The Connected Family Podcast
How To Be an Emotion Coach Parent

How To Be an Emotion Coach Parent

December 14, 2020

Host Mark Vander Ley Ph.D., LCPC discusses the four styles of parenting identified by Dr. John Gottman's research. The four styles of parenting described in "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" are The dismissing parent, the disapproving parent, the Laissez-Faire parent and the emotion coach parent.  This episode of The Connected Family Podcast focuses on describing the four types of parenting style and then summarizes the five steps of emotion coaching.  

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Parents You Have Lost Control: Part 3

Parents You Have Lost Control: Part 3

December 7, 2020

Parents You have Lost Control: Part 3

Every family needs an established set of limits. Predictable limits help children feel protected and challenged. They are designed to ensure safety and to allow for exploration. Consistent limit-setting may be the most difficult part of a parent’s job.


Limits are loving and compassionate when set by parents. Although it can be difficult, and some children may claim that their parents hate them when they set them, limits provide structure, support, and guidance that a child needs to feel safe.When set in a calm and empathetic manner, limits provide the basis for a child’s future identity development.


Limits are instructive, and parents are not. It is tempting for parents to “preach” when setting limits, so as to be sure that the child understands the lesson. However, the real teacher is the limit. Children learn best through experience, and a consistently set limit will teach a lesson even if a child has tuned out the voice of a parent.

Meaningful and Manageable

Limits serve a purpose and are simple enough that parents can follow through on them with moderate effort. First, the set limit should be directly related to the offense. For example: if homework goes unfinished, then Billy will not be able to watch TV tonight. The limit should cause some level of anxiety for the child. Sending them to their room with TV, video games, and internet probably will not cause anxiety. Additionally, the limit should not overwhelm parents. For example, grounding a busy teen from the car for a year will cause too much disruption to the family routine, and parents will not likely be able to enforce the grounding.


An important limit for one child may not be important for another. Every child is different, and parents should adjust their parenting approach based on the needs of the child. Age is an important factor as well. A teenager can handle more freedom to choose than an eight year old. As a child matures and grows, they should be able to earn more freedoms.


Limits should be set in appropriate time. For a young child, the enforcement of the limit must be very close in time with the offense. For a teen, however, delaying the limit so that mom and dad can discuss it together can actually raise the level of anxiety and increase the effectiveness of the limit.


Limits must be emotionally safe. A parent must be in control of their emotions while setting a limit. A parent that is visibly angry and upset while setting a limit cannot think clearly enough to set appropriate limits. This parent is also in danger of producing fear in the child rather than anxiety. Fear produces external motivation, which is not the goal of limit-setting. What we desire to produce is internal motivation, which is produced by anxiety

One of the hardest parts about learning of setting limits is deciding what level of freedom, both emotional and physical, is appropriate for your child. Obviously a toddler has narrower limits than a teenager who has begun to demonstrate personal responsibility. The most important piece of setting limits is allowing enough freedom of exploration and experimentation so as to provide the child with the feeling of competence, power, confidence, and excitement. But, you do not want to allow so much freedom that the child does not learn to respect the rules of nature and authority. The optimum level of freedom provides enough challenge for the child to master increasingly difficult skills and enough limits for the child to be safe and respectful. In this next exercise, I challenge parents to sit down with one another and access what LIMITS will be for their house in the current stage. It is recommended that families re-evaluate household LIMITS for each developmental stage (infant, toddler, preschooler, elementary, Jr. High, High school).

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Parents You Have Lost Control: Part 2

Parents You Have Lost Control: Part 2

November 29, 2020

Parents You Have Lost Control: Part

I have many discussions with parents that center around the issue of control.  The surprising part for many of them is that I emphasize giving up control rather than maintaining control.  It seems to me that parenting is a life-long exercise in gradually giving over more and more control to our very precious children.  This process can be a very scary, or even painful, endeavor for many parents, especially when it is done either too quickly or too slowly.  Many parents wonder, “If I give up control to my child, then how will he learn what is right?” or “Won’t they end up being wild children who are continually in trouble?”  Though it is tempting for some parents to believe that gradually giving control over to their children will result in ineffective or poor behavior, the truth is that giving age-appropriate control to our children is actually in their best interest.  In reality, giving more control to your children as they mature will help develop a confident, internal moral compass from which they will make better decisions on their own.. 

