Sound too simple? Proceed with caution

Many memes on the Internet say or suggest that “all behavior problems in children are due to unmet needs.”

As a therapist with 35 years experience working with children and families, I have to address this. This statement is overly simplistic, and in my experience, overly simplistic statements are never 100% true. There IS wonderful truth in this statement that encourages parents to empathize with their child to try to evaluate motives and intentions on what might be fueling a misbehavior. This part is great and will work to improve any parent-child relationship.

But if a parent goes looking for an unmet need when a child is really caught up in his own unhealthy selfishness- and his inability to put himself under his parent’s benevolent authority- a parent’s intervention will be all wrong- and may make the situation worse.

Sometimes kids want to do something other than what a parent asks. The child knows he is loved, accepted and well-cared for- he just wants to play video games or play with Legos a lot more than he wants to clean his room, take out the trash, or start on his homework. This type of situation is usually not an unmet need. This is a child clinging to unhealthy selfishness- the unconscious belief that “if I do what I want and I don’t have to do things I don’t want to do, I will be happy”- and because of this he is willing to fight or manipulate a parent to get his or her own way.

Jay Morgan, author of Fingerpainting in Psych Class- The Strong-Willed Kid handbook.

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Father Doesn’t Know Best

I met with seven year old Emily recently. Emily lives with her very devoted mother, Rebekah, and her husband of 5 years. Emily’s birth father, Larry, contacted Rebekah requesting a visit with Emily after being completely out of her life for five years. Mom took Emily to meet her father at McDonald’s. The visit did not go well. Dad started telling Rebekah how she should be working with Emily in Emily’s presence. He then started telling Emily that she didn’t have to listen to her step-dad and that Emily’s chores were too much for a child her age. Rebekah cut the visit off early and took Emily home.

Two more visits went about the same. Rebekah made the decision that there would be no more visits with Dad- no more visits until Larry could support and back up Rebekah without trying to undermine her authority as a parent.

Now Emily was mad! And not surprisingly she was mad at Mom. In her mind, Mom was keeping her away form her dad. And she desperately wanted to see her dad again.

I considered the all of this information. I made eye contact with Emily and said, “Your mom has been working very hard for seven years now to help you to grow up right. In a way, you could look at your life as a big, beautiful Lego structure that your mom has been building just for you. It’s delicate, but quite beautiful. And now your Dad comes in and looks at the Lego sculpture. He sees all kinds of problems. He grabs a piece the structure and re-attaches it at the bottom saying, ‘That doesnt go here! It goes here!’  Then he says, ‘And this part- you don’t need that at all!’ and knocks a corner of the structure to the ground where the individual Legos scatter. Wow! If that really happened, how would your Mom feel? How would you feel if it was your partly your Lego creation?”

I didn’t wait for a response and continued, “Now lets compare. What if your dad had come in and carefully examined the Lego sculpture. He then calmly turned to your mom and said, ‘It’s so beautiful, and you’ve done so much! There’s a lot of hard work there. But let me ask about this part. What do you think about putting it over here?’ And are you sure this part is needed?” Then your dad and Mom could discuss things without Dad just coming in and taking charge- in a way, messing things up- changing things that were really going well.”

Emily seemed to absorb the information as she shook her head.

“Now Emily, I can understand how you could be mad at Mom. She is the one who said no more visits with Dad. But put your feelings to the side and think about it. Mom’s decision to stop the visits, doesn’t that have a lot to do with how Dad acted? Wouldn’t it have been different if your dad had shown appreciation for all Mom had done for and with you while he was away? And wouldn’t it be different if Dad had not made Mom feel like she was doing everything wrong? That’s not fair. Emily, you can be mad at your mom, but I think you can be mad at Dad too for not being a little more grown up and handling things differently. In a very real way Dad’s behavior stopped the visits, not your mom.”

Emily father’s continued insensitivity was the major problem. But he- a prisoner to his narcissistic world view- was probably mad at Mom, too. Now Larry could slink away and tell everyone what a B!#&H is wife was for not allowing him to visit his daughter. But Mom just hopes he will stay away- or grow up… but he’s got an agonizingly long way to go.


Jay Morgan, author and Conscious Parenting advocate


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Rub-a-dub dub… Mindfulness in the Tub


I love technology… But kids can get so “hooked up” to their electronics, they might have trouble- or even be uncomfortable by the prospect of “unplugging.” Video games, television, and smart phones seduce our children, pull them in, and consume their psychic energy. And almost every child will interpret this as “entertaining.”

