Koemba Blog

This is the true story of  a young mother’s journey through postpartum depression:

Today is World Mental Health Day. On this day last year I was going to work to see people who were struggling with mental illness. I had little personal insight into what it was actually like. Fast forward one year on. I have seen it from the other side. And it is harder and darker and more terrifying than I could ever have imagined. But there is hope and a future to hold on to. This is my story.

Postpartum depression

I am a psychiatrist. I am trained in ‘what-to-ask-people-who-might-be-depressed’. I have studied lists of symptoms and screening tools and questionnaires. I have even done exams. But in clinical practice I often come up against the fact that people’s actual feelings and real-life experiences aren’t as easy to articulate and as clear-cut as the textbooks would have you believe. I never truly appreciated the depths of the chasm of a depressive illness until I abseiled right into it, scarily quickly and unexpectedly.

It started last November, 2 weeks after my second baby was born. I began to despair. I cried, and cried and cried until my eyes were blurry. I felt sick and I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt. I didn’t want my baby anymore. I didn’t want to be a mother anymore.

At the time I remember wondering: what is wrong with me? I am a coper! I haven’t had a difficult pregnancy. My labour was straightforward and my baby is healthy. I wasn’t like this last time. Why do I feel like this now?

It’s because I have two children. It’s because I’m tired. It’s because I have a second-degree tear and the healing is slow. It’s because “Breast is Best” but I’m bottle feeding. It’s because when I sit in the stinging salty bath to wash my sutures the milk that my baby can’t have drips into the water like tears. It’s because I stopped breastfeeding and no matter how much I force myself to carry/wear/be close to my baby, I’m never going to produce the same amount of oxytocin. It’s because I ended up back in hospital 8 days post-partum with severe abdominal pain and I sat in the assessment room surrounded by the “breast is best” posters, silently sobbing, my chest tight because of the milk and the dread and the despair. It’s because it wasn’t meant to be like this; I had decided that this baby will be different, easier, better; there will be no lactose intolerance or reflux or weeping or gnashing of teeth; there will be no trauma and failure to thrive and screaming; there will be no auditory hallucinations secondary to sleep deprivation. It’s because I am genetically predisposed to depression; I’ve seen my strong mum weakened by it, I know her tears and her tablets. It’s because my body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted and my neurotransmitters are depleted. It’s because I am ill. It’s because I have postnatal depression.

When hope fades

Depression; when you feel exhausted and yet unable to “sleep when baby sleeps” like everyone keeps telling you. And when you do snatch some sleep your dreams are vivid and disturbing. You feel hungry and then the thought of eating makes you feel sick. The colour starts to drain from the world around you. You feel anxious and exhausted after attempting to be sociable for 5 minutes in the day. Behind your smile and pleasantries lie a thousand achingly awful thoughts. When you venture out to the supermarket to get nappies it is like being in some sort of weird bad dream world, and you feel panicky and hot and surreal and you just want to run away from it all and crawl into a dark hole and never ever come out. When you see your baby you feel guilty, numb, regretful, inept, a failure. You lock your tears in the toilet so that your 4 year old won’t see them. When you wake up in the morning you cannot face the world and it takes all of your strength just to persuade your aching body to get out of bed. When you hear your baby cry, you want to run away or freeze and you feel useless, rubbish, incapable, hateful. You can’t stop crying and you do not even know why you are crying anyway. Your heart and stomach and brain and soul feel dull and sore and washed out and numb and aching and hopeless all at once. You are overwhelmed with shame and guilt and crippled by it all. You feel alone, in the dark, hopeless, worthless. And you wish there was no baby at all.

If you feel like this, please please hear this: there is hope.

Despite what your brain is telling you, it is NOT because you are a joke, or you are a rubbish mother, or incapable or useless. And your children DO NOT deserve a better mother. And, despite how you feel right now, it WOULD NOT have been better if your baby hadn’t been born at all, or if you were no longer around.

Hope for those suffering with postpartum depression

There is hope.

You ARE a good person; you CAN get through this. This too shall pass… but you will need help and support, and it is an illness which needs treating (just like diabetes needs insulin, and high blood pressure needs antihypertensives). Go to your GP, read about it online, tell someone how you feel. You can get better.

