What is the Ugly Duckling Syndrome?

Remember that story about the ugly duckling? It’s a good metaphor for the time period from when kids emerge as little chicks and the time they finally grow into swans.  There is that awkward middle period where they are not quite sure who they are or where they fit in. Symptoms of this difficult age might include the gangly arms and legs they haven’t quite grown into yet, or baby fat they haven’t quite outgrown, voices that range from squeaky to scratchy, acne, and personality changes that seem to come and go in your child daily.  

We have all experienced this ugly duckling stage (if you need proof, go ahead and pull out your old yearbook). But this awkward and clumsy period in your child’s life may be more important than you remember from your own childhood. Now more than ever, the middle school years are crucial for developing into a healthy teenager and adult.  It seems the issues and challenges that were facing teens in high school are now being introduced to kids in junior high, or even before! In today’s world, parents need to foster and build a healthy relationship with their kids in the formative years, because that is when they need it the most. Here are some things to consider.


Studies show the tween and teen years are some of the most influential in a child’s life. The question is, how can we use this time to make the greatest impact? Without hesitation, I would say that parents can have the biggest influence by giving their kids undivided attention. Focusing attention on your child is like investing in Google stock. It has great value now, and will only keep growing. When you drop what you are doing to listen to your daughter talk, you are demonstrating that she has worth and importance in your life. When you set aside time every week to take your son out to dinner, you are indicating that time with him is precious. There is no substitute for the undivided attention of mom and dad in the life of a child.

Youth groups, sports, clubs and school have their place. But they are poor replacements for a caring parent. There is a temptation to think that coaches, pastors and teachers are better equipped and better trained to speak into the life of your kid. But that’s not true! Those other adults can be great allies but can never take the place of a parent. It is vital that moms and dads grasp their unique position in relation to their tweens and actively engage with their children.


Another way parents can positively impact their child’s formative tween and teen years is to let go of those unrealistic dreams and expectations for their kids. It is very natural to have plans for your child. We envision what our son will look like, talk like, act like. Our daughter will play volleyball, go to college, get married, give us ten grandbabies.

However, often times our kids don’t turn out the way we thought. Perhaps in these ugly duckling years your kid puts on a little weight. Your son shows no interest in sports. Your daughter would rather play the accordion than the piano. Your middle-schooler wants to be a forest ranger instead of an architect. It is safe to say that the things you envision for your child may not come to pass.

Instead of pushing your expectations upon your children, use ugly duckling years to build your relationship. Let go of your dreams, and work to understand and appreciate the person your son or daughter is becoming on their own. Show an interest in what interests them. Ask good questions that display your desire to know about their lives. Cheer them on in their successes, and help pick them up in their defeats. The majority of conflicts that happen in the home are the result of our expectations shattering. But when we focus on relationships and learn to appreciate our children for who they are, the struggles between parents and adolescents diminish, and the home becomes a much more peaceful place for kids to grow up.


Lastly, parents can invest in the lives of their tweens and teens by frequently employing the use of two phrases; “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” Trust me, it can be done!  When parents make mistakes (and you do), you need to be the first ones to apologize. And when our kids make a mistake (and they most certainly do that!), moms and dads need to be quick to extend grace. By asking for and offering forgiveness regularly, you’re imprinting on young minds the importance of forgiveness and the understanding that there is no epic fail or blunder that will ever stop you from loving each other. There’s great freedom for a child in knowing that no matter how goofy, clumsy, moody or unruly they become, they are still loved.

Take advantage of these in between years and begin shaping your child into the responsible and mature teenager and adult they will become. The ugly duckling stage doesn’t last long. But it’s a powerful time period where your child needs your undivided, gracious attention more than ever.

Sound hard?  Truth be told, it can be!  But you don’t have to do it alone.  Don’t hesitate to give us a call to see how we can help.  

Written by Lisa Smith

What Kind of Team Player Are You?

