Hi! I’m Ashley. Welcome!

You might have found this website because you searched for toddler defiance, angry kids, power struggles or temper tantrums. Or maybe a friend sent you one of my articles or a poignant quote caught your eye on facebook.

No matter how you found me or your child’s age —  as parents we are all in the same boat.

Here’s the thing…

When you have a child your world changes. You have a whole other little person with their own will, their own emotions, and their own needs.

Not only do you have to regulate your own emotions and needs, but you also have to regulate theirs too.

  • The power struggles
  • The tantrums
  • The BIG emotions
  • The clashes

It all boils down to this: self- and emotional-regulation (yours and your child’s!)

I know this because it was what I studied for over 15 years as a developmental child psychologist. And because I’m a parent too.

A child’s brain and body are completely immature when it comes to emotional and self-control. 

The part of the brain associated with logical thinking, self-control, planning, and regulation of emotions is not even fully organized until age three. And not completely mature until sometime in your 30s.

If we take a step back and look at this philosophically, we might ask why human children are born so immature and unable to even handle their own emotions. 

Maybe it so we as parents, as a society, can raise them to face the current world we live in. They cannot possibly be prepared for all they will have to face upon birth. We get to help shape their ability to handle challenging times. To rise above, to overcome, to be self-motivated. To look for kindness in a cruel world. 

Yet, these seeds we plant early on grow so far under the surface it’s easy to get discouraged as parents. Are we doing the right thing? Are we giving them the right skills? Am I messing up completely? 

I know because I’ve been there.

When my baby hasn’t slept, when my toddler refuses to brush his teeth, when my child is anxious about school. 

Parenting is an art based on your best instincts and intuition. 

But, knowledge is power. When I have struggled as a parent, and when I have questioned myself — I have turned to my background, to knowledge — to the science of child development.

While there is no manual or ‘right way’ to raise a child there is knowledge that can give us insight into what is happening under the surface where we hope to plant those seeds. 

For example, did you know that there is a literal connection between the heart and the mind? 

 This connection is through a rather large cranial nerve, called the vagus nerve. This nerve creates a feedback circuit from the heart, lungs, and abdomen to the brain. 

Babies have this nerve system, but it’s not fully developed in the first few years. To regulate their physiological state babies instead use primitive brain-stem circuits. 

Think about that enormity of that, the heart-mind connection is not even fully formed when our babies are first placed in our arms. What an amazing task we have before us as parents to grow and strengthen that connection. 

The vagus nerve is the first thing to react to emotion or stress. When you have a big emotion — especially fear or worry — but also it could be big feelings of love, the brain releases it’s hold on the heart — just in case it needs to start beating a little faster — it will be ready. This is before your palms start to sweat, before breathing accelerates, and before you even start thinking about fleeing or fighting.

All of this happens unconsciously, but you can teach yourself to be aware of it. Through things like meditation and yoga, you can strengthen the vagal system and thus your awareness of it.

When we teach our children to name their emotions — to speak them out loud and not suppress them — we strengthen this heart-mind connection. 

When we teach our children to breath through the emotion — we strengthen this heart-mind connection. 

When we teach our children to have empathy for others — we strengthen this heart-mind connection. 

When we teach our children self-regulation skills we are strengthening that mind-body connection and creating the foundation for them to be emotionally strong and ready to face the challenges this world will throw at them. 

Nurturing your child’s inner strength is something sorely needed in a world over-focused on external achievement and rewards.

Instead, we need to focus on nurturing our child’s:

  • Self and Emotional Regulation
  • Self Control
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self- Compassion

Fostering emotional strength and mental resilience prepares children for life’s challenges and helps them learn to be true to themselves. 

Join me in nurturing your child’s heart and mind connection based on the science of self-regulation. Let’s nurture them and watch them thrive.

22 Comments

  • Reply
    Self-Regulation Toolkit For When Kids Have to Wait - Busy Moms Helper
    May 5, 2015 at 9:00 am

    […] (in addition to being a Mommy, I’m a Developmental Psychologist, for more about that read this) is that when I did self-control tasks with kids, the ones who did the best were really good at […]

  • Reply
    Amanda Johnson
    May 10, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    I wish I had found you sooner, but I’m happy to be binge reading your blog posts now! :)) I am loving all of the game/toy ideas for kids, and I’m definitely going to try some this summer with my three. You have such great information here. I was looking for playroom ideas (that would be fun for 3, 5 and 7 year old kiddos) and have found so much more. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      May 16, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Thank you so much Amanda! Its great to get this kind of feedback. Last summer we played so many games, it was a great way to fill summer afternoons.

  • Reply
    Ben
    August 7, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I really enjoyed reading your blog – the activities you talk about are great for reinforcing good behavior and teaching essential life skills. What do you think of reading books aloud to children? Have you studied the effects of that in your research? Everything I’ve seen points to huge benefits from simply reading to your children – chapter books, picture books, and basically everything, that’s appropriate of course.

  • Reply
    Christina
    October 1, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Hi there!

    I have a question about the IKEA playroom desk/storage. What size table top did you use and did you have to modify it? I purchased the pieces however the table top is way too deep and hangs over the edge by about 6-8″. Our playroom has been in need of an overhaul for year and I think your IKEA idea is the solution!!

