interest to forgive. So if you are finding it hard to forgive for the other person’s benefit, remember that it is truly for YOUR benefit. Holding on to anger and resentment takes a toll on your psychological and physical well-being.
  4. Forgiveness does not mean accepting or condoning the behavior that hurt you. It is simply making a decision to not let it continue to affect you.
  5. Put your mental and emotional energy toward reaching your goals in positive ways. Stop re-playing the hurt in your mind and replace it with positive ways of coping with the situation to achieve your desired outcome.
  6. Part of achieving your positive outcome is focusing on the positive around you. Make a conscious effort to look for compassion, kindness, love, and beauty in other people and your environment.
  7. Pay attention to your benefits of forgiveness. Notice and reductions in anger, stress, and anxiety. Celebrate the increases in positive mood as well as an increase in life satisfaction and fulfillment.

Now go back and take a look at all these steps and consider forgiving yourself. What is it about yourself from your past that you are having trouble letting go of, that steals your joy? It is time to give yourself the gift of forgiveness.

For a wearable reminder and support: The Forgiveness Bracelet



Mental Health Goal Setting for 2018

When setting goals for 2018, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Here are six simple ideas:

  1. Less technology and social media…. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work.  Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time.
  2. Be still. Sit in a comfy chair and just breathe for five or ten minutes. Clear your head of your thoughts, particularly negative thoughts and to-do lists. Bring your focus back to your breath. This may feel funny at first and take some practice, but stick with it. The benefits are less stress and anxiety, and less emotional reactivity. And when you’ve mastered just breathing and clearing your mind of your thoughts, practice visualizing what you would like for your day, what you would like for your life. Then envision yourself already having it. If you would like some guidance and convincing regarding this powerful exercise for every day living, read “Into the Magic Shop” by James Doty.
  3. Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study –
  4. Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person.  Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship and another article about ways of practicing gratitude
  5. More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health and overall well-being (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior).  Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners.
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support!  A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder.  But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice.  Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being.

Women’s Wellness Retreat 1/27/18

During this six hour relaxing retreat, you will rotate through three different workshops focusing on mind, body, and spirit wellness, presented by three experts in their fields, Denise Melito, Kathryn Higgins, and Peggy DeLong. There will be a social break for a nutritious lunch, provided by Ethos Health. There will also be vendors with products and/or services related to wellness. Please join us for this very special event!

Register at

Coping With Loss During the Holidays

The death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and emotionally painful experience of your life. Coping during the holidays is a particularly difficult time for dealing with loss. The following suggestions are made to hopefully alleviate some of that pain, to turn a painful experience into a healing experience, and to make the experience meaningful.

  • Allow yourself to be fully present with your emotions and sensations. Even though grief can feel terrible and overwhelming, it is a normal reaction to death, and a healthy part of the healing process. Allow the tears to flow when you feel like crying. During grief, we sometimes experience our loved one through our senses. This can be in the form of hearing our loved ones’ voice, or smelling our loved ones’ scent. Allow yourself to take it all in and be fully present in those moments. It may be helpful to be keep in mind that that pain will be there, and to simply allow yourself the time and space to experience it.
  • Express your feelings. This can be done by journaling your thoughts and feelings about your loved one. Reaching out to a trusted friend and connecting on an emotional level may also be very helpful. Talking to another person who is also grieving can help in share in the experience and help you to feel less alone. Seek professional help from a mental health professional. This can be a valuable opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings in an emotionally safe environment.
  • Keep in mind that it is natural to experience an increase in grief and emotional pain during the holidays and during anniversaries. You may have been feeling better and making progress in your grief path, only to experience a heightened sense of loss during the holidays. Do not let this alarm you and make you feel that you are regressing, that something is “wrong” with you, or that you are not grieving “properly”. This is a natural reaction and part of the grief process.
  • Take time out to nourish your soul. Do whatever brings you a sense of peace and you have found in the past to enhance your mental health. This could be taking time out to exercise, enjoy a craft, read, or meditate. The holiday season can get so busy that we find we do not have time to do what nourishes our souls when we need it the most.
  • Take on a favorite characteristic or action of your loved one. Did your loved one tell jokes or stories during gatherings? Cook or bake? Lead a prayer or recite a poem? You may find comfort in carrying on a favorite aspect of your loved one. If you decide to do so, you may also wish to practice this before the actual event.
  • Although this may be a time when you expect others to support and comfort you, you may find yourself in a position of needing to forgive others. An example may be to forgive the friend you see at a holiday party who has not called since your loved one’s death. Death brings up our strongest vulnerabilities and fears, and not everyone will be capable of dealing with your loss and their own feelings about it. Forgive, try not to take it personally, and spend time with someone who does provide comfort.
  • Allow yourself to experience joy. Remembering your loved one does not mean sacrificing joy when it comes naturally. Allow yourself to laugh. It is not a betrayal to your loved one to experience happiness and joy.


