How To Talk To Kids About Tragic Events

With so many negative things happening in the world, many parents wonder how to handle talking to their children about tragic events, whether it occurs on the national scale or within the family. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
Be Age-Appropriate
A general guideline is to avoid introducing these topics to children under the age of eight. Any younger and a child will struggle to understand the event. Keep in mind your child’s developmental level too. Even if they may be older than eight years old, do they demonstrate the emotional maturity to handle news like this? If not, hold off on sharing this information if possible.
As they get older consider carefully how much information they need. It is usually best that you share information with them directly, as opposed to giving them something to read or watch. Images can be particularly upsetting for children and it is recommended in most cases that children not be exposed to images.
Validate Emotions
Sometimes our children wind up exposed to tragic events no matter how hard we try to protect them. They may have experienced a trauma first-hand or overheard something at school. If your child does bring up one of these topics, focus on validating any feelings your child may express and help them label their feelings. When kids are exposed to a tragic event, they can sometimes display unusual reactions due to discomfort (e.g., laughing, acting out). Remind them that there is no right or wrong way to respond to these types of things.
After validating how your child feels, emphasize to them that these events are very rare and not something they need to worry about on a daily basis. It can be helpful to tell you child that this is an “adult worry” and you are in charge of making sure this does not happen. In these moments, it can be tempting to go over safety procedures with your child (e.g., what do to when approached by a stranger). This is usually not the time for this information and you are better off presenting this information when not discussing an actual event that occurred.
Limit It
Keep an eye on the news. Many parents do not think twice about having the news on while they are preparing dinner or getting their children ready for school. However, the news is not usually appropriate for children. It is good for children to know about world and local events, but find a way to give them this information on your own terms. The news often creates the impression that tragic events are common and we want to remind kids that these events are exceptionally rare.
If your child is struggling to cope with a traumatic event or you are unsure about how to help them, please consider calling us at 612-470-4099 or emailing us at

“Am I fat?” How to Talk to Kids About Weight

In a society that is completely dominated by appearance, it can be tricky when kids start making judgements about their own bodies. With both obesity and eating disorders on the rise, parents are often caught in the middle between teaching their child behaviors for living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding being too critical about weight or appearance.
Listen to Yourself
Many parents avoid making direct comments of their child’s weight or appearance, but fail to consider how their comments about their own bodies may be rubbing off on their children. “I look fat,” “I hate my stomach,” “I can’t go out looking like this” are things many of us are guilty of uttering in front of our children and in doing this, we are actually modeling how our children will see and talk about their own bodies. Try focusing on healthy behaviors, rather than commenting on appearance. For example, saying something like, “I feel great for working out today” communicates the benefits of exercise, without drawing your child’s attention to weight or appearance.
Teach Children about Their Bodies
The majority of comments a child hears about their body are focused on what their body looks like. As a parent, you can shift the focus from how their body looks to what their body does. Helping a young child understand how fruits and vegetables give our brain and muscles important fuel or reminding your teenager how calcium builds strong bones are ways parents can teach healthy lifestyle skills without reinforcing negative messages about weight. If a child asks about their weight – which unfortunately, is happening with increasing frequency – respond by focusing on the function of the child’s body. “Can your body do everything you want it to?” is an easy response that takes the attention off of weight.
Eliminate Food Rules
Counting calories, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or always restricting certain foods can lead a child to have unhealthy food rules. The only rule a child should learn about food is the importance of moderation. There will come a day that your child is in charge of what goes in their body and we need to teach our children how to make this decision. Being too restrictive with what a child eats can backfire when the decision-making power switches from you to your child. Help your child practice making healthy choices while you still have control over what food comes in and out of your house. Much of this is also modeled by example. Demonstrating what moderation looks like can ensure your child grows up with a balanced perspective on how to structure their diet.
Never Punish Weight
Being overweight or obese in today’s society is shaming enough without your parents making critical comments about your body or telling you that you “can’t eat that.” If you don’t want one of your children eating something, don’t bring it into your house. Punishing a child because of their weight or incentivizing them for losing weight sends the message that self-worth is directly correlated to the number of the scale. Instead, encourage and participate in healthy activities with your child.
Talking about weight in the wrong way can have a negative impact on your child’s physical and mental health for years to come. Avoid controlling what a child puts in their mouth and focus on helping them learn how to make healthy choices.