            Let’s make the distinction between being “in control” and being “controlling.”  Chris Mercogliano in his book “In Defense of Childhood Protecting Kid’s inner wildness.” Describes “in control” as “establishing age appropriate limits, while at the same time supporting children’s growing sense of autonomy by allowing them to make choices and learn from their mistakes” (pg. 9).  Being “in control” is setting very clear limits for children and enforcing those limits consistently.  However, if a child is moving within those limits, he is free to be in control of his decisions and behavior.  The approach of the “in control” parent allows children to practice making choices that meet their needs or desires, but provides appropriate limitations to that freedom.   Alternatively, Mercogliano describes “controlling” as  “placing high value on obedience, shepherding children toward specific outcomes, and discouraging verbal give and take” (pg. 9).  A controlling parent is not only setting limits, but is active within those limits, making choices and decisions for a child that he could have easily made on his own.  A controlling parent who is focused “toward specified outcomes” has his own ideas for the child and is out to make them happen.  This parent does not consider the child’s desires, interests, or skills. Instead, this parent’s focus is on meeting his or her own needs.

            The key is to gradually give age-appropriate control to our children, which is given in the form of choices.  For example, you may ask your young child, “Would you like to wear shorts or blue jeans today?” or “Would you like to drink milk or water?” or “Do you want to read books or play outside?”  All of these choices are opportunities for parents to give children control over the moments of their lives without allowing them to be in control of the household.  We have all seen the three year old who is clearly in control of the parent-child relationship.  Instead of being given choices chosen by the parent, this child is dictating the agenda for the entire household.  Giving a young child too much control is not only unhealthy, but is also harmful for future development.  On the other hand, giving age-appropriate choices to our children boosts their healthy development.

The most important aspect to remember when offering choices to your child is that you must be comfortable with all the choices given.  As a parent, you have to be willing to follow through on your child’s choice, so offer these choices carefully.  For example, giving a three year old the choice between riding his tricycle in the driveway and riding his tricycle around the block unsupervised is not acceptable.  Once you begin to offer choices to your child, it will become second nature.  You will begin to see everything as a choice and will learn how to phrase things as opportunities for choices rather than commands. 

            So, what good does offering all these choices do?  Children who have been raised with appropriate levels of control in their own life grow to be teens who are intrinsically motivated.  All the millions of choices that they have been allowed to make over their lives have taught them that they have the power and ability to make their life what they want it to be.  These children have what is referred to as an internal locus of control.  They believe that the outcomes of their actions are the function of their effort, skill, and personality.  They are confident in their abilities to succeed, and motivation for that success comes from within.  In fact, “allowing children the freedom to pursue their interests without interference is paramount for intrinsic motivation” (Mercogliano, pg 10).  However, a controlling parenting style leads towards children who have an external locus of control.  These children have been so controlled from the outside that they do not know how to make decisions without outside help.  They believe that they have very little power to make life what they want it to be.  They are waiting for someone to come along and do “it” for them, or are hoping for a miracle to make their dreams come true.  Those with an external locus feel as though they are not responsible for the outcome of their actions. 

            Giving up control also allows our children to internalize their values.  Parents desire to see their children make decisions that are based on their value system.  It is sad to see a child who makes decisions based on the desires of his peer group or cultural influences.  A responsible child is one that makes right decisions because he is confident in his values and view them as more important than the applause of peers.  Internalized values are a very important part of identity development, as what we value contributes greatly to our thinking.  And when our thinking is deeply rooted in our values, our behavior usually lines up.  The positive result is an integrated identity.

