Psych Central

How to Make a Good First Impression

By Holly Brown, LMFT

handshakeMy novel, Don’t Try to Find Me, comes out in July.  Between now and then, I’m going to need to make plenty of good first impressions.  And it got me thinking how that’s not so different from job interviews, or meeting an online date, or a party full of strangers–any place, any time, where you really want to control what people think about you.

Paradoxically, that desire to control is where we often get into trouble.  Managing social anxiety and expectations is important, which is why I’m tackling this subject in a mental health blog.

Here are some things that might be helpful to keep in mind as you enter any situation that feels high stakes.

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5 Rituals to Strengthen Your Marriage

By Holly Brown, LMFT

kissI’m a big believer in the power of ritual.  When you do something over and over, you start to anticipate the feelings you’ll have.  So when it comes to our relationships, it’s important to have rituals that make us feel emotionally connected.  Perhaps even more importantly, they create the expectation of being emotionally connected, which is half the battle.

So here goes:

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Five Reasons You Might Be Sweating the Small Stuff

By Holly Brown, LMFT

spotSometimes you find yourself reacting strongly to relatively minor events.  It happens to everyone.  But if it’s happening to you with more regularity, there could be something more behind it.

Here are some potential culprits:

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Generation Like: Why “Liking” Can Be Dangerous For Your Teen

By Holly Brown, LMFT

likeI just watched the PBS Frontline Generation Like.  It was eye-opening in terms of how teens’ “liking” is becoming big business–how what  teens call empowerment is really part of a giant corporate marketing strategy.  But what I came away thinking about is just how much teens liking is about a desire for self-definition, and to be liked themselves.

Adults are certainly not immune to this.  We all want to be liked.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping this post would garner likes, retweets, etc.  But my self-esteem, my identity, and my social world aren’t on the line if that doesn’t happen.  For teens, though, it can be.  And that’s where the danger lies.

So what’s a parent to do?

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5 Common Mistakes in Parenting Your Toddler

By Holly Brown, LMFT

toysThis post was inspired by the fact that yesterday, I made at least three of them.  Just because we know better doesn’t mean we always do better.

But awareness is where better starts.  So here we go:

1)  Doing too much for your toddler.

What I mean is, doing what they should be learning to do for themselves.  An example would be picking up their toys for them as they flounce on to the next thing, instead of insisting  that every time, they clean up first.

I’m guilty of this one sometimes.  It just seems like too much work to make her do it, and she seems so happy and excited about the next thing.  What’s the harm ,really?

2)  The harm is the inconsistency.  We’re teaching our kids all the time, even when we don’t realize it.

Behavior modification is a regular part of life.  We’re teaching children how to treat us and others by what we pay attention to and what we ignore.

A basic rule of behavior modification is this: Behaviors that are intermittently reinforced are the most resistant to change.  What that means is, if I tell my daughter to do something and I let her ignore me 20% of the time, then she might try to get away with it 100% of the time.  She’s learning that it works sometimes, so why not try her luck?  This could be one of those times.

That’s why it is important to have her put her toys away 100% of the time.  It’s the rule; she has to follow it, even if I feel tired.  Because I don’t want her to learn that when Mommy’s tired, she can just do whatever she wants.

And always remember, they’re smart cookies, these toddlers.  Like I said, learning all the time, just not necessarily what we’re trying to teach.

3)  Using redirection all the time, and avoiding a simple “no.”

It’s hard to say no to your toddler.  For one thing, they often don’t take it well (tantrums and the like).  For another, we like to see our kids happy, and “no” is not likely to produce that response.

My husband and I realized last night that we’ve both been avoiding saying “no”.  One of the problems with this is that when we do say no, she’s not great at listening to it.  It’s like she doesn’t think we have the legitimacy.

But unpleasant as it is for everyone involved, “no” is essential.  So as parents, we need to steel ourselves and dive in.

4)  Giving in to your toddler’s tantrum.

Never do this.  (Refer to rule #2 for why.)  But be an emotionally supportive presence.  Name that your  child is mad; express empathy.  Make sure that your child isn’t injuring himself or anyone in the vicinity.

I’ve found that with my daughter, it’s best to stand back and let her work it out.  If I offer her toys or some distraction, she only howls more, as if I don’t understand her at all.  It’s better for her to figure out within a couple of minutes that she’d rather play with a toy than writhe on the floor.

Your child might be different.  It’s trial and error.  But again, never give in.  If this is hard on your emotionally, figure out some breathing tools or calming statements you can use for yourself.

5)  Taking your frustrations out on your toddler.

I’m definitely not proud of this one, but sometimes, it happens.  The other day, I was loving and attentive from start to finish–well, almost finish.  An hour before my daughter’s bedtime, she wasn’t listening to me, and boom!  I lost it.  I yelled at her, “Stop it!  Enough already!”  Then, “I’m getting sick of this!” and I had to hand her over to my husband, walk away, and calm myself down.

What I realized is that I had fallen prey to Mistake #1.  I’d done too much all day long.  I hadn’t recognized my own limits and my rising exhaustion/aggravation.

