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No More Battles: Morning routines that work!

setting a morning routine

Over and over I hear from parents who feel like the life has been drained out of them before they’ve even made it through their morning coffee. Kids are sluggish and full of complaints from the moment they open their eyes; parents are nagging and panicking about being late (again); the whole family is angry and anxious and starts their day feeling awful. It doesn’t have to be this way! You can say goodbye to those morning battles and find a routine that works!

7 Tips for a Successful Morning Routine:

  1. Sleep. You know it and I know it. We are never going to be at our best when we’re tired. I know that this is easier said than done, but for your morning to go as smoothly as possible your kiddo AND you should be as well-rested as possible. It’s not enough to get one good night of sleep to make up for a weekend of late nights. That means working on your sleep hygiene, including going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day.
  2. Nourished Brain. Eat breakfast. The research is SO clear on this. Your child will be a more effective decision maker and have better attention and memory if they’ve eaten breakfast.  If your child rejects the notion of breakfast, try something sneaky… like a smoothie. It may not be ideal, but drinking their breakfast while getting ready may be easier than sitting down to eat for a child who would otherwise not eat at all. Relatedly, some kiddos’ brain chemistry is a whole lot more balanced with medication. If your child is taking medication, keep it consistent. Talk to your child’s prescribing practitioner. Ask about any tips they have for timing daily dosages to set them up for success. Also, speaking from experience with numerous teens and tweens, please help monitor their medication to ensure that they maintain consistency. Your child may be very responsible, but for some medications a missed dosage can have a lasting impact.
  3. Screen Time Limits. As I write this, kids all over the world are sitting in front of a computer most of their school day due to the necessity of distance learning. Parents are also exhausted and without childcare. What does that mean? A lot of screen time. Look, I am certainly not without compassion. However, too much screen time can cause epic cases of the grouchies, lead to lack of movement, and disrupt sleep. In excess, it can also wreak havoc on the frontal lobe of the brain. This is the part of the brain that helps us with things like planning, follow through and organization. I believe deeply in a few things when it comes to screen time: not all screen time is created equal (school is not the same as watching tv); screen time, when offered as a reward, makes us want it more; and  “Zoom Fatigue” is real. If your child will be using screen time in the morning before school, avoid it being a “reward,” consider your parameters carefully and check out some surprising secret solutions for setting screen time limits.
  4. Musical Associations. We are all creatures of habit and tend to respond predictably to cues in our environment. Think about it this way. Most of us have been exposed to one or another version of a clean up song often reserved for preschoolers. Have you ever witnessed it’s magic? When a teacher starts singing their version of the song, nearly all the students automatically go right into the task. They know what it symbolizes. These sorts of associations work for all ages and can work for any task. One easy way to do this is to create a household music playlist for the mornings (or have your child create one just for them). The lyrics don’t have to have anything to do with the specific task. The song itself will still operate as a symbol. You can time it out and designate, as a family, certain songs as markers for the start of a new activity. Just be sure that you use music that you enjoy and can tolerate listening to everyday.
  5. Visual Reminders. Technically, this is another form of association not so unlike the tip above. It’s one thing to “know” the routine and it’s another to follow it. Having the morning (or daily) routine written out or even displayed in pictures can give kids the reference point they need to re-orient themselves. I also find that visual reminders can take some of the pressure off of us to hold a list of tasks in our brain. This is great for reducing anxiety. It’s essentially a to-do list. In my household right now, we’re juggling several schedules. Some of these schedules change from one day to the next and can be really confusing! I find that having a morning huddle to review the day’s plan and reference the calendars we’ve put on our wall helps lower the morning anxiety and decrease the grouchies. The image included here is a sample of a weekly calendar that I might make in my practice with a family to help their young child know what they can look forward to during the week– fun activities, chores and tasks, tasty treats. You can include it all. Just be sure to keep some empty space and not overwhelm. Create Your Own Customizable Calendar!
  6. Individualized Routine. When I was still relatively new to the whole chaos of the morning routine with kids, I remember rigidly holding out on a morning routine. I was certain it made the most sense for us. Over time, however, I discovered that there was one task that always stopped us up in our household. We were late more times than I’d like to admit because brushing my preschoolers teeth near the end of the morning routine would go awry somehow. One day I was lamenting over it with a friend. She asked me– what if he brushed his teeth before breakfast? Before breakfast?! I could hardly fathom it. Then I considered the layout of my house. We would now end the routine closer to the front door. I also considered that my kid was food-motivated. He would do anything I asked with record speed to get to his first meal of the day. Suddenly, my friend’s suggestion seemed like such a brilliant solution! That’s my silly story about how I let go of rigidity. We found a morning routine that decreased our stress tenfold. You can do it, too.
  7. Be Kind to Yourself. Our children depend on us a great deal to help them regulate when they are overwhelmed by emotion. If you have a teenager, you know that the parent-child mood tangle is impactful, too. So, when I say “be kind to yourself” I mean seek support, take a moment for a few deep breaths, and find other ways to ensure that YOU are healthy and well. Your ability to regulate your own emotions during the morning routine (aka morning chaos) will be so much better if you are operating from a full cup. This will absolutely have an impact on your child’s mindset.