But when life slows down a little (or God forbid, their X-box breaks), a child might get antsy and uncomfortable- or become hopelessly bored.  Then they miss the peacefulness of these quiet, and potentially rejuvenating,  times…

But kids have to take a bath, right? And everyone knows water and technology don’t mix. Why not introduce some mindfulness training- in the guise of engaging playfulness- so they can reconnect to the quiet stillfulness that is inside and outside of them…

“Shhh… Silent Entry”: How quietly can your child enter the tub? As he gets in, see if he can notice the displaced water and how the water rises on the sides of the tub.

“Fingertips, meet Water”: A child becomes still until the water becomes still. Then he puts his hand all the way under the water and slowly pull it out- fingertips down. The water droplets will accumulate at the tips; some will quickly fall back into the water while others take their time. Ask your child if he can feel the water on the tips of his fingers, the drops getting bigger and heavier until, “plop” they fall and merge with the water in the tub. Can he be quiet enough to hear the sound?  Make it a game. Make a bet on which finger will be the one to produce the most drops.

“What Goes Down, Must Come Up”: A child straightens his arm, slowly submerges it and pushes it to to the bottom of the tub. After a slow count to three, he relaxes his arm and allows it to float to the surface. Repeat with the other arms, and legs.

“Down To The Heart of The Water”: Your child lies on his back and slowly slides down until his ears are immersed. Then he is still and listens to his heartbeat and tries to get it to slow by watching and controlling his breath.

Mindfulness… providing a much needed balance to the busyness of the tech revolution.

Jay Morgan is the author of Fingerpainting in Psych Class and the little book of sutras

and admin for

ESCAPING… back to the NOW moment

Eight year old John is not happy about his parent’s divorce and can’t stand his Dad’s new girlfriend. John doesn’t like to feel sad, so he started giving himself over to exaggerated expressions of anger. During these episodes, John would say, “I’m going to kill myself!” His parents would then scoop him up and give him lots of attention and reassurance… But, John’s behavior worsened.  His parents became very concerned. They decided to come see me for counseling…

In our last session, John and I were playing Battle, a simple card game where high card wins. John is smiling and obviously enjoying himself as he rakes in more and more of my cards. He has a huge lead and is beating me badly…

I stopped playing for a minute and asked John about a recent incident where he was fighting with his brother and again threatened to kill himself. John’s countenance fell as his mood darkened. He looked down as he mumbled and gave me the progression: His brother was mean to him. He would not let him play. He physically pushed him out of his room. John then ran to his room shouting, “I’m going to kill myself.”

I paused wondering how to proceed. I looked intently at John. He seemed to be getting more glum as he thought and thought about what happened- replaying the course of events in his head.

I began speaking to connect with John and break up his moroseness. “Hey John. Let’s try an experiment. You thought about and talked openly about a sad thing- when you and your brother had trouble getting along. I appreciate that and we’ll go back to that later. But now let’s play cards. Let’s turn your attention back to something fun- something you enjoy. Let’s pull your attention away from thinking so much about that fight you had with your brother.”

As we resumed our card game, John’s mood lightened. In another minute, he was smiling and again enjoying himself. I paused a moment and said, ‘Hey John! The experiment worked! You stopped thinking about the fight with your brother and started playing cards and having fun. Then the sad and upset feelings went away. That’s a good thing to remember. When we get stuck and think and think and think about a negative event, we make ourself feel worse. But we can turn our attention to other things- to things we enjoy; to things that can again make us feel happy.”

Life Lesson: Too much thinking can needlessly keep us sad and upset. Visit the past, but only to solve a problem or to release pent up emotion. Practice present moment awareness. Live life in the now- not the past or the future.

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Fingerpainting in Psych Class- The cure for unconscious parenting










The Unexpected Virtue Of Emotional Tirades

Assertiveness is a critical life skill…

But, when our child attempts to assert herself- but there is a raised voice, or a belligerent tone, or some colorful speech- we shut her down. Our “You can’t talk to me that way. I’m your parent!” button goes off. And in the process, we communicate to her she is doing something wrong…

In reality, our child is on the learning curve. She is trying to make her thoughts and feelings known… She is just a little too passionate, a little too green, and a little too undisciplined…

The Fix? Give a child some latitude. Hear her out- as long as she is not being abusive. If she is too upset or angry, take a break. Come back to it later…

Then you might say, “You spoke up for yourself. Now I know what you think and how you feel. And this is obviously important to you; you have strong feelings on the subject. But next time I would like you to try to not be so loud (or belligerent, or use profanity, etc). I’m glad you are learning how to assert yourself.”