Are you and your partner on the same team? Do you feel like you are working toward the same goal? Let’s talk about how a couple can resolve conflict as a team.

Team work; In a healthy relationship the two people are working together to find a solution. They share their ideas, they make suggestions, they explain their perspective and share their desires. Each of them listens to the others perspective and considers it. Then together they bat around ideas as to how to solve this conflict. They say things like; “how would you feel if we…” or “What do you think about this”. In asking these questions it shows a desire to consider the other persons opinion and work together to find a solution. This couple is on the same team. If we think of this as a sport then they are a soccer team kicking the ball down the field in order to make a goal.

The passer; Sometimes the two players continually pass off the ball instead of taking it to the goal. It’s as if they are tying to solve a conflict but play on opposite teams. The first person criticizes and blames the other person, this is like continually passing the ball. This is not helpful because then the receiver of the criticism, instead of working towards a solution, finds that they are busy defending themselves. It would have been more healthy for the first person to talk about their own feelings instead of pointing the finger and blaming. The two people criticize and defend but don’t work towards the goal or a solution.

Show off; This is when the person takes a superior attitude and shows disrespect towards their partner. In keeping with our sports analogy, this would be the ball hog or show off. Without respect in the relationship we loose the desire or ability to work as a team.

Quitter; This is when the player walks off the field. In a relationship it shows itself when someone gives you the silent treatment and will no longer talk. Or they walk out of the room and disappear for a period of time. Not in order to cool off but in order to avoid the conflict or punish the person with the problem. This is not productive in trying to resolve a conflict or solve a problem.

A coach of a team often starts with team building. This applies to relationships too, in order to work together as a team there has to be a foundation of friendship, appreciation, respect and consideration. Building these qualities in a relationship takes effort but allows for a partnership that is resilient and positive rather that gridlocked and negative. It is worth the effort.

If you need help establishing the foundation of teamwork and friendship than give me a call, I can help you.

5 Reasons Insecure Parenting Doesn’t Work

What is happening, why does it seem like there are many parents who are insecure and afraid to stand strong? I know that when we become parents there is a certain element of sink or swim. We figure it out as we go, we rely on what we learned from our own parents, good or bad, we watch other parents and we may even read a parenting book. But what I am seeing are insecure parents and this was not the case with past generations.

It is true that todays parents face many new challenges, social media being a giant. Parents are continually comparing themselves to others, comparing their kids to others and this fuels the insecurity. Listed below are some of the fears that I see and why I think we need to be brave and not succumb to these fears;

1. Fear of being too harsh; 
In order to raise a child who is respectful and not entitled you may need to be firm and strong, some may call this harsh. You are the authority in the home and unless the child understands that they themselves are not the authority they will struggle with other authority figures. This will not serve them well in school, with a coach or with their future boss. They need to learn to respect authority.

2. Fear of letting your child fail;
Children need to learn to handle failure or adversity. You will not always be there to shield them so let them fail, even when you can see it coming, let them experience the natural consequences of their actions. They will learn to bounce back and be resilient.

3. Fear of letting your child miss out;
Children need to have responsibilities and learn to prioritize what is important and this may involve missing out on some activities. If your child has an opportunity to go to a birthday party but also has a responsibility to finish an assignment, attend a siblings recital or visit their grandmother then they may have to miss out. But they will learn to prioritize and deal with disappointment.

4. Fear of letting your child fall behind;
Life is not a race to the top although it sometimes feels that way. Teaching children to do a job well, take pride in your work and considering others as they move through their life choices will teach that character is important, how you represent yourself and the quality of the work you do is important. Being the first is not the goal.

5. Fear of having your child be mad at you;
Children will learn that they don’t always get their way and this may result in them being mad at you. Don’t jump back in and try to fix it. If you feel like what you said or did was fair and necessary then don’t apologize for it. Stand by your decision and let your child process it. This can be hard to wait out but they will learn to accept it and move on when they don’t get their way.

