Feed the Brain

Through my experiences as a therapist, a teacher, and a newborn care specialist, I’ve learned that a child’s environment plays a major role in a their brain development and behavior. Parents find themselves in a vicious cycle trying to correct their child’s behavior to no avail and they’re clueless about what’s actually causing the behavioral changes. Proactive parenting is far superior to reactive parenting. 

Consider the following…


The types of toys a child plays with have a major impact on their brain development and behavior. Technology and TV for example entertain the brain, meaning the brain is not having to work. There’s no problem solving, imagination, creativity, or thinking involved with technology or tv. Even “educational games” on an ipad have a negative effect on the brain because they limit possibilities to the software design. The brain; however, is limitless in its possibilities. Use of technology in children has been linked to aggression, sleep deprivation, violence, lack of empathy, detachment, and poor social skills. Ever notice agitation and tantrums more when you take away a tech device from your child? It’s not only because they lost the priviledge, they could be experiencing menal withdrawals.

Opt for open ended toys that inspire creativity, thinking, and imagination. Fat brain toys such as blocks, cars, dolls, play-doh, art supplies, magnetiles, role play items, and sensory play such as sand, water, or beads.


Nutrition plays a major role in your child’s behavior. I always have to bite my tongue around my friends who complain about the terrible twos, having a “threenager,” or the frantic fours when often these are the same friends who fuel their children with sodas, gluten laden goodies, and sugary cereals. Sure, my kids will inevitably act up from time to time and I know I’ll have some disciplinary issues, but these things are far less in frequency as well as intensity when diet is considered. Major culprits to poor behavior include gluten, sugar, caffeine, low water intake, and dyes.

Opt for organic fruits, veggies, dairy, meats to avoid exposure to hormones and pesticides. Try not to allow your child to snack all day, but don’t allow them to go hungry. Schedule three solid meals of high protein, healthy fats, and high nutriton, but allow two smaller meals/snacks in betweek to keep sugar levels regulated. Avoid processed foods with artificial ingredients when you can and just say no to sugar and caffeine at all costs, especially if you’ve noticed a sensitivity.


Adults need to take some responsibility for their child’s behavior when sleep deprivation could be the catalyst. If you allowed them to skip their nap, then it’s unfair to them for you to get angry when they throw a tantrum in the middle of Target. Were they up late because you wanted to finish your concersation on the phone before you started bedtime? Then, don’t get mad at them when they wake up cranky and start throwing food or spilling their juice. Children have crazy fast metabolisms, their mind is on constant overload and their body’s are growing rapidly. They need 10-12 hours of sleep a night depending on age and toddlers need naps (or at least downtime) in order to function optimally.

Envornmental Toxins

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between environmenal toxins and behavior. I recently saw that I can be found on google when you search “crunchy mom” or “granola mom” which totally cracks me up, because I’m far from crunchy, but I am green. I do not use toxic cleaners, detergents, soap or perfumes in my home. I refuse to eat nonorganic veggies, dairy, or meats. I wouldn’t accept a million dollars to vaccinate my children and I hold my breath, or sit in the car, when I’m pumping gas. Our environment is filled with carcinogens and neurotoxins that nnegatively affect our behavior. Top culprits include insecticides, pesticides, lead, paints, cleaners, mercury, formaldehyde and aluminum (found in vaccines), BPAs found in plastics, and parabens in lotions and soaps. These have been blamed for “silently eroding intelligence”

“Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” Grandjean and Landrigan write. “The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem.” As in their 2006 review, the authors reiterate their concern “that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.” (LINK HERE)

Organic clothes by Finn & Emma

So, before you even attempt at correcting your child’s behavior, search for the source first! It would be unfair to punish the child for behavior beyond their control when their mind is greatly affected by the environment we’ve created for them.

Good luck and stay gold,

Chelsea Vail

Unnecessary Crutches for Babies & Kids

Being a former Child Life Specialist and currently a Love & Logic facilitator, I’m a bit of a tough love advocate. Now, I’m definitely not one for “cry it out”, nor will I tell a toddler to “suck it up” when they’re upset, but these days it seems like we’re unconciously raising a bunch of weenies by offering all sorts of crutches to cope with life’s struggles. Here are a few that I deem totally unnecessary.