It took me 48 hours to pluck up the courage to take my first dose of antidepressants. My head was full of all sorts of lies: “you’re such a fraud”, “you’ve seen depressed people in hospital, you’re not that bad”, “you just need more sleep”, “you’re a rubbish mum, tablets won’t help with that”, “you know how these tablets work – they’ll change your brain chemistry and you’ll not be able to think straight”, “you don’t really need them, give it another few weeks”, “what a joke! You’re supposed to look after depressed people, not be depressed yourself!”. After I took the first dose actually nothing happened. I didn’t get better or worse. And as the weeks went by, nothing dramatic happened, except that my brain gradually stopped lying to me, and I started to feel tiny flickers of love for my children again. I can pinpoint the day when I noticed that I felt better. I could see in glorious technicolour instead of sepia, and I felt love and hope again. It’s taken me nearly a year to feel ‘normal’ again, but I have gained insights into how my patients actually feel that will stay with me forever.

Today is world mental health day. Postpartum depression can happen to any mother. Today we declare that there is absolutely no shame in talking about how we feel, in sharing our pain and fears and exhaustion and guilt. Because 1 in 4 of us knows how it feels.

And because no matter how low we get, there is ALWAYS hope. You are not alone in this.

#worldmentalhealthday    #herstoryishopeful

If you are looking for help in dealing with depression:

Samaritans: 116 123




Thanks to Rebekah Stobart for her courage to share her story and for the beautiful photo, that speaks into the pain and the hope of many mothers in situations like this. 

Please share this post if you know anyone who would benefit. What questions does this raise for you?
















We are proud to share April 2020 article by Parenting Expert and Accredited Coach Val Mullally, published in the Association for Coaching magazine: Coaching Perspectives.

In this article Parent Coaching: the Path to a Happier, Healthier Society Val Mullally presents her Parent Coaching – Koemba framework.

For further details of this magazine visit  bit.ly/CPshare

Parent Coaching – Koemba framework – article Parent Coaching - Koemba Framework - diagram



Are you feeling stressed as a parent during this time of  coronavirus lockdown?

Worried about how to cope with kids at home 24/7 for who knows how long?

What issues is the coronavirus pandemic raising for you and your family in your own home?

Do you have kids underfoot, who are needing to work off energy?

Are you concerned about how to give emotional support to kids who are missing their wider family, friends, and their activities?

What about the nightmare of home-schooling? And how to keep a routine for your child?

Or perhaps you are facing other parenting worries, like sibling fighting, bed-wetting that had previously stopped months or even years ago, or an anxious child who won’t settle at night.


Anxious mother


This, on top of the tsunami of other stresses that the coronavirus pandemic has flung upon us. Who would ever have thought our lives would be turned upside down so quickly as we entered this new millennium!

So, what does a parent do? Here are ways to make home life calmer in this time of stress.


#1 Don’t try to be Super-Parent

It’s more important at this time to be a “good- enough” parent than worry about being a ‘super-parent’ – choose what really matters, and recognise that life won’t be perfect at this time. This is a time, more than any other time, that your family need the place they live to be a comfortable home, not a showhouse.

And your children need you to be their parent more than they need you to be effectively home-schooling.

So be easy on yourself, and be easy on your children. Connection matters far more than perfection ever could.


#2 Remember life isn’t ‘normal’ for any of you at present

There will be times when you or your kids might behave in ways you might not feel proud of.

An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.

Victor Frankl

If there is a meltdown in the family, figure out how to ease the tensions and get relationships back on track. You and your family all need home to be a soft place to fall, especially in this stressful time, when life isn’t normal.


#3 Know that anxiety is normal in challenging circumstances

We deal better with our emotions when we acknowledge them. It’s totally normal to feel anxious when we are facing strange or unknown situations that we have never experienced before. Our inner reactivity is triggered, in an attempt to keep us safe. And our children are experiencing this anxiety too.

When we help our children to name and claim their emotions, we help them to tame them. The emotion is not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. Anxiety is an inner signal: “Watch out – be careful!” Our feelings are not wrong, it’s what we do with them that counts.

Deeply listening to your child, if and when they choose to talk about what’s worrying them, helps them to articulate their own experiences about lockdown at home – to name, claim and tame their emotions.

For more on this see my blog,  “How to Listen So Your Child Will Talk”


Click this link for your free checklist:  “How Well Do I Tune in to My Child?”    

Get yourchecklist:tuning in to your child



#4 Keep in mind how you would like to remember this lockdown period in later years

There are many factors that are beyond our control, but one thing that is within our control is how we choose to respond or react to a challenging situation.

Keep in mind, “What really matters here?”

“What do I want to model to my children?”

Imagine how you would like to remember this lockdown period in future years. How would you like your children to remember it?


