Want Fewer Meltdowns? Try Softer Transitions

Does your child have a hard time with transitions? Do you struggle to get her to stop using a device or playing with toys when it is time to do something else? 

You are not alone. Transitions can be some of the most challenging aspects of raising a child with ADHD. Parents get frustrated because a hyperfocused child doesn’t come to the table when dinner is ready, do her homework or help out with chores around the house without lots of reminders.

If you are a slow-to-adapt parent, then you likely understand the child who struggles with transitions. But if you are (like I was) a quick-to-adapt parent who doesn’t have any trouble with transitions, then there can be a lot of conflict around getting your slow-to-adapt child to transition to the next activity.

What can you do in those moments? How can you help ease those transitions and hopefully reduce the conflict? Try using a ‘soft transition’:


Sit down next to your child for a couple of minutes and simply watch her. 


Begin asking questions about what she is doing. Be patient, it may be a few more minutes before she responds to you. Once you have started a dialog, you have created a bridge over to her world.


Now you can start talking about coming to dinner or getting in the bathtub or simply stopping screen time.


Enjoy the rest of your time together!

Do You Know Your Child’s Love Language?

According to Dr. Edward Hallowell, CONNECTION, the other Vitamin C, is a core ingredient when raising a child with ADHD. A connected relationship can last a lifetime. Since our relationships with our children are some of the most important relationships we will ever have, why not take the time now to deepen that connection. One way to do that is to understand your child’s love language.

When parents learn to express their love, which is our most basic emotional need, in a “language” that makes sense to their children, the emotional climate of family life can be greatly enhanced. Understanding your child’s “love language” is the key to the most foundational building block of the parent-child relationship – LOVE.

Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of The Five Love Languages. Chapman’s idea is simple. When your love language is understood and you receive love from others in this way, your ‘love tank’ can fill up. For example: If your love language is words of encouragement and you feel acknowledged for your efforts, you probably will feel pretty good. On the other hand, if you do not feel acknowledged for your efforts, you may feel grumpy, irritable, and moody. If a child or teen does not feel acknowledged, they will likely misbehave. By understanding and meeting your child’s emotional needs, you will “fill-up” their “love tank.”

Here are the five ways you can express emotional love to your child and teen:


Say, “I love you” to your child daily.

*Recognize improvement and effort, not just the finished product. Share compliments at the dinner table and at family meetings. Notice the positive things your child does daily.


Hug your child every day!


Giving your child undivided attention is a powerful communicator of emotional love.  This is the most difficult as it takes more time!  Carve out time to give your child focused one-on-one attention. Schedule a ‘date’ with your child and do something fun.


Service that is freely given – not as a duty – but given with an attitude of genuine generosity. You are modeling for your children how to selflessly do for others.


The gift is meaningful to your child, something they may already collect or treasure. Consider your child’s interests. This is not about materialism.

How do you determine your child’s primary love language? Focus on one love language a week and see what you notice. Your children will definitely benefit from all five, but in my experience, you will see a visceral change in your child’s demeanor when you find that special one. I had one parent tell me that their daughter “lit up like a little glitter bug” when they discovered her primary love language!

In today’s busy world, connecting with our children needs to be intentional. By using this simple tool, you can discover the secret door to child’s heart and a lifetime supply of Vitamin C!

Talking with Kids: Avoiding Those One Word Answers

It wasn’t until I became a parent of teenagers that I recognized the value of asking my children ‘Open’ questions instead of ‘Closed’ questions. Closed questions call for one answer only, without room for discussion. Open questions invite your child to keep talking. Open questions show respect and they show that you want to listen. Open questions lead to open conversations that encourage both curiosity and uncertainty. Open conversations can offer us the surprise of new insight from our children. 

On most days I would pick up my children from school and ask, “How was your day?” I usually got a one-word answer. And then I discovered the value of asking a more open question like, “Tell me the best part of your day”. And when I did that the words spilled out! 

Just asking an open question isn’t always enough. I also needed to be fully present during the conversations. In a multi-tasking world, undivided attention is a precious commodity. Children need parents who listen with their eyes and ears. They need us to turn off the smart phone, computer, tablet, television, or other distractions that dilute the conversation. 

Conversation Starters

Children often need a little prompting and encouragement to share their thoughts. Conversation starters can help.

Here are a few examples of questions for parents to ask their children: 

  • What are you most curious about?
  • How do you learn best? By reading or seeing? By touching? Or by moving?
  • What do you wish I knew about you?
  • If you were in charge how would you change your educational journey to better meet your needs?

