Parental Alienation Q&A continued

Q: My daughter hates and despises me... says she will run away and hide or fight if I try to pick her up at her dad's for my parenting time. I am devastated. What should I do?

- Sad Alienated Mom #2

A: Oh my, I'm sorry. That must have been very hard for you to hear.

Please don't believe her when she says she hates you. What she means is that she feels terribly angry and confused and upset. Kids go to extremes in their emotional expressions. If they say they are so mad they could punch someone, it's their way of describing the intensity of their emotion. It's not an indicator of true intention or premeditated violence.

Parental Alienation Q&A

Q: I read your article, Defending Against Parental Alienation. I seem to be already doing all of these things, but my 2 kids (9 and 12) are not speaking to me. They live out of state, and I have custody of them in summer and on school holidays. Their stepmom is very angry with me because I told someone in confidence that I was concerned that she may be trying to alienate my kids from me, and somehow, word got back to her.

Since then, my kids won't return my calls or text messages, and periodically send me texts saying I am mean and demanding that I "take back" what I said about their stepmom. I am working with my counselor on this, but wondered if you would also have any suggestions (which I would bounce off of my counselor first before implementing) on what to do or not to do? I will see them for spring break, but they don't know that because they think they can just decide not to come.

-Sad Alienated Mom

A: Dear Sad Alienated Mom,

My heart goes out to you. I'm so glad you have a good counselor - this is one of the hardest possible situations for a parent to face, and you'll need a source of support where you can be completely candid and release all of your feelings in confidentiality.

My daughter complains about her dad's girlfriend

Q: My daughter comes home upset about lots of things that happen at her dad's. Lately, the biggest problem is that she does not like his new girlfriend. How do I handle this? Should I tell her to talk to him about her feelings? It's complicated, because sometimes I've seen my daughter be nice to her, so I don't even know what is real here. Should I tell my daughter that she's sending mixed messages?

A: This is a great opportunity to practice your empathy skills, because you have absolutely no control over this situation. Sometimes we are tempted to try to get our children to talk to their other parent about their feelings, but I think it is far more helpful to stay with your child's feelings in the moment than to try to help her solve anything.

Let's listen in on how it sounds to give empathy:

My ex calls too much when our kids are with me

Q: My ex just can't seem to leave our six year daughter alone while she is with me. He calls my cell phone several times a day, and if we don't pick up, he'll call back five or ten more times in rapid succession until he eventually talks to her. Recently he got her an email address and told her to check her email every day. It feels so disruptive and intrusive! How can I get him to back off?

A: Yuck. I don't blame you for feeling irritated!

I'd make a direct request by sending him an email. I wouldn't expect that he'll actually honor it, (although you never know!), but it's important for your own integrity that you are clear in your communication: Please leave a voice message if we don't pick up. She will call you back when we have a free moment. I'd prefer not to receive multiple follow up calls. 

My ex talks negatively about me to our kids

Q: I read your article about parental alienation. I have been dealing with my son’s father for several years now. All along, I've stood my ground, been open to allowing our son to have his own opinion, and somehow not given in to defending myself to my child. It does worry me that constantly hearing these negative comments will somehow damage my son in the future. I follow the guidelines in your article pretty consistently. Is there something else I could be doing to smooth the edges? 

A: Thanks so much for writing. First and foremost, let me commend you for the way you have handled this challenging situation thus far. Your son is lucky indeed to have you as a clear, conscious, and compassionate role model.

free parenting articles - very helpful strategies!!!

stumbled upon this site today, and spent hours reading free articles about an approach to parenting that is very similar to what Robin and I teach in our Inspiring Connections parenting workshops.

It's amazing stuff. Be sure to check out the ones about sleep, whining, aggression, and siblings. Aw heck, just read as many as you can. This approach is truly insightful and effective, and these articles will very likely transform your entire perspective on your role as a parent. I'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

The Magical Power of Empathy

Parental empathy, which is nothing more than simply reflecting your child's emotion and perspective by repeating it back, is the magic wand I wish I'd known about when my kids were little.

The magnificent book and DVD by Dr. Harvey Karp, The Happiest Toddler on the Block didn't exist back then. I muddled my way through to it eventually, and to be honest, I'm still working on making it my default response.

I still catch myself jumping into offering a solution to her problem right away, and I swear, every single time I do that, I am met with defensiveness. My daughter is the perfect barometer for me!

