Neurofeedback and Anxiety

Neurofeedback has shown to be effective in reducing anxiety in children – not only in adults. It retrains the brain in a passive, non-invasive way and calms the nervous system. It teaches the brain to remain in an optimal zone. The American Pediatric Association recognizes neurofeedback as effective for children on the Autism Spectrum for the same reason that it is effective for dealing with anxiety; it keeps the brain working in an optimal zone. Neurofeedback training helps the brain create new neuropathways, bypassing those that no longer work.

Let me take you through an example. Sally, an eight year old was brought in to see me because she had a lot of trouble separating from her mother. She couldn’t go off to school without a lot of crying and clinging to mom nor could she be left at a friend’s birthday party and sleepovers at friend’s house; impossible. This behaviour is not typical of an eight year old and this anxiety was causing Sally distress and was interfering with many areas of her life.

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In he diagram above, the green wave shows brain activity that it is in the “optimal” zone. The waves lie within a certain range. The mauve wave has large fluctuations and shows the brain that is outside of the optimal range. In the case of Sally the mauve wave would indicate her “anxious” brain. What happens during neurofeedback, is that whenever Sally’s brainwaves go beyond the optimal level, the brain receives a signal (a slight interruption in the music that Sally is listening too) that tells the brain to return to the optimal range. This is creating a new neuropathway, letting the brain know that it needs to remain in the optimal zone. Each time that the brain is signaled to return to the optimal zone, the neuropathway is strengthened so that it learns to stay in this optimal zone on its own.

Imagine standing in a field of freshly fallen snow. The first time you make a path in snow, it is slow going and the path is just defined. You can see your footprints but the snow between each footprint is still in tact. Each time you pass over this same path, the snow gets more and more compact and the individual footprints eventually disappear. All that you see is a compact path through the snow. This is a similar to what happens in neurofeedback training.

During the neurofeedback sessions, each lasting 33 1/2 minutes, the child can read a book, or play a game on the computer while listening to music. The child can even watch a movie. The neurofeedback program does the rest. The child has 2 sensors attached to the head, which are used to read the signals on the surface of the brain. This information is processed through the neurofeedback system and the system sends signals back as it needs to. At no time are there any electrical impulses or any other signals going into the brain through the sensors. The only signal that the brain receives is in the interruption of the music or audio that the child is listening to.

I know that is sounds almost to good to be true but I have seen the results for myself. Neurofeedback works!

Shopping With Children

Isn’t it fun going grocery shopping with your children? If you’re like most other parents, you have answered an emphatic “NO!” to this question. Here are some suggestions on how to make shopping a more pleasant experience for all.

1. Be proactive and plan for success. Make sure that your children are fed, toiletted, rested or not ill before embarking on a shopping trip. Any one of these things not addressed can turn a shopping trip into a nightmare.

2. Have a ritual, something that you always do after shopping, like going for a hot chocolate. Don’t use this as a bribe, however. Instead tell your children, “When we are done shopping we will go for our hot chocolate.” The implication is there that says, “If we don’t finish, no hot chocolate.” as there are days when you will have to abandon shopping because it’s just not going to work. Then the hot chocolate gets skipped too. Yes, there may be tears and shouts of disappointments but stay calm. They will pass and then you can explain why the shopping trip had to end and how there could be no hot chocolate because you never finished shopping.

3. Go to the stores that have those mini shopping carts that the children can push around.

4. Give the children certain things that they need to find from your shopping list to keep them engaged.

5. Ask the children to bring an activity that they can do while sitting in the shopping cart.

6. Keep the trips short. It’s better for your sanity to make 3 short trips a week than 1 long trip.

7. Remember to let your child know how you appreciate that you were able to get your shopping done. Tell them specifically what they did that was helpful.


Reducing Your Child’s Anxiety

In my counselling practice, the most common issue that children come in with is anxiety. Families live very busy lives and children are kept busy too. Parents feel that if the children are kept busy, they will not have time to get into trouble. This may be the case with some children but what all the children do experience by being kept so busy is a lot of anxiety. Children are taxied from school to dance lessons, soccer practice, piano lessons, soccer games, art lessons, swimming lessons and a variety of other structured activities. Once the children get home, they have to eat and do their homework which then leaves little to no time for unstructured, non-electronic playtime. This playtime, be it alone or with a friend, is the time when children will unwind, relieve their stress, use their imaginations and creativity. They learn how to interact with others: cooperate, negotiate and share. It is a time for exploration and discovery and it is a very necessary part of growing up.

Often when children with anxiety issues come for counselling, they are wound up very tight and one thing that they all seem to have in common is that they do not know how to play, or at least they do not feel comfortable playing. When they come to a Play Therapist, they can expect play and it takes time before these children can abandon themselves to the play and thereby start the process of learning to handle their anxiety.

My prescription for reducing children’s anxiety is to reduce the number of structured activities that they participate in. My rule of thumb would be that children should participate in no more than 2 structured activities at a time. Diane Marshall, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Kaboom! states the following:

“Research about play highlights its role in supporting cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Play also strengthens creativity and academic achievement, and relieves the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and potentially debilitating health conditions like obesity and diabetes, among other major benefits.”

What other activity do you know that does as much for children as play does?

How to Avoid Saying “NO!”

When the situation is one of a power struggle or with a defiant child, no is often an invitation to confrontation. Here are 16 ways of avoiding saying no.
1. State clear expectations. “You may … as soon as you have finished …”
2. Respond with a question. “What time is snack time, before or after your nap?”
3. State a given. “This is bath time.”
4. Do not defend or explain, simply continue
to restate the rule.
5. Offer limited choices where all answers are acceptable. ” You may change your shirt now or after breakfast.”
6. Check out child’s knowledge or understanding. “What needs to happen before we can have a snack?” or ask what they heard you say. What they heard may be completely different from what you said!
8. Invite cooperation. “I need your help. Can you figure out the most helpful thing to do right now?” If the child says “I don’t know.” the parent can respond with “Would you like help remembering.
9. Negotiate an agreement. “Would you like story before or after your bath?”
– Restate the agreement. “You would like your story before bath time?
– Follow through.
10. Say what you want. “I want you to have your bath now.”
11. Just say “Yes.”
12. Seek cooperation. . Instead of issuing commands such as “Get your room clean right now,” try “I have time to help you straighten your room now. Would you like to do it with me?”
13. Establish expectations. Use family meeting to to come to agreements in advance on family issues
14. Sometimes accept “No!” This makes hearing a “No!’ more acceptable.
15. Sometimes we have to say “No!” “No, you can’t run in the street/play with the stereo.”
16. “Yes, later.”

Have you came up with some of your own ways of avoiding “No!”

Building Bonds: Playing With Your Children

Many parents believe that when they sit down to “play” with their kids, they should have a craft or something similar to do with them. Yes, crafts are fun! It is a good way to spend time with your kids and they learn many skills from this. This activity is structured and directed by you, the parent.

There is a lot of value in unstructured play between the parent and the child. You know how you hear time and time again, try to spend one-on-one time with each child individually and you wonder how you will ever be able to find the time to do this. Well, playing is a really easy way to have this one-on-one time and strengthen bonds between you and your child. It requires no planning, no structure, no scissors, no glue, paint or any other material. All it takes is a regular time, even as little as 20 minutes per week to play with your child.

Now here’s the really easy part. Sit down on the floor with your child, surrounded by some toys and then just let your child decide what to play with. As your child is playing, give him/her your full attention and just comment on what is happening in the play. “I see that you’re taking the baby for a walk in her stroller.” but don’t make any suggestions of how the play should go. Just listen and watch and try to put yourself in your child’s world. See the play through their eyes and you will also get a glimpse of how they view the world. Your child may ask you to take on a role in a play scenario and do as s/he directs you to do. It may mean that you have to use a different voice to go along with the character that you’re playing. Abandon yourself to the play while following your child’s lead. It’s okay to ask your child how s/he would like you to act or what s/he would like you to say if you’re not sure. This says to the child, “You’re important and I want to do this right, just the way you want it.” You are after all in the child’s world now.

This type of play is invaluable for strengthening the parent/child bonds. You’ve carved out a time to be completely there for your child and your child feels valued. By witnessing your child’s play, you do get the opportunity to understand your child better and you get to just have fun on your child’s terms. It expresses to your child that s/he is important and what s/he does is important.

Have fun!!



When you have difficulty thinking of some logical consequences for you child’s misbehaviour, it is often earlier to think in terms of privileges and responsibility. Privileges and responsibility go hand in hand; if your child wants a privilege then s/he has to take the responsibility that goes with that privilege. If s/he won’t take responsibility, then s/he loses the privilege for a period of time.

Because we are teaching our kids to take responsibility, they need many instances to practice. For this reason the amount of time that they lose the privilege for initially should be short and lengthened every time the privilege is abused. The whole process may go something like this. The parents might say, “You are allowed to use the computer for 1 hour every day. It is your responsibility to use your time wisely so that you stay within the 1 hour limit. I will tell you when it is 5 minutes to end time and then I’ll tell you when your time is up. If you choose  not to get off the computer, you will use your computer privilege for the next day.” Then the parents would have the child repeat this rule. If one day the child goes over time, the parent says to the child, “I see that you are choosing to lose your computer time for tomorrow.” and then the parent follows through with this the next day. If the behaviour reoccurs, then the child loses 2 days of computer etc. When the child sees that the parent will follow through in a fair, firm but kind manner, s/he will soon respect the responsibility that goes with the privilege. …And yes the child may tantrum but the parent calmly but firmly says, “I know your upset that you can’t use the computer today. You can try again tomorrow.”

Here are examples of privileges and responsibility:

Privilege Responsibility
Having toys Cleaning up after playing with them
Using the car Putting gas in the tank
Riding a bike Putting bike away after use
Going out with friends Being home on time
Using the computer Staying within the time limit for use
Watching TV Respecting limits
Having a cell phone Keeping within the terms of the plan or paying for it
Going out to a restaurant with the family Showing appropriate behaviour

Listening to Your Kids

Sometimes we find good, sound parenting advice in the most unlikely places. Today as I was browsing through my Facebook page I found this posted by one of my “friends”.

“Listen earnestly to anything that your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all if is has always been big stuff.”

Communication does start from the very beginning and if your kids know that  you’ll listen to them, they’ll talk. Listen with no judgement or opinion, just with interest.


We had a very interesting discussion last night at the parenting class about anger. We were all in agreement that anger was an emotion that was just as valid to express as any other. It’s just not all that comfortable for us to express or be in the presence of as most of us were brought up being told not to be mad. We grew up believing that anger was “bad”.

Now we are teaching our children that anger is okay and needs to be expressed. Anger, as one parent pointed out, was there to tell us that something was not right and that this something needs attention. This is just the same as anxiety; it’s there so that we know how to react if we see a speeding car coming toward us as we are crossing the road. But there is a useful anger and there is a useless anger and we need to teach our children the difference and what to do in the presence of the useless anger.

The anger that is useful is the anger that pushes us forward to do something about the circumstance that is causing the anger. It fuels us, gives us energy and helps us move forward. When anger turns to rage, then it is useless. It does not allow us to get to any kind of resolution about the issue at hand. In a child, this shows up as a tantrum. When the child is enraged there is not much that can be done other than to let them weather the storm.

Generally, the child gets scared when his/her anger gets this big. The child does not like this out-of-control feeling. After the storm you can talk about what happened and about what the child was feeling. Use this as an opportunity to teach about useless anger and that when we are experiencing useless anger, we need to go take care of ourselves; walk away, cool off and then go back to the issue when the raging storm has passed. Rage can be very hurtful to others as well as ourselves. This is when we are operating on pure animal instinct – in full fight mode. We need to vent this rage in a safe place and appropriate way.

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with the useless anger at your home?

Attachment and Games

Mother Goose sure knew what she was doing when it came to nursery rhymes.  These often short ditties are loved by kids because they are rhythmic and fun!  Think about when you recite nursery rhymes to your child; you are sitting right next to or facing him/her, both of you are actively engaged and focused on each other.  What a great bonding moment that strengthens attachment. Children respond to rhythm because they spent nine months in their mother’s womb listening to the beat of her heart, the rhythm of her breathing and the rhythm of her body.  It is very familiar to them. “Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake” is great for building attachment because it is also a clapping game which involves very active involvement between child and parent.  You both need to be looking at each other and very aware of each others actions.  Then there are those moments when you miss each other’s hands and this usually evokes lots of giggles – more positive interaction.  “This Little Piggy Went to Market” and “Round and Round the Garden” are other games that, apart from being enjoyable for the child, help with attachment.  Let’s not forget “Peek-a-Boo”. “I Spy” is a favourite with children.  Change it a bit so that what you “spy” is something on each other and then you have a game where there is a great awareness of and focus the other.  Yes, you’re building attachment.

“I spy with my little eye something that is (a colour) / something that starts with the letter ___.”

Here are more games.

“Air” Hockey with Smarties:  Place a Smartie on the table and using bendable straws, move the smart around until one person scores a goal.  The person who scores the goal is fed the Smartie by the other. Licorice Race:  You and your child each put an end of the same liquorice string in your mouths and chew, chew, chew to see who can eat the most of the licorice string before it “runs out”. ”

Stacked Hands”:  Place your hand flat, your child’s hand on top, yours over top of your child’s and then your child’s on top of all that.  Remove your hand from the bottom and place it on top of the stack.  Then it’s your child’s turn and just keep stacking the hands.  For an extra challenge try this with more people.

Hide and Seek:  Especially if you are making comments like “I wonder where my wonderful Billy is?”  “When I find Sally, I’m going to give her a big hug!” ” I hope I find Joey soon, I love to see his big, bright smile!”

Do not Drop the Donut:  Place your finger through the hole in a donut and have your child see how much of the donut s/he can eat before the donut falls.

There are many other games that have the added bonus of building attachment and I’ve listed just a few.  I’m sure that you can even make up some of your own.

Do you have any games that you would like to share with the rest of this parent community?  Feel free to post them!