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Grieving and the Nontraditional Family

While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate it.

– Samuel Johnson

It has been said that the nontraditional family of yesterday is the traditional family of today! These means that the nontraditional family is fast becoming the norm in today’s society. But that also means that society is not prepared to help nontraditional parents and children cope with that reality. In particular, society has few, if any, means to help nontraditonal families cope with grief and loss, out of which they are born.

Nontraditional families include single, divorced, step or blended, adoptive, foster parents, and grandparents raising grandchildren. They are quickly becoming the majority in today’s society. Whether society/people consider them defective or less than “ideal” they are a reality and need special information and support. Most of the parenting programs available to nontraditional parents forget this reality. Consequently, the parenting programs apply only to traditional, two-parent, biologically based parents. Part of the problem is that nontraditional families have unique needs not usually experienced by traditional parents. One example of this is grief.

Grief is the state that individuals experience when a significant loss occurs in their life. The loss might occur as a result of death, divorce, and/or abandonement by a familiy member. It might be said that nontraditional families are born out of grief as they are formed as a result of a loss. This is not to say the traditional families do not experience grief but that nontraditional families have this experience, to one degree or another, in common.

Grief has predictable stages of development. This is beneficial to the nontraditional parent as they attempt to make sense of their grief experience. Most importantly they know that it will not last forever, at least not in the same intensity as when it started. Perhaps the best know framework for grief and loss are the stages listed in the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote the book On Death and Dying (1969). Her stages of grief include:


A useful metaphor for understanding grief are the waves of an ocean. When you are way out in the ocean, the waves are large and frightening. They pull you under and twist you about, creating a sense of hopelessness or fear of your future. This is similar to the stage of Denial or shock at the reality of the loss. When the waves pass and the ocean feels momentarily calm, this is called the stage of anger or bargaining. The shore represents the stage of acceptance. As nontraditional parents and children swim for the stage of acceptance, waves continue to crash over them, sometimes threatening to pull them under in denial and shock and at other times settling down and letting anger and bargaining propel them forward to the shore. The closer you come to the shore the less intense the waves. But even small waves, when standing on the edge of the ocean can unsettle and cause you to lose your balance.

Nontraditional parents can use this metaphor to help them balance love and limits with their children. Because they are in the ocean and not on the shore they cannot compare themselves to traditional parents. Rather than live up to society’s expectation of what an ideal family should look like, nontraditional parents need to concentrate their energy on swimming for the shore.

Regulation vs. Resolution

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Are you trying to build or rebuild the family of your dreams? Needs some parenting tools to remodel your relationships. Let Ron Huxley and the ParentingToolbox blog help you this New Year.

Instead of figuring out your parenting resolutions, work on relationship regulation. Regulation is defined as “a set of rules maintained by an authority figure” and “a process of self-management and control.” Modern parents are plagued with homes that are out-of-control and find it impossible to enforce a set of rules in the home. This is the new season for regulation and not for a new list of tasks to increase this or decrease that behavior problem. 

Resolutions focus on the person and not the problem. Regulation is a co-relational strategy between parent and child that is based on scientific research in the fields of attachment and developmental neuroscience. 

Follow this blog as Ron Huxley gives you new tools for this new season of regulation and find more family connection. Hey, tell a friend too 🙂

Playing favorites: play a game today with your children about “favorites” by asking what is their favorite ice cream, color, birthday surprise, book, animal, family activities, etc.  Learn more about your child and yourself.

Two Secrets Teens Want You To Know!

Two Secrets Teens Want You To Know!

In my years of work with teenagers, I have learned some
very important secrets that might interest parents. It
wasn’t easy getting these secrets. Your teen will probably
deny all of them. For some, it is so secret, even they are
not consciously aware of it. But trust me, once they know
that you know about what most of them know, it will improve
your relationship. What do I mean? Let me show you by
telling the first secret…

Click here for the full article and “like” us on FB while your at it!

Two Secrets Teens Want You To Know!

Think Ahead and Avoid a Meltdown

Clearly, that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. The mother muttered fiercely, “Get up off the floor!” When that didn’t produce a positive response, she turned to coaxing: “Please be a good little boy for Mommy.”