Finding a healthy balance in the amount of control we give to our children is difficult, but so important.  Remember, a child with too much control is no better off than one with not enough control.  I encourage parents to start small.  Give your child control over as many things as possible while maintaining appropriate limits.  Having clear limits for your child will help to balance the temptation to over-control.  As long as the child is within the clear limits, he is free to behave and choose as he wishes.  When he wanders outside the limits, make sure he experiences a consequence that reinforces the limit.

            In summary, a gradual release of control to your child will help him to grow into a teen that believes that the outcome of his actions is a function of effort, skill, and personality.  Giving up control will also foster the internalization of a child’s values, which is a key component to the development of an integrated identity.  Over-control by parents will leave teens with a sense that they are not responsible for the outcome of their actions.  They will also be susceptible to the influence of peers and culture in regards to decisions about values and conduct.

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Parents You Have lost Control: Part 1

Parents You Have lost Control: Part 1

November 22, 2020

Parents You have Lost Control Part 1

My wife and I are in serious trouble! Today my five year old discovered the most well kept and important secret of the parenting world.  I was hopeful that my boys would not discover this secret for several more years.  Now that the middle child has figured it out however, it will not be long before the other three catch on. 

He has discovered that when it really comes down to it, I cannot MAKE him do anything. 

We stopped at a local restaurant to grab dinner following his soccer game.  I was rushing home to pick up his older brother so that I could take him to his cub scout meeting.  As we left the restaurant he stopped, just outside the door.  I was walking ahead of him and looked back to see him propped up against the wall scraping his soccer cleats on the ground.  I said, “come on buddy, let’s go” He said, “No” and just stood there.  He looked at me with a knowing smirk; he saw that my hands were full, I was in a hurry, and that I had few parenting “tools” at my disposal. 

Thankfully, I had gotten off work a little early today so I was in a pretty patient frame of mind.  I remained calm and began racking my brain for the best way to handle this situation.  We stood there looking at one another for nearly a minute.   It began to feel like the stand off at the OK corral, whoever moved first, was doomed to lose.  After searching for the most helpful tool in my bag for this situation, I came up empty.  I was unable to think of a logical or enforceable statement to convince him that he should move on his own.  So, I walked back to where he stood, took his arm and walked him to the car.  Eventually he decided to walk on his own, and climbed into his seat. 

As I reflect on this situation I am struck by the simple truth, I CANNOT MAKE HIM DO ANYTHING.  At this point he is only five, I am bigger than he and I can take him by the arm and walk him to the car.  In ten years if he decides to take a similar approach about going to school things will be different.  I will not be able to physically move a fifteen year old as I did my five year old today.  

This was a power struggle, he realized that I was in a hurry and short handed; he decided he was going to exercise his personal will.  I am reminded of how important it is for parents to admit and be OK with the fact that we cannot MAKE our children do anything.  All we can do is state what we are going to do.  We cannot control our children, instead we must explain the expectations or limit and then manage our own responses accordingly.  When the child does not meet the expectation the parent can let go of forcing him to “do” something and provide a logical consequence for the decision.  If the child meets the expectation he learns a lesson about responsibility, if the child does not meet the expectation and experiences a consequence, he learns a lesson about responsibility.  Either way the lesson is learned and the parent maintains sanity by understanding, “I don’t have to control my child, only my self.” 

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The Paradox of Strength and Vulnerability

The Paradox of Strength and Vulnerability

November 2, 2020

Several years ago I read the book and watched the movie “Into the Wild”.    It is a true story about an upper middle class boy.   After graduating from college he gave away what was left of his college fund and wandered around the United States.  He told no one where he was going and ended up starving to death in the Alaskan wilderness.  My favorite quote from the movie goes like this, “It is not as important that a man be strong, as it is that he feel strong.”

I knew a boy recently who did not feel strong.  If you looked at him you would not think it. He was a football player, confident, and bigger than most.  Despite outward appearances however he believed that he was weak.  The worst part was not that his strength was being stolen, but that he was giving it away.  A recurring theme from our conversations was how he would beat up anyone who said something bad about his mom.  He was constantly talking about how tough he was.  He listed off the number of fights he had been in and the times he had been suspended from school.  I really liked this boy but was becoming frustrated with his need to portray himself as tough and “manly”.       

