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Are you the type of parent you thought you would be? Has your family turned out like you dreamed? If not, let Ron Huxley and the resources of the Parenting Toolbox help you heal and restore that dream family today.

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Twitter is now the fastest-growing social network for teens.

Bernhard Warner, More Evidence Shows Teens Prefer Twitter, Reddit to Facebook

Pew and Piper Jaffray research form May show Facebook fatigue is growing for teenagers.

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What do you do to protect your child’s online activities?

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Tips for Coping with Incarceration


In the morning, let your child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day. For example, “Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you’ll go to the park, and later we’ll all have dinner together.”


Give your child a paper heart to keep in her pocket. You might say, “This is to remind you that I love you and will always be there for you.”


Take time each day to check in with your child and ask, “How are you feeling?” Remember to let your child know that it’s okay to have big feelings no matter what they are.


When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, “Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law.”


Phone calls are a great way to reach out. Help your child to think of something she’d like to tell her incarcerated parent, and give her a photo of her parent to hold during the call.


Before you visit your incarcerated loved one, let your child know some of the things she can expect to happen. For instance, “We won’t be able to sit in the same room with Mommy, but we can see her through a window and read a story together.”


Caring for yourself helps you care for your child. At least once a day, do something that you enjoy or find relaxing.


Breakthrough study reveals biological basis for sensory processing disorders in kids

Sensory processing disorders (SPD) are more prevalent in children than autism and as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, yet it receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease.

In a groundbreaking new study from UC San Francisco, researchers have found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, for the first time showing a biological basis for the disease that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

One of the reasons SPD has been overlooked until now is that it often occurs in children who also have ADHD or autism, and the disorders have not been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists.

“Until now, SPD hasn’t had a known biological underpinning,” said senior author Pratik Mukherjee, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and bioengineering at UCSF. “Our findings point the way to establishing a biological basis for the disease that can be easily measured and used as a diagnostic tool,” Mukherjee said.

The work is published in the open access online journal NeuroImage:Clinical.

‘Out of Sync’ Kids

Sensory processing disorders affect 5 to 16 percent of school-aged children.

Children with SPD struggle with how to process stimulation, which can cause a wide range of symptoms including hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch, poor fine motor skills and easy distractibility. Some SPD children cannot tolerate the sound of a vacuum, while others can’t hold a pencil or struggle with social interaction. Furthermore, a sound that one day is an irritant can the next day be sought out.  The disease can be baffling for parents and has been a source of much controversy for clinicians, according to the researchers.

“Most people don’t know how to support these kids because they don’t fall into a traditional clinical group,” said Elysa Marco, MD, who led the study along with postdoctoral fellow Julia Owen, PhD. Marco is a cognitive and behavioral child neurologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, ranked among the nation’s best and one of California’s top-ranked centers for neurology and other specialties, according to the 2013-2014 U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals survey.

“Sometimes they are called the ‘out of sync’ kids. Their language is good, but they seem to have trouble with just about everything else, especially emotional regulation and distraction. In the real world, they’re just less able to process information efficiently, and they get left out and bullied,” said Marco, who treats affected children in her cognitive and behavioral neurology clinic.

“If we can better understand these kids who are falling through the cracks, we will not only help a whole lot of families, but we will better understand sensory processing in general. This work is laying the foundation for expanding our research and clinical evaluation of children with a wide range of neurodevelopmental challenges – stretching beyond autism and ADHD,” she said.

Imaging the Brain’s White Matter

In the study, researchers used an advanced form of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which measures the microscopic movement of water molecules within the brain in order to give information about the brain’s white matter tracts. DTI shows the direction of the white matter fibers and the integrity of the white matter. The brain’s white matter is essential for perceiving, thinking and learning.

The study examined 16 boys, between the ages of eight and 11, with SPD but without a diagnosis of autism or prematurity, and compared the results with 24 typically developing boys who were matched for age, gender, right- or left-handedness and IQ. The patients’ and control subjects’ behaviors were first characterized using a parent report measure of sensory behavior called the Sensory Profile. 

