Perfectly Imperfect

Let’s talk about this idea of perfection.

I often get mother’s coming into my office with such pressure from themselves, their family, their in-laws, their mom friends and society or social networks to be perfect. But what does this mean? What does it mean to be a perfect mother and does such a thing exist? Perhaps, but then are we not raising potential narcissists because every need is perfectly catered for? In fact, their worlds (mothers) bend over backwards to have these wants and needs met.

The truth is we have to sometimes fail. Our children need to learn we are human too and most of all that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay for things to not work out the way you want them to. It’s okay. It’s how you get back after the fall. It’s how you try again. It’s in the do-overs.It’s also okay to be your unique authentic self and not a version you think others expect you to be.

A well known psychologist Winnicott spoke of the term ‘good enough’ mother. He speaks of the importance of being good enough and not necessarily perfect. This is what creates resilience in our children. This is what creates independence and the ability to tolerate frustration.

So to all the mothers, be a little more gentle with yourself. Let’s be perfectly imperfect.

Cheat Sheet to Tantrums

Here is a quick cheat sheet (very summarized) on how to tackle TANTRUMS.

1️⃣ REFLECT❕❕❕

The quickest way to diffuse a tantrum is to pause and think about what your child is trying to show you. What feeling is behind that outburst. A tantrum is a need for CONNECTION and so you are not seeing THEM! Yes, it may be something as silly as you not seeing how badly they want a chocolate or sucker at the shops but for them their feelings are so big and so overwhelming. You could reflect “I can see how bad you want that chocolate. It is so hard when I say No. This feels so unfair”. Now, validating their feelings doesn’t make their feelings right or like you are siding with them. It just makes them feel SEEN. And what does that give rise to? EMPATHY!! If you can empathize with your child in those really difficult moments they will learn how to do that too!

2️⃣ Coach them ❕

Children don’t often know what to do with such big feelings. So they may scream, hit, pinch, bite, fall to floor kicking and screaming. They need HELP to get those BIG feelings OUT. Use these moments (when you can) to coach them through this.
“I can see your cross feelings are so loud, let’s try get them softer. Would you like to do 10 frog jumps or race me down the isle?”. Here, you are giving a CHOICE! A choice creates EMPOWERMENT! They leave a situation feeling helpless with a sense of control and independence. Congratulate them on their decision. Nothing to enhance motivation to do better like having your efforts acknowledged! And then help them, be with them while they get those feelings OUT. “Are your cross feelings out yet? Do we need to do more?”

3️⃣ Setting Boundaries 👆

NOW we set the boundary and reason with what is acceptable and what is not because ONLY at this point is a child able to access their frontal cortex which is responsible for reasoning. In the tantrum mode, most parents discipline at that point but your child won’t hear you because their cortisol levels have flooded their brain. At this point now, when you have coached, they are able to reason.
“Now that your angry feelings are softer, let’s talk about what isn’t okay in this family…..”.

Anger in Children during Covid-19

The Anger Game

During lockdown, children have been away from friends and have had their worlds turned upside down. Anger is a natural emotion to expect. They have experienced some significant changes and losses such as their sense of normality. This is all part of experiencing grief.

For younger children, they don’t find it easy to connect online with their friends or are not at the right age to be able to connect via message. The lack of social engagement is undoubtedly going to have a significant effect on our children. Although schools are beginning to invite their learners back, learners must engage in social distancing and wearing of masks. This can be extremely hard for children to understand.

Moreover, many many South Africans are experiencing financial strain due to Covid-19 and the strict lockdown we experienced. Financial stress is easily felt by our children no matter how hard we try to protect them from this as it can have an effect on the parental relationships. This again, can cause anger outbursts.

My hope is that this game can help your kids explore and manage their anger. It also gives you an opportunity to walk in their shoes and see what has been bothering them. The more they are able to verbalize, the less angry they will feel.

For 3, you can change it to home or school.

I suggest ending off the game with an outlet activity such as jumping on the trampoline, doing frog jumps, running up and down a driveway/garden, swingball, breathing exercises, or even baking together. The key is connection and doing the above with your child. The more connected they feel to you, the more seen they will feel. The more seen they feel, the more calm they will be.


Does emotional readiness play a role in your child’s learning?

