Category Archive: Parenting

Active Listening for Parents

Parenting during the adolescent phase of development brings about new challenges for most parents.  A common complaint from parents is that “my teen doesn’t listen to me”, while a common complaint from teens is that “my parent doesn’t listen to me”.  These sentiments are not surprising as parents begin to struggle, often for the first time, with how to keep the lines of communication open with their child.  Good communication during your child’s adolescent years may well be the most important strategy you need to help them with their transition to young adulthood.  Teens are focused on two key challenges during adolescence:  identity and relational success.  Your efforts to help them successfully navigate these developmental tasks are dependent upon your ability to model and teach them good communication skills.

Active listening has been found to be an important parental tool to improve communication with teens.  So what is active listening for parents?  It simply means listening for the purpose of trying to understand what your teen thinks and feels, in other words, where they are coming from.  Now this may sound like a real stretch when you think about the typical definition of conversation between teenage boys and parents, which often includes repetitive questioning by you followed by one word mumbling by them such as, “sure”, “fine”, “nothing”, or “whatever”.  Nonetheless, there are six key components of the active listening process which tends to open the lines of communication with teens: 1) Paraphrasing, 2)Clarifying, 3) Giving Feedback, 4) Empathy, 5)Openness, and 6) Awareness.  Once your child enters adolescence, your parenting role will be shifting toward a more collaborative and supervisory approach as you guide them toward greater autonomy from you.

Paraphrasing and Clarifying helps you demonstrate to your teen that you want to collaborate with them to better understand their thoughts and feelings.  Paraphrasing means briefly summarizing what you heard so your teen can let you know if you heard them accurately.  Using effective paraphrasing lead-ins with teens such as, “Do you mean”; “Help me understand”; “What I hear is”; “So what happened was”; or “So how you felt was” lets your teen know you are listening.  Also, “How” questions are more likely to be answered than “Why” questions, which tend to put teens on the defensive.  For example, choose “How did that happen?” or “How can I help?” rather than “Why are your grades dropping?”; “Why are you so lazy?” or “Why is your attitude so bad?”  Paraphrasing stops miscommunication because your teen gets a chance to let you know if you heard the message wrong.  Paraphrasing also stops anger escalation and helps you remain calm even when discussing difficult topics involving poor choices or behaviors which are upsetting to you.  Paraphrasing also helps you remember what was said.  Many times parents hear one “hot button” part of the conversation, become emotionally reactive, and then miss the rest or the context that needs your attention to fully understand. Clarifying helps you hear the events in context; lets your teen know you care; and gives the message that you want to understand them.

When Giving Feedback, remember to use a non-judgmental style and express your thoughts and feelings assertively.  Assertive expression with your teen means interacting with direct, clear and specific statements in a calm manner.  It never means being aggressive, vague or indirect.  Use “I feel” language rather than “you make me so angry”.  Calmly explain how their behavior or decision impacts you, them, or others.   Giving good feedback means expressing your thoughts and feelings openly and directly, while also acknowledging your teen’s thoughts and feelings.  Actively listening with Empathy involves understanding that teen brain development is not complete (but yours is!).  When you acknowledge how your teen is probably feeling (e.g., embarrassed, frustrated, disappointed, or angry), you convey an attitude of respect which usually disarms your teen and begets more respect from them.  Try to remember that their poor choices/bad decisions are not automatically reflective of your parenting skills.  This can help you avoid becoming defensive.

Listening with Openness involves remaining open to alternative viewpoints.  Teens shut down if they believe you cannot hear the hard stuff or if you make a hasty judgment as you filter out what you don’t want to hear.  You may be missing important information and you most certainly will be missing an opportunity to influence your teen with your beliefs and values related to a certain topic.  Listening with Awareness means remaining committed to understanding your teen’s thoughts and feelings even when you are upset, angry, or disagree with them.  Don’t shy away from getting educated on topics they will come across in the broader culture.  Showing curiosity about how they think or feel is not an endorsement of their beliefs, but you gain an opportunity to express your values and beliefs with a greater chance that you will be heard.  Incorporating these six elements of active listening to improve your communication can help your teen feel connected to you.  This connection can enhance their resilience in the face of setbacks because they will feel you really hear them and understand their difficulties and stressors during the teen years.

