Inspiring Words

Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in 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.

Secret to Happiness

My father knew the secret to happiness

Oh, how he used to embarrass me! He talked to EVERYONE!

My father intuitively knew that the secret to happiness was human connection.  He talked to STRANGERS wherever he went.

Have you noticed a change in your sense of connection with others? Have you found machines where you used to enjoy interacting with humans? Do you get sucked in to social media with the goal of feeling connected, only to feel disconnected?

Well, you are not alone.

Studies demonstrate that people are experiencing more loneliness than ever. In fact, TWICE as much as compared to the 1980s. Social media plays a role in higher rates of loneliness and disconnection, but there are other societal factors as well.

We are social beings. We NEED human connection. Studies demonstrate that feeling connected to others is an important factor in happiness.  As technology gets more and more advanced, humans are being replaced by machines. A simple example is the check-out counter at the grocery store.

Before, while waiting on line at the grocery store, you may have made “small talk” with the person in front of you or behind you. Then maybe you made “small talk” with the cashier, talking about the weather. And it really is not “small” talk. In fact, it is quite significant talk. It all adds up during the day, making us feel part of a community. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but we are losing our sense of community.

Studies demonstrate that the best emotional benefit related to happiness comes from good ol’ fashioned face-to-face contact with another human being.  And yes, even strangers!

Ask anyone if she thinks what will bring her more happiness – 1) keeping to herself while commuting on a train or bus or waiting on a line, OR 2) engaging in conversation with a complete stranger.

Most people will say that they expect more happiness if they keep to themselves.  However, the opposite is true!

One study found that train commuters who were encouraged to engage in conversation with strangers reported more happiness than commuters who kept to themselves.

The problem is, our behavior is guided by our expectations.  So when we expect that we will be happier if we stick to ourselves, that is exactly what we do. Stick to ourselves!

I’m challenging you to go against your expectations. Talk to a stranger!

Here’s what you can do for more connection: 

  1. Look people in the eye.

I don’t mean look people in the eye in a creepy way. I’ve just noticed that people don’t really LOOK at each other anymore. We’re busy multi-tasking, looking at our phones, being distracted by to-do lists. This lack of connection is leading to a feeling of budding emptiness, or for some, full-blown emptiness and profound loneliness. So look your child or partner in the eye when he or she is talking to you, and look the Shop Rite cashier in the eye when he or she asks you how you are doing. 

  1. Make a plan to get together in person with someone

Studies have shown that nothing can replace in-person meetings. Talking on the phone may help you feel connected, texting/email/social media may help you feel connected, but do not let this replace in-person meetings. Call a friend for coffee or a walk, and get together! 

  1. Put away the distractions

It is not enough simply to make eye contact. In order to be fully engaged with someone, you need to eliminate or minimize distractions. If your child is wanting to tell you a story about school and you are on the computer, don’t just look at your child, but close the computer screen. Turn the phone off. Look your child in the eye and communicate that you are fully present and paying attention.


One study found that simply having a smartphone in sight significantly lowered attention to a task. In the study, the phone was turned off and was upside down, yet it still served as a distraction.  So put them out of sight. Cellphone distraction in the classroom has also been associated with lower grades.


Also consider the message that you are sending. When you make a conscious effort to put the device away, it sends a message to the person you are with, “You are enough.” So next time you are waiting at the doctor’s office, resist the urge to whip out your phone as a distraction. Look at your child and start a conversation. If you are out to dinner with your spouse, keep the phone in your car. One study found that having a cellphone visible while two people were talking made for less meaningful and engaging conversation. The presumption was that the presence of the phone signified that the people could be interrupted at any point during the discussion.  This caused them to naturally settle in to more trivial topics of conversation. Can you go two hours without being able to be reached? Can you give two hours of your undivided attention to the people or person you are with?

  1. Make a point to connect every day with the people you live with

Families are so busy these days. With sports, Scouts, employment, homework, PTA meetings, etc. it is difficult to find the time to spend together. A solution is to the make the most of what is already occurring in our lives.

Make the most of family dinners. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and better mental health and communication skills in children, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Some suggestions for making the most of this time include keeping electronics off of the table, expressing gratitude, avoiding talking about a problem for one child in front of siblings, and keeping the conversation positive.

Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides. If it is a “rule”, then you do not need to argue about each time you get in to the car. These car rides are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. To get the conversation going, you could purchase a conversation starter to keep in the car, such as Tabletopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations, which can be purchased on Amazon.

Limit screen time and time on devices. Screen time, whether it is on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can be addictive. For both parents and adults, this can not only take away from family time, but studies have also linked screen time with depression and anxiety. Resist the temptation to whip out the device during down time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children or just BE together in the absence of distraction.


Check-in with your child 5-10 minutes every day at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to check-in with our children because it is a quiet time without distractions. This could be a time to talk about your child’s day, express gratitude, or just lay down next to your child and be together. At bedtime, children are tired, their defenses are down, and they are more emotionally vulnerable. This can be a time for poignant connecting on an emotional level.

Just a little but powerful lesson that my father taught me – make a conscious effort to connect with others.