We need to be brave enough to allow our children to learn these valuable lessons, don’t shield them, it won’t serve them in the long run. Be confident enough to parent well.

If you need support or guidance in this challenge then give us a call, we can help.

Written by Lisa Strong

Reasons Why We Choose Not To Listen.

Many relationships break down because we loose an honest connection with our partner. We stop listening. Busyness and stress are some reasons that we choose not to listen. When our partner comes to us to talk we often feel like we have no time to listen. In our head are the other pressures of our day, work stress, the needs of the children, tasks that need to be done, activities to go to or prepare for and because our lives are so full we drift away from connecting with those in our life who are supposed to be most important.

The tension builds and then we start to view our partner not as a support but as a person who adds more stress in our lives. You may start to think, “ If only they would do this or that, then my life would be so much easier. Why can’t they just cooperate?” When your partner starts to look like the enemy instead of your teammate then there is a problem. 

Learning to be an active listener increases the health of your relationship. When you or your partner feel understood and considered then you start to feel like you have a relationship with someone who cares for you. Listening is not just passively waiting for your turn to speak it involves being open to someone else and their viewpoint and willingly considering it. You may even need to adjust your view so you can work together.

Here are some common mistakes we make when listening to other people:

1. Daydreaming or thinking of something else while the other person is speaking
2. Thinking of what to say next
3. Judging what the other person is saying
4. Listening with a specific goal or outcome in mind

When you do these things then there is no longer an openness to receiving the new information, you have already predetermined your response. You and your partner are different in how your view situations but hopefully there is a foundation of care that we need to get back to.

No matter what relationship we are talking about, marriage, friendship or parent and child, the basis is that you value them and want to connect and this takes effort. It may involve prioritizing what is of value in your life and eliminating other things. It requires a vulnerability and courage to not defend yourself and to receive what your partner is trying to share. 

When they see your openness, vulnerability and willingness to listen without judgement then you will be creating a connection with the other person that establishes them as someone you care about and not the enemy.

Written by Lisa Strong

8 Reasons to Say “I’m Sorry”

We all know someone who would practically rather die than say they are sorry (you’re probably thinking of that person right now).  Saying “I’m sorry” can be much easier than it sometimes seems. Here are eight empowering reasons to say “I’m sorry”—and really mean it.

1. Builds Respect.  Relationships are built on respect, and saying “I’m sorry” shows that you respect another person’s feelings.

2. Helps you move on. We all make mistakes. #truthbomb It’s more difficult for some of us to admit that, I know.  Harboring guilt and anger toward yourself has adverse physical and emotional repercussions  Acknowledging your mistakes helps you grow and move forward.

3. Provides a strong foundation. Sometimes foundations crack and need repairing. Ignoring the cracks only makes them bigger—and the foundation weaker. However, moving past problems in a healthy manner can actually strengthen your relationship.

4. It gets easier. Saying “I’m sorry” is just like your time on your yoga mat. It gets more comfortable and familiar the more you practice it.

5. Integrity. If you don’t apologize, it doesn’t make your mistake disappear. Now it’s an elephant in the room. I love elephants but not in my room.  Owning your mistakes only makes you a better person—and it makes you more trustworthy.

6. Sincerity. On the other hand, don’t apologize just to get past an issue. No one appreciates this.  You may be thinking “how will anyone know if I’m sincere in my apology or not?”  Well, revisit point 5.  And…trust me when I say that almost everyone can sniff out a bologna apology so don’t even try it.

7. Relief. Say “I’m sorry” for you as much as for others. You’ll feel better. I promise. Even if your apology falls on deaf ears, you’ll know you did the right thing—and sometimes that’s all that counts.

8. Sets an example for kids. Saying “I’m sorry” to your children or in front of your children shows them how to make mistakes and deal with them appropriately. Need I say more?

Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t come naturally to everyone but it can be a learned behavior that takes time and practice just like everything else. You will grow and so will the relationships that you say are important to you.

