Leading by Example

by Jessica Kilpatrick, MA, LPC  STARRY- Director of Training and Program Development

My daughter loves princesses. It started with Frozen and it’s been downhill from there. It’s not that I have any complaints about Disney or any conspiracy theories about what television is doing to my child, it’s that I want her to aspire to be more than a pretty girl in a sparkly dress. In my head, I was going to have this daughter who was smart and strong and who thought that life was more than these women designed to sell products and the idea that women need to be rescued by a handsome man. She loves these women so much that she has them plastered on her wall in colorful decals that I have to look at every night as I tuck her into bed.

Earlier this week I thought that I had a brilliant idea. I decided to print out real leaders and inspirational people and add them to her wall. I printed out photos of people like Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Jesus and Ann Frank. I was proud of my idea and I couldn’t wait to get home and put them up. That night I walked into her room with the photos and some tape and quietly posted them all on her wall next to the princesses while my husband read her bedtime stories. When she noticed what I was doing, she stopped the story and asked me with a puzzled expression, “Mom, why are you doing this?” I explained that these people were strong, smart, gentle, and kind. These people fought for what was right, discovered new ideas, pushed passed adversity, and treated people with respect. I laid in her bed and read her Maya Angelou quotes until she went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to my daughter standing next to my bed. “I wanted to let you know that I took down all the people”, she said politely. I had to think on my feet. I was hurt, but I knew that wasn’t a reasonable response. “That’s okay” I said, “I would love to have them on my wall.” “Why?”, she asked. “Well, because they are my heroes”, I said as it hit me,

I can only lead by example.

I was the one who had something to learn. I took all of the photos into my room and taped them to my vanity mirror. She watched me as a put up each one and talked about their influence on our world.

I had another idea. I went downstairs and took a picture that I had of my daughter on the fridge and carried it upstairs.  I walked into her room as she was getting ready for school and I told her that I had forgotten to put up a picture of a princess who was really brave and strong and kind. “Who?”, she asked. I pulled the picture out from behind my back and I taped it on the wall next to her heroes. “You are my favorite princess,” I said as I put her picture up on the wall next to Snow White. ” You are my favorite because you are beautiful on the inside and outside. You are kind, and gentle, and smart, and strong. You are everything I ever hoped for in a daughter.”

“Thank you, Mommy”, she said as she grinned sweetly.

mother daughter



Father and Child

By Jessica Kilpatrick, MA, LPC- STARRY’s Director of Training and Program Development

Attunement is a word and a concept that has been fascinating to me for some time now. What does it mean to truly be attuned? How do you learn attunement? How do you teach attunement? Is it even teachable? Why are some people so much better at it than others? What happens to our neurobiology when we receive it? What happens to our neurobiology when we don’t receive it? How can we heal?

Let’s start with the definition of attunement; the dictionary defines attunement as,

“Being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being”

The synonyms for attune are:

accommodate, accustom, adapt, conform, acclimate, accord, balance, compensate, coordinate, counterbalance, familiarize, harmonize, integrate, reconcile, regulate, tune, make agree

Let’s just think about the beauty and the pain of that concept for a minute. If there is a concept as profound as this, it means there must be a concept that means that we can be without this profound beauty. Loneliness can happen in a crowded room. We can feel disconnected even in our everyday relationships. There is a deeper need that our souls are desperate to  have and that our children and those around us are yearning to receive.

When I began to really understand the concept of attunement was when I read the book I Love You Rituals by Becky Bailey and she gave a story that illustrates attunement in a way that really drove home the concept. She told the story of a child in a café who is eating with his mother. A fire truck drives by and the mother is picking up his toys and putting his jacket on him. She is meeting his need for instrumental care very well, but the deeper need is unmet. The child needs a safe adult that he can look at to know that everything is okay. “You hear a fire truck,” the caregiver says with a smile. The child knows that all is well in his world.

When it comes to our children, attunement isn’t just listening to them when they say they are sad, or happy, or mad, it’s a deeper knowing and full acceptance of this emotion. Attunement means that we see the need before the need is even expressed and we meet them there. We anticipate the need, accept the need, and meet the need- the need for acceptance, for love, for appreciation, for structure, and for nurture.

It seems in our culture that is inundated with the chaos of work, work, work we may be more and more challenged to be in attunement with our children. There is simply too much going on at times. We cannot be attuned all the time, but if we feel challenged we can make more effort to still our own minds and the world around us to hear the quiet whisper or the loud temper tantrum that says, “I need you to understand me and ‘be with’ me.”

As our children get older it gets more challenging to be attuned. Understanding and accepting the feeling of our teens gets perplexing. What do they need? It may be independence, respect, freedom, a hug, or more discipline and structure, but we won’t recognize the need if we can’t tune in. The only way to tune is to be still enough so we see the need.


Here are some practical ways to be attuned with your younger child today:

• Anticipate hunger and feed them just before they get hungry

• Make sure you have a water bottle readily available for your child so that they don’t get thirsty

• Notice what seems to set your child off into a tantrum and navigate around that difficult time

• Get them into bed before they get too tired

• Make sure you look them in the eyes when you say “I love you”

• Ask them if they need a hug

• Give them warnings about transition such as leaving the house or stopping an activity

• Ask them what they want to eat

• Let them have some quiet, calm time when they may be overwhelmed, knowing that kids need break just like you

• Empathize with them when they say that they hate homework- you were there once, too!

• Give them choices

• Be patient and calm when they are feeling frustrated, keeping in mind that this is normal for their developmental age

• Let them get messy!


Here are some ways to meet the needs of your older child or teen:

• Let them tell you about their day and truly listen without advice and lectures

• Care about whatever they care about even if it’s not your favorite

• Understand their need for friendships at this age

• Give them reasonable limits and boundaries

• Make sure to make eye contact with them when you say “I love you”

• Don’t take it personally! SO hard, but so important

• Know what sets them off and try to help them find ways to navigate this successfully

• Understand that sometimes they don’t even know why they do the things they do or feel the way they feel

• Remember how hard it is to be this age

• Don’t solve all of their problems for them, but be there when they need you to help guide them

• Teach them skills in a way that is playful and fun, not through lectures

• Let them sleep! They need it!

• Let things go when it doesn’t hurt anyone else or themselves


Say Cheese!

by Jessica Kilpatrick, MA, LPC – Director of Training and Program Development

woman with phone.jpg

We all know what it feels like to post something on social media and watch the “likes” spill in. It’s a great feeling right? We have a need to connect and to be accepted by our family and our peers. We post a cute picture of our adorable kid and then we wait for someone to accept that yes, in fact they are adorable. It can often even be more than a check-in about how cute our kid is and become a check-in about how we are doing as parents. Let’s be honest, sometimes it lets us know if we are doing okay as people. I get it. We need to connect and we are doing the best we can in this world of social media and lack of physical connection with our friends. It’s much easier to look through someone’s account than it is to meet up for a lunch date. Who has time for a lunch date anymore? I think that social media serves a purpose and it can be connecting, but I think that at times it can also pull us further away from connection.

The other day I was working from a coffee shop and I watched as a woman and her very young child sat down outside at a table. The mother had her latte and her child had his apple juice. I have a thing for toddlers (I think it’s the chubby cheeks and the waddle) so I of course was fixated on this little cutie and the potential for an adorable mommy/son breakfast date. What happened instead was really sad to me. The mother and child didn’t speak or have any interaction. Instead, she would occasionally take out her phone and take a picture of herself and her son together. I would then see her excitedly posting on her social media. I  could just imagine what she was posting, “A beautiful day for a coffee date with my little man!” In reality there was no date because there was no interaction. The day was as beautiful as her intentions were as she left the house that day, but the opportunity was lost.

Now, I remember what it was like to have child that age and I completely sympathize with this mother. She probably spends all day with this kid and all she wants is a coffee break once in awhile! I feel her. It did however, bring up for me the feeling that we are getting more and more disconnected when we try to create a moment with our kids instead of being in that moment with them. Talking to our kids and engaging them in play is what creates language as well as social and emotional development. We feel connected and they feel loved. Yes, our phones can send us love in the form of a photo and a heart symbol, but I doubt it’s going to make a lasting impact on who we are and who are children become.

What would it be like to worry more about the quality of our relationships than what our relationships look like to others on social media? I think we all can take more breaks and find more opportunities to play and be silly with the ones we love.  Our bodies and our brains have not forgotten what true connection feels like! We have everything we need within us to be there for our kids and to be present within our own lives, we just have to remember to be intentional in our daily lives.

Accepting “No”: Mindful Parenting

by Jessica Kilpatrick, MA, LPC- STARRY Director of Training and Program Development

Acceptance is a struggle for many of us. We want to examine, complain, look for resources, try to find a quick fix, complain some more, lay awake worrying, find someone else to blame and then give up. When you have a challenging child it’s very hard to slow down. It’s hard to find this so-called “balance”.

“Just think about it. If young children live in the present and adults spend most of their time in the past or in the future, we have abandoned our children to some degree.”- Becky Bailey, I Love You Rituals 

Sometimes everything we try to do to help our children actually takes us away from them. When it’s hard to accept where our child is today, mindful parenting asks us to take some deep breaths, look at what’s around us, lean in, and a. Accepting the struggle seems to lead us to better ideas and most of all better connection with our kids. When many of us feel discomfort, we run in the other direction. How do we change how we feel when we don’t even know how we feel? We do everything in our power to avoid, to escape, to hide. We see a behavior and we want to control it, to change it. When we do this, we block ourselves off to both pain and joy. We forget to laugh when our kid does something hilarious, or console them when they are sad. Instead, we shut down. Parenting is hard and when we don’t have the tools to do hard things, we get overwhelmed and we forget to live, to breath, to cry, and to laugh.

We have to learn to accept “no” so we can finally accept our child. Accepting “no” means:

No, my child isn’t easy. No, my child isn’t typical. No, my child isn’t perfect. No, my child isn’t going to get better overnight. No, my child can’t solve all of his problems alone. No, my child isn’t well behaved in public. No I’m not a perfect parent. 

How can we expect our children to accept themselves when we are a tornado of chaos focusing all of our insecurities and stress onto them? Practice with me, “My child is on a healing journey just like I am. We are imperfect and I accept that fact. I will work to help my child, but I will not waste our time together constantly trying to fix him. I will stare into this beautiful face and remember that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. I will be here in this moment.”

Once we accept “no” we can begin to accept “yes”.  We begin to see that our relationship can be a powerful tool of healing.  We learn to accept our circumstances and most of all, we learn to accept our child. Acceptance doesn’t mean we ignore the issue, it means we don’t lose ourselves in it. It means we don’t let the struggle overwhelm our love for our children. We won’t solve all of our problems today and even if we did it would be something different tomorrow. When we aren’t entangled we can stay calm. Don’t forgot the idea of the “good enough parent” (Donald Winnicott, 1953). This parent isn’t perfect, but he works to be attuned to his child’s needs.  He can’t fix everything and that is okay.

We have to forgive ourselves and others for our imperfections. When we do this we are able to truly help our child.  Breathe, lean in, accept, let go, repeat. When we learn to work through this process, the healing can begin.

Dr. Karyn Purvis

Yesterday we lost our beloved mentor and friend, Dr. Karyn Purvis. Although none of us knew her personally, Karyn made it a point to make everyone she met feel completely connected with her. She “saw our preciousness” and she believed in our ability to do great things for children. We couldn’t help but fall in love. She was a kind, brave, and inspiring woman who taught all of us how to reach the heart of “children from hard places.” Trust-Based Relational Intervention® has given us the roadmap we all longed for to help children begin to heal. Her work continues to revolutionize the Children at Heart family of ministries. Dr. Purvis used every ounce of who she was to help us to learn to “connect, empower, and correct” our children. We are honored and humbled by the responsibility we have to continue the work of Dr. Purvis and we are forever grateful for this opportunity. We miss Dr. Purvis already and we rest knowing that she is with her Heavenly Father.

May God bless the TCU Institute of Child Development and all of the people who serve children and families through their work.

Dr. Purvis

Attachment at a Glance

by Jessica Kilpatrick, MA, LPC – Program Support Specialist

Kids tend to get hurt quite a lot. They fall down, they bump their head, they pinch their finger in a door; such is life for small children.  One way that I have been able to get a glimpse into other parent’s attachment style, as well as my own, is how we react in these stressful times. Let’s see how attachment styles can play a part in this situation. Parent A yells, “Get up, you’re fine!”, while Parent B shrieks, runs over to the child, whisks them up and in a panicked voice says, “You poor baby. Oh my God!  Are you okay? Let’s head to the Emergency Room.”

Parent A thinks Parent B is ridiculous and Parent B thinks Parent A is cold-hearted.  Parent A struggles with showing empathy and giving care, while Parent B struggles with knowing who they are apart from others. The interesting thing is that often they love their children just as much as the other parent, they just show it in different ways. When we live in the extremes of being Dismissive (Parent A) or Entangled(Parent B), we often struggle to see a better way to connect with our children. Our old habits that we inherited as children pop up in these moments of panic.  Our organic, reactive responses in this moment come from our history.

So, where’s the middle ground?  How do we find balance?

The secure parent or earned secure parent works to comfort the child, without making the child’s pain their own pain. The secure parents tries to remember that their child’s pain is valid and needs attention, but that in the midst of chaos they can know that they themselves are okay. This leads us to Parent C. Parent C approaches the child with concern, touches them gently and says something like, “Wow, you really bumped your head.  That looked like it hurt. Are you doing okay? ” This parent is present, calm, and responsive. If the child needs a kiss, a hug, a band-aid they meet that need with empathy.

The parent with Secure Attachment is what many believe to be the goal, but we aren’t perfect parents. The hopeful thing to remember is that there is so much power in knowing our tendencies and being aware of how our history plays a part in how we parent. So much healing can come just from noticing when we are being dismissive or avoidant and then challenging ourselves to try new ways of approaching the situation.  For the entangled parent this may mean saying to yourself, “His feelings are his feelings and I can be here to comfort him if I remain calm.” For the dismissive parent this might mean saying to ourselves, “He needs my help right now and through me showing him empathy he will learn to comfort others and himself in the future.”

Through time, these responses become more comfortable and natural. The first step is to notice your natural inclination without judgment or shame.  I find it helpful to find others to talk with about this journey. Many parents find it healing to have others admit their imperfections, too. The struggle is real, but it is normal!

To learn more about attachment styles and parenting you can visit http://www.attachfromscratch.com/attachment-theory.html

The Magic Touch

A few nights ago my husband and I took our daughter to P. Terry’s to eat and play in the sandbox. My daughter loves playing in sand, but this time her behavior was very different than normal. She was acting like a dog trying to itch it’s back. She had her head, her arms, and her face in the sand rolling around like a pig in the mud. “What in the world is she doing”, I thought to myself. I quickly realized that because of her latest fashion obsession, her thick panty hose were blocking her from feeling the sand. It dawned on me that because she couldn’t feel the sand beneath her feet and between her toes, she needed to dive into the sand to get the tactile experience on her exposed skin that she craved. This short experience of sensory deprivation was such a great example of how some children with sensory processing disorder can feel most of the time.  Our tactile system is simply our sense of touch.  Some children have difficulty getting enough input from their tactile system. If they cannot get the input that their body needs we can often see unusual or extreme behavior to compensate for this deprivation. For some kids they may show what looks like aggressive, ADHD, or impulsive behavior.  When we see these sensory seeking behaviors as bad behavior or defiance, we not only likely to handle it inappropriately, but we miss a chance to meet a need. Remember that meeting needs builds trust and creates attachment. Sensory needs are a need that we can meet when we get creative. Here are some fun everyday ways to provide sensory input for the tactile system:

– let you child walk barefoot in the grass

– let you child play with their food

– make mud pies

– play in the rain

– let your child help you make dinner and allow them to feel all of the ingredients

– let your child peel their own banana or unwrap their own snack

– bury toys in the sand and let your child find them

– build castles out of rocks

– play tickle monster (be careful with this one, some kids love it and some kids hate it)

– take a bubble bath with cups and toys

– let your child walk in the water the next time you find a creek bed

– let your child pop bubble wrap with their hands or feet

–  give them a massage (Baby Oh Baby has a great video for how to do this)

– feel the bark on the trees and the texture of the leaves

My favorite part of children getting sensory input is the look on their face.  For sensory-seekers these activities are pure joy. Let me know what ideas you would add to this list in the comments section.