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!

Last edited June 05th 2019

Join Parenting Expert Val Mullally in Moville this weekend.

Fri 4 Nov 7:30 – 9 pm  ‘Meeting Your Child’s Deepest Emotional Needs’

Sat 5 Nov ‘Responding to Children’s Challenging Behaviour’ 

Moville Methodist Hall 

Open to all parents of children aged 3 to 12 years

(grandparents and other child-carers also welcome)





Last edited November 01st 2016

You can get Val Mullally’s new Parenting book, ‘Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’ which gives key insights and practical tips into Mindful Discipline on Amazon now! It’s available both on AmazonUK and  on Amazon.com ! We’re delighted that every review so far has given it FIVE STARS (and great comments!)



Last edited January 31st 2016

Did you grow up hearing phrases like, ’She’s a naughty child’? My mum frequently said it about me. I was the child who was always pushing the limits – the child testing the boundaries.

Fast forward to 2015.

I’m the last out the door and everyone is already in the car.

My adult son teasingly eases the car forward, as though he’ll leave me behind. I jump into the back seat and smilingly exclaim to him,

‘Oh, you’re naughty!’

’Naughty,’ repeats my toddler grandson.

‘’That’s a new word,’ says his mother.  ‘He’s never heard that one before!’

As we travel I muse how much I appreciate that his parents never label him as ‘naughty’. They never refer to him as a ‘bold child’, even at times when he’s acting out. They are aware that when his behaviour is challenging for them, there’s something going on for him that needs attention. He’s not ‘naughty’!

‘Isn’t it strange, ‘ I comment. ‘We never use the word “naughty” to describe an adult, unless we say ‘He has a naughty sense of humour,” or “naughty underwear”.’ We give this term a different meaning for adults. When we talk about a child being naughty, whether it’s a toddler tantrum, a child who won’t listen, or a defiant child, what we’re really meaning is, ‘My child won’t do what he’s told,’ ‘My child won’t comply.’ In other words, we’re saying, ‘My child won’t follow my agenda.’  But just because your child is choosing to follow his one path, not yours, doesn’t mean he deserves a shaming label.

‘Do you have a word in Danish for “naughty?”‘ I ask Sophia.

‘No, not really,’ she says. ‘If we were talking about a child who seems to be always acting out we might comment that the child was, “Uopdragen”. “Opdrage” means, “to raise”. So “uopdragen” literally  means “unraised”. ‘

As we drive along the highway I muse on this. “Uopdragen – unraised,” isn’t saying the child is “naughty”; it isn’t shaming the child.  It isn’t making the child “wrong”. It’s saying the parent hasn’t fulfilled the responsibility of raising the child; the parent hasn’t given the child the support and skills needed to interact successfully.

I think the Danes are recognising something significant here; it’s our job as parents to successfully raise our children. To  “opdrage” – to raise your child, whether your child is “easy to raise” or challenging  – takes mindful parenting, commitment and consistency.

As parents it is our responsibility to raise a child. This is our task – blaming or shaming our child won’t achieve what’s needed.


5 Parenting Tips for when you might be tempted to label your child as ‘naughty’. 

1. Your children’s behaviour is about them, your response is about you.  

When your children act out, it doesn’t mean you’re a “bad parent”. It means your children are trying to let you know something is “not ok” for them.  If you let your thoughts run away with, “What will other people think?” you won’t be able to focus on what your child needs.


2. Respond rather than React 

Think of ‘React’ as in a knee-jerk reaction  – instant and without thinking. In any situation you have a split second to determine whether this is an emergency, (where you need to instantly react to ensure safety) or whether to pause and assess what’s needed. In most situations, except for “emergency” concerns, if you want to “raise your child”, it’s more helpful to pause to assess, then respond in a way that gives your child the message, “I’m here for you.”


2. Focus on your breathing.

When you want to respond, but can feel your own anger or anxiety is likely to overwhelm, take a moment to focus on slowing and steadying your breathing. When your own strong emotions get in the way it becomes impossible to figure out what’s needed in that moment to effectively ‘raise a child’. When you steady your breathing you will steady your thoughts.


3. Remember to ‘HALT’.

When you need to deal with your child’s challenging behaviour, first stop and use the ‘HALT signpost‘ to ask yourself, ‘Is my child Hungry? / Anxious or Angry? / Lonely or iLL? /  Tired?’ When you respond to your child’s needs often the challenging behaviour will dissipate.  Ask yourself, ‘What’s really needed here?’


4. Remember, ‘All behaviour makes sense.’ 

Often our children’s challenging behaviour can be frustrating or worrying for us as parents. Remember your children are not “naughty” and they not trying to “get at you”. They are trying to let you know they are in a “not-okay” place. They are acting out because they need your support. Ask yourself, ‘What might this behaviour be telling me?’


