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Ask a Therapist: Parenting hacks

A woman plays with her daughter while a therapist makes notes in the background

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we launched a short video series called “Ask a Therapist.” In each episode, senior writer Amye Archer sits down with two expert clinicians and asks them questions submitted by our audience.

For our second episode, we talked with author Janine Halloran, LMHC, founder of Coping Skills for Kids, and our PESI Publishing colleague Kate Sample, LPC, who specializes in working with at-risk youth, to answer questions about parenting.

Helping your kids find new friends (without overstepping)

Parents know all too well the balancing act of wanting to help our kids when they’re struggling to fit in, but also wanting to foster their independence. One parent wrote in to ask, how can I help my middle-schooler find their people without getting too involved or putting on too much pressure?

“I would say, look around and find out if there are other places you can go to find kids who have similar interests,” Halloran suggests. Many libraries and community centers offer activities like Lego clubs, chess clubs, and more, and your child likely has after-school options as well.

Depending on your district, your child may be introduced to a whole new set of peers at this stage, too. “Middle school is often the time when elementary schools that are feeder schools merge into one,” says Sample. “That’s always a good opportunity to learn new names, new faces, and new people that your child can spend time with in class.” Your child’s schedule should also shift from staying with the same group all day to switching classes, which gives them another chance to make new connections, Sample adds.

Blending families when the kids are at odds

Next we talked about the challenge of blending two families when some of the kids aren’t getting along. How does a parent show respect for their child’s feelings while encouraging them to welcome their new stepsiblings?

When families change, Sample says, there’s often grief, sadness, or even relief. Validation is important, but so is normalizing. “You can let them know it’s okay that you don’t necessarily love these kids right away,” she says. This helps your child understand that it’s normal to need adjustment time.

Giving your children space to talk about their feelings is important, says Halloran, and your response should be dictated by that conversation. “Ask, ‘Is this something you want me to listen to or help you solve?’” she suggests. Sometimes kids just need to vent, and at other times it may be a big enough conflict that you, your ex, and your respective new partners need to have a coparenting conversation.

Navigating social media with teens

Our final question came from a parent whose daughter is sharing explicit photos over social media with a boy she likes. This parent wondered, “How do I call her out for what I think is dangerous behavior without making her feel self-conscious about her sexuality?”

Halloran suggests focusing on the social media piece of the equation. Remind your daughter that when she sends a picture to someone else, she doesn’t have control over that image anymore. “You don’t know who he’s with, who he’s sharing it with, and those kinds of dangers,” Halloran says. It can also be helpful to talk about other ways to build closeness with someone.

Sample suggests having a conversation about healthy relationships. “Talking about boundaries, about what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship, and asking if she felt pressured to send those pictures” are all ways to uncover any deeper issues that may be driving the behavior, says Sample.

Watch the full episode for more

For more insights on parenting from Halloran and Sample, watch the latest episode of “Ask a Therapist” below. (Stay tuned until the end for a bonus question about the “right” age to let kids have access to smartphones and devices.)

If you’d like to join the conversation and submit a question for our guests, follow us on Instagram and send a message. We’d love to hear from you.

Finally, please remember: Our guests are amazing therapists, but they’re not your therapists. “Ask a Therapist” is for educational purposes only.

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