The Healing Power of Giving

Here are some of my favorite quotes about the power of giving:

“The law of giving is very simple. If you want joy, give joy. If love is what you seek, offer love. If you crave material affluence, help others become prosperous.” Deepak Chopra

“This is what life is about. It’s a chance to help and give to others.” Al Mitchell

“True happiness comes from the effort of making others happy. Give and share your love every day.” Tinku Razoria

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa


One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too.

Psychologists are now saying that “resilience is the new happiness”. And guess what boosts resilience? Giving to others! Studies have found that people who give to others have the highest levels of resilience. The giving need not be fancy nor elaborate, time-consuming nor expensive. Some simple examples are participating in a meal delivery for someone going through a difficult time, offering to drive a child for a busy mother who is juggling schedules, or donating to the local food pantry. The possibilities are endless!


Here are some benefits of giving and why it is helpful for our mental health

  1. Giving serves as a distraction from our own problems

Giving to others is a distraction from our own worries and concerns. When we focus on the needs of other people and connect with them, we are for that time distracted from the difficulties of our own lives. This is not to say that we should ignore our own problems. In fact, that is definitely something to avoid. Many times when people are focused on giving to others, they do not pay sufficient attention to their own problems. So make sure that you always come back to dealing with your own problems after helping someone else.

Helping other people makes us realize that we are not alone. We are not alone in the struggles of life. Everyone has something different that they are dealing with, but everyone is dealing with something. Often when we are giving to others, we are giving to someone we perceive as being in a more difficult situation than ourselves. That is all about perception. But that perception may help you feel better about your own difficult situation.


2. Giving to others helps to build social connections

When we give to others, we are connecting with other human beings. As human beings, we are wired to be social. These social connections help to fulfill a basic human need and boost our mood. We can also form social connections by being with other people we are giving with, further fostering connections. All of these connections help to build our social support network, and this network in turn helps with resilience. And the more resilient we are, the happier lives we live. Life is filled with problems, and we are able to bounce back and feel better when we are resilient.

A study at National Institutes of Health by Jorge Moll in 2006 found that helping others activates the region in the brain that is responsible for pleasure, trust, and social connection, leading to what may be referred to as the “helper’s high”.


3. Helping others reduces stress

Helping others also benefits with stress reduction, which in turn boosts physical health. In their study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, Rachel Piferi and Kathleen Lawler found that people who gave to others had lower blood pressure, which is associated with lower stress levels.


4. Helping others fosters gratitude

One of the wonderful benefits of giving to others is that it helps foster gratitude. It helps us to be more grateful for what we have and everything that is going well in our lives. People who regularly give to others have higher levels of perceived happiness. Happiness expert Barbara Frederickson has discovered this finding in her research.


There are many different ways of giving

  1. Give time

Organize a food or clothing collection. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mentor a young professional. Visit a senior center or Veteran’s Hospital. Volunteer as a Scout Leader or through a Parent Teacher Association. Serve on a township committee of interest to you.

One study found that people who volunteered more than once monthly, but less than once weekly, had were 12% more likely to report happiness than people who had not volunteered.

2. Give Resources

This does not need to be materialistic. If you have an area of knowledge or expertise, this can be shared with others. Share your knowledge or talent. Run a workshop at a local library. If you are an attorney, offer your knowledge to a domestic violence shelter or other agency. If you are a mental health professional, offer a free workshop in your community. If you are a landscaper, mow the lawn of someone who is ill or grieving. Give blood during a blood drive.

3. Give love and attention.

Visit the elderly in nursing homes. Visit a children’s hospital and read to children or play games. Sing at a Veteran’s hospital.

4. Give money or goods

Donate to a Go Fund Me page to a person needing help. Donate to the Red Cross after natural disaster.

Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin (2008) found that people who spent more money on others rather than themselves had higher levels of happiness.


So how can you put this into meaningful action?

  1. Think about what brings you joy. What are you good at? How can you give to others while sharing your joy, knowledge or talent?
  2. Remember that it does not need to be something big or take huge amounts of time. Sometimes these thoughts are what prevent people from taking the first step. So keep it simple. You can always build upon it.
  3. Remember that there are so many different ways to give. Which feels best for you? You may not have much money to spare, you can give your time. Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with the demands of your daily life, but you have money, you can provide a financial donation.
  4. Be mindful of not using giving to others as a distraction from dealing with your own problems. You can take a break from them, but don’t neglect them.
  5. Your way of giving is unique to you. You can give of your time, resources, knowledge, talent, attention, love, money, or goods. Do not compare yourself to how others are giving. Do what feels good for you.

In Gratitude,

Do You have an A.W.E.S.O.M.E. file?

Do you have an AWESOME file? You should! It’s good for your mental health and achieving your personal and professional goals.


We all deal with our own negative thoughts.  In fact, did you know that about 80% of our thoughts are negative, and that 95% of those are the same as the day before??? No wonder it feels like battling negative thoughts is a constant struggle!


On top of that, we have a tendency to take things personally!


On top of that, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others.


On top of that, we feel frustrated when we are not achieving our goals fast enough.


On top of that, we feel crushed when we are rejected.


An AWESOME file helps you stay on track, lifts your mood when you’re feeling down, provides inspiration when you’re dealing with rejection –  instantaneously!  This file is not only helpful in achieving your goals, but is also simply helpful for mental health.


And I am ALL ABOUT supporting you with your mental health.


