Beyond Behaviors

For the past two years, I have been attending a “Parenting in Place” webinar series. One of the presenters was Mona Delahooke, PhD, author of Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges. She explains that parents and teachers respond to the behaviors they see without an awareness of the underlying, unconscious forces driving some of them. She uses the metaphor of an iceberg to describe this dynamic. We react to what we see (what is above the waterline of the iceberg) and are oblivious to the forces (beneath the water) driving some of them. In her introduction she says, “Too many books about children’s challenging behaviors take a one-size-fits-all approach without consideration for the autonomic state – the brain/body connection.”

I have used her concepts, along with the many other resources in my bibliography, to help parents understand, be empathetic with, and not jump to judgment about their kids’ behaviors.

This is compatible what I learned from Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, and Daniel J. Seigel, MD, who, in No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, encourage parents and others to be curious about what’s driving kids’ behaviors rather than reacting to them with consequences. They ask parents to ask themselves the why-what-how questions:

  • Why did my child act this way?
  • What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?
  • How can I best teach this lesson?

This is compatible with what I learned years ago from Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, father of Non-violent Communication (NVC) who said that our behaviors are the best strategies we can think of at the time to get our needs met.

Tina Bryson is so taken with Mona Delahooke’s research and book that she requires all her staff at her Center for Connection to read it. Since Tina is one of my heroes (I spent two years in an online training program with her), I decided it would be important for me to become familiar with Beyond Behaviors.

“A NEW approach to solving behavioral challenges.

In Beyond Behaviors, internationally known pediatric psychologist, Dr. Mona Delahooke describes behaviors as the tip of the iceberg, important signals that we should address by seeking to understand a child’s individual differences in the context of relational safety.

Featuring impactful worksheets and charts, this accessible book offers professionals, educators and parents tools and techniques to reduce behavioral challenges and promote psychological resilience and satisfying, secure relationships.”

Beyond Behaviors, by Mona Delahooke, Ph.D. – on



girl-624223_960_720Kristin Neff’s research and information on self-compassion can be powerful and helpful for all of us. She calls herself a self-compassion evangelist. Her main message, which I’m summarizing in case you don’t have time to listen to her YouTube TEDx talk or read my notes, is that self-criticism activates the body’s defense system, flooding us with stress chemicals. This results in a double whammy – we are the attacker and the attacked. Instead of motivating us, as some erroneously believe, self-criticism actually undermines our motivation.

Self compassion, on the other hand, taps into our mammalian care-giving system activating oxytocin and opiates, which are the feel-good hormones. When we feel safe and comforted, we are in the optimal mind state to do our best.

You can listen to her YouTube by clicking on this link. You may read my notes on her talk by clicking here.

What I’m learning from Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

mom-lower-than-childI’m currently in a 9-month, on-line webinar on parenting with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., co-author of The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline plus I’m watching some of her DVD’s. The tip I’d like to share with you is her brain-based strategy “Communicate Comfort Rather Than Threat.” She explains that the brain has a threat-detection system in the lower brain from birth. When our children are upset (in their emotional/downstairs brain) and we look down on them, their brain perceives us as threatening. When we get below their eye level, that behavior tells the threat centers of their brain, “I am not under threat. I don’t have to fight, flee or freeze.” She suggests that, once we get below their eye level, all we have to say is, “You’re having such a hard time. I’m right here with you.” And then stay with them until they are calm. While there, we can ask them if they need help calming down.

If there is a behavior we want to address, this is not the time to do so, as their upstairs/thinking brain is not online and available for learning. Later, when they’ve calmed down, we can say, “Gosh, what you were doing earlier was not OK.” You don’t need to go into lecture mode. Frequently they’ll say, “I know” and tell you what was bothering them.

Parents tell her they are amazed when they do this. They say it is the most magical thing they have learned from her.

Dr. Bryson says the hardest part for parents is to wait until their kids are calm. Their most common mistake is to move into addressing the behavior too soon.