At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

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Go Under the Behavior Before You Punish

alternatives to punishment

Calm, consistent structure in your home helps your child to feel secure and know what is expected. Ultimately, this will lead most kids to success in most situations. But even the most predictable routines and responses aren’t always enough. Before you start dishinggo under the behavior out punishments, first consider whether your expectations are developmentally-attuned and then… go under the behavior.

Young children are developing abilities to think rationally, to identify their emotions, and to verbally express their thoughts and feelings. Until they develop these skills, kids often express themselves through their behaviors.  In addition to providing developmentally-attuned expectations and consequences to children, it’s helpful to “Go Under the Behavior” to identify what need your child is trying to express.

Go Under the Behavior

What do I mean by underlying need? In addition to obvious needs like safety, nourishment, and sleep, all people also have needs for attention, love, and belongingness. When your child is really pushing limits, consider that she may be attempting to get one of these needs met. For example, a child who just had a baby join the family may regress. We’ve all seen kids seek attention by “acting like a baby” or “acting helpless.” Your child’s regressed behavior may be her way of asking for reassurance that she’s still loved. She’ll likely need more support while your family adjusts to a new family member and no amount of punishment will truly address the underlying issue.

While firm limits and structure remain important, once you go under the behavior and identify the need, it’s a lot easier to be empathic. Meeting the needs of your child proactively will also curb “problem” behaviors before they feel out of control. Ultimately, it will free you up more to enjoy your child.

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written By: Navneet Lahti, LCSW; Wellness Director,  Child & Family Clinician

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Parenting Tip: Actively Listen

1024px-Ruído_Noise_041113GFDLYouth I work with often share with me that their parents “don’t listen” and/or “don’t understand.” Listening to children is about communicating to them that you truly heard them by validating their feelings and expressing empathy. This type of listening is called active listening and it can help create a stronger bond and trust between parents and children and help resolve conflicts.

Here are a few tips about active listening:


  1. Active listening is being in a conversation without a preconceived notion of what should be said or defensiveness to what the other person said. Instead listen with curiosity.
  2. Active listening is about hearing the content but focusing on the underlying feelings of what was said. Listen and look for clues as to what they are feeling. For example, if a teen rolls their eyes they are probably annoyed or frustrated. Reflect on the feeling by saying something like “You seem really annoyed with me right now.”
  3. The key to active listening is to repeat back or summarize what the other person said in order to check if you understood them correctly. Simply paraphrase what they just said in your own words to check if you got it all. If not, ask for clarification and keep asking questions to learn more about what they are thinking and/or feeling.
  4. When practicing active listening, remember it is about expressing curiosity of what the other is sharing and not about defending or rationalizing your own behavior. For example, when your child says that they’re upset about you arriving late from work, ask more about how that makes your child feel rather than going into an explanation about why you were late.