So here’s how it goes.


YOU create this A-W-E-S-O-M-E file.


A – Achievement.

W – Wisdom.

E – Empathy.

S – Strength.

O – Optimism.

M – Motivation.

E – Excellence.


Every time you achieve something big or small, write it down.

Every time you are proud of knowledge gained or lesson learned, write it down.

Every time you have connected with another human being and felt that amazing energy, write it down.

Every time you dealt with something difficult and realized that you had strength you never knew was inside you, write it down.

Every time you have a powerful, positive thought about your future and goals, write it down.

Every time you felt motivated and proud, write it down.

Every time you went above and beyond and demonstrated excellence in your behavior and word, write it down.


And when you write it down, remember the event in as full detail as possible, using all of your senses.  What happened? When and where did this happen? What did you do or say? What did anyone say to you? How did you FEEL? Don’t forget to write how you FELT. That is the most important part.


Any time you are having a difficult day, dealing with limiting thoughts or rejection, or simply need a boost in mood, review your A.W.E.S.O.M.E. file. You can write it on your computer, but it is even more powerful when you use your hand and write in a notebook with your own handwriting. You will feel a boost in mood, and feel more energetic, motivated, inspired, and optimistic by reading your entries.


Added bonus – your brain cannot distinguish the difference between imagining an event and living an event. So when you go back and read your entries and imagine the experience that you wrote about, your brain cannot tell that it is a memory! You will receive a boost in mood similar to actually experiencing the event. The more detailed the description and the more feeling attached to it à the greater the benefit.


Start your A.W.E.S.O.M.E file today!

Gratitude Tip – Appreciate Your Life Where It Is

So often when we are working toward a goal, we become frustrated with how far we have to go.  When we are constantly future focused, we can easily lose the opportunity to appreciate the here and now.

Think about today and what you can appreciate about your life right now.  You can also reflect upon where you are now in relation to how far you have come.  And if you are in the midst of a life difficulty or crisis, what is one simple thing that you can appreciate? It is during these times that practicing gratitude can feel difficult or even impossible, but the beauty is that it is when practicing gratitude is the most powerful!

During these times, we have to keep it super-simple.  When we are able to find one simple thing, it does not make the problem go away, but it does help us to feel better.

When I was growing (not “going”) through the most difficult time in my life, I found the healing power of gratitude in a simple cup of hazelnut coffee. A simple, predictable, comforting cup of hazelnut coffee when life was so heavy and unpredictable.

Gratitude heals.

What can you appreciate about your life today, right now?

The Beauty of Writing Thank You Notes

Think about the last time you wrote a thank you note.  Didn’t you feel great while you were writing it? Me too!


So much positivity! The act of giving thanks is automatically associated with positivity, because we thank people for wonderful things, not for crummy things!


The cool thing about writing thank you notes is that it is one of the simplest ways to boost your mood.  It just feels good while you’re writing it – thinking and writing about what someone did for you.  The brain cannot distinguish between living an event, and remembering an event.  So when you’re simply thinking about what nice thing was done for you, your brain is reacting by releasing those feel good neurotransmitters!


One study found that simply writing one thank you note a week for three weeks significantly elevated mood (measured at the 4 week mark) in college students who sought psychotherapy at a college counseling center, as compared to a group that only participated in counseling.  And the really promising finding – the improvement in mood got even better at the 12 week mark.  The benefits increased over time, even without writing more thank you notes!!


The researchers took a look at these thank you notes to see why they were so powerful.  What they found was the absence of negativity in the notes.  When we are focused on giving thanks to someone, there is no room for negativity.


Another interesting finding was that the letters did not even need to be sent!!!  This suggests that simply focusing on something positive that someone did for you boosts your mood.


But go ahead and SEND that thank you note!  Even though you don’t have to send it to reap the emotional rewards, sending it has added benefits:


  • It makes the other person feel good. How wonderful is it to receive a thank you note!!
  • It feeds our human need to be social. The deeper our social connections are, the happier we are.

We do this in my Course in Gratitude, and I love hearing the feedback from participants regarding to whom people sent thank you notes, how it made them feel, and what new or deeper connections came out of the process.

Who are YOU going to send a thank you note to today??

Before you go – one more suggestion – save the thank you notes you receive.  Then re-read them when you need a quick pick-me-up.

Create Your Own Happiness with These Two Daily Activities

Have you heard of the work of Shawn Achor? He is a positive psychologist, known for his work on happiness.  I am so grateful for his research, as it helps me to make the greatest impact with my work.  (Read his “The Happiness Advantage” and “Big Potential”).


I had not heard of him in my earlier years as a psychologist, because I was doing different kind of work, mostly focusing on trauma and violence.  Worthwhile work, but eventually it takes a toll.


When I hit that time in my private practice and needed a shift, I did a 180 and focused on positive psychology.  Happiness, joy, gratitude.  I even made a bracelet for this shift, The Peace, Gratitude, Love, and Joy Stack.


As I began my research for my talks, workshops, and retreats, I repeatedly came across Shawn’s work.  This is great stuff. Life-changing stuff.  Most of all, the message that it IS possible to choose happiness. It IS possible to change your outlook on life.