1. The Wipes Warmer

  1. Puh-leeze! Please don’t take offense to this is you have one, but let’s give kids a fighting chance. Yes, the chemical soaked wipes are cold, but they touch your heiny for a nanosecond before we’re either done or they’ve warmed up against your hot baby skin.


  1. The Safeheads Helmet

This one kid of cracks me up! I discovered this little “gem” on instagram and thought, “How will kids learn to be careful and watch what they’re doing if they’re raised in a bubble?” This is a helmet you put on your child the moment they start crawling or walking to avoid head bumps and bruises. Do I want kids to get concussions or need stitches as tots? No! but, do I think a little head bump or a tumble from time to time is good for their overall growth and development? Yes!

I once nannied for an 11 month old who constantly bumped his head, fell over backwards and tripped over his own feet. He always had scratches, black eyes, or bruises and his mother said something so wise, “I just figure that’s how a new walker is supposed to look?” She’s right!

3. Bottle Warmer (past infancy)

Warmed/Heated milk is best for baby to consume in their early days because it’s easier to digest, soothing, and easy on tummies; however, if you find yourself heating baby’s milk after a certain point (say 1 year!) you’re conditioning the child to need heated milk. Then what are you going to do when you’re out and about and you have to buy bottled water to help you put the formula together and there’s no way to heat it anywhere in sight? Yikes!

Photo credit: Ipadinsight.com There’s something very disturbing about this image!

4. Ipads

I’m amazed with how early I see parents using Ipads, Leapfrogs and other electronic devices to “entertain” their kids, i.e. keep them occupied during mealtimes. Does this help once they’re toddlers? Absolutely! But, should a nine month old be staring at a light up screen to get through their food pouch? No. This is definitely a crutch used by parents that’s not for the child’s best interest.

5. The Beck and Call Parent

I’m an advocate of attachment parenting, which means responding to your baby’s cues. Keeping baby/toddler close and meeting their needs at the ready has been proven to raise responsible, confident, secure children. That being said, I know a whole camp of parents who consistently find themselves running up to the day care f school to bring forgotten lunches, homework, coats, PE shoes, sunglasses, snacks, etc. Being this parent makes you the crutch that stifles child’s growth towards maturity and self-responsibility.

A parent who always REMEMBERS, has a

Let’s take a step back and evaluate our choices regarding our young children. Are we being good parents by removing all potential obstacles and any, and all, experiences where they may feel hurt, frustration, disappointment? If so, we’re robbing them of the opportunity to learn that sometimes life is hard and we have to develop coping skills, be it physically or emotionally, to cope with life’s struggles.

Stay gold Ponyboy, 

That Girl

Let Your Child Play ALONE

Before you freak out and get all up in arms, hear me out. I’m not saying ALL THE TIME, goofballs, I’m just saying there’s a HUGE benefit to allowing your child independent play. Take it from a Play Therapist (muah). 



When your child plays with you, another adult, babysitter, or even another friend, their creativity is sometimes swayed. They might make decisions based on what they think the other person wants. Perhaps in their imagination they really want to build a candy house with their legos, but they think dad wants them to build a big tall tower so they go ahead and build the tower so dad will be pleased. When they play alone, they are free to make their own decisions.


I cringe sometimes watching adults “play” with their children knowing they have ulterior motives. Play should not be a time of teaching or lecturing. For example, when your child is playing with the barnyard animals, it’s not a time to teach them the proper names of the animals and the sounds that they make. Remember that in your child’s imagination, these might not be barnyard anmals. They could be monsters, soldiers, fairies, or aliens.

Also, I often see parents using play as an opportunity to teach life lessons. Just because your child is making people fight in his play doesn’t mean he’s going to be a fighter or grow up to be violent. Play is for expressing in fantasy what cannot happen in reality and it’s perfectly healthy to explore all sides of the self in play.



Play is intrinsically motivated, meaning there are no rules and there’s no final product. A child needs permission to play freely, make decisions on their own, and problem solve independently. Even the most well meaning adult can say or do things that interrupt the natural flow of the play and can sometimes distract the child.


Children often play out tough experiences and give situations they struggled with alternate endings. Perhaps they play out the scene where you made them clean up their mess and they want to yell and scream at you. This can only happen if they’ve had opportunity to play privately.



Children learn through play. They need the opportunity to do things the wrong way, spell incorrectly, read the wrong words, and make mistakes. Play is a natural part of growth and development and ironically, more growth and development occurs during independent, free play.