When it comes to the second half of the year, I get inundated with school readiness assessment requests. One of the major aspects that I look at when assessing school readiness, is a child’s maturity and/or emotional readiness. Emotional readiness is an important factor that parents should consider.

I teamed up with journalist Poelano Malema from ThriveIn and Educational Psychologist, Avika Daya to discuss this. You can view the original article by clicking on this link:

For your convenience, I have copied the article and it can be read below:

Educational Psychologist Stacey Cohen discusses the importance of emotional readiness in determining whether your child is ready to start school.

Although age is a factor in determining whether a child is ready for school, Stacey Cohen of Budding Minds says parents should not overlook their child’s emotional readiness.

According to Stacey, parents should be mindful of whether their child is emotionally ready before sending them to school to avoid negatively impacting their child’s learning experience.

“We need to consider a child’s school readiness. If they are not school ready, which refers to a child’s cognitive and emotional level that is needed to cope with the demands of Grade 1, then a child will find the Grade 1 learning load overwhelming. This is problematic as this will affect their receptivity to learning, causing them to fall behind – which will have its emotional effects,” she says

“According to the article by Bruwer, Hartell and Steyn (2014), a child who begins school when they are not school ready is at risk of school failure.”

“Not being ready for school on a cognitive and emotional level may also influence a child’s attitude towards school from a young age. This is one of the points raised by the ‘Too much, Too soon’ campaign in the UK,” says Avika Daya, an Educational Psychologist.

Not being emotionally ready will not only affect your child’s learning, but even plays a role in how they interact with their peers.

“A child’s social functioning is important to consider for school readiness as some children can handle the academic nature of Grade 1, however, they may struggle with their peers which can contribute negatively to handling life situations and solving conflict. In essence, it is a child’s emotional intelligence that plays a factor in their way with their peers,” says Stacey.

She adds that having positive peer relationships is crucial in how a child will feel about themselves, and handle groups and their goals.

“In addition to this, a child’s concentration or ability to sustain an appropriate level of sustained attention at a time is important to assess for school readiness. Many factors can affect concentration such as emotional factors, insufficient meals or a neurological imbalance, thus all must be considered in assisting a child to have an appropriate level of attention for Grade 1.”

Stacey advises parents whose children are not emotionally ready to encourage their children to undergo a school readiness assessment by a psychologist.

“In terms of help available, there are many avenues of help. Children who are not ready for Grade 1 can repeat their Grade R year or enrol into a Grade R in order to use the year to gain the essential skills needed for Grade 1. Moreover, undergoing a school readiness assessment by a psychologist is important as it will help to highlight a child’s strengths and growth areas that their parents and preschool can assist with,” concludes Stacey.

How To Deal With Disappointing Matric Results

I had the lovely opportunity of working with journalist Poelano Malema from ThriveIn to discuss what to do if you or your child have received disappointing results.

Below is the article or you can click on the link for the original article:

Stacey Cohen, an Educational Psychologist in Sandton, Gauteng, shares advice on how to deal with disappointing matric results and offers different options available to improve the results.

Failing matric can be one of the hardest things to deal with as a learner. Some learners even go as far as committing suicide because of the shame and embarrassment that comes with failing.

Many might feel that failing matric means their future is doomed. However, educational psychologist Stacey Cohen of Buddingminds says: “Matric does not define your future or the success of your future.”

She says there are many reasons why people fail and it’s important for a learner to evaluate what led to him or her failing.

“The first step moving forward is to reflect on why one failed. Some circumstances are out of our control, such as a loss of a loved one or the absence of a teacher,” says Stacey.

“However, if a matriculant can come to the conclusion that they struggled or felt overwhelmed, they can seek extra lessons at school or counselling so as to better equip them should they decide to repeat the year. In addition to this, if one did not study, perhaps one can work out a better study timetable to ensure they allot sufficient time to study, grasp concepts as well as allow for opportunity to consult with a teacher should there be a concept one is struggling with,” she says.

For those not wishing to repeat matric, Stacey advises that they do “supplementary exams, remarks or rechecks (by Friday, 18 January).”

Supplementary exams offer learners an opportunity to improve their results or complete outstanding subjects. A remark is for those who feel they wrote well and should have passed, however they were robbed of their marks.