Apologies and forgiveness can sometimes be difficult to understand and the conversations can be challenging to navigate.  We can help with that.  Give us a call at (562) 537-2947.  We’d love to hear your story and see how we can help.

Written by Lisa Smith

4 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Anger

When I see someone, a child, a teen or an adult who is often angry or who is easily triggered I can be certain that there is something much deeper going on than that person simply being a jerk.

Before I go on, let me clarify something.  There are things we should be angry about… being mistreated, seeing others mistreated, injustice, human deprivation, etc.  There are times when anger is justified and should be expressed appropriately.  And then there are times when we feel angry at little, more insignificant things (slow drivers, the neighbor’s dogs that bark incessantly every single day, and so on)… well, we think it’s anger but it’s really something much deeper.  Consider these four things about anger that give it a whole new perspective.

1. It is easier to feel anger than hurt.  Anger is usually a surface emotion that covers our true feelings of inadequacy, rejection, pain, feeling dismissed or out of control.  It’s easier for us to cling to anger than to make ourselves vulnerable and admit that we are fragile.

2. Anger has a strong physical component.  When we feel angry our bodies actually feel stronger and more able to protect ourselves from a  perceived emotional or physical threat.  Endorphins start pumping, our heart starts racing and we feel more powerful.  So, basically, anger is often a cover-up, a fake friend and a useless partner that keeps us from experiencing our real feelings.

3. Anger is a way to control people and situations.  When we feel unheard, disregarded and out of control we often use anger to direct the circumstances to our favor.  Some people don’t know how to express their true emotions… in fact, some don’t even know what their true emotions are.  So when that uncomfortable feeling rises up they lash out in an attempt to make the other person back down or give in.  Anger is like a bully and if we are not aware it often gets its way.

Helpful hint: How do you stand up to this bully without giving in?  Pause.  Collect yourself and your strength.  Then calmly ask what is really upsetting the person.  At least make an attempt to deescalate the person by trying to understand what is really going on.

4. Unexplored anger will destroy you.  As I mentioned above, there are times when anger is appropriate.  When we are mistreated, betrayed, wounded, belittled, teased, bullied, taken for granted or taken advantage of… these things warrant some level of anger.  If you sit on this anger without expressing it, it will eat you up.  It’s often said that depression is anger turned inward.  Directly face your own anger.  Explore where it may be coming from.

Anger eats away at relationships, slowly isolates us, builds resentment and can lead to broken families.  Learning how to communicate our feelings, our real, true, authentic feelings is the antidote.  We want your relationships and family to thrive and can help you identify and articulate root issues.  If you’re interested in how we can help, give us a call today at 562-537-2947.  Today can be the day that changes everything for you and your family.

Written by Lisa Smith

5 Top Reasons Couples Seek Relationship Help

If you are struggling in your relationship, you are not alone. Others are struggling with similar frustrations and don’t know what to do, how to move past this painful time. It is stressful to feel like you really don’t want to walk through your front door because you have lost that connection with your partner. I understand this feeling and frustration and I am able to help. Listed below are the top 5 reasons couples feel this way and seek help in their relationship.

1. You feel like your partner is an adversary not a teammate. When you get married you have the hope that your partner will be your greatest support, someone you turn to when you are struggling, someone who has your back and cares about your hurt. But now you may feel more like your partner is the one you have to battle, nothing comes easy, they have to be convinced and pushed to be on your side.
2. Your relationship feels more like a business relationship or roommate situation, not a marriage.You function together, things get done, kids go to school, you go to work, dinner is made and the lawn is mowed but what happened to the emotional connection, the intimacy, not just sexually but also feeling like your partner knows you well and loves you.
3. You can’t talk about what is important to you. When you bring up a conversation and you want your partner to listen and show understanding instead you feel like you are in a debate, you are challenged before you are heard. You can’t get the idea across without stress and frustration. You may feel like it is too painful to bring things up so you just avoid talking, it is always negative.
4. One or both of you becomes spiteful and hurtful. You feel like they are being unreasonable and finding ways to be difficult. This may be because they are feeling resentment, disappointment and frustration and being difficult is how they are dealing with these feelings. They are lashing out, showing you their hurt but not in a healthy way.