Here are two simple ideas that I took from his research and incorporate into my events that you can do every day to live your best life.  It only takes a few minutes a day, but the impact is quite powerful.


  1. At dinner (or another time during the day), tell others three things you are grateful for. Encourage the people you are with to do the same.
  2. Write about a positive experience. What happened? Use your senses.  What did you feel, see, hear?


That’s it.  Simple as that!  Really.


Added bonus!  When you do these exercises with others, you CAN make a positive impact on those around you.  The research supports that too!


I share these suggestions, and many, many more, during my women’s retreats (next one Tuesday, 9/17/19), and in A Course in Gratitude.


I love hearing back from participants in my events how incorporating these new ideas changed not just their lives, but their families’ lives.


I’ll end with one of Shawn’s quotes: The truth that science is revealing is that small positive changes can change the trajectory of our life.”

When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work: What You Can Do Instead

No, there’s nothing wrong with you! Positive Affirmations simply do not work for everyone.

When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work: What You Can Do Instead

We hear so much about the power of positive affirmations. Yes, positive affirmations and positive thinking can be quite helpful for some, if not most people. But for others, repeating positive affirmations can backfire, especially for people who may need it the most!

I often recommend positive affirmations to friends and clients, and I seek feedback about how it’s going. I was surprised that some reported feeling worse!

So… years ago, I looked in to the research in psychology to better understand what was going on, and what I can do to help, and I’ve been incorporating that in to my private practice.

One study published in the Journal of Psychological Science found that people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after statements such as, “I am a lovable person” and “I am intelligent.” On the other hand, when allowed to consider the negative thoughts about themselves, they were in a better mood!

For some, when the positive affirmation contradicts their negative self-perception, the negative self-perception becomes stronger rather than weaker. In other words, saying a positive affirmation when they really don’t believe it only strengthens their negative view of themselves.

This is not to say that positive affirmations are useless for these individuals, but they are best utilized with a professional who is trained and skilled in cognitive psychotherapy. But even within that context, they simply are not useful for all people. There is nothing wrong if this is you! You simply need a different approach!

So, what to do….

One alternative is to acknowledge the negative thought instead of fighting it and challenging it, because for some, fighting it only gives it more power and strength. Identify it and acknowledge it, and then behaviorally commit to goals and values. In other words, engage in positive behaviors that go against the negative thought that are more in line with what one wants out of life.

So, how….

A large part of this is mindfulness. What is mindfulness? It is a state of openness and focus. A focus on the experience in the moment. And don’t worry – mindfulness need not be meditation! Many people have difficulty with meditation. There are so many fun and creative ways to practice mindful living without meditation.

Mindfulness is incorporated into a type of professional treatment called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). With ACT, mindfulness can be broken down into different areas.

This includes:

  1. “Cognitive Defusion”. This involves a letting go. A letting go of unhelpful and unwanted memories, thoughts, beliefs.
  2. “Acceptance”. Accepting that these negative thoughts and feelings will exist, and allow them to come and go without giving them much attention or energy.
  3. “Being Present”. Being engaged in the present moment. Live in the here and now with openness, and without judgment.
  4. “Values.” ACT involves being in tune with what values are important to you. Some questions include, “What do you want others to remember you for?” “What really matters to you?” “What makes you feel alive?” “How do you want to spend your limited free time?”
  5. “Committed Action”. Then… act on those values! How are you going to get there? What steps can you take?

    The mindfulness skills learned in ACT can have a powerful influence on individuals’ lives. Painful memories, negative self-statements, and unhelpful thoughts have much less power and influence. They can be used to treat anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, chronic pain, and substance abuse, among other issues.  In addition to reducing problematic symptoms and improving life satisfaction, mindfulness:

  1. Reduces judgment of self and others
  2. Increases self-awareness
  3. Creates emotional stability
  4. Fosters self-compassion and compassion for others
  5. Produces a sense of calmness and peace
  6. Helps to be more connected to self, people, and the world
  7. Reduces reactivity to unpleasant experiences.Fortunately, there are many ways that you can practice mindfulness, and the methods are varied so that you are likely to find some that suit your interests, time constraints, and daily schedule. So if positive affirmations and other methods of positive psychology have not worked for you, incorporating mindfulness into your life may be a different approach that suits you.

If this sounds like something you would like to pursue, I’d be happy to discuss further. People come to me when they are seeking help through traditional individual psychotherapy, and through my educational workshops.

Wood, J., Elaine Perunovic, W., & Lee, J. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others, Psychological Science, 20 (7), 860-866.

Resilience is the New Happiness

Eating kale brings resilience, and not in the way you think…

Resilience is the new happiness. The concept is that in order to be happy, we first must be strong. We need to be able to pick ourselves up when we fall, and detach ourselves from sadness when we fail.

And the best part – resilience is a skill. It is not some quality that is reserved for a select, lucky few. Everyone can build up resilience skills, at any age. And it is well worth putting in the effort. Simply put, resilience can help us heal ourselves.

Like a muscle, it can be developed and strengthened by anyone.

One of the things that we can do to build resilience is to move out of our comfort zone. To purposefully do something new or different every day. It does not need to be huge. Keep it simple. Keep it small.

I was inspired to write about resilience because I had the opportunity on a recent trip to move out of my comfort zone, several times in one single day.