I began to realize that although he was strong, athletic, and likeable-he did not feel strong, athletic, or likable.  It appeared to me that he felt weak, awkward, and hated.  His fragile view of self required that he project strength and aggression.  If he were to project what he really believed, that he was weak, awkward, and hated, people might agree with him, and he could not handle that.  So, he built the most “manly” façade he could come up with.  This façade was designed to convince others and himself that he was strong and not to be messed with.     

The Facade of Strength:

1. Is a Self-protective strategy

2. Is built as the result of hurt or lack of safety

3. Does not allow a person to be truly safe or truly known

Unfortunately, it is very common for boys to build a façade of “manliness” designed to keep people from knowing who they are on the inside.  In their book, “Raising Cain”, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson call this the fortress of solitude.  This façade begins, from a very young age, to isolate boys from emotionally connected relationships.  Boys grow up to be men who can hold long conversations about what is happening in the world of sports.  However, they have a very hard time identifying what is going on inside of themselves.   

I hope that parents will teach their boys what it means to be a man.  We can teach our boys that being a man may include physical strength.  We can teach our boys that being a man also includes emotional strength.  A man of emotional strength is able to look inside himself to acknowledge the good and the bad.  He is also willing to include those he trusts in this inner life.  It is this vulnerability that is a great marker of “constrained power”(meekness).    

Parents can help children develop strength by:

1. Strength develops when a child feels cared for and loved

2. Strength develops through physically and emotionally safe challenges

3. We are strong when we are vulnerable.

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The Power of Outdoor Child Directed Play

The Power of Outdoor Child Directed Play

October 26, 2020

I was born in a small midwestern town and lived in that town until my family moved to Southern California when I was in fourth grade.  I have very fond memories of playing outside with the neighborhood kids for hours at a time.  I remember games like ghost in the graveyard, annie annie over, and freeze tag.  I even remember walking down the road with my friend to fish in the pond that was located in the corn field adjacent to our subdivision.  I returned to visit that same small town several years ago for a friend’s wedding and drove through the old neighborhood.  I expected to see kids running through the neighbor’s back yards and to walk down to the pond in which I had caught my first fish.  I was surprised that the pond was no longer there, as the field had been developed for houses.  More disappointing was the emptiness of the street.  There were no kids outside playing with one another.  Have all the young kids grown up?  Are there no kids left in this neighborhood? 

Several years after this visit when I was working as a therapist for teenagers, I began to get a better understanding of what happened to this neighborhood.  I was talking to a young man and I asked him what he was good at.  He thought for a little while and said, “video games”.  I said, “oh cool, what are some other things you are good at?”  He thought for bit longer this time, and said, “I am only good at video games.”  I was pretty shocked by his belief that he was only good at video games.  He was well liked among his peers, intelligent, handsome, and physically fit.  Yet, the only strength he could come up with was video games.  Since those first days as a counselor I have run into many other young men with a similar view of self. 

I believe that this limited view of self is caused in part by the decrease in outdoor free play for many children today.  A 2004 study by Rhonda Clements at Hofstra University surveyed 830 mothers regarding their level of outdoor play as children and that of their children.  85 percent of the mothers agreed that children today play outside less than children did in years past.  70 percent of the mothers reported playing outside everyday as a child compared to only 31 percent of their children.  The survey found that the number of children playing games with child created rules has dropped from 85 percent of the mothers to 33 percent of their children.  The only outdoor activity that children in the survey did more than their mothers was adult organized youth sports. 

I strongly believe that children, especially boys need to be outside engaging in child created play.  The three main benefits that I see from this type of play are self-confidence, imagination, and social skills.


            There is no better place for a child to test the limits of their abilities than the outdoors.  This could be climbing the ladder to the slide for a young child, making it all the way across the monkey bars for a school aged child, or taking on the older kids in a basketball game for a middle schooler.  These activities are physical, mental, and psychological challenges that push a child just one small step past their current ability.  These small steps over a number of months or years build into a series of successes or failures that allow children to take on the challenges of the future.  


