All posts by pepllc4u

Navigating Strong Emotions and Outbursts

Knowing how our brains work can be a powerful tool for helping our teens deal with strong emotions. I am an educator.  Therapists and counselors are great resources for helping families develop tools for navigating strong emotions. If you are concerned about the intensity, frequency, or specifics of behaviors you are seeing, please seek help from a qualified professional.

I think that one of the hardest things for parents of teenagers to deal with is their son’s or daughter’s emotional swings. One minute they are fine, the next minute it seems as though the world were coming to an end. Bedroom doors slam. They stomp around the house. They yell or cry. They may withdraw and isolate. They may seem sullen or irritable. Sometimes we just look at them and try to figure out where they came from. We might say to ourselves, “I never thought my child would do that!”

Teenagers and young adults can be moody just by virtue of their age and development. How does this impact their families? Aggressive behaviors, such as door slamming, yelling, and stomping, can interrupt the family. Those behaviors can be startling, unsettling, and they can make us feel unsafe. I believe that the social changes thrust on us by the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the stress levels for everyone involved and made it harder for all of us to navigate strong emotions.

So, what can we as parents and educators do? The key lies in unlocking the secrets of the brain. It is important to recognize what is happening in the brain during these emotional outbursts. You see, there are two very important parts of the brain at play at any given time: the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

The amygdala is often referred to as the lizard brain. It is one of the oldest parts of our brains. It’s mission? Self-preservation. When it perceives “danger”, it takes over control.  “Danger” was pretty straightforward in the early heyday of the lizard brain. An animal is chasing me in hopes I will be its lunch? My lizard brain makes me want to run away. Have you heard of fight or flight? That’s what the amygdala is all about. The amygdala in our modern day now interprets the following emotions as signals of “danger”: fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, stress, frustration, and more. When our teens are feeling these strong emotions, their lizard brain takes over. You know what happens then…

What about the prefrontal cortex? Well, that’s the part of our brains that is in control when the lizard brain is not. Many refer to the prefrontal cortex as the “wizard brain”. This is where organizing, decision making, attention, problem solving, and rational thought occur. It is important to be aware of the fact that this part of the adolescent brain hasn’t fully developed yet. It is still growing.

I promised you a key; here is where it fits into the lock.

Have you ever tried to train a lizard? I haven’t, but I am quite certain that they CANNOT be trained to negotiate a compromise, make amends for their actions, and problem solve in complex social situations. When anyone relinquishes their control to their lizard brain, they can’t think well, they are impulsive and reactive (again, reactive could mean isolative and mopey).

You really can’t talk and reason with someone else’s lizard brain. So, what can parents do?


  • Give some time and space. Give teens a chance to cool down before speaking with them.
  • Use short, clear directions, if you need to speak. Examples: “Stop.” Slow down.” (Lizard brains register conversations much like the wahh wahh sounds from adult voices on Charlie Brown cartoons.)
  • Ask questions to engage the wizard brain. (This is a wonderful tool. Questions really depend on each person.)
    • What are you feeling?
    • Who are you upset with?
    • Can you count to 100 by 12’s? (They may not want to count, but they must go to their wizard brain to decide whether or not they can.)
    • What did you have for lunch today?


  • Don’t act from your lizard brain. Check in with yourself to determine whether or not this is the right time to act. Take space if you need to. Focus on your breath. If your teen and everyone who is there is safe, don’t act until you know you are using your wizard brain.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my sons used to say horribly hurtful things to me when he was angry. He would lash out at me even when I wasn’t a part of why he was upset. I finally had to create a “Rules for Anger” plan with him, to get it to stop.


  • When you and your teen are feeling okay, and they are able to problem solve with you, create a plan or come up with rules together.
    • Consider beginning with recognition that everyone experiences strong emotions, especially teens and young adults.
    • Think about creating lists of expressions of strong feelings that are comfortable for the whole family.
    • Be clear about behaviors that interrupt or negatively impact the family

Knowing how our brains work can be a powerful tool for helping our teens deal with strong emotions. I am an educator.  Therapists and counselors are great resources for helping families develop tools for navigating strong emotions. If you are concerned about the intensity, frequency, or specifics of behaviors you are seeing, please seek help from a qualified professional.

The Life in Your Goals

Recently I accepted a challenge to use a specific literary device (antimetabole) to describe my approach to goal setting and achievement. An antimetabole takes a phrase and then reverses the order of the words in the phrase. I searched for a bit on the internet, trying to find the right sentiment, but nothing seemed to fit.