Now, it is also a great bonding experience to play with your child occassionally too, so here’s a few rules of thumb to follow:

Don’t ask questions: If you have enough information to ask a question, you have enough information to make a statement. Questions stunt imagination because there’s the pressure of answering “correctly”. Rather than, “Why is the princess locked away,” try “The princess is locked up.” When the child hears you acknowledging what’s occuring in the play, they’ll likely provide more information for you to follow along.

Don’t label things that haven’t been labeled: Remember, your child is using their imagination. If they haven’t labeled an object as a horse, a car, an apple, then it might not be. They could be pretending the horse is a dinosaur, the car is a spaceship, and the apple is a bomb that will wreak havoc on all in it’s path. Call it that, those, etc and leave things vague until the child tells you what it is to them. There’s no right or wrong in play.

Allow the child to lead: Do not involve yourself in the play. Let the child tell you what they want you to do, who they want you to be and what you say and do. This is the one place in their life where they’re in charge and it’s very empowering when mom or dad take a backseat.

Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality: Remember, play is about exploring imagination, processing feelings, and playing out difficult emotions. Allow them to be the bad guy, act silly, fight, shoot, kidnap, and be loud. Exploring this side of themselves in fantasy may even decrease the chance of violence in reality.


I use Sandtray Therapy and Play Therapy in my counseling practice with young children because children communicate through their play. Should you feel your child needs Play Therapy to process something difficult that has happened in their life, please email me at AustinPlayTherapy@gmail.com

Chelsea Vail, MA, CCLS, LPC-Intern

Under supervision of Karen Burke, LPC-S

The Burke Center, 8101 W Hwy 71, Austin, TX

Parenting Myths Debunked

One of the hardest things about being a parenting specialist without any kids is having to keep my mouth shut when parents fall for common parenting myths as societal norms. Well, I’m here to debunk those myths. Cause

ThatGirl, ShopWholeHeart

First, let me toot my horn on what makes me an expert since I don’t reference my sources cause I don’t always know how I know this shit, I just do! Deal with it, lol.

  • BS Child Development from University of North Texas 
  • MA Professional Counseling, Play Therapy
  • LPC-Intern, licensed by the state of Texas
  • Approved facilitator of “Parenting the Love & Logic Way”
  • Happiest Baby on the Block educator

Myth #1: If you hold a baby too much, you will spoil it.

TRUTH: Studies show that babies from attachment parents, or parents who respond immediately to baby’s cues, are more confident, more secure, less ependent, more social, and do better in school.

So, mom, feel free to hold that baby for 9 months, love it, kiss it, hug it, play with it, and wear it!

Kissing Evie

Myth #2: It’s normal not to get any sleep for the first year.

TRUTH: Most babies will start sleeping “through the night”, which means a 5-6 hour stretch at about 8-10 weeks. By 5 months at the latest they should be going all night without a feed. Build heathy sleep habits by keeping them swaddled tight, on their backs, NOTHING in the crib, lights off, and white noise machine on. Change, feed, burp, lay down, leave the room.

Myth #3: Not being able to shop without chasing a toddler around the store is just part of parenting.

TRUTH: If you wear the child as a baby at the store and put them in the cart seat as a toddler, they will not have the option of running around. This will give you time to teach that the store is not for running in. Now, once kid is too big for the seat, they will likely instigate a game of chase once or twice and I can’t help you there unless you want some Love & Logic tips, lol.

Myth #4: Baby’s first food should be rice cereal.

TRUTH: Rice cereal has no nutritive value, it’s been known to cause allergic reactions, upset stomachs, constipation, and poor eating. Breastmilk is all baby needs for the first year, but if you want to introduce table foods around 6-8 months, start with pureed root veggies, then non-acidic fruits. Intro one new food every three days to test for reactions.

Myth #5: A carrier can serve as transport to and from the car and it can be my highchair/booster seat.

TRUTH: Carseats are designed to be carseats only. It is NOT recommended that baby be in the chin-to-chest position for longer than 2 hours at a stretch.

Happy baby, that girl with whole heart

Myth #6: It’s important to issue a consequence for my child’s behavior immediately.

TRUTH: It’s important to RESPOND imediately, but there’s no need to issue a consequence right away. Give yourself time to think it through and deliver it calmly and lovingly. “Oh, that behavior makes me so sad. I’m going to have to do something about that”. Then, take your time and think it through before delivering.

