Need some parenting inspiration during the mad rush of the holiday season? Take time to appreciate that your creative, cute but sometimes difficult offspring are being groomed to lead the next generation. Hard to believe sometimes… but take a hard look at our parenting styles today versus the parenting styles of the past. Things sure have changed!

The Hard Labor of Growing Leaders
By Amy Fortney Parks, PhD, LPC, featured in Fairfax Woman Magazine

These days, it’s rare for anyone in our family to break a sweat.  Sure, we work out (much less often than we should) in an air-conditioned gym or attend a yoga class and occasionally feel a bit “flushed”.  The kids play sports and they get a little more dirty and smelly.  But, for the most part, we don’t exert ourselves with the backbreaking labor of our forefathers who had to work the land to eat – not pop into Whole Foods for dinner from the meat counter!

The hard labor of working the land has slowly disappeared, and along with it, the hard labor of modeling and teaching leadership.  We are losing many of the fundamental lessons in our families that are critical for the development of leadership in our children.  And it’s past time to break a sweat, folks!

1. We don’t let our children take risks

Our world is quick to flash the “Danger” sign at every turn!  Of course, it is our job after all, to make sure our children are safe, but we are bubble wrapping them so tightly that we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking.  Yes, the risks are greater these days then when we were kids.  But research in early childhood education shows that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience falling down (and getting back up), they are more likely to have anxiety as adults.  If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will be encouraging high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. We rescue too quickly

Our children are not developing the life skills they need to fix their own problems because often we swoop in and take care of problems for them.  Isn’t it always easier to just do it ourselves?  When we rescue too quickly, we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail, an adult will smooth things over for me.” In reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. We praise smart over effort

The self-esteem movement has been around for decades, but it began in our school systems in the 1980s.  The “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but current research shows that this method has unintended consequences. There is no such thing as “special” when everyone gets the title! When we praise kids for just showing up, rather than the effort to be successful, they eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to reinforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions.

4. We don’t admit our own mistakes

If you know a teen, you have surely observed that they have a healthy desire to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own.  And it’s ok to share our own “flights” of independence, and the related outcomes, whether they were good or not-so-good. Kids have to prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

5. We don’t practice what we preach

As parents, it is our responsibility to live the life we want our children to lead.  It is our job to pay more attention to the quality of our kid’s character than the day-to-day annoying behaviors we spend so much energy managing.  As the leaders in our homes, we can start by being honest – about our own character.  Our kids notice everything we do.  Show your kids what it means to give selflessly to the community, to make strong and safe decisions, and to communicate with integrity and understanding.

Growing leaders might mean doing some hard work on our own leadership traits.  And there may be times when you aren’t quite sure what decisions will lead to the best outcomes!  Great leaders know when they need to outsource!  So if you are struggling, get some help!  Any kid can be a follower, but it takes a wise parent to raise a leader

Until next week, Be Wise!


As we move through the holiday season, we want to take a few minutes to remind you about the value of making memories. With this in mind, our team wanted to share some fond family dinnertime memories.

Amy Fortney Parks, PhD – Practice Owner: Most of my childhood memories focus around dinnertimes – maybe because I have always loved food – maybe because it was my big chance to talk and to be heard – or maybe it was the most likely time of day when my whole family would be together. The big memories I have are not from elaborate feasts or epic culinary adventures, but of simple dinners at the kitchen “bar” before my parents went out on a date. We would always get breakfast for dinner on these occasions and my Dad truly makes THE BEST pancakes! We would all sit side-by-side on our stools at the “bar” while my parents cooked and finished putting on ties and jewelry. I don’t remember the babysitter, or the activities of the evening – no one took pictures or brought home any souvenirs – the memory is from the glow of being in the same room together and KING syrup (you should try it!).