And questions for children to ask their parents:

  • Tell me about the teacher or mentor who made a difference in your life.
  • When you were in school what did you wish your teachers knew about you?
  • What is your favorite activity you like to do with me?
  • What do you love most about me?

Children don’t usually plan on having open conversations with us. As parents we need to create those opportunities and model how to have an open, respectful conversation where both parent and child are fully present and engaged.

Conversation Starters are an excellent tool for connecting with your child about something other than school, screen time and chores. If you would like a list of additional questions to ask your kiddos, email me at sally@parentwell.com.

To help parents improve communication with their children I offer a 6-session workshop designed to give parents support and strategies for long-term, sustainable changes that are specifically tailored to each family. In addition to communication, the workshop covers ADHD, executive function, connection, compassion, and calm. Contact me for more information.


Finding Calm in the Midst of a Meltdown

A common concern I often hear from parents is that they too have a hard time getting calm when their child is escalated. Taking time out for meditation, yoga or mindfulness exercises, though beneficial in the long term, aren’t really appropriate in the short term when you need to be physically present to help your child de-escalate. Here are four simple strategies to practice now and add to your parent survival basket to help you find calm in the middle of your child’s meltdowns. 

Square Breathing

Square Breathing (also known as 4-Part Breath or Box Breathing) can be done anywhere and you can teach your children to do it anywhere as well. This is a simple mindfulness technique that can help reduce stress and bring you back into the present moment. 

image via cherylschirillo.com

This picture above illustrates the simple process: 

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
  2. Pause and hold your breath for 4 counts.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 4 counts.
  4. Pause and hold your breath for 4 counts. 

You can download this jpeg and print it on a card or enlarge it and put it on the wall in your child’s room. We recommend adding this technique to a ‘Calm Basket’ – a collection of items that your child (she may need your input) puts into a box or basket that has a special place in her room. When your child is having an escalated moment, you can suggest that she go up to her room and find something in the Calm Basket to help her de-escalate. Besides the square breathing technique, you could fill the basket with books, Legos, stuffed animals, puzzles, coloring books and crayons. The list is endless – the key is to pack it with items that will help her calm down and find her center. 

The next three are easy relaxation techniques from Dr. Oz: 

Scrunch Your Face

This technique comes from Dr. Oz. Scrunch your face tightly for 15 seconds, then release. Repeat several times. The repetitive contraction and relaxation helps release tension you’re holding above the neck. 

Breathe In

Breathe in through your nose. While holding your breath, lick your lips, then blow out slowly through your mouth. The cool air helps you refocus and slow down. Do this several times till you notice your breathing/heart rate has started slowing down. 

Cork It

Hold a wine cork vertically between your teeth. Putting a gentle bite on the cork forces your jaws – a major holder of tension – to relax. (BTW, Dr. Oz adds, “. . . to not fight stress by emptying the bottle of wine into your body first.”

The Parent Survival Basketis a 6-session workshop designed to give parents support and strategies for long term sustainable changes, changes that are specifically tailored to your family. In addition to information about ADHD and Executive function the workshop also covers strategies to increase Calm, Connection, Compassion and Communication. For more information about the Parent Survival Basket workshop please email sally@parentwell.com.

The Gift of Presence in Parenting

I’m reminded of a circus clown when I think back on what my days were often like raising our three children. I was juggling several things at once, not always well, but I managed. Every day seemed like a constant balancing act – making sure everyone’s needs were met. And more often than not I felt as if I was in that tiny clown car going round and round in circles.

I mention this because I think as parents we try to be more than we could ever possibly be, and in the process we end up not being fully present for ourselves, our partners or our children. There were times when I would be so involved in planning and making sure everyone was where they needed to be that I’d forget to take a breath and enjoy the moment. I live on an island near Seattle, and I could go days without fully appreciating the natural beauty surrounding me.

One day as I was driving mindlessly to pick up one of my children from school (I think they were in three separate schools at the time) I drove under two wooden bumblebees thrown over the power lines. To this day I have no clue as to who put them there or why, but I am certain they were meant for me. Without skipping a beat I said to myself, “Just Bee” and just like that something washed over me. I suddenly realized how not presentI had become.

As I continued to drive the car I started to notice my breathing, paid attention to my posture and how I was tensing my shoulders. I kept a closer eye on the speedometer (that was a good thing). The bumblebees are no longer there; but now when I drive under those power lines it’s a simple reminder to bring my attention back to the present moment.

And then my children became teenagers. The circus act calmed down a bit but my knack for multi-tasking did not. When my middle daughter was 16 she and I were having a conversation in our kitchen. She was sitting at the counter and I was standing on the other side pretending to listen to her while I was doing 5 other things. At one point in the conversation she reached across the counter and gently grabbed my face and said, “Mom, Mom, pay attention to me. I’m talking to you.”