  • Planning is important:
    • Consider how you plan to obtain additional emotional support. If being alone is too painful, invite someone over, or accept an invitation that you might not normally accept.
    • Sometimes people need to be told that it is okay to mention your loved one’s name, or that you especially want them to mention your loved one’s name. Do not be afraid to let others know what you specifically want and need. People mean well, but sometimes need to be told how to respond to you and the loss. Out of fear of saying the “wrong” thing, people sometimes say nothing of your loss, and this can be painful. Let others know and give “permission” if you would like your loved one to be freely mentioned and remembered.
    • Consider how you plan to handle rituals. If you plan to keep a ritual, decide how your loved one’s role will be handled. The role may be shared among family and friends, assigned to a different person, or modified in some meaningful way.
    • Consider making new rituals. The purpose is to create the opportunity for meaningful remembering of the loved one, and to express and experience thoughts and feelings. The new ritual can also be an action, such as planting a tree, or a ceremony, or both. This can be done privately or with family and friends.
    • You may want to create a symbolic remembrance of your loved one. This can be your loved one’s favorite holiday decoration placed in a special location, a new holiday decoration to represent your loved one, an object that belonged to your loved one, favorite music playing, or a burning candle.
    • Consider whether there will be an empty chair. If your family ritual or gathering involved your loved one being seated at a particular chair around the table, you may wish to discuss with the others who will be present what to do with the empty chair. Seeing the empty chair can be a painful physical reminder of our loved one’s absence, and preparing for this can make the experience less painful.
    • Anticipate your limits and do not be afraid to let others know what they are. This may mean telling a host/hostess that you are not making your usual dish or dessert this year. This could also mean informing the host/hostess that you may need to make an early exit, that this exit could be sudden, and that it may need to be done without making your usual round of good-byes.

Remember that your experiences, emotions, and reactions are flowing and changing, just as life is flowing and changing. What might feel right to do this year may be different next year. You can make a mental note of what felt good and what did not feel good based on your individual needs, and this is likely to change year to year. Also keep in mind that it is impossible to do all of these suggestions. Pick and choose what resonates with you, as the grieving process is intensely personal. The pain you experience is in proportion to the love between you and your loved one. The difference is that the pain will diminish over time, yet the love will forever endure.

Helping Your Child Through Friendship Changes

As children get older, it is natural for friendships to change. Children develop socially at different rates, and interests and activities change.   Associated changes include who they spend time with, and who they prefer to be around. As a result, they experience the loss of friendships, and this can be painful whether your child is the one changing, or her best friend is changing. For children, this loss can feel profound because they can spend hours on end in person or communicating with a friend, and then be suddenly cut off. Also, children tend to think in extremes. They catastrophize, and they feel like whatever problem they are going through is forever, or that the intentions of one person extend to an entire social group. In addition, children often lack coping skills to deal with these difficult situations. They are learning, and it is these experiences that will help them later in life. However, their skills are still developing, and they need support.

Here are 12 suggestions for assisting your child through these transitions.

  1. Notice

Your child may not readily come to you with a problem with friendships. Sometimes children are reluctant to let their parents know when they are experiencing emotional pain. Other times, they have difficulty identifying the source and articulating the pain. Pay attention and notice any changes in your child’s mood or behavior, and make a point to “check in” and see how things are going with friends. If you are concerned about getting one-word answers, you may wish to make it more playful by putting questions onto slips of paper into a jar, and then pulling the questions out of the jar. And your child gets to ask you questions too!

2. Be available

Your child may not want to discuss an issue when you bring it up or “check-in”. He or she may wait until the most inopportune time to bring it up. This could be as you are speeding out the door to run some errands, at 11:00 when you are brushing your teeth at bedtime when your child wakes up after sleeping, or while you are in the middle of making dinner. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to listen to your child. Sometimes children pick these times to test our commitment. There will be times when it is simply not possible to stop what you are doing. In these instances, set aside a specific time that day to discuss your child’s concern, communicate that time to your child, and make sure to stick to it. Have your child write down the time on a piece of paper, and a short phrase or sentence that is on your child’s mind to help her start the conversation at a later time.

Being available also involves being proactive. It is important to find ways to stay connected to your tween/teen on a daily basis. Here are some creative and fun suggestions to accomplish that:

3. Listen

Sometimes children do not want a parent to solve a problem. They are simply looking for someone to listen, empathize, and communicate understanding. Resist the urge to solve the problem or provide suggestions, unless your child specifically asks for that. You can also communicate understanding by providing an example of a similar situation from your own life. Feeling understood, and feeling not alone can go a long way. Sometimes your child may simply want to feel understood and less lonely in their feelings, rather than a solution.