Stacey says learners can also do Second Chance Programme or go to Technical Vocational Education and Training(TVET) colleges.

Second Chance Programmes offer free support to learners who need to re-write a maximum of two subjects in February and March. It offers face-to-face tuition, broadcasting solutions, and printed and internet resources.

TVET Colleges offer a wide range of practical training options for people with or without matric.

Why would a child need a developmental assessment?

I have always had a passion for development which was one of the many reasons I chose to be a child psychologist. Once I was exposed to the Griffiths assessment, I knew this was something I wanted to offer.

The Griffiths III assessment can only be offered by practitioners that are certified and thus go through an intense training. The Griffiths III has recently been revised and whilst it is a U.K. based assessment,  many of the individuals involved in the revision were South African. The Griffiths III is a unique assessment as it can be used for a wide range of ages (birth-5 years 11 months). It can even be used for babies who were born prematurely. Moreover, for older children, they are mostly unaware that they are being assessed as the assessment is fun and interactive. The assessment measures the following areas which can be seen below:Budding Minds Griffiths ||| Flyer

As seen above, the 5 key areas that this assessment measures are: Foundations of Learning, Language and Communication, Eye and Hand Coordination, Personal-Social-Emotional, Gross Motor. This assessment looks at all areas of development and thus offers an holistic overview of a child’s current functioning.

If your child is in the age bracket described above, they will benefit from this assessment as it allows for you to gage where they are developmentally as well as what their particular strengths and growth areas. Children hold great resilience and so if there are growth areas, interventions can then be made to ensure that each child has the tools to have the most optimal learning experience in school. The sooner interventions can be introduced, the higher the likelihood of a child being able to reach their full potential.

If you’d like to learn more about what it offers, the following video illustrates this further:

If you’d like to inquire further or book an assessment, click on this link: Contact

Tantrums: A Cry for CONNECTION

Parenting is tough as it is. Then suddenly as time trickles on, our little babies grow into independent explorers trying to make sense of the world they live in. When working with parents with toddlers or preschoolers, the biggest worry is how to handle their child’s tantrums.

Let’s understand tantrums first. What is a tantrum? It is a very physical expression of stress. Something has happened to cause a child to feel overwhelmed with feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment. Suddenly, the stress hormone, cortisol, floods a child’s brain and this state is unbearable for children. They will feel out of control and even as adults, we know how scary that feeling can be.

The first mistake that parents often make is to discipline a child when they are having a tantrum. When a child is experiencing all these feelings as well as an influx of cortisol, their cognitive ability is compromised. This means that a child is unable to reason during this time. Instead, what they are experiencing is that their feelings are dismissed and are intolerable to the parent as they cannot be held by the parent.

In many of the parenting talks I give about Positive Parenting, I start with discussing the ‘dance’ that a baby and mother have. This is a very important process for a child to feel contained and safe. When a mother holds a baby, she may gaze into her baby’s eyes. The baby may then respond with a sound or looking back. This is connection. When the baby cries, the mother picks up the baby and softly soothes the baby with her eyes, tone of her voice and the way she holds the baby. The baby’s anxiety has been held and the baby has now learned that they are safe. This very interaction matures with time as that baby grows. When the baby is now a toddler and having a tantrum, the mother needs to ‘hold’ the baby parts of their child for them to feel safe. This is not an easy task when your child is throwing a fit in the middle of the grocery store. For parents who have not been able to safely express their anger as children, this is a very scary interaction so naturally, parents try and discipline which is in fact dismissive of those angry feelings.

So what do you do? When your child is throwing a tantrum, you need to remember that this very moment is terribly overwhelming for them. You get down to their eye-level and just like how you would respond to them if they were hurt, you look at them with concern, have a gentle tone of voice and reflect the feelings behind the tantrum. Statements like this often work well:

  • “Oh Hannah, I can see just how cross you are right now. You are showing me and I can see it. It is making you so upset that Mom said no and won’t buy you that toy. It feels unfair”
  • “I can hear that you are so cross right now. Maybe even a little sad that this is what happened. Sad and cross feelings can feel very scary and mommy/daddy is right here. Why don’t we hug this out and then jump around to get the sad and cross feelings out?”