Afterwards, I took her on the swing on our front porch and talked to her calmly about it.  She just turned two, so I’m pretty sure she didn’t know what I was saying.  But she liked the sound of my voice, and the swinging, and she leaned her head back against my chest, and together, we watched the trees sway.  Emotionally reconnecting after you’ve blown it–never a mistake.

Toys image available from Shutterstock.



This Valentine’s Day: Compromise with the One You Love

By Holly Brown, LMFT

glovesWhen you first meet someone, compromise is effortless.  It’s a six week (or maybe three month) Vulcan mind meld.  But fast forward a few years, you’re living together, maybe  you’re married, and you realize that compromise might not be romantic, but it is necessary.

So in honor of this day of love, I figured I’d offer some tips on the art and science of compromise.

1)  Accept that compromise is a healthy part of relationships.

Some people think that disagreement is, by its nature, problematic.  I think that being with someone who often has differences of opinion can be invigorating.  Things don’t get stale when they stay surprising.

But if you are very different from your partner–even if you started out similar and then grew to be different–then you’ve got some work to do.  Having a positive view about doing that work, recognizing its potential rewards,  can help a lot.

2)  Do it together.

As in, one person should not be giving in all the time.  That is not compromise.  And if you find that you’re the one always giving in, it’s likely to breed resentment over time.

So it’s important that both parties recognize the value of compromise and negotiation, and that it is a joint undertaking.  Verbalize this: “We really need to work on how we settle disagreements.  We need to get better at compromising.”

3)  If the word “negotiation” strikes fear into your heart, you might need to work on your own assertiveness skills first.

Some people grew up in houses where disagreements meant conflict, and there were no negotiations.  Or maybe “negotiation” meant outright war.  Or “negotiation” conjures thoughts of asking your boss for a raise.

But negotiation is a key part of how to reach compromise.  It involves knowing yourself and why you value the things that you do.

4)  Once you know what you want and why  you want it, articulate that in a way that’s respectful of your partner.

Yes, I’m talking about I-statements.  It may seem cliched, but they are important.  They’re a way of owning your own feelings and not putting them onto the other person in a blaming way.

And once you know the aspects of something that are important to you, you’ll know where the room is to compromise.

For example, if you’ve gotten really stuck on celebrating Valentine’s Day at a certain expensive restaurant and your partner doesn’t want to spend that much money, then you can look inside yourself and think what’s so important about that particular restaurant.  If you just feel like it has great ambiance, then maybe your partner could look around for great ambiance and cheaper food prices and make alternate suggestions. Sometimes we get wedded to one way of doing things, when others could actually be substituted and still make us happy.

5) Make sure there’s not some deeper issues that’s impeding the compromise.

In the example above, what if it’s not really about that particular restaurant but about you feeling like your partner doesn’t really value you?  If that’s what’s going on for you underneath, it’s going to make it difficult to reach any sort of compromise.  You want him to prove he loves you by paying for that restaurant, period.

So before attempting to negotiate a specific disagreement, make sure it’s really about that, specifically.  If it’s about something else, you need to talk about that first.

If you keep reaching impasses when you try to compromise, the odds are good that something else is going on in your relationship (emotional disconnection, unmet emotional needs, power struggle, etc.)  Deal with these first, or you’ll forever be sweating the small stuff.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

***My novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me”, comes out in July, but the first chapter is available now in a free e-book from HarperCollins: New Voices in Fiction Sampler,  introduced  by and also featuring an excerpt from NY Times best selling author Joshilyn Jackson.  Forgive the plug, but I’m in such good company that I wanted to let you know.  And while I’m at it, for writing-related news, please visit my Facebook author page.  Thanks for reading!

Boxing gloves image available from Shutterstock.



How to Help Your Troubled Teen

By Holly Brown, LMFT

tableMany parents can see their teens floundering, but aren’t sure what to do about it.  They might overdo and become intrusive (which causes their children to want to push them away) or underdo (not say anything and just hope the problem goes away.)

I’ve got some suggestions about how to walk the middle ground and emotionally connect with your teenager.

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Fighting Procrastination

By Holly Brown, LMFT

clutterDo you find that even though things seem important–especially when they seem important–you tend to put them off all the more?  Here’s a tip sheet for how to fight the procrastination tendency.

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Parenting: Making the Most of the Mundane

By Holly Brown, LMFT

highchairWhen I was trying to get pregnant, I saw happy parents and children everywhere.  I saw what I most wanted for myself.

Now that I am a parent, I notice how stressed parents of young children often seem.  And I know myself just how demanding (and frankly, tedious) parenting can feel.  There’s so much to get done, and it leaves much less time for what I imagined the rewards to be.

So what if the mundane tasks can be made more rewarding?  What if instead of waiting for the good stuff, those tasks can become the good stuff?

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Raising Happiness by Lowering Expectations

By Holly Brown, LMFT

bikeOver the course of a lifetime, it can be rewarding and motivating to dream big.  But day to day, it might be better to expect little and be pleasantly surprised.  Here are some ideas of how to scale back expectations in order to increase happiness.

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