Category Archives: parenting

How to turn your child into a liar: 13 easy steps

  • Criticize or do not allow for speaking feelings/opinions/observations
  • Don’t give the benefit of the doubt, always believe or defend the other person over your child
  • Encourage triangulation: don’t tell (other parent/family member/sibling/teacher/therapist/neighbor); keep secrets in the family
  • Invalidate vulnerable feelings (you were just being lazy, it wasn’t that hard)
  • Treat all transgressions as something equally awful (you didn’t brush your teeth, lied about your homework, stayed out past curfew, shoplifted; you ALWAYS lie)
  • No space to discuss, negotiate, or problem-solve (because I said so)
  • Give harsh punishments not commensurate with the situation
  • Implied or looming threat (if you do that again, you are going to lose your phone for the rest of the school year)
  • Encourage subservience over truth (your elders are always right)
  • Be inconsistent; sometimes something is bad/sometimes it’s ignored. Intermittent reinforcement (response) schedules maintain undesired behaviors.
  • Emphasize or exaggerate a show of social status; bragging (new car, elaborate vacation, technology, job titles, possessions, house, money)
  • Don’t admit to errors, accidents, or mistakes; never apologize
  • Ignore the specifics of the situation (I don’t care what happened, you lied). School, friend group, family interactions, social media, academics, sports, peer pressure, risky behavior, emotional symptoms including anxiety or depression; the context is ignored.

Children learn to lie as early as age 3. Initially, it can be a way of learning how to distinguish between fantasy and reality. While experimentation and creativity may originally be the impetus, as they grow older, children who fear punishment may lie to get out of trouble.

Punishment may actually promote more and more lying until it becomes a habit. This can carry into adulthood.

Also see On Over Apology.

Are gender reveal parties psychologically healthy?

Celebrated at an earlier stage in pregnancy than a baby shower, a gender reveal party announces whether expectant parents will be giving birth to a boy or a girl. This practice has become most popular in the United States and it’s almost impossible to avoid these celebrations being touted on social media.  At their 20 week scan; the point at which it is usually possible to tell the sex of the baby – some couples will ask the sonographer to write down “boy” or “girl” on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope. They sometimes give this to a trusted friend or relative who may organize the gender reveal party.

The gender reveal party has become a mammoth accompanied by a myriad of opportunities to spend copious amounts of money and receive tens of thousands of clicks on Instagram. Guests can demonstrate their gender predictions by wearing pink or blue apparel, then play games before the big reveal. Activities include balloon reveals, glittery powders, sprinkles, guessing games, silly string, appetizers and desserts with color themes, family pets, and colored smoke cannons. Search engine research turns up a plethora of gender reveal party themes and purchases, with names like tutus or touchdowns.

Gender reveal parties have also taken a deadly turn. ‘Celebration explosions’ which became popular at these parties started a wildfire in Northern California in the fall of 2021 that raged out of control, destroying numerous homes and lives. A pink-and-blue smoke cannon backfired hitting a father-to-be in a very sensitive area and causing significant medical injury. Another couple inadvertently created a pipe bomb that exploded, shrapnel killing a woman 40 feet away. The worst kind of parties have included exotic animals including an alligator and a hippo that were given blue or pink Jell-O to consume, by the parents to be.

Tragicomic reality show features aside, are gender reveal parties even okay for mental health? Projecting gender perceptions becomes especially thorny when you take into consideration that globally, one in every 1000 to 1500 children is born with a visible form of Difference of Sex Development (DSD), which means being neither entirely male nor female, since the chromosomal/genital makeup falls somewhere in between.

In times where the concept of ‘toxic’ masculinity is being dissected and debated, the rights of transgender people have been jeopardized, when an increasing number of young people are actively choosing not to identify with traditional heteronormative norms,  many women have expressed high levels of anxiety about reproductive rights, and mental health professionals caution against calling girls “my little princess,” the very idea of gender reveal parties seems more reckless than quaint.