Amanda Beyland, LCSW – Therapist for The Wise Family: Growing up, we lived about an 8-hour drive from both sides of our extended family. Since we weren’t always able to be with our relatives for the holidays we have often shared those events with friends and neighbors. Sometimes, your family is the one you make! Over the past decade our Christmas Eve tradition of homemade ravioli has evolved from a small dinner for four to a four-course meal for twenty-five. Ravioli Dinner is my favorite holiday! The most important part of the whole night is making sure that everyone can fit at one big table because that’s the fun of it; everyone being together! The night is full of delicious food, wonderful people, and a lot of loud laughter.

Dominique AdkinsEdD – Therapist for The Wise Family: Growing up in a family run business gave me opportunity to be a part of a blended family that exposed me to a wide range of cultures and experiences. As a child, I remember learning about the Feast of the Seven Fishes through the delicious Italian Christmas Eve dinners at Miss Carol’s house. The night was filled with joy, laughter, and love. I cherished this yearly tradition for our families to join together to celebrate and spread holiday cheer!

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, how can you make meals simple? How can you make the small times together into the biggest memories? Keep that in mind and feel free to share any special family dinner traditions you might have with our Facebook Group HERE.

Be Wise!


It is the third week in our “Come to the Table” dinner challenge – and it is a “gimme” – because it is also Thanksgiving week! If you want to see what we’ve been up to this month, join our Facebook group here.

We have been talking about EATING and PLAYING, and this week our focus is on TALKING.  Families often have a tough time talking together, and it is no secret that dinner is a perfect time for families to connect.

So how about using this Thanksgiving dinner as a chance to have a great conversation together!

What are some things that your family members are thankful for? What are your family members’ hopes for the future? What is something that they want to set as an intention for themselves in 2018? If they could only eat one type of pie for the rest of their lives, which one would they pick? I would pick banana cream pie, personally.

To help get the ball rolling, and to keep the mood from turning to politics and religion (two of the top topics to argue about), we’ve shared a great printable of conversation starters for the dinner table. Print it and put it on the fridge to use both on Turkey Day, and throughout the year!


To you and yours, a very Happy Thanksgiving. Be Wise.

Meals together, in fact, everything together should have an element of fun. So let’s figure out a way to make your meal together this week a fun experience for everyone!



Last week, we said “EAT”. This week, we say, “PLAY”. In fact, we might rename our challenge – EAT, PLAY, TALK! What do you think? Your parents may have told you never to play with your food – and we’re not talking about recreating a scene from Animal House! We’re talking about incorporating some simple games into the meal time experience – here are a few ideas (and special thanks to our friends at Harvard University for the suggestions) –

Roses & Thorns (all ages) 
Ask your kids to tell you about the rose (the best or most special part of their day), and the thorn (the most difficult part of their day). This helps avoid the “good” response to the question of “How was your day”.

Alphabet Game (ages 3-8) 
As a group, choose a category, such as animals, countries, singers, or “people our family knows.” One family member starts the game by naming a person/thing from that category that starts with the letter “A.” Then the next person names a person/thing that starts with the letter “B,” the next person finds something for the letter “C,” and so on.

List Game (ages 3-8) 
Think of 4 things that “belong” to something. For example, a banana, a pair of shoes, a Harry Potter book, and a jacket. Then have your family guess what these things belong to (answer: things in the back seat of my car). With little kids, you can just ask them outright for a list of things in a category (example: name three things you might find in the refrigerator).

Would You Rather (all ages)
Take turns asking “Would you rather….?” questions. You can either purchase a book of these questions, or make them up as a family. These are great ways to get to know how folks in your family think! And it can also be a pretty fun to see how people try to get out of either!

A few ideas to start: 

  • Would you rather be invisible or able to fly?
  • Would you rather sweat melted cheese or always smell like a skunk?
  • Would you rather be able to swim like a dolphin or run as fast as a cheetah?

Create a Story (all ages) 
One person starts a story with one sentence. They can use a traditional story format (“Once upon a time, there was a huge bear…”) or something completely original (“A woman carrying a large cake was walking down the street…”). Go around the table, and have each person add a sentence to the story.

Where in the World? (all ages) 
Imagine everyone at the table has the gift of teleportation, but it only lasts for 24 hours. Where in the world would you go? Would you bring anyone with you? How long would you stay? What would you do there?