Renting a car on my own for the first time.

Eating kale for the first time! (Yes, I know I’m late to the game)!

Stepping on snow on the first day of summer for the first time!

Eating in a nice restaurant by myself for the first time.

Some were nerve-wracking, and some exciting! But all increasing resilience!

Here are some ideas for cultivating resilience at any age.

Create clear boundaries. Be mindful of how much you allow problems in one area of your life to affect other areas of your life. Learn to set boundaries and avoid “spillover”.

Maintain a positive view of yourself and confidence in your abilities. Engage in positive self-talk. Pay attention to what thoughts are running through your head. How to you talk to yourself? When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, work on turning them into positive thoughts. Use meditation or other relaxation strategies to help quiet the “chatter”, “static”, or “noise” going on in your head.

Maintain an internal locus of control. Remember that you are in control of your own thoughts and behavior. The more you believe that you can effect change, the more you will be engaged in purposeful behavior to bounce back and improve a negative situation.

Be mindful of daily stress management. Stress will never be eliminated from our lives. The key is to manage it. An important factor in managing it is taking a break. Engage in whatever activity helps you relax and de-stress. Yoga, meditation, hiking, deep breathing, coffee with a friend, listening to music, running, or spending time with your partner, family, pet, and/or friends. Do what makes your soul happy.

Build meaningful relationships. As human beings, we are hard-wired to be social. You can cultivate relationships by reaching out to someone every day. Set up a date for coffee. Go on a walk with a friend. A strong social support network is important to the resilient person, and the resilient person knows how to draw upon that support when needed.

Re-Write Your Story. Recognize the story you use to represent your life.  Listen to what you are saying to yourself and question it.  Reframe your personal narrative that shapes your view of yourself and the world.

Practice Optimism. Make it a priority to think positive thoughts and surround yourself with optimistic people.

Don’t Take Things Too Personally.  Yes, taking personal responsibility is important.  Not just important, but crucial.  But it is also important to view any setback with perspective.  Remember that any setback is not 100% personal or your fault, pervasive, or permanent. Also, remember not to take others’ words and behavior personally. That is all about them, not you.

Support Others.  Cultivate compassion and empathy. Resilience studies consistently demonstrate that people with resilience have strong social support networks.  But those who have the most resilience are those who GIVE support to others.  We feel good when we help others, and building connections helps us build our own social networks. The giving need not be big.  It just needs to be meaningful and purposeful.

Remember What You Have Overcome. Reminding yourself of all of the obstacles that you have overcome will help you to maintain the mindset that you can overcome whatever obstacle, challenge, or stress you are now facing. You are the same person now – you still have the wonderful characteristics that got you through those obstacles in the past.

Move Out of Your Comfort Zone. Make your motto, “Life happens out of your comfort zone.”  Put yourself in challenging situations.  Take an adventurous vacation, share your secret singing talent at an Open Mic. When you design and create your own challenge or stress, you will be better able to handle the stressors that you do not create in your life.

And here’s my favorite…

Gratitude. Practicing gratitude on a daily basis will help you build resilience. You then will not get caught up in the things that are going wrong, and rather be better able to celebrate the things that are going well.

Just one more reason to practice gratitude daily. It builds resilience!


And if you are interested in some wearable, inspirational reminders, here are three of my bracelets that remind us to engage in activities that build resilience.


And if you would like assistance for personal growth in any of the areas above, seek the help of a qualified, licensed mental health professional – You do not need to be in crisis mode to desire personal growth and seek more fulfillment in your life.

In Gratitude,


PS In addition to building resilience, gratitude heals

Ways of Staying Connected With Your Teen or Tween

It is not unusual for teenagers and their parents to have periods of difficulty getting along, when they previously enjoyed positive relationships. While nothing may have been “wrong” with the parent or child, they were having trouble adjusting to the natural, normal, and healthy changes that children go through as they work toward the developmental task of independence during adolescence. As I often address this issue in my work with families, I am interested in what can be done to protect the parent-child relationship. In my research as well as in my forensic and clinical practice, three findings came up repeatedly: 1) The relationship that a teen has with a parent can serve as a protective factor and help them to make healthy decisions, particularly in risky situations, 2) parents sometimes need help in connecting with their children during these changes, 3) ongoing communication is extremely important to maintain a positive relationship. This article focuses on ways of fostering the two factors that help tweens and teens thrive: the parent-child relationship, and communication.

Make a point to connect every day (or almost every day)

Families are so busy these days. With sports, Scouts, employment, homework, PTA meetings, etc. it is difficult to find the time to spend together. A solution is to the make the most of what is already occurring in our lives.

  • Make the most of family dinners. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and mental and physical health in children, improved social skills, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Here are some suggestions for making the most of family dinners.
  • Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides. These are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. To get the conversation going, you could purchase a conversation starter to keep in the car, such as “Tabletopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations, which can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Limit screen time and time on devices. Screen time, whether it is on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can be addictive. For both parents and adults, this can not only take away from family time, but studies have also linked screen time with depression and anxiety. Resist the temptation to whip out the device during down time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children or just BE together in the absence of distraction.
  • Check-in with your child 5-10 minutes every day at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to check-in with our children because it is a quiet time without distractions. This could be a time to talk about your child’s day, or just lay down next to your child and be together. At bedtime, children are tired, their defenses are down, and they are more emotionally vulnerable. This can be a time for poignant connecting on an emotional level.