Fingerpainting in Psych Class >>

Meeting "hateful" with "helpful"
Meeting “hateful” with “helpful”

THE QUESTION IS… A new segment from Parenting in Depth

“I’m pregnant. What advice can you give me to help my kids accept this new baby who’s coming into their lives?
Two things come to mind:

1) EVEN YOUNG CHILDREN UNDERSTAND SHARING… “Erin, sometimes you have to share your toys and, as strange as it may sound, you sometimes will have to learn how to share Mom and Dad. When I’m giving the new baby all the attention they will surely need, you might start to feel uncomfortable. At those times, you can try to steal the attention back from the baby. Or you can sit back and feel happy that your little sister or brother is getting special attention from Mom or Dad- the special attention you seem to enjoy so much…”

2) THE SUPERNATURAL QUALITY OF LOVE or, if you prefer, “LOVE AIN’T LIKE SKITTLES.”  “Erin, if you start passing out your favorite candy -Skittles- you know exactly what’s going to happen: You will eventually run out. You know that pretty soon the Skittles will be all gone. But love- particularly a parent’s love- doesn’t work that way. It never runs out. God makes sure there will always be enough to go around. So never forget, Mommy and Daddy will always have the love you need and all the love that the new baby will need. Always…”


What can parents and other adults do to help kids understand that sometimes their feelings will be at war? Here is a summary of a real-life interview I had with two brothers I will call Frank and Jesse. Frank is eight and Jesse is 10. They could teach all of us a few things about conflicted feelings.

Mr. Morgan: Your mom tells me you guys get along really great some of the time. She said you seem to have a lot of fun playing basketball and Pokemon together. And she also said most of the time, you two get along at least fairly well. All that sounds really good to me. But, lately, she is concerned because you guys have gotten into some pretty bad arguments. There has been some pushing, and one fist fight where one of you guys got a bloody nose.
Frank: That was me! Jesse hit me!
Jesse: Yeah, but you stole my Nintendo game! Then you lied about it! And, then when I found it in your room, you pushed me.
Frank: I did not! You hit me for no reason!
Mr. Morgan: Hey guys, hold on a minute. Try and calm down. This thing happened last week. The only reason I brought it up was to talk about what you might do differently the next time you have a disagreement. Is that okay?
Frank and Jesse both nod their heads.
Mr. Morgan: All right then. Now, we can talk about who did what and go looking for the bad guy in all this, but I suspect you both made some good choices and you both said and did some things that you shouldn’t have. Would you agree?
Frank: Yeah, I guess that’s right.
Jesse again nods.
Mr. Morgan: Okay. Thanks for listening and paying attention. Also thanks for being so involved in our discussion. Now, it seems like you guys already get along a lot of the time, maybe even most of the time. Would you like to get along even better than you do now?
Frank and Jesse: Yes.
Mr. Morgan: Good. Now let me ask you a made-up question. Jesse, let’s say you had a friend over and for some reason he tried to really hurt Frank. What would you do?
Jesse: I’d hurt him!
Frank smiles.
Mr. Morgan: So you would try and hurt him. Why?
Jesse: Because he is trying to hurt my brother. He can’t treat my brother that way!
Mr. Morgan: It sounds like you care about your brother. You don’t want anyone to hurt him.
Jesse: That’s right!
Frank smiles some more.
Mr. Morgan: When you care about someone, you usually have positive feelings toward that person. If you didn’t have positive feelings, you wouldn’t care as much what happened to them. Even though you sometimes fight with Frank, it sounds like deep down you really care about your brother. What about you, Frank? Do you feel about the same way?
Frank: (Coming out of his chair.) Yeah. I wouldn’t let anybody mess with my brother!
Mr. Morgan: Wow! It’s really nice to hear you guys supporting each other. I also like how you can let out your true feelings. It’s obvious to me you guys deep down really love each other. I think that’s awesome! But, the other day, what do you think happened to that love when you guys got into a fight?
Jesse: Well, we weren’t thinking about that. We just got mad.
Mr. Morgan: Hey, that’s interesting. “We weren’t thinking about that.” You weren’t thinking about the positive feelings you have for your brother. Your mad feelings got in the way. I think I do that too, sometimes. Is there anything that might keep that from happening?
Frank: Just don’t get mad. Be nice.
Mr. Morgan: Hey Frank, I think you’ve got something there. “Be nice.” That sounds important to me. But how can you be nice if you’re mad at somebody? (Here I purposely did not comment on his unrealistic statement, “don’t get mad.”)
Frank: You got to go against your mad feelings. You got to remember to just be nice.
Mr. Morgan: Frank, you sure are smart for a third grader. Jesse, what do you think? Can somebody really go against his feelings? Can somebody really be nice even if he’s mad at somebody?
Jesse: Yeah. Just remember how you really feel about him. Don’t let the mad feelings stop you from being friends.
Mr. Morgan: Wow! That’s really great! Remember how you really feel, and brothers trying to be friends. I love it!
When feelings are conflicted, when they’re at war, you can’t trust them. Angry feelings usually lead to angry ideas like hitting and saying mean things. Take Frank and Jesse’s advice. Go against your mad feelings. Be nice. Remember to keep things friendly. (From FINGERPAINTING IN PSYCH CLASS– the Chapter, “Feelings at War!”)