Next came the bribery attempt: “If you mind now, I’ll buy you that video you’ve been wanting.”

Out of desperation came the threats: “Get up now or you can forget about TV and treats for the rest of the week! I’m counting to three, and you’d better be up before that!”

The little boy holle-red, and the mother seemed to stall as if predicting an even more embarrassing tantrum to come. A pregnant silence blanketed the aisle, and then the mother gave in and handed the boy a candy bar.

Parents often find it difficult to follow through and implement disciplinary techniques.

Typically, parents cave in on rules and don’t follow through with consequences. Unfortunately, children quickly learn that acting out can often earn them what they want. That’s not the only problem that arises when parents are too permissive. Failure to follow through with consequences robs children of the opportunity to develop resiliency and the self-confidence to solve problems and handle disappointment.

So what’s a parent to do?

Start with recognizing attention-seeking behavior. We identify those actions by making ourselves aware that when we feel annoyed, our child is displaying attention-seeking behavior.

Children crave attention, so making a big deal out of minor misbehavior will only reinforce that it’s an effective way to get your attention. If parents ignore such behavior, the children soon realize this isn’t going to get the attention they seek, and the behavior will fade away in time.

Begin thinking ahead about your child’s needs by maintaining a child-friendly environment. If you plan to do the weekly shopping — something that is ground zero for misbehavior — prepare some activities that will occupy your child during this outing. Small children can identify the fruits in the produce section by describing the color, shape and size of each object. Older children can help locate items on the shopping list.

Some quality time spent organizing some distractions can turn a high-tension task into a bearable outing for an antsy child — and, in turn, prevent the need for discipline on the parent’s part.

Utilizing choices with children offers them some control over small decisions and will help even a younger child feel that his desires are being taken into account. For example: “Do you want bananas or apples?” “Would you like to check out two books or three?” This approach validates the child’s feelings and will often prevent his need to whine or act out to be heard. Choices are also invaluable in teaching children about making good decisions.

If your 6-year-old insists on wearing a sweatshirt in 98-degree weather, he’ll probably make a different decision next time, and the parents will have the burden of enforcing discipline taken off their shoulders.

Children under the age of 4 are easy to distract when you take their focus off the heated subject at hand. For instance, your toddler refuses to get into the stroller. As a parent you can argue the issue, but how about belting out a few lyrics to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” instead?

Your preschool-aged twins are fighting over a toy. You could just take the toy away from them, but what about giving them some Play-Doh instead? It may seem simple, but for young children, distracting them is better than scolding anytime.

Parents can take control of their children’s environment by setting some rules to ensure that before misbehavior happens and discipline is needed, they have some well-thought-out guidelines to follow.

Step One: Be realistic.

 Parents must first recognize what their child is developmentally capable of understanding before expectations can be established.  For instance, 3-year-olds lack the maturity and the social experience to share well with other children. As a parent, if you insist on sharing regularly, your child will likely rebel, and you will find yourself fighting for cooperation.

Step Two: Know yourself.

 Know your limits. Only set rules that you’re willing to be inflexible on, like no hitting. As parents, we may dream of a world where our children pick up after themselves every day — but if you know you’ll give in when they push back, scrap picking up after themselves as mandatory or amend the rule in such a way that you can manage it. For instance, you might say that picking up after themselves must happen, but you’ll help as needed.

Step Three: Make it official

  Establish a regular family meeting that includes all family members. Use it as an opportunity to establish house rules that everyone can agree upon. Allow everyone — including children — to participate in the procedure.  By allowing children to offer up ideas and help with designing the list and selecting the place to post it, parents are validating their children’s place in the family.

Children who take part in this process are more likely to follow the agreed-upon rules. If they break a rule, parents can direct them back to the agreement they helped create.  

There is no manual to refer to when our children are born. We simply must rely on what we were taught, but we also must be willing to learn as we go. If we, the parents, flounder when our children have a major meltdown, the behavior will continue; but if we plan ahead, we put the odds for good behavior in our favor by being prepared and keeping the environment child-friendly.

Debbie A. Heaton is an author, parent educator, and a master’s level therapist currently employed with The Parent Connection, a member of Arizona’s Children Association Family of Agencies. The Parent Connection utilizes the Adlerian approach to parenting.