Myth #7: My child only likes chicken strips, mac and cheese, and goldfish.

TRUTH: When children are only offered healthy foods, they only eat healthy foods. Yes, they may be picky at first, but continue introducing the items and overtime they will eat them. America is THE only country that complains of picky eaters and has a 5 item kid’s menu at every restaurant. In fact, in France, the kids order off the adult menu and just get a smaller portion. Are kids just not picky in 95% of the world or is it possible we need a lil’ self-reflection?

Whew! Glad I got that out there. 

What parenting myth do you need debunked?

Kids “Losing it” Over Nothing? Infuriating!

A blog post circled around social media last week about “Kids Losing it Over Nothing” and I found this post INFURIATING! 


I understand that moms like to share photos of their kids having tantrums because they like to know they’re not the only ones experiencing these; however, toddlers do NOT throw tantrums over “nothing”, nor is it ever a “phase”. Toddlers, like adults, have needs that need to be met, but they lack the ability to verbalize their needs and a tantrum often results, but it’s our job to try to identify the feeling behind their tantrum and show them empathy and understanding.

I’ve borrowed a few of the photos featured in the blog and I’ve idetified the feeling behind the child’s actions and added how a parent could respond in this instance.


kids-losing-it-baconToddlers are concrete thinkers. What we say is taken very literally and they lack the ability to think into the future. Everything is right now, in this moment, and it’s finite. When this child was told, “No more bacon” she heard “You will never get any more bacon for the rest of your life”. How devestated would you be if you thought you could never have any more of something you loved?

The parent should have offered a choice from the beginning, “Today, you may have one piece or two pieces. Which do you choose?” This way, when the child says “Two”, mom is okay with that decision and so is the child. The child made the choice.

2. kids-losing-it-chairThis child clearly has a plan. He’d like to move the chair, but there’s something in his way. He can’t tell the dog to move, the dog isn’t moving when he pushes him, and he’s frustrated that he lacks the strength and words to complete the task. He feels helpless and helpless is a scary feeling to experience.

The parent should respond with empathy, “Oh, this must be so frustrating for you. I’ll be your words and tell the dog to move. It feels good to accomplish something ou’ve been working hard at.” (did you hear the self-esteem builder at the end?)


kids-losing-it-hulkToddler’s imaginations are very real. What they see in the mind can actually happen to them and it’s very disappointing when it doesn’t actually happen. This little boy wants to be big and strong, like most little boys. He feels inferior and he can’t do anything about it. Have you ever felt small? Insignificant? Weak?

The parent should recognize what’s fueling him here, “You wish you were big and strong like the Hulk. I sometimes wish I were different than myself. I wonder if you could show me how strong YOU are?”


kids-losing-it-ironmanThis is terrifying! Why is he out of the TV? How is he here next to me? Ironman doesn’t look like this? Ironman is big, strong, he wears armor, and he’s magical! This kid is genuinely frightened, confused, disappointed.

The parent should not have even pointed out that this was “Ironman” and slash the poor kid’s dreams. They could say, “This man is from TV and movies. Would you like to meet a man that pretends to be a superhero just like you like to pretend?”

5. kids-losing-it-justin-bieberThis little girls is unlikely crying because of Justin Bierber’s music as this picture portrays. She’s probably scared of the crowds, the noise, the unpredictability, and the commotion. It’s also highly likely that it’s passed her bedtime.

This is a hard play to call. Clearly the parents were protecting her ears using the headphones, but often kids just aren’t ready for the environment of a concert. It’s too overwhelming for some kids.

6. kids-losing-it-leghole

There are a few tings in this photo that could be going on. First off, look at the size of her leg and look at his. It’s possible this hurts! Second, why should he have to share? He probably had a good year to a year and a half where he got the seat all to himself and in his mind, “This is MY seat!”

Again, a choice should have been offered. “Would you like to share the seat with your sister or ride alone in the cart?” Or, “Would you like to share the seat or walk beside me?” Kids, like adults, like to feel they have some control over the environment.

7. kids-losing-it-time-outToddlers need a break from life, too, from time to time. Don’t you, as an adult, ever feel like you just need a little alone time? This child is showing a very mature ability to identify his need for solidarity and space and he recognizes that he needs some time away to collect himself.

The parent should have commended his decision to find space, “You must be tired today. I’ve noticed you need space. I’ll be in the other room when you feel ready”.

