Rainbow Jar for Feelings


Recently, my kids and I were having a tough time and i was reminded me of co-regulation tol, the rainbow jar. I made it when my son was little many moons ago . It’s the tool to help with feelings as a way to process them and hold space for them. When we opened up the jar recently we noticed we needed to update it. There’s nothing like jumping on the bed to make us feel better

My son wears his heart on his sleeve. Since his sense of justice systems, sometimes it can harbour some conflict with his peers. He holds on to this anger and it’s hard for him to come back to neutral. While i can appreciate his sense of fairness, it can get in the way of accepting the reality of a moment. He goes into fight mode pretty quick and is hard to get back into his calm window.

My daughter hates to be wrong, or in the wrong. If i am every angry at her (and of course, i am allowed to be as her mom), she holds on to this and then creates a grudge herself. She also really struggles when things are less than perfect.

Both of these examples are great ones because when we can learn emotion regulation and staying with a feeling, then we are able to also foster some self-reflection and a more healthy mindset of acceptance. In our family, we are working to allow space for all the feelings, not just the easy and positive ones. That is hard to do sometimes.

Gordon Neufeld’s latest work on resilience in children (and adults truly) focuses on the importance of Play, Rest, and Feeling. Having access to all three is an integral part to establishing resilience and bouncing back after a challenge of adversity. I love the intention of noticing a full range of feelings in this process. If you want to learn more about how to take care of your kid’s feelings, Sarah Rosensweet also has a great article on how to help children with their emotional backpacks.

With this in mind, i created this tool to help my kids notice and honour their feelings. And of course, i use it as well – both as a model and knowing i can benefit from it as well. We keep it right in the dining room where any of us can access it easily. The agreement is if one of us needs help with their feelings, and asks for company, we join them. I want my kids to know i am there for any of the feelings, so we carve out space. I help them set it up, and if i am prepping dinner or something like that, we negotiate the timing to honour everyone’s needs.

Here are some of our activities:

– Jump on the bed
– Eat some chocolate
– Read a book
– Rip up some paper
– Cuddle together and get some tears out
– Dance party!
– Listen to a favourite song
– Colour
– Play outside
– Talk to someone about it
– Find a pet rock
– Build a lego fort for my feelings
– Have a cup of tea
– Play by myself
– I spy with colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet
– 5 Senses game: 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things to smell (get out some calming essential oils, 1 thing to taste)

That pouch you see in the photo has some Worry Dolls from a trip to Guatemala from years ago. I love this sweet tool to help hold space for feelings with kids. Both my kids have one that they keep close, as a reminder. What are some fun and effective ways you help co-regulate those hard feelings?

Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way


This week, my son went skiing for the first time. He went twice this week alone. The first time was cross-country skiing with our family, and the second was downhill with a school trip. I went with him both times, upon his request (and secretly i would have gone anyway). Full disclosure, we are not a skiing family or even sporty. But i grew up cross-country skiing and loved it. Mainly because it was a way to embrace the outdoors during the cold, long winter months. And it is so beautifully peaceful in a forest in the wintertime.

The first ski adventure, we didn’t get lessons because we didn’t think we needed them. His first frustration was putting on the skis. His second was falling and not being able to get up. His third was the first slight hill. So within 10 minutes, he was full of frustration and internalized shame about not being able to do something his sister and cousins were doing. And more so, he was angry at his body for not holding him up. Once this side of him comes out, he can be hard to get him back on track – no pun intended.

Between my partner and i, we took turns and deep breaths to help him. By the end of the day, he was skiing better, and made the right decision to walk down the last hill. Side note: i went down that hill and had the best epic Funniest Home Videos fall. I went right over my face into the snow and came up laughing. And not hurt. Luckily, my kids saw my fall and my reaction and i think it helped them see that it’s okay to fall.

When we went with his school this week, my son embraced the challenge. Maybe it was partly due to being with his peers and the lovely support and connection his has with his classmates. Maybe it was because he’s been skiing once before and remembers what his body can do. Maybe because downhill is easier (that’s what he said). I don’t know. But he did amazing – he loved the hills and he only fell once. At the beginning, when he was going down the very first hill for the first time to learn how to do the ‘pizza’ move to slow down. After that, he was hooked and now wants to ski on the regular. I’d like to take some credit, but i know it’s about his more positive sense of self that day.

Go figure.


