WISE TALK with Dr. Amy

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

A lot of people ask me how to motivate your kids. I think that motivation is really about two things. It’s about confidence and it’s about competence. So if you have a kid or a teen who is feeling incompetent in class, ask them the following questions to dig a little deeper:

  • Why do you feel like you are struggling in school?
  • If you feel you don’t understand the material, how can you get more information on the subject matter and/or instructions?

If they are feeling like they’re struggling or they don’t understand something, then one of the ways to help motivate them is to clarify their competence – figure out what’s going wrong and help them figure out a way to reach a solution. (Guide them on this part – don’t just do it for them!)

Then the other part of it is confidence – When you see a kid that’s unmotivated, quite often it’s one of two things: lack of confidence or competence. The confidence piece is when you see a teen or a kid that maybe doesn’t feel really good about themselves or is questioning their own values or their own self-worth or where their role is in the family. Depending on what it is, sometimes you have to clarify those things for kids so that they can feel more confident.

If you think your teen’s lack of confidence is turning into anxiety, take a look at this blog post on how to reduce chronic anxiety.

We have some exciting groups coming up in the next few months – About building confidence and learning more about mindfulness and movement. Be on the lookout for more info. in the coming months!

Be Wise!

Welcome to 2018!

We are rededicating ourselves at The Wise Family sharing insights, strategies and expectations about some tough topics that we, as both parents and clinicians, find ourselves talking about an awful lot with kids. This week’s article, written by our friends at Common Sense Media, is a guide to setting up some parental controls on that new iPhone or smart device that your kids got for holiday gifts. (Read the full article HERE.)

When I talk to parents about electronics individually and in workshops around the country, the #1 thing I hear parents say is, “I can’t figure that out.” Basically, that is a cop-out – a parenting cop-out. Electronics are here to stay – and they have some great value. And access to electronics can also be incredibly addictive, and dangerous (we’re going to be talking about that too this year.) As a parent, it is your responsibility to be fully aware of what your kids and teens are doing on electronics. And if you aren’t go to your kid’s school – or the “Make Me a Genius” bar at the Apple store, and find out.

We pay closer attention to the Halloween candy kids get trick-or-treating better than we do to what kid’s are doing with their electronics.

Here are some tips to get started on understanding more about electronics, and there is plenty more on the big world of the Internet where that came from. If you don’t know something, do what the kids do – Google it! Or call us at The Wise Family – we are happy to help!

Be Wise!

Amy Fortney Parks, PhD – Practice Owner: Welcome to the close of another year, and the opening of a brand new year. We are so privileged at The Wise Family to have such amazing clinicians who draw both from personal experience, and scientific research to support their insights into setting intentions for the new year! Enjoy their thoughts below, and don’t forget that the holiday season is also an opportunity for magic to happen – invite magic to happen in your life, and in your family this season!


Amanda Beyland, LCSW – Therapist for The Wise Family: As another year comes to an end, it is the time that everyone begins to reflect on their year: the good, the bad, and even the ugly. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all of the things that need improvement, so make sure to also highlight the positives changes that took place throughout the year. When we think about the progress we have made, we are acknowledging the areas we had success in!

When it comes to making resolutions as a family, everyone needs to have a say. Families can get together to talk about, and reflect on the past year in order to start making their resolutions. Each family member can share something they are proud of and something they may want to improve upon. Some of the younger members in the family might have a hard time with this so it’s okay to help them! Think about the things that your children can do now that maybe they couldn’t have done earlier in the year; reading a chapter book, riding a bike with no training wheels, or learning a new sport or instrument. We’re not looking to point out flaws, just places where there is room for improvement. Make sure the goals for the upcoming year are doable, and remember, change doesn’t happen over night!

Dominique AdkinsEdD – Therapist for The Wise Family: With the New Year fast approaching, we have the opportunity to look back at the past year and look toward the new one. This mindful reflection helps us to align with our purpose and integrate the successes and lessons of last year into our intentions for the new one. After reflecting on your intention, write down each intention in a prominent location so the intention will be set deep within your mind and heart. Then discuss your intentions with your family and cultivate a family intention. During your upcoming holiday celebrations set aside time to discuss your intentions for the New Year. Be sure to continue to communicate with your family as a way to support and hold each other accountable. Finally, take time to meditate and check in with these intentions throughout the year. Always remember to be encouraged and that any moment can be a fresh start to your life!

Kasey CainResident in Counseling – Therapist for The Wise Family:  New Year’s is the time when many people reflect on their past year and plan for their hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. This often comes in the form of a resolution. Whenever I have friends, family, or clients that reflect on past goals that were challenging for them, I talk about two different things:

  1. It takes 66 days (more than 2 months) for a new behavior to become automatic, and
  2. Think “W.O.O.P.”! I am referring to Dr. Gabriele Oettingen’s process that has been shown to reduce stress and support people in achieving their goals. W.O.O.P. stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. It is a quick, evidence-based practice that can help you and your family reach whatever goal you are trying to set.

To the first point – this number comes from a study done at Univeristy College London published in the European Journal or Social Psychology. I find it helpful, because so often, if families try to begin a new routine such as weekly dinner or daily story time, they quickly become frustrated if their goal has not been met by February. Knowing the 66 days allows families to set appropriate expectations.

Change takes time. Expecting perfection in whatever family goal you set is unrealistic. Welcome the belief that the journey is the destination. In working towards a family goal, you are learning together. Family traditions and practices are often passed down from one generation to the next. If you begin something and it sticks, most likely it will stay for years to come. Happy New Year!

Lynlee Tanner Stapleton, PhD – Evaluator for The Wise Family: The new year usually brings to mind renewed commitments and resolutions on how to improve on challenges and shortcomings. But don’t let your end-of-year review end so soon! As you take time to reflect on the past year, make space for gratitude and forgiveness. Numerous research studies show how cultivating gratitude can have a host of positive effects, from improving your mood and sleep, to reducing stress and physical complaints, to enhancing and expanding your relationships. Letting go of resentments and practicing kindness toward others (and yourself!) for past transgressions also brings a wave of physical, psychological and social benefits.

It may be tempting to focus your energy on all the things you want to “fix” or the big changes in store for the new year, especially in our “work hard, do more, reach higher” world. But turning your attention to the successes and blessings that surround you can be a powerful antidote to the stress that this mentality can create — and maybe even help reap many of the same desired benefits in a more satisfying and sustainable way! It’s also a great way to set a kind and compassionate example for your family during this season of giving.


Until Next Year, Be Wise!


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!