Reflecting the feelings is the act of connection. Your child feels understood, therefore they no longer need to ‘show’ you their feelings by having a tantrum. Moreover, it is important to reflect the feeling, and if they are not ready to be hugged, you get them to move around to help model healthy ways to deal with anger. If you are not home, star jumps, frog jumps or a quick little race can help. If you are home, jumping on a trampoline, swingball, throwing or kicking a ball with you are other activities you can do. You can see that ‘time-out’ is not a step as when a child is overwhelmed and having a tantrum, they NEED you and not to be cast aside to “think about what they have done” on their own. This exacerbates their feelings of being dismissed and now feeling abandoned.

Now is when parents ask me: “okay so then do we not discipline them?”. Boundaries are vital. Positive parenting is not about letting your child roam free and do what they want. It is about moving away from punishment and introducing responsibility. So, once your child has calmed down, you can then begin the reasoning process. Example: “Hannah, you have to brush your teeth every night so that we can make sure they are very healthy. I know that when it is teeth brushing time, it means that it is bed time and maybe you wanted to spend more time with me and dad/mom. So tomorrow night, if you decide to brush your teeth when we ask you too, you can choose two books for us to read together.” So, what you have done, is reflected why she may have felt the way she did and you have come up with a solution for next time by instituting a choice. Choices are very powerful parenting tools as they not only teach responsibility but they are empowering as they help your child to feel in control. Another example: “Hannah, I can see that when we go to the shops together that you want the toys we see. Sometimes, as your mommy/daddy I have to say no because the toy costs too much money. So next time I go to the shops, you get to decide that if you come with me to the shops, that we are not buying toys but we get to spend time together or you can stay at home and we will spend time together when I get back. What do you want to do? Now remember, if you choose to come with me and you get upset that I can’t buy you something, this means that next time I can’t bring you to the shops with me. Its up to you!”. So now you have put in a boundary and created a choice.

So remember: stop, remember a tantrum means a cry for connection, reflect the feelings, give a hug, do an activity and then when your child is calm, explain the boundary.

Children who feel connected to their parents will want to please their parents and if you can find moments in your day to truly connect (play or talking), your children are less likely to act out.

7 Tips to Stay Cool when Your Child Acts Up

(Taken from

 “Let it go. The moment you feel your hackles rising, let it go. If you let it upset you, what follows is anger, and to quote Yoda, that leads to the dark side…. Notice … and interrupt it. Find your own way of accepting things with grace.”  — Steve Errey 

All parents get angry at their children. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anger; anger is a message. The problem is that we can’t hear that message clearly while we’re angry. In the heat of the moment, we’re in fight, flight or freeze. And when we’re in “fight,” our child looks like the enemy. So we think the message is that we should vanquish the enemy — our own child!

In fact, the message when your child gets upset is that he needs your help, even if he’s being totally difficult. Maybe we need to put him to bed an hour earlier, or connect with him more, or simply make it safe enough for him to cry and show us all those tears and fears that are making him act out. But we can’t understand or act on that message when we’re triggered. Staying cool is essential to actually solving the problem, instead of making it worse.

So how can you stay cool when your kid acts up?

1. Notice that you’re getting annoyed. 

Sometimes, we don’t notice until we’re already on the dark side. But usually we can see our annoyance building, because we start gathering kindling. What do I mean? We start reviewing all the reasons we’re right and our child is an ungrateful brat. Once you start gathering kindling, it’s hard to avoid the firestorm. So as soon as you notice that your mind chatter about your child is negative, STOP. Drop your agenda (Just temporarily.) Take a deep breath to stop the runaway train of your anger.

2. Use your inner pause button. 

Even if you’re already well down the wrong path and you’re yelling, STOP. Take a deep breath and hit the pause button. Close your mouth, even in mid-sentence. Don’t be embarrassed; you’re modeling good anger management. Save your embarrassment for when you have a tantrum.

3. Take Five. 

Don’t try to address the issue with your child while you’re angry.  Calm down and get re-centered so you can actually hear the message behind your anger. Are you frightened about your child’s behavior?  Resentful toward your partner?  Exhausted and stressed out so you’re over-reacting to your child’s normal age appropriate behavior?