Let me backup and bit and give you some context: My son has had 4 broken bones and stitches twice, all from living life in distraction. Besides the healing process and permanent scars (both visible and emotional), my son has carried with him trauma from the various injuries. He goes quickly into freeze mode when he gets hurt, be it a small bump or a bigger fall. As a trauma therapist, i would hope my work and years of training would be able to help him when he is in distress or needing support to self-regulate the hard feelings.

I was pretty wrong about this.

He comes to me for cuddles and connection when he is sad, or lonely. But the anger and frustration feelings are harder for me to support and him to manage. That’s why they are called hard feelings after all. After his initial fear has subsided, and he sees that he’s okay, he goes into fight mode when he’s frustrated. That is his trigger response, whereas I’m a freezer – so an interesting combo to say the least. I also get triggered by his anger as it’s can get quite feral and aggressive. That’s from my own history trauma and fear of intense conflict with others.

My children both know the work i do, relatively speaking. They know i work with women who have been hurt by someone in their lives as well as the parents i support who have just had babies. My son has been learning more about self-regulation, mindfulness, the downstairs/upstairs brain (thanks Dan Siegal), and we both know it’s a work in progress still. So when he recently confronted my attempts to help him he blasted at me this poignant line: “Mom, what works on your clients won’t work on me, I’m your kid”

Mic drop.

So, after a bit of an initial reaction, i processed this and realized maybe a bit too late that i need to be his mom first, and therapist second. And i need to be my partner’s friend first and therapist second. And i am human first. Therapist second even for me. We are all works in progress, learning as we go after all. When i am in therapist mode, i am a bit removed and put up the necessary boundaries i need, and yet it may not be what my injured child needs at the time. I am also still learning how to manage my reactions to his injuries, my daughter’s stubbornness, and my own need for quiet. As all therapists, i’m perfectly imperfect with this work too. I know my friends look to me for advice and assume i know what i’m doing. Let me tell you now, i don’t always know. I’m just my best at the time like all of us. One thing i know is to give myself self-compassion and self-care treats on the regular. I have also learned how to sit with the pain of others because i too am a work in progress, who recognizes my own inner work: I can sit more comfortably with other’s pain as i can see the other side of pain. This is a big part of being able to be a container for others. I know healing can happen.

Last night, my kids were excited to tell me about their day. I had a long day of listening to people’s stories and sadness all day. Like most days, i love my work, and i maybe shouldn’t have listened to a powerful podcast about stillborn loss on my walk home. I probably should have listened to my fun music therapy playlist instead. When i got home, i didn’t know i was done listening, until my son was talking AT me for 20 minutes through dinner. We had a good chat about asking first to chat, and also my need to make sure that i was present for my family when i cross the threshold of my door. Back to mom, wife, woman mode. My work day is done.

And yet it never is.

Trust Them

My son broke his elbow recently. It was a big learning moment for us, and not just because we now know how to heal a broken elbow, and to not dance with slippery socks on a coffee table, but because i absolutely trusted him when he said that it was bad and he needed to go to the hospital.

This is bone #4 that he has broken in 4 years – yes, one every school year so far. The first one he was in shock and it was the school secretary who had to gently urge us to check it out. By now, and after stitches as well as those above-mentioned bone breaks, he knows to tell me “I’m okay” immediately after a fall or injury. Or “mom, i need help” – this time was the first time that he said it and i knew that he meant it was serious. I didn’t have to stop and question what happened or convince ourselves that going to emerg on a Sunday night at 8pm was not necessary.

I’m not one to think so well on an instinct. When it usually comes to fight or flight mode, i’m a Freezer (is that a word in this context?) but this time – oh i was Mama on Fire. I tended to him, got him ready, packed a bag with snacks, books, and water, got his health card ready and told my partner that it was time to take him to the hospital no. questions. asked.

All because i trusted that my son knew what his body was telling him.

I’ve been reading the book Whole Brain Child again. It’s a great book – small and full of info about how brain development impacts how children connect to their world. As a young child who has now had a fair share (more than their fair share in fact) of injuries and trauma that connects to it, my son is struggling with how to feel safe and still have joy in the things he loves. A part of me wants to cover him in bubble wrap, but what i really want is to push him to keep taking risks and feeling confident that i will there when he falls. And to trust himself first. Notice how i didn’t say, i will catch him when he falls? Because i know that’s not possible now, and he still calls for me.