Methods of bonding and strengthening the relationship

 In order to keep relationships strong, we need to pay attention to them and spend time together. Here are some suggestions for connecting.

  • Find a shared interest. Activities bring people together, and keep them together. There may be times when it feels awkward to just “hang out” with your teen, and finding a shared interest gives you something to do together. This could involve signing up for a class together, or engaging in an activity in the home or outside together. Having a shared interest or activity provides you and your child with an opportunity to connect for a lifetime. (Cook, bake, craft, bike, walk, ski, etc.).
  • Make mother and child bracelets. Visit a local craft store and buy elastic and glass beads in a variety of colors. The mother and child each make a bracelet for each other. Each color bead on the bracelet represents a quality in the mother or daughter that is appreciated, a memory, or favorite activity. For example, purple could represent, “I love when we walk together”, pink could represent, “I love you”. Each color and related sentiment is then written down on a card and given to the other person along with the bracelet.
  • Play board/card games. Pictionary, Taboo, and Apples to Apples are some great family games.
  • Give to others. This could be volunteering together at a soup kitchen or food pantry, or working together to collect donations for a homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, or children in foster care.
  • Start or continue a family ritual. Read more about the importance of family rituals at:


Use humor.Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect. So watch comedies together, purchase a joke book, or take out the old Mad Libs!


Show love. Find verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating your love to your child. Here are some suggestions.


Communication.Ongoing communication is so important. When you keep the lines of communication open for the small stuff and really pay attention to your child, your child is more likely to come to you with the big stuff.

  • Keep a Mother/Child Journal. This journal is for mother and child to write back and forth to each other. Sometimes it is easier to write something than to say it, and this could help get the conversation going. Some ideas include: sneak the notebook under your child’s pillow and write a little love note, leave the notebook out with a drawing for your child for when he/she wakes up, for mother and child to let the other know that they want to start a difficult conversation, to apologize and then start a conversation, to write down a worry, and/or write your hopes for your relationship.
  • Ask interesting questions! Would you like to hear more than a one word answer from your child about his or her school day? To help get the conversation going, make your questions interesting, silly, and fun! Here are a few suggestions for when your child comes home from school. You could write these down on slips of paper and put them in a jar, and then take one or two out a day!


The importance of physical touch.

As your child becomes a tween/teen, there is less physical affection than the preschool years! Your daughter may not be eagerly holding your hand like she did when she was four years old. Your son may not want to cuddle like he enjoyed when he was younger. Your child is not sitting on your lap, and you no longer have a person attached to your hip! This is all part of normal development. However, as humans, we still have a need for physical affection with our loved ones. Physical affection provides a connection, and this can be particularly useful when the words are not there. There may be times when your teen/tween comes home from school, seems upset, and does not want to talk about it. There may be times when you want to express your love for your child, but the words do not come easily. These are times when physical affection can go a long way. Yet as children get older, they become less comfortable asking for the physical affection from parents that can be so comforting. And parents need the affection too! We all need physical affection in varying degrees, and sometimes it is hard for both children and adults to ask for it. Making and using a “Hug Jar” can make it fun. Here are some suggestions to write down on a piece of paper and put into a “hug jar”. Make a point to pull one out a day.

Here is a great article if you are interested in reading more about the power of physical touch


Make a point to talk about difficult topics.

Teens these days are faced with more issues and stressors than ever. In order to best help them, it is important to do regular “check-ins” to see how things are going, particularly about the use of social media. Studies show that the greatest protection against the potential harmful effects of social media is open communication with a parent (rather than parental controls or tracking systems). Talk about difficult topics on a regular basis. This makes the situation less uncomfortable when your child has an issue that they would like to discuss. So talk about friendships, bullying, social media, sex, substance use. These topics are difficult to bring up. Be brave!  They are important!


Allow privacy.

Your child likely has an increased need for privacy and personal space. Allow that, while at the same time, being careful for withdrawal. It is important for children to know that they have private physical space and belongings. So if your daughter has her door closed, knock before entering. If she has a private journal, do not read it. At the same time, monitor the amount of time that your child spends alone in his/her bedroom, as withdrawing and isolation are not the same thing as allowing privacy, and if left unchecked, can be harmful.


Foster independence and choices.

Resist the temptation to comment on choice of clothes or music. Resist commenting on his/her appearance. As long as your child is not engaging in dangerous behavior, or if you do not have a concern about a related mental health concern, resist the temptation to comment as your child tries out new interests and styles.


Get adequate sleep

Teens need about nine or more hours of sleep in order to function at their optimal levels, and hardly any teens are receiving this much sleep. Adequate sleep is so important to function at school and in all of their interests. Lack of adequate sleep contributes to irritability, anxiety, and depression.