            The great outdoors is filled with opportunity to increase imagination.  This may include the hiding place under the porch stairs used to dig for treasure.  The snake habitat made from a puddle, grass clippings, and rocks, or the delicious mud pies served up to mom and dad.  These child created exercises in make believe are the classroom in which future artists, teachers, engineers, and, doctors hone their skills.  The skills necessary to create new masterpieces, work with the difficult learner, create a bridge or heal disease.

Social Skills:

            Possibly the most important benefit of child created outdoor play are the lessons of how to get a long with others.  Children will argue forever about the rules of a game before it ever begins.  They may even stop in the middle of the game to renegotiate expectations.  The temptation as parents is to stop the bickering, and make the rules for them so they can get on with the play.  Remember though, that the bickering is the point.  The most social learning is taking place during the negotiation.  This is when they are learning to communicate, take turns, and accept another’s point of view. 

Sometimes it seems like we must do more, more, and more for our kids.  I propose you do less.  Cut out a sport or two, scale down the lessons, and stay home a few nights a week while the kids create a world of play in your back yard.  


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How to NOT Talk To Your Teenager About Sex With Author Melissa Hopper

How to NOT Talk To Your Teenager About Sex With Author Melissa Hopper

October 19, 2020

Dr. Mark Vander Ley interviews Melissa Hopper author of "Can We Not Talk".  The Can We (Not) Talk? journaling study is a totally not-awkward way to have meaningful conversations with your teen about the topics that matter. As parents and teens work through the lessons in their workbooks and journal, they will be prepared to have discussions on topics like love, healthy relationships, boundaries, standards, pornography, and more.

Melissa is a homeschooling mother of four and the Director of Community Education at her local pregnancy center.  In her professional life she facilitates conservative and legally compliant sex education to over 6,000 California students per year.  She also offers resources related to parenting, public health, safety and more.  At home Melissa cares for her four children, enjoys spending time with her husband, gardening, road trips, and time in nature.

To find out more information about Melissa and her studies visit Instilled Studies

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The 4 Core Fears of Parenting

The 4 Core Fears of Parenting

October 12, 2020

Why does a person get angry?  What is it about a child’s behavior that can cause a parent to lose control?  Parents get angry and lose control with their children when they experience stress or anxiety above their levels of tolerance.  Typically, when parents experience this level of stress, one of their four core fears—danger, failure, loss of love, and loss of control— has been triggered by their children’s behavior.  Often, the end result of this fear is the parent’s extreme emotional response to the situation.  Learning to identify and better understanding the impact of these fears in our parenting helps us learn to maintain better personal control with our children.

Danger: The fear of their child being hurt, emotionally or physically.  Parents who experience this core fear feel anxious when their child takes risks or is out of their sight.  The most common way of relieving this anxiety is to protect.  These parents have a hard time maintaining personal control when their efforts to protect are being avoided by the child.

Failure: The fear of failing as a parent, or their child failing as an adult.  Parents who experience this core fear work hard to make their child a success and have a hard time maintaining personal control when their child’s behavior seems to work against them.

Loss of love: The fear of losing their child’s love.  Parents who experience this core fear may rely on their child for feelings of affirmation and value.  In times of trial they feel abandoned, alone, and betrayed by their child and may struggle to maintain personal control.

Loss of control:  The fear of losing control of their child or the situation.  Parents who experience this core fear see misbehavior as a sign of things to come.  They are afraid that if they don’t get things under control, their child will grow up to be a hardened criminal or worse.


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6 Steps to Forgiving Your Spouse

6 Steps to Forgiving Your Spouse

October 5, 2020

Sometimes in marriage counseling we encounter couples that overcome their demon dialogues, create a new dance of intimacy, and rewrite the story of their relationship.  Yet, just when it appears they will move to a deeper level of connection one partner brings up a seminal incident that they just can’t seem to “let go”.  Susan Johnson describes these hard to let go moments as “relationship traumas” and states that many times they include one partner feeling a profound sense of abandonment.  It may include an overwhelmed husband isolating in his bedroom just after learning about his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Or maybe it involved a wife’s difficulty in showing empathy for the death of her husbands father. 