Try this and let me know how it works out for you.

The picture below represents what most parents do. Can you see the threat in this mom’s body language? Imagine how different it could be if this mom were to get below her son’s eye level and non-verbally communicate comfort.

Angry mother scolding a disobedient child

Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves

Gender-Neutral-BookI found this book quite by accident as I was surfing I found it fascinating and thought-provoking. We all have social biases.

Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves by Paige Lucas-Stannard.

For example, a Yale study published in 2012 re an applicant for a lab manager position found differences in assessment based on the gender of the applicant. Half the scientists were given the application with a male name attached and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. The application with the female name lagged behind the one with the male name on competence, hireability, and desire to serve as mentors and the one with the female name was offered $4000 less in salary.

As the book noted, “The kicker is that there was no difference in how the applications were rated by male or female scientists…. This is the heart of bias.”

As described on

“Our culture has strict rules for acceptable behavior for men and women. But what about kids who fall outside the boundaries of prescribed roles? This book is a guide for parents in the practical application of Gender Neutral Parenting – a parenting style based on respect for a child’s self-identity and providing latitude in exploring their own version of gender and gender expressions….

“You’ll learn about gender stereotypes for boys and girls and how to counteract them as a parent….

“You’ll also learn how to deal with family and friends (and strangers) that don’t understand your parenting approach.

This book is for any parent, grandparent, or childcare teacher that wants a guide to raising kids without the strict limitations of gender roles and who wants to engage kids in conversations that will make them savvy media consumers and critical problem solvers around issues of gender and equality.”

How To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be

blog-dad-young-sonHow To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be, was released October, 2013.

If you remember How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, you will be delighted to know that  the authors of this treasure have finally produced as a CD their classic audiotape,  How To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be. As described on

Finally! The long awaited, new edition of this essential guide for Moms and Dads who are looking for the most effective and respectful ways to connect with their kids is now available.

This updated, compact book and CD is uniquely designed for busy parents on the go.  It will empower you not only to refresh your skills, but also to share them with the key people in your children’s lives – grandparents, nannies, babysitters and, of course, husbands, wives or partners who haven’t attended the group workshops.

How To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be features fresh stories, cartoon illustrations, answers to commonly asked questions, exercises designed to sharpen your parenting skills, and audio dramatizations that demonstrate the skills in action. It addresses struggles parents face every day, in a popular culture saturated with sarcasm, put-downs, preaching, threats, name-calling, and accusations.  Loaded with practical wisdom and proven methods, this new multi-media edition demonstrates simple, proven skills that make relationships with children of all ages less stressful and more rewarding.

Even if you never participated in a Faber/Mazlish workshop or read any of their award-winning books, you’ll strengthen your ability to:

  • deal with your children’s strong emotions
  • set firm limits and still maintain good will
  • express your angry feelings without being hurtful
  • engage your children’s cooperation
  • resolve family conflicts peacefully

Trade Paperback; 5 1/2″ X 8 3/8″; 112 pages with cartoon illustrations and a 68 minute CD.

Empathy — The Key to Successful Parenting

teen-daughter-momEmpathy is the most important parenting skill. Empathy can be thought of as connection or attunement, sensing what our child is feeling and experiencing and being present with them.

Marshall Rosenberg, founder of The Center for Non-Violent Communication, describes empathy as a respectful understanding of what our child is experiencing. Empathy enriches the feeling of connection between parent and child by sensing what our child is feeling and experiencing and being present with them.

Empathy occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments. That is the hardest part about empathy. Preconceived ideas and judgments about our children make it difficult for us to be genuinely present with our child’s experience and understand their point of view. Once we shed our preconceived ideas and judgments, we are able to focus full attention on our child’s message and be totally and genuinely present with them. That is empathy!