by: Eileen Lightner, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Addressing Your Child’s Learning Difficulties

When children experience difficulty in school, their performance in math, reading and writing needs to be evaluated to determine the exact causes of their learning difficulties. In addition to learning problems in these areas, there may be other factors impacting a child’s capacity to learn. Specifically, a child’s learning can be affected by a variety of reasons that can be challenging to differentiate. Some of these factors can include inattention, hyperactivity, poor planning, problems with disorganization and homework, and poor time management can exist.  In addition, emotional difficulties such as anxiety, depression, anger problems, and low frustration tolerance can have a negative impact on academic performance as well as everyday functioning.
There are a variety of ways to address these issues. Your first step may involve communicating with your child’s school to speak with a guidance counselor, school psychologist, and or an administrator. From this discussion a meeting can be held in order to obtain feedback from school personnel while discussing concerns regarding your child’s needs. If you are unsure about your child’s needs in the school setting then it may be appropriate to discuss your child’s progress with a psychologist who possesses knowledge of not only learning issues and childhood disorders, but one who understands the educational process that is required to have your child receive support in the academic environment.
Psychology Associates of Chester County, Inc. can provide a variety of testing and evaluation services to address these issues:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) Evaluations: This assessment includes, use of parent, and teacher rating scales, interview and observations of the child, and select subtests from cognitive and memory tests. Developmental history and academic performance, including issues related to homework completion are assessed. The results of the evaluation are used to determine whether your child has ADHD, while making recommendations based upon these findings.  Furthermore, the results can be used to facilitate communication and collaboration with the school and other service providers.
Learning Disability Evaluations:  A comprehensive assessment designed to identify cognitive, academic, emotional and behavioral strengths and needs, in order to determine how these aspects impact learning. As a result of these findings, recommendations for the child, school and parents are included in this report. Gifted evaluations are offered in order to determine appropriate recommendations and support services.
Vocational Evaluations: An assessment designed to help adults with making career or vocational decisions. The evaluation will include assessment of cognitive abilities, academic skills, and vocational interest. In addition, assessment of personality, emotional, and behavioral status are included to help determine appropriate vocational skills, as well as possible accommodations that may be needed in the workplace.
Psychological or Diagnostic evaluations: This assessment is directed towards assessing one’s emotional, behavioral, and social well-being as well as to identify and possibly diagnose mental health conditions. From this report, recommendations for self-improvement or treatment options will be provided. Types of measures used may include assessing cognitive abilities, academic skills, and personality status.
Asperger’s Disorder and/or Autistic Evaluations: This evaluation includes review of developmental history with parents, observations and interview with child, rating scales, feedback from school personnel and/or other service providers.
Additional Services Available
Consultation services: Dr. George Villarose is a Licensed Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist with direct experience working in school settings.  Dr. Villarose can assist parents and/or their caregivers in improving the quality of interaction between your child and their school, given their particular style of learning. This may include ways of presenting your concerns about your child’s needs or obtaining assistance in securing appropriate accommodations when needed. In addition, prior test data, evaluations, and academic records can be reviewed to facilitate collaborative communication between Dr. Villarose and the school to address your child’s needs.
Psychotherapy and counseling services: Dr. Villarose uses a cognitive behavior therapy approach when working with individuals in order to examine, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. From this assessment, skills are taught as a way to improve overall well-being and relationships. Other approaches used include family systems therapy, and parent consultation. Also, elements of the collaborative problem solving approach are applied. 
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Being “Supermom” Stressing You Out?

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association Offers Tips for Mothers.

According to a 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), women are more affected by stress than men and report engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as comfort eating, poor diet choices, smoking, and inactivity to help deal with stress. The same survey showed women report feeling the effects of stress on their physical health more than men. With Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s a good time for moms and their families to recognize the importance of addressing stress and managing it in healthy ways.

“How a mother manages stress is often a model for the rest of the family,” says psychologist Dr. Steven Cohen, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. “Other family members will imitate her unhealthy behavior.”

