Connected Parenting

Connected Parenting: Thoughts From a Therapist Mom

The other day I stood in my driveway crying, with my 2.5 year old daughter screaming and sobbing. All I could gather was that she didn’t like my shirt (yes mine, not hers… what?) and no longer liked her car seat. We had just had a 30 minute meltdown inside the house too, and I was frustrated because I really needed to get to work. I was tired, with a mix of mom brain and new pregnancy hormones. I bribed her with a sucker and threatened to take away something that I don’t even remember. It didn’t work. I gave her hugs and gave her space and had no feedback of which was better. Finally it became clear: my options were to connect or disconnect. I thought about which one I would want when I feel emotional and sad. Connection. I repeated quietly to her, “I’m right here with you. I love you.” When she hit me, I stepped back a little and said, “I can’t let you hurt me. I’m still right here with you. I’m ready to help you whenever you’re ready.” After a little while I thought, “Crap, that didn’t work, now what?” And right then, she lifted her little arms up to me and said, “I need you mommy, I’m ready.” I hugged her and she hugged me and I cried some more. I felt a real connection in that moment, and I felt like I really showed her that I would be with her through everything, and I also wouldn’t let her hit me. I honestly felt like we’d just gotten through a hurricane and come out into the sunshine. She smiled and got in her car seat and we were on our way. On the car ride, we talked about feeling sad and that it’s okay to feel sad and mad, but it’s not okay to hurt people.

That sounds like a great ending, right? It was. But I wish that meant it always happens like that. I have no idea why sometimes that works, and sometimes the only thing that works is a sucker, or distraction, or someone else taking over.

I’m not a perfect mom, or even a really amazing mom, just a regular mom who is still new and learning every day. But I do have one added bonus that has given me a different perspective: I’ve been a mental health therapist for almost five times longer than I’ve been a mom. I don’t know if it’s been helpful, or just makes me more obsessively worried about my effect on my daughter, but it has taught me a lot. I would say there are four main things I’ve learned about parenting:

1. What we say and do matters more than we know right now.

Everything we say and do has an impact, especially to our children. Children’s brains operate as if they’re looking in to a mirror; whatever the world shows them about themselves is what they believe to be true. If babies are not fed when they’re hungry, they can actually make themselves believe they don’t need to eat, which is why they eventually stop crying. I know you already know to feed your baby when he or she is hungry, but the takeaway is that our actions actually have an effect on their brains long term.

As a therapist, I mainly work with depression and trauma. I do a particular type of therapy that focuses on identifying negative cognitions (thoughts and beliefs) and exploring/healing the root of those beliefs, whether they are from a big trauma or ”little” trauma. We work on cognitions such as, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not safe,” “I don’t deserve love,” etc. Clients often come to therapy identifying that these beliefs stemmed from a big event, usually in high school or college, like a break up, abusive relationship, loss of a job, assault, etc. But when we really process it, they are sometimes able to identify that the very first time they felt that way was an interaction with a parent. It could be a parent saying something like:

“You’re never going to make it in life.”

“I liked it better when you were little and didn’t talk.”

“I can’t believe you did that, I’m embarrassed that you’re my child.”

And even, “I love you, but I don’t like you right now” (I always recommend, “I don’t like your choice right now, but I always love you.”) If you’re a new mom gazing in to your sweet baby’s eyes, you’re thinking, “I would never say those things to my child!” Let me tell you, good parents sometimes say things they don’t mean when they’re pushed to their limits. But even if you don’t mean it, it hurts your child and sticks with them.

2. It’s never too late to make things better.

 That first one is kind of scary, right? So much pressure! But there’s good news! Teaching your children that you can make mistakes, take responsibility, apologize, and demonstrate change is extremely important! And what better way to do that than by example? Starting when they’re little, it’s important to go back and say something like, “I yelled when I felt mad, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled and I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Then show by example that you’re trying. Next time you feel like yelling, it’s okay to take a parent time out, and say to your child, “I feel frustrated by _____, I’m going to take a break, and then we’ll come back and talk about this.” Imagine how great it would be if, when they’re teens, they’re able to recognize they’re in the midst of making a bad choice, stop themselves, and reach out for help from you? The goal isn’t for people to never make bad choices, it’s to be able to recognize that and make a U-turn.