Susan Johnson offers six steps to forgiveness in these difficult situations

The hurt partner speaks his/her hurt

The hurt partner describes the wound without attacking the other.  The partner may use words like “I felt…alone, abandoned”. This communication is not about the details of the incident but the feelings and experience of the one hurt.  The pain, which in the past had been covered with anger and criticism, is now revealed in honesty and vulnerability.

The injuring partner is present and acknowledges the hurt

The injuring partner remains emotionally present as the hurt partner shares their experience.  The injuring partner now more fully understands how their actions hurt the other.  This new understanding leads to an acknowledgment of hurt and creates the safety needed to move forward.

Partners Risk Vulnerability

Both partners soften towards the other moving from the defensiveness of “you will never hurt me again” to “I think I can trust you now”.  The new position of trust and openness allows for both partners to express emotion surrounding the incident leading to deeper understanding and connection.

Injuring partners take ownership of their mistake

The injuring partner is now able to take full responsibility for how their actions impacted the hurting partner.  This probably includes a heartfelt apology.  The injuring partner is able to communicate deep regret, empathy, validation, and a commitment to “being there” in the future.

Partners discuss their needs now

The next step is for partners to communicate with one another what they need in the present. This will most likely include presence, touch, responsiveness, awareness, and connection.

The new story

The couple is now ready to create a new story surrounding the incident.  The new story describes how the incident damaged trust in the relationship.  It also highlights what led to the demon dialogues.  But, the resolution of the story is shaped by how the couple confronted the pain of the incident and was able to heal through the process of openness, vulnerability, risk, and connection. 


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3 Keys to Restoring Connection With Your Partner

3 Keys to Restoring Connection With Your Partner

September 28, 2020

Find the Bad Guy

This dance occurs when both partners are stuck using attack as a way to protect ones self from feeling vulnerable, alone, or unsafe.  Each partner blames the other for the problem because disconnection has made it unsafe to vulnerably acknowledge ones own responsibility in the problem.  John blames the family’s financial issues on Mary’s irresponsible spending habits, while Mary blames John for not working hard enough to provide for the family.  The pattern is cyclical in that the more one is blamed the more disconnected and unsafe they feel.  The lack of safety puts each partner “on guard” for the attack of the other.  A hypersensitive stance may cause the partners to see threat where there is none.  This leads to more frequent attacks and ever increasing difficulty in resolving conflict.

Protest Polka

The most common pattern encountered in marriage counseling is the pursuer-distancer dynamic or as Susan Johnson calls it the protest polka.  One of the partners protests against the growing disconnection in the marriage by pursuing the other. Many times this pursuit feels more like demanding or criticism to the partner causing them to withdraw.  The more the distancer withdraws the more the pursuer criticizes or protests.  The pursuer is looking for reassurance about questions such as “do you care about me?”, “do I matter to you?”, “am I important” while the distancer is attempting to protect ones self from feelings of inadequacy, not being good enough, and failure.

Freeze and Flee

The final dialogue is one of silence.  Both partners are hunkered down in their respective fox holes and hope is nearly gone.  The pursuer has no more energy to protest and therefore shuts down to protect ones self from hurt and loneliness.  The distancer is finally enjoying some peace but remains disconnected as a way to protect against a sneak attack.  Each partner has tried everything they know to fix the problem but nothing has worked.  They feel frozen, stuck in a dance that brings deeper and deeper hurt; therefore they flee by either leaving the marriage or resigning themselves to a lonely loveless relationship. 



An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for.  When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety.  When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion.  Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear.  An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.


A responsive partner is one that is “moved” by the reach of the other.  Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by someone else’s emotion we hide it, stuff it down, or deny it.  This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain.  A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear.  Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other.  The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences reconnection.


An engaged partner is one that has been “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it.  They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time.  They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them or seek to minimize them.  An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other. 

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Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples.  New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.


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