The time since the latest cast, and i’m sure not the last, we have snuggled more, talked more about feelings and fears, and we are still a work in progress when it comes to being on top of our feelings. But my son knows i have his back (and elbow, ankle and collarbone), and that’s what matters most.

Don’t Put that Bead in Your Nose!

I wanted to share something that happened this week at chez moi. I’m not proud of everything that happened, but the outcome and learning moment make it all worth it for me to be vulnerable with you here.

So, as a preface to this, my youngest had a similar story where she put a (linden) seed up her nose on Labour Day weekend 2 years ago. It ended up at the emergency ward of our local hospital, right before we were to empark on our end-of-summer weekend excursion. Even the doctors there were baffled how to get the seed out of her nose, it was that much of an ordeal. So, you would think we all learned from that experience.

You would think…

So now, picture us this week, at 8:15 on a school morning, frantically running around getting ready for the day – 4 lunches, 4 snacks, 4 bags, morning layers for the cooler weather, slurping up a few sips of almost hot coffee, brushing teeth, getting vitamins, finding keys: You know the drill, mornings are not the friend of parents with wee kids.

My son happily declares he found a bead under the table. Why he was there i can’t tell you. I know it’s not his bead but it’s not common for him to be the finder so i congratulated him on the find, like it was a gold coin or something. I look at it and then promptly continue dashing around finishing my morning routine on speed. I then hear this –

“Uh mom, THE BEAD IS STUCK IN MY NOSE.” Yes, the capitals are there for the frantic sound in his voice.

My partner is in the same room as him but had his back turned as he was washing the dishes. I am down the hall. And i react to his plea. Ready for this: This is the part i am not proud of but i have learned from it, i promise. I say (i mean yell from the other room) –

“Are you kidding me?! Really!? Do you not remember your sister and how we had to take her to emerg! We don’t have time to take you there, we need to get to school and work today! You are the big brother, you should know better!” To be far, i don’t know if i actually said that last line but i said the rest almost verbatim.

I think sweep in and say “i got this” out loud. I know just what to do. My partner and daughter are getting a wee bit excitable too, and now we are all thinking of running to emerg. After i try to get him to blow his nose, unsuccessfully because he HATES blowing it and would rather snort boogers in, i then remember this gem of a video i watched recently. Thank goodness for social media because i voluntarily watched a video of a mom and her sweet baby happily clean her nose like a pro. I dash upstairs for my medicine syringe and neti pot. I dash downstairs and get my son to breathe with me first. He is clearly scared so I tell him it may be uncomfortable but “i’ve got this.” I then walk him through it and after 3 separate squirts of water in one nostril, out pops the bead out of the other side.

Brilliant.

We all hoop and holler and celebrate. I dance for my son and myself – i am not usually the one that is quick on my feet but i felt like Wonder Woman that day. My son comes up to me and says “thanks for helping me with that.” And i look him squarely in the eye and say “i will always be there for you, to help you with anything. And i’m sorry that i was not more supportive right away. I regret my first reaction and i know it wasn’t supportive. I over-reacted and was worried for you. Will you forgive me?” We hugged and he said of course. Later that day, i again apologized for my less-than-supportive initial response. He said “Mom, you already said that.” I just really wanted him to hear that i was sorry – i don’t want him to ever feel like he can’t come to me for stuff. That is not the parent i want to be.

I know it was a mistake, and i partly blame my flight or fight reaction to the crisis. I’m human too, even when i know better. But i’m sharing this with you as it was a great learning moment for me on how to really say sorry, and to show my kids that i have their back. And how to clean out a nose of course.

PS. We got to school on time too.

It Takes a Village

I’ve been thinking a lot about the support we need to be on top of this whole parenting gig. I think we have swung a bit too far away from being there for each other and instead merely being there on the periphery. I think our need to feel independent, successful, competent, and strong baits us away from asking for help, being vulnerable, and reaching out to give support too.

Recently, a friend of mine told me that she had been in my daughter’s class when a fire drill happened. My friend shared with me that she was present and noticed that my daughter was reacting to the shrill sounds. I love that they found each other, and my friend (a seasoned mom of 3 herself, among other amazing skills and accomplishments) was able to provide my wee girl with the reassurance and safety net she needed.