Ask Your Kids (all ages) 
Your children are also likely to know a few games, either from school or playing with friends. Ask them if they have a game they’d like to try at the dinner table!

Would you hop on the FB group or comment below and let us know what you did with your family! Extra credit for posting a picture or video of your family playing!

Remember – This week is about PLAY!  

Play and Be Wise! 


The goal of The Wise Family “Come to the Table” dinner challenge this week is simple…EAT. The hard part is adding TOGETHER to the plans! Having a meal as a family has become more challenging than ever before for families.

Never fear, however! The Wise Family has some things figured out – and we’re here to get you all to the table – EATING TOGETHER! We want to encourage your family to plan ONE family dinner together each week for the next 3 weeks – and you already have a freebee in there if you celebrate Thanksgiving.

Dinner looks different for every family. Maybe you have never really eaten together, or most dinners are spent in the car running from soccer practice to piano lessons. Or maybe you have dinner together every night and your conversations have gotten routine, like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Whaw, Whaw, Whaw, Whaw”.

This might be the start of something new for you, so no matter what, we all begin at the beginning – one dinner and one conversation. You are all planning to eat anyway, right? Imagine the magic that could happen…

STEP 1: Take a look at your schedule this week. If it is mid-week or the weekend, take a look at the next 7 days and find one night that you know that everyone can be together for dinner and stay at the table for at least 30 minutes without having to run off to finish the science fair project. Mark that date on the calendar!

STEP 2: Pick something easy to prepare that everyone will eat. It might be a picnic dinner with take out Chinese or a candlelight supper of spaghetti and meatballs. It doesn’t matter. Just make it simple.

STEP 3: Plan some conversation starters (we’ll also share some later in the month). Open-ended questions (questions that require more than a “yes” “no” or “I don’t know”) are a good place to begin. “Tell me about something you learned today that we might not know.” “What would you do if you won a million dollars?” You get the idea.

STEP 4: Call everyone to the table! And give it a go!

Share your experiences with us below, and in our Come to the Table Challenge Facebook Group HERE.

You can even post a picture of your family eating together in the group!

We’ll be back next week with ideas for food and fun at the table! Meanwhile, Be Wise!


In recognition of the need for more WISE ways to talk to kids about tough topics, The Wise Family is starting a new occasional series called, “Tough Talks Toolbox”. 

To kick it off we wanted to share this article about talking with kids and teens about depression. It’s time to break the stigma behind mental health… and have more conversations about it (and lots of other topics, too) at home with our kids. 


Here’s How To Effectively Talk To Your Kids About Depression


Nearly 20 years later, I still remember the struggle of growing up with a parent who had depression.

As a child, I didn’t understand what my mother was going through. I remember her seeking treatment and asking my dad where she was. At the time, he told me she was dealing with “women problems,” and I took that to mean any number of things.

When I asked my dad about it recently, he admitted that he had no idea what to say and was afraid I wouldn’t understand or might have more questions he couldn’t answer. He thought that giving a generic answer would end the discussion ― and it did ― but it also ended any further exploration of the topic with my parents.

Currently, more than 20 percent of children are living with at least one parent who has depression, according to Erica Messer, a pediatric psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

And with 1 in 5 American adults suffering from any kind of mental illness, it’s likely that many more children live in homes where it’s important to have a conversation about mental health.

How To Have A Productive Discussion About Mental Health

A lack of proper information and severe stigma around mental illness have historically made it difficult for families to have productive conversations about it.

But experts are now encouraging parents to push past the barriers and discuss depression and other mental health issues with their children. Depression can affect the entire family, including children, and conversing frequently about the changes and how everyone is feeling is an important part of recovery.

Here are some ways to plan and carry out the discussion:

Don’t wait until a child is older to bring up the topic.

Even if you have very young children who are still developing language skills, it’s important to prepare to have conversations with them about mental illness.

“Depression has an effect on children even as young as infants,” Messer said. “Parents who are depressed aren’t engaging with their children often or are unable to soothe their children. When they’re depressed, it’s harder to get out of bed or speak ‘motherese’ to the child.”

If you’re co-parenting, talk to your partner about what you want to say.

It’s best to present a united front, according to Abigail Schlesinger, medical director of the Outpatient Behavioral Health and Child and Family Counseling Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. It’s critical for both parents to be on the same page in terms of what they plan to speak about.

Realize that your child may already know something is wrong.

Children are extremely perceptive, Schlesinger points out, and will begin to notice if a parent is feeling irritable or unable to play with them. Parents should try to spend as much time with their children as they can and ask the other parent to help or provide additional support when needed.

Reassure your child that mental health issues are no one’s fault.

“In elementary school, it’s likely your child will start asking questions about what’s wrong,” Schlesinger said. “Make sure to connect the word ‘depression’ to your conversations.”

“They may not understand entirely what you’re talking about, but it’s important to take the blame from the person and place it on the condition, she added. “Make sure the child knows it’s not Mommy or Daddy’s fault that they’re feeling this way.”

It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers.

If you’re unsure how to respond to a question, it’s OK to tell your child that you don’t know the answer but will get back to them, Schlesinger said. Children often ask questions because they want to make sure everyone is doing their best and that the family is OK.

Above all, take steps to eliminate stigma around mental health.

Messer reminds parents that conversations should reflect that mental illness is an illness just like any other. Talk with younger children about how it can affect the brain. Parents should help remove the stigma and taboos surrounding mental illness by being open, she explained.

Attempting to have conversations with children when they’re younger will help keep the mental health discussion going as the child grows older ― and that can have a positive outcome for years to come.

By Lauren Rearick, HuffPost Contributor (The original post can be found HERE.) 



As always, Be Wise!

The 2017 Virginia Girls’ Summit, powered by She Rocks the World, was a great success this past Saturday, October 7th!

Dr. Amy Fortney Parks, The Wise Family practice owner, had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of parents, hundreds of girls, shaking hands with influencers like Kate Fagan, author of What Made Maddie Run and columnist/feature writer for espnW and, AND Debbie Phelps, educator, author and mother to two amazing daughters and one golden son!








This was such an amazing event filled with so many inspiring, empowered women and girls.

This event provides an amazing opportunity to share insights, ideas and energy with like minded women to rock the world. Dr. Amy Fortney Parks was honored to be part of such a special event.

Check out some of the event photos of Dr. Amy in action on our blog at this special women empowered event!

Join us next year at the next She Rocks the World Virginia Girls’ Summit! Visit the website HERE for info on future events.

As always, Be Wise!

With all of the upsetting and difficult events in our world, having real conversations as a family are more important than ever!  We wanted to share this article – and its super helpful INSIGHTS and STRATEGIES -from the Children’s Health Team at the Cleveland Clinic for you to think about. 

Tell us in the comments on our blog, via email or on social media how your conversations went and what other conversations you might be struggling with around your house! 

Responding to violence, shootings and natural disasters

Violence, including shootings, terrorism or natural disasters, can overwhelm any of us — and can be especially troubling for kids. Children struggle, as we do, to make sense of it all.

Talking to your kids about tragedies can be difficult, but it’s important. Children have limited life experience, and talking to them can help them feel more secure and understand more about the world, too.

Answering your children’s questions

Pediatric psychologist Katherine Lamparyk, Psy.D., says it’s important to talk with your children about tragedies, but don’t force them to talk about it until they’re ready.

When they are ready to talk, here are tips to guide you:

  1. Use words and concepts that are easily understandable. Talk in a way that’s appropriate to their age and level of understanding and don’t overload the child with too much information.
  2. Be honest with your answers and information. “Children can usually sense if you’re not being honest,” says Dr. Lamparyk. “It’s not comforting if they think you’re not being straight with them.”
  3. Be ready to repeat yourself or have more than one conversation. “Some information can be very confusing and hard to accept,” says Dr. Lamparyk. “Your child asking the same question over and over may be a way of looking for reassurance or just trying to process the information.” Do be consistent and reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises that nothing bad could ever happen.
  4. Acknowledge and support your child’s concerns. Let your child know that his feelings, reactions and questions relating to a tragedy are important — don’t dismiss them as “childish.”
  5. Don’t stereotype groups of people by race, nationality or religion. This is a good opportunity to teach tolerance and explain that while all these acts are terrible and scary, all types of people commit them. Be prepared to answer questions about rumors and generalizations and make use of the words “sometimes” and “some people.”
  6. Be a role model. “Kids learn from watching the grown-ups in their lives and want to know how you respond to events,” Dr. Lamparyk says. “They are often listening to and observing you talk to other adults, even when it doesn’t seem like they are paying attention.”
  7. Don’t let small children keep watching violent images. “Turn off the TV while there’s still heavy media coverage of an event,” says Dr. Lamparyk. “Repetitive, upsetting images can be disturbing, especially to young children.”
  8. Coordinate between home and school. Parents should know about how tragic events are discussed at school and teachers should know about the child’s specific fears or concerns.
  9. Give extra support to kids who’ve had their own trauma or losses. “These kids may have more intense reactions to tragedies or terrorist acts,” Dr. Lamparyk says. “Give them extra attention and consider how the present event may trigger past memories.”

It’s understandable that young children will react to traumatic events like 9/11, the Syria chemical attacks, or the most recent shootings in Las Vegas with confusion and anxiety. Parents, teachers and other adults can help by listening and responding honestly and consistently.


As the great and kind Mr. Fred Rogers used to say, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

Keep that mantra in mind as we see tragedy unfold in the news. 

Until next week, Be Wise!

Our family ate dinner at a local restaurant last weekend. While there, I counted all of the individuals on cell phones during their time in the restaurant. Almost every child in the restaurant, most teens, and a good 1/3 of parents were engaged on devices, instead of engaged with each other.

A study recently released in Pediatrics journal found that more than 70% of families struggle with this bad dinnertime habit.

The bad habit: swiping, typing and talking on cell phones. Of 55 caregivers studied, researchers recorded 40 of them using a mobile device during their meal.

But, is sending an occasional text or answering a call during dinner really that bad?

As a mother and a family therapist, I have found that the most important ingredient for meaningful family dinners is paying attention. It’s what our children and spouses or partners most want from us. But that attention doesn’t come automatically – it’s a struggle for all of us in our fast-paced, distracted world.

Research supports that, despite the distractions, most Americans rate family meals as more important to children’s emotional development than a long list of other healthy activities, from sports to religious attendance. In fact, 95% of Americans in our research believe that meal times are a unique opportunity to connect as a family.

And of course they are right. So why are we letting our devices get in the way of this critical psycho-social bonding opportunity? The presence of any of the following distractions offset any benefits from family meals: watching TV, telephone or cell phone conversations, doing homework, playing electronic games and listening to personal music devices.

These are harmless activities at the right time, but the right times do not include family meals.

Paying attention during a meal turns a feeding event into a family ritual. I have learned to generally not ask kids and teens “What did you do in school today?” because it generally leads to a stock answer like “Nothing.” Instead, I ask about what a friend was up to these days, or whether that boring teacher had gotten any more interesting recently. And I save up stories from my day that I thought my kids might be interested in, especially ones that involved a mistake or screw-up on my part.

Another important player that defines a quality dinner for children is the mood. One nearly miraculous thing we did when our children were young was to lower the dining room lights with a dimmer switch, and then light a candle. Young children practically go into a trance in front of a candle, and their reward for a cooperative dinner (no fighting and minimal whining) was–to blow out the candle!

There’s much we can do as parents to make our family dinners more memorable – for our children AND for ourselves. Which brings us back to the original note about devices – Not every text harms your child, but the accumulation of distractions over many meals may send a message that your priorities are elsewhere.

Mealtime is an opportunity to give children what they most want: Your attention. 

Until next week, Be Wise!