    • Reply
      Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      October 1, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      Hi Christina,

      Exciting to redo your playroom! I’d love to see a picture! We used the plain white Linnmon table top, the longest one for our space. It does over hang, so we centered it. My sister did this same desk and in her space it worked better for them to build up a small stand behind the drawers (like a three sided box) and that way they could have the tabletop flush to the front of the drawers. You don’t see the stands, they simply are there to extend the space. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Emily
    February 28, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    I saw your post on cognitive leaps and cranky children and about babies. Is there any research on when cognitive leaps tend to happen in the older years? Like around ages 5-7?

  • Reply
    Mary Smith
    March 4, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    After reading your article on 4 tips for getting kids to seat and eat at the dinner table, I bought the little chair insert for my granddaughter. She had come over for dinner the night before and could not sit still and it turned into drama with parents arguing and my little sweetheart crying. I was beside myself as there is not suppose to be any crying in Nana’s house. The chair was delivered and my daughter calls it a game changer and now she sits and draws, and eats and communicates. I thank you for your insights and recommendation of the little booster seat and stool under the table. It’s the little things!!!

    • Reply
      Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      March 5, 2018 at 7:18 am

      Oh that’s wonderful! I am so happy to hear. Isn’t it interesting how little kids need that physical input? Thank you for sharing your story. (:

  • Reply
    Zzzzzz
    March 28, 2018 at 6:03 am

    Dr. Soderlund,

    Our family is experiencing some unexpected behavior that our son conveyed on his tenth birthday. After being gifted a card, balloons and a custom cake during his homerooms’ appointed snack time our son decided to bring the extra cupcakes home so could share them with his parents. However, within his 3 or 4 block trek, he thought it would be o.k. to smear one into his friend’s face! Ever the gentleman, he politely asked his buddy for permission to follow through with his idea. His pal said “No”, but another someone else wanted to enjoy a good cupcake in the face. So our son fulfilled his request! Then another person reached in the box and threw a cupcake at another student that was among the group. After more convincing arguments from our son, his buddy changed his mind and now wanted a cupcake in his face. The newly double digit young man didn’t tell us about what transpired, but the assistant principal informed us immediately and conducted a 45- minute investigation to report that she saw no evidence of malicious intent and our son was obliged to fulfill an hour detention for his actions. Do you believe that the consequence fits the offense? Should he be required to write a letter? Buy his buddy lunch from money he earned? He also received an XBOX game that he wanted for his birthday when he got home from school. Should we take it back? Please help!!!
    Warmest regards

    Sleep Deprived “Second Year” Stepfather

    • Reply
      Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      March 28, 2018 at 8:47 am

      Hello and thank you for your question. It sounds like the assistant principal found that there was no malicious intent. Your son was having fun, not being a bully. I think the hour detention to think about his actions is fair — I think the bigger thing to impress upon your son is that you do need permission to get into someone else’s physical space. That “no”, does in fact, mean “no.” I think asking your son to apologize to his friend would be appropriate as well, but beyond that, it is your personal preference. I recommend these books for teaching your child to stop and think before he acts, https://nurtureandthriveblog.com/picture-books-teach-kids-stop-think-handle-emotions-mindful/.

  • Reply
    Kathy Ong
    April 14, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    Hi Ashley, I’ve just signed up to your newsletter and am excited to start reading. I couldn’t find a contact for you but just wanted to ask how to get the bonus printable about mindfulness mantras for parents?

    Lastly, I have a young child diagnosed with major self regulation issues and who is highly oppositional. I’ve found that “normal” parenting techniques don’t work with him and I’m finding the only way to get him to follow instructions is to threaten to take away something he cars about, which is a terrible method of parenting and I’d like to figure out how to get away from that. Have you done any articles specifically for this kind of child? Will you do one? Thank you!

  • Reply
    Rhonda
    April 25, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Hi – I clicked here from Facebook. Good information – you might want to consider posting your full name in the About section for those who are unfamiliar with your site. The only thing I saw was “Ashley” in the introduction and your bio…I had to scroll down to comments to find it!

  • Reply
    CD
    May 13, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Ashley I love you website and I have a question for you I hope you can help me. I have a 2 year old and I am a stay home mom. I am very particular about what I let him watch on TV, even some Disney shows I dont think are appropriate. For example, I pretty much dont let my kid watch any show with a “real bad guy” in it ( an adult trying to hurt a kid, adult fighting, kids using magic weapons, etc ) , or any type of weapon. So recently my husband bought water guns I know they are fun but I don’t know if they are appropriate for a two year old. What do you think?

  • Reply
    Mark Hess
    May 28, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Ashley, thank you for the 10 Emotion Coaching Phrases for Parents. I will be adding a reference to your article to my presentation at The Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG) national conference in July. I will be presenting practical methods to engage gifted boys in social-emotional curriculum.

    I am eager to follow your newsletter and catch up on other articles.

    And I wish I would have had this for my 4th grade recess duty this year!

    Mark Hess
    Portable Gifted and Talented
    giftedlearners.org

    • Reply
      Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      May 28, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for including it in your presentation and for letting me know how you are using the resource! I appreciate the feedback and I hope it proves useful for you!

  • Reply
    Susan
    July 19, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Hi
    I’ve just discovered your blog posts and found them an excellent resource. Our 6 (nearly 7) year old has developed a real sense of separation anxiety over the last couple of months. Not wanting to be without mum or dad, calling out a lot at bedtime, always needing to know where we are in the house etc. We can’t think of anything that has triggered this. Do you have any suggestions on the best way to approach this/work with him through this?
    Thanks!

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