4. Feel the emotions in your body. 

I’m not suggesting that you swallow your anger, just that you resist acting on it. Instead, notice the anger in your body. Really feel the tightness in your belly, that suffocating feeling in your throat. Breathe into those tense places. As you simply open to the feelings in your body, you’ll feel them beginning to shift and melt. That’s the secret of mindfulness — once we sit with those emotions, just accepting them with compassion, they melt away.

5. Shift your state. 

Now, reframe your thoughts about the situation and you’ll find that you have different feelings. If you’re thinking that your child needs to be taught a big lesson right now, you won’t be able to calm down. If you remind yourself that she’s acting like a child because she IS a child, and that she needs your love most when she seems to deserve it least, you’ll be willing to shift out of anger.

6. Try a Do-Over. 

Tell your child that you’re sorry you got so upset, and the two of you are going to try a Do-over. This time, stay calm. Empathize. Listen to your child’s feelings and try to see things from her perspective. Resist the urge to blame, and instead look for solutions that work for both of you. If your child has damaged something — including a relationship — ask her what she might do to repair it. But always start by listening to her upset and empathizing.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice. 

I’m not going to lie to you. This is really hard work, one of the hardest things anyone can do. If you’re used to flying off the handle, you’ll be teaching your brain new patterns of self-discipline. That takes practice. Luckily, every time you resist acting when you’re angry, you’re rewiring your brain, so managing your anger gets easier every time you do it.

Sure, you’ll lose it sometimes. But if you just keep practicing, holding yourself with compassion and noticing the emotions, you’ll find that even when your child acts up, you’re more able to stay cool. At some point, you’ll realize that you rarely lose your temper any more. You’ll still have childish behavior as long as you live with children, but your reaction will be different. A lot less drama, and a lot more love.


Dinner: 30 Minutes to a More Connected Family

“Surrounded by the people who matter, gazing into the faces we love, we count our blessings and share our burdens, reliving the daily dramas of missed buses and skinned knees. We raise jelly glasses and champagne flutes, toasting accomplishments in classrooms and boardrooms. The table is where we mark milestones, divulge dreams, bury hatchets, make deals, give thanks, plan vacations, and tell jokes. It’s also where children learn the lessons that families teach: manners, cooperation, communication, self-control, values. Following directions. Sitting still. Taking turns. It’s where we make up and make merry. It’s where we live, between bites.”

-Doris Christopher

You’ve probably heard that having dinner together as a family is a good thing for your kids, but you may not realize that it could change your child’s life. Dinner is the best predictor we have of how kids will do in adolescence. The more frequently kids eat dinner with their families, the better they do in school, and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active during high school.

Why? Maybe because families who eat together talk more, which helps them stay connected and build better relationships.

  • Maybe because parents who show up to eat with their kids are more likely to express their love constructively in other ways, too, in the form of both attention and supervision.
  • Maybe because families who offer kids more structure are more likely to keep kids attending to their homework as well as out of trouble.
  • Maybe because dinner transforms individual family members into a “group,” which gives parents more clout to rival the power of the peer group.
  • Or maybe because children, even more than the rest of us, need something to count on every day, the tangible security of belonging and being nurtured that is represented by the ritual of sharing food with those we love.

Whatever the reason, dinner is a pretty easy insurance policy to build into your home life. If you’re too busy to have dinner as a family on a regular basis, it’s worth re-examining why, given how important it is.

“What’s a regular basis?”

The research shows that the more meals together, the better, meaning that two is much better than none, and four is much better than two. Obviously, it’s ideal if both parents — when they live together — can have dinner with their kids every night. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and by definition no human is an ideal parent. So we do what we can, which can often mean one parent holding down the fort at many weeknight dinners. That gives Friday, Saturday and Sunday a celebratory tone as everyone sits down to savor the meal together.

“I eat with the kids every night, but my husband can’t get home till later. Does that matter?”

Sometimes that’s the best a family can do during the week, and you make it work. But it becomes all the more important that the whole family have time together on the weekend. There’s something magical for building family identity when all members of a household share meals together, at least some of the time.

“What about kids’ sports schedules that keep them away at dinner?”

Once a week of dinners on the run is inconsequential, but if conflicting schedules mean your family can’t sit down at least a few times during the week for dinner, it’s worth some creative thinking. Can the schedule be changed so that you all eat earlier or later? Can a child switch to after-school rather than evening activities? Can you all at least gather together for fruit and tea before bedtime so that you get some family time that evening?