4. Help your child develop a variety of interests

Friendships often change as children’s interests and activities change. Your child may experience a loss of a friendship because she is no longer interested in cheerleading, yet her close friends remain on the team. Help your child to develop relationships in a variety of settings. This way, when your child experiences the loss of a friendship, he or she will have other people to spend time with and feel less alone. If the friend from a former activity is very important to your child outside of the activity, and the feeling is mutual, help your child to find opportunities to interact with that friend in person.

5. Help child understand that relationships change

Help your child to understand the natural flow of life, including the coming and going of people. The loss of a friend does not have to mean that there is something “wrong” with your child or the other child, or that it is anyone’s fault. Often it is simply a reflection of interests and convenience. It is natural to form closer relationships with those we spend more time with. Also, children often change as they develop, and this impacts the child’s relationships. Some may grow and change similarly with the child, fostering the continuation of the friendship, while others may change and become different in a way that does not help to maintain the friendship. While this loss may feel painful for your child, help your child to see it as a natural flow of life, and not that your child did anything wrong.

6. Understand that it hurts

The loss of a friendship is painful. Avoid minimizing the emotional impact on your child. Acknowledge the loss. While it is helpful to have other friends, communicate that this is not a replacement for the missed friendship. People simply do not replace people. Provide opportunities for your child to talk about what the loss of the friendship means to your child, and how your child feels.

7. Teach your child to be an includer

Unfortunately, tweens and teens can often feel purposefully excluded. Your child may not only be feeling the loss of a friendship, but may be feeling unliked, and also that the former friend is influencing others and excluding your child. As we cannot force people to include our children, this can be an opportunity to teach your child about inclusion. Sometimes it helps to provide the very thing that we are looking for to others. For example, if your child is seeking support from peers, he might feel better by providing support to a peer.

8. Remember that your child’s on-line life is important

Keep in mind that we cannot always see the loss of a friendship. More and more, children are feeling losses and feeling excluded through on-line behavior. Pay attention to your child’s facial expressions while looking at social media. Maybe your child saw photos of a friend’s party, yet he or she was not invited. In addition, children often make more hurtful comments on-line than they would say to someone in person. Make a point to check-in with your child regarding his or her friendship experience on-line. In addition, be mindful that excessive use of social media has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety. Here is an article regarding managing children’s use of technology and social media:

9. Resist temptation to speak badly of your child’s former friends

Your child is feeling hurt, and it is hard not to react with anger toward the former friend, especially if your child confides that the former friend has made hurtful comments. Keep in mind that your child may suddenly be friends with this person again. Friendships change, and children can be resilient and forgiving. You may then find yourself in an awkward situation if in your attempt to comfort your child, you insulted or spoke badly of the other child. Instead, listen to and support your child, and help your child find ways to remain cordial. If the former friend continues to make hurtful comments toward your child, help your child problem solve and role play what your child could say or do to help diffuse the conflict.

10. Teach your child about qualities of a good friendship

The loss of a friend can provide the opportunity for a valuable discussion about qualities of a good friendship. What did your child value about that friendship that he may wish to find in another friend? What made your child feel good when interacting with the former friend that he can look to experience in other current and future friendships? Sometimes the loss of a friend can be an experience for your child to reflect upon what he or she wants out of existing and future friendships.

11. Help your child enjoy being by herself

While friendships are important, it is also an important developmental task for your child to enjoy being by herself. This may be an excellent time for her to discover solitary interests and hobbies. Enjoying being by oneself is an experience that has life-long positive benefits.

12. Show love

Your child is likely feeling vulnerable, and this is a wonderful time to shower your child with love. This can be done through words, non-verbal communication, and/or physical touch in the absence of words. Here are some very simple ways to show your child love:

Remember that physical touch is powerful and can be very healing. When your child does not feel like talking or the words are simply not there, physical touch can be a wonderful way of connecting while also providing emotional support for your child. A hug can go a long way. Here are some silly and fun suggestions to incorporate hugs:


Ten Practical Suggestions for Parents to Assist Children Who are Attending a New School

Starting a new school can be both exciting, and a bit scary. Children are leaving behind the familiar, and entering new territory. While they may be developmentally ready and prepared with all necessary school supplies, it is not uncommon for children to experience uncertainty and anxiety. Here are some tips for parents in assisting their children with the transition.

