Knowledge and awareness are the first steps toward skill development. Let’s take a look at how well you listen today. This assessment will make you aware of the wide spectrum of listening behaviors. Carefully consider each question and indicate whether or not you consistently demonstrate each behavior. Then, check your responses with the answer key on the next page and total your score.

Think about what you are going to say while the speaker is talking?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Tune out people who say things you don’t agree with or don’t want to hear?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Learn something from each person you meet, even if it is ever so slight?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Keep eye contact with the person who is speaking?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Become self-conscious in one-to-one or small group conversations?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Often interrupt the speaker?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Fall asleep or daydream during meetings or presentations?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Restate instructions or messages to be sure you understand correctly?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Allow the speaker to vent negative feelings toward you without becoming defensive or physically tense?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Listen for the meaning behind the speaker’s words through gestures and facial expressions?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Feel frustrated or impatient when communicating with persons from other cultures?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Inquire about the meaning of unfamiliar words or jargon?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Give the appearance of listening when you are not?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Listen to the speaker without judging or criticizing?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Start giving advice before you are asked?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Ramble on before getting to the point?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Take notes when necessary to help you remember?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Consider the state of the person you are talking to (nervous, rushed, tired, hearing impaired, etc.)?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Let a speaker’s physical appearance or mannerisms distract you from listening?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Remember a person’s name after you have been introduced?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Assume you know what the speaker is going to say and stop listening?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Feel uncomfortable allowing silence between you and your conversation partner?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Ask for feedback to make sure you are getting across to the other person?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Preface your statement with unflattering remarks about yourself?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

Think more about building warm working relationships with team members and customers than about bringing in revenue?
Yes, consistently         No, almost never      Sometimes

SCORING: Compare your answers with those on the chart below. For every answer that matches the key, give yourself one point. If you answered “Sometimes” to any of the questions, score half a point. Total the number of points.

1-N     2-N     3-Y     4-Y     5-N

6-N     7-N     8-Y     9-Y     10-Y

11-N   12-Y   13-N   14-Y   15-N

16-N   17-Y   18-Y   19-N   20-Y

21-N   22-N  23-Y   24-N  25-Y

Total points: ______

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Dealing with a Harsh Winter
Dealing with a Harsh Winter avatar

For those of us living in Utah, we are used to the winter. The snow, the cold weather, and the inversion are all old news around here, but we are not used to living with those conditions all at once and for so long. The past month has been hard, and is wearing for even the most die-hard winter fans. Here are a few ideas for getting through these dreary days.
-Rise above it . . . literally! Get to a higher elevation where you are out of the inversion and feeling the sun again. It’s amazing what a little sun can do for us all.
-Guided Imagery: It’s not quite the same as actually sitting on the beach, but using guided imagery is great for relaxing and putting our minds in a different state.
-Make sure to use all your senses and imagine the sun on your skin, the sounds of the ocean, the taste of the salty air, and the beautiful scenery of any place you’d love to be.
-A quick escape: Reading, funny shows or movies, or other light-hearted entertainment can help pass some time and laughter is always helpful!
-Self care: Increasing your self care can also be helpful. Get extra exercise, take a yoga class, use your favorite scented lotion, snuggle with a loved one, or take a hot bubble bath. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, try to increase it during these rough days.
We also have to remember that “this too shall pass” and pretty soon we will be wondering how to deal with the Utah heat.