Here's a hot off the press example from my laundry room last week:

My daughter: I hate laundry!

Me (feeling cheerful and helpful): I can just throw yours in with mine tonight, honey.

My daughter: It's just that I REALLY hate laundry. I have no time to do it, I need my jeans for tomorrow, and I just hate it.

Me: I can take care of it for you.

My daughter: I just HATE it! I always have SO MUCH!

Me (starting to get annoyed, gritting my teeth just a little): Honey, I just said I would do it for you.

My daughter: But I just REALLY REALLY HATE IT!!

Me (finally waking up): It just drives you crazy that it keeps piling up all the time.

My daughter (sighing and settling down): Yeah, it sure does.

And she put her laundry in the washer and went upstairs, quiet and peaceful as a lamb.

I, on the other hand, just stood there with my mouth open, wondering, "What just happened here?"

It still amazes me how irrelevant actual solutions are most of the time. My tendency is to think I can help by taking away the source of the problem. But once there's an emotion triggered, it simply has to be acknowledged before anything else can happen. Nine times out of ten, she settles down after receiving empathy, and no actual solution is ever found.

Another example: She needed a filling, which she hates getting. For years, whenever we'd leave the dentist after getting bad news, I'd spend the whole car ride home trying to convince her that it wouldn't be that awful. (Remember, last time you said it wasn't too bad? This new dentist is so great. She's really gentle and experienced. I'm sure it won't hurt. We can tell her you want one of those little things to hold your mouth open for you. Maybe you can wear your iPod. Yadda yadda yadda.)

But old dogs really can learn new tricks, so this time, I said not one word in the car. As we left the office, I said, "Oh man, I know how much that is NOT what you wanted to hear today." And then I SHUT UP and concentrated on my breathing the whole way home.

She went straight to her room. An hour or so later, she came out, and it was like nothing had ever been wrong. Same thing happened when she was complaining about a difficult homework assignment. I finally stopped trying to "help her" figure out who she could call for help, and started doing dishes nearby. She decided to go for a run, and came back fine. Turns out she works through things much faster on her own than with my "help." Can you imagine? :)

She just needed empathy. Not solutions. So that's my new motto (inside my head.) Empathy, not solutions. Empathy, not solutions.
Believe me, I still need a lot of practice, and have to remind myself every day after school while she's telling me about the Drama of the Day. Here's a peek at my inner dialogue: Take a breath. Wait. Empathy, not solutions. But I have good advice! Empathy, not solutions. Breathe. But if she would listen to me, I could tell her what to do to make this better! Empathy, not solutions. Breathe. Sit back. Wait. Only express understanding - no fixing. Breathe.

And the truth is, if she really does want my help figuring something out, she always comes right out and asks me. And it never ever happens until I've given empathy first.

Parenting sure is a process, ain't it? I'm learning new stuff all the time.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

My daughter won't drink milk, and I'm worried about her bones.

I stumbled across some interesting research about milk and other dairy products that I wanted to share with you. It seems to suggest that your daughter may actually be wise in her refusal, and that if she gets plenty of exercise and eats plenty of fruits and vegetables without overloading on animal protein, she's giving her bones exactly what they need to grow up strong and healthy:

The 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 female nurses, published in the American Journal of Public Health (1997, volume 87), concluded:"There is no significant association between teenaged milk consumption and the risk of adult fractures. Data indicate that frequent milk consumption and higher dietary calcium intakes in middle aged women do not provide protection against hip or forearm fractures...women consuming greater amounts of calcium from dairy foods had significantly increased risks of hip fractures, while no increase in fracture risk was observed for the same levels of calcium from nondairy sources."

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) looked at all aspects of diet and bone health and found that high consumption of fruits and vegetables positively affect bone health and that dairy consumption did not.

The analysis of all research conducted since 1985 concluded:"If dairy food intakes confer bone health, one might expect this to have been apparent from the 57 outcomes, which included randomized, controlled trials and longitudinal cohort studies involving 645,000 person-years." The researchers conclude with typical scientific reserve that:"The body of scientific evidence appears inadequate to support a recommendation for daily intake of dairy foods to promote bone health in the general U.S. population."

... physical exercise is the key to building strong bones (and is more important than any other factor.) For example, a study published in the British Medical Journal, which followed 1,400 men and women over a 15-year period, found that exercise may be the best protection against hip fractures and that "reduced intake of dietary calcium does not seem to be a risk factor."