“We eat together, but we eat in front of the TV. Does that count?”

Does it make you feel more connected to your family? Not as much as a conversation, I suspect, so the short answer is No. It’s challenging to make dinner fun and relaxing when everyone is pressured and tired, so it can be a lot easier to turn on the TV at the end of a long day than to interact with your kids. But eating in front of the TV builds your relationship with the screen, not with each other.

“I’m so wiped out at the end of the day that I don’t have the energy to make dinner into anything special.”

After work and sports schedules, parental exhaustion is the single biggest obstacle to family dinners. The secret is to minimize the cooking, and to nurture yourself as well as your kids. This should be a time for everyone in the family to recharge and reconnect, not just another obligation for you.

We lose an important opportunity to check in and connect if we lose dinner, especially if we work away from our kids all day. Dinner seems so important to me as a foundation for family culture that I would rather think of it as a cherished family tradition, and skimp somewhere else, if I have to.

“What about date night?”

While your kids are young, you may want to sit down with them for Saturday night dinner before the babysitter arrives and you head out for an evening with your partner. Of course, if you have dinner as a family most of the other nights of the week, this won’t feel necessary. And if you don’t, then consider this first part of your Saturday evening “date night” with your kids.

“As my kids have gotten older, they don’t want to have dinner with us on the weekend.”

Again, if you have dinner as a family most other nights, you can feel comfortable exempting Saturday night as “party night” for everyone. But if you don’t, then your family needs the connection time — even if your tweens and teens don’t know that!

Naturally, as your kids get older, they’ll be the ones having date night. But if you open your doors to your kids’ friends for dinner, tweens and even teens often enjoy a delicious free, home-cooked dinner — and are willing to engage in an interesting discussion, if you don’t embarrass them — before they head out to a movie or party. That may seem hard to believe, but my children’s friends have commented that they love hanging out at our house because the conversations are always so interesting. With some discussion ideas in mind and a little energy, you can create a dinner hour that will have the teens almost wishing they didn’t have to head out. (I said almost.)

How do you create a dinner hour that’s so nurturing that everyone in the family — including you — looks forward to it? Here are 15 ideas to get you started. 

  1. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

If you walk in the door from work exhausted and have to rush to get dinner on the table, you won’t have any internal resources left by the time you sit down. Try putting out healthy snacks (carrots and hummus, cheese and crackers) as the “first course” while you take ten minutes to wind down. After that, you’ll be more relaxed while you get dinner on the table and sit down with those people you adore.

  1. Consciously cultivate sacred space.

There’s nothing magical about exhausted parents, cranky kids, and take-out food. But with minimal effort, we can create a daily, short but restorative, celebration of family, which offers refuge from the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. Some families do this by lighting candles, which seems to set the time apart and make it special. Some say a short blessing, which may or may not be religious in nature, but reconnects us with our gratitude for simply being alive and together.

The most important component, though, is the attitude of celebration and appreciation. Parents will need to set the tone by overlooking trivial issues like table manners and whose turn it is to (fill in the blank), and focusing instead on what really matters. Which isn’t, by the way, the food.

  1. The food is not the point.

I’m considered a health food nut by my family, and not a day goes by without my urging more vegetables on them. But I try to remember that the point of sitting down to dinner is to connect with each other, not what we eat. I never knock myself out with an elaborate meal on a weeknight when it’s just our family eating. There are plenty of easy, healthy, kid-pleasing options out there, and my advice would be to eat simple, and save your energy for making the dinner table pleasant, rather than cooking a meal that leaves you even more exhausted at the end of a long day.

How simple can you eat? Your call, and my admiration to the chefs out there, but I rely heavily on spaghetti with sauce from a jar and salad from a bag (ok, cut up some red pepper and cucumbers), organic chili from a box (accompanying healthy corn muffins from a mix always makes this a crowd-pleaser), and scrambled eggs with raw carrots out of the bag. Make soup on the weekend and eat it on Monday and Wednesday. And of course, there’s always pizza and take-out. The point is that decent nutrition does not require a long prep time, and stressing about the food sabotages what you really want, which is connection with your family.