OK, this time I really got it. Not only was I not fully present for the conversation but I was also missing out on a precious opportunity to connect with my daughter.

These are just two examples from my life that illustrate the importance of self-care. If you would like additional strategies, send me an email and we can schedule a parent coaching consultation. I can help you find that balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your family.

Nurture Shock – Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Teenagers lie and apparently they lie a lot more than even I realized – even after raising three of them! The story in the beginning of the chapter is a little unsettling though I think supports the notion that many teens are giving adults the impression that they are on a good path when in fact they are just ‘doing school’ (a term I’m borrowing from Denise Clarke Pope) and on The Race to Nowhere. In one study 96% of teens reported lying to their parents. The reason? The most common reason was,”To protect the relationship with my parents – I don’t want them to be disappointed in me”.

I see this as good news. It reinforces what other researchers have said – that for teens the relationship with their parent is the most important relationship in their life. This is a really great point to remember when you have a rebellious teen who is pushing every boundary you try to set. I always kept my eye on the prize, so to speak – and did my best to maintain a good relationship with my children. Sometimes it meant a lot of compromising, but in the end, really all that mattered was that relationship.

I’m bored – if only I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase. According to the authors the more controlling and enabling the parent the more likely the child is to experience boredom. I had the exception to that rule. We did not fill our son’s free time – because he rejected structure. But he also didn’t like down time. So he’d finish with one activity and want to jump to another right away. Tired of constantly hearing “I’m bored” we tried a little humor, “It’s nice to meet you, I’m Sally”. Wasn’t what he wanted to hear of course, but it helped me not feel like I needed to immediately come up with something else to fill his free time.

Teens are risk takers. We all know that either from parenting teens or being risk takers ourselves (guilty). Researchers in PA came up with a program called TimeWise to help teens understand risk, peer pressure and essentially be ‘architects of their own experience’. Initially it looked like a great program, but over time the class did not have a huge impact. And the reason has to do with the teenage brain. Some teens are just wired to take big risks. More specifically the teen brain is handicapped in it’s ability to gauge risk and foresee consequences. Another interesting tidbit – teens can think abstractly but not feel abstractly until they have had more life experience to draw on. So, what’s a parent to do? Create opportunities for safe risk taking – skateboarding, skiing and snow boarding, dirt biking, jumping on a trampoline, climbing walls, mountain biking, white water rafting – none without risks but it sure beats joy riding in a car with a brain that feeds on big doses of the thrill factorl!!

The last part of the chapter goes back to discussing lying and arguing. Those families where there was less deception had a much higher amount of arguing. Arguing was seen as good thing for the teens, not so much for the parents. Arguing wears us out – I know this first hand. I wanted to encourage negotiation, partly because I didn’t have that opportunity in my family of origin. But it’s a delicate balance knowing when to continue the argument/negotiation and when to zip it and stop engaging with your teen.

I absolutely agree that parents need to let their teen feel heard – even if you totally disagree. They need to practice on someone and a parent seems like the safest place to do that. The authors barely touched on listening. I think listening in this culture is one of our biggest challenges. In fact we only listen for an average of 17 seconds before wanting to jump in with a comment.

The most important lesson I have learned (and am still learning) as a parent of three teenagers is that listening, and truly being present while you are listening, is one of greatest gifts you can give your children. What were your teen years like? How has that experience informed your parenting?

Next Week: Can Self-Control be Taught?

This Week’s Recipe: Truffle Brownies from Bon Appetit (Reprinted from the Bainbridge Island Review )

I found this recipe today – I haven’t tried it, but I’m putting it out there for all you chocolate lovers. Enjoy!

truffle brownies 117

Truffle Brownies

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped, divided
  • 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • special equipment

    9×9×2-inch metal baking pan

  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 9×9×2-inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving overhang. Spray foil with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Combine 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate and butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and cool chocolate mixture until lukewarm, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt in large bowl to blend. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, then chopped toasted walnuts. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 26 to 28 minutes. Transfer pan to cooling rack and let brownies cool completely.
  • Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add remaining 6 ounces chocolate to hot cream and let stand 5 minutes to soften, then whisk until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate ganache over brownie sheet in pan and spread to cover completely. Let stand at cool room temperature until topping is set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.
  • Using foil as aid, lift brownie sheet from pan. Fold down foil edges. Using large sharp knife, cut brownie sheet into 25 squares, wiping knife with hot moist cloth after each cut. Arrange brownies on platter and serve.
  • The author recommends a sprinkle of sea salt for glamour and extra flavor.