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“Life is difficult.”     From The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck

Adults marry and start a family. Many then seem to think their life will be nice, or easy, or happy, and relatively blissful…

And then it isn’t… Life again becomes difficult.

At this point, a person may blame another person or situation, reactively think they must be doing something wrong, or see it as a big mistake and walk away.

But those who remind themselves of this truth and embrace it will not be terribly surprised when life becomes difficult. They will not play the blame game. They will not automatically think they are doing something wrong. And they will not walk away from a marriage or family…

Instead, they will realize- and remind themselves- that all of these things are going to be difficult. And they decide to do the work they need to do to grow, adapt and improve. This then helps their partner, their children, the entire family…

Scott Peck also said that once you embrace this truth- that life is difficult- you transcend it, and life is no longer difficult… just a sequence of growth opportunities to help us evolve and grow…

– Jay Morgan, author of Fingerpainting in  Psych Class and the little book of sutras

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My daughter, Hannah, is a passionate individual. She feels things deeply, and sometimes has trouble expressing herself calmly… This was especially evident when she was a teenager…

As Hannah and I were learning to navigate through “the teens,” it was not uncommon for her to become terribly angry and disrespectful. This would turn into loud belligerence and hostility. As a parent, I felt attacked.  Her words and behavior triggered something inside me (I now know it activated what I  call my “parent ego”). Before I knew it, I would be waving my arms and raising my voice above Hannah’s so she would be sure to hear me. With my own unrestrained passion, I would say, “You can’t talk to me that way! I’m your dad!” or “Hannah! You’re grounded!”

None of this seemed to help. Things would always become even more tense between Hannah and me. She said more angry and unkind things and, like a maniacal dictator, I said angry and unkind things back in a futile attempt to gain the upper hand and make her back down. One day, after a particularly difficult morning, I dropped her off at school and said something I will not repeat here. Hannah got out of the car, slammed the door, and said something equally horrible. As I pulled away feeling drained and empty, I promised myself I would change. I was going to do things differently..

It wasn’t  long before another disagreement arose. I made sure my “promise”  was in the front part of my brain as a reminder to stop the old stuff so something new- anything at this point- could take its place. Hannah verbally laid into me. It felt like she  slapped me. I was lost. I had no idea what to say or do. I looked at her in a way that I’m sure reflected my disorientation but said nothing. I quietly left the room…

Then something just short of miraculous happened… Ten minutes went by and Hannah came into my office and told me she was sorry for speaking to me the way she did. Somewhat shocked- but more pleasantly surprised- we talked about the disagreement. She told me a little less passionately in a much more controlled way what she thought and how she felt. I listened without interrupting. Then she listened to me as I shared my thoughts. It was a magic moment…

So what happened? As I look back in reflection, I realized when I didn’t react to Hannah with any loud and disrespectful behavior, she didn’t have anything  to “hang” her inappropriate behavior on. She was then more keenly aware of how her angry words really sounded. Her conscience was then activated and “nudged her” to come back to me to apologize and try to reconcile. We could then enjoy an honest and more controlled communication.

This is a recipe I have gone to many times since then- with not only Hannah, but many others. The results were not always so dramatic… but it sure made me feel better as worked on controlling myself and keeping my composure… and giving up the need to control others…

Who would have thought that saying nothing could accomplish so much?

Read Fingerpainting in Psych Class for more on this important subject…

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So you’ve been following my Facebook page for a while… (

You’re trying to be more positive with your children, and you’re trying to stop yourself from reacting in the same old way to their less-than-positive behavior…

Now your child begins to jump on the couch… or aggravate her brother again… or do what you’ve asked, but slowly, or in a substandard way…

And at some level she is expecting you to correct her, or interact with her in some other negative way… She looks your way… waiting…

But nothing happens… 😕

As a parent, you observe the behavior, but have yet to decide how to address it…

You’re tired of being so negative so you wait until a better approach comes to mind…

And at that moment, you can’t help but wonder what your child is thinking… “This isn’t what Mom (or Dad) does…”😒

You, as a parent, are changing the rules…
You, as a parent, are determined to change your interactional style…
And you, as a parent, have a quiet confidence that this will change everything…😉

Welcome to Conscious Parenting and Fingerpainting in Psych Class!