Parents, Heal Thyself

Written by: Debra Kissen

I have seen remarkable progress in increasing overall functioning, in children with developmental differences ( anxiety, ADHD, sensory integration disorder, autism spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, etc.) by targeting and enhancing emotional regulation skills in their parents.  In other words, by assisting parents in learning how to decrease their reactivity to their children's ineffective behaviors, these behaviors are no longer reinforced and instead parents emphasize attending to more effective coping behaviors.  

This sounds easy enough, unless you are a parent attempting to apply this rule of thumb.  For example, if you are attempting to get your child ready to go to school in the morning and your child says, "I hate are the worst mother ever", to disengage from that moment and choose to act by not reacting is a Herculean task.  Or if a parent is attempting to set a limit and take away screen time due to an infraction of a house rule, and a child begins to tantrum and knock down objects in his room, for the parent to walk out and remind himself that he needs to let this storm pass and not fuel it with more emotional reactivity, is near impossible.  
In certain situations, the main therapy I offer, to assist parents with the challenges of raising a child with a developmental difference, is parent coaching and parent emotional regulation training.  When raising a child with a developmental difference, every day requires an immense exertion of effort, to move a child forward, despite the challenging terrain before them.   In order to keep this momentum, self care is key.  
What I recommend to the parents I work with is to set a 5 minute window each day, to develop a mindfulness practice.  No matter how busy we are, we can always find 5 minutes a day to dedicate to ourselves.   By learning to note the emotions, thoughts and sensations that arise, and then how to mindfully return to the present moment, we are gaining control over our "monkey mind".  This skill is so critical in the hectic, fast paced world we live in.  And all the more helpful, when raising a child with a developmental difference, where learning opportunities are always presenting themselves, if only we can take a step back to see them.  
To learn more about mindfulness training and to practice a brief mindfulness exercise, feel free to visit my site,   You can reach Dr. Debra at


Join NPN for the 2nd Annual Developmental Differences Resource Fair on Sunday, Feb 10 from 10am-2pm at Gordon Tech High School.

Helping parents of children (from birth through 8th grade) with a range of developmental differences - developmental delays (i.e., speech, motor skills), sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down Syndrome, physical disabilities, and more.

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Posted on January 23, 2013 at 9:18 AM


1 Replies

  • redhead415October 15

    redhead415October 15, 2011 Medications and/or herbs will only numb the situation the best help is euxpsore to the problem. I went to a anxiety/panic disorder workshop and our homework every week was to expose ourselves to the problem. Mine was driving on the bridge or freeways when there was alot of traffic. I now can do both with little aniexty because I kept facing the problem head on. Good luck.

    by Raniel on 09/06 at 07:02AM

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