The importance of rituals and celebration
Most expecting parents will tell you that the prenatal period is arduous. Even without any pre-existing or emerging medical problems, prenatal care, cautionary tales, financial worries, plans and schedules, the earnest and huge amount of information about what to expect when you’re expecting, incredibly personal questions fielded from friends and family, and feeling like an alien is taking over your body, it is not what most parents-to-be describe as a fun time. The couples I see in my practice have described gender reveal parties as a chosen “hurrah” during the prenatal time when nothing else is fun and games.
Rituals are often created for times of stress, states Dr. Nick Hobson, a clinical psychologist who studies worldwide customs and rituals. It is human to be drawn to rituals. From picture day at school, to proms, graduations, bachelorette parties, wedding rehearsals, baby showers, and coming of age ceremonies, rituals are used to mark time and place. Rituals are a freeze frame of moments that feel profoundly important.

The psychology of prenatal celebration
In indigenous cultures, a woman’s pregnancy and birth were the responsibility of the entire community rather than an individual family event. The community was expected to support the mother in pragmatic prenatal and antenatal care, including emotional and spiritual support. There was a connection to the environment and nature, as well as community. In the Mohawk language, the word for midwife is Iewirokwas, or “ birthed from earth and water.” Around the world, cultural practices around birth, including ceremonies for welcoming and celebrating the new life and sharing of traditional knowledge and teaching for parenting, helped establish strong community roots for the mother and newborn by encouraging a sense of belonging for the family and feelings of support. Historically, celebrations included offerings of food to help the expectant parents cope with busy schedules, child care for other children in the family, chanting and singing, drumming, smudging, and blessing rituals.

While gender reveal parties, where cakes can run as much as $1000, may create a sense of recognition and importance for the parents to be, there are numerous meaningful ways to show support and to help assuage very real fears of what it means to embark on the hard job of parenthood. Tiny humans who later decide they would rather wear gray and black may also want (parents) to skip the glitter.


Where will we get the resources to pay for the exponential increase in child services that we are going to be needing?

The system is already overburdened. Prepared parents are few already. Child maltreatment statistics are extremely underreported.

  • FACT. At least 1 in 7 children in the US has experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year.
  • FACT. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, followed by physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse.
  • FACT. Adult survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
  • FACT. Adult survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors like smoking, alcohol and drug use, and unsafe sex. They’re also more likely to have overall lower physical health than those who haven’t experienced childhood abuse.
  • FACT. Children younger than one year old are the most vulnerable to maltreatment, accounting for almost half of child fatalities from abuse in 2018-2020. The perpetrator over 75% of the time is a biological parent.

What’s the plan to help parents parent?

Cultural competency with Muslim patients

As Ramadan begins, Embolden is working with several DC area schools and school systems, as well as offices/businesses, to create understanding and comfort for Muslim students and professionals who are fasting or participating in other spiritual activities. Muslim individuals differ in every possible way. The Muslim community has a rich variability that is a complex and nuanced mix of religion, cultural identity, family traditions, and individual personality.

Muslim individuals differ in socioeconomic background, family structure, level of religiosity, cultural identity, knowledge of spiritual practice, gender identity, community, career paths, and personality. There is no single coping style or mental health profile that Muslims share as a group. In order to serve Muslim clients and mental health needs best, an open stance of curiosity, inquiry, and humility is required by medical and mental health professionals.

On a pragmatic level, some schools are adapting to Ramadan, a time when students fast and cannot drink water from sunrise to sunset and often cannot participate in sports, by creating alternative activities during lunchtime, psychoeducational presentations for students and faculty and awareness for both the vulnerabilities and strengths that all students bring with them to school communities.

Also see Nine Reasons Why Cross-cultural Friendships Are Good For Your Health.

The Father-Daughter Dance: Okay to Be Me

A healthy father-daughter relationship can be key for developing a girl’s positive self-esteem. If the relationship between father and daughter is strained at an early age, it can make for a lifetime of internal challenges and relationship struggles.

Based on clinical psychology research, the most important question for the father-daughter relationship appears to be: Is it OK to be me?

*When a daughter’s father allows her to be a child, without piling on adult responsibilities, she’s more likely to develop healthy relationships.
*Feeling that her father accepts her as she is, and communicates with her well, appears to lessen a girl’s risk of developing depression.
*Research suggests that paternal closeness, reliability, affection, and permission for autonomy lessen the risk of a girl developing major depression or eating disorders. 
*Women who had a psychiatric disorder were more likely to describe their father relationships as less caring, overprotective, unkind, critical, and punitive.

Stats, see Demidenko, Manion, & Lee: Father-daughter attachment and communication in depressed and non-depressed adolescent girls. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2015.

Mother, as a Verb.