5. You have lost the connection of feeling respected or appreciated by your partner. Where did the connection go. When dating one of the things that draws couples together is they feel like their partner gets them, cares about them, meets their needs and builds them up with respect and care. When this is no longer happening you feel alone and the connection is missing.

One of the underlying causes of these things is a lack of healthy communication. You don’t know how to express your concerns in a way that your partner can hear them without getting defensive and challenging you. You want your partner to respond with understanding and care but instead somehow you push their buttons and they get defensive and angry instead. Each of you is struggling to be heard, respected and considered but that is not happening.

Don’t give up hope, these skills can be learned and if you and your partner are motivated to break this cycle, it can happen. Make a change and give us a call at (562) 537-2947, there is no obligation and we would love to hear from you.

Written by Lisa Strong

How to Set Boundaries and Why You Should

I once asked a client what her boundaries were and her answer… blank stare and crickets in the room.  After a moment of considering my question she honestly replied “I’ve never given that any thought.  I guess I don’t really have any.”  Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that many of us don’t learn.

Having healthy boundaries means knowing and understanding what your limits are. Consider the following five ideas about boundaries, what they are and how to implement them.

1. No boundaries = little self esteem.

Your boundaries are your values. Boundaries are representative of how much or little you respect yourself.  Often times we don’t set and keep boundaries because we are afraid of how others will react to our boundaries and we are afraid of a strong negative reaction.  We are valuing their feelings over our own needs and allowing ourselves to be intimidated instead of setting boundaries to take care of ourself.

2. Decide what your core values are.

Who are you? What do you value? Figure out what, exactly, you’re comfortable with and what you need. For example, because my job requires a great deal of emotional energy, I have to schedule time for myself.  For me, this happens in the morning.  I don’t take work related calls or make appointments until late morning to ensure I have time to rejuvenate and take care of myself.  Once you get clear on what matters most to you, then you can take bigger step of communicating this to others.

Instead of creating your boundaries around a difficult relationship in your life, you must make your boundaries about you. For example, my boundaries with my morning time is about honoring the fact that I need to take care of myself in order to stay healthy and serve my clients well.  This boundary is to decrease my stress level and not about avoiding others’ phone calls or distancing myself from loved ones.

3. Decide the consequences ahead of time.

So what do we do if anyone pushes our boundaries (because they will)? Decide what the consequences are. For example, if a client calls me repeatedly during a time-frame I had shared I would not be able to talk, I know that I simply do not answer the phone and I return the call as soon as I am able. I don’t throw a fit about them calling but I do hold the line so I can keep taking good care of myself.

4. Let your behavior, not your words, speak for you.

I have a friend that just could not get her head around the fact that I wouldn’t make plans for early mornings.  She kept asking to meet for coffee around 8am even after multiple conversations and explanations on why that would not work for me.  I used to get so upset that she kept asking!  I felt completely disrespected.  But after the third go around with her I simply started replying with three words when she’d ask if I could meet early in the morning… “No, I can’t.”  I realized the issue was more hers than it was mine.  People will test, push and disrespect your limits. You’ll know you’re getting healthier when this doesn’t get an emotional reaction out of you. When your boundaries are your core beliefs (such as taking care of yourself) you will not get riled up when you are tested.

5. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

The biggest part of boundaries is how clearly you communicate them.You can have the most healthy set of boundaries on the planet but if you do not communicate them clearly, you are going to create some really confusing relationships, both for you and everyone else involved.