APA’s 2009 survey results indicate that women continue to bear the brunt of stress, particularly in relation to financial concerns and worries over their family’s health and family responsibilities, and they consistently report higher leverls of stress than men.

“Of greatest concern is the fact that women report more physical and emotional symptoms of stress,” says Dr. Cohen, “and are more likely to report lacking willpower to make changes recommended by health care providers.”

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers these strategies to help mothers manage stress:

Understand how you experience stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?
Identify stressors. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your chldren, family health, financial decisions, work, rerlationships or something else?

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of motherhood. Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed and overwhelmed, such as stopping for fast food while running errands or picking up your kids? Put things in perspective. Make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities — taking a short walk, exercising, or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

“Mothers often put their family needs first and neglect their own,” says Dr. Cohen. “It’s okay to relax your standards — don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to have the ‘perfect’ house or be the ‘perfect’ mother. No one expects you to be Superwoman.”

To learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s Web site,, or the American Psychological Association’s Consumer Help Center at


The Pennsylvania Psychological Association is a member-driven organization organization dedicated to promoting and advancing psychology in Pennsylvania, advocating for public access to psychological services, and enhancing multiple dimensions of human welfare while supporting the development of competent and ethical psychologists. Our mission is to educate, update and inform the public and our membership on cutting-edge psychological theory and practice through training activities and public policy initiatives.

Web site:

Pennsylvania Psychological Association
Marti Evans
Public Information Contact
phone: 717-232-3817

Parenting: The Teen Years

The teen years pose some of the most difficult challenges for families. Teenagers, dealing with hormone changes and an ever-complex world, may feel that no one can understand their feelings, especially parents. As a result, the teen may feel angry, alone and confused while facing complicated issues about identity, peers, sexual behavior, drinking and drugs.

Parents may be frustrated and angry that the teen seems to no longer respond to parental authority. Methods of discipline that worked well in earlier years may no longer have an effect. And, parents may feel frightened and helpless about the choices their teen is making. As a result, the teen years are ripe for producing conflict in the family. Typical areas of parent-teen conflict may include:

– disputes over the teen’s curfew;

– the teen’s choice of friends;

– spending time with the family versus with peers;

– school and work performance;

– cars and driving privileges;

– dating and sexuality;

– clothing, hair styles and makeup;

– self destructive behaviors such as smoking, drinking and using drugs.

Dealing with the issues of adolescence can be trying for all concerned. But families are generally successful at helping their children accomplish the developmental goals of the teen years — reducing dependence on parents, while becoming increasingly responsible and independent.

However, there are a number of warning signs that things are not going well and that the family may want to seek outside help. These include aggressive behavior or violence by the teen, drug or alcohol abuse, promiscuity, school truancy, brushes with the law or runaway behavior. Likewise, if a parent is resorting to hitting or other violent behavior in an attempt to maintain discipline, this is a strong danger sign.


Dealing With the Back-to-School Blues?

Parents have a lot on their plate: mortgage payments, healthcare, caring for elderly parents, raising kids, just to name a few. As the new school year approaches, they face additional stressors—paying for back-to-school supplies, clothes and possibly tuition. Many parents may also be worried about their children starting a new school, changing school districts, facing a more rigorous academic year or dealing with difficult social situations. Often the fear of the unknown—classmates, teachers, the school building—is the most stressful for family members, whether it’s the children hopping on the school bus or their parents who have to wave goodbye.

“The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. “While trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimes overlook their children’s feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins. Working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family.”
Fortunately, children are extremely capable of coping with change and parents can help them in the process by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share and express their feelings about returning to school.

APA offers the following back-to-school tips:

1. Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home—backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money—will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches will help keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.

2. Get to know your neighbors: If your child is starting a new school, walk around your block and get to know the neighborhood children. Try and set up a play date, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.

3. Talk to your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.

4. Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance.

5. Get involved and ask for help: Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school will foster support for both you and your child. If you feel the stress of the school year is too much for you and your child to handle on your own, seeking expert advice from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, will help you better manage and cope.

Special thanks to Dr. Mary Alvord for her help with this article
Source: American Psychological Association