Autism Intervention Options

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff PhD LP
Your child has just been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). What now? With so many intervention possibilities, here are some of the most common and research-supported options to consider.
ABA Therapy
For children that are non-verbal, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is usually the first place to start. Research shows that the sooner a child begins ABA, the better their prognosis and language skills will be in the future. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics demonstrated that early ABA intervention can result in improvements in IQ, language, and adaptive skills. ABA is one form of behavior modification. Depending on the needs of the child, ABA services may be used daily or several times a week.
Behavior Therapy
Using many of the same principles as ABA, behavior therapy focuses on increasing desired behaviors, such as prosocial behavior, and decreasing undesired behaviors, such as aggression. The goal of this type of intervention is to increase the child’s overall compliance with directions without resorting to conflict. Parent-Child Interaction Training (PCIT) is one type of behavior therapy and has strong research support. Behavior therapy uses concrete goals and measurable outcomes that will differ in terms of your child’s developmental level and severity of symptoms.
Social Skills Training
One of the hallmark symptoms of ASD is difficulty with social interactions. This may include trouble noticing and understanding nonverbal cues, engaging in turn-taking conversations, or responding appropriately in social situations. Social skills training is a behavioral therapy that helps individuals learn the rules of social interactions that do not come as naturally in individuals with ASD. Social skills training can be conducted in individual and group formats.
Academic Accommodations
Depending on your state and school system, a diagnosis of ASD allows your child access to many different academic supports. This can range from services such as being in a special education classroom, meeting with an interventionist once a week, or receiving speech/occupational therapy and depends on the severity of the diagnosis and your child’s needs. Often times you will need to advocate for your child to maximize the services they receive in this setting.
Family Therapy
A diagnosis of ASD can often have a substantial effect on parents, caregivers, and siblings. Family therapy can help address these challenges and improve communication for all family members. Sometimes this is needed shortly after a diagnosis and for other families, they find this type of intervention most helpful during transition phases (e.g., child entering adolescence, birth of a new sibling). Support for parents and siblings is always a valuable option to consider.
There are many other intervention options that exist for individuals with ASD and their families. When considering a potential intervention, we recommend considering the research support for the intervention and looking at the right fit for your child’s development level. Most likely, the best intervention for your child will change over time. If you have questions or would like more information about the interventions we provide, please call us at 612-470-4099.

Understanding Trichotillomania

Written by Andrea Potthoff PhD LP
What is trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania (Hair-Pulling Disorder) is characterized by excessive pulling of one’s hair. This can occur anywhere on the body, including hair on the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, facial hair, and body hair. Trich is seen more commonly in women, but also occurs in men. Trich occurs in all age groups and is most common in adolescence and early adulthood.
Many people describe the actual act of pulling the hair as very ritualized. They may only do it during certain activities or times of day. Patients also often report being very selective about which hairs they pull, noting that they pull hairs that “don’t feel right” or have a coarser or brittler texture.
It is also common among those that pull hair to ingest the hair they have pulled. This behavior can produce a high degree of shame and embarrassment. Unfortunately, this can also cause a number of medical problems depending on the frequency and amount.
What causes it?
Research suggests a genetic predisposition for trich and it is more common in people with a family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Often times it develops as an anxious coping behavior that then turns into a habit. Sometimes the pulling can be intentional and systematic and other times it can happen with little awareness. Many people find that the habit starts infrequently, but then becomes difficult to stop.
How is it treated?
Many people with trich report that the more they try to resist pulling, the more intense the urge becomes. When others comment on the behavior or notice the loss of hair, this can be an intensely shameful experience. Similarly, children scolded for the behavior continue to pull their hair. Although individuals are motivated to stop pulling, specific tools are needed in order to change the behavior. Reducing shame and guilt about the behavior is often the first step of treatment.
Fortunately, there are effective therapies for trich. The Comprehensive Behavioral Treatment (ComB) is the leading intervention for trich and addresses all aspects of the pulling behavior. There are four phases in ComB that include assessing the frequency and intensity of the pulling, determining causes and reinforcers of the behavior, determining what modalities to target, teaching strategies to reduce or eliminate the hair-pulling, and evaluating and modifying each strategy as needed. When working with children or adolescents, treatment also involves working with parents and caregivers. ComB is an evidence-based treatment, meaning that research has shown it to be effective in the treatment of trich.
Medication is also a treatment option for trich, although current research suggests that behavior therapy is more effective and the FDA has not approved any medication for the specific treatment of trich. It is important to also keep in mind that some medications may increase the frequency of hair-pulling.
If you would like more information about trich or to schedule an appointment please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at