  1. Whether your child is entering middle school or high school, it is likely that many of your child’s worries are social worries. Questions may be running through your child’s mind, such as “Who am I going to eat lunch with?” “Will I see any of my old friends?” “Will the other kids like me?” “What if I have nothing to say?” Help your child to identify and verbalize these concerns. Your child may also be comforted in knowing that other children have these same concerns. Also, if your child is feeling shy and/or does not feel that she has something to contribute to a conversation, remind her that a simple smile and eye contact go a long way. You could also encourage her to ask a question to demonstrate interest.
  2. If your child has academic concerns, try to avoid saying, “Do your best.” First of all, this is a vague statement, and the ambiguity may leave your child feeling uncertain, wondering exactly what his “best” is. In addition, if he feels that he has done his “best”, but the outcome is less than desired, he may feel an intense sense of failure and hopelessness that his “best” is not good enough, and then project into the future that he will never be good enough because it was his “best”. A more helpful strategy is to identify specific tasks that can help your child achieve a goal. For example, your child can study a spelling list until all words are spelled correctly.
  3. Help your child to anticipate changes. School transitions are filled with changes. Your child will likely experiences changes such as different friends, increased responsibilities, and new interests. While this is positive and part of growth, your child may feel some uneasiness, especially if many changes are happening all at once. Your child is more likely to be accepting of these changes if he has an understanding that these changes are natural and healthy, even if they feel uncomfortable at times. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with him about these issues.
  4. Resist the temptation to solve your child’s problems. It is natural to want to help your child out when she encounters problems at school, whether they be social or academic. It may seem like it is not a big deal to solve a small problem your child is having, but it is these very problems that are small that are the practice for the bigger problems. Solving small problems for your child deprives him of the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and to gain confidence from success. Instead of stepping in and solving the problem for your child, be a sounding board for your child. Talk about possible solutions and outcomes, and then encourage your child to take the necessary steps. (Of course step in if a problem becomes too big for your child to handle on his own).
  5. Identify a trusted adult in the school setting. This could be a special teacher, guidance counselor, or administrator. Help your child to identify who this person is, and how to access this person during the school day.
  6. Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential to proper functioning, including academic, emotional, and social functioning. Limit screen time before bed, and keep electronics out of your child’s bedroom. Studies show that when devices are left in bedrooms, children check them in the middle of the night if they wake up, and this affects both quality and quantity of sleep. Most children need more sleep than they are getting.
  7. Show confidence. Remember the quote by Peggy O’Mara – “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Your child is more likely to believe in herself when you show that you believe in her, and when you use words that support that. Here is a link to some encouraging words to use with children.
  8. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Help your child anticipate what is needed for the next day, and complete as much as possible in the evening for a smoother morning. Encourage your child to pick out her outfit the night before, make sure she knows where her shoes are, and have lunch ready. Get up earlier than you think is necessary. Your child will have a much smoother start of the school day when the morning is not rushed and chaotic.
  9. Positive affirmations. Studies demonstrate that positive affirmations help improve mood, increase confidence, and achieve goals. Keep affirmations written down on pieces of paper in your child’s bedroom. Keep affirmations in the present tense, not something that your child wants to achieve in the future. For example, instead of “I will make friends”, the affirmation should be “I make friends easily.” Positive affirmations are so important because they help children maintain positive thoughts and create a positive belief system, which serves as the foundation for their lives (adults too)! Here is a link to positive affirmations for teens and one for younger children
  10. Love. Show love. Talk love. In any way you can, show love for your child. Surprise your child with a special note. Sneak a love note in your child’s lunch or school folder. Or leave it on your child’s pillow. Yep, even for your teenager. Especially your teenager. Here is a link to some simple things to do today and every day to show love for your child.

Helping Children Cope with Acts of Violence and Acts of Terrorism

Many children have heard about and/or viewed images of acts of violence and acts of terrorism.  Here are some suggestions regarding addressing your child’s needs and questions.