#5 Set flexible boundaries around the activities that need to happen

A routine will help you and your family to feel a sense of security, and will be needed if you have to work from home. Yet, too rigid a structure in routine will cause stress at a time when stress levels are already sky high. We need to ‘flatten the curve’ of our family stress levels, by creating and upholding only boundaries that support family well-being.

The more you can collaborate together around the boundaries that are needed in the home at this time, and discuss why these limits matter, the more co-operative you can all be to one another’s needs.

Create boundaries for yourself and your children, not only for ‘work’ time but for ‘off’ time too – without checking the smartphone for work, without finishing that one last work task, that tends up taking far more time than you anticipated …

Schedule for shared fun and relaxed times that nurture your family well-being.


#6 Give yourself a break

You’re not getting any time away from your children. That’s tough – no matter how much you love them! At present, there is no-one (except those in your household) to physically share the load of raising a child, at a time when you most need support. Find that safe and encouraging space with like-minded people online, where you can share the challenges you’re facing. Or join up with friends online for a natter, or a bit of fun. You need some adult company too!


#7 Give Your Kids a Break

Figure out ways your children can connect with their friends, and with other people who are special in their lives. Give them time to chill – they need a break from you too. And create ways for them to ease their stress of not being able to connect with the people they care about at this time.

Writing letters and making art work to send to people they care about may help them to feel connected during this time of isolation.


#8 Build in time for fun, activity, relaxation and creativity 

Having fun, colouring in, art or craft activities, gardening, taking the dog for a walk, mindfulness practices – all these gentle activities help to soothe our inner reactivity and re-establish a sense of calm, that lowers the stress levels in our bodies (and also supports our immune system!)  This past week, I created a ‘picture story book’ of my life in lockdown, which I posted to my elderly mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, whom I cannot currently visit in her carehome. I was surprised how much I enjoyed making it, and how soothing it was to create and colour my own pictures. Now is the time to get out the art materials, to try a new craft, to use chalks to decorate a brick wall or create a driveway drawing. Remember the non-tech activities you did as a child – or ask the older generation. Ball games, simple card games, memory games, can all be fun experiences for children.


#9 Be okay with your children telling you they are “bored”

Out of boredom grows creativity. And, particularly in this time of high anxiety, we all need time to chill out, including children! Doing “nothing” gives our brains time to process new and unexpected circumstances.

What book or movie is your child enjoying? Invite them to ‘bring the story to life’. Help them find them props and materials for creative expression and encourage them to ‘surprise’ you with activities like creating their own plays,  puppet shows, or  3D constructions. Help children to look around and find objects to use in their creations. For example, can you rummage through the wardrobes to create a dressing-up box?

Then step out the way, unless they ask your help to solve a particular problem.  Children’s imaginations work better when given their own space.

(When I was about ten years old, I spent weeks creating a 3D map of “The Wind in the Willows” in our back garden. (Although I had three siblings I chose this to be a solitary activity; it had me totally absorbed for many hours).


#10 Notice all the things for which you are grateful 

An attitude of gratitude is one of the greatest antidotes to stress. Perhaps at a mealtime every day, start by each naming at least one thing you are thankful for – and try to think of different things each day.

  • Keep a thankfulness journal.
  • Every time I wash my hands I think of a different thing for which I am thankful as I wash the space between the fingers. What was a constant reminder of the COVID-19 stress is transformed into a simple gratitude habit.
  • Secure a large sheet of paper on the wall and encourage everybody to write or draw things they are thankful for. Keep the drawings small (or the paper very large!) so there is plenty of space to keep adding to the mural!

Life is fragile. And the present coronavirus pandemic has made us more aware of that than ever before. Look for the rainbows every day

Look for the rainbows every day.


Now it’s over to you: Which one of these thoughts most resonates with you, that could ease your parenting stress during the coronavirus lockdown? What will you choose to do implement this? Make a conscious plan and write it down, that way you are far more likely to implement it.

Blog post by Val Mullally

Activating Your Inner Wisdom in Work, Parenthood and Life

“Parents only enjoy their children after they leave home.” A shocking statement on a recent the local radio programme.

Okay so parenting is hard work and can be stressful at times – but do parents really believe that we only enjoy our children once we don’t have them in the home!  What if it is the stress we’re under that is the culprit, rather than our kids?

And what impact can our stress have on our children?  Sadly, parenting stress can damage child well-being!