Protect your child from social media

  • It is so important to protect our children from the potential harmful impact of social media. Social media use is related to anxiety/stress, pressure to be perfect, feeling left out, feeling not good enough, distraction from school work and responsibilities, and missing out on the “good stuff” in life. One study found that 92% of teenagers went on-line daily, and 25% reported being on-line almost constantly. Teens experience various kinds of “digital distress”, including impersonation, public shaming, mean and harassing personal attacks, breaking and entering, pressure to comply, smothering, and lurking (Pew Research Center Cyberbullying 2010: What the Research Tells Us, by Amanda Lambert).
  • Develop a contract for the use of social media
  • Check in daily with your child regarding social media use and the impact on him/her
  • Stress the importance of in-person human interactions


Express gratitude and appreciation.

When I ran the MotherDaughter Connection, we began every session with an exercise in gratitude. Each mother and daughter thought about one aspect of their mother or daughter for which they are grateful, or an aspect of the mother/daughter relationship for which they grateful. Then they privately shared with each other. This is one way to help foster the mother-child bond.

  • It is also important to express appreciation. Yes, your son is SUPPOSED to do her homework. Yes, your daughter is SUPPOSED to take out the trash. Yes, your children are SUPPOSED to put away their laundry. Being thanked and shown appreciation, even for the expected, can help strengthen a relationship.
  • Appreciation and gratitude go a long way. Not only do they create a positive feeling in the moment, but they helps to nurture a relationship. They serve as a buffer in times of conflict by creating a sense of closeness and deeper connection. We behave our best and treat people nicely when we feel an emotional connection with them. Expressing gratitude for the person or the relationship can help foster that connection. Test it out today. What might you take for granted and not express thanks for? What small act can you express appreciation and thanks for today within your family? Take a moment to think about it, and then make a point to express it.


Help manage feelings.

  • Sometimes your daughter’s emotions may be running so high, that the best thing to do in the moment is to let her take a break from the conversation. You may feel calm and able to communicate clearly, but she may not be able to do so. Trying to communicate with someone under those circumstances may do more damage than good. Give your daughter some cooling off time, while communicating to her that she is not off the hook. Make a plan to talk later. You can also be proactive and be mindful of the times when your daughter may be too exhausted to discuss a meaningful issue, and avoid bringing up difficult topics during those times.
  • Sometimes the tween/teen behaviors and emotions can feel so out of control to your son that he says things he regrets, and behaves in ways that cause him to experience guilt and shame. When you may be feeling the most frustrated with his behavior is when he needs to feel your love the most. Hisown behavior may be causing him to dislike himself and feel unlovable, and he needs you to show him that he is loved.
  • Set the example. Emotions feed off of emotions, and emotions are running high during the tween/teen years. This is completely normal! The trick is to stay calm. Guaranteed, if you react, your child will only meet that level, and then some! This is your opportunity to teach her to remain calm when trying to get her point across. Be mindful of your attitude and tone. Eventually, she will recognize the discrepancy between your calmness and her lack of calmness, and she will slowly begin to match your level.
  • Here are some more suggestions for getting through times of high emotion and/or conflict.


Have your child use an alarm clock 

  • Your child’s independence is budding. Responsibility is increasing. It is developmentally appropriate for your child to set his or her own alarm clock to get up in the morning by the time he/she enters middle school.
  • If your child has difficulty waking in the morning, or is not in the best of moods, the use of an alarm clock has the added benefit of your child not becoming angry with YOU for waking him or her. When that happens on a repeated daily basis, that can be damaging to the relationship.


Expect unpredictability and change!

During the teen and tween years, children are discovering themselves. They are discovering their interests, and testing things out on a daily basis. This is normal and healthy. If you expect it, you may be less surprised by it, and less likely to comment on it. Give your child the time and space to explore without verbal or non-verbal judgment.


Avoid criticism.

The quickest way to destroy a relationship is to criticize. This is not to say that you cannot address your child’s grades if they are not up to ability, or address any other concerns. However, it can be done without using words that are perceived as critical. Remember that how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice, a favorite quote of mine from Peggy O’Mara. If you would like to read a great article on the subtleties of critical words, read this.

And after that, here are some suggestions for positive words of encouragement:


Nip disrespectful behavior in the bud.

Nothing can be more damaging to a relationship than disrespectful behavior. Ever hear the saying, “We teach people how to treat us”? Well, it is true, and there will be times when you need to teach your son/daughter that disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone has his or her own perception and definition of what constitutes disrespectful behavior. If it feels disrespectful to you, do not let it go. Stop the conversation, point out the behavior and how it made you feel, and firmly tell your son/daughter that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. This is so important, because once you allow it, it will very likely happen again, and over time, it can intensify.


Don’t take things personally.

Your child is developing new interests of his/her own, and this may include a new interest that does not have anything to do with you anymore! It may also interfere with a time when you are used to being together. It is normal and healthy for children to be focused on peer relationships and spending time with friends. Try not to take her interest in other things as rejection. Once we begin to take things personally, we feel hurt. In return, as parents, we may consciously or unconsciously pull back and create more space in the relationship than is healthy. A result is that we may be emotionally unavailable to our children when they need it the most. Remember that during times of difficulty and when she may seem to be rejecting you, she needs her mother more than ever, not less.


Develop your own interests.

As your child is developing his own interests separate from you, this can be a time for you to develop your own interests. Maybe take that photography or pottery class that you’ve been interested in. Get back in to a hobby or craft that has been neglected. Join a book club or walking group. If you live in the area and would like to join my weekly women’s walking group, please sign up through my website to learn of the day and location of our walks.