I think toddlers are THE most misunderstood age group. I’m tired of hearing these years described as “terrible twos”, “treacherous threes” or “frantic fours”. If you’ve had 3 years of a tantrum “phase” with your child, I’m sorry to say it is not the child’s fault. Perhaps they’ve had needs that have gone unmet physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s tough being so aware of yourself and your surroundings, but having no control over them and not being able to communicate your needs and wants.

How do you handle your toddler’s upsets?

Cool Down Corner

Parents ask me all the time my thoughts about “time out” and my answer varies depending on the parent’s answer to the following questions:

Cool DownCorner

1) How old is the child?

I do not believe in using “time out” before the age of 3, preferably not until at least 4 nd even then I’m not a huge fan. If you must use it though due to the environment, high number of kids, or lack of a better option, limit it to under 5 minutes or follow the rule of thumb, 1 minute per each year of age. A three year old should not be in time out for longer than 3 minutes.

2) Why are you putting them in “time out”?

This answer usually helps us find an alternative consequence. For example, if the parent says the child needs to be in time out because they can’t share their toys then we might try an “I allow statement” started with a trigger world like, “Uh oh”. It sounds like this, “Uh, oh! I’ve noticed you’re having trouble sharing. I allow kids who share to play games”. When the child doesn’t share, use the trigger phrase, “Uh, oh” again and remove the item or game. When you’re issuing natural consequences like this there’s no need to threaten or get angry. This can be done with a sift, calm voice and a smile.

If you’d like to put them in time out because they’re throwing a tantrum, then we try a “Cool Down Corner” instead (see below)

3) What’s your goal?

Often the parents will say, “I need them to know their behavior is not appropriate!” Well, if that’s the case, then you need to use your words and say, “Your behavior is not appropriate.” Some parents argue their child is too young to know the word “inappropriate”, but if that’s the case, aren’t they also too young to understand the correlation between sitting in a corner alone and their previous actions?

What are the chances he’s deep in self-reflection and asking himself thought provoking questions about his behavior?

If a parent-child relationship is intact and the word “inappropriate” is used with an unhappy face on the adult, the child will understand the meaning of the word. Inappropriate means mom is not happy. It’s that simple!

Cool Down Corner:

I think toddlers and young kids are often misunderstood. They don’t throw tantrums because they’re going through a “phase”. Nor do they throw tantrums because they’re mean or bad. They often throw tantrums because they lack the vocabulary and skills to communicate needs and feelings, they’re frustrated, their routine has been interrupted, or they’re physical or emotional needs are not being met. In this case, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions before moving to the Cool Down Corner:

“Are they hungry, tired, thirsty, or sick?”Whining-Child3

“Do they need me words and skills to help them communicate their needs right now and be their voice?”

“Are they frustrated and perhaps need me to model a few ways to solve the problem?”

“Has their routine or schedule been interupted by external influences recently?”

If the answers to these questions don’t bring you to an alternate resolution, then it’s time for the Cool Down Corner. This corner is NOT intended as “punishment” or embarassment. This is a sanctuary for the child to cool off, gather composure, and regroup. You or a caregiver may offer to join them in their corner, but you MUST respect their decision if they tell you no.

Ideas for a Cool Down Corner:

  • Teepee, fort, extra closet, under a desk, or the corner of a playroom
  • Include comfort items like stuffed animals, lovies, blankets, and pillows
  • Choose books with serene pictures, calming images, or I Spy
  • Include sensory items like bubbles, pompom balls, yarn, cotton, gel packs, tension balls
  • Fill colored balloons with sand or cornstarch and draw emotions on the front
  • Put feeling cards in a tub and let kids identify their feelings based on the photos
  • Add items that can be “destroyed” like egg cartons, bubble wrap, styrofoam, foil
  • Add low level lighting with lamps or a lava lamp

When you think the child needs a break, let them know it’s time to go to the Cool Down Corner and they may return when they’re sweet.

Ex: “You seem (fill in the blank by labeling the emotion). I bet some time in your cool down corner will help. I love you. See you when you’re sweet”.


  • High stimulation activities in the corner
  • Using this place as punishment
  • Ordering them or demanding them there
  • Wrestling them into the corner

We want to keep the cool down corner a positive experience. Adults often need a break and some alone time to cool off and regroup. Kids are no different!

What’s your philosophy on time out?