Parenting Stress can damage child well-being! - blog post by Val Mullally

It makes sense that parents are stressed right now, but often our stress becomes a ‘distress’, and we lose sight of what really matters.

How many times do we caution our children about the fragile things in life. ‘Don’t touch. Be careful. It will break!’

But do we sometimes overlook the fragile precious beings our children are? Do we forget to handle with care the young people in our lives?

‘Of course I care for my kids!’ is our automatic reaction. But perhaps there are times when we have so much on our plates that we can’t see that our stress is negatively impacting the relationships that matter most to us. A careless action or word can dent our children’s self-esteem. Our parental stress can cause us to  forget we are the custodians of their emotional well-being.

And then we have the challenge of becoming stressed about our stress!  So what are some of the ‘handle with care’ cautions we need to remind ourselves?

3 Ways Our Children Are At Risk 

#1 Giving the message that parenting is exhausting and a pain

Okay, parenting isn’t always easy. But how much do the stresses of the rest of our lives overflow into the home – and it’s the children that take the brunt of it. Whether we yell at them, scold, roll our eyes, nag, or talk about how hard it is to be a parent, children sense our attitude. Think about how some of the favourite comedians, like Michael McIntyre often play the “parenting is a pain” line. The audiences love it because they identify with it!

But imagine if you regularly overheard your life partner  talking about what  a pain it is to have you in their life. And you notice how the listener agrees or nods knowingly.

What would that do for your self esteem?

Do you really think that relationship would last?

Or if you did stay in that relationship can you imagine how it would undermine your confidence and sense of worth?

Some parents are stuck in “Oh, it’s so hard /draining/ depressing to be a parent!” This message may be directly spoken or not-so-subtly conveyed but the thing is, children don’t have anywhere else to go! If you had a life partner who thought so little of you, you’d probably move out. But children have to live with it and they get to believe this is the truth about them:

“I’m the kind of person it’s draining to be around,”
I’m a pain to live with.”
“I’m troublesome.”
“It’s not fun to be with me.”
“I’m annoying and aggravating.”
“I don’t have anything to contribute.”

And when children believe they are a pain they are likely to behave that way. We create a self perpetuating downward spiral, unless we consciously choose a different route. If we want to nurture our children’s well-being the best place to start is with our own attitude and actions.

#2 Calling children names

Some labels we hurl at our kids are outright unkind and can dent a child’s self-esteem  – ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, ‘brat’. When we refer to our children as ‘princess’, ‘madam’, ‘his lordship’ it may seem to make light of challenging behaviours, but perhaps that’s like casually mishandling a precious Ming vase.

Putting labels on our children is like mishandling a precious Ming vase - blog post by Val Mullally

What part of our child’s innate value is shattered when we carelessly knock them? And seemingly innocuous titles can damage our perspective of the child we are here to raise. These insults distort our vision so that we see stupidity or entitlement instead of our children’s vulnerability and their human struggle. It’s not always easy to be a child. And it can be even harder to be a teen. It’s a time when their sense of self can be very fragile and needs to be handled with sensitivity. Careless words hurt our children, and they hurt us too. They hurt us by causing us to expect negativity and resistance; by focusing our attention on the slight scratch or imperfection on who our child is, so that we forget the innate value and beauty of who they truly are. Careless words can cement a negative mindset within us, so that we treat our relationships as something cheap and shoddy, instead of the  precious gift they are.  If we mishandle interactions and toss words around that can damage relationships, similar cutting words and attitudes may boomerang back at us.  It’s time to rethink our attitude because it will be reflected in our actions.

#3 Being impatient

‘Hurry up. We’ re going to be late! Pick that up – now!’ We give a message that objects are more important than people; that our agenda is the only one that matters. How often do we rush carelessly in relationships. Today stop and assess whether you are giving the urgent priority over the important. What really matters?

A More Helpful Way Forward

So I ask you, what does a mindset of “Parenting  is draining” do to our children and our families?

Do you sometimes see parenting as exhausting or a pain?

How is this impacting your own perception of life?

How does the impact your interaction?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your relationship with your child?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your child?

I love browsing in antique shops, seeking some beautiful treasure others may have overlooked. My husband often cautions me to be careful with my handbag – concerned that I could bump some delicate object and cause damage. He reminds me to be mindful. The same holds true in relationship.

