Home » Blogs » Therapy Soup » The Parent-Child Dance: Understanding (And Improving) Your Child’s Problem Behavior

The Parent-Child Dance: Understanding (And Improving) Your Child’s Problem Behavior

!cid_3B50DC3C-AD0F-47E6-A10D-A53A3ABE4989@hsd1_mi_comcast_netI’m really excited to tell you about The Parent-Child Dance: A Guide to Help You Understand and Shape Your Child’s Behavior, because I know that the author is making a difference in the lives of so many parents and kids. The Parent-Child Dance is written by award-winning pediatric behavioral specialist, Miriam Manela, OTR/L, with the help of me, C.R. Zwolinski from Therapy Soup.

For over a decade, Miriam Manela has been working with children and parents, educators, and therapists, addressing behavioral, emotional, social, learning, physical and other challenges.  During her workshops for professionals, students and educators, Miriam helps the participants understand how to help children regulate themselves and become better able to manage their emotions, connect with others, and learn. She also works closely with pediatric professionals in a variety of professions including mental health therapy professionals, nutritionists, and others.

Richard and I asked Miriam to explain why she wrote The Parent-Child Dance.

Welcome to PsychCentral and Therapy Soup, Miriam. Why did you decide to write the Parent-Child Dance?


I had a client, one of many who had impulsive behavior, a boy I’ll call Terry. Terry would take his brothers’ and sisters’ homework, and crumple it up and rip it, he’d hurt a child on the playground, or he’d a chew his collars and sleeves and rip holes in his clothes. But though he had a hard time controlling his impulses. Terry always regretted his actions later.

He also had a hard time sitting still, especially in the classroom. Both his mom and dad were at their wits’ end. It felt to Terry’s father that he was talking to a wall. Terry had been to a variety of therapists.

At Thrive OT, my therapy program, I use an integrative treatment approach, which works well with children like Terry as well as others with behavioral issues. With Terry, I used a variety of creative interventions that are a combination of sensory integration and mental health therapies, along with reflex integration. Within six weeks of Terry beginning therapy at Thrive OT, his parents and I saw measurable improvement. By six months Terry’s behavioral issues were nearly nil, though I still developed a maintenance program for him and his parents to continue with at home.

I am a big believer in giving parents easy-to-implement homework, therapy activities they can do with their children to support the work we do in my practice, or, in some cases work alone. I began to realize that I needed to reach more parents, parents who couldn’t come and see me at my program in New Jersey. I do trainings for professionals, therapists, educators, and others, but I really felt that I wanted to put the power to help their child directly in the hands of parents.

That’s why I wrote The Parent-Child Dance. It really gives parents the ability to help their child, using the proven techniques that I and my staff use in my practice.

In the book I give many examples of children who I treated in my private practice.

In the book, you teach parents activities they can do with their child to help them gain awareness of their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors as well as activities which strengthen sensory weaknesses. Do parents need any special training or abilities to be able to do these techniques?

No, they need just a basic physical ability. I took techniques and made them into easily-learned step-by-step activities that most children and adults find enjoyable, even fun to do. I also show parents how to motivate their child to do the activities and how to fit them into their daily routine so they are most effective.

Can you give an example of an activity?

Sure. One of my favorite activities is called Rock N’ Reach. I like this activity because uses a combination of bodily movements, including a stretch, to prepare children for times when they get upset. Practicing Rock N’ Reach helps kids calm down noticeably faster. The well-known illustrator Dena Ackerman drew beautiful and sensitive drawings which make it easy to follow along with the activity.

Can you talk a bit about what it’s like to parent a child with behavioral issues?

Many parents typically blame themselves, or blame the child, but I see a lot of behavioral problems as simply being a mismatch between the parents timing and skills and the child’s readiness and ability. Helping parents understand what their child is ready for, is part of what I teach and what is in The Parent-Child Dance.

There really is a five part process to helping parents use their parenting skills appropriately. Although you don’t actually have to fully understand the process to employ it, the book gives you the tools to go ahead and do the activities, it is helpful to have some background in the process.

  1. It’s necessary to give children’s nervous systems what it needs to be able to function in an age appropriate manner.
  2. It’s also necessary to employ reflex integration, which helps them become developmentally (physically) age appropriate.

3. Then, we need to feed what they need emotionally to function in age appropriately.

4. Then, the parent can parent them, using the effective parenting techniques they can learn in my therapy program or workshops, and in the final chapter of The Parent-Child Dance.

5. At this point, the parenting techniques work really well.  Using them will help children to gain the cognitive skills they need in order to regulate themselves.

In the introduction and chapter one, you help the reader understand, from the perspective of an integrative occupational therapy viewpoint, how a child’s system works and experiences the world. In chapters two through five you show four different types of behavioral categories and give specific activities which help address common challenges. In chapter six, you speak to parents about themselves, sharing your insights into how to grow as a parent while not beating oneself up.

Yes, I feel this is so important. Shaming and blaming is sometimes an unspoken lesson moms and dads get from parenting training. “You have to be consistent,” they tell you. “You have to remain calm,” the implication being that if you don’t, you are going to negatively impact your child.  “You aren’t allowed to feel exasperated, fed-up, or even a bit disgusted with your child.” And so on.

This is not realistic, and it makes for parents who blame and shame themselves.  Even my own mother, who is a grandmother and great=grandmother, found chapter six, which shows you how to get in touch with yourself, as a person and a parent, helpful.

In The Parent-Child Dance I show parents how to allow themselves to grow in self-awareness while accepting who they are at all stages in the growth process. I give them techniques for understanding and connecting with the child that they love in a way that is gentler. I reveal ways to gain clarity while parenting.

Knowing yourself as you grow, and allowing yourself to be who you are, not some “perfect” parent, helps to change your parent-child dance, making it a more positive, rewarding experience.

To get your copy of The Parent-Child Dance, visit

miri compressedAbout Miriam Manela, OTR/L

Miriam Manela, OTR/L, author of The Parent-Child Dance, is the director of Thrive Occupational Therapy in Passaic, New Jersey. In addition to her private practice, Miriam is known for her workshops and lectures for educators and teachers as well as health-care professionals including MDs, OTRs, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, substance abuse professionals, and others. She uses an integrative treatment approach, one that is responsive and creative, and works towards measurable treatment goals. You can visit Miriam at



The Parent-Child Dance: Understanding (And Improving) Your Child’s Problem Behavior

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). The Parent-Child Dance: Understanding (And Improving) Your Child’s Problem Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.