  1. Consider your child’s developmental level. Children have their own individual responses to images they may see on television or accounts of terrorism that they may hear based on their age and developmental level. Preschoolers may be the most disturbed by violent sights and sounds because they do not have the cognitive ability to fully distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy. In addition, they may become easily overwhelmed by exposure because they are not able to stop their distressing thoughts. Even older children may have difficulty understanding that a single event that is rebroadcast is not happening over and over. In addition, even when violence has occurred hundreds of miles away, children of all ages may feel as though the violence is close to home. Their concerns are, “Am I safe?”  “Is my family safe?” For all of these reasons, it would be wise to limit and closely monitor what your child is exposed to via the media.
  2. Consider your child’s temperament. A sensitive child, or a child who is more prone to anxiety is more prone to experience distress. These children may be more likely to experience nightmares, have difficulty concentrating, and have concerns about the safety of loved ones and themselves. It is important to limit exposure to the media. Also monitor your child’s distress. If your child demonstrates a change in eating and sleep habits, demonstrates excessive worries, suffers from nightmares, and/or loses interest in formerly enjoyable activities, your child may benefit from professional help.
  3. Reassure your child’s sense of safety. Some experts believe that it is OK to make promises that you may not be able to keep, such as “Nothing is going to happen to our family”. That may not always be the best approach, especially if you do not feel comfortable making such a promise. In that case, your child will pick up your cues of discomfort and receive mixed messages leading to confusion. You may feel more comfortable saying that leaders are doing all they can to keep us safe, and you are doing everything to keep your child and family safe.
  4. Talk to children about their fears. Some parents may think that bringing up the subjects of violence and terrorism and asking children what they think and feel may heighten their fears, when having children keep their thoughts and fears to themselves is actually more detrimental. It is helpful for parents to begin the conversation. Parents may begin by simply asking children what they have seen or heard on the TV or radio, and what they think about it. However, it is important not to pressure a child who is not ready to speak about it. The problem will not be resolved in one session. Keep open the lines of communication for ongoing dialogue. Remember that it is important to listen to whatever your child has to say. Provide opportunities for discussion, such as returning home from school or at the dinner table. Do not dismiss or try to minimize any expressed fear or anxiety. Simply listen to your child, communicate that you understand, and provide comfort.
  5. Stick to routines, or create new ones if you do not have a routine. This is helpful around mealtimes, bedtimes, activities, etc. Routines and knowing what to expect help provide children with a sense of security and familiarity, especially during times of stress.
  6. Monitor what your child views through the media. Young children may actually think that the attacks are happening again, and this can re-traumatize older children. Even if you think that your child is too young to comprehend words and images from TV, your child can pick up on your emotional reaction and be affected. You are better off to watching the news while your child is not around to hear or see it.
  7. Provide physical comfort and extra nurturance. Hugs, saying “I love you”, or an unexpected note in the lunch box can help a child to feel safe and cared for. Even teenagers, who may shrug your attempts of affection, need to be comforted.
  8. Be mindful of possible stress reactions. This includes regressing to previous behaviors, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting. Do not bring much attention or embarrass your child regarding these regressions. Also, address any misperceptions that you may see in your child’s play or conversations.
  9. Be prepared to answer questions. Prepare an answer to what your child might ask you so that you are better equipped to respond. You may want to consult with your partner and other important people in your child’s life for consistency in responding. These may include questions about death, why bad things happened, will anything happen to them or someone they love, etc.
  10. If possible, avoid major changes, major decision making, and separation from important caregivers during this time.
  11. Engage in an act of kindness. While we cannot take away the pain and suffering of others affected by the violence and/or terrorism, doing something positive to help others can alleviate some of the feelings of sorrow and helplessness.
  12. Incorporate soothing and relaxing activities into your child’s schedule. This may include exercise such as biking or walking together, or quiet times such as listening to music, coloring, and reading books together.Remember that adults are affected emotionally as well by acts of violence and terrorism in the world, and we may experience a heightened concern about the safety of our family and our loved ones. The better you are able to take care of your own needs and feelings, the better you will be able to meet the needs of your child. Take care of yourself. 

Some Simple Advice for Tweens and Teens

I have had the privilege of counseling tweens and teens for 20 years. The tween and teen years are filled with ups and downs and hormonal changes. Within a day, or even an hour, you can experience fluctuating excitement and dread, confidence and self-doubt, and anxiety and wonder, all while trying to find your way. Keeping a few ideas in mind can help you not only survive, but THRIVE through these years. Here are 12 simple ideas.

  1. Take your time

When someone asks you how old you are, how often do you start with, “I am going to be…”? It is natural for kids to look in to the future and wonder what is next, or to watch older siblings go through milestones with excitement. But when you are constantly focused on the future, you miss out on what you are going through RIGHT NOW. Yes, certain privileges come with age, and you WILL get there. But what you cannot do is go back in time. So focus your energy instead on enjoying right where you are.


2. Chin up, shoulders back, and smile

The way you carry yourself can really have an impact on how you feel. Smile when you don’t feel like smiling. I’m not suggesting ignoring or suppressing your feelings. I’m just suggesting that smiling gets more of a positive reaction out of others when you might be feeling crummy and need it most. So if you’re having a bad day or just feeling sad, instead of walking with your head down, try lifting your chin up, and smiling at others. A simple smile back from a friend may make you feel better, and be just the shift you need to have a better day.