The imaging detected abnormal white matter tracts in the SPD subjects, primarily involving areas in the back of the brain, that serve as connections for the auditory, visual and somatosensory (tactile) systems involved in sensory processing, including their connections between the left and right halves of the brain. 

“These are tracts that are emblematic of someone with problems with sensory processing,” said Mukherjee. “More frontal anterior white matter tracts are typically involved in children with only ADHD or autistic spectrum disorders. The abnormalities we found are focused in a different region of the brain, indicating SPD may be neuroanatomically distinct.” 

The researchers found a strong correlation between the micro-structural abnormalities in the white matter of the posterior cerebral tracts focused on sensory processing and the auditory, multisensory and inattention scores reported by parents in the Sensory Profile. The strongest correlation was for auditory processing, with other correlations observed for multi-sensory integration, vision, tactile and inattention.

The abnormal microstructure of sensory white matter tracts shown by DTI in kids with SPD likely alters the timing of sensory transmission so that processing of sensory stimuli and integrating information across multiple senses becomes difficult or impossible.

“We are just at the beginning, because people didn’t believe this existed,” said Marco. “This is absolutely the first structural imaging comparison of kids with research diagnosed sensory processing disorder and typically developing kids. It shows it is a brain-based disorder and gives us a way to evaluate them in clinic.”

Future studies need to be done, she said, to research the many children affected by sensory processing differences who have a known genetic disorder or brain injury related to prematurity.

Image1: These brain images, taken with DTI, show water diffusion within the white matter of children with sensory processing disorders.  Row FA: The blue areas show white matter where water diffusion was less directional than in typical children, indicating impaired white matter microstructure.  Row MD: The red areas show white matter where the overall rate of water diffusion was higher than in typical children, also indicating abnormal white matter.  Row RD: The red areas show white matter where SPD children have higher rates of water diffusion perpendicular to the axonal fibers, indicating a loss of integrity of the fiber bundles comprising the white matter tracts.

regular bedtimes are important for both boys and girls and the earlier these can be implemented, the better for cognitive performance. The suggestion is that irregular sleeping patterns adversely affect development and these may cause permanent damage:

"Sleep is crucial for the maintenance of homeostasis and brain plasticity, including processes to do with embedding new knowledge, memory and skills into developing neural assemblies"

Read more…

Dream Parenting: Winning the Battle
You don’t have to win every battle with your child. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. Some days are going to be sweet one’s, with lots of cuddling, peaceful interactions and other days are going to be more chaotic and bumpy. It is important that parents learn how to ride these ups and downs and now that they are still headed in the right direction. if today was a bad day, than you get to have another day. Make tomorrow different. If tomorrow is bad too, look forward to the day after than and so on…
You were there to write the first chapter of your child’s life and you get to help write the next one until the day they start writing their own chapters. You are never totally powerless and no mistake cannot be forgiven and un-reconciled. It make take a while but time really is on your side and it can heal the most grievous hurts. Use this to your parenting advantage. 
Action Parenting Tool: Don’t focus on today’s problem. Visualize how you want tomorrow to look and start working toward it. Be OK with small adjustments until you achieve the family you dreamed about. 

Dream Parenting: Winning the Battle

You don’t have to win every battle with your child. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. Some days are going to be sweet one’s, with lots of cuddling, peaceful interactions and other days are going to be more chaotic and bumpy. It is important that parents learn how to ride these ups and downs and now that they are still headed in the right direction. if today was a bad day, than you get to have another day. Make tomorrow different. If tomorrow is bad too, look forward to the day after than and so on…

You were there to write the first chapter of your child’s life and you get to help write the next one until the day they start writing their own chapters. You are never totally powerless and no mistake cannot be forgiven and un-reconciled. It make take a while but time really is on your side and it can heal the most grievous hurts. Use this to your parenting advantage. 

Action Parenting Tool: Don’t focus on today’s problem. Visualize how you want tomorrow to look and start working toward it. Be OK with small adjustments until you achieve the family you dreamed about. 

Vacation Tips for Nontraditional Families (and traditional one’s too!)