5.  Recognise a Challenging Moment is a Teaching Opportunity

Maybe it’s a teaching moment for yourself as parent – about what works, what doesn’t and what’s needed. And sometimes it’s an opportunity for you to help your child learn about life.  Most times that lesson is not a lecture, but what we model. The lesson is in our actions.  Maybe it’s a lesson of, “You are loved, no matter what,’ or a lesson in kindness, a lesson in, ‘I trust you.’ What lessons do you most want your child to learn?


For more parenting tips about how to ‘raise’ your child, particularly at times when their behaviour is challenging, see new Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t  by Val Mullally.

Last edited October 25th 2015

Is your  school looking for a keynote speaker for its Parents’ Council AGM? Look no further! Val Mullally MA, Parenting expert, and author of forthcoming book, ‘BEHAVE! – what to do when your child won’t’ is an engaging, experienced keynote speaker.  CLICK HERE to discover more.



Last edited August 27th 2014

Letters to Santa - Day 3 Child disappointment

Dear Santa

Today a mother is asking how to deal with children’s emotions when she’s dealing with ‘wants’ versus ‘needs’. And even children are worried about disappointment – see Liam’s letter.

What can parents do when they are dealing with a child’s disappointment?



Dear PercyPostElf

Sometimes when children have a big ’want’ it can feel like a ‘need’.

Parents hate to see their children disappointed. They love their kids so much that they forget that disappointment is part of the fabric of life. Preventing children from ever feeling reasonable disappointment is like keeping a plant in a hot-house,  it’ll never cope with being exposed to the storms of life.

Some parents will have disappointed children this Christmas. Here’s what I’ve learnt about ‘whole-brain’ parenting and disappointment. When a strong emotion is triggered,  the brain goes on ‘red alert – survival mode’ and the reasoning part of the brain temporarily ‘shuts down’. Reason-able behaviour often disappears because we are not able to reason  – the thinking part of the brain isn’t fully functional when we are emotionally flooded.

What doesn’t help when a child is emotionally flooded?

1. Don’t be-little.

( ‘Big boys don’t cry!’  ‘Oh grow up!’)

2. Don’t compare.

( ‘Your sister’s happy with what she’s got.’ ‘I didn’t get anything like you’ve got when I was little.’)

3. Don’t try to reason while the child’s emotionally overwhelmed.

(Your child can’t hear comments like ‘But we can’t afford it,’ whilst he is upset.)

4. Don’t ignore the child or his feelings.

(Upset feelings don’t just go away by themselves, even if they go underground. They need a space to be heard and validated).

5. Don’t redirect.

( ‘Oh, let’s play with your other toys.’)  Parents sometimes think this is helpful, but it’s a subtle way of ignoring the child’s experience.

Tips for parents when a child’s disappointed:

TIP #1. Help your child to Name, Claim and Tame this emotion.

When you name the child’s experience, he can claim it  (realise that’s his emotion!). When he can claim the emotion he can tame it. (He can learn to accept his disappointment without it overwhelming him.)

TIP #2. Listen to his disappointment, without trying to ‘fix’ it.

‘You’re disappointed that you didn’t get  *** for Christmas. Tell me more.’

Give the space to share how it is for him, just accepting his emotion without trying to change anything. Remember his behaviour is about him – your response is about you. When you’re safe and connected – he can express disappointment.

.TIP #3. Validate how it is for him.

‘’And that makes sense because you would really have liked …’

Validation doesn’t mean that you agree with him – you’re just acknowledging his perspective. It also doesn’t mean we have to ‘make it better’.  Sometimes tears might flow. Just stay connected. The tears we cry when we’re emotionally upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we’re peeling an onion. So there’s wisdom in the expressions: ‘Have a good cry’ ‘Cry it all out.’ (And of course, the same goes for girls too).

‘Children whose feelings and experiences are validated may cry more or they may become angrier precisely because your validation gives them permission to express their deepest feelings. Once they have done, however, they often move on with no residue of bad feelings.‘ Aldort 2006

How to help child deal with disappointment at Christmas.

So if you are dealing with your child’s disappointment,  be there for them. You don’t have to feel guilty, rush off to the toy store or wave a magic wand. Just connect.

For more thoughts see “3 Traps Parents Fall Into When a Child Is Disappointed” 

For more insights about how to deal with children’s challenging behaviours this Christmas, see Val Mullally’s book: ‘BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t.

I’m looking forward to other questions from parents.



P.S. Here are my other letters:

Day 1   What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen at Christmas

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 11 Can’t Forgive

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters














Last edited December 03rd 2017