I hope you found these listening tips useful! I plan to write about other tips in the near future so stay tuned. You can subscribe to our wellness blog (see the far right column of this page or the bottom of the page if you’re using your mobile phone) or pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who specialize in working with families overcoming challenging patterns. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by Yoendry Torres, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

Image credit: “Ruído Noise 041113GFDL” by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia)Publicada por/Publish by: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

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Creating a Behavior Chart that Works!

Behavior ChartI’ve worked with lots of teachers, school staff, kids and families who have either given up on behavior charts altogether or who seem to be losing their confidence in them. Many of my clients support teams have described a disappointing scenario— “She never really took to it” or “He seems to respond wonderfully at first and then loses interest” or even “We had good intentions, but it was really hard to keep it updated.” I’m not suggesting that  a behavior chart is the answer for everything, but I will say that they can be pretty helpful for some kids. And here’s the best part— they can be EASY and FUN! So whether you’re ready to give it another shot or if you’re developing your first behavior chart, here’s our freebie (and a bonus) to you: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Behavior Charts AND Ideas for Rewarding Preferred Behavior

BHchartScreen Shot

For more free printables, advice and amusing musings, subscribe to our blog (see the far right column of this page or, if you’re on your cell, try scrolling to the bottom of this page) or pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who are experts in working with families and schools on challenging behavioral issues. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.



Written by Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

Image courtesy of twobee at

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Protecting our Most Precious Resource

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Years ago I worked as a therapist in a quiet affluent suburb of Chicago. Little did most people know that tucked away on a side street in a series of unassuming red brick buildings, a teen residential program housed and was home to roughly 30-35 inner city teenagers. These kids had almost all come from a very disadvantaged background and were now considered “wards of the state.” While all unique, the kids in this program all had at least two things in common— they had suffered tremendously in their decade or two of life and they had survived.

I won’t go into their stories, because they aren’t mine to share, but I will say that I still can’t explain how I stomached reading their stacks of case files measured in feet rather than inches and wrought with details of who, when, how, and how much. They pushed me away, sometimes literally and often figuratively. It wasn’t easy to love children who had convinced themselves that they were unloveable, but I loved them anyway and I learned a lot about love from them. I learned about resilience and hope and vulnerability. I still learn from them when I replay our interactions in my mind. Usually, I smile when I think of them, because I remember the times that I came home exhausted from our snowboarding trips or our group art evenings or jumping rope or dressing up in silly costumes. Working with these children was the epitome of a life-altering experience. While I had long been interested in the concept of resilience, the kids that I served in those years were the first of many who utterly and totally embodied the spirit of a bounce-back kid.

Now I work with a very different population in a private practice setting. Most of the families who come to see me have many resources, most of the children live with a biological or adoptive parent or other extended family member, and rarely do the children come to me with stacks of papers detailing their time “in the system.” Most of the kids I see these days have not experienced child maltreatment firsthand, but these kids are bounce-back kids, too. Many have been through tough times— divorce, school challenges, acutely traumatic events, family conflict, self-doubt, friendship difficulties, worry, or sadness. They never fail to impress me.

Whether from a gang-infested neighborhood where violence is the ultimate in conflict resolution or from a quiet cul de sac where tutoring and swim team are the main events, children are deserving of protection and reverence. I urge you, in this month dedicated to Child Abuse Prevention, to think about additional ways to support and preserve childhood.

Here are a few things that you can do to protect children:

  1. Know your resources:
    Be informed about how to report suspected child maltreatment
    See Intuition Wellness Center’s Resource Page for supports
    Search, call your insurance company, or contact us to find a therapist
  2. Offer your financial support:
    Donate to Prevent Child Abuse America
    Designate your income tax return to the Child Abuse Prevention Fund
    Purchase a Child Abuse Prevention Specialty License Plate
  3. Bring attention to the cause:
    Wear blue or pin on a blue ribbon
    Share a story
    Offer education to others
  4. Surround children with safe caregivers:
    Trust your gut if you sense that a caregiver may not be a good fit
    Join a parenting group or take a class
    If a parent seems to be struggling, offer to babysit
    Watch for warning signs

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who specialize in cultivating resilience in your child. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-419-6636 for a free phone consultation.

Written by Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

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Couples Gridlock – 8 Tips to Improve Communication

Couples Gridlock













Quite often problematic communication styles are the primary contributors to dysfunction in couples and families, leading to misunderstanding, resentment, and anger towards each other, not to mention gridlock. There are several common problematic communication styles that can be disastrous to any relationship. Here are a few common problematic communication styles that have been found to be detrimental to relationships by renowned couples therapists and researchers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman:

  • Harsh startup – Arguments starting with attacks using, for example, criticism or sarcasm rather than hearing out the partners options, thoughts, and feelings about a matter.
  • Criticism – Direct attacks to a partner’s character often using disrespectful and offensive words to describe their faults.
  • Contempt – Demeaning one’s partner using sarcasm and cynicism, often time expressing disgust by eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, or hostile humor.
  • Stonewalling – Withdrawing from the conversation in an attempt to avoid the conflict or tune out the partner, for example by turning away.
  • Defensiveness – Denying responsibility for any part of the conflict and instead blaming one’s partner or finding excuses.

Mental Health Implications

According to the U.S. Census Bureau divorce rates have risen from 15.1 million (from a total of 112.6 million married) in 1990 to 23.2 million (from a total of 130.3 million married) in 2009. Besides the higher likelihood of relationship dissatisfaction, separation, or divorce, children are also affected by their parents’ difficulty in resolving conflicts. There is a wealth of research indicating that children’s mental health is negatively impacted by parental discord affecting their psychological health in adulthood. For example, in a Report from the Department of Health and Human Services (2009), it was noted that “marital conflict has been found to elicit negative, aggressive behaviors in children, in both boys and girls” and that “the ability of parents to resolve their conflicts successfully was associated with self-reported levels of anxiety in children (Kerig, 1996). That is, parents who more constructively resolved their conflicts had children who reported lower levels of anxiety.” Moreover, children exposed to parental discord may experience symptoms of anxiety such as racing thoughts, poor concentration, feeling nervous, and sleep problems. Such symptoms may contribute to diminished academic functioning or problematic behavior. The impact on children alone is a compelling reason to improve one’s ability to communicate effectively.

8 Communication Tips

  1. Respect each other – Harsh startups using criticism or contempt will just make your partner more defensive and angry. Instead, set ground rules for arguing; for example, no name calling or sarcasm.
  2. Truly listen and reflect – Listening includes the ability to reflect back and summarize what you heard. So try not to be defensive or think of a counter-argument while listening to the other person speak, instead check in with them to make sure you understood their side correctly.
  3. Be honest – Integrity, or owning up to one’s mistakes or shortcomings, is critical in order to move passed gridlock.
  4. Body language – One’s true intent and emotion is communicated through one’s body language. Just as yelling does not communicate love or understanding, watching TV or talking on the phone while a partner attempts to communicate with you suggests that you are disinterested.
  5. Take a break – When one becomes angry, a number of physiological reactions occurs, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, making it difficult to think clearly or rationally. Take an hour or more to calm down before attempting to repair things again.
  6. Provide solutions – When discussing a problem with your partner don’t just complain about what they are doing wrong, rather come up with what you would like them to do, which would help improve the situation.
  7. Be a team – Many times couples begin to lose sight of their common goal and begin to see each other as rivals. Instead, view each other as team members, refocus goals, and work towards them together.
  8. Seek professional help – It is difficult to see one’s problems objectively from within and seeking outside professional help may allow you to learn and practice healthier communication styles in a safe, confidential setting.

The American Psychological Association has more communication tips specifically geared toward improving communication with one’s children.

Author: Dr. Yoendry Torres, Clinical Psychologist

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