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

After six years of marriage in my new “blended” family, I have vowed to never go on vacation again. At least not with the children. Vacations are supposed to be a time of fun and relaxation. Yeah right! Try taking a vacation when you are a nontraditional family. It is more likely to be a time of stress and frustration. And you have to pay good money for it too! Here are some battle-tested tips for the brave or stubborn among you who still want to go on vacation in a nontraditional family.

Tip #1: Pack your grief, it will follow you anyway.

Nontraditional families of yesterday are the traditional families of today. They include, but are not limited to, single, divorced, step/blended, adoption, and foster parent families. They have some unique characteristics not normally found in traditional, two-parent homes. One of the biggest is grief. Although grief is a common experience in all families, it is particularly familiar to nontraditional families. Grieving comes from the shattering of a dream, namely being a traditional family. It involves the loss of a relationship or death of a family member.

It would be better to pack the grief along with all the toiletries and clothing. This means be aware of and accept that you are going to grieve, even on vacation. Changing an environment will temporarily keep it out of your mind but in the long run it will be right there with you. It is not necessary to dwell on it but don’t pretend you can leave it behind. For more information on nontraditional families and grief, see

Tip #2: Keep your expectations low and your priorities high.

Why are you going on this vacation? I know it’s not because you love pain. Are you doing it for you, the children, or what? Answering this question will allow you to keep your expectations low and your priorities high. The higher your expectations the greater your chances of disappointment and anger. My wife and I have found that when we go on vacation with the children, it is about the children. We don’t try to have a romantic encounter with each other unless it happens unexpectantly. If we wanted that, we should have gone on vacation by ourselves. And sometimes we do.

Going on vacation is always unpredictable. That’s part of why we love to do it. It is different from the daily routine of work and taking care of the house. But it also away from the familiar. So be willing to take some risks and go with the flow. Be focused on your bottom line. If you want to see new things or have fun, there are many ways to have that. And most likely, it won’t be what you imagine. When you take the wrong highway or the kids get sick, remind yourself that you are doing something new and different. If not a little bit anxious.

Tip #3: Take a time cushion, to rest.

If you think it will take seven days for a vacation, plan for eight or nine. If you think it will take four hours to drive to your vacation spot, prepare for five or six. Taking a time cushion will allow you to rest and not be upset because you are late or lost. If you are a single parent, you have the job of two parents to do when on vacation. Be kind to yourself and over prepare. That extra sweater just may come in handy if someone gets theirs wet and need a new one. Those extra snacks may keep the wild things calm when you are trying to find the right turn off on the highway in the middle of the night after being hours on the road. Time cushions allow you to handle the stressors that occur when taking a nontraditional family vacation. For more information on time cushions, see

Tip #4: The family may be a democracy, but you have veto power.

Nontraditional families vacations fail for two simple reasons. The adults make all the decisions or none of the decisions. Parenting research has proven that the most effective families are democratic in organization. It allows children to take responsibility for their actions and cooperate with parents. Put it can go too far. Have family meetings before you leave, and yes, let them make suggestions about where you go and what you do when you are on vacation. Have frequent huddles, where family members spontaneously put their heads together to come up with a game. Regularly take the pulse of the family by polling family members about where to eat dinner, what movie to rent, or the schedule for fun that day. But always remember that a democracy still has a leader. And this leader has the ability to veto a decision made by the younger family members. Make sure you have a good reason for vetoing a decision but don’t bother trying to fight for your position. One of more of the children may not like your decision but leaders accept that and move forward. The disgruntled child will usually come around soon enough. For more information on the steps of a family meetings, see

Tip #5: To settle things down, mix it up.

In order to settle down personality conflicts and power struggles, mix up the quality time with family members. In step families, blending or bonding issues is job one. Being on vacation with yours, mine, and possibly ours, makes it even tougher. You can use this time away from home to spend time with various members of the family in various combinations. For example, biological parent can go fishing with biological children and go for hike with nonbiological children or both. You can mix things up by gender or age as well. Perhaps the boys (dad or step dad included) decide they want to go shopping and the girls (mom or step mom included) decide to go ride horses. This breaks down relational and gender stereotypes. Or maybe the older children, biological or not, go on the scary roller coaster rides with one parent, biological or not, while the younger children watch the animal show with the other parent, biological or not. Don’t forget to do things as a family together. That is part of the bonding process too. But it is not the only way to bond. Mix things up to settle the family down. See communication tips for families at

Tip #6: Show me the money!