Share ideas with a trusted friend or professional.

  • Regularly check in with a trusted friend who has children of similar ages. While not violating your child’s privacy, you can discuss general parenting issues and learn that you are not alone in the challenges of parenting a teen or tween. Make a point to spend time with a friend who leaves you feeling good and uplifted after spending time together, and not one who leaves you questioning yourself or feeling “less than”.
  • Check in with a professional. Mental health professionals are available for time-limited parent consultation. You do not need to make a commitment to long-term psychotherapy or have a mental health problem in order to seek the support and guidance of a mental health professional. We all need support in parenting, and sometimes a neutral person who is not a family member or friend can be most helpful.

2019 Schedule of Speaking Engagements, Presentations, Workshops, Author Talks, Book Signings

January 22, 7PM, Gratitude Workshop, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Califon, NJ 07830

January 31, 10AM, Gratitude Workshop, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Califon, NJ 07830

February 4, 7PM, Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ  07853

February 5, 7PM, Invited Author Talk with Memoir Writing Group, Chester, NJ 07930

February 26, 7PM, Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness, for Garden State Social held at Racks Valley Boutique, Long Valley, NJ  07853

March 20, Book Launch, Peacock Proud Press, Facebook Live 12:00 EST

April 3, 9:45 Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Chatham pod of Believe, Inspire, Grow, 460 Main Street, Chatham, NJ 07928

April 13, 2-5PM, Book Launch Party, The Bernardsville Library, Anderson Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924

April 18, 7PM, Book Presentation and Book Signing, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853

April 23, 7:00PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Long Valley, NJ

April 24, 6:30PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Private Women’s Group, Morris Plains, NJ

April 25, 6:30PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Imaginations, an International Boutique, 44 Main Street, Chester, NJ  07930

April 30, 3:30PM, Teachable Moments in Business, Hunterdon Chamber Radio with Vicki Lynne Morgan

May 2, 6:30PM, Gratitude Workshop, Hackettstown Public Library, 110 Church Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840

May 7, 3:30PM, SuperPower Mommas Interview, guest on Laura Greco’s The Art of Soulful Parenting podcast

May 7, 7:30PM, Celebrating Mother-Daughter Relationships, guest on Irene Weingber’s Grief and Rebirth podcast

May 9, 7PM, Author Talk and Book Signing, Chester Public Library, 250 West Main Street, Chester, NJ 07930

May 11, 1-2:30PM, Gratitude Workshop, Bee You Yoga and Wellness, 3 Middlebury Road, Randolph, NJ  07869

May 14, 6:30PM, Private Book Club Discussion, Livingston, NJ

May 18, 10-11AM, Gratitude Workshop, Women’s Wellness New Jersey, (Midwives of NJ Classroom), Rt. 46, Hackettstown, NJ 07840

May 21, 6:30PM, Private Book Club Discussion, Chatham, NJ 07928

May 24, 8:30AM, Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship, Dutchess Day School, Millville, NY 12545

May 28, 7PM, Book Discussion, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853

May 30, 7PM, Harnessing the Power of the Law of Attraction, Scooch A Mi Boutique, 17 N. Passaic Ave, Chatham, NJ 07928

June 6, 3-7 PM, Book Signing, The Market, East Mill Road, Long Valley, 07853

June 7, 11:30AM-2PM, Tour Taste Talk to benefit Diva For A Day, Featured Author, Basking Ridge, Far Hills, Warren, NJ

June 12, 6:30PM, Author Talk and Book Signing, Mendham Borough Public Library, 10 Hilltop Road, Mendham, NJ 07945

June 18, 9:30AM-2:00PM, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Mini-Retreat for Women, Long Valley, NJ 07853

July 8, 6-7PM, Suzane Northrup Blog Talk Radio

July 10, 10AM, Happy to Help, radio show of Nicole Smith

July 12, 12:00, Gratitude Workshop, The Lodge at Arrowhead, Arrowhead Lake, PA

July 12, 5-7PM, Gratitude Book and Bracelet Event, Journey’s Day Spa, 1930 Rt. 940, Pocono Pines, PA 18350

July 15, 7PM, Private Book Club, Warwick, NY

July 16, 9:30AM-3:30PM, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Day Retreat for Women, Long Valley, NJ 07853

July 19, 9:30AM-2:00PM, Mother-Daughter Retreat – A Special Day for Daughters Leaving for College and Their Mothers, Long Valley, NJ 07853

July 26, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Day Retreat for Women in the Pocono Mountains, Pocono Lake, PA

September 13, 10AM-12, Lady Boss Book Club, The Book House, Millburn, NJ

September 21, 10-11AM, Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness, Part I, Women’s Wellness New Jersey, (Midwives of NJ Classroom), Rt. 46, Hackettstown, NJ 07840

September 21, World Gratitude Summit, an on-line summit of world experts in research and practice related to gratitude for World Gratitude Day

November 4, 7PM, Gratitude Workshop: Harnessing the Power of Gratitude to Heal and Grow, Livingston Public Library, 10 Robert H. Harp Drive, Livingston, NJ 07039

May 16, 10-11AM, Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness, Part II, Women’s Wellness New Jersey, (Midwives of NJ Classroom), Rt. 46, Hackettstown, NJ 07840