3. Connection is our greatest tool

 Imagine you’re having a really tough day. Maybe you made a mistake at work, someone was really mean to you, you didn’t get something you wanted, or you’re just dealing with something really awful. Maybe it’s huge or maybe you’re even over reacting; it doesn’t matter. You sit on the couch and cry. You can’t even help it, the tears just come out and you can hardly speak. Imagine your partner comes in, your main support person, and they tell you that you need to calm down or they’re going to leave you alone until you can calm down. They walk out of the room and leave you there alone, maybe even yell at you on the way out. Ouch!! I know for me personally, some of that sadness would turn to major hurt, resentment, and anger. “How can you leave me when I really need you? I can’t just calm down, I need a hug!” That’s how our developed adult brains react, so imagine how a toddler’s brain reacts? It’s scary for them to feel out of control and then all alone in that feeling. Even if it’s just because they didn’t get the blue cup, it’s real sadness and hurt in that moment for them. Of course, they don’t know that not having the blue cup is nothing compared to the real problems in the world, but at two years old, that is a real problem. This has been said by others, and I really believe it to be true; if we send toddlers to be by themselves and calm themselves down when they’re upset, how can we expect them to come to us as teens when they really need advice and support? It’s no wonder teenagers keep it to themselves and hide in their rooms. It’s what they’ve often been taught to do. So, what can you do to connect and teach your children they can talk to you? Well, that’s a magic answer that really needs a whole book, but #4 is a good start.

4. Being able to express feelings, instead of suppressing them, is a great lifelong skill.

 “You’re okay.”

“Don’t cry.”

“Calm down.”

They all seem well meaning, right? But are they helpful in the long run? My opinion is: No. Is it helpful for you when someone says it to you? It’s not helpful to me. Even at two years old, if my husband or I say to our daughter, “You’re okay”, she quickly says between tears, “No, I’m not!” And she’s right. If she were okay she wouldn’t be crying! If she could just calm down and stop crying, she probably would have done that, because she certainly isn’t enjoying feeling like that. Pointing out to children, “It looks like you’re mad because _____. That’s okay to feel mad. What can we do that will help?” teaches them to recognize emotions, label them, and create a plan. This is most helpful when they’re not in full on meltdown mode, because once they get to that point they can’t come up with a solution. In meltdown mode, establishing expectations and connections are key. “I can’t let you hit me, but I’m right here with you when you’re ready.” “I see you feel sad, that’s ok.” “It’s okay to be sad and mad; it’s not okay to be mean to other people when you’re sad or mad.” “Tell me where you want me to stay while I wait for you to be ready for help; I can sit next to you or right over here.” These all show that you’re there with your child through everything, you see how they’re feeling, you hear them, it’s okay to feel any of those feelings, and there are still expectations for not hurting others. When we inadvertently teach our children that “it’s ok” when they actually don’t feel ok, or that they just need to quickly calm down, we are teaching them not to recognize their own feelings and actually deal with them. When those kids become adults, they often freeze or flee in tough situations because they don’t know how to be in it, feel it, and move forward with a plan.

I know, this feels like a lot of pressure, and it’s so much easier said than done! Refer back to number two; it’s never too late to make things better. And remember, even people who are supposed to be experts in emotions and connections sometimes just bribe their kids with a sucker or an episode of Doc McStuffins to get through the day. Take a deep breath and hang in there; I’m right there with you.

About the Author

Alyson Pearson is a mom, half of a lovely marriage, and a clinical social worker/therapist. She has a two year old daughter and another girl on the way. Alyson believes in a positive parenting style, and has read the first 40 pages of several books on the topic, but believes that trusting her gut, defaulting to connection, and learning from every moment are the best teachers. Alyson also enjoys blogging about her journey of having a child with Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome, in order to help others who are on the same journey.



The Honest Toddler & Signed Book Giveaway!

One individual I was very excited to see at MommyCon Minneapolis was Bunmi Laditan aka The Honest Toddler. I had been following her on Facebook, Twitter and had subscribed to her hilarious blog. She was even more funny in person!

The Honest Toddler does NOT hold anything back. She lays it out just as it is. It is amazing how many things she describes and explains hit so close to home. It seriously is a relief knowing that you are not the only parent out there dealing with all the things, with a toddler. As she explains, toddlers are entirely another species!

The Honest Toddler just recently published a book called Toddlers are A**holes. “Toddler a**holery is a normal part of human development—not unlike puberty, except this stage involves throwing food on the floor and taking swings at people who pay your way in life.”


I just finished reading the book and loved it. I will give you a heads up … yes, you can relate to a LOT, but some of the things may be taken to an extreme. I have no doubt in my mind though, that there are parents out there that deal with these extremes! Honestly, any and every parent who has a toddler or has graduated out of the toddler stage (lucky you) can and will relate to this book!