The one guarantee to have a bad vacation is to spend money you don’t have or try to take an expensive vacation and create long-term problems. Most nontraditional families have suffered financially as well as emotionally. Money can be one more reminder of our losses. Be realistic about what you can afford. Talk to the children openly about the vacation budget. There are many ways to have a vacation without spending lots of money and still have a great time. In fact, it might be better as the focus is off of doing things and more on being together. Stay over night with relatives that might live in different spots of the country or world. Even those “distant relatives” may be open to visitors. Always be respectful of the relatives home. A card, plant, or small gift left behind after your stay is a nice way to say thanks and costs very little. One family stayed with a relative, helped them paint their fence the next morning, and then traveled on to the next destination. The kids remembered the fence painting as the biggest highlight of the trip. Go figure!

Be creative. Go camping instead of staying at a fancy motel. Buy groceries items to eat for breakfast and lunch and save your money for dinners out. Give the children a specific amount of money at the beginning of the trip and inform them that this is their allotted spending money and there will be no more. Let them spend it on anything they want but don’t give them more when it is gone. Of course, buy their meals. Their money should be budgeting on candy, toys, or novelty items they will want on the vacation.

Tip #7: Model social skills … sometimes!

It is a proven fact that children do what we do and not just what we say. If you throw a tantrum about a flat tire on the highway, you have just taught your child to throw a tantrum when he is frustrated. Model the kind of behavior you desire from your children. Use that bad vacation to teach how to deal with adversity and setbacks. Failures teach much more than successes, and stay with us longer too.

Sometimes you need to let the littles things in life go. You don’t have to be on duty as the politeness police all the time. Let your children get away with a few things that you wouldn’t normally allow at home. My two girls love to go to camp by themselves every summer because there are no parents around to hound them. Turn the other check and listen with your deaf hear or just close your eyes. You and the children may enjoy the time more. Of course, fire-setting and car jacking is out! For more social skills, see

Tip #8: Nontraditional families may need nontraditional vacations.

If you are a nontraditional family, it goes without saying that you don’t have to follow the traditional family vacation schedules. Try looking at your vacation from a 180-degree angle. Turn it upside down or backwards. Do anything other than what you have always done, if what you have done has been extremely unpleasant. What am I talking about? Just this, break out of old, dysfunctional patterns of doing things and find new ways to enjoy your vacation.

For example, why take the whole family at one time? Can’t you take the girls on one vacation and the boys on a different one? Can’t the younger one’s do one thing and the older children another? Does the vacation have to be one, two, or three weeks in succession? Try breaking it up into smaller, more manageable (or tolerable) chunks of time. Do you have to go with the children at all? Do you have to leave the house or can you just stay home for a week? What works for one family will not always work for another. The important point is that nontraditional families find nontraditional vacations that work. Forget trying to live up to societies’ expectations about what is O.K. It is time to rewrite the family vacation script.

Having said all this… maybe I will go on vacation this year. With the kids. 

To love and be loved is the most basic of all human needs. People will go to extremes to get this need met. It forms the basis of the world’s religions. Society has capitalized on it commercially through the marketing of Hallmark cards, chocolate candy and diamond rings. Whatever its form or expression, getting the love you need and sharing it with others is a life-long process.

 One of the best books on the subject, for me, was the book “The Five Love Languages”by Dr. Gary Chapman. In a very practical manner he listed the five love languages as:

1. Words of Affirmation

2. Receiving Gifts

3. Quality Time

4. Acts of Service

5. Physical Touch

 According to the author, every one seeks to get their love needs met through these five areas. Some of us have more dominant love needs through positive words of affirmation while others feel more love through the application of touch. Regardless of the specific dialects you might speak, all of us have one or more of these basic elements in our emotional vocabulary.  

 One of the easiest ways to determine someone’s love language is to observe how they express love. We tend to speak love to others in the way we want to be spoken to. This can result in frustration for people in close relationships who persist in expressing love in ways that met their own needs but don’t take into account the language of the other person. For example, my wife might like acts of service to fulfill her needs for love while I like to receive gifts. Bringing her candy and flowers for Valentines Day might be appreciated but it will not have the same impact as cooking her dinner and drawing a bath.