One way to quickly get someone to question your character or authenticity? Say one thing and do another. Sometimes we’re afraid to confront others with truth in love or relationships. We’re afraid to tell people what we really want or need, to admit that we hate going to certain restaurants, or have trouble spending time with a friend’s toxic family, or hate when people don’t consider our needs. We conceal our true feelings because we’re scared of people’s reactions. The more you ground yourself with your boundaries and values, the more you’ll be able to be very clear in your communication.  It’s a process, trust me, I get it!  But it can be done.  Get clear on what your boundaries are then start taking steps to communicate them to others and hold the line.  You’re worth it.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more support.  You’re not in this alone.

Written by Lisa Smith

How to Improve Conflict Resolution Within Your Family

Are you frustrated that you can’t seem to make any progress in resolving a conflict? It may be with a husband or wife, a child or parent or any person you are in conflict with. But when dealing with family the stakes are especially high because there is a lot of emotion involved. No one can push your buttons better than those we love.

What I have observed while working with clients is that some people really do not want to work to resolve the conflict, they just want their way.  

This is what I hear from the partner that wants their way;

  • She is not listening to me.
  • He is being unreasonable.
  • What they are asking is unacceptable.
  • My way is the best.

This is what I hear from the partner who is feeling pressured to see things a way that they don’t agree with;

  • He is so stubborn .
  • It is her way or no way.
  • He wont consider any other possibility.
  • She gets angry if I suggest anything different.
  • We can’t work together.

Working together is what is needed and there needs to be an openness to hearing other possibilities and brainstorming options. It is a battle to break through this tunnel vision of seeing only one possibility.

This inability to flex with your partner sends a message that you do not care about their feelings or ideas. This can create feelings of resentment. When you can’t flex than It feels like a demand instead of a suggestion. Consider using phrases like “How would you feel if we did this…” or “Would this work for you?” This way the partner feels like you are considering their opinion and this shows them respect. I find that people are much more likely to cooperate when they feel considered. 

Making a demand or being inflexible is often a sign of insecurity.This person is not comfortable with another option because they loose control and that can be scary. But being inflexible will tear down your relationship.Consider trusting your partner to care about you and your needs and create an environment where you can work together to come up with a solution you can both be happy with when resolving conflict. 

Written by Lisa Strong

What to do When You Need a Communication Time-out

Your emotions are running high, there is yelling and frustration, what do you do? Some choose stonewalling to escape the frustration. This is when one person decides to shut the other out, gives the silent treatment and won’t communicate. This is one of several unhealthy communication styles that create negative feelings in your partner and does not move you forward. Let’s look at what this technique does.

  • Your partner feels abandoned. In the middle of an emotional interaction, when your partner wants to know that you are there, this is when you choose to shut off communication.
  • You partner feels alone, like you don’t care about their feelings. They may feel scared or hurt  but you don’t seem to want to know about this.
  • They may feel confused as to what to do next. Because you won’t give any direction or input they are left on their own to figure out how to mend the relationship.
Why do we do this to our partner?

  • You may want to hurt them back because they hurt you.
  • You may want the power and control position in the relationship.
  • You may want to protect ourself from further hurt.
  • You may feel overwhelmed with emotions and don’t trust yourself to interact with our partner.
This last reason is a healthy reason and pausing the communication may be the best choice at the time. In the heat of an argument, taking a time-out might be a wise choice but do not just leave the room or the house without saying anything. Do not ignore your partner as they try to talk to you. When you do these things it brings the feelings of abandonment, loneliness and confusion that I mentioned above. Instead let’s try to have the time-out without the hurt.
You could say “I know your angry (or hurt) right now and I do want to talk about that but I am very upset so please I need time to calm down and think. I will come back and we can talk about this tonight.”

This helps your partner know;

  • You are not abandoning them
  • You do care about their feelings
  • You will come back and discuss it.
Doing this will reassure them and because you said that you need the time to make a better decision then they are more likely to give you that time without frustration. If you value your relationship then don’t mistreat it. Use healthy communication that will get you the result you are looking for.

Written by Lisa Strong