I was able to get my hands on two signed books and am giving one away! All you need to do is …

  1. Comment below one crazy thing your toddler has done!
  2. Like” Midwest Mom & Wife on Facebook

I am really excited to hear all your crazy toddler stories 🙂 I will announce a winner Saturday, May 23rd! Let the craziness begin …


Disney Jr. Live! 2015

Monte experienced his first, live show on Sunday! When we heard Disney Jr. Live! was coming to town we KNEW we had to purchase tickets to take Monte. I was a little worried about how well he would do sitting there, but once the show began, I knew there was nothing to worry about.

This tour was the Disney Jr. Live! Pirate and Princess Adventure. Monte LOVES Jake and the Neverland Pirates. He loves anything pirates right now. We dressed him up like Jake and he looked adorable!

At the beginning of the show, while everyone is getting seated and adjusted, Doc McStuffins comes out with her toy “Monte” the Monster Truck (what a coincidence!) 🙂 All the children helped Doc make her truck feel better.

Of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse were there! They helped introduce the princesses and pirates!

The first half of the show was Sofia the First and all the princesses, including Cinderella!

The second half of the show was Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Peter Pan!

Monte enjoyed dancing, singing and getting involved in all the stories.

If you have not taken your children to a live show before, I think this one would be perfect.

WARNING: Be prepared to spend a ridiculous amount of extra money on light up toys, snow cones and food :/


Fun at Apex Athletics

The kids and I checked out a new, fun place last week … Apex Athletics.

Apex Athletics-2

Apex Athletics is located in Johnston and known for their all-star cheerleading and tumbling. They have been open since May of 2009 and since their opening, they have won several grand championship rewards, spirit rewards, community recognition, and more!

Not only do they offer cheerleading, tumbling,  and dance for ages pre-k and older, but they also offer awesome open play times, morning out programs, kids night out, and more!

We dropped in for a Des Moines Moms Blog play date event and had a blast! The gym was open for all the kids to run around and play. All of the tumbling equipment was available, a huge trampoline to jump on, a balance beam, a large area with lots of balls to play with, and more!

There were also several kids and moms their. It was a great opportunity for moms to meet other each other and the kids made friends quickly also.

Apex Athletics offers a lot and it’s all very affordable also.

Mom’s Morning Out: Monthly registration program. $80 a month or $25 for drop-in. Monday or Friday 9 am – 12 pm. Drop the kids off while you go run errands! The kids will enjoy crafts, gym time, snacks and more!

Daytime Playtime: Available every Thursday 10:30 am – 12:00 pm. The entire family cam come and enjoy the gym. Families come meet other families, while the children run around and play. There is no age limit and it’s only $5 per family!

Lunch Bunch: Available every Friday 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm after Mom’s Morning Out. $10 per child. This includes more play time, crafts, and children bring their own lunch to eat. Register the previous week to attend and you do not have to participate in Mom’s Morning Out to attend.

Pre-K Tumbling: These specific classes are available during the week days. The classes are available as 10-week sessions. They will learn basic tumbling techniques, coordination, and more. Check here for dates, times and prices.

Recreational Cheerleading: These specific classes are available during the week days for children ages 3-6 years old. The classes are available as 10-week sessions. Children will learn tumbling, jumping, stunting, dancing and more! Check here for dates, times and prices.

They also offer a lot of special events monthly and other fun activities. This is definitely a site to bookmark to keep track of what is going on!


Barnes & Noble Storytime

I just learned about Storytime at the local Barnes & Noble recently. Every so often Barnes & Noble will offer Storytime, usually a Friday evening , Saturday afternoon or various other days during the week. An employee reads a special book and sometimes, there is a craft to go along!

This past Friday was a very special holiday edition of Storytime and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was read! The kids dressed up in their holiday pajamas and sat around while the classic was read to them.

They even got their own little red nose, like Rudolph!

Afterwards they were able to decorate a special gingerbread man, drank milk and ate a cookie!

In the Barnes & Noble cafe, they were offering $1.00 hot cocoa during the Storytime period. With every item you purchased in the cafe (including hot cocoa) you received a very special Rudolph shortbread cookie!

Monte and Amelia had so much fun!

Barnes & Noble has two different locations in the Des Moines area. They offer Storytimes at various times through out the week. This is a great alternative then Storytime at the libraries. It’s a nice way to change it up! Check out the event calendars for each location below, to see when the next Story Time will be!

Have you ever attended Storytime at a Barnes & Noble location? What book did you hear?


I Love Busy Bags!

Have you heard of Busy Bags? They are amazing! I was introduced to this whole concept last summer. One of the many Facebook groups I belong to, created a small group of mothers and we all took part in the Busy Bag project.