Take a moment to remember the last time someone did something for you that made you feel loved. How did that action fit into the five love languages? Was it a hug? An evening out? A gift? An act of service? A kind word?

Take another moment to analyze the love needs of those closest to you? How do they fit into these five love languages? It might be more than one. Have you spoken this language in a way that meets others needs?

What is Micro-Education? (by Ron Huxley)

There might be days where you wish you didn’t have to get up in the morning to face your family and the day. Those are difficult moments in life, truly dark days of parenting. Use those transitional moments from sleep to wake to be thankful for your family members. It may take some effort but practice gratitude to help you form new attitudes that lead to higher emotional altitudes.

Consider that to have the family of your dreams you need a family. Change doesn’t happen in isolation. It occurs through the rub of relationships and the repairing of ruptures in our daily interactions. You want to partner with your partner and children today. You need them and they need you even if they do not recognize this reality. A family is a system and like a pebble tossed into a pond, ripples move outward stirring the entire pond. Toss that pebble of thankfulness today and watch how the ripples from it start to create change.

One of the biggest hurdles that nontraditional parents must jump over in society is the feeling of being “less than” traditional, two-parent families. Nontraditional families suffer under the weight of guilt and grief as a result of their particular family structure. They often feel isolated and alone, as if no one else could possibly understand the struggles they are going through. The reality is that most nontraditional parents feel that they do not met with societies standard of acceptable parenting and labor under the same feelings of guilt and grief. One way to help nontraditional parents adjust to their family structure is to look at their situation as the “same but different” and “different but the same” as other family types.

Same But Different

Nontraditional families do not have a clear job description or they try to use an inadequate model of the two-parent, traditional family when operating their blended or broken family. This model only frustrates them further. A new, more relevant plan is needed for nontraditional families. The motto: “same but different” can be used when creating this new job description.

Nontraditional parents may have the same values as traditional parents but the way in which they exercise them may be different. The need to have a strong executive or marital subsystem is the same but the makeup of that subsystem may be different. It may be made up of remarried individuals, grandparents instead of actual parents, nonbiological rather than biological parents, or a single parent instead of two parents. Birth order is the same in the nontraditional family as in a traditional one but is different or more complicated where a first-born child in a remarried family changes roles due to the inclusion of new siblings after the remarriage and becomes the middle or last-born child. This can lead to a difficult adjustment and the need to continue respecting the child’s old position along with their new position. Boundaries are the same as in the traditional family but where and when these are set will be different due to the different structure of the nontraditional family. The perfect parenting standard will be the same in the nontraditional parent but differs as nontraditional parents fall farther from the parenting ideal. And power plays will be the same in the nontraditional family as in the traditional family but detriangulation or diffusion take place differently from traditional families. Focusing on nontraditional parenting as the “same but different” helps normalize parenting for nontraditional parents while acknowledging their uniqueness.

Different But the Same

Likewise, focusing on being “different but the same” is also important for the nontraditional parent, to a point. They need to accept, if they are to move through the states and stages of grief, that they are very different in structure and composition from traditional families. Therefore, their experiences and feelings will be something traditional parents may not share. To believe that nontraditional parents are carbon copies of traditional parents and to attempt to live according to principles establish on their terms, will result in further failure in balancing love and limits.

Another way for nontraditional family to balance love and limits is to focus not of differences or sameness but on solutions. Finding what works, regardless of the traditional or nontraditional family parents find themselves in, will assist parents in achieving a greater balance of love and limits.

Love and limits represent two sides of the parenting coin. To have a balanced home, nontraditional families need to have both a “relational discipline” based on affection and communication and an “action discipline” style based on firm limits and structure. How a nontraditional family organizes these two principles of parenting will be similar and yet different from traditional, two-parent homes. By keeping in mind the concepts of “same but different” and “different but the same” nontraditional parents can better manage this balance of love and limits in their own unique fashion.

What are your thoughts on non traditional vs. traditional families? Share here or at 

Try our Micro-Education for more parenting answers!