Many people had a parent in childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet mental, emotional, or physical needs. Perhaps the parent was struggling to do the best they could with the limitations of society and personal circumstances, but fell short. Perhaps they had mental health challenges, medical problems, trauma, financial hardship, personal struggles, and lack of validation from society. 

Whatever the reason is, many people are left with relationship wounds from their interactions with primary caregivers.

Mother wounds can show up in the following ways:

  • Unrealistic expectations in relationships.
  • An inability to practice consistent self-care.
  • Emotionally care-taking others to the point of personal exhaustion and disappointment.
  • Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
  • An inability to ask for and receive support.
  • Disordered eating – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
  • Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
  • Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to personal aspirations and dreams.
  • Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you, or that you’re not worthy of love.
  • Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
  • Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
  • Feeling resentful and bitter, and believing that others have it better.
  • Never feeling good enough no matter what you do.

Everyone needs mothering. Mothering is that nurturing process that helps someone grow. In addition to physical nourishment, including gentle touch, care, safety, and food, emotional nurturing consists of meeting a child’s emotional needs.

These include:

  • Love
  • Play
  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Understanding
  • Acceptance
  • Empathy
  • Comfort
  • Reliability
  • Guidance

As an adult, you still have these emotional needs.
Self-love and re-parenting means working on meeting them as a life long process.

When you have uncomfortable feelings, literally put your hand on your chest, and say aloud, “You’re (or I’m) ____.” (e.g., angry, sad, afraid, lonely). This accepts and honors your feelings.

If you have difficulty identifying your feelings, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Notice your thoughts. Try to name your specific feelings. (“Upset” isn’t a specific feeling.) Do this several times a day to increase your feeling recognition. Putting words to emotions is validation.

Think or write about the feeling and what you need that will make you feel better. You need to sleep, take a time out, drink a hot beverage, eat a snack, go outside, take a nap, call a friend. Meeting needs is good parenting.

If you’re angry or anxious, practice yoga, stretching, meditation, or simple breathing exercises. Slowing your breath slows your brain and calms your nervous system. Exhale 10 times making a hissing (“sss”) sound with your tongue behind your teeth. Vocalizing is ideal for releasing anger.

Practice giving yourself nurturance: Write a supportive letter to yourself. Have a warm drink or eat some comforting soup. Wrap your body in a soft blanket.

Do something pleasurable, e.g., read a book or watch your favorite show, cuddle your companion animal, walk in nature, listen to music or dance, create something, cook something nourishing, or stroke/groom your skin. Pleasure releases chemicals in the brain that counterbalance pain, stress, and negative emotions. Discover what pleasures you.

Adults also need to play. This means doing something purposeless that fully engages you and is enjoyable for its own sake. The more active the better, i.e., play with your dog vs. walking them, make a yummy meal while listening to music, take some selfies (My essay: The Selfie and Mental Health, coming soon).  Play brings you into the pleasure of the moment.

Practice complimenting and encouraging yourself – especially when you don’t think you’re doing enough. Remind yourself of what you have done and allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate.

Forgive yourself. Good parents don’t punish children for mistakes or constantly remind them of perceived failures. Instead, learn from mistakes and move forward.

Keep commitments to yourself as you would anyone else. When you don’t, you’re in effect abandoning yourself. How would you feel if your parent repeatedly broke promises to you? Love yourself by demonstrating that you’re important enough to keep commitments to yourself.

The point of re-mothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to fully engage with life.

Depression and Parenting

I was recently the speaker on The Zebra School, a parenting podcast, on pregnancy and mental health. Depression, both during pregnancy, and postpartum, are very serious concerns that can affect the entire family. The podcast and blog interview will be officially LIVE May 1, 2021. You can listen to the full interview on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and a few other audio platforms. Just search for The Zebra School on the desired platform.

Zebras are ungulates with an acute sense of hearing. Like a horse, a zebra can turn their ears in almost any direction – capturing the sounds of its environment with keen precision. Similarly, The Zebra School programs promote content committed to keeping our ears to the ground to stay abreast of relevant information taking place in the childhood space.

The Neuropsychology of Chores

Neuropsychological research shows that those children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning

In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.

The gains:
Life Skills
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.

If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Role Modeling
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.

Encouraging Participation
Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.

Withholding Judgment
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.

Assigning Chores
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.

Family Meetings
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.

Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. Many parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.

Earning Privileges
One alternative to paying an allowance may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.