Daniel Siegel, MD, says empathy allows the child to “feel felt, to feel that she exists within the mind of the parent.” If parents are looking for one book to help them connect empathically with their child, I would recommend The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD.

In the classic parenting book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, they caution that our attitude is crucial. If our attitude is not one of compassion, then whatever we say will be experienced by our child as phony or manipulative. They suggest we resist the temptation to give advice and instead stay with accepting feelings, focusing on recognizing what they are feeling. They remind us that the more we try to push our child’s unhappy feelings away, the more our child will become stuck in them; whereas, the more comfortably we are able to accept their bad feelings, the easier it will be for them to let go of them.

No matter how many parenting strategies and tools you learn, if they are applied without empathy, they won’t work. For help in learning about empathy and parenting skills, for parents of all age kids, join one of my parenting classes in Boulder, CO.

Parenting the Whole Brain Child— 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

WholeBrainChild_CoverThis book, by Daniel Siegel, MD, and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D, is a gem of a book I would recommend every parent have as a resource. The 12 strategies are clearly explained with concrete examples and delightful cartoons. One story describes how to help Marco, a two-year old who has been involved in a car accident with his babysitter, process and make sense out of what has happened. He repeatedly says “Eea woo woo.” “Eea” is his word for “Sophia”, his babysitter, and “woo woo” refers to the noise of a siren. The authors describe in detail how to help Marco tell his story, makes sense out of it, and put it in perspective so his brain can process the frightening experience and enable him to be able to go on with his daily routines in a healthy and balanced way. Get this book or work with me to learn how.

This is how it is described on

“In this pioneering, practical book, Daniel J. Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and author of the bestselling Mindsight, and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson offer a revolutionary approach to child rearing with twelve key strategies that foster healthy brain development, leading to calmer, happier children. The authors explain—and make accessible—the new science of how a child’s brain is wired and how it matures. The “upstairs brain,” which makes decisions and balances emotions, is under construction until the mid-twenties. And especially in young children, the right brain and its emotions tend to rule over the logic of the left brain. No wonder kids throw tantrums, fight, or sulk in silence. By applying these discoveries to everyday parenting, you can turn any outburst, argument, or fear into a chance to integrate your child’s brain and foster vital growth.

“Complete with age-appropriate strategies for dealing with day-to-day struggles and illustrations that will help you explain these concepts to your child, The Whole-Brain Child shows you how to cultivate healthy emotional and intellectual development so that your children can lead balanced, meaningful, and connected lives.”

Connecting Emotionally to Your Child


Connecting emotionally to your child is the most important parenting skill. This means listening, being present, focusing, and looking for the needs underlying your child’s behaviors. Marshall Rosenberg, developer of Non-Violent Communication, says our behaviors are the best strategies we can think of at the time to get our needs met. When we look at our kids’ behaviors through this lens, then instead of reacting to their behaviors (traditionally done with rewards and punishment), we look for their unmet needs, help them meet them, and then no longer see those behaviors. As we do this, we help them learn more effective strategies (think new behaviors) to get their needs met.

I’m currently reading Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict Into Cooperation by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson. This gem of a book goes beyond quick-fix parenting and discipline techniques to provide a foundation of communication and relationship skills. The authors teach us how to accomplish this with practical, simple, life-changing exercises.

This is how it’s described on

“More than a tool to correct bad behavior, this handbook urges parents to move beyond typical discipline techniques by creating an environment based on mutual respect, emotional safety, and positive, open communication. The seven outlined principles redefine the parent-dominated family by teaching parents how to achieve mutual parent/child respect without being submissive, set firm limits without using demands or coercion, and empower children to open up, cooperate, and realize their own innate potential. Based on Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication process, the framework helps parents break down the barriers to outstanding relationships with their kids by avoiding destructive language and habits that keep parents and children from understanding one another. Activities, stories, and resources help parents immediately apply the seven keys to any parenting situation.”

I recommend this book to any parent who wants to create deeper and more meaningful connections with their children.