3. Maintain a sense of humor

Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect with people. Try to remember that the situations and moments that are embarrassing and feel terribly awkward today will be the very moments you look back on and laugh at.


4. Remember that you are not alone

Part of why children can feel terrible is because they feel like they are the only one feeling a certain way. The only one who has self-doubt. The only one who did not do well on a test. The only one not invited to a party. The only one who does not have it all together. Remember that everyone has doubts and insecurities, but kids simply do not want to share their insecurities with others and make themselves vulnerable. Trust that you are NOT alone in your struggles. Truly believing this can make you feel less alone.


5. Popularity does not translate to success or happiness

If your goal is to be popular, this can lead to not being true to yourself. When you are consumed by the pressure to be liked, this guides your decisions and actions, rather than being true to yourself. This can easily lead to unhappiness. When popularity is the goal, you can miss out on wonderful things. You may miss out on meeting new and different people and developing your own interests. In addition, you may get yourself into risky situations and make impulsive decisions in order to go with the crowd in an attempt to be liked.


6. Instead of having a goal to be popular, have a goal of being your best self

Resist conformity. Reflect on your former passions. Is there anything that you love that you gave up in order to conform? Being yourself will attract the right people into your life. Remember that it is your individuality that makes you unique and interesting.


7. No one is “better” than you, and don’t let anyone make you think differently!

You have probably heard this before, and there is a reason why the adults in your life tell you this! It’s because it’s true! Some kids feel badly about themselves and find that the only way to make themselves feel better is to put others down. So they make fun of what you are wearing. They may say you’re not good at something that they know means a lot to you. You do something well, and they say they can do it better. Typically, the children who try to put you down are the children who feel most insecure. Remember that children who feel good about themselves simply do not need to put others down. Do not let others who insult you make you feel that they are better than you.


8. Be mindful of your use of social media.

Did you know that scientists have discovered that increased use of social media and technology is associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety? That the use of social media and technology is affecting your brain??? These are good reasons to be mindful of the amount of time that you spend using technology. And when you do use social media, try not to react to what you see. Remember that people are less polite and more aggressive on-line than they are in person. Remember that there is no privacy with technology. You may think you are sending a private text or message, but anyone can take a screenshot and forward to others. Remember that nothing is private, and everything lasts. Avoid dealing with conflict on-line, either publicly or privately, and instead talk to someone on the phone or in person. If you see something on-line that is upsetting to you, resist responding. Don’t just take time to “cool off”, but rather make it your personal rule not to engage in any negativity on-line. Nothing good comes out of it, period.


9. Be around people who make you feel good

Remember that the company you keep has an impact on the situations you find yourself in. Kids often do not engage in risky behavior alone, but they try to get someone to do it with them! So if you find that spending time with a particular person leaves you feeling uneasy or uncomfortable, listen to your gut – it is trying to tell you something! Remember that good friends make you feel good, just by being with them. Pay attention to how you feel during and after spending time with someone.

But the reality is, you cannot always control who you are around, but you can control who you let affect you. Develop a strong filter. Ignore feedback from those who do not have your best interest in mind, or who want to bring you down. Imagine those words being blown away on a cloud and gone for good! At the same time, be open to accepting constructive criticism from those whose opinions you value and respect. Sometimes the people who care the most might have something to say in your best interest that you do not want to hear. Most of all, remember the saying, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” – a quote by Peggy O’Mara. This is true whether the words come from a parent or a peer. So keep it constructive so that the voice in your head helps you to remain confident, positive, and true to yourself.


10. Resist the pressure to have your life all figured out

It is acceptable and normal not to know what you want to do. And when you think you know, it changes, and that is OK too! Sometimes you have to try things out in order to figure things out, and sometimes figuring things out means that something is NOT for you. Do not compare yourself to someone you think has life all figured out, as that person’s path may change, and that is OK too! Remember that this is a time of exploration and discovery, and that even adults change their paths.


11. Be careful not to base too much of your identity as being part of a group

Yes, it feels good to be part of a group. Everyone longs to belong to something. However, group membership can change without notice or warning. One powerful person can influence a group, even if unfair and unwarranted, and out you go! Being cut from a team or having an injury can change group status overnight. While it feels good to be part of something and “belong”, be mindful not to make this the basis of your identity or your self-worth.


12. Always have a trusted adult you can turn to.

This is a time of undiscovered territory and unanswered questions. At times, this can feel scary! While it is great to receive support from peers, your friends do not always have the answers, may be just as scared as you, and sometimes can unwittingly guide you in the wrong direction based on false information. It is important to identify a trusted adult you can turn to. Ideally this would be a parent, but if not a parent, identify someone else you can turn to. Adults know more than your peers, have more wisdom and factual knowledge, keep your secrets, love you and care for you, and you do not need to worry about your “status” or impressing them. Turning to an adult when needed can help prevent a temporary problem from becoming an issue with long-term consequences.