Pretty much, if there are say eight mothers in your group, you choose one activity and make eight of the same activity. You then all come together, swap activities, and you end up with eight different activities for your Busy Bag! It’s very similar to a freezer meal swap, but you get fun toddler activities instead!

Not only will these activities keep your kiddos busy, but they are awesome to use for a learning tool too! A lot of these activities incorporate matching colors, practicing numbers, fine motor skills, matching, and more.

Here is a snap shot of just a few activities I received from the swap. Sorry this isn’t the best picture! 🙁

These are also awesome to place into activity stations during the day, to keep the kiddos busy!

I just participated in another one a couple of weeks ago, but instead of just swapping we made a night of it. We came together with all of our activities we chose and decorated a small bag to keep all of the activities in. Of course, there was food and wine! It was so nice to get out, without kids!

I love keeping all the activities in a bag. You can throw this in your car, if you are going out to eat, going to a friends house, or anywhere you may need to keep your kiddo busy. This is a much better solution then handing then a smart phone, tablet, etc.!

There are ideas for Busy Bags all over Pinterest. Literally, probably hundreds. Here are some links to ones I like and some that I have in my Busy Bag!

  1. The Princess and the Tot – Toddler Busy Bags – Family memory game, finger puppets, lacing cards, matching colors, and more!
  2. Busy Bags for Teaching Colors
  3. Clothes Pin Number Match 
  4. Pattern Matching
  5. Popsicle Stick Puzzles
  6. The Rigneys – Toddler Busy Bag Swap – Velcro Mr.Potato Head, Button Turkey, Brown Bear Head and Tail matching, upper and lower case matching, and more!

Have you participated in a Busy Bag Swap? What activity did you make?


Christmas Movies!


It’s that time of year again! Here is a list of MUST WATCH Christmas movies. Also, I have discovered the Hallmark channel which plays Christmas 24/7!!! It’s amazing! 🙂


ABC Family broadcasts most of these movies through out their 25 Days of Christmas. Luckily, we have a DVR so I have went through and recorded most of these so they are available to watch anytime! Make sure you do the same!

1. Elf


2. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer


3. Frosty the Snowman


4. The Santa Clause


5. Miracle on 34th Street – New


Miracle on 34th Street – Old


6. Fred Claus


7. Christmas Vacation


8. Scrooged


9. The Polar Express


10. A Christmas Story


11. AND one more, just because this is also my favorite!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


What are your favorite Christmas movies that are or are not on this list?


Activity Stations

I thought I would share a new thing I am doing with Monte. Since I have been home full time and watching other kiddos, I have been trying to find an easy way to have different activities out to play with daily. I usually keep puzzles, paints, playdough, busy bag items, etc. out of reach, for obvious reasons.

I decided each day, I will place 2-3 trays out with different activities in them. That way Monte and the other kiddos can choose what they would like to play with and everything is in one spot. It makes for easy clean up also!

This was last week. I had our “sewing” busy bag in one tray and matching cards in another tray. I also had Monte’s favorite hippo game out! It was nice because he would run around and play, then stop, sit and work on one of his trays. It’s hard for Monte to sit still for a length of time, if he is not in the mood. This way, when he is ready, he can play!

I picked up the two trays above at Target. They are actually just letter trays and were about $6 a piece.

I already had this red plastic one which is very sturdy. I use it for crafts such as paint, glitter, glue, etc. like when we decorated our witch’s hat!

The trays are also easy to carry things outside like when we did the Erupting Sidewalk Chalk.

What tricks do you do to make kids activities for you and the kids?


Ironwood Park

I have to tell you about a REALLY fun park located in the Des Moines area, Altoona to be exact!

Ironwood Park or also know as the Pirate Park!

Ironwood Park

If you have kiddos Monte’s age or older, you know how popular Jake and the Neverland Pirates is! Monte loves acting like a pirate and this is the perfect place for him to be even more like Jake!

You can even walk the plank!

This is a newer park located on the very southwest edge of Altoona. We actually accidentally found it last summer when we were looking to meet for a play group. We ended up staying here to play because it’s so much fun!

There are two playgrounds. The pirate ship shown above, and a much larger wooden playground off to the left side. The wooden playground also has slides, a bridge, and climbing walls.

This park is perfect for a half-day outing. Pack some snacks and even a sack lunch and spend the morning running and playing. There is even a HUGE green hill that kids love to run/roll up and down! This park can definitely entertain for hours.

I would recommend checking out this park now, while it’s cooler out, instead of in the middle of the summer. Since it’s a new area of town, they are still building in the surrounding area and there are not much trees for shade. It can get super hot, super quick!

Have you been to Ironwood Park before? What is your favorite park in the Des Moines area?