  1. Turn off the TV and radio.

Some families resist the temptation to turn on the TV during dinner by situating the TV where it can’t be seen from the table. Many impose a rule that no one answers phone calls, even if Mom or Dad gets an important work call, and turn off cell phones so they can’t be heard. Protect this special time with your family from interruptions. As the U.S. President said recently about prioritizing dinner with his daughters, the world will still be there in half an hour, even if you’re the President.

  1. Establish fun rituals and routines.

Some families take turns choosing appropriate background music or being in charge of dessert. Some rotate who says the blessing or chooses the discussion topic. In some families, Tuesday is pizza night and Friday is family game night or the Jewish Sabbath. It’s the fact that you always do the same thing that reinforces the ritual aspect, and creates the feeling that this is home, and family, and regardless of the day’s difficulties, life is good.

  1. Use blessings to create a sense of gratitude and connection.

For some parents, saying grace is a time-honored tradition they wouldn’t think of overlooking; for others it feels foreign and artificial.

I often hear “I don’t believe in God, so we don’t say blessings at dinner!” But blessings are not about God, necessarily. Blessings are about us: our gratitude that we are able to sit down to a meal when others are hungry, our appreciation of each other, our honoring the person who prepared the meal and the bounty of nature that produced it, our awareness that in this moment we have everything we truly need. Blessings don’t have to be traditional prayers to “God.” Blessings are a way of marking the meal as a sacred time together, a way of connecting us together in the deliciousness of shared appreciation. You might try holding hands while each person says one thing they’re thankful for.

  1. Make the discussion interesting for everyone,

rather than just adults talking about their jobs. Some families rule job talk off-limits, but I personally think there’s much for kids to learn by hearing sometimes about their parents’ days as well as their own. We usually start with a quick check-in round of “So how was school/work today?,” which often leads us into a topic. Many families formalize this with “rose and thorn” in which each family member shares the best and worst of their day.

You might then explore something that was raised in the check-in (“Alice said she has to choose her Science Fair Project. What are you considering?”) or talk about an upcoming family decision, such as what to do during the school spring break. Ask kids their opinions on the issues of the day, or ask them for input on a decision you have to make. Pose ethical problems that don’t have easy answers and let different family members tell how they would approach them and why. Share a poem you stumbled onto today, or a mistake you made, or a decision you have to make. Jokes can be fun, but be careful, because kids’ humor can easily degenerate into a dinner you won’t enjoy.

  1. But what do we talk about?

Write possible agenda items on index cards and put them in a kitchen drawer, so if you’re just too tired to think some evenings you can still have a rewarding and re-energizing discussion by just pulling out a topic. Some ideas:

  • Name five reasons you’re glad to be alive.
  • If we could go anywhere we wanted on vacation where would you choose, and why?
  • Tell each person in the family why you’re glad they’re part of the family.
  • If I could have a conversation with anyone in history, it would be _____, and I would want to ask ______.
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What would you do if all the other kids were planning to cheat on the final and you knew that not doing so would lower your grade? How common do you think cheating is at your school?
  • What’s the best thing about our family?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities of a good parent?
  • What do you think makes a happy family?
  • What do you think makes a person popular? Are wealthier kids more popular? Kids who mature faster? Are you popular? Why or why not? Would you like to be?
  1. Make sure everyone participates.

Families who have already created a culture of discussion will have an easier time with this than those who introduce it to older kids, but don’t give up. Kids who don’t speak up can often be coaxed to talk by asking them specific questions about their interests. “What makes rap music special to you?” will be more effective than “How was school today?”

Closed-mouth teens whose families haven’t made a habit of dinner table conversation may take special wooing. Be prepared for some wise-cracking (“The most interesting thing about me is how corny my family can be!”) and keep your sense of humor, and your teen will probably engage on his or her own terms. Facilitating a positive discussion can be a challenge for parents, but is infinitely worth it for the communication and closeness it fosters in your family.

  1. Listen.

Middle School teacher Michelle Trujillo, in her book Why Can’t We Talk?: What Teens Would Share if Parents Would Listen, says that tweens and teens want desperately to talk to their parents about things that are worrying them, but parents don’t listen.