Helping Children Cope With Relational Aggression


What is relational aggression?

Relational aggression can take several forms. Here are a few of some of the most common.

Insults and put-downs. This could be blatant insults in front of others, such as making fun of someone’s appearance. This can also be more subtle, so that if the victim reacts, the perpetrator says that he/she was “just joking”, or says, “You can’t take a joke”, or “You’re being too sensitive.”

Gossiping. Talking about a person behind his/her back is a form of relational aggression. It does not matter if the information is true or false. If it is negative information, it is hurtful, and it is aggression. This can be so damaging because children typically care a great deal what their peers think of them.

Being left out. It is not reasonable, expected, or even healthy to be invited to everything.

But relational aggression involves the kind of exclusion that is deliberate, planned, and meant to hurt. An example would be a girl having a gathering of friends over, and then whispering about it in front of a girl who would have expected to be included but was not, or talking afterwards about how fun it was in front of her. With social media, this is taken to another level through posts of photos of gatherings with friends. This can also be a subtle glance of “you’re not welcome at this table” in the school cafeteria.

Being ignored. Everyone wants to matter, to be heard. Boys and girls who engage in relational aggression capitalize on this, and hit where it hurts. An example might be blatantly talking over someone at the lunch table. Once again, unfortunately social media provides a method to ignore. A girl may tag everyone in a photo except the girl she intends to hurt. A girl may also decide to suddenly stop talking to someone and give them the “silent treatment”, not responding to a text, a Snap Chat streak, or an Instgram direct message. This leaves the girl wondering what she did to cause the other person to be upset and ignore her, when the reality is that she has done nothing wrong.

What is going on with “frenemy” behavior or relational aggression is emotionally painful and harmful. In fact, if done by a parent to a child, it would be labeled “psychological maltreatment” and be considered abuse. Relational aggression is a form of emotional assault.

Relational aggression has very little to do with a friendship, by the true definition of a friendship. Relational aggression, or “frenemy” behavior has more to do with power and control, and trying to earn social status through power. Unfortunately, that power is often achieved through exclusion and knocking others down. What is disturbing is that even “nice” children do not have the courage or confidence to speak up. In addition, they witness the ostracism and pain that it causes and will do almost anything to avoid feeling that, and they attempt to please or “win over” the perpetrator. This is also particularly difficult for children because it is unpredictable and baseless. A child can be excluded simply because the ring leader decided it’s that person’s turn. The memory of the emotional pain of feeling excluded or made fun of, or witnessing someone be excluded or made fun of leads to fear of becoming the next victim. And it is this fear that perpetuates the awful “mean” behavior.


The trouble with social aggression.

Social aggression can be so troublesome for kids because when they call out others behavior, there are often negative consequences. Kids are then told that they are being too sensitive, or that they are exaggerating. The perpetrator then knows that it is bothering the teen and may then cruelly do it even more. And the victim does not speak up because nothing was done about it in the past, and it only led to negative social consequences for the victim.

Social aggression is also troublesome because it is hidden. The perpetrator becomes skilled at concealing the behavior from adults. This can happen right under the watchful eye of adults because it can be so subtle.

It is also troublesome because it is difficult to prove someone’s malicious intention. For example, a perpetrator may try to make a teen feel badly by being excluded and not “tagging” the person in a photo where everyone else is tagged. When confronted, the perpetrator can say that he or she simply “forgot” to tag the person, and there is no way of proving that the omission was intentional. A perpetrator may also post an unflattering picture of a teen on social media, and then when confronted, give the impression of being kind by stating that he or she actually thought that it was a flattering picture of the person.


How parents can help.

Parents can help by speaking with a guidance counselor, student assistance counselor, or mental health professional within the school setting. This can be done proactively, or when a student, teacher, or parent points out what is occurring within a group. The goal is to discuss what is happening and the strong negative impact that it has on the victim. The facilitator can set the tone, making it “uncool” behavior to engage in, and “cool” to step in and call someone out when it is occurring. One tricky part is to make sure that the tables are not turned. In others words, the goal is not to shame the perpetrators or turn the tables on them so that they become the victims. The goal is simply to make the behavior stop so that there are no more victims.