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Chill Out!
Chill Out! avatar

I’m not talking about the weather. I’m talking about calming down when you are fighting. If your fights are escalating to the point that one or both of you feels overwhelmed, you could be experiencing diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). Dr. John Gottman ( calls this flooding. Our bodies react to threat the same way they did in the cave man days. Back then, the threat was physical (think saber tooth tiger). When we faced physical threat, our bodies responded with a pumping heart and quick breaths sending all the blood and oxygen to our limbs. This was a great survival strategy that prepared us for fight or flight.  While flooding works well for physical threat, it’s not great when the threat is relational stress (partner yelling, child throwing a tantrum, teenager being disrespectful). When we have conflict with our loved ones, we need the blood and oxygen in our brains rather than our limbs. When we are flooded, it is nearly impossible to do the things necessary to repair our relationship (see things from the other person’s perspective, empathize, validate, compromise).  Our best strategy for dealing with flooding is to take a good break and calm down. Here are the steps:
1. Recognize you are flooded (feel overwhelmed, can’t think straight, feel like running away).
2. Ask for a time out. If your partner asks for a break – agree to it.
3. Separate for at least 20 minutes but not more than a couple of hours.
4. Distract and think of positive things. Avoid thinking about the fight. Do not focus on distressing thoughts.
5. Do something that calms you (exercise, shower, listen to calming music, pet your dog)
6. When you are calm, resume the conversation. THIS STEP IS REALLY IMPORTANT. Your partner needs to know you will come back and repair the relationship.

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Making “Chainsaw” Resolutions
Making “Chainsaw” Resolutions avatar

The New Year provides all of us a natural opportunity to reevaluate how we’ve been using our time and energies. So, to honor this yearly tradition, we would like to propose some “sane advice” on how to create effective and meaningful New Year’s resolutions.
Typically, goal setting begins with a time of self-reflection of how your life is going and what you really want. This process is important so that you can “readjust” if you have drifted away from your true self and ended up somewhere other than where you want to be. Being a person without goals may be like being a jellyfish that drifts through life, passively riding whatever wave comes along.
We all have some vague, idealized notion of what we want out of life, such as being happy, wealthy, in love, and/or a good person. Yet, goals left in these generalized forms are not specific enough to provide direction. The idea then is to make goals like a chainsaw, something with a clear aim and function. There is nothing tentative or indecisive about a chainsaw. The following suggestions may help you create “chainsaw” resolutions.
First, set aside ample time to reflect and daydream how you want your life to be. Deciding on a resolution can involve making a choice to end a bad habit, improve a situation or some aspect of yourself, solve a specific problem, start life anew, or just maintain an already good situation. Most importantly, goals can be a way to act on your values, passions, and needs and therefore attend to important areas of life.
Second, step back and take in the big picture. That is, make sure that the activities or changes you’re planning actually contribute to your long-range goals. For example, how do you want life to be 20 years from now? To get to that point, what is needed in 10 years? 5 years? 1 year? Next month? Answering these questions may uncover the steps you need to take today.
Third, describe your New Year’s resolutions in specific terms, such as “I will attend a weekly community social group” versus “I don’t want to be lonely anymore.” Similarly, create alternatives to activities you want to change. For example, if you want to quit smoking but realize you smoke to relax, then commit to finding other forms of relaxation.
Fourth, write out your resolution plan. Identify the sequence of events that will lead to the accomplishment of your goal. Make sure these small-range goals are specific, manageable, and measurable. How or where can you begin? What comes next? Then what? Which obstacles will you need to deal with? How will you know when you’ve accomplished your goal? Which actions have you already taken toward your goal?
Fifth, mark your beginning and ending dates on a calendar, then fill in all the in-between steps. Develop a system that tracks your success and reminds you of your goals.
Sixth, list your resources. Do you have enough time, energy, and skills to accomplish your resolution? If your goal seems unrealistic, then modify it or develop the resources to achieve what you want.
Seventh, involve others. You’ll need to depend on a variety of people for ideas, feedback, reminders, direct help, and emotional support to achieve your ends. Also, describe your plan to others to uncover any holes or hidden assumptions. This process leads to further reevaluation and adjustment.
Your New Year’s resolutions will look different disassembled in such a detailed, “chainsaw” manner. However, we hope that by taking the extra time to intentionally engage in this process, that your chances for success and happiness will improve in 2013. Happy New Year!

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How to Respond to Your Children About the Tragedy in Connecticut
How to Respond to Your Children About the Tragedy in Connecticut avatar

Many of us have watched the news today from Connecticut and find it difficult to comprehend that such terrible things continue to happen in our country.  Some of us may attempt to deal with such actions by trying to search out and understand every last detail of the story. Others may do the opposite and push the event away from their minds. Some of us may try and pretend that nothing has happened. When sad and difficult events occur in our world, it is hard to know how we should react.
As difficult as tragedy can be for adults, it poses even more challenges for children. When children encounter stories like the school shooting in Connecticut, the stories may give rise to questions, concerns, fears, and anxieties.  As adults, it is difficult to know how to address our children’s questions about such events, whether in the news or in our personal lives. We want to be truthful with our children, but we also want to protect them from the cruelties of the world.  In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after basic physiological needs such as food and water, our very greatest need as human beings is to have a sense of safety.  If children do not feel safe, nothing else makes up for that need.
Being unsafe and uncertain sometimes are a part of the world in which our children live. As parents, we have the difficult task of reconciling this with our desire to keep our children safe. Below are some guidelines for discussing traumatic events with children. These guidelines apply whether we are discussing an earthquake in Thailand or the attack on an elementary school in another state.
1-  Provide answers to the child’s questions at the child’s level of development.  If your child is very young, their community is their world.  There is no reason for you to expose them to the news of the world.  They do not have a sense of perspective with which to filter or understand the information they are getting.  Often at this age, the best course of action is to make sure kids are not exposed to media that is geared towards giving adults information.
2- An effective answer to your children’s questions about difficult events starts with listening carefully to the question.  In the child’s question, you will want to look for the emotion that is behind the question, and answer both the content of the question while also addressing the emotion that the child is trying to convey.
As an example, if a child has heard about the elementary school shooting tragedy, they may come home and ask “is it true that someone shot all those children?” To create an appropriate answer, first tell the truth: “yes it is true that happened.” You want to tell the truth, even if it is a hard truth because that says to the child that no matter how hard the situation, you can trust me as your parent.  Often parents want to lie to soften the truth, but this merely teaches children that parents cannot be counted on in times of stress.
Next, address the emotion behind the question by saying something like, “ I bet that feels scary to think that someone could kill all those children.”  By taking this step you are letting the child know that you understand the child’s feelings.  Often providing words to children’s emotions helps them open up and express more of their feelings.
3- You can then help address an emotion like fear by putting the event in context. Children have no sense of proportion for tragic events, and you can help provide them one. Try to find an easy and relatable way to put an event in perspective.  Help your children understand that there is great distance between where you are and where the tragedy happened, and that there tens of thousands of elementary schools in our country, and this terrible things happened at this one school.  This sense of perspective and scale can be comforting to the child.
4- Reassure the child about blame. When bad things happen, children sometimes blame themselves and other children. In the above example, let the child know that whatever happened was not the children’s fault.  Let them know that no matter what, you, nor anyone you know,  would never behave in such a terrible way.
5- Ask the child what would help them feel better. This gives the child some power in an otherwise powerless situation. Perhaps they want to draw a picture for the families or write a poem.  Maybe they need to cry or be held.  If they are older they may want to donate some money or time to a children’s shelter project.  Down the road, this can become a stepping stone to discussions about what it means to be a parent and what an important job it is.
6- Above all the goal is to teach your children that bad things can happen in this world and we cannot control that, but we can control who we are and how we respond to those situations.  Also show your child that no matter what, you will be there as an anchor to be truthful and to allow your children to show and explore their feelings about their world.

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Slow Down This Holiday Season
Slow Down This Holiday Season avatar

We are fully into the holiday season and one of the most common complaints that I hear about from clients this time of year is that they are too rushed/committed/tired/overbooked, or any variation on that theme.  Here is the message of the day – SLOW DOWN.  I am a bit surprised because people talk as if they believe they have no power to say “no” to family or friends.  Some believe that any invitation at this time of year gets an automatic “yes” response.  We are still in control of our lives and schedules, and one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family is to learn to say “no.”

Sometimes life gets moving so fast at this time of year that we move through events in a fog, just barely getting from day to day.  Where is joy in that?  We are tired, our children are tired, and soon no one is getting enjoyment from the season.  The desire to attend as many events as possible is understandable, as most of us realize that relationships are important and the basis of joy in our lives.  Often, however, we try to pack one year of relationships into a three to four week period.  Make a conscious choice this year to slow down, enjoy fewer gatherings, with more time to rest and think about the meaning you make of this holiday season.

For those of you who generally have trouble slowing down, read “In Praise of Slowness,” by Carl Honore.  Honore explores the “slow movement,” and the book will help you to think about how to manage your life at a better pace.

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10 Ways to Feel More Joy
10 Ways to Feel More Joy avatar

Are these gray, winter days leaving you in a funk? There are things you can do to feel more happiness. Stanford psychologist, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness” ( has found that there are parts of the brain that are hardwired for pleasure. There are things we can do to foster well-being and things that shut down that system (like violent video games/movies/media exposure). The most powerful way to increase happiness is to surround yourself with healthy, upbeat people.  When you are feeling low, it is easy keep to yourself. The best thing you can do when you are in a funk, is to push yourself to reach out to supportive people in your life.
10 Things You Can Do to Lift Your Mood
1. Surround yourself with healthy, happy people.
2. Do a totally unexpected act of kindness for someone.
3. Focus on gratitude. Ask yourself: “What are 3 good things that happened today”?
4. Immerse yourself in nature and art
5. Exercise. Even 10-minutes of moderate exercise can lift your mood.
6. Let the light in. Even better than exercise alone is doing it outside in the sunlight.
7. Be generous. Give away your time, give a thoughtful gift, give compliments.
8. Practice forgiveness. Write about your feelings of anger and hurt, and then write a forgiveness letter (you don’t have to send it).
9. Have a good laugh. Being silly with a friend, or even watching a funny show can help lift your spirits.
10. Figure out how to use your signature strengths. Check out the Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website ( ).

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The Psychology of Yoga
The Psychology of Yoga avatar

An increasing amount of research indicates that yoga has numerous benefits ranging from physical to mental to emotional. Physically, yoga can improve strength, flexibility, range of motion, immunity, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, sleep quality, and the ability of the body to react effectively and flexibly to stress. Mentally, yoga can improve concentration, focus, memory, and attention. Emotionally, yoga has been found to decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders. Yoga can also increase overall quality of life and emotional well-being, improve your relationship with your own body and with others, and result in a sense of connectedness with yourself and the world. Attending yoga classes and/or developing your own yoga practice can be a wonderful addition to psychotherapy.

Over the past ten years or so, a new discipline has also developed called yoga therapy. This approach involves using mindfulness and breathing exercises, as well as gentle yoga poses, to tap into emotions in a different and sometimes deeper way that can be done in traditional talk therapy or yoga classes alone. Particularly with trauma, which is stored in the limbic or emotional center rather than the cognitive or thinking part of the brain, yoga’s connection with the physical body can sometimes access stored emotions and experiences that can be difficult to process and release just by talking about them. Yoga therapy can also help with other issues such as depression, anxiety, eating issues, and addictions. An increasing amount of mental health professionals are bringing body-centered practices and approaches into their work.

I have training both as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist and utilize these techniques in my work if clients are interested. I tailor my approach based on the needs and preferences of each client. We can engage in strictly talk therapy, or we can add mindfulness, breath work, meditation, and yoga therapy, or some combination of these. I have been amazed at the effectiveness and results of bringing mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga into my own life and into my work as a therapist. As this is one of my favorite topics, I would be happy to share more in-depth information. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of yoga and yoga therapy, please feel free to contact me at Aspen Grove Counseling: (801) 581-0422, extension 5 or by email at:

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The weather has changed, stores have had their holiday stuff in the aisles for weeks now, parties are being planned and, as the weeks go on, everyone seems to be becoming cheerier. If you’re not, there’s nothing wrong with you. Many people dread this time of year and usually get depressed and irritated around Thanksgiving and don’t recover until well after New Year’s Day. For some, holiday thrills and distraction can bring a crash of having nothing afterwards.

These feelings are common. Although many feel excited and energized by the holidays, others can become overwhelmed, frazzled, and depressed. Much of the despair experienced at this time of the year may be about a combination of expectations, memories, and comparisons between images of “holiday joy” and the realities of one’s life. For example, advertisements, music, and television specials present high expectations of togetherness, family, and gift-giving. Yet, for many, the holidays bring back memories of disappointments, strained relationships, and sometimes trauma. Others may long for the happy holidays that they once enjoyed.

Take time to identify which of the following issues cause distress for you at this time of year:
You may be fed-up with the crass commercialization of this time of year. Constant expectations to spend money can also exacerbate your financial burdens. As a result, you may not only be turned off by the holidays but also not have the cash to keep up with them. This may cause you feel “on the outside looking in” during all the festivities.
For those who have been rejected from religion, this time of year may remind you about feeling not good enough or abandoned from such communities. Thus, you may feel angry or find little comfort with religious holiday meanings and celebrations.
You may feel dread, frustration, anxiety, or boredom while being with relatives who are not accepting of you or you don’t have much in common with. Added to this, you may feel ashamed about not speaking out or being more yourself. Holiday reunions be even more depressing if your partner is not welcome or you do not have a loved one to bring.
This time of year may have been a traumatic period for you growing up. Many children experienced stress, trauma, neglect, and conflict during this time for many reasons. Any images, memories, and associations with this time period could trigger post-traumatic responses that signal your body to recall such feelings from before and react as you did growing up. Providing a context for these responses may help normalize and reduce the fears around them and set up self-care activities to buffer these emotional reactions.
Because holidays can be a time of reflection and social gatherings, you may feel the loss of beloved family members and friends. This period can also feel dreadfully lonely and isolating if you don’t have a significant other or circle of supportive friends. The bar scene may seem like the only place to connect to others, which may offer only a limited amount of connection and more problems.
Holiday demands can also pile up on top of other responsibilities and complications that you normally face. Consequently, many feel exhausted and crunched for time.
Your mood can also feel gloomy due to the weather becoming colder and dark. Lack of sunlight negatively affects between 2-10% of the population, a phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Add this to the stress of driving through the snow and shoveling walks, and the holidays can become an even more depressing time of year.

Of course, there is no “snapping out of it.” Some individuals attempt to cope by drinking heavily, eating too many sweets, spending more money than they can afford, or isolating themselves. However, the essential idea about the holidays is to structure them so that you are more in charge and can create activities that are meaningful to you. With this in mind, the following suggestions are offered to help you maintain balance and create enjoyment during the holidays:

Rethink your approach to the season: Despite popular opinion, there are no rules for how you need to spend this time of year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in a way that reflects your changing viewpoint and needs. Create new traditions and decide for yourself each year how and with whom you’ll spend this time. If you want to honor spiritual beliefs, then reclaim your right to worship in a manner that feels meaningful to you. Explore various spiritualities & settings that celebrate who you are and confirm how you feel about the holidays. Also, decide how, to whom, and if you want to give this season & in what way so that these choices fit who you are currently.
Be realistic: Don’t succumb to the pressure to make this “the best holiday ever.”  Brainstorm a list of what you’d like to do and prioritize the most important activities. Pace yourself by spreading out the fun and establishing a realistic budget. Planning ahead will help you feel more in charge of your life and less guilt and fewer regrets afterwards.
Reach out to others: When you’re feeling blue, it may feel easier to isolate. Yet, getting out of the house, doing something you appreciate, and spending time with supportive people may lighten your load. Take things slowly. Consider new ways to make friends and how you want to connect this season. Find out what the community offers and participate in it. Make contact with those with whom you have lost touch.
Volunteer: Don’t underestimate how volunteering can alleviate low feelings. For example, volunteering allows you to unite with altruistic people, while providing you with the satisfaction of knowing that your time, talents, and love are valuable to others. Be creative in choosing how you’ll provide support. An easy suggestion may simply be to visit with those who feel alone during this season.
Acknowledge your feelings: Pay attention to your specific issues and situation. Don’t force yourself to be happy if there are unresolved issues that need to be dealt with. If your holiday blues stem from past losses, then take advantage of the season to reminisce, acknowledge, and honor what you’ve lost. Spend time feeling your feelings. This process may help you decide how you can adjust to your losses and reinvest your energies. As you reminisce, remember to be mindful of the positive things you currently have in life.
Create downtime: With demands piling up, block out time to relax. Focus on activities that recharge your batteries.
Avoid excessiveness: Despite the assumptions, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and eating excessively will not make the holiday “merry and bright.” Getting drunk will mean a hangover, and party drugs can create more stress and problems. As for eating, target your favorite foods and allow yourself to indulge with a balance between enjoying yourself and maintaining health.
Seek out sun and endorphins: Try to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight each day, which isn’t always easy during winter weather. Don’t forget to exercise to increase wellbeing.
By making intentional changes, in time, you may come to look forward to the holidays because they will be more manageable and reflect who you are.

Handout adapted from an article written by Lee Beckstead, PhD, and Jim Struve, LCSW

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Why Doesn’t My Child Mind – Setting Limits with Love
Why Doesn’t My Child Mind – Setting Limits with Love avatar

One of the common complaints that I hear from parents is that they ask their child to comply with a request, whether turning off the T.V. or getting ready for school for example, and the child ignores them.  The parent often will proceed to repeat this reasonable request multiple times in a calm, collected manner, before finally exploding in anger and yelling at the child or swatting the child on the bottom, or sending the child to time out.  After the parent loses control, then the child takes action.  That cycle of escalation feels terrible to the parent and terrible to the child, so how can a parent change this cycle?

First we need to realize that behavior is repeated when there is a pay off, or reward, so to speak.  No payoff to the behavior and we do not repeat it.  As adults we do many things:  work, engage in relationships, parent our children. We do these things because we are rewarded for our behavior.  We are paid, or we get satisfaction or we are proud of what we do. Children are no different. They ignore their parents because there is a built in reward.  If the child ignores their parent, they get to keep doing what they, the child chooses to do, and they also get the experience of having the parent continually engaging with them, putting parental attention their direction, noticing them even if it is in a loud angry manner.  Negative attention is much more rewarding than no attention.

That tells us, when our children are not complying we need to change our “normal” way of responding and do something different.  If we are getting angry at our children, it is a clue that we are not setting limits nearly as clearly and as promptly as we need to.

The most effective way to set limits is to state the limit clearly and then give 2 choices for the child.  It is important to use the words, “so you can choose”. It is a parents responsibility to help a child realize that the child can choose to keep limits and get positive experience as a consequence or that they choose to not keep limits and they get negative consequences, which we consistently enforce without anger.  It is the child’s choice, and our job as their parents is to enforce the consequence they have chosen.  An example of this would be, “it is time for bed, so you can choose, you can put your toys away now and we can have a story or you can play with them for 5 more minutes and then you choose not to have a story before bed.”

I know this sounds simplistic and actually it is very difficult to do.  Loving our children is rewarding and fun but setting the limits is challenging and is work. Setting limits is one of the least agreeable parts of parenting and the reward for the parents is often not immediate. When parents came from homes that did not have limits set in clear consistent ways, or from homes in which settling limits was done in a harsh, punitive manner, parents will find that they have difficulty setting limits.  If you find yourself not setting limits when you know your child needs them, or if you find yourself exploding in anger at your child, having some therapy sessions focused on parenting can often be very helpful.

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