Don’t offer advice unless asked, and your kids will be more willing to bring up what’s bothering them. Kids often gain insight into solutions just by talking. Your kids won’t always say things in ways that are easy for you to hear, but try to see it from their perspective. Bite your tongue or cover your mouth (literally, if you’re like me) if you need to, so that you don’t interrupt, and hear them out. Breathe deeply so you stay calm. If a topic feels inappropriate for the dinner table, thank the person who brought it up, and ask if you can talk about it more after dinner, privately. Just keep reminding yourself how lucky you are to have kids who are willing to talk with you, and breathe!

  1. Protect the dinner table as a nurturing, happy, safe space.

Defer unpleasant topics. Kids who begin to squabble can be asked to come up with five things they really love about the sibling with whom they’re fighting. Adults who start to complain about their day can be asked to add “and my life is blessed” to any complaint and fined a dollar toward ice cream cones on Sunday evening. If you’ve tolerated a family culture where teasing is allowed — which seems to be the norm among many families with teenage boys — proclaim the dinner table a safe space exempt from comments that hurt another’s feelings. (You might also want to re-examine the role of teasing in your household culture to make sure it’s benign;  The key is cheerful, relaxed, and kind parental leadership so that everyone’s contribution is valued and no one feels criticized.

  1. Agree on which nights you will all eat together and make it a big deal to miss those nights.

Most families can’t eat together every night. Sometimes an adult is out of town, or a child has a school event. Some parents try to keep one night as date night to keep their bond with each other fresh, and many families routinely socialize on Saturday nights or have Sunday dinner with extended family. But you can create the expectation that on certain nights, everyone comes home for dinner. Start small, if you need to, with one or two nights a week. Even those limited by a long commute or odd hours can often manage a night or two, and those nights become extra-special for everyone.

  1. Play with your food.

Or at least play with your family while you’re eating your food. Creating a sense of fun and play at the dinner table is the single best way to make everyone look forward to that time together, and sets a wonderful tone in your house. Laughter really is the best medicine after a grueling day.

How? Impersonate each other. Talk in rhyme. Guess what each person’s mashed potato sculpture is. Make every comment refer to food (“I’m fried.” “Guess your day wasn’t a bowl of cherries?”) Have a joke contest, where everyone is required to bring a joke to the table, which once a week you add to your family jokebook.

  1. Work toward having everyone help get the dinner onto the table.

Once the kids get used to the idea, the group effort can be fun, and of course it’s a great learning experience for them. Most important, it changes the dynamic of one adult (usually the woman) serving everyone else. Teenagers, especially, often enjoy the power of deciding what the family eats one night a week; learning to cook is good practice for when they go solo. Obviously, this won’t happen every night, and busy weeknights are the hardest because kids have homework, but you might want to talk as a family about whether everyone could help get dinner on the table one night a week to start. And you can start small, with everyone gathering to set the table together and get the food onto the table. In many families where only one person takes responsibility for cooking, that person is exempt from clearing and clean-up.

  1. Celebrate whenever possible.

Make a big deal out of birthdays, accomplishments of any kind, seasonal changes, and famous people’s birthdays (what a great opportunity to talk about why you admire Ghandi, or Harriet Tubman!) There’s always something to celebrate. Just making it through each day intact as a family is worth celebrating!

– Dr Laura Markham |

Why an assessment can be the best gift you can give your child

Many parents hear the word ‘assessments’, but are unsure of what it entails.

There are various assessment processes which are based on the nature of the assessment. Each assessment evaluates a certain area of functioning, for example scholastic or cognitive. At Budding Minds, we spend a significant amount of time conducting the assessment and analysing the results in order to produce an overview of the child’s current level of functioning and what their optimal functioning could be.

An assessment is valuable because it provides a clearer understanding of your child’s current level of functioning in terms of their strength and growth areas. When planning interventions, we take into account a child’s strengths, and how these can be used to help their growth areas. We believe that children can be empowered to develop to the best of their potential when the appropriate interventions are in place. Interventions are therefore catered for the specific needs of your child, with a focus on the home and school environment.

This means that assessments are not only for children who experience barriers to learning but are for all children. Assessments can help all children because they provide information on how to better promote their learning environment so that they can reach their full potential.  Assessments can positively impact the learning environment, as children will have all the tools necessary to succeed because you and your child will know how their brain learns. Assessments can therefore be one of the many gifts you can give to your child.

For more information about the types of assessments we offer, visit our assessment page. To see what other services we offer, visit Services on