Here are some thoughts from that analogy that can help us shift our mindset and way of being with our children.

antique shop - handle with care

  • hold in awareness that there are things in close proximity that are fragile
  • be present to whatever is before you in this moment
  •  avoid unnecessary speed; take time to notice
  • be aware how you hold yourself in that space, physically and emotionally
  • be conscious of how you interact and move
  • be aware of where you are focusing your attention
  • look for the beauty – it may be  hidden by clutter, tarnish or dust

Life is Fragile

These days that we have with our children are precious and irreplaceable. Let’s handle with care. Child well-being is impacted by how they perceive themselves being perceived by others. Let’s not forget parenting stress can undermine child well-being! What underlying message do our children read from the way we communicate with them and about them?

Getting stressed about stressing our children is obviously only going to add fuel to the fire. I believe we can find a better way forward. 

Are you concerned about how your stress might be affecting your child?

It makes sense that, in the present circumstances, stress can leave us feeling so shattered that we can’t even pick up the pieces.

 I can help you to think more clearly, so that you can let go the stress and regain your clarity on what’s needed.

Click here to find out more about online coaching with me.

I’d love to support you to regain your joy and be the parent you want to be.

Blog post by Val Mullally 

Activating your Inner Wisdom in Work, Parenthood and Life

Child abuse  – something you never want to happen to any young person. A parent’s worst nightmare. What can a parent do if they discover child abuse? Here’s how to respond if your child reveals a shocking secret.


Even if your children are toddlers or preschoolers, this is an article you need to read, because now is the time to lay the foundation of trust and openness, so that your child will turn to you for support at times when they need you the most.

I love my daughter, And I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened.

These are the words of Betty de Generes, talking about her regret that she did not listen to her daughter, Ellen de Generes, when she told her about the sexual abuse she suffered as a teen.

How To Respond When Your Child Reveals a Shocking Secret

It’s a parent’s worst dread that their child might be abused; something no child or parent should ever have to experience. If you face this crisis, professional help is essential. And how a parent responds in those first few moments can be a significant part of the healing process. So here are some key tips that can help you if your child reveals a shocking secret.


  • Keep Calm

It is especially hard to keep calm because this information is hugely upsetting and the emotional brain will trigger a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction.

It’s easy at a time like this for a parent to be hurtled into an angry reaction:

‘fight’ mode: thoughts of revenge / furious this could  have happened

– or ‘flight’: a desire to flee from the awful reality that has invaded your family, such as being tempted to say something like, “Oh, that couldn’t have happened!”

– or ‘freeze’:  feel so numb you don’t know what to do or say.

This is a time to calm yourself.

Focus on your breathing, because when you steady your breathing you steady your thoughts.


  • Focus On What Your Child Needs In This Moment

Remember your child needs your love, your presence, your acceptance, your understanding and connection right now – maybe more than any other time in their life. This is a time to connect, to cross the bridge into your child’s world and be there for them, without anything obstructing your connection.

  • Park Your Own Stuff So You Can Connect With Her

In these first moments you need to consciously park all that is coming up for you, so you can be fully present for her.

So first PARK your own stuff.

  • Park your emotions
  • Park your solutions
  • Park your own agenda
  • Park your own memories
  • Park your need to “make it better”.

This journey has no instant solutions – it will be a journey that you and your child will need to travel through with professional support. Right now, just focus on what your child’s needs in these first few moments – your loving, non-judgemental presence.


  • Use Your Body Language Show You Are There

Let your whole body, your soft gaze, your tone of voice show that you are listening – that you are there and trying to understand.

Turn your whole body towards your child. Let your body be open and soft, so that it is space your child can turn for comfort.

Focus on connecting.


  • Listen Deeply

Listen without interrupting.

Let your child talk as much as they need to.

Be careful not to add anything extra to what your child is saying.

It can be tempting to ask a lot of questions to clarify what happened. Or to rush into talking too much in your desperate desire to “fix it”. Remember that the pain of this situation is too great to bear alone. Your job right now is to be a safe space for your child to share their pain. Just listen.

keep calm, connect and listen to your child

  • Give Your Child Space to Express Emotion

Yes, your child may cry, and you might too. Tears are part of the healing process. Your child needs a safe space to shed their tears.

The tears we cry are chemically different to the tears we cry when we are peeling an onion – they contain stress hormones. So expressions like “cry it all out”, “have a good cry” make a lot of sense.

When a child experiences a violation of trust and of their very selves, there is a lot of stress to let out. Hold your child, if they’re okay with that. Comfort – without trying to stop the tears, or other expressions of upset. Acknowledge the emotion, and let them come.