And Penn State University researchers found that bone density is significantly affected by how much exercise girls get during their teen years, when 40 to 50 percent of their skeletal mass is developed. Consistent with previous research, the Penn State study, which was published in Pediatrics (2000), the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that calcium intake, which ranged from 500 to 1,500 mg per day, has no lasting effect on bone health.

"We hypothesized that increased calcium intake would result in better adolescent bone gain. Needless to say, we were surprised to find our hypothesis refuted," one researcher explained.

I'll stop there, but you can find a ton of additional information on the web about connection between calcium, protein and bone health. Milk might indeed be "nature's wellness drink," like their ads proclaim, IF you are a bovine! Even the FDA's newsletter says, "Cow's milk contains a different type of protein than breast milk. This is good for calves, but human infants can have difficulty digesting it."

Mother's milk is nature's wellness drink for growing babies and toddlers (and, by the way, it also happens to be very LOW in calcium!) Each species produces milk that is perfectly biochemically customized for their own offspring, which continue to grow and mature even without any additional milk after weaning.

Hmmm. Maybe this is why the dairy industry has to spend lots of money to try to convince us that drinking the milk of another species is actually a good idea?! Ewww.

Personally, I'm with your daughter on this one. I'd rather exercise and eat a nice leafy green salad (or one of my green smoothies) instead of drinking milk any day ... in fact, I can't even remember the last glass of milk I drank. Must have been at least 10 or 15 years ago. But I do dig the occasional ice cream cone, grilled cheese, or milkshake. I'm a fan of moderation in all things, including moderation!

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

Launching Our Teenagers

Q: How long it will take for my 19 year old daughter to wake up and see reality? Recently she moved to another state with her deadbeat boyfriend and their baby. My husband said that in time, (and it may even take a few years), she will see for herself what kind of guy she is with. In the meantime, I don't want to sit around sulking and dwelling on it. I thought we taught her right from wrong, so why is she making such terrible choices? Where did we go wrong? Can you give me a little bit of advice on how to not let this situation hurt me so much?

Jill from Florida (Mom of 4)

A: You have reached a pivotal juncture that all parents will eventually face:

The Big Letting Go.

I'm glad to hear that you don't want to sit around dwelling on your daughter's choices. You have your own life to live, your own choices to make, and your own opportunities to pursue.

Why ask why?

A helpful question to ask yourself when your child has just done something you find unacceptable or inappropriate is: "What was my child is trying to accomplish with this behavior?"

Why does this matter? Because children use immature strategies to get their needs met or accomplish their "goals". Their social skills are not developed enough to ask nicely, so they grab. They weren't born knowing that we use"excuse me" to ask others to step out of our way, so they just push their way through. What adult onlookers might interpret as manipulation, opposition, or cruelty is often simply evidence that kids don't know a better way to do things yet.

When we pause for a moment to consider what our children are trying to accomplish, it may become obvious to us which of their strategies need some updating. Kids need our compassionate guidance and assistance so they can learn a more effective and prosocial way to accomplish their goals.

When parents realize this, it's easier to stop taking misbehavior personally, and instead see it as a sign that their child needs help generating other strategies that will work better for him and those around him.

An example: Sam hits Joey on the head with a truck in the sandbox.

Rewinding to just a moment before the incident, we see Joey reaching for the truck that Sam was playing with. These little guys don't need time out, they need help.

What was Joey trying to accomplish? He wanted to play with that truck. His immature strategy: grab it. Joey needs to learn how to ask for something that is already in use, or to wait until it is available.

What was Sam trying to accomplish? He wanted to keep his truck. His immature strategy: wallop the intruder until he backs off. Sam needs to learn some refusal skills - he needs to know how to move away or use his words to convey that his toy is not currently available.

If we simply take the truck away or put the boys into time out, we miss the opportunity to update their strategies. Time out doesn't teach alternatives.

Luckily, our children's brains and nervous systems come pre-wired for observation and imitation. Their brains also need lots of repetition to hardwire in a new habit, so the alternative isn't likely to anchor permanently until we've shown them a new way multiple times.

We can speed the learning process up a bit by not only teaching our children alternatives, but also being a shining example of the changes we want them to make. Children are far more likely to do what they see us doing than what we've told them to do. We help them learn when we make sure our words and actions are congruent.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit