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!


Amy Fortney Parks, PhD – Practice Owner: How do we create positive expectations for kids, teens and parents? Having the expectation that your kid/teen CAN do something, even when it is hard, makes all the difference and how you interact with your child can either accentuate your expectations or create unrealistic expectations. Parenting isn’t always about how much you give your kids but about how much you don’t give. Food for thought… read on to see what our team of clinicians has to say about that!

Kasey CainResident in Counseling – Therapist for The Wise Family:  I have always been a collector of quotes. Some of them are poinent and insightful, while others are just silly. Then there are some that read as being a bit cheesy but, upon further reflection, really do hold a nugget of wisdom. One of my favorite quotes has been “Children don’t need your presents, they need your presence.” I can’t remember the first time I heard this or who is credited for saying it first but I know it has stuck with me. Children, really all people, have an innate need to feel significant. One of the main goals and expectations of parenting is to fulfill this need for our children. It is not to buy them things, or to let them have their way. Instead it is to say, “I see you and I am here for you in all times.” We want our children to develop resiliency and independence. We can support this by being a part of their lives and truly engaging with them. It may be hard to put down the phone and really focus on what they are saying. Still, it makes a huge difference.

Amanda Beyland, LCSW – Therapist for The Wise Family: Creating expectations for children is an essential role of parenting. Parents want only the best for their children and along with that often comes big hopes for kids to live up to. A healthy balance is important; setting high expectations can be great to strive for but may also be a heavy burden to carry. This is why it’s key that realistic expectations are set so children feel that they can be successful. Talk as a family about goals and expectations- you can’t manage expectations if none have been provided! Using positive language will help to build positive expectations- try to focus on effort and not just achievement.

Dominique AdkinsEdD – Therapist for The Wise Family: Teens and parents – Do not let the “back to school blues” set the tone for the school year.  It is essential to create positive expectations as teens embark on this new year.  Each new year comes as an opportunity for a fresh start or clean slate.  Remember, your successes and skills worked in the past so reapply them to what is to come. Remain mindful of your present moment and new opportunities to excel.  Use your Wise Mind to practice positivity and increase pleasant events. Parents and teens take time to mindfully experience one pleasant thing a day.  Positive experiences NOW provide a foundation for positive results!

As always, Be Wise!



Last week, we talked a bit about the “summer slide”. Not a summer Olympic sport – but it does sound fun! It isn’t so fun for kids, though, when they head back to school and feel instantly behind!

The “summer slide” is the loss of learning students experience during the long summer break. Often this loss of learning occurs because students don’t practice essential skills.

And this doesn’t just apply to young children! This is true for high schoolers too, so don’t leave them out of the activities!

With school only a few short weeks away, now is the time to schedule some brain workouts! You’ll have Olympians before you know it!

  1. Cook with your kids. Cooking is a unique activity in that it integrates reading, math, following directions, planning and practicality! If possible, challenge your student to plan a menu for guests, select the ingredients, prepare the meal and serve it to guests. Cooking for others builds lots of skills and gives your student confidence. Two good kid-centered cookbooks are Kids Around the World Cook! The Best Foods and Recipes from Many Lands by Arlette Braman and the Betty Crocker Kids Cookbook.
  2. You want apps with that. Teachers With Apps is another great resource to help you stop the summer slide. Many students have mobile phones and these learning-centered apps are inexpensive and lots of fun.  Two of our favorites include Math Doodles and Stack the States. Math Doodles uses interactive games to get students to practice concepts like number and operations, number sense, angles and rotation, time and clocks, money, problem solving, and mathematical reasoning. With Stack the States, students answer questions about each state correctly and “win” that state and stack their winnings. Stacking is a fun but really challenging feature that keeps the game very engaging. Both under $3. (
  3. Take a virtual field trip (or a real one). There are a number of great websites that will take your students on awesome field trips when you can’t take them in person. Take a complete tour of the Museum of Natural History in New York City or discover the mysteries of survival in the arctic tundra. There are many good sites for virtual field trips, but I like
 Or schedule a real field trip to some sights in your very own neighborhood! Visiting a local park, museum, historic site, or even the grocery store, can be turned into an awesome learning adventure!



Have some fun with your family, avoid the slide, and Be Wise!


Lots of people (mostly teachers) talk about something called the “summer slide”. But what is it? Most kids, if you ask, will tell you it is a fun, water-related ride down a slippery sheet of vinyl in the back yard!

The “summer slide”, though, is the loss of learning students experience during the long summer break.

Sometimes students simply forget what they’ve learned. Sometimes the loss of learning occurs because students don’t practice essential skills. Reading and math skills, in particular, require regular practice to stay sharp.

When kids aren’t reading or using math in July and August, lots of hard work that students, teachers and families put in during the school year is wasted.

It’s a bigger problem than you might think.

Summer slide has been studied in the United States since 1906. More than 100 years of research demonstrates that nearly all students suffer learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Most students will regress about two full months but some of these students will lose as much as three months of prior learning over summer break. (Cooper, 1996). In addition, much of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning activities. (Alexander et al, 2007).

Most alarming is that summer slide is cumulative. In other words, for kids getting little or no educational stimulation in the summer, the months of learning lost “add up” each summer, pushing students farther and farther behind peers that do keep learning even though school is not in session. (Cooper et al, 2000).

But summer slide can be stopped with a little planning and the use of some easy-to-access resources. And there are lots of ways to make summer learning fun.

See below for just a few  of the many strategies adults can use to help students avoid sliding back several months over the summer. We don’t want YOU to be overwhelmed, so open next week’s blog to see a few more!

3 Strategies to Stop the Summer Slide (and 3 more next week) –

  • Head to your local librarian. Nearly ever library has a summer reading program for every age child. Simply go to the information desk and tell the librarian you want to help your child avoid the “summer slide.” You’ll get lots of help and your child will get lots of choices including book recommendations, live readings, reading groups, audio books, games and prizes.


  • Read Something Every Day. This is probably the most commonly offered suggestion but is also the most important advice — try to plan for reading every day through one of the suggestions above or ideas you create and discover on you own. Getting your students to read — and to listen to others reading — prevents the loss of language skills so critical to success in every academic area. You might consider picking a chapter book or series to build some great family rituals too!


  • Use the Web. Math can be challenging to engage students in over the summer, but there are websites that are very helpful. For younger children, try Touch Math ( They have a number of PDF activity guides that are engaging and fun while giving kids the practice they need. For older students, has a great article with lots of ideas for helping tweens and teens stay current in math.  Check it out at If you don’t have a computer, you and your student can use one free at the library. Or head to the local bookstore (or sometimes even the Dollar Store) and pick up a few math workbooks! Just a little practice every day can go a very long way towards keeping those math wheels turning!

Set the intention of getting to the library this week, and logging into the world-wide-web to find some engaging math activities!

Take a look next week for a few more! Be Wise!



Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227-268.

Alexander, K.L., Entlisle, D.R. and Olson, L.S., (2007). Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. American Sociological Review, vol. 72 no. 2 167-180.

Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J. C., & Muhlenbruck, L. (2000). Making the most of summer school. A meta-analytic and narrative review. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 65 (1, Serial No. 260).