Sometimes it is a son who shares a shocking secret. Their emotional reaction may be different, and they equally need your support. They may react by not wanting to talk about it or they may become angry. Respond to where your child is at – to what emotions they present. There is no “right” way to be upset. Boys often find it easier to open up about distressing incidents when the two of you are doing something, like walking alongside each other. Engage with your child in a way that meets your child’s needs.


  • Reassure Your Child

Remember how important it is for you to keep calm because your child desperately needs your unconditional love, and reassurance they have done nothing wrong. If you feel a need to say something, keep your words focused on their experience and give words that show you are there for them and that together you will find a way forward. You might respond with words like, “It makes sense that you were frightened and very upset. I’m upset, too. Let’s talk about what we can do to help you feel safe.”

“If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them.”

Betty de Genres


What To Do If Your Child Has Been Abused

First – calm and connect; stay with your child’s experience. Then seek professional help as soon as possible, both for yourself and for your child. It can be tempting to tell others, but we need to be discerning about what to share. This very personal and sensitive part of your child’s life story is not something to widely broadcast. Your child and you need professional help to determine who to tell and when.

If you have been through a harrowing time and you’re wondering if you handled it okay, seek professional help from a therapist. You can’t change the past but you can learn how to build a strong bond of connection with your child to move forward together.


NOW Is the Time Develop the Art of Listening Well

Handling a situation when your child shares a shocking secret is never easy. And, hopefully, you never have to. But it’s like coming across a traffic accident. You need to know how to give first aid BEFORE you need to!


No matter what age your children, or how calm or choppy the emotional waters are right now, why not develop the art of listening well? The great thing is we can work on improving our listening skills with our children in the small everyday interactions, including the good times. We don’t have to wait till the you–know-what hits the fan.

There is a big difference between listening and listening well – as there is between eating and eating well. And developing the art of listening well might mean that at some stage of your child’s life you will be able to pick up the warning signs that could avert a catastrophic situation.

Want to know more about how to listen well, even if your children are younger?

More Help On How To Be Present to Your Child

Here are some blogs you might find helpful to develop the skill of listening well:

Are Your Being Present With Your Child? These ten obstacles could be getting in the way

“Five Useful Tips On How to Support Your Upset Child”.

A good start can be to read my quick-read ebook “Stop Yelling – nine steps to calmer happier parenting” because it gives you practical tools on the art of staying calm, especially in stressful moments.


How to respond if your child reveals a shocking secret

Now it’s over to you. What do you find hardest to park, to be fully present to your child? What helps you stay present, focused and unconditionally loving to your child, especially when it’s tough?

Michele van Zyl

I found your book  “BEHAVE –  What To Do When Your Child Won’t” really brilliant and I have implemented many of your strategies already.

The crocodile brain is really interesting and it makes so much sense! Learning to breathe and allow all parts of our brain to function together had made such a difference to my way of thinking. I do still struggle not to react but understanding why we do it has been really helpful. I definitely feel more equipped to respond now, rather than react.

I also find HALT absolutely brilliant!!! I don’t even usually get past the H! Hunger for food, play or attention is usually what it is with my daughter. My husband has been amazed too! We often forget that play is so important, even for my 15 year old! My 5 year old daughter was raging and so I quickly implemented HALT and realised that she had not had much time to play on that particular day. We were in the car and I said to my husband to find the nearest play area. We arrived at a really fantastic one and my 15 year old said that he would just sit in the car and wait, to which I said oh no you won’t! He went along reluctantly and after 5 minutes he was having just as much fun as my daughter! Afterwards he said that he was so glad that I made him play because he had such a great time. I even ended up going on the balancing equipment and the zip line which really was loads of fun! The bad mood had lifted and my daughter was like a different child after that!

I have also been implementing FLAC which has worked wonders with my 5 year old. Her behaviour has really improved since being given choices. She feels empowered and even when I think she won’t choose either, she always decides on one of the two.

So I can really say that your book has been life changing for our family and I am so glad to have met you that night!

When a child is going through a difficult time, it’s hard for a parent to know how to help. Here are five useful tips on how to support your upset child.

What can a parent do!

A key skill is to remain in “approach” mode.

Teddy bears hug

In every relationship the other person experiences us as being in “attack”, “avoid’ or “approach mode”.

Samantha has been trying to stay in tune with her daughter over these past few days. She’s heard a deluge: I hate school, I haven’t got any friends, The teachers are stupid, Nobody cares. I don’t want to go to school. 

How does a parent respond! 

She takes a deep breath. 

“Okay, Paula. So you don’t want to go to school. You can stay home tomorrow, BUT …” 

Samantha takes a long, deep pause trying to figure out what she’s going to say. But she doesn’t get a chance. 

“You’re just like them. You don’t care!” Her daughter slams out the room. 

“What did I do wrong!” Samantha is mystified. 


Samantha didn’t realise her child’s brain registered the long pause, followed by her heavy “BUT… ” as an “attack”.

The thing is, it’s not what we intend that counts – it’s the message the other person receives that will influence the interaction.

The thing is, when a child already feels overwhelmed it’s easy for them to misinterpret a parent’s signals and they can easily experience the parent as being in “attack” or “avoid” mode. This is only going to add to a child’s distress.

Your child’s unreasonable outburst may be upsetting, but realise it is exactly that  – “un-reason-able”. The behaviour stems from the child being “unable to reason” because at times of high stress the “thinking brain” temporarily goes offline. The child snaps into a “fight or flight” reaction.  Samantha’s prolonged, heavy pause was all that was needed for her stressed child to experience her as another attacker.

Crying child

What Not To Do When Your Child Is Upset

#1 Don’t tell your child to “Be reasonable.”

Right now the deep, reactive “reptilian brain” has seized control. It’s impossible for your child to reason once they have dropped into this reactive state. Until she’s calmed down, she IS un-reason-able!

#2 Don’t try help your child  find solutions whilst upset

It won’t work to try help your child find solutions whilst upset because the human brain cannot see options and imagine consequences while the “thinking brain” is “offline”.  First connect and support your child to regain calm.

#3 Don’t tell her, “It’s not really such a big thing,” or “It will be all right.”

At this moment it doesn’t feel like it will ever be all right again. She’s hurting and her reptilian brain is registering “PAIN!”, which means your child can’t see beyond that point until she regains her calm.

#4 Don’t compare

E.g. “You used to like school.” “Your sister is happy there.” 

Here earlier experience doesn’t negate what’s she’s feeling now. Somebody else’s experience isn’t hers.

#5 Don’t tell her to calm down

That’s like telling the cloud to stop raining.  When this level of tension has been reached, the strong emotion will temporarily overwhelm.

parent and child hug

So what can a parent do?

 Five Useful Tips On How To Support Your Upset Child

TIP #1  Recognise your  upset child is unable to reason

At this point, your child can’t see another point of view or imagine possible consequences to her actions until she has calmed down and returned to “whole brain thinking”.  So don’t expend your energy trying to achieve the impossible!

TIP #2 Focus on remaining calm and in “approach” mode

Staying calm is the only way to park your own anxiety and keep your “thinking brain” online. And this matters because there needs to be at least one thinking brain online to find the way through the current upset!  For more on this see my e-book  “Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer Happier Parenting”.

TIP #3   Tune in to your child’s experience

If your brain is busy imagining the letter you will write to the teacher, what you’d like to say to those other kids, worrying that your child might drop out of school, then your brain is in another world and not focusing on your child’s world, which is where you can support her right now. There will be time to find solutions later. Right now focus on being present to your child and to her experience. Imagine crossing the bridge into her world experience and seeing the situation through her eyes.

TIP #4 Empathise with your child

As you tune in to your child’s experience seek to understand what she might be feeling. Anxious, lonely, angry, frustrated? Don’t try to “change” her feeling. Feelings are what feelings are. Once she has a sense of her life experience being understood and validated, she’ll sense you being in “approach” mode and then be able to calm down. (Even though that might not be immediate).

TIP #5 When your child is calm, use “What?” questions

Use “What?” questions to explore possible ways forward.: “What needs to happen now? ” “What can I do to support you?” “What else could help?”

(Not “Why?” questions – which  tend to lead to blaming or excuse making).

Explore the options together and support your child to recognise the factors within her control, because these are the only things she can change.

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”  Zig Ziglar

If you found this article helpful you will probably also enjoy reading:

How to Support Your Child If They Are Having Difficulty At School which gives the core principles of building TRUST in our parent-child relationship.

If you are facing a challenging situation concerning your child,  why not work with me as your Parenting Coach. I can help you tune in to your child so you are in a grounded space to support your child to create collaborative solutions.

How to support your upset child

I’d love to hear your experiences about how to calm your upset child.

What has helped you to support your child when they are upset?

What is your greatest challenge in supporting your child through a difficult experience?

Your answers help me to create the posts you’d love to read.

If you are a parent and feeling concerned, upset or anxious because your child is being  harrassed or teased, here’s how to support your bullied child:

“My heart is broken. My daughter is such a sweet child. But she tells me the other children are chasing her at school and calling her ‘piggy’.“

If your child has ever experienced this sort of pain, read on!

9 Essential Strategies – How to Support Your Bullied Child

#1 Keep calm so you can hold an objective frame of mind

Your child needs you to be connected; yet at the same time you need to contain your strong emotions. This matters because otherwise your upset can “contaminate” the listening space your child needs.

If you are reactive she may be affected by the reaction she’s sensing from you.

It’s possible that if you are over-anxious that she will hold back from telling you things you might need to hear, or otherwise a child may embellish the story when she finds she is repeatedly the centre of attention if she mentions such incidents. You want to support your child to work through the situation to develop happier outcomes; not stay stuck in it.

For more on how to keep calm in stressful situations, see my book, “Stop Yelling – 9 steps to calmer happier parenting)

#2 Take your child’s upset seriously

Some parents may respond with a comment like,

“You’re all right then!”

Your child wouldn’t be telling you about the incident if she was alright!

Bruises on the soul may not be visible but they can cause life-long scars.

#3 Recognise young children don’t always realise their behaviour is hurtful

Often a hurtful incident starts as a game – but crosses the boundary into “not okay” behaviour. If there seems to be bullying happening we need to be involved. Young children do not yet have the social skills to handle the situation alone. If the incident happened at school, hopefully, the teacher is your ally. Ask to meet with her, giving her as much detail as you know, in a clear objective way, stating what your child experienced. Then ask what steps will be taken to deal with this situation to ensure that other similar incidents will not happen. Bullying is not about only two children. Bullying is a community matter and school is our first formal environment where we need to learn social justice.

#4 Create a calm, safe space to chat about the incident

Create a space where your child can talk about the incident if she chooses.

Clarify as much detail as possible.

You need to hear what happened to figure out what response is needed.

If this might be more than a once-off minor incident, it’s important to keep a clear record of the facts of what happened. (Like any professional document, record only the facts; don’t write down your emotional reactions or any judgements. Only facts. This is important because if there is a pattern of bullying behaviour you need to be able to state what happened and when. That’s not easy to remember at a later date, especially when you are emotionally involved.

For more strategies on how to support your child to find a way forward in bullying situations, see my blog: “9 Inspiring Tips – How To Bully-Proof Your Child”

#5 Use “clean language” to discuss what happened

Word your questions and responses in a way that does not pollute your child’s thinking.

e.g. It’s not helpful to ask, “Was that girl mean to you?”

When you ask a question like that, you pollute your child’s mind with the thought that the other child was mean, which wasn’t necessarily your child’s experience.

Rather ask a “clean” question like, “What happened?”

#6 “Listen” to your child’s body language

It’s not only the words you want to listen to but your child’s body language, tone of voice and facial expression.

You’ll gain more insight into your child’s perspective and experience of what happened, and what’s needed now when you are tuned in to her

#7 Be empathetic as your child shares his story

It’s easy to want to check he’s telling it ”right”. The more he calms, the more he can clearly tell you what happened. the more he makes sense of what happened the more clearly your child can think  anc can start envisioning a more powerful way of responding.

Stop bullying - we are all different

#8 Help your child envision how to respond differently

Avoid using statements like,

“Don’t be a baby!’

Stand up for yourself!”

Comments like these will only add to your child feeling ”not okay” and do not give your child a picture of how to respond in a more positive and empowering way. You want to create the thinking space for your child to be able to figure out what they can do to create a happier solution.

#9 Use the power of  “What…?” questions

Once you sense your child is calm and ready to look for solutions, use “What…’ questions to help your child think about how they could handle a similar situation in the future.

“What could you do next time?”

“What helps you to stay strong inside yourself?”

The importance of dealing with the incident when your child is bullied

The wise parent uses these early incidents as opportunities to help their children learn to find healthy ways to deal with challenges in social interactions before an unhealthy pattern of passive or aggressive behaviour develops. When you respond to your child’s concerns you give a message, “You matter!” – a hugely important message if your child is feeling like they don’t matter to their peers.

Knowing how to respond helpfully when your child is bullied can help your child develop assertive behaviour that can shield them in a healthy way. This matters for your child’s happiness and self-esteem not only now in the immediate situation you’re facing – but it helps build resilience and self-esteem throughout life; important factors for your child’s mental health and well-being.

How to support your bullied child