What is your CQ? (Curiosity Intelligence Quotient)

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

Yes, that was Albert Einstein who revealed that the key to being smart is not to
know a lot but to keep curious and learning through out the life span. Do we encourage our children in their curiosity about life? Do we still foster this type of intelligence in ourselves?

I went on a hike recently and stopped to rest and noticed a small yellow worm inching its way across the path. I was fascinated by it’s movement. This is what it was like for me as a child. I notice it in my grandson when he stops everything to observe something that interests him. As an adult, I am way to busy to “stop and smell the flowers” as they say. In my efforts to get things done, I miss many opportunities to enjoy the amazing things all around me.

How have you encouraged CQ in your children and in yourself? Share with us. Leave a comment below or post a reply on Facebook by clicking here!

What will you learn today?

Power of Silly

There are a lot of very good parenting techniques available to parents in the form of parenting books, videos and classes. I have written and taught them myself. What you don’t often hear about is how to “do” parenting when the rubber hits the road. How do you get through the daily grind of life and keep a cheerful face and engage your child (or for some us multiple children)? My best parenting advice is this: Be silly. I know, parenting should be serious, shouldn’t it? The truth is that it is serious way too often.

Silliness is a useful way to lighten up the mood in the home and to engage bored or irritable children. Over the years I have used variations on the silly theme with mostly good effect. Here’s a few to try on and see how they fit for you:

Change the game rules Parents can get exhausted playing the same old game of “Go Fish” or “Sorry.” Anything done hundreds of times can be hum drum. Spice it up by changing the game rules. Use a pirate voice when playing a card game. “Argh, give me your fours!” Narrate the characters in the book you read at bedtime every night. Act it out instead of reading it. This weekend I played my niece, nephews and grandson Ping Pong Poetry. Every time you hit the ball you have to rhyme a word: Ping, sing, ring, thing, king, etc. It resulted in several belly laughs.

Tell a joke This is perhaps the simplest silly strategy. Have a long car ride? Tell a few Knock-Knock jokes. OK, you might have to do a google search first to come up with a few but it will be worth the research! I have one I told me kids over and over again. They groaned every time I would start to tell it but I could tell by their smiles they loved the “tradition” of it as well. Want to hear it? “How do you make a hanky (hankerchief) dance? Put a little boogie in it.” Made you laugh? I know it is a little irreverent but isn’t that the point here?

Make up a song Need to get your kids to focus and march in a file through a store without touching everything? Come up with a marching song and sing it (quietly) as you go down the aisles. Preschool teachers do this all the time to get kids to clean up their mess and move to a new classroom activity. Use it at home too.

Food can be fun Got a picky eater? Dinner time always turns into a fight? Use the food to create some fun. Put coloring food into the milk. Make a game out of how slowly you can eat. Wiggle your nose at others around the table and see who can catch who doing it. Eat in courses, switch seats for each one or use your opposite eating hand to do it. Make faces out of the foot as you place it on the plate. We often use special pancake forms on the griddle to make dinosaur shapes. A lot of food is package in shapes of animals or other character. I enjoy bitting their heads off. Sorry, but I do. Have a crunching contest – keeps kids focused and eating mom!

Wear funny slippers My sister-in-law came over for the weekend and wore fluffy pink slippers most of the weekend. She was comfortable and the kids loved making fun of her. Keep a full house of people energized and in good humor. Alternate this strategy by wearing bright clothing, mix patterns or act cool in your shades. I am sure you have a few silly tricks up your sleeve.

Share them with us by leaving a comment or Facebook post or Tweet us! Let’s pool our silliness ideas together and use it to increase cooperation, enjoy each other more, and decrease stress levels.

Attachment Disordered Children – Radio Show Interview with Ron Huxley


If you didn’t catch my radio show interview this morning you can listen to the archived mp3 at Brenda Nixon, host of the Parents Plate radio show, invited me to chat about the controversial diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and the current state of mental health treatment of traumatized children today. I shared some great ideas in our hour long discussion that you will want to listen in on…everything from how children are diagnosed to attachment neuroscience to practical parenting tools. I even shared on why children with attachment impairments “Monster Up!” – a phrase I coined. Take a moment to download or stream the show at