Parents can also help address relational aggression by teaching accountability and responsibility. If you suspect that your own child is engaging in this behavior, make a point to discuss it with your child, without shaming. Talk with your child about the negative emotional impact that this has on others. Also encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings and why he/she would engage in this behavior. Were his/her feelings hurt by someone and this is a form of retaliation? How has he/she felt when excluded? What is motivating his/her behavior? Insecurity? Retaliation? Poor coping skills? Attempt to uncover why he/she would behave this way, and help him/her to find healthy alternatives. For example, if your child is behaving this way because he/she feels insecure and/or excluded herself and is attempting to gain social status and power, encourage your child to pick a friend he/she feels close to, and facilitate a social outing with that friend. Then encourage them NOT to post their get together on social media.

Parents can also help address relational aggression by developing empathy. A parent can point it out when he/she sees it on television or in real life. Ask your child, “How do you think that child felt when he/she was excluded?” “Have you ever found out about a party that you were not invited to, and how did you feel?” “What do you think can be done to stop mean behavior?” “Have you ever felt compelled to behave badly due to your own hurt feelings?”

Monitor your child’s on-line behavior. This includes not just your child’s posts, but his/her friends’ posts. I work with several teens and tweens in my private practice, and I have the privilege of hearing about their emotional wounds. I am finding that more and more, children are hurt emotionally about what is being posted on social media, in addition to what is happening in real life. Children are using social media more than ever as a form of relational aggression, and often this is what is causing significant emotional pain, rather than what is happening in real life. One way that I have seen and heard about is for a girl/boy to post a random photo on Instagram, and then in the comments, complain about being mistreated by someone without naming that person. The poster then receives support from her “followers”, often calling the other person names and making severe insults, because they do not even know who they are writing about. They think they are simply supporting their friend, that they are innocent, and that it is harmless to say such cruel things because the person they are writing about is not named. They do not think about the harm being done simply because the person is not named. On the other hand, if another girl knows who the post is about, and she has an issue with that girl as well, she may say even more cruel things. Most often, the person being written about knows that it is him/her, and this is extremely emotionally damaging to see a “friend” write something terrible about him/her, but then all of the other “friends” write about how horrible he/she is, sometimes even with foul language and threats of physical harm. And even if he/she does not know for sure that the vague post is about him/her, it can lead to anxiety and wondering that may be so intense as to interfere with daily functioning. It is therefore important to not only monitor and ask your child about his/her posts, but to talk with your child about any of his/her friends’ posts that you find troubling or stirring up drama.

Parents can also protect their children by enforcing device-free zones, and device-free times. Children simply need a break from friendships at times. These days with their devices, they do not get a break. Notifications are constantly streaming in from Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook,, and group texts. Teenagers’ brains are at a developmental stage such that they are lured into wanting more and more, making it difficult for them to set limits themselves and stick to them. And brain studies have demonstrated that it actually becomes an addiction, as it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. They simply need parents to set limits for them.

Parents are also a powerful influence in combating relational aggression by being a role model. Be mindful of being a positive role model for the wonderful aspects of a healthy friendship. If you are going out to dinner with girlfriends, mention to your daughter how great it is that the dinner conversation does not include any gossip. Talk about how you love spending time with this group of women because they do not put others down, so you know they are not putting you down when you are not with them. Talk with your son about how great it feels to have the confidence to speak up for someone who is being mistreated, and how important it is to build people up rather than knocking them down.

Probably the most difficult part of helping your child to address relationship aggression is to teach him/her ways of stepping in when he/she witnesses it. The most difficult way is to be an “upstander”. This is difficult, because then he/she risks retaliation from the perpetrator and being left out herself. If your child is bothered by watching a perpetrator repeatedly single someone out, you could help your child by providing him/her with words to use, and then role playing the intervention. We would think that the more people that are watching someone being mistreated, the more likely for someone to step up and intervene. Unfortunately, this is not the case. What happens instead is the “bystander effect”. The presence of others actually decreases the likelihood that someone will step in and help the victim. One reason that this happens is called “diffusion of responsibility”, or believing/hoping someone else will intervene. Teach your child about the bystander effect, as he/she may then feel more personally responsible and be more likely to intervene.

A way that parents can help their children combat social aggression when they do not feel strong enough to be an “upstander” is to be a supporter. If your child witnesses unfair or cruel treatment, he/she can make a positive impact on the victim by being a supporter. One simple way to support the victim is to make eye contact while the act is occurring, with a look of concern. This sends the message to the victim, “I see you, you are not alone, I care about you.” Then encourage your child to make a point to talk to the victim to follow up on that support.

Unfortunately, relational aggression is likely a part of the life of a teen/tween. The more that you keep an open dialogue with your child about it, the more likely he/she will be able to address it, choose friends who do not engage in it, not engage in it himself/herself, and have the preparation, courage, and sense of responsibility to intervene when your child sees it happening.