This is the village i speak of: One where my daughter can look to another adult in the room and seek comfort. She knows this woman as a friend of mine, as an ally to her, and as another mom herself. I love that my daughter can go to someone for cuddles when she needs it.

I also need this support sometimes too. I’ve shared already about the nurturing acts of self-care i so rely on, and the activities that provide me comfort (like going outdoors, music, creative art expressions) but i also just need a break sometime so i can come back refreshed. I realized recently that the village i need is one that provides me with a break when i ask (and also when it’s intuitively offered), acknowledges the hard work it is to raise children, and allows me to be raw – honest, messy, vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect.

So, for me the village is not one that is trying to also parent my children. It is not one that is telling my kids to eat their dinner or to discipline them for me. It is not one where i feel even more judged and ostracized. It is not one where the villagers have such different family values and parenting styles. I would love a break from the anger i am starting to feel rise up, from the frustration of yet another argument. I’d love an offer of taking my kids out to play, or to have someone else take the lead when my energy is tapped out. I need a village with others who share similar values and styles. Or at least have empathy and a loving ear to listen to me complain.

I really appreciate the great groups that have formed that find solace in our struggles, and offer a chance to commiserate as well as empower. I really appreciate when someone can pick up on another person’s struggle and offer a cup of tea, an active ear, a playdate, wine in the front yard. Groups can be on-line, in-person, formal, drop-in, or just merely a chance meeting.

If you don’t yet have a village, start small. A village needs to start somewhere – Be it a deserted island, a party of one for dinner. Find ways to build your village, create a circle of support where you know where to turn to for what support. I love this tool and use it a lot in my work, when i’m learning more about the support someone else has, or doesn’t. Having never lived in a village, i admit i have a warped sense of it. I assume there’s a vulnerability in having your dirty laundry aired out (like when you yell and your neighbours hear, or when you dump your kids’ toys in the trash for all to see). But it is also a way to show solidarity, and to feel united, and to also feel human. It can be a village that you create, grow and nurture rather than one that you are stuck in and cannot leave. You can set the tone and create your own village with a clear intention of what you need.

Do you have a village? Want to join mine? New members are always welcome.

I Want to be My Children’s Compass Point

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I was listening to a CBC segment a few weeks ago, with a writer who shared her philosophy on this whole ‘parenting’ movement. While she too wrote a book about it, she wonders if we are doing ourselves a disservice with all this pressure and industry around parenting.

There are a lot of books, workshops, and ‘experts’ that are available to us these days. Each is designed to help you be the best parent you can, and also to find solutions for places that you are stuck. While i guess we fall under this category a bit, i prefer to see our practice as an extra support to you as you guide yourself to the best parenting path. That said, we can be overwhelmed when other parents or even just the regular folk who are waiting in line at the grocery store, ask you if you are an ‘attachment parent’, ‘free range parent,’ or a ‘peaceful parent’ or even a ‘helicopter parent.’ There is just so much pressure and pull to be defined as ____ parent: I just want to be the best parent i can for my children.

So i hope this doesn’t sound too contradictory to that writers point: i really love reading books and finding ones that speak to what i hold dear to me, and what our family’s values are.

As someone who really values being attached to my children, my partner, and to the people closest to me, i relish the chance to integrate this bond in any way i can. Having read Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, i wish all new parents can read this book. In it, they describe how attachment can play out between our children and ourselves, to the better of our relationship and also for our communities.

Neufeld goes on further to explain that attachment is not just about the practices – things we do like wear our babies in carriers, co-sleep, stay with our babies all the time, and exclusively breastfeed. Rather, it is a relationship between the child and parent. This relationship gives a context to how the child is raised in the family and grows up in the world. I so love the idea that we are to be our child’s compass point, and that it actually puts them at a disadvantage when we hurry them to stop being dependent on us. There is a dance of attachment that we go through with our children, and in order to keep that bond alive, it is our job to remain the alpha in their lives. It may sound daunting in this day of technology, and peer orientation, but i also really hope that my children come to me No Matter What when they are in their teen years. The work i’m doing now fosters that future attachment.

What that in mind, I’m really excited that Dr. Neufeld is coming to Toronto at the end of November, to flush out this theory of attachment and development. He is giving two talks – one is a two-hour discussion on how play can help build attachment, and the other is a full day workshop on resiliency and attachment. If you want to learn more about this theory, why don’t you come check it out!