You see, I believe that giving life to your goals strengthens motivation. This is done through visualization and answering some vitally important questions:

  • Why do you want to achieve your goal?
  • What would it look like to achieve your goal?
  • What would it sound like?
  • What would it feel like?
  • What does this goal mean to you?

For me, thoroughly exploring the answers to those questions increases motivation and resilience when working on our goals.

I also believe that the journey to reaching our goals is often as important as the goals themselves.

So I wrote an antimetabole to describe the essence of my thinking about successful goal setting:

Success is not about the goals in your life, but the life in your goals.

What do you think?

Do you want to teach your child something really important?

Your child deserves to be taught the essential skills to live a vibrant and full life. Skills like respect, effective communication, organization, responsibility, and determination are often overlooked by others working with your child.

Join me for an online course where I will give you the tools and strategies to set goals and find "teachable moments" to guide and instruct your child in the skills that matter most to you.

Registration is now open for this exciting opportunity. To learn more, please visit my Teachable Moments page:

The Amazing Power of I-Statements

Blog Post

“I-statements?!” Not again! Honestly, if I knew the theme for the study group was going to be “I Statements” that evening, I probably would have skipped it. I have heard many trainers teach participants how to form “I-statements”, and I completely understand how to create one. “I-statements” are used when you want to broach a serious subject that might be upsetting to a person. This way the person you are talking to might not get defensive and shut you out.

This trainer was different. She explained that “I-statements” could be used for setting limits or making requests. For example, if a kid is upsetting you and you want him/her to stop making the sound that reminds you of fingers on a chalkboard, instead of saying “Stop!” or “Cut it out!”, you could say, “I feel anxious when you make that sound, please stop.”

Examples from home:

  • I feel frustrated when the living room gets messy.
  • I feel worried when you are out past curfew.
  • I feel stressed out when music is too loud.
  • I feel disappointed when dishes aren’t rinsed off before they go in the sink.

Shocked, I say! I can’t begin to tell you how shocked I was to see these “I-statements” work in my own life. Working with a particularly challenging group of students, I used “I would appreciate it if everyone would sit down in their seats.” They all sat down! Not only did they all sit, but they stopped talking and looked up at me, ready to listen! It was amazing! Before I used “I statements”, it was about a 50-50 chance that the students would respond appropriately.

I know. This probably sounds a bit silly, but using “I-statements” has great potential. Try it out! Let me know how it goes. I would love to hear from you!

I Love Teaching: Never Stop Learning

Becoming a lifelong learner is admirable in my book. Learning a new skill, concept, or way of thinking can be exhilarating and play a big role in defining who we are. Yet often we are not certain where to start or how to best explore our interests, our ideas, and our passions.

Learning how to learn may not always be easy, but the rewards can be bountiful. Recently I was working with an adult who was reading an important passage from a book. He said, “I know there’s more to this. I know there is a deeper meaning. I just don’t know how to figure it out.”

This caused me to reflect on the ways in which I analyze for a deeper understanding of what I am reading.  At first, I thought, “I don’t know how I do it. I just do it.”  Finally, I had to read the passage for myself to gain insight into my methodology. In order to teach this skill set, I had to break the process up into small, clear pieces:

  1. Read the passage.
  2. Determine the main idea.
  3. Read the first sentence.
  4. Underline any words you believe are important in the first sentence.
  5. Ask yourself:
    1. Why was this word chosen?
    2. What other meanings could it have?
    3. How does this word impact the meaning of the sentence?
  6. Connect the sentence with yourself:
    1. Does the sentence make sense to you?
    2. Do you agree or disagree with what was said?
    3. Does the statement remind you of anything from your own experiences and your own life?
    4. How can I apply or use this information?
  7. Repeat for the last sentence.

The first and last sentences are key because they often introduce and summarize the paragraph. You can then choose anything that interests you from the middle.

The person I was working with tested out this procedure with me. He was very happy to have a tool for helping him to analyze text that is important to him. Now he can do this on his own.

I love teaching!  

The Results Are In!

Thank you to everyone who participated in my survey. Your input means a lot to me. There were a few surprises for me when I analyzed the results. I expected to see effective communication near the top, and you made it number one! However, I expected organization, collaboration/teamwork, and perseverance and motivation to be rated higher.

What’s Next? I will use the results from the survey as a focus for my upcoming blogs. In addition, I will use the data to inform a project that I am currently working on. Be on the lookout for hints as to what that project may be!

In the meantime, I hope you find the data to be thought-provoking. Please share your thoughts and questions.

Top Skills for Student Success in Life

SKILL Percentage of Adults Who Listed the Skill in Their Top 5
Effective Communication/ Communicating Across Differences 48%
Reading/Language Arts 26%
Mathematics 26%
Money Skills/Budgeting 26%
Critical thinking 23%
Problem Solving/Decision Making 23%
Food Preparation/Cooking/Cleaning 23%
Compassion/Empathy/Caring 23%
Time management 16%
Car Maintenance/Mechanical Skills/Repairs 13%
Social Skills 13%
Respectfulness 10%
Kindness 10%
Responsibility 10%
Assertiveness/ Self-Advocacy/ Self-Help 10%
Science 10%
Confidence/Positive Self-Image 10%
Life Skills 10%
Honesty/Forthrightness 10%
Technology Applications 10%
Spirituality 6%
Playing an Instrument 6%
Self-care 6%
Independence 6%
Work Ethic 6%
Self-Control/Emotional Regulation 6%
Organization 3%
Collaboration/Teamwork 3%
Perseverance and motivation 3%
Typing 3%
Running a Household 3%
Physical Education 3%
Foreign Language 3%
Self-worth 3%
Generosity 3%
Analyzing and Comparing Sources 3%
Building an Argument 3%
Listening 3%
Resilience 3%
Self-Soothing 3%
Tolerance 3%
Accepting of Others’ Beliefs 3%
Caring for the Earth 3%
Mindfulness 3%
Patience 3%
Integrity 3%
Trust 3%
Open mindedness 3%
General High School 3%
Look in the eyes of the person you are speaking with. 3%
Show you are interested in what other people are saying to you. 3%
Be ready to go above and beyond in dealings with individuals. 3%
Never display a negative attitude. 3%

August 1, 2018

There’s more to education than teaching to the test!

Are you a parent or educator concerned about how well your children’s education is actually preparing them for life? As a parent, teacher, school leader, and educational consultant, I can relate to the question: Where do these skills fit into my child or student’s education? Now I ask you: What skills do you value most?

 This is the first article in a series that will explore skills vital to success in our society and provide you with tips to teach, develop and strengthen these skills.

There is a lot of pressure in schools nowadays to get students to pass achievement tests. (Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic– Oh, my!)  Add to the pressure cooker STEM, STEAM, Common Core, state testing, PSAT’s, SAT’s, and you have a great big accountability soup! While each piece is valuable and important in its own right, none are the be-all and end-all of education.

In fact, using our soup analogy, I think it is fair to say that these components are important and are the various vegetables which chefs say must go into the soup. I believe that the vegetables can’t successfully make a soup without the base, or the broth. That is, I think these tests do not allow schools the time and resources to teach the skills that truly bring happiness and success.

Where Tests Fail You see, a student can achieve high test scores without fully understanding how to apply skills to their lives. Passing their SAT’s does not indicate that the student can effectively communicate their ideas or work well collaboratively. They can ace state testing without being able to effectively advocate for themselves.

Education must include so much more than the 3R’s. It must go beyond the national and state content standards. It is imperative that we teach students these important skills. We need to help students create their specialized and individualized broth for a truly successful soup.

21st Century Skills I believe that “21st Century Skills” are important. However, I can’t claim that they are fresh, new ideas. For more than a decade, the National Education Association has been active in a movement that encourages educators to teach 21st Century Skills. These are skills that companies have identified as critical for employees to effectively utilize. Most 21st Century Skills organizations and advocates are in agreement that of all the skills, there are four that stand out above the rest, and I agree. These skills have been dubbed “The Four C’s”:

Collaboration, Creativity, Critical thinking, and Communication.

Other really important skills have been emphasized by educators Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete who  identified the following as critical to successful functioning in today’s world:

  • self-reflection,
  • self-awareness,
  • self-initiative,
  • self-direction,
  • self-assessment, and
  •  self-regulation

and placed these skills under the umbrella of metacognition. (FOGARTY, ROBIN, and Brian Pete. METACOGNITION: the Neglected Skill Set for Empowering Students. Hawker Brownlow Education, 2018.)

Okay, most educators realize the importance of these skills but often do not have the time and resources to effectively do it all. This is where YOU come in.

If you are reading this post, you are probably a parent or an educator who is concerned that traditional education might not meet the needs of the youth whom you care about. I know what skills are important to me and I know how to teach and support them in people. However, I want to know what is important to you. Which skills do YOU believe are essential? Which skills do YOU value most?

An Invitation Over the next couple of weeks I will write blogs addressing the 4 C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking). I will also collect information from you, my readers, to guide my subsequent posts. Each post in this series will contain valuable information as well as tools and tips.

I invite you to join me on this exciting journey to support real transformation in our future, the